Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic

She neither prays to Gods Above nor begs divine

aid with suppliant hymn, nor does she know prophetic

entrails. Decking altars with flames funereal gives her

joy — so does incense filched from pyres already kindled.

The Gods Above grant her every evil the moment

she invokes Them — They fear to hear her second prayer.

~ description of Erichtho from Lucan’s Pharsalia, Book 6, lines 523-528 from Jane Wilson Joyce’s translation

The last few months I haven’t put a great deal into writing here because I have been so focused on finishing my thesis for my M.A.

It focuses on the classical witch Erichtho and her appearance in one of John Marston’s plays. I fell in love with the witch Erichtho in an independent study on the witch in literature last year.

It is finally officially done and published! If you’re curious, you can find it here: http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020/

I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope I can keep working on this fascinating, powerful witch figure.

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia - From the British Museum Online Collection

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia – From the British Museum Online Collection

Abstract:

Since classical times, the witch has remained an eerie, powerful and foreboding figure in literature and drama. Often beautiful and alluring, like Circe, and just as often terrifying and aged, like Shakespeare’s Wyrd Sisters, the witch lives ever just outside the margins of polite society. In John Marston’s Sophonisba, or The Wonder of Women the witch’s ability to persuade through the use of language is Marston’s commentary on the power of poetry, theater and women’s speech in early modern Britain. Erichtho is the ultimate example of a terrifying woman who uses linguistic persuasion to change the course of nations. Throughout the play, the use of speech draws reader’s attention to the role of the mouth as an orifice of persuasion and to the power of speech. It is through Erichtho’s mouth that Marston truly highlights the power of subversive speech and the effects it has on its intended audience.

DeVoe, Lauren E., “Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic” (2015). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2020. http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020

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Pagans and Abortion

For the anniversary of Roe v. Wade I wrote a blog for Witches and Pagans about my own experience with abortion.

T. Thorn Coyle said it much more eloquently than I did. She said, “Death and life are inextricably intertwined. To deny a woman’s power over the workings of her own body is to deny her right to foster life itself.”

I am rabidly pro-choice. If you choose to have an abortion, at any stage, for any reason, that is your right. No ifs or buts.

The Pagan community is full of empowered women. But no woman can be empowered when she doesn’t have the right to choose what happens to her body. Being forced to bring a child into this world against one’s wishes is not something anyone should have to go through.

When I see people’s reactions to that original blog, I am profoundly saddened by the same sense of shame and ignorance from our community that you can find in any middle-American Bible Belt town.

We are a community that embraces all forms of love and intimacy. Why are we scared of discussing the validity of abortion?

It’s so important to tell our stories and experiences when it comes to this topic.

When I went to Planned Parenthood, I had to walk through protestors who called me horrible things. I had to be admitted through a locked entryway. I had to talk to a nurse behind bullet proof glass and I couldn’t take anyone back with me, when it came my turn to talk to the doctor, for the safety of the doctors and nurses in the clinic.

Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures there is and yet I was unable to have my abortion in a safe and comfortable environment with the care and support I deserved in a world of modern medicine.

I am not a Christian who believes that abortion will send me to Hell. I am a Pagan woman who knows that I have sovereignty over my entire self.

How can we empower women and not allow them to make this most basic, fundamental decision? I am worried that the Pagan community is losing sight of one of the most important aspects of what we are, a community of powerful women.

I recently had an experience at a local Pagan campground. I ran into a nineteen year old who was incredulous that I, who am almost thirty, didn’t have any children. She had two children, both of whom had already been taken by the state because she couldn’t support them. If this had been someone not raised in Paganism, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But she had been raised Pagan and she was just like every other uneducated, Christian girl I grew up with. When did we start forgetting to teach our daughters about how to care for themselves and their families? Was it when we asked that modestly be a value in our community?

I’ve seen a lot of arguments that state that abortion is against the Wiccan Rede. This infuriates me. The long term harm on a woman who is forced to carry a child to term that she can’t or doesn’t want to care for is much greater than the choice to rid your body of a clump of cells. The consequences of bringing a baby into the world that isn’t wanted has an effect on more than the mother who is forced to do so as well. Want to see the threefold law in effect? Then force that sort of pain into the world.

Our society already has unwanted babies it can’t care for. If you tell me adoption is a great option, I would ask, when did you last adopt a child? If you feel abortion is wrong, yet you do not help in caring for unwanted children, you are a hypocrite.

My only regret? Not being able to find Pagan resources that helped me deal with my anger and grief at having to make that decision.

I created my own ritual for healing that I did without any guidance.

I know of only one Pagan book that discusses abortion, and it was written by someone I don’t trust.

Where is our discussion of abortion in Paganism? Where are our resources? Why are we willing to ignore yet another part of the possibility of a woman’s reproductive life. We have maiden, mother, crone. We have menstrual rituals, birthing rituals, croning rituals: where are our rituals to deal with this choice?

Reading back through this, I know I sound I angry. Well, I am angry.

Angry that this sort of conservatism is encroaching on a community that treasures women’s lives.

The cycles of life and death are sacred. That cycle is reenacted through women’s wombs every month. Abortion is as much a part of that cycle as either pregnancy or bleeding.

I refuse to keep quiet about this particular topic. I refused to be ashamed of making the choice that was right for me. I refuse to give in to those who continue to try and entrap women by controlling their bodies. This is a choice that other woman out there go through everyday.

Abortion is a choice that everyone deserves to be able to have.

I’ll echo T. Thorn once again, because as always, she says it better.

I honor the cycles of life. I honor the cycles of death. I honor my power, as a priestess, to hold out a hand to both. I clasp those hands, bringing life and death together.

I am a priestess who balances life and death together continuously. I celebrate my ability to do so and to accept the pain and fear of hard choices in all aspects of life. Maybe if I do it, someone else won’t have to. Maybe by suffering and offering up my own pain, I can relieve some else’s.

Women’s rights are a battle we are far from winning, but maybe by speaking up and speaking out against the ignorance of others, we will get just a few inches closer.

And I celebrate other women who have made the same choice in the face of overwhelming fear and shame.

I celebrate those fierce warrior woman who stood up in the past to gain us the rights we currently have. I celebrate those women who continue to fight today to maintain them. I celebrate those who have had the courage to walk through the same protestors that I did.

As a priestess, as an independent woman, as a girl who grew up knowing that my choices defined the very core that makes up “me,” I refuse to give in to fear and hate. To do so goes against everything I believe in and everything I stand for.

You don’t have to approve of my own choice, but I would fight for you to be able to make a different one.

Choice is power. Choice is freedom. Choice is ownership over the self.

Without choice, we are nothing.

Dear Bust

My partner and I are avid Bust readers. Bust says that it is a magazine “With an attitude that is fierce, funny, and proud to be female, BUST provides an uncensored view on the female experience. BUST tells the truth about women’s lives and presents a female perspective on pop culture. BUSTing stereotypes about women since 1993″.

Bust comes out once ever two months, so I usually leisurely peruse through the magazine. Tonight I picked up the latest issue, the October/November 2013 issue and came across an article titled “A Broom of One’s Own”, an article about “tales from two months immersed in a world of witchcraft. By Callie Watts“.

I was pretty upset by it and actually sent them an email. Unfortunately, the article is only available to subscribers, so look for it in bookstores if you want to read it, but my response is below. I think the author showed an extreme lack of respect to anyone who is dedicated to actually learning the Craft. I was shocked by the lack of sensitivity showed towards a very female empowering religion in a magazine that prides itself on addressing women’s issues.  (Yes, I’m totally that person).

Dear Bust,

For the very first time I was extremely upset by one of your articles! I was surprised by the lack of thought in the article “A Broom of One’s Own” in your Oct/Nov 2013 issue.

As a Wiccan priestess, I was dismayed by the lack of respect Callie Watts gave my religion. The idea that came across was “Oh, Wicca is so cool and easy, why wouldn’t anyone do it?!!!”.

Wicca is a path of hard work and intense study.

Watts sums Wicca up with “Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede, which basically dictates that you can do whatever magic you want, as long as you don’t harm anyone”. The Rede is a more complex piece that involves a great deal more than that. This misunderstanding shows lack of research and implies that Wicca is a new age religion, rather than a syncretic, codified religion that takes hard work and years of study.

Watts gives many incorrect definitions as well. (A Book of Shadows is not a personal diary, it is the combination of all the work that has been passed down initiate to initiate, coven to coven over years) and showed how lightly she was taking everything she was doing.

She also ignores the fact that many are still persecuted for being practitioners and that many are still afraid to “come out of the broom closet”. These are not issues to be taken lightly and for young women who are seeking the Craft, reading a piece like this can have many long term negative consequences.

The Craft is an honorable path that should be approached with dedication to the Gods, magic, ritual, herbology, mythology, history, sacred art and environmentalism. Making light of the hard work those of us involved in the Craft do, is an insult to a community of devoted spiritual workers.

I expect better of a magazine devoted to women’s issues. Wicca is a religion of strong, empowered women (and men) who understand their abilities and duties. Making light of this path does not gives the proper message to young women about the importance of acknowledging spiritual responsibility and the role that they could play within it.

Sincerely,

Ect, Ect…

A Reply

This is a little belated, but a friend of mine and I were discussing the new American Horror Story, The Conjuring and other horror movies. Originally from Mississippi, he is a horror aficionado and has a masters in history. (He is not Pagan at all). I really enjoyed his response and I thought you might enjoy what he had to say.

He has graciously given me permission to post his long rambling reply back to me, with the understanding that it was not intended for anyone else to see it, nor was it edited.

The Salon article we were talking about can be found here.

The Wild Hunt article we were talking about can be found here.

I am certainly interested in hearing any of your own responses to the articles or to what he had to say!

The Wild Hunt’s review was far superior to Salon. I’m not a fan at all of Salon. I mean, sometimes they do good investigative work, but their cultural haughtiness is sickening. Plus, they are one of the most important participants in modern “travel guides” about the South written by “outsiders.” Meaning, they, probably more than most other media sites, perpetuate this negative image of the backwoods, insidious South, like if Deliverance mated with Mississippi Burning. Talk about shortsighted…

Anyway, I might just have to see the movie. If Salon doesn’t like the complicated cultural politics of the Conjuring, what do they think of the Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, or the Omen? They could make a case that two of those are “progressive,” but certainly not the Exorcist if we’re going by Salon’s, or even Wild Hunt’s, rubric. The Wild Hunt’s critique focuses on the hegemonic nature of Christian theology in American culture. That seems more like a political statement than an actual critique. And, I totally understand why and don’t mean to disparage that. It’s necessary. I like that it furthers this critique in discussing how it obfuscates the true meaning of witchcraft, shines a light on the Warren’s bullshit, drums up “reality” to sell tickets, and pigeon holes a historically troubled religion with dualism. But, as it points out, aren’t the Warrens Christian culturalists, self-promoters, and publicity hogs? Hell yeah. Is this their first time to drum up notoriety with a movie? Another Hell Yeah (plus a couple more). (another sidebar: what horror film isn’t dualistic?) I also think it’s shortsighted to suggest it could be anything but a Christian horror film (in the dualistic sense of good v evil). It’s true it’s not a subversive Christian horror film, like those others I mentioned. Thought exercise: what would a pagan horror film look like? I’m thinking it would be similar in a lot of ways.

I’m not sure what the cultural impact of this film will be. Where Salon and Wild Hunt see problems of upmost gravity, I see marketing techniques and horror clichés. I agree wholeheartedly that it sounds like there is nothing flippant, politically revolutionary, or that. But, I’m cautious. People wrote off Saw as a horror film beset by reactionary politics, as if they were totally unaware of the Christian/moral culture wars taking place at that distinct historical moment of the early 2000s. I saw it as a grotesque reflection of the early 2000s. An old white man punishes those he feels are unresponsible drains on society? God damn, did he sleep with Ayn Rand?

The feminist angle is a good critique. It sounds like both reviews hit that point pretty solidly. Once again, I need to see it. Does the female character/witches have a sort of agency? Who is viewing that agency, or what perspective is the film told from? A man’s? The Warren’s? A woman’s? These are big deal questions that should go a long way in establishing, or supporting, the points made in the Salon article. Or they could totally discount those points. Case: Rob Zombie just released another horror movie revolving around a new England town and the Salem Witch trials. It looks to be pretty subversive, a coven of witches reaching through history to empower women to take their revenge on the hegemonic culture… It doesn’t sound like this is the Conjuring.

The Salem Witch Trials thing… Whatever. I mean, getting all in a tizzy over whether or not a horror movie portrays an event in history accurately is like getting mad at the clouds for raining. It’s pointless. Anybody can search Salem Witch Trials in google, go the the Wikipedia page, and discredit any premise put forward by a horror movie about the historical event. You could say the same about a Wikipedia search for “witches.” (Wikipedia the Warrens, it isn’t a favorable “toneless” article). This doesn’t mean that the influence of culture on how people describe horrific events, or supernatural events, doesn’t trickle down to our “enlightened” 21st century. I could see, if I were Wiccan, that this would make me uncomfortable, but it’s pervasive. It’s also pretty campy. So many of American totems, or popular culture figures/stock characters, are so campy. Horror, even at the most horrific, is campy.

I guess I see transgressive and subversive properties in the Christian-American bastardization of the Wiccan religion, especially in some horror movies or just our culture. If a bunch of little girls are dressed as witches and terrorizing the boys, I would like to give them a “right on.” Horror films are all about anxiety, so even when they’re told from the reactionary perspective they’re automatically exposing the faultlines in their own logic thinking by showing where that culture breaks downs, or where the weak points are in the ramparts. The best horror is written like a satire, in a fit of discontent. The Conjuring probably wasn’t coming from that angle.

 

**Have you seen House of the Devil?

American Horror Story Coven promo shot

American Horror Story Coven promo shot

Unselfish

Yesterday in the midst of reading about CNN’s blunder in their handling of the Steubenville rape case, I was caught up in an unexpected argument at work. The argument was over whether or not women who choose not to have children are “selfish”. Apparently I, as a young woman, am extremely selfish for living a fulfilling life without children.

The expectation that women will and should have children is omnipresent in our culture. It is even seen in the often fiercely feminist Pagan community. I especially see it in the triple Goddess concept of Maiden, Mother, Crone. (This is especially poignant because this conception of the Triple Goddess is not an element of classical myth; it was born of the Feminist Goddess movement of the 1970s).

This idea is wrapped around the assumption that a woman’s worth is characterized by her reproductive abilities; that the three stages of maiden (before childbirth), Mother (in the midst of birthing and raising children), and Crone (the inability to have children any longer) are the stages that define a woman. It is as if there are no other important parts to a woman’s life.

The sad part is, we don’t even seem to be realizing we’re doing it.

I am none of the above and I have no plans to procreate in the foreseeable future. I do, however, think about it a lot. The other day my partner asked me why (with a slight hint of panic in his eye), but my generation stands at the precipice of a new way of thinking, and the decision to have children is no longer an easy one. Today, we have the choices, but we are also still pressured to conform to the ways of a thousand generations of our ancestors: ancestors who did not have easily obtained birth control, and who could devote their lives to being in the home, raising children.

I am a fully independent being whose self worth is not tied up in my potential to bear children. I am lucky enough to live in an age of science, and to experience the most freedom we, as women, have ever enjoyed. While there are those out there who are fighting to take that away from us, our right to choose is one of the most powerful rights we have in the sovereignty of ourselves.

The power to choose is also one of the most significant that we, as witches, have.

The phrase, “Witch, know thyself” says it all.

My energies lie elsewhere: in my partner, in my coven, in my new priestesshood, in my writing, in my career, in my graduate work, and none of these things would be possible if I were to choose to have children right now and devote myself to their care.

I am not “selfish” for choosing differently. If feminism did nothing else, it gave me the right to choose how to handle my body and my family making decisions. The fact that I hear this mainly from other women is one of the worst parts about the whole thing.

We need to come up with new concepts of what characterizes womanhood. We need to reach beyond the archetype of the triple goddess and embrace new ideas of what women are and what their possibilities can be. While the triple goddess may be an easy archetype to grasp, we are more than that. My Lady is more than that. The Craft that I practice is about more than that.

I am not “selfish”; I am a witch who is here to help reshape the world. Whether I decide to create life has no bearing or relevance on my place in that unfolding reality.

Gender Respect in the Pagan Community

For this post, I’ll be referring back to my last blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue”, so if you’re confused or want to see the actual comments that I’m talking about, please go back to it.

I wanted to expand a little on my last post, because one thing became clear to me from all of the responses that I received was that what we should be talking about in the Pagan community, instead of “modesty”,  is respect.

One of the comments that I received was from a woman that said that she dressed modestly because of how Pagan men approached her. She said essentially that a lot of Pagan men assumed that because she was Pagan, she was “easy” and she was made extremely uncomfortable by this sort of attention. This is not uncommon. I too have had similar experiences. Whether you cover fully or wear nothing at all, you should never be made to feel uncomfortable at our gatherings.

My S.O. has a story about a man in the Pagan community who would go to Pagan festivals and single out the young women who were new to the Pagan community, essentially saying something to the effect of, “Hey! You’re Pagan now. You’re expected to sleep around! Why not start with me?”. Apparently, he was well known for doing this in the community. This man was actually shot and killed later on. He was staying with friends and someone walked into the house and murdered him. They never discovered who did it, but everyone assumed that he had gone after the wrong woman and a person in her life had decided to violently retaliate for the harm he caused. My question to this story is this: why didn’t we, as a community, see what this man was doing and take him aside and tell him that what he was doing was inappropriate and harmful to the community? That somewhere there would be consequences to him, as well as the emotional upset to the women he going after?

PaganDad was incensed that he took his children to a Pagan event and they had to witness BDSM when he, as their parent, didn’t think that that was something his children should witness and that it was not age appropriate. Most festivals will cordon off areas where adult behavior is appropriate and set these apart from where the children are or allowed. I still think this isn’t a “modesty” issue. It was disrespectful of the festival to blatantly disregard what parents would consider to be age appropriate. The festival didn’t take “respect” into consideration. And PaganDad is right to point out that we need to think about how newcomers and outsiders are going to react to these situations. If we don’t take respect into consideration, we are going to lose people who might otherwise join our community.

When PaganSoccerMom tells me that I’m missing the point because  “clothing made for little boys aren’t generally created to make them look sexual beyond their years”, I strongly disagree. I think that little boys get it just as much as little girls do. When little girls are being given Brittany Spearsesque clothing, little boys are getting pants that sit down well below their waist lines to show off their underwear and wife beater shirts to emulate rockers and gangsters. Doesn’t anyone see that this is clearly having the same effect on them? The boys who robbed my Significant Other and I (who are around the ages of fifteen and sixteen) have grown up in this culture, and they are expected to become like the men in their lives. They have been in and out of juvie, they have been under house arrest and the cops all know them. This behavior didn’t start last night, it started with behaviors they were taught that would gain them acceptance in their community. These boys already have blatant disrespect for the women in our neighborhood. How we teach our little boys and young men to act in regards to nudity and modesty is just as vitally important as how we teach to the girls.

PaganSoccerMom also commented that:

“As for my deliberately”not getting it” on the point that dressing our girls in an age-appropriate way is telling them that “teaching them that other people can’t control themselves in reaction to their bodies”, I think we do that every day. We teach them to not walk down dark alleys. Not to leave their drinks unattended. To walk in groups. All these are, at least to me, part and parcel (along with wearing age-appropriate clothing) ways to help keep them safe. There are bad people out there that will do bad things and we have to do things to help keep ourselves safe.”

What she is still missing is that we live in a rape culture. While we tell little girls not to get raped, we don’t tell our boys not to rape, and this is what needs to change. And instead of reacting to it in the Pagan community with the old monotheistic notion of “modesty” (look at the example of the Middle East to see how that’s worked out for everyone involved), we need to address the larger issue of respect, and how both sexes need to deal with each other. I, as a woman, should be able to walk down a dark alley completely naked and not have to worry about a predator jumping out and violating me. Now, I know that we don’t live in a perfect world and while this is the ideal, as a woman, I do avoid dark alleys and I don’t leave my drinks unattended, but if we ever want to make it to this ideal, we need to start by teaching our children that you need to respect women.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that we ignore the men in our community. That the Pagan community is not always masculine friendly. There’s the old joke that our priests are just altar boys that are there to assist the priestess. My S.O. has a book out called “The Flowering Rod“, which is about men’s roles in spirituality. His contract with his original publisher is up and he is shopping it around to some of the bigger Pagan publishers, who all keep telling him that no one wants to read about men’s issues in Paganism and that they are only publishing things marketed to women. How can we be a healthy community when we ignore half of our community?

One of the things that initially drew me to Paganism was that I saw it being a balanced approach to masculinity and feminism. The Christian church became abhorrent to me because of how they told me that as a woman, my health and my issues weren’t important enough to address outside of the patriarchal context. I’ve always considered myself to be a feminist, but one of the things that makes me angry in feminism is when we go so far as to want to exclude men entirely. If we want to have a healthy community, we have to treat men and women equally, and I think that in the Pagan community, we have the unique opportunity to actually do that.

We should not be telling our women to dress more “modestly”, we should be telling everyone that the people of both sexes have the right to be treated with respect on all issues. We need to acknowledge the role that our men play and more fully integrate them into our practices so that they aren’t left standing on the outside of our community. Until we do this, we are going to continue to have problems with the ways men and women interact. And yes, I’m sure we’ll always have bad apples, but women are often just as guilty in their behavior as men are, and until we address the wider issue of gender equality, our community won’t be able to move forward on any of these issues.