Gather round friends. It’s time to talk some Conjure. Here’s my quick rundown on Smudging. image source It’s said that the average adult washes their hands about 8 times a … Continue reading A Smudging Primer
Before we start, I want to be honest. While kicking around the idea for this post in my head, the working title was “Keep Your Tribe, I Have My Witches”. It was a response to how the word “tribe” is used in popular culture.The more I thought about it the more uncomfortable I was with using that word. I don’t want to offend or insult anyone and I know the usage of that word does both. I don’t want to add to the appropriation.The word “village”, especially in connection with witchcraft lore, works just as well.
Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal”. Our need for comradery and connectedness is genetic. We, as animals, need each other. But sometimes it’s not that easy. Connecting with others, especially the “wrong” type of others, hurts us more than it helps. Finding the right crowd, the right circle to surround yourself with is so very important. And one of the hardest things you will ever do.
While I pride myself on being a nice person, I am not gregarious by nature. Not only am I a homebody, I’m an introvert who struggles with social anxiety. Honestly, maybe I am a homebody because of those things. Either way, I am not a social creature.
I also am not a collector of people. I know people who pride themselves on collecting friendships, like dead butterflies pinned in shadow boxes. I am not like that. I don’t need a huge chorus of yes wo/men. I feel like this does two things. It either feeds into a cult of personality or it devalues the quality of the friendships. I don’t want a group of fans following me around, regurgitating everything I say. I’m not Jim Jones. I don’t need a fellowship.
What I have, and what I’m exceptionally grateful for, is this small little circle of people who love and cherish me the same way I love and cherish them. What this group lacks in numbers, they make up for in true honest emotion.
From a young age, I was taught by my mother that love comes with strings. Every relationship was a maze through spiderwebs of obligations. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I learned that friendship doesn’t come with prerequisites. You just love each other. You support each other. You want the best for each other. It is not a tit for tat set up. No one keeps score. You both strive to be the best you can be and help the other person when they can’t be.
I’m lucky enough to surround myself with magical ladies who inspire me constantly. These women are my support network, my therapist, my comedians, my teachers. They surround me with love and set my creativity on fire. It’s because of them I’ve dived into researching and truly living my Craft. From books to articles to tarot cards in the mail, they have helped me find my true self.
It’s also because of them and their belief in me, I’m writing again. Their support and never-ending cheerleading is a huge part of why this blog and my recent accomplishments have happened. With them at my side, I’ve been able to trust in my abilities and pursue something I’ve enjoyed since I was young.
So while you may have a village, I have my coven. And for me, a tight group of inspiring and motivated friends is all I need.
A Lesson in Wabi-Sabi
The other day, while neglecting the roughly fifty-seven baskets of laundry that needed to be folded, I found this wonderful list of words that have beautiful meanings but not clear English definitions. It’s from 2014 and features the work of Ella Frances Sanders from her book, Lost in Translation. The illustrations are as beautiful as the words, each showcasing the pulchritude that we feel inside, but can’t quite describe.
The one that struck me the most was the Japanese word wabi-sabi.
Wabi-Sabi centers on accepting that life is fleeting and that its imperfections are beautiful. If you remember my post here I am a proud agent of imperfection. It’s in my nature to have things that are chipped and broken, missing parts but still functioning. So I immediately connected with a worldview that pretty much says my acceptance of imperfection is not just the laziness I’ve been lead to believe.
So what is wabi-sabi really? Probably one of the best explanations of the idea comes from Richard Powell: ““[w]abi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” While this might sound nihilistic as shit, it really isn’t. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard something so freeing and inspiring. Let me break down why:
A roaring summer thunderstorm, your first kiss, the first time a baby says “Mama”, the jar of Nutella you hide in the cupboard to eat by the spoonful because said baby is now 9 years old and never stops saying “MAMA!”. All these things are fleeting. They exist and then they are gone. Their purpose is to be experienced. The thunderstorm inspires and connects you to the Earth. The kiss fills your heart and mind with oxytocin dripped love. The baby brings joy and purpose. The Nutella releases the stress that joy and purpose brings. The emotions they bring to you are beautiful because they are ephemeral. To experience the magic that is in a beginning, you have to accept that there will be an end. It’s a bittersweet compromise. Being mindful enough to understand that all things have a finality helps you understand how important they truly are. It’s true for people too. Every person and every relationship in your life will eventually end, including yourself. Experience and love them now, in this moment because that is really all we have.
NOTHING IS FINISHED
Life is kind of like road construction here in South Carolina, it’s never finished. All things are a work in progress. Even if it looks complete, there are still pieces changing, ideas morphing, decay and regeneration happening. Nothing, not a building, an idea, an emotion or even a person is impervious to the changes in the world. So every decision we make, every storm we face changes who and what we are. Its uplifting to know that this is not our final form. No matter how bad things are currently, it is not the end of the story. The converse is also true. No matter how good things are, it is not the end of the story. With the burden of a final goal lifted we are free to continue learning, growing, and striving for better for our entire lives. We no longer have to worry about having to accomplish certain things by a certain time. I often struggle with feeling that the time I have to do certain things has run out. One of my deepest secrets is that I want to learn to dance and perform burlesque. For so long I’ve thought that since my age and station in life has meant I’ve missed my chance. But, if nothing is finished, then my chance is still on the table. And that fills me with hope.
NOTHING IS PERFECT
As much as I tout my love of imperfections, there was a time when I was forced to be perfect. In my young formative years, my mentally ill helicopter mother’s focus was on the perfection of my school work. But being the messy, head in the clouds, overly anxious and possibly ADD kid I was, that was never going to happen. I had too many ideas and too few chances to take them to get all the A’s she felt I should. I’m still trying to replace what was lost due to the price I paid for her expectations not being met. During this time, however, I did have one parent in my corner. , When I was bummed out and upset over not having everything come up aces, my dad would say “There was only one perfect person on the Earth, and they crucified him.” I took solace in those words then even if I didn’t quite understand them. Now, I totally understand what he was saying. Perfect is unattainable. Nothing, except for God himself, is perfect. And being perfect wasn’t even enough to save Him. (Sidenote: The Christian faith of my father obviously isn’t my jam these days. I do respect those that choose that path. You do you, fam. Just be nice and I’ll support ya)
If you accept that nothing in this world is perfect, its like life instantly becomes easier. The freedom in knowing that the world is going to be full of fuck ups no matter what you do lifts that blanket of stress clean off. It erases that compulsion to do things with only the end in mind and allows you to now enjoy the process.
And while we’re at it, I’d like to share this: Perfect is an illusion. Its a thing of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. It’s a way to keep us plugging away without enjoying our life, hoping to achieve some magical happy ending. It keeps us unhappy, unsatisfied, and forever wanting more. If we banish the idea of perfection from our lives, we would be able to enjoy the beauty that is the mess and chaos that is life.
Fun fact: Wabi-Sabi is actually two words. Originally the word wabi referred to the loneliness of living in nature, away from society. Sabi embodied meanings that included “chill”, “lean”, and “weathered”. (Unnessaccary sidenote: The meanings of “chill” and “lean” back then are nowhere near the definitions of them now. That “lean” Soulja Boy talks about is not the same type of “lean” ) Around the 14th century (and you thought this was new age hubbub didn’t you?) the words shifted and started having more positive connotations. The philosophy can be found in art, design, engineering and even the practice of the Japanese tea ceremony.
It’s not just a thought process, it’s a way of life.
One that I think is beautiful.
According to Google, a cankle is “an unusually thick or stout ankle.” If you take a look at the images that pop up after that search you will see cankles are huge punch line in what sees to be a never ending fat joke. A lot of the memes circulating right now are at the expense of Hillary and Bill Clinton. Whatever feelings you have about them, you can agree that insults of this nature are low brow and juvenile. You will also notice a lot of “Get Thin Quick” style ads willing to help you eliminate your unsightly cankles for the low, low price of $19.99. Usually these ad have some mind blowing before and after pictures and a giant Click Here NOW!!
So, based on that, cankles are a bad thing right? Something completely and totally unattractive. Another thing women need to change about themselves to fit into the ever shrinking category of “Acceptable.” We mustn’t let ourselves be too thin, or flat, or hairy, or fat, or anything else that might be too much or, conversely, not enough. We must always, no matter the situation, be attractive. And we must never, ever have cankles.
Guess what? I have cankles. Big, thick, stout calf ankle hybrids. Starting after my scarred up knees, my legs flow, like fallen logs down a stream, into the flatlands that are my big wide feet. Since late elementary school, these chunky stems have been hidden under pants. People may assume, but they don’t for sure know. But I do.I have big cotton picking cankles.
And even though I’m using “cotton picking” as a tongue in cheek adjective, there’s some truth there. Going back many generations, the women of my blood line worked in the cotton fields and mills, picking and spinning the crop that made this part of the South.
My maternal great grandmother, Grandmaw Katie, worked the fields with her husband Ott, and their five children. ( Sidenote: Grandpaw Ott passed away before I was born, so while he is a family member, I don’t really know a lot about him.) From sunup to sunset, they would move through the fields, hunched over at the waist, plucking the little balls of fluff out of their thistle homes. The fields they inched their way through were owned not by ‘well to do’ farmers but by ‘better to do’ farmers. No one was well off in their corner of the world. They picked cotton and tended the fields in exchange for a little clapboard house to stay in and a few dollars per bale.
It was a hard life but Grandma Katie was a hard, tough women. Story goes that she picked cotton right up until she was in active labor with one of my great uncles. She then went into the house, birthed the baby, and was back out in the field before the sun was down. I remember her being mean and stern in the way that only a grandmother can. And I remember, she too had big thick legs and cankles.
In her later years, they would swell and become stiff. Her knees would become hard and refuse to work right. Her ankles would expand over the edges of her good church shoes. Both those legs traveled many miles inches at a time to keep a roof overhead. They stood hours upon hours in front of hot stoves, frying every part of the chicken to feed the hungry mouths at the table. They bowed at the knee to give praise to her god, and jumped and jived to the out of tune gospel music her sister played at reunions. Those legs worked a sewing making to make clothes out of flour sacks. Those legs birthed a generation, and held the ones after. They were the legs and cankles of a goddess.
When I was around 10, while hanging out looking at his motorcycle, my maternal uncle grabbed my calf. He laughed when I yelled.
“You got them thick Grandmaw Katie legs.” He said, working his fingers into the thickness of my calf, something between a tickle and a pinch.
I was ashamed, feeling the weight of a what I thought was a male declaration of my unsightliness. I was a young girl, I wasn’t suppose to have old lady legs. I was suppose to be little and pretty. I was not. I pulled myself out of the uncomfortable air that surrounded us then and went back inside. I remember at the time, not fully understanding why I felt so weird by his comments. It would take me years to unpack all the things from that day. And if I’m truthful, I’ll admit, some days I still carry that memory as part of my heavy mental load. The next time I saw him, and every time after, I made sure to wear full pants.
A lot of time has passed. So has that uncle. And now, after a life of being ashamed, I’m proud of these thick legs and these stout cankles. I get shit done with these things. I’ve birthed a generation of my own and spend everyday helping them become who they are. I work a modern sewing machine pedal with these chunky extremities, making clothes and bags out of fabric a little more expensive than flour sack fabric. I worship my gods and goddesses with these legs and feet, using them to walk under the moonlight. These cankles are important. And while they might not fit in most conventional boot sizes, they are wonderful.
As much as they are mine, they also belong to those who came before. They are one of the links to not just my ancestors, but their strengths as well. I can only hope that wherever they are, the women that came before me are pleased with the woman I turned out to be. Cotton picking cankles and all.
Sometimes I stand in the shower
Cold water turned off
Scalding water raining down on me like cinders
My skin goes through a transformation
Milk white, then new born pink, then cattle brand red
In that moment when all the blood rushes up and my skin threatens to bubble,
I remember the cords around my wrists
The way the sap from the stake penetrated the hand spun cotton of my dress.
How many people there were gawking, both aroused and appalled
Hiding behind and covering their eyes with their holy claims.
The urgency in their eyes,
the hunger that would have pulled my meat from the bone if the flames didn’t take.
I remember the rush of heat, of pain, of cosmic elation as the smoke found a new home in my lungs,
throwing out all the oxygen that has once resided there.
It thickened my blood and blocked my nose,
Fervent prayers weighing down the blanket of flame
that consumed me.
I remember I was gone before the body was done,
before my meat and fat had melted like candle wax
the salivating audience ,ready for my ashes got them on their tongue
proof they saw an abomination erased, stayed until the moon rose high
my body becoming the smoke that itched their nose and stayed in their clothes for weeks to come.
I remember they put my remains with the animal waste
and then wondered why their crops didn’t return, even with the manure.
I remember the cries of hunger, of pain, of violation as the little village
became nothing more than an empty field again.
You say you’re the granddaughters of the witches they forgot to burn.
I was burned.
And I remember.
Poetry has long been a love of mine.
It started with my love of country music. In grade school, I was convinced I was going to grow up to be a songwriter. I’d write song after song, no music just lyrics. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of my depressive preteen years that I figured out, lyrics with out music are just a poem. I devoured poems (and paper writing my own) throughout my teenage and young adult years. Then adult life struck and being a mom and wife forced my writing to go into hibernation. That seems to be changing now. Some of it has to do with reading Lisa Lister’s book Witch. Some of it has to do with having some amazing friends who inspire me every day to be more authentic. Some of it is because I’m waking up. And I’m thankful for it all.
One of those most daunting things about my recent belief voyage is feeling slightly outclassed. Witchcraft, Wicca, the Mystical and the Occult, often have a flair for the dramatic. Candles and robes, crystals and essential oils, sliver ceremonial tool. Just so much stuff! The practical side of me keeps considering the cost associated with all this. And after reading the Modern Girl, Mystical World book, I was feeling a little too low class to take part.
Let that sink in for a minute. I was feeling like I couldn’t commit to what my soul was calling me to do because of my socio-economic status. My family’s situation is better than some and less than others. We don’t face fears that we will go homeless or even hungry. But we do have three children. And as we all know, kiddos are expensive. Because of this and my upbringing in cotton mill generational poverty, I don’t feel comfortable spending money on myself when I know there are other needs that need to be met. I also don’t think MFMW made me feel any better. Sorry, I can’t go on retreats to find my OM. Sorry, I can’t drop hundreds of dollars on supplies to do rituals to put me in touch with my gods and goddesses and,more importantly, myself. Designer shoes and crystals? Yeah dude, that ain’t happening.
While reading Witch by Lisa Lister (side note: I’m going to reread this wonderful book and bring you guys a review soon. It was so good!) I realized those things don’t really matter. I didn’t need certain items to strengthen what I believe. All I needed to do is awaken what was buried somewhere deep inside of me. The ideas of the kitchen witch and the granny witch resonated with my soul. It’s that practical everyday magic that I feel drawn to. So, it’s what I’m going to focus on.
I come from a long line of women who did what they could with the little they had. If you think feeding a gaggle of people on a pound of beans ain’t magic, you’re mistaken. If you can’t see that magic in keeping the house warm when you’re out of cut wood, you’re blind. And that ability to chase off the nightmares with nothing but some loving words and a silver coin? Pure magic. That’s what is inside of me. That’s what I need to remember. Having pretty robes and shiny tools won’t make one bit of difference if I don’t follow the path my feet know.
There is no wrong way to be a witch.
I’m going to wake up the part of me that remembers how.
Wake up witch, we got magic to do.
I remember sitting cross legged on the floor of the bookstore, running my fingers over the spines of the books on the bottom shelf. Tucked in the back corner of the small store, no one noticed the monumental moment that was about to happen. My pre teen brain was a storm of anxiousness and contentment. Slowly I zeroed in on a purple covered book written by an author with a perfectly picked New Age-y pseudonym. I pulled the book from the shelf and my life was changed. A magical moment had just occurred.
I was in a mall in North Carolina and I was just about to purchase my first book on witchcraft.
That book would not be the first time younger me had been pulled towards the nonconventional. I think I was born with one foot in and one foot out of this world. My dad would tell stories about how once I began to talk, I would tell him and my mother about the “Old Timey Days”, or my life before. I have no clear memory of these stories. Just a faint haze like a billboard passed at night. According to my dad though, they were yarns that a preschool kid shouldn’t be able to think up. What I do remember, even back in those pre school days, is feeling like there was more to the world than what everyone else saw.
Religion was an odd thing in my home growing up. We didn’t go to church or practice anything really, but the idea of God was the ultimate rule. Like when I was 8 and wanted to get my ears pierced, the answer was “If God had wanted you to have holes in your ears, you’d been born with them.” This line of reasoning continued until I finally bit the bullet and got them done at 17.
I never could accept that idea. Christianity never sat right with me. Who was God and why was he the only one? Why did we have to perform by these certain rules to please him? What about all these stories in mythology and lore? Why can’t they be as true as the stories from the Bible? No matter who I asked, no one had answers for me. Most people told me I was wrong to even ask. So that’s when I turned to literature.
I was always checking out horror novels and collections of ghost stories. I read a lot as a kid. I had some physical ailments that, at least in my mother’s eyes, limited what I could do. So that kept my nose in a book. It was in those worlds that I found things to believe in. The gray ghost of the Carolina coast, the poor women who were burned at the stake in Salem, the shamans and medicine men that were here before us white folk landed. Those were things I had faith in. The supernatural became something I found, well, natural.
That belief never left. I grew up as the weird kid. Now I’m the weird mom. But lately, this weird mom has been feeling dimmed, forgotten, and overworked. It’s the classic caregiver’s problem. You give so much of yourself, you don’t have any left over. I let my interest in the supernatural and paranormal wane so I could focus on dinners and school, milestones, and laundry. I gave up my magic. And I’ve been struggling without it.
I want to capture some of that feeling from the bookstore again. After getting my wake up call from the Universe, I’m ready to go explore. I’m ready to re-embrace what for so long has made who I really and truly am.
It’s time to ascend. And that’s just what I’m going to do.