Book Review: Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint By Nadia Bolz-Weber

I don’t know when or exactly why I stopped reading the Huffington Post. But at some point, I did. I can almost guarantee it wasn’t out of malice. HuffPost, for the most part, has long been right up my alley when it comes to journalism. I read them a ton when I was younger. There was even a time when Recent College Dropout Me fantasized about writing for them. But then she got busy raising babies and started reading TMZ between diaper changes. Her brain slipped a bit and those hopes slipped away. Younger me made some poor decisions (TMZ obviously, not the babies). Somehow, other than the passing hashtag on Instagram, I had almost completely forgotten about the publication. That was until one of their headlines ended up on my Facebook timeline.

And oh boy, was it a good one.

This Pastor is Melting Purity Rings Into a Golden Vagina Sculpture

I mean, how could you see that and NOT click on it?

The article talks about how Nadia Bolz-Waber, the lead pastor at Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints and all-around kickass progressive Christian author and theologian, is working with artist Nancy Anderson to reclaim the idea of the purity ring. Their project asks people to send in the purity rings they were given as young people so they can all be melted down together to form a golden vagina sculpture. People who sent in their rings by the dead received a silicone ring of impurity and a certificate to boot.

In case you missed it, purity rings were part of some Evangelical circles back in the 1990s to the early 2000s. I even covered this topic in the early days of this blog with The Problem With Purity Rings. Basically, they were a yet again another gross way to try to force further control over young women’s bodies and sexualities. Bolz-Waber and Anderson wanted to use art to try to not only change but also recover from that. And that is pretty fucking awesome.

The article left me not only with an overwhelming sense of “Fuck yeah Girl Power!” for the day, but it also left me with some questions about this Nadia Bolz-Waber lady.

Lutheran pastors can have tattoos? There’s a queer-inclusive church in Denver called House For All Sinners and Saints? There are church people who are down with women having the right to have control over their own bodies and make their own decisions? And who are cool with art that has vaginas in it?

Obviously, I must learn more. Regardless of the differences in our beliefs, Nadia Bolz-Waber sounds like a freaking interesting person with a whole lot of interesting stuff going on.

So I did what anyone would do in our era, I googled her.

Then I bought two of her books.

The first one I read is the one I’m going to finally get around telling you about after this exceptionally lengthy introduction.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint was released in 2013 and is a wonderful blend of autobiography and living mission statement. The book chronicles not only Nadia Bolz-Weber’s struggles with her church and faith but also talks about how she got there.

The book opens with the definition of what a pastrix actually is. And for someone who didn’t actually grow up in the church but did grow up in the thick of the Bible Belt, it was as hilarious as it was helpful. (Have I ever told you about my great grandma’s sister who was am untrained female Southern Baptist preacher? I saw her anoint someone with vegtable oil once. That’s not really related to being a Pastrix but I felt the need to share.)

Following the opening definition, we are introduced to The Rowing Team and told about Bolz-Weber’s early days of sobriety and stand up comedy. The chapter sets the tone for the entire book because it shows exactly how open and transparent Bolz-Weber is with the audience. I was taken aback at just how real her writings were. For whatever reason, it felt alien to me to see a person in the business of holiness not having a completely polished and perfect image. I grew up in the land of Jim Bakkers and Tammy Fayes, Ted Haggards and Jimmy Swaggerts. We have megachurches here. We also have tiny churches with pastors who act like they have a megachurch. I am not used to people in religious authority being so open about their own dirt and more importantly, their own humanity. I’m used to overdressed and made-up plastic doll “people” not actual human beings full of faults, flaws, and four letter words. Bolz-Weber is an actual human being. Four letter words included.

The rest of the book continues with the same candid, honest communication as the first chapter. Bolz-Weber just does not sugar coat a damn thing. And it’s so fucking refreshing. Even coming from a Pagan standpoint, there are times where spiritual books get a little too saccharine for me. That does not happen here. Bolz-Weber is candid and honest with her struggles and never tries to paint them in a positive light. She does often find the cord that ties them to certain spiritual meanings. And I feel that is important. She finds God in the cracks, not just in the sunshine. That’s how I’ve often found connection with my path too. It’s never been the Goddess coming down and making flowers bloom on the path in front of me while moonlight perfectly reflects off some charging crystals lying on the ground. It’s been finding a connection to The Craft in the middle of the mud and gunk of life.

Speaking of, one of the chapters of the book even features a brief visit into the time Bolz-Weber spent with God’s Aunt, the Goddess. It’s about the few years she spent hanging around the Wiccan religion while she took some time off from Jesus. There is no talk of the evils of witchcraft, no talk of damnation, no talk of Hell. I’m not sure if that’s just the Lutheran way or not, but holy balls, it’s awesome to see.  It’s just her pleasantly remembering how much love was present and how awesome the female companionship was of the group was. There was nothing but acceptance and love towards group she was attached to and the people she knew. While I’m not a Wiccan, it did make my Pagan heart happy to see so much love for us Pagan folks.

Some of the stories in the book are so honest, you kind of feel like you’re reading a diary. What’s great about a lot of them is that Bolz-Weber isn’t always the one that ends up being the hero at the end. You can see her as just a real person, someone who, even though she is the pastor of a church and leader in the community, is looking for the answers too.

Nadia Bolz-Weber does not shy to share where she is cracked, or when she has dirt under her nails (there’s a talk in there about Jesus that will make you understand the reference in that sentence). She is open with readers about her struggles and questions and even the doubts she once had about the whole thing. She is equally as open about her belief and devotion. She doesn’t just pay lip service to being a person of the cloth. She lives her faith. The good parts, the easy parts, the rewarding parts, but that’s not all. She also proud lives the hard parts, the unsure parts, the sad parts, the bitter parts, the tiring and painful parts. And she’s not afraid to share it all.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to not only seeing the melted down purity ring vagina sculpture but reading the author’s other books in the future. Just because we don’t follow the same path, doesn’t mean we don’t take some of the same steps. I really feel that Nadia Bolz-Weber is an amazing woman who has a lot of world-changing ability. Also, we curse about the same amount, so that makes her writings really relatable and enjoyable to read.

I can’t recommend this book enough. If the mood strikes you, definitely pick up a copy. And since, like always, I am late to the party, totally check out the other books she’s written. I plan to.

And just as a funny add-on, there are a lot of mentions of places in the Denver, CO area in the book. Mr. ConjureandCoffee is a born and bred Denver native, having moved away from Colorado when he was around 10. So pretty much everytime a location came up, my South Carolina self would ask him “Hey babe, do you know where so-and-so is?” He quickly tired of my spur of the moment geography quizzes. I’m not sure why he puts up with me but I’m sure glad he does. 🙂

Book Review: Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic

It’s time for another book review Dear Readers!

But before I review this book, I want to tell you how I even came to read it.

I was doing that mindless scrolling down my Facebook feed that we all do. You know the type, the not really looking at anything but not paying attention to the outside world either sort of scrolling. It’s a horrible waste of time that could be spent being productive.

One of the post I saw that day was someone talking about Working Conjure by Sen Moise. I don’t remember what page or person it was from but I remember thinking the cover looked pretty neat. And the tagline, “Find your power at the crossroads” tugged my heart a little. I briefly read the summary the person or page had included and made a mental note to try to pick up a copy when I got the chance.

Then my mindless scrolling continued. My day went on from there, taking care of people doing things, you know, the same old grind.

That night, camped out on the couch after an exceptionally tiring day of being a mama, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when once again, I saw the cover of the book. This time it was a different person talking about it and how much they enjoyed it. Though the who’s and what’s escape me now, I remember clearly they were two different people, two different pages both talking about the same book.

Because I’m the type of person who doesn’t (often) have to be told three times, I went back to the computer and ordered a copy of the book, Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic by Hoodoo Sen Moise

 

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It arrived a few days later and I began to read it as soon as I got the wrapper off.

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The book opens with an introductory tale about a day in the life of a Conjure man. It sets the tone for the book early. The author’s voice is personable and clear. It’s like you’re talking to an older family member around a table while you snap peas together. It reminded me of the various “uncles” that used to come around my great grandma’s house when I was a kid, but much more knowledgeable.

The book then jumps right into the meat of the issue. The first chapter answers the question What is Conjure/Hoodoo? thoroughly and with a very common sense approach. The history of Conjure/Hoodoo/Work is talked about as well as the many different aspects to it’s continued following. It’s a quick, insightful, pleasurable read.

The following chapters carry on in the same manner with the author providing personal insight and experiences that get to the heart of the practice. There’s also practical advice and instruction on how to do work. There are instructions for making mojo bags, fixing a candle for separation, a work for a simple cleansing, and a lot more.

Most of these works include the Scripture that is best used for the piece of work. This is something that threw me off a little. And I think that is a purely personal thing. I am not very close to Christianity, even though it was the religion I grew up neck deep in. Sometimes I get to black and white in my thinking.  I not sure why I was surprised at the passages being included. It’s laid out clear as day that Conjure/Hoodoo have elements of Christianity in it. Honestly, it’s feature in the book helped me tackle my own prejudice and dichotomous thinking. I’ve still got a lot to work on when it comes to that, but I think I have a good start.

And speaking of work, one of the most important ideas presented in the book is the idea that your practice is not just reading and thinking. It’s doing. Rootwork is work. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to put yourself out there and be active in your practice. You have to know your roots and know your surroundings. The chapter that goes in depth on the powers that locations have is one of my favorites. Especially the focus on graveyards. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but there are some very good ideas and precautions in the book about doing work in and around graveyards. If you use graveyards ever in your Practice, you need to read these pages. 

The book also talks about spirit work and emphasizes the importance in the connection to our ancestors. This part of the book hit close to home for me. I have been feeling tugged towards finding out more about my ancestors. Its almost like I can feel them calling me but am not quite able to hear it. The reverence this book places on our relationships with those that came before us has inspired me to listen harder and connect better to those whose blood I share.

Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic is a wonderful book. It does something that for me, not a lot of other books do. It gives you the tradition of the work as well as a way to implement it in the present day. And that I think is a perfect balance.

 

 

 

A Smudging Primer

Gather round friends. It’s time to talk some Conjure.

Here’s my quick rundown on Smudging.

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It’s said that the average adult washes their hands about 8 times a day. The same average adult showers between 3 and 7 times a week. Obviously, being clean is important. But what about the spiritual part of us?  

Think of all the times you’ve ended a call or walked out of a room and were left feeling gross. Or how after an argument or altercation full of heavy emotion, you can feel the negativity around you like a cloud of second-hand smoke. For those times when negative emotions overwhelm and stain, there’s smudging.

Smudging is done by burning certain herbs, typically sage, cedar, or sweetgrass, bundled together into smudge sticks. The herbs can also be used in loose leaf form. (Hell, once I used powdered sage). Then the resulting smoke is used to cleanse a person, place, thing, or even animal of negative or stagnant energies. It is also a way promote healing, to honor, and as an act of purification.

Personally, I love sage. For my entire life, I’ve been drawn to the herb. Honestly, I am not a plant person. I’m pretty sure sunflowers turn away from me when they see me. But something about sage has always felt right to me. I haven’t tried to grow my own yet though. I think I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever tried to grow. But very soon, I am going to get a few sage plants to cultivate in the dilapidated herb garden in my yard.

Smudge kits typically contain a smudge stick, a feather, a shell, and like the one I got recently some matches. Each part of the kit is correspondent with an element. The shell for Water, the dried herbs for Earth, the matches for Fire, and the smoke from the herb for Air.
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As with any ritual or practice, the intent is important. Smudging should be done with positive, determined heart and mind. You should hold sacredness and respect while you are smudging, There are prayers or chants you can recite while taking part, but as with everything, you don’t have to. The importance is that you do what feels correct.

The act of smudging can be both an every day and a ceremonial practice. It can be a periodic “Spring Cleaning” for the spirit or it can be a prescribed solution to a problem. Also, it doesn’t have to be just for you. Any item that you use frequently can and should be smudged. Crystals, tools (magick and secular alike), even your cell phone and computer could benefit from the act. If it’s in use and important to you, a quick smudge can’t hurt.

The same is exceptionally true for your home. Smudging your house can eradicate the lingering energies that you want gone. There’s even scientific thought that the art of smudging has antibacterial effects. And as someone who has a house full of what feels like constantly snotty-nosed children, I will take all the antibacterial effects I can get. 

While I am no expert and hold no degree or title of rank, I know this:

Smudging works. It makes me feel better, mind and body. It makes my house feel better and safer. I’d say my results were purely anecdotal, but for thousands of years, it’s been proven.

 

 

My Thoughts On Saint Patrick’s Days

I’m writing this on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day 2018. Instead of going out and taking part in the merriment, I’m at home writing in my pjs. The kids are in bed, a crime show is playing at a low volume and I’m trying to decide if I should have a post-dinner snack. For me, it’s just another night while the husband is at work. But outside my boring world, this is a day of celebration.  

Today online has been swamped with countless talk of parties and shamrocks, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” declarations and green beer. I have absolutely nothing against people revelling in a holiday. With the shape of things in the country right now, I can totally get behind a day of hearty fun. If our hands are busy lifting beer glasses they are won’t have time to attack each other. So by all means, drink, eat, and be merry!!

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My gripe and the gripe of so many of my fellow Pagan brothers and sisters is that the snakes St. Patrick ran out of Ireland weren’t the kind that slithers. They were actually Pagans. In a quote attributed to him, his views of the Irish people were explained:

Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ!” source

St. Patrick is said to have created over 300 churches in the Emerald Isle. More importantly than just the physical buildings, it’s alleged that he baptised over 100,000 Irish people. Through his teachings, the native polytheism of Ireland was all but wiped out. If worries of appropriation were a thing in the fifth century they would have been cast at St. Patrick. He understood that incorporating well-known ideas and beliefs into his teachings was the fastest way to get the locals assimilated. He took their beliefs in their “unclean things” and sold them back dripping with Christian tint.

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This was, and still is, the standard modus operandi for the Church. First, find a heathen population and pillage their beliefs. Then, change just enough so they can’t prove you copied them before you finally shove them down their throats. Rinse and repeat until you’ve pushed the populous belief so far underground that it gets referred to as “The Old Ways”.

And that’s exactly what Saint Patrick did. But being credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland may or may not be completely historically accurate. Sent to Ireland around 431 by Pope Celestine, Palladius was the first bishop of Ireland. As with many characters in historical lore, at this point, Palladius and Patrick have probably been conflated to become one person. Either way, I personally don’t see the brainwashing of a people something worth celebrating.

But, and this is a very important but, what the holiday is now is not its intended purpose. The festivities we have become accustomed to here are more celebration than reverence. It’s an important celebration of the incredible spirit of the Irish. From Ireland to America, the Irish people always faced hardship with determination. That is something that is worthy of celebrating and drinking to. In a weird sort of way, it’s kind of poetic. St. Patrick used a country’s religion as a stepping stool to expanding his religion. We now use his day to as a stepping stool to expand our exaltation. That’s reason enough to have a drink.

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But make sure its a really good Irish beer, not that dyed green crap.

Why I’m Thankful For Prayers (even though I don’t believe in their God)

Growing up in the South, most conversations that involve tales of hardship end with a hug and one party saying to the other, “Well, we’ll be praying for you.”. As someone who doesn’t follow any of the branches of the Abrahamic faith that influences every bit of life below the Mason Dixon Line, even something as innocuous as prayers can get overwhelming. If I had a nickel for every time someone informed me that they were going to pray for me, well, I’d have a lot of nickels. It seems like everyone wants to include you in their conversations with the Lord. And really, I’m okay with that.

 

To a lot of believers down here, not being a Christian makes me an uncaring godless heathen. Which is funny because as a polytheist, I have more gods than fingers to count them on. And as a person, I’m an Empath. So I care. I care a whole hell of a lot. While I don’t think of prayer in the same way most Christians do, I believe there is something powerful in communicating with the beyond. When that communication is done for the betterment of someone else, no matter who is listening, it’s incredibly meaningful. Whether you’re talking to God like a Southern Baptist, taking part in your daily Salah, whispering to The Goddess, or chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo there is something profoundly magical in the connectivity of that act of compassion.

To me, magic is all about energy. It’s about being connected to not only yourself and others around you, but to the Universe. So taking your energy and manifesting it into something positive for someone else is huge. It’s a big piece of everyday magic we all agree is powerful but we don’t talk about. It’s like telling someone to have a good day, wishing someone a happy birthday, or saying bless you after someone sneezes. It’s taking a bit of yourself and turning it into hope for someone else. That’s what prayer is for me.

I know it’s easy to think that the people praying for you are doing it only for themselves. And you know what, maybe they are. I’ve never inquired as to the rhyme and reason of someone’s prayers for me. I’m not naive enough to think that some of them weren’t straight up “Please Lord, help this girl find Jesus” ones. But, I’d be willing to bet you all my nickels mentioned earlier, a lot of them were for good outcomes. I’ve lit candles and cast circles for people who would have burned me at the stake for doing so hundreds of years ago. And I did those things out of love with the hope that they helped. And in the world we are living in right now, we all need all the help we can get to achieve a good, safe, and peaceful life.

So please, if you feel moved to do so, pray for me. Meditate for me. Chant for me. If my name and my situation are put upon you, do what feels right in your heart of hearts. Because I promise you, every time I feel that need, I will do so for you. I’ll just do it in my own way.

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