Don’t Smudge Me!

Thursday night of Sirius Rising, I was watching the opening of the show that Artists Dream was presenting. I had participated in my first sweat lodge earlier in the afternoon and I was completely wrung out. The sweat lodge had been an intensely emotional and physical experience and I was basking in the afterglow of having let go of some intense feelings and issues.

Artists Dream

Artists Dream

The whole week had been about a lot of intense ritual. I assisted in the elevations of two of the members of our coven and participated in Jason Mankey’s Morrison ritual (more about that later!). And all of that was after driving nearly twenty hours to get to New York where the festival is held and helping my partner get his band up to Brushwood along with us. There had been a lot of planning, work and details to see to up until that point and it was finally all done with except for the long drive home.

At that point I was pretty exhausted, but over all, I was feeling really good. The sweat lodge, while an intense experience, was a good one. My coven sisters survived their elevation, my partner’s band mates had all arrived and were sounding good together as they prepared for their Saturday night concert and I was successfully initiated into the Morrison clan. There was still a whole lot of festival to go, but I felt like I had done the things that I needed to do and could relax for the last few days. I was carrying a pretty positive buzz around with me.

And then…I started smelling sage.

I had been smudged earlier in the day. Before walking onto the island where the sweat lodge was held, I was smudged. Before participating I had to go to an instruction class about what to expect, what to do, when to show up, ect. ect. Sweat lodges can be dangerous if you aren’t correctly prepared for them. You are in intense heat for at least an hour, if not longer and wearing jewelry can produce severe burns. People have died in sweat lodges not done correctly. If handled properly, the sweat lodge is a safe experience, but it is definitely something you need to be prepared to do, especially if you’ve never been in one before. It is not a ritual to walk into without any preparation or forethought.

Frame of a traditional Lakota Sweat Lodge with the red ribbons...

Frame of a traditional Lakota Sweat Lodge with the red ribbons…from Inside the Lakota Sweat Lodge

In the instruction class, one of the things we were told is that before coming onto the island with the lodge, we would be smudged, and if we left the island at any point and had to come back, we needed to repeat the process. The woman who poured our sweat discussed that she tried to keep things as traditional as possible (her lodge was based on the Lakota sweat lodge) and talked a little bit about what a traditional Lakota sweat lodge was like in comparison to a lodge poured elsewhere. While sweat lodges can be found throughout many cultures of the world, each kind has different traditions and rituals. In the Lakota sweat lodge, modesty and purity are important qualities. You are there to work with Spirit, not worry about the physical world. We were asked not to drink alcohol or take any drugs for the rest of the week before the sweat. We were asked to wear clothing that covered our bodies. The women were asked not to participate if they were menstruating. Respect was a key component of our conversation. The smudging was a part of the process that I was gladly willing to do.

Smudging, for anyone not familiar, is when sage or sweatgrass (sometimes mixed with ceder, lavender and other herbs) is used to purify or bless a person, item or place. North American smudging has been traditionally practiced by the native peoples and has been heavily appropriated by NeoPagans and other new age-y sorts everywhere. My partner and I have many discussions over smudging and cultural appropriation. My partner also argues that smudging is not a part of our traditions (we practice mostly Welsh and Celtic). He sees it as being somewhat disrespectful to our gods and traditions as well. (The discussion on cultural appropriation is often discussed in the Pagan community and if you want to read more eloquent discussions on the subject, see the end of this blog).

Smudge "stick"

Smudge “stick”

I like smudging because it works. You don’t have to do an intense ritual, you simply burn your sage and it’s going to clear out excess energy hanging around. When I smudge, I know that it has absolutely nothing to do with the traditional Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing and I don’t try to pretend like it is. I have no tribal affiliations and no traditional training. I am a Wiccan priestess that takes advantage of an herb that is readily available to me in my community. For me, burning sage works for my purposes. I like to do it when I’m cleaning my house and getting ready for something new or preparing for a ritual later on. It creates a neutral atmosphere and lets me set things up for whatever I am doing next. It’s sort of an easy reset button. Ever been home alone at night and suddenly realized things just feel off? Smudging will take care of it! Ever had an argument and can’t get away from that energy hours later? Again, smudging will do the trick!

But that’s just it, people often ignore the fact that it doesn’t just carry away negative energy. It’s a neutralizer. It cleans everything out.

That happy buzz that I had been carrying around with me? Gone. I felt violated. I had not gone to the concert to be smudged. No one had asked me if I had wanted to be smudged, someone just deciding that it would carry away the “negative vibes” and walked through the whole audience. There wasn’t a general announcement and they obviously didn’t think through all the possible consequences of their actions. We were not in a ritual setting, we were not in someone’s occult shop (in many occult shops, smudging happens regularly), I was not in someone else’s personal house or space…I was at an outdoor concert at a festival.

While the long lasting effects of the rituals I had participated in were certainly not gone, the happy energy that I was still carrying with me that night was. I had worked hard for that energy and I couldn’t easily get it back. I was immediately exhausted.

And maybe this is a part of the cultural appropriation discussion. We do magic and magic can blow up in your face when not done properly. We work with deity and one deity may not want to have anything to do with another deity. You also have to be very aware of what you are doing to those around you. Being a responsible practitioner, no matter what tradition or traditions you’re working with is hard work. It takes research and attention to detail. It also takes a level of awareness that most people just don’t have. This person obviously had no idea that their good intentions were going to have a negative side effect.

This person was working with energy and did not bother to ask people’s permission first.

Consent, as with everything else in life, is vital.

Festival can be a hard experience to deal with. There are tons of people around you doing all kinds of crazy things with music, dance, art, ritual and magic. You are out of your comfort zone and the societal rules that most of us live with disappear. There are different traditions and practices going on all around you. It is easy to be overwhelmed. That does not give you the excuse to be irresponsible with magic and energy in a crowd of strangers. In fact, I would say that it increases your responsibility in how you handle your magic and your energy.

No, smudging isn’t “casting a spell”, but it is an action with magical and energetic intent. Whenever you do something with magical and energetic intent, you need to stop and contemplate it’s effect on other people. You should never mess with someone else’s energy without their consent.

So think before you do something “simple”, even if you think you’re only getting rid of the negative. You might just be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Further reading:

Cultural Borrowing/Cultural Appropriation: A Relationship Model For Respectful Borrowing by Christine Hoff Kraemer

Pagans and Cultural Appropriation by Lupa

How to follow the eclectic path, minus the cultural appropriation – In the Garden of Proserpine

Why I Like Codified Ritual

Generally speaking, I do not attend public rituals.

It started when I began attending rituals outside of my own little group, and had some really terrible experiences. In one ritual, the ritual leader was encouraging people to become warriors for mother earth and he proceeded to have each of the 100 attendees come up individually, take a hold of a machete, and stab viciously at the Earth. I was flabbergasted and more than slightly disturbed. I know what the ritual leader was trying to do (well, maybe, I think I do) but was horrified by how he chose to go about it.

In another, I was dragged across an unknown piece of property at night in 20 degree (F) weather for four hours. By the end of it, I didn’t know which way was up or had any sense of having accomplishing anything. My poor feet didn’t warm up until somewhere around noon the next day.

I had another friend who went to a public ritual recently and ended up laughing so hard at what was happening that she had to leave. She felt terrible about it, but even while telling us about her experience she couldn’t stop giggling as she described the ritual, which was pretty outlandish.

The last public ritual I went to was led by a Voodoo House here in New Orleans, and it was lead by a very established priestess. She also made it clear that it was going to be a codified ritual done by her House. The public was invited and included in the ritual, but the bulk of the ritual was done by the Mambo and Mamba of the House.

Now that was one of the most profound rituals that I have been a part of. But it was because the House did their ritual, the way they would have done it had no public been attending. And they knew how to do ritual!

If you think that you’ve had a bad ritual experience, you probably have. I’m sure it’s happened to most of you. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was when it was appropriate to remove myself from a ritual that was not right for me.

After being Eclectic for so long, one of the big things that convinced me that Wicca was right for me was the codification of the ritual itself. The ritual that I found in my Blue Star Circle had an amazing impact on my ritual experience. I had never before realized what was really supposed to happen in ritual. Having a codified ritual to do every time allows me to know several things.

A. I know what to do: I know where to stand, how to move, what actions to take at specific times, and what words to say. Because of all these things, I can actually focus on the ritual itself. You may think this is funny, but because I’ve got the these physical things down and don’t have to think about them, I can actually get my mind into a ritual mindset, ignore the details of the mundane world and focus on what I am doing spiritually and magically. I’m not standing there worrying about how I’ll respond if the priestess asks me to do something (yes, this has happened to me as a first time guest in a ritual). My mind can just be there, in the moment.

B. I know what to expect: I understand the mindset I need to bring, the deities that I will be working with, the names of the various entities that are called, and that I’ll be working within a Pantheon that I’m comfortable with. I heard a story once from a Priestess of Blue Star’s sister lineage who attended a ritual for feminine strength. They ended up calling Lilith, and the priestess painted everyone’s foreheads with menstrual blood (without explaining this ahead of time). I’m all for feminine strength, but Lilith is not a Goddess that I want to call on, and I certainly do not want some strange woman’s days old menstrual blood on my forehead!

C. I’m working with traditions that I’m comfortable with and that I understand. One of the things that I dislike about general, Eclectic ritual, is that I never know what traditions are going to pop up. I prefer to understand the background of the things I’m doing in ritual so that I know that I’m not upsetting anyone or anything. I also feel extremely uncomfortable when a ritual leader starts trying to call on every God/dess out there without thought to how those deities might get along with each other. I somehow doubt that the Egyptian Sekhmet really wants to have anything to do with the Welsh Henwen. In most public rituals I’ve attended where this has happened, I realize that the ritual leaders were trying to make sure everyone was represented. For me this doesn’t work and I stand through ritual waiting for lightning to strike (which my S. O. actually saw happen once). I like understanding the things I’m doing in ritual. Another friend was telling me that her group said “Thou art Goddess, May you never thirst”. “May you never thirst” comes from the Church of All Worlds. The Church of All Worlds is based on the Science Fiction novel Stranger in a Strange land, so “may you never thirst” is based on the fact that Mars has no water. Why would I care about Mars? I’m working here on Earth. And “Thou art Goddess”? You’re going to call Hekate into your ritual and try to tell her that you, puny mortal, are a Goddess? Really? I know this has become a common practice, but I do not like trying to convince the Goddess of the crossroads that I’m just like her. I’m not.

D. And most importantly, I know exactly what I’m walking into. A usual Blue Star ritual takes about an hour. Depending on the work we’re doing, it might be less or more, but I know that I’m not going to be standing there for an unreasonable amount of time. Anything more than an hour and a half and you probably aren’t paying attention anyway. You can only really focus for so long. And if a ritual leader can’t get the work done in an efficient amount of time, I don’t have much faith in the work they are doing. Yes…there are long and involved rituals out there, but…unless you’re working with an established group that knows exactly what they are doing and know how to work together after doing so for a long period of time, I don’t have much faith in the fact that whatever you’re trying to accomplish is going to get done. I know I could do a long ritual with my coven. I know them and trust them. I don’t think I should be doing rituals like that with strangers. Everyone says that you should enter a Circle with Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, how can I do that with people I don’t know?

The goal of ritual is to put your conscious mind at rest and to bring your unconscious mind forward. This has never happened to me in a public ritual. Usually public rituals just make me cringe and feel uncomfortable. Religion is personal. While I like what most people are trying to do with public ritual, for me it’s just best to avoid them.

So it’s extremely ironic that I will be priestessing our community’s Oestara ritual this year (blame the S.O. on this one!). I will be doing a Blue Star ritual, not an Eclectic ritual. But I hope that I don’t forget my own experiences and that I can make it as worthwhile a ritual as the Voodoo ritual that I went to last year.

A Blue Star Altar

A Blue Star Altar

I am not Kenny Klein

I would like to take a minute to clear something up. I am not Kenny Klein.

I state this in the “About Me” portion of this blog, but some people are still confused. So I wanted to clear things up once and for all and talk a little bit about my more creative half.

I don’t talk all that much about my  personal life on this forum, I bring up New Orleans; I bring up personal moments that relate to entries; but mostly I use this blog to discuss things in Paganism that I find interesting or issues that fire me up. Paganism is a burning passion in my life, after all. And be warned, if you don’t want to read about my personal life and don’t have patience for a long rambling piece, this is not the blog for you.

This is the story of how Kenny and I met and came to be a couple.

My name is Lauren and I work for a library (and if you don’t think that isn’t very much like admitting that you’re an alcoholic, well, that simply shows that you’ve never worked in a library before).

I grew up in Newark, a blue collar town right outside of Columbus Ohio. I moved to Cincinnati to go to college and ended up living there for a long time. For the record, Cincinnati is another awesome river town with a lot of great art and music.

It was in Cincinnati that I met the Pirates; with that meeting, my life changed forever. While I had always known that I wasn’t Christian (my family is solidly Methodist), I didn’t realize until my late teens that there were other options out there. Of course I had heard of Wicca before, but it didn’t really occur to me that it was possible to seek it out, or that there was a larger Pagan community to explore. In central Ohio, it’s hard not get swallowed up by the overall Abrahamic religious vibe. But when I met the Eclectic bunch of Pagans who call themselves The Pirates, a whole new world opened up for me.

When the economic downturn hit Southwestern Ohio pretty hard, I knew that my job was no longer stable. It turned out that as they were downsizing my department, another job turned up in Columbus. I was sad to leave my friends in Cincinnati, but I reasoned that Columbus couldn’t be too bad. My parents were nearby, I had grown up there; and it was only two hours away from my friends, so I could still go back and visit everyone regularly.

There were certain flaws in my reasoning. Namely, I was miserable in Columbus. There were a few pirates that dotted the Columbus landscape, and I was lucky enough to spend some time getting to know them better. Between them and my Cinci family, I was generally kept on the desirable side of sanity. One of the Columbus Pagans runs a small festival that brings the Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati Pagans together in Central Southern Ohio: it was there that I met Kenny.

I did not like Kenny the first time I met him. Little did I know at the time, he was in the process of going through a frustrating break-up and was moving his life from Los Angeles to New Orleans. He had lived in New Orleans before Katrina, but had moved to L. A. to be near family afterwards. At the time, all I saw was an old curmudgeon who was quite content to mope in a corner of the kitchen and yell at the pirates for being too loud at his concert. (The pirates ran the kitchen and we had to put up with him all weekend; we were excessively loud at his concert).

Kenny did however connect with my best friend at that festival, and ended up staying with her and several of my other friends while he performed at the Ohio Renaissance Festival. He endeared himself to her, but I was still convinced of his overall curmudgeonliness. While he stayed with my friends, he gave them an open invitation to come down and stay with him in New Orleans whenever they wanted.

Now, at one point, the older generation of the pirates lived in New Orleans for several years. For various reasons, they ended back in Cincinnati, but we of the middle generation had been fueled with many stories of the “good ol’ New Orleans days” and of course we all wanted to visit. I had been trying to get to New Orleans for years and every time I tried, plans fell through.

In early December of 2010, my friend called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to New Orleans. The conversation went something like this:

Friend: “Hey! We were thinking about taking a vacation to New Orleans over Yule, want to go with us?”
Me: “Of course!”                                                                                                                                                                                                   Friend: “One small thing…”                                                                                                                                                                                       Me: “What?”                                                                                                                                                                                                          Friend: “We’re going to stay with Kenny Klein…”                                                                                                                                               Me: “*Sigh” I suppose New Orleans is worth putting up with HIM, fine.”

And so, on December 16th, 2010, we set out on the thousand mile road trip from Columbus to New Orleans for an extended weekend.

We drove all night to get there. I remember stumbling out of the car, sleep deprived and rumpled in my sweats, simply wanting to sleep for a few hours. I was even beyond caring that we were staying at Kenny Klein’s house or that I was actually in New Orleans.

Kenny will tell you that he opened the door in time to see me come stumbling out and that he was struck with how cute I was and with the fact that he didn’t remember me at all from the festival. (Not surprising; at the festival, I avoided him like the plague). My friend had warned him that I shared no love for him at all, but that I had promised to be polite. Great start, right?

Over that long weekend, I was struck by the huge difference between the man I had met at the festival and the man that I met in New Orleans. In New Orleans, he welcomed us with open arms into his home, spent the entire weekend showing us around the city and was just, in general, a warm and lovely host.

We returned to Columbus and I didn’t really expect anything to happen with the connection that he and I had made. I was a thousand miles away, there is a thirty year age difference between us, and how in the world would something like that work anyway? But…he started writing me and I wrote back and soon I found myself driving to New Orleans again; this time, by myself.

The first time I came to New Orleans, I knew that it was the city where I wanted to live. So with Kenny writing me, I took a chance and started applying for jobs. I figured, if nothing else, I’d have a friend in New Orleans to help get me through the move and I wouldn’t be entirely alone when I moved a thousand miles away from home by myself. Kenny graciously offered to allow me to move in with him, thinking that I could watch his apartment for him while he was away on his annual summer tour, and then when he returned,I could get my own place. (Kenny says his evil plan was to convince me to stay with him all along, but he and I were both too realistic to think that we would work out in this fairly impossible scenario). Fortunately (unfortunately?) in the midst of all this, I found him to be the love of my life. Needless to say, I never did get my own place when he returned from that tour…

For those of you who don’t know who Kenny Klein is, Kenny has been in the Pagan community for over thirty years. He and his  first wife Tzipora are responsible for spreading the Blue Star tradition of Wicca across the U.S. and Kenny was one of the very first Pagan musicians of the modern era. Moon Hooves in the Sand, Kenny and Tzipora’s first recording, which Kenny generally shudders over now, was pretty groundbreaking at the time. It is one of the first recordings of Pagan liturgical music (if you want to hear really bad recordings of the music that makes up Blue Star ritual, go listen to it). And they did something that no one else had done before. Pagan music was not readily available to the public when they started out. While Kenny and Tzipora didn’t work out in the long run, and their break-up is the stuff of legends now, their music and the tradition they spread has had a lasting effect on the overall Pagan community.

Kenny will tell you even now that he never foresaw himself being a Pagan musician. He grew up in New York in the 80’s punk scene and hung out with bands like the Beastie Boys and the Bad Brains and played at the infamous CBGB’s. As a teen, he struggled with Judaism and searched for something greater. He went to his first Wiccan ritual at The Magical Childe in New York City and as they say, the rest is history. He has been a Wiccan Priest for nearly thirty five years now. Kenny is one of the figures from that second generation of Paganism that took what Gardner and the first generation had started and really spread it around the U.S. for the first time. He was and is close with figures like Oberon Zell, the late Issac Bonewits, the Farrars and many other influential Pagans of his era.

Kenny with Hair in the 80's Punk scene

Kenny with Hair in the 80’s Punk scene

Kenny is a pretty polarizing figure, both in Blue Star, the tradition he helped found, and in the larger Pagan community. A lot of people in the Blue Star tradition itself don’t like Kenny at all and get upset with what they see as being his old fashioned viewpoints. A lot of them will tell you that he has left the tradition and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A lot of other people find him to be loud and obnoxious. He is pretty open with his viewpoints, whether you like them or not.

A lot of other people sneer at us and question our age difference. They see me as the little girl he’s been able to seduce. Anyone who thinks this has probably never met me.

So here’s the deal: When people mistake my writing for Kenny (who has four books in print), it’s pretty frustrating. While he and I are a couple, and I agree with many of his ideas, my thoughts and especially my writing are my own. And while I’m lucky that my infamous boyfriend is willing to promote my writing, it doesn’t mean that he’s secretly the one actually writing it. Whenever I see someone congratulate him on a blog of mine, I get this image of Kenny in a bad wig, hunched over my laptop, looking around sneakily.

Through Kenny, I have gotten to travel all over the U.S. and I’ve been able to go to Pagan festivals and gatherings of all kinds. I have gotten to meet many fabulous Pagan figures, and I get to be privy to a lot of the secrets and the politics that make up the Pagan community. Despite being brought to Wicca by my relationship with Kenny, I am forging my own presence in this greater community.

I also get judged by Kenny’s past decisions (which weren’t always great) and his past wives (which for the most part have been a tableau of mental disorders). I guess that can’t be helped. I have been told I am a welcome relief by some who have gotten to know me.

It frustrates me that often people can’t simply be happy for two people who finally found a happy relationship together.

At the end of the day, controversial, infamous, annoying, outlandish or anything else, Kenny Klein is my S.O. I chose him and kept him, no matter what he wants to tell you. Accept that we are an unconventional couple or don’t accept us at all. Neither of us are exactly what you would call everyone’s cup of tea.

Either way, when you read my blogs, be aware: I am not Kenny Klein. I just happen to live with him.

Kenny and I in Salt Lake City 2011

Kenny and I in Salt Lake City 2011

‘Nothing for them except subjection and plaiting their hair’.

“One doesn’t become a witch to run around being helpful either…. It’s to escape all that – to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others, charitable refuse of their thoughts, so many ounces of stale bread of life a day.”

~Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman, Sylvia Townsend Warner

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Sylvia Townsend Warner

If you’ve never read Lolly Willows, or The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner, you should run out and find yourself a copy immediately. This book isn’t (necessarily) a Pagan book. It is an early twentieth century novel looking at the role of women in English society. Laura, or Lolly, the main character, is a spinster who casts off society’s expectations and eventually makes a pact with the devil. “If women, Townsend Warner implies, are denied access to power through legitimate means, they will turn instead to illegitimate methods – in this case to Satan himself, who pays them the compliment of pursuing them and then, having bagged them, performs the even more valuable service of leaving them alone.” (Sylvia Townsend Warner: the neglected writer) While modern witches have nothing to do with Satan, this book has always struck a chord within me and when I reread it, which I do every year or so, I’m reminded again and again about why I became a witch.

“If she had been called upon to decide in cold blood between being an aunt and being a witch, she might have been overawed by habit and the cowardice of compunction. But in the moment of election, under the stress and turmoil of the hunted Lolly as under a covering of darkness, the true Laura had settled it all unerringly. She had known where to turn…. She was a witch by vocation. Even in the old days of Lady Place the impulse had stirred in her. What else had set her upon her long solitary walks, her quests for powerful and forgotten herbs, her brews and distillations?”

I never felt I belonged in our church. My parents had to bribe me with coloring books and trips to MacDonald’s to get me to go. And according to my father, they just quit going to church after the bribes quit working and I started throwing screaming tantrums. Keep in mind that I had parents who didn’t let me get away with tantrums. I still have a healthy dose of fear for what my parents might say to me if I screw something up too badly. I don’t remember these tantrums, but they must have been pretty spectacular for my school-teacher parents to give in to me. I can’t think of any other instance in my entire life where I have done anything similar. I’m not a tantrum sort of person. I’m the “so-quiet-you-forget-they-can-actually-speak” sort of person.

I never found anything in a church that called to me; I never felt the divine in the church. But I knew no alternatives. When I left being Christian, I thought that there was really nothing else to pursue. I knew that the divine was real, I knew it existed; I had felt it when I walked in the woods of my childhood. Presences of things that I couldn’t explain had always been there. And, as I’ve mentioned before, my family is chock full of witches in denial. I didn’t know enough to call it Paganism at the time, but I started thinking about the divine as the Other. It was something that I could sense, call on,try to somehow explore. This helped bring me back into a spiritual balance.

Just a usual gathering of pirates…

It wasn’t until later, when I started living with a Pixie, that I was confronted with Paganism. The Pixie was an eclectic who was willing to put names to things and remind me to do the polite thing, like leave offerings of rum out to appease certain deities at the right moment. I found a great deal of peace around her altar, and a sense of comfort in thinking that she knew what was going on. Her knowledge of Paganism was slowly able to bring my sense of the Other into a concept that I could express. At this time I also found the Pirates, which was just as enlightening. The Pirates are a very eclectic Pagan bunch whose thirst for knowledge is unparalleled. It was through this group of wonderful people that I was finally beginning to learn the names of things; to know that the thoughts and feelings that I had had as long as I could remember where not as crazy as I had always thought. And while Pixie and I have not spoken in a long time, and I don’t know if we will again or not, I will always be grateful for the many wonderful things she brought into my life.

“She was changed, and knew it. She was humbler, and more simple. She ceased to triumph mentally over her tyrants, and rallied herself no longer with the consciousness that she had outraged them by coming to live at Great Mop. The amusement she had drawn from their disapproval was a slavish remnant, a derisive dance on the north bank of the Ohio. There was no question of forgiving them. She had not, in any case, a forgiving nature; and the injury they had done her was not done by them. If she were to start forgiving she must needs forgive Society, the Law, the Church, the History of Europe, the Old Testament, great-great-aunt Salome and her prayer-book, the Bank of England, Prostitution, the Architect of Apsley Terrace, and half a dozen other useful props of civilization. All she had to do was go on forgetting them. But now she was able to forget them without flouting them by her forgetfulness”

I was very happy as an Eclectic. In fact, having had some very bad run-ins with Wiccans throughout the years, I was fine with keeping to my solitary nature and doing my own piratical thing.

The S.O. and I in Salt Lake City. Religulous anybody?

And then I made the mistake of falling in love with not just a Wiccan, but an extremely staunch Wiccan. I have just written a column for the Pagan Household about this, but I’ve never really explained it here.

My S.O. and I do not live a conventional life. There’s a thirty year age difference between us. If you had told me five years ago that the love of my life was going to be an itinerant musician who was thirty years older than I am, I would have laughed you right out of town.While he and I don’t usually notice our age difference, the society that we live in certainly does. Even in New Orleans, it generally makes eyebrows raise and prompts some very inappropriate questions. And of course there’s always the old stereotype of the older man taking advantage of the younger woman. If anything, I take blatant advantage of him (which I openly admit to).

In my daily life, I run the acquisitions department of the library of a major Southern University. I work the usual sort of eight-to-five hours and bring in a steady paycheck with benefits. However, I refuse to give up being myself. I know a lot of people that cover up who they are when they are in the “real world”. I always live in the “real world”. My real world simply happens to include the fact that I am also a witch. My fantasy life is my actual life.

“’They say: ‘Dear Lolly! What shall we give her for her birthday this year? Perhaps a hot-water bottle. Or what about a nice black lace scarf? Or a new workbox? Her old one is nearly worn out.’ But you say: ‘Come here, my bird! I will give you the dangerous black night to stretch your wings in, and poisonous berries to feed on, and a nest of bones and thorns, perched high up in danger where no one can climb to it.’ That’s why we become witches: to show our scorn of pretending life’s a safe business, to satisfy our passion for adventure.”

If you had then told me five years ago that I would start my path towards initiation in a Wiccan tradition this year, I would have laughed at you even harder. Until my S.O. came along, I had not had a lot of good run-ins with Wiccans. And as I said in my column, watching my mother exist in a religion that she didn’t really seem to believe in had always made me angry. I swore that I would never be the girl who converted for my partner’s sake. And I also know that age old argument about who can and cannot claim to be a witch. For this, I will continue to claim my old eclectic view. Anyone can be a witch. Being a witch really has nothing to do with what tradition you follow or your level of initiation. That whole year and a day thing is just sort of ridiculous to me. I see its purpose for those who are new to the whole idea and need to see a whole year as a witch, but are you a witch or aren’t you? It really is that simple. I’m not saying that you should claim knowledge that you haven’t gained or claim initiations that you haven’t earned, but the title Witch itself is just so much more encompassing than a tradition. This is one thing that the S.O. and I will have to continue to agree to disagree on. For me being a witch isn’t tied to being Wiccan. It is a state of mind and of being that I will never leave behind me, no matter how Wicca works out for me in the long run. But being a Witch means facing ones’ thoughts and fears, and perhaps Wicca is a step in this direction for me.

Laura cries ‘Nothing for them except subjection and plaiting their hair’. The dullness of everyday life for women ‘settles down on one like a fine dust, and by and by the dust is age, settling down […] there is a dreadful kind of dreary immortality about being settled down on by one day after another’.

At the end of the novel Lolly Willowes Laura agrees to sell her soul to the devil in exchange for ridding her of nuisances and letting her live a peaceful existence. I have not sold my sold my soul to Satan (or even believe in such a figure), but by becoming a witch, I have found peace in my own life. My life would never be complete ever again if I had to give up this feeling. I hate the end of the movie Bell, Book, and Candle. I can’t imagine falling in love in a world where the love of my life could not accept this side of me or that even by being a witch, I wasn’t able to love. I’ve had to compromise my religious beliefs a little for my S.O , but he has had to compromise a little for me as well. Together, we are an excellent pair. And together, we are both witches of an excellent sort.