Listen

My grandmother took me aside as a small child and said, “Our family sees things, you will too. We don’t talk about it, ever.”

My father’s family is a fairly typical Appalachian family: they worked hard, had little money, went to church every Sunday, said their prayers at night and looked the other way when they saw things no one else did.

My father, staunch Methodist that he is, emails me regularly about everything under the Sun. This morning I received the email below. I thought I would share it here, because it’s so rare that I hear my older Christian relatives talk about and actually address the things my grandmother told me to never talk about.

And he wonders where I get it from?

Sometimes they are very much in the back ground. You almost have to be expecting to hear them. It is as if they are having a conversation between themselves. Then they seem to come forward if you want to talk to them. Other times they just say things in the clear that they want you to hear. You may look around expecting to see people but real people are not there. They can warn. They share joy. Always pay attention to warnings. E would say they warned her many a time. L knew F S’s time was coming soon. They told her indirectly through him. He told her he sat down while walking from out on the ridge. He heard voices talking of death but he didn’t know whose.

When I was laying in bed dying when my appendix burst, the Sheppard was there at my head all night long. I knew he was there guarding me or just being with me. When I heard the dead stick rattle up and down the rafters of the front porch, he let me know the devil was waiting and I still don’t know why it was the devil and what at that point in my life I had done wrong.

When they had to put the hose down my nose, I had to go to x-ray every few hours. When they were loading me on the elevator for the last time, I knew all I had to do was to let go of the parallel bars I was holding onto. All was black around those bars. I knew not to let go because I would be in the wrong place as a result. I don’t know how I knew unless it was the Sheppard protecting me. The Sheppard never spoke. He had no face I could see. Perhaps it was the Valley of Death of which much is spoken. Since then the voice calls me in the middle of the night. It isn’t the one from the garden. At night it is sharp and piercing by my name. The garden doesn’t call me by name, it is the friend.

Perhaps you will not be the carrier of this curse. It is something to bear. It is definitely another dimension of which Uncle R seems to believe. Your Aunt D doesn’t hear the voices. I am not sure why I do unless L chose me. She use to teach me about them. She always said “You can’t run. You can’t hide!” perhaps she was telling me I would never be free of hearing them. I always thought she was speaking of death alone. Maybe both. You may see patches of light and dark pass you by out of the corner of your eye. I believe there are good and evil forces among them. They are always about their business.

Know this I have had some side effects of the knee surgery. I intend to ride this horse to the finish, as I would rather die than quit walking. The peace was there today as I walked at Dawes with the dog. That is twice now. I have not known it for so long I had forgotten it. It is within you, if it comes to you. It is this serenity like no other. Nothing in this world can hurt you ever again when it is with you. There are forces unseen which do exist. I just happen to be a conduit for some of them. E plays for me on a regular basis now. I would guess by your rule of threes you should always be on the plus side of that count.

It was the last lesson your Grandfather taught me. Die proud and never on your knees, he said. Be proud and never give the bastards an inch. Take it all standing full on. Fear not you will be standing by the shadows of the past.

~ April 3rd, 2016

index

The road that goes down over the ridge where my family has lived for generations.

The first time I ever experienced what my dad is talking about was the night before my grandmother died. She had had Alzheimer’s for eighteen years. I was 21.

She was down to about 80 pounds and had mostly quit eating, so we knew that her passing would be soon.

I went to bed that night as usual and unlike other nights, I dreamed one long dream all night. I woke in the dream sitting in the old, ugly plaid chair in my grandmother’s front room. And across from me, on the love seat, was my grandfather.

I had never met my grandfather, he died when my father was a boy.

We both knew who the other was, but couldn’t seem to actually speak to each other.

We sat there, all night, together, without saying a word, keeping vigil together. Right before I woke up, he stood up and suddenly had a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

Not long after I woke, my dad called me to tell me that my grandmother had passed.

I like the image of my grandmother passing and finding him waiting there for her with a bouquet of flowers. He was the only one she ever loved and they were separated for forty some years.

It took me a long time to reconcile my choices with family expectations and traditions. I know many of my living relatives are disapproving. But someone told me once that death makes us all equal and that they don’t care about things like religion or sexual orientation on the other side. That they claim us no matter what. It took me a long time to realize that my grandfather’s visit was as much an acceptance of me as a vigil for my grandmother.

I think the reason I write about Wicca and Paganism is exactly because my grandmother told me not to talk about it. It took me so long to figure things out. How different would things have been if I had known things at a younger age?

We need to share our stories and listen for the voices. They are all around us, all the time and when they speak, its necessary that we listen. I don’t see it as a curse, but as a blessing. I am a witch. I stand at the gateway between life and death and I am able to speak for those who have no mouths to do so and I can go places that most of the living cannot.

I am proud to walk in the shadow of those who came before me. I come from a long line of hardworking farmers. It’s not a glamorous legacy, but it’s certainly a strong one.

And I too will ride that horse until the bitter end. I have nothing to fear. I will not budge. My roots sink far into the past and will hold me in the midst of the worst storms. Try, try to move me all you like. It won’t work. I am not just anchored in this world, but in the next as well.

 

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A Friday the 13th Playlist

Bansidhe says…

B“Happy Friday the 13th!”

And what better day to listen to some witchy music from the more mainstream media…

First up, that old Sinatra classic, “Witchcraft”:

One of my all time favorites by The Incredible String Band:

Their invocation is pretty haunting as well…

And if we’re doing The Incredible Band, we have to add in a little Fairport as well:

I’ve talked about Martin Carthy’s “Willie’s Lady” before, but I love it so much:

Allison Gross is also always a classic:

Or Steeleye’s “King Henry”:

Or their “Two Magicians”

Steeleye Span just has so many…

Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Calvary Cross”

Crosby, Stills and Nash – “Guinevere”

The Witch of the Westmoreland:

Creedence Clearwater’s “Walk on the Water” –

That old classic…”I Put a Spell on You” –

“Spooky” –

A little Bow Wow Wow (who knew they did more than “I Want Candy”?)…”Prince of Darkness” –

And while we’re on about the devil…the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” can’t be forgotten:

And a little Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads:

(A kind hearted woman is a bruja or a Voodoo woman…)

Muddy Waters:

Maybe a little less witchy, but I’m always about the fairy tales…

Some Beatles for you…

Or The Who…

Tarantula…

Some “Black Magic Woman”…

Can’t forget old Marie…

Witchy Woman:

Or Abacadrabra…

Everyone know’s Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” but what about “The Enchanted Gypsy”?:

Can’t forget The Grateful Dead:

And now for some slightly modern fare…

Roger Clyne and the Peacemaker’s “Persephone”:

Or a modern retelling of Eurydice by Sleepthief:

The Moulettes “Devil of Mine”:

Rasputina has a plethora of witchy songs…but we’ll stick with “Gingerbread Coffin” for now:

Loreena McKennitt has so many as well…

One of my all time favorites…Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting”:

And who could forget Siouxsie…

I think I’ll go ahead and end it there, but I would love to hear what your favorites are!

May your Friday the 13th be luckier than mine!

Magical Apples

Fall and is definitely a season of apples! At least in North America. The apple dominates many seasonal activities, foods and symbolism. I asked my students to research Samhain traditions throughout Europe (Samhain is of course inherently Celtic, but many other European cultures see the Fall as a time to celebrate the reaping of the harvest and death as Fall fades into Winter) and one of my students found a tradition in which people bury apples to feed their ancestors, which inspired this post.

The tale of  the serpent and the apple is one that probably almost every person in Western culture is familiar with. The apple, the forbidden fruit, is the symbol of Eve’s disobedience and in many ways, women’s power over themselves, their bodies and their choices. It is also a reminder that Eve was not Adam’s first wife. Lilith, the snake, she who would not be ignored, is one woman that Western culture often conveniently likes to overlook. The apple represents knowledge and the ability to reason, and therefore make our own choices and not simply follow the instructions of an uncaring deity, the way that Lilith did before she was cast from the Garden.

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton's Paradise Lost)

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, 1808 (illustration of Milton’s Paradise Lost)

Of course, Lilith is a much older deity than the one dimensional character she plays in the Old Testament. Lilith is remembered originally from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a text that was written probably around 1800 years before Genesis. Lilith sits in the Huluppu tree that Inanna has planted in order to use to build a new throne. Inanna is the goddess of creation and she is afraid of Lilith, who represents the chaos of the primordial world. Inanna asks Gilgamesh to rid the tree of Lilith’s presence, in order for Inanna to establish her order over Lilith’s chaos. Of course the tree, just like the tree in Genesis, is the World Tree or the Tree of Knowledge, and Lilith is the feminine spirit that inhabits the tree. In Genesis, Jehovah wants an inherently masculine world and Adam promises not to eat the fruit of the tree, which is feminine in nature. Eve never makes that promise and when the serpent tells her to eat the fruit, she has no qualms about doing so. Of course, Jehovah cannot stand to have female energy dominate his new world and casts both Adam and Eve out in order to contain Eve’s possible knowledge.

Lilith is known as the mother of demons; motherhood here seems to be the ultimate evil. When Eve was cast from the Garden, she is forced to endure pain in childbirth. To this day, menstruation is seen as unclean throughout many cultures and in those cultures, being male is the only way to be truly pure.

Another story of the apple representing knowledge and discord is the infamous Apple of Discord thrown by Eris, eventually causing the Trojan War, a war that transitioned the world from the age of myth and heroes to the age of history and reason. Again, women are seen as being at the cause of the issue of the apple and of the war itself. Where did this apple come from? It was the apple that Hippomenes used to distract Atalanta from beating him, apples he got from Golden Aphrodite, the goddess of love, thus forcing Atalanta to marry and become a mother.

Do we see a common theme in all of these apple stories?

In North mythology, Idunn guarded the golden apples which kept the Aesir young. When she was kidnapped for her golden apples by a frost giant, Loki had to rescue her to ensure that the Aesir wouldn’t age. The apple is a symbol of rebirth and beauty, just as in the other myths already discussed.

Arthur Rackham's

Arthur Rackham’s “Freya”

Of course, there is also Avalon, the Isle of Apples, the place where Excalibur is forged and that is famous for mystical, magical practices. Both Morgana Le Fey and Nimue are associated with Avalon and apples. Arthur is taken to Avalon in order to recover from wounds received during the Battle of Camlann, the battle where he fought Mordred and lost.

In later fairy tales, the apple shows up over and over as well. The most famous instance is perhaps the apple in the story of Snow White. Unlike the Disneyfied version of Snow White, the Witch Queen disguised as an old beggar woman first tempts Snow White with golden combs and a beautiful corset. The combs are poisoned and when they are removed from her scalp, Snow White wakes up. When the Dwarves cut the corset off Snow White, she is able to breathe again and is once more OK. But with the apple…the apple is stuck in her throat and this time the Dwarves can’t understand what is wrong and can do nothing but put her in the famous glass coffin. Unlike in most modern versions, it is not a kiss from the Prince that awakes Snow White, it is because when the Prince comes and sees Snow White, he demand that the Dwarves allow him to take the beautiful woman in the glass coffin home with him. In the course of carrying it, the coffin is dropped, jolting the apple out of Snow White’s throat. It is only through the Witch Queen’s careful initiation that Snow White gains the knowledge she needs to claim her rightful place in the adult world and become a wife and mother.

Apples are inherently important throughout western myth. And the apple and the witch figure often go hand in hand.

In Gardnerian Wicca, its a sacred act to slice an apple down the center in order to see the pentacle inside.

apple

Photo by Lauren DeVoe

Apples are often used in divination and love spells. If you can peel an apple without breaking the peel and then toss the full peel over your shoulder, the peel should form the initials of your true love’s name.

CIder is of course the base of Wassail and is found as a part of ritual throughout the year.

The wood is used for many different magical purposes as well. Many shipbuilders traditionally wouldn’t use apple wood to build ships, because apple wood was used to build coffins, again helping people transition to the Underworld.

The apple is the foundation of so much of our myth and ritual; take the time this Samhain to enjoy the apple season. Go to an orchard and pick apples with your friends and loved ones. Cut an apple open on the full moon and thank the Goddess for another year. Bury apples so that the dead have something to eat. We often take the apple for granted and forget its many magical uses. When you eat an apple, you are eating the fruit of knowledge and are acknowledging the power of the sacred feminine and at the end of the day, just like the sexuality of women, the apple is simply a delicious fruit that should always be savored.

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Photo by KK at Brushwood, 2012

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

Enter Freely and of Your Own Will

This is from a column I wrote for The Pagan Household on June 3rd, 2013 and is a follow up to my last post:

 

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about magical etiquette. I thought I would expand on that topic a bit more and talk about what to do when you invite guests to your rituals.

When you invite someone to a ritual, don’t assume that they know or understand anything about what you’re doing, because, well…they probably don’t. Even if this person has been in the Pagan community for years, that does not mean that they will be familiar with the sort of ritual that you’re doing.

Make sure to give them some background about your group or tradition and explain what you’ll be doing in ritual. It can be confusing going to a new ritual; giving a guest some basic background information can help them understand your ritual a little better and allow them to ask appropriate questions. It also lets them know what they should be doing during ritual.

Explain your altar and the tools on it. Tell the guest a bit about why they’re there, what you will be doing with them and how the guest should act around them. Don’t want your guest to touch things? Tell them that, and explain why. You don’t have to give away secrets, you don’t have to go into a three hour lecture, you can just say hey…this is my athame, I’ll be using it to direct energy, please don’t touch it.

Make sure to explain any stances that you might be doing within ritual and let them know whether you expect them to follow along or not. I always explain what we will be doing at different points in ritual, why we do it and let the guest know that they can do the stance or feel free to just stand politely throughout. Not everyone’s comfort level is up to following along. It can also help to explain why you’re using a particular stance. In my rituals, we do a stance when we are calling quarters. It’s not only a stance that’s respectful, it’s also one that helps you ground the energy that we work with.  Clarifying things like this helps people be more comfortable with what they are doing.

And most importantly, explain what will be happening in ritual. Let them know what the point of the ritual is, what you will be doing at certain points and all the things that will be used in ritual. My significant other went to a ritual where they drank wine in the ritual. Sounds pretty standard right? It wasn’t until later that he found out that there was semen and menstrual blood in the wine. If you’re doing something like this, tell your guests, they have a right to know and the right to make a choice about whether or not to partake or to participate. If you’re going to be upset if someone does not want to partake or participate, then this is a ritual where you probably should not invite guests.

In this scenario, warning your guests about the possibility of death would be appropriate.

In this scenario, warning your guests about the possibility of death would be appropriate.

Make sure to take a minute or two here or there to see if your guest has any questions. This doesn’t have to take away from your ritual, there are always moments in ritual when you can pause and check on your guest. If there really isn’t a spot to pause, make sure to check in after ritual is over and make sure your guest understood everything that you did.

Rituals with guests should also not be long, drawn out affairs. People have a short attention span and when you’re a guest you aren’t usually expecting to end up participating in a five hour ritual. Would you want to be involved in a five hour ritual if you weren’t familiar with the people involved or a ritual that you weren’t familiar with? One of the worst rituals I ever went to as a guest ended up being a five hour ritual. Keep it short.

Having feast after ritual? Make sure to inquire into your guests dietary needs. If the person has a dietary need that you can’t meet, let them know that they should bring something that they can eat. Don’t wait until the meal itself to realize that you don’t have anything other than celery stalks for someone who is vegan.

There’s this idea in the Pagan community that you have to have perfect love and perfect trust for everyone in your ritual. (I see this a lot at public Pagan events). This comes from the line in the Wiccan Rede, which most Neo-Pagans misquote. The line is “Bide ye Wiccan laws ye must, in perfect love and perfect trust”. This has nothing to do with loving and trusting everyone perfectly in a Circle; this is about the laws of the Wicca and really doesn’t have anything to do with non-Wiccan circles. This is a fallacy that is dangerous. If you have a guest, treat them like a guest. This is obviously someone you trust to a certain extent, since you’ve invited them to a religious ritual. This might even be a longtime friend that you do love and trust. Most of the time though, this is not the case. This is someone that you just met and they expressed interest in what you’re doing, or it’s a friend of a friend. Don’t hand someone your house keys just because you’re inviting them to your ritual. The gods are not asking us to be stupid.

Having a guest to ritual can be both fun and educational. It can help people understand a very important part of your life, or help them in being able to be a part of something different than what they usually do. But keep in mind that this is a guest and don’t expect them to understand everything. Think about how you would feel if you were going to a strange ritual and treat a guest accordingly. It’s easy enough to have a bad experience just because you don’t understand what’s going on around you. Sometimes the little explanations make the most difference.