Tag Archives: Witch of This Place

A Place Without a Witch, Chapter Four

Virginia Clay

Virginia Clay

The first time that Gemmy rooted with her landbase, she found it cold and wet. The land was red Virginia clay and Virginia clay is red because it’s full of iron. Virginia clay holds water in between the tiny particles of iron and stays cool, even in Summer. Oddly — or, well, actually, not oddly at all, my sweet, my heartling, my best, good listener — Gemmy’s human body was full of blood that was also red. It was, perhaps not so oddly, red for the precise reason that Virginia clay is red: because blood, just like Virginia clay, is full of iron. And blood, like Virginia clay, is wet, but blood, unlike Virginia clay, is so hot that it steams, when, as it mostly should not be, it is exposed to air. And, so, Gemmy, with her warm, red blood, and the landbase, with its cold, red Virginia clay, met, and knew each other, and found, despite the differences in their temperatures, a point of connection.

As Spring came on, Gemmy learned to shut off office politics as she walked through the door of her home. It was a deliberate act, accompanied by an act of breath. Air-in, hold, suffuse the air with office politics, air-out. Insert key into lock, turn key counter-clockwise, step into home. Gemmy dropped her backpack, her housekeys, her fingerless mittens, and her coat at the door, walked to her kitchen, poured herb tea into an old clay goblet, one that her coven-sister Mari had made for her, and walked out onto the barren deck that over looked her barren back yard.

Gemmy took a deep breath, rooted, came into communion, and poured the herb tea, brewed each morning, onto the broken pavement that was her backyard. “Greetings, red clay,” she’s call, with all the irony that three decades, one divorce, a broken dream, and $15,000 of debt can teach a woman. “I am Gemmy, the Witch of this place. I want to be in right relationship with you.”

Somedays, the place was silent. Somedays, it answered back.

Gemmy showed up, regardless.

Picture found here.

Wild Nights Should Be Our Ecstasy

Now the winds are picking up and my old trees are swaying dangerously back and forth. I’m an old, risk-averse woman with a bum ankle and I’ve done pretty much (little enough) everything that I could do to prepare for this once-every-thousand-year storm. There’s now No Way Out But Through, and we’ll see if we’re in still in Kansas anymore once we’ve gotten through.

And, so, in my comfy, well-stocked basement, I’m thinking about what it means to be the Witch of This Place in the middle of this kind of storm. One of the things that first attracted me to Witchcraft was the statement (and I wish that I could remember where I read it or who wrote it) that “A Witch Takes Responsibility.” I’ve never understood that in a Carolyn-Myss-New-Agey-The-Promise-If-You-Got-Killed-By-A-Tsunami-Your-Higher-Self-Wanted-To-Learn-A-Lesson-From-The-Tsunami kind of way. I understand it to mean that, if you’re going to walk between the worlds and do between them what may affect them all, then you’d better be well-informed enough to take responsibility for what you’ve done, you’d better be ready for it when your own little node on the web reverberates, you’d better be responsible for your own reactions. I made, almost a decade ago, a sacred pact with this small cottage and with this Bit of Earth. I’m responsible for it and I’m responsible for what I’ve done to contribute to the global climate change that is now wracking it mercilessly. And I’m responsible for being grown-up enough to acknowledge and accept that the Universe is often random. Sometimes, shitty things happen to good people and it’s not because Jehova hates gai people. It’s because randomness (that most liminal and Hecate-blessed quality of the universe) is absolutely necessary (“Hail,” as someone once wrote, “Eris, full of Grace, Holy Queen of all this place,”) to everything else. That’s all.

Another thing about Witches, and I think that T. Thorn Coyle may have been the one who said this, is that we’re not afraid of the dark. OK, maybe, tonight, I am kind of afraid of nature’s dark and destructive power, but I am still willing to recognize it, to appreciate its role, and, even though I am scared, to ask it to come in, sit down, and help me to pay attention to it, because paying attention is a very large part of my own spiritual work.

And, so, today I am asking Sia’s wonderful question: “What Are Witches For?” and adding (you know, the way that you add “in bed” when you read a fortune from your fortune cookie, only not like that at all) “during Hurricane Sandy?” At some point, the power is going to go out, except for the generator that will (Goddess willing) keep the sump pumps, refrigerator, and an outlet on, and I’m going to just stop, sit with the storm, and try as hard as I can to be present instead of afraid. And then I’ll be present to being afraid. Because even when all that I can be is afraid, I will still be an afraid Witch and, thus, I will take responsibility for paying attention to my fear. And I will not forget what my Bene Gesserit sisters have taught me:

I must not [fear; that’s the word that Frank Herbert left out, fear: “I must not fear fear,”] fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Facing fear and allowing it to pass over me and through me seems, to me, to be another way of saying “being present,” of saying “paying attention.” And, once I’ve actually done that, only “I” will remain and “I” am both the observer and the observed.

Samhein’s coming. This year, it is not coming gently. I can hear the Wild Hunt’s horns and it’s not yet clear for whom they blow. My dreams are increasingly intense. My ancestors and descendents (genetic and spiritual) inhabit my dreams. I will lie down tonight — underground, beside and enwrapped within the roots of my beloved old trees, under a Full Moon in Taurus, beneath a raging storm — the Witch of This Place. Maybe She has something to say to us, this Storm. She’s certainly yelling loudly enough. And I will lie down and listen and dream with a willing heart because I want to say, like Jefferson, that:

[L]ife was freakish
But life was fervent,
And I was always
Life’s willing servant.

Maybe we could do it together. Maybe you could set an intention tonight to learn what this Storm is trying to tell us. Maybe you could tell me tomorrow what you learned. After all, if we’re going to hunker down, we might as well do it with purpose.

And, of course, I can’t help but be reminded of a poem by E. Dickinson:

Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
In thee!

Moor your spirit tonight someplace where it wants to be. And then see what the wild night has to say. If anyone can fly along wild October winds and enjoy them, then surely, we.

Money & Pagan Values

I’ve started and then, electronically torn up several posts about money for Pagan Values Month. I don’t have the final and definitive thing to say about Pagans, values, and money. And so, please consider this post not so much a grand essay as a gumbo of thoughts about Pagans and money.

First, you don’t have to be a member of the Pagan community for very long to figure out that there are a few issues that seem to “cause problems” for us. Money. Time. Bodily health. Someone else’s success. And, I’d argue that those issues are all, if not precisely the same problem, at least all bound up together and indicative of a bigger, deeper, root problem. (It’s not, IMHO, an accident that all of these issues relate to the element of Earth.)

Second, it’s counterintuitive (at least to me) that Pagans would have these issues. It is, after all, the Christians who are supposed to believe that matter is fallen, that money is the root of all evil, that bodies are evil, and that seeing others get attention should not inspire jealousy or guilt. It’s Buddhists who believe that matter is illusion and that transcending it is the ultimate goal of our journeys here in the material world. And it’s Pagans who are supposed to believe that matter is not fallen, that there’s nothing wrong with prosperity, that our bodies are starlight and magic made manifest, that life here on Earth is to be enjoyed, that all acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess, and that the Universe has enough for everyone.

And, yet, here we are. The Christians have clearly worked out their issues with money. The Buddhists go merrily along transcending Maya. And Pagans keep losing their shit, individually and collectively, over financial well-being, body issues, and success.

Third, John Michael Greer points out that money (as opposed to other systems of wealth distribution such as, for example, household, gift, or exchange economies) does some interesting things that often go unnoticed. (1) It “tends to draw all economic activity into its own ambit by supplanting other forms of exchange with money exchange. That can (and very often is) used for political control, but this is a side effect. The principal effect of money is to turn a society into an economic monoculture.” (2) It “makes it harder, not easier, to value certain very large classes of goods. What [are called] primary goods are the most obvious example. . . . Most traditional societies around the world, by contrast, have no trouble whatsoever recognizing the value of primary [aka natural] goods and finding ways to integrate that value into their own systems of exchange. . . . The Salmon People are perfectly capable of participating in a gift economy, but there’s no way they can cash a check — or, for that matter, write one.” (3) “Money functions as a good in its own right, and the right to use it functions as a service. [Thus,] it becomes profitable to exchange money for money. . . . When money dominates a society, so does the world of finance, and the amount of money being traded for money can exceed by many orders of magnitude the amount of money being traded for goods and services.”

Fourth, anyone pondering issues of real wealth would be well-advised to consult Wendell Berry:

But I would insist that the economic arts are just as honorably and authentically refinable as the fine arts. And so I am nominating economy for an equal standing among the arts and humanities. I mean, not economics, but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth: the arts of adapting kindly the many human households to the earth’s many ecosystems and human neighborhoods. This is the economy that the most public and influential economists never talk about, the economy that is the primary vocation and responsibility of every one of us.

“The making of the human household upon the Earth.” That’s where, IMHO, gardening, keeping a few chickens, knitting warm clothing, knowing how to insulate a home, reading stories to grandchildren, reading Tarot, and figuring out how to brew tea from plants along the hedges comes in. As JMG, notes, such skills are likely to become far more valuable in the next decade or so. It’s also where learning how to manage money comes in. I’m not suggesting that all Pagans need to become hedge fund managers. I am suggesting that they all need to learn the basics that allow one to stay out of debt and live within a budget.

So, is there, Fifth, anything that can profitably (heh) be said about Pagan Values and money?

I’ll begin by admitting my own Moon in Taurus which leads to my preference for a safe, warm, tight little cottage stocked with rice & bean soup, firewood, linen, lavender, and surrounded by the trees and plants of my landbase; to my desire for over a year’s worth of salary tucked away in savings; to my own pleasure in long-term-disability insurance, a well-written will, canned goods and bottled water enough to survive a v bad storm; a snug roof; to my need for whatever safety and security is possible in this (as Starhawk said) interesting, but not perfect, universe. Those are, in fact, the pre-conditions that allow me to do magic, to be the Witch of This Place.

In my own humble opinion, there are two ways for Pagans to approach this issue.

My madcap friend R represents, for me, one way.

It’s v important for her to have plenty of free time to head off to Pagan festivals, to take off and go camping in the woods, to always be able to tell an employer to sod off. And, so, she takes jobs that provide more time off than money, counts every penny, figures out ways to stretch every dollar, and never wastes anything. She has made an art form out of living within her means. She’s done v well at it, having just bought her second house. And that’s what lets her do her magic.

And I represent the other way.

I have a job that stimulates me intellectually and that pays rather well, but that can, and often does, take away my weekends, my late nights, my staring-at-the-ceiling-at-two-am moments. I can’t easily head off to the woods even when I may want for several weeks to do so. But I make enough money to be very secure (at least as much as is possible in these rough times) in my nice cottage, in my tea-stocked larder, and in the warm blankets in my lavender-tucked linen closet. I have a wine cellar that will accommodate any guests blown in by Autumn winds and a guest room that will keep my friends dry in the strong Summer rains. And that’s what lets me do my magic.

R needs my secure little cottage. I need R’s involvement with the woods.

I think that we Pagans need to learn from each other’s relationships to money.

Which kind of Pagan are you? What’s your relationship to money, financial security, bodily well-being?

Picture found here.

This Time, It’s Personal

As my regular readers know, urban Pagan that I am, I’ve been exploring my relationship with the Goddess Columbia, the Goddess of my polis, landshed, Bit of Earth.

I want to talk today about a planned attack upon the Goddess Columbia.

John Benefiel, the head of the Heartland Apostolic Reformation Network and one of the official endorsers of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s The Response prayer rally, says that Washington D.C. is under a curse from God because the Founders named it in honor of the goddess Columbia. . . . [He] blames the country’s political problems on the District of Columbia’s supposedly [P]agan foundations.

In an August 2010 sermon, Benefiel claimed to have the “spiritual authority” to “divorce Baal” from Washington and said that he had renamed the District of Columbia the “District of Christ.” He explained: “I tell you I have more authority than the U.S. Congress does, see I guarantee you that that will not forever be called the District of Columbia, it will be changed by somebody, it will be changed by the Lord when He comes back or our Congress.”

More here.

That’s the Dominionist version of “So Mote It Be.”

In Benefiel’s cosmology, any female form of deity is evil. He mushes them all up into one entity that he calls “Queen of Heaven”, and so Columbia = Queen of Heaven = the Statue of Liberty = Baal (even though Baal comes from a Semetic word that means “lord” or “master” and Baal is generally thought of as male. In Benefiel’s world, demons = female).

More, here.

Here’s their “Divorce Decree”, divorcing America from Baal. Their “Plaintiff’s Decree” asserts:

.1. We no longer have any ties with Baal-hamon. We are Tithers and Givers and therefore we are rightful heirs to the Great Transfer of Wealth to the Church.
2. We no longer have any ties with Baal-berith. We are now free to choose to remarry Jehovah, the only true God, and be in an everlasting covenant and relationship with Him.
3. We reclaim our sexual innocence and purity. We walk in holiness and we reject every form of sexual perversion, homosexuality, and sexual immorality.
4. We are for the next generation. We are for the Unborn’s Right to Life. We will pray and support the next generation to see God’s covenantal purposes fulfilled in them.
5. We no longer have any ties with any form of witchcraft and occult spirits.

To make it all extra legal (pun intended), they’ve got a Writ of Assistance that seems to imply that they own Columbia’s District.

Their “Declaration of Light,” for example, avers that, “we declare illegal in the earth any action of any people, Nation or nations that undertake what is contradictory to the Word of God (Psalmn33:10,11). We render judgment upon all such [idiots always think that “such” sounds very “legal.” I know lawyers guilty of this.] laws or actions and set the power of Heaven to dismantle their effect. (Psalm 2, Psalm 47, Isaiah 40:17, 23).”

They have a Petition for Declaratory Order (honestly, as a lawyer, I’m flattered that they imagine that the Power that Moves the Universe cares so much about the legalistic formalities of modern Anglo/American jurisprudence. Of course, it’s really their followers whom they hope will be impressed). It asserts that:

We seek the Declaratory Judgment of this Court that[,] apart from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and His Spirit at work in the [E]arth, there has never been, nor can there ever be, liberty among men. We offer the evidence of history, from the beginning of time until this plea, that no people, no nation, has ever known the heart of peace, the extent of freedom, the rights of the many, and the prolonged prosperity of the majority, that this Nation has experienced as “One Nation Under God.” We offer the proof that no other spiritual undertaking, no other claim of deity, no other governmental scheme or philosophy has produced what this Nation has known and yet to this day prevails. [Apparently, in spite of having named our capital city for a Goddess.]

We offer the evidence that across the [E]arth for these hundreds of years, people have fled from every other system accepted or devised by men to find refuge here. We assert that unless this Court releases the Power to preserve this historic phenomenon, it shall be irreparably harmed and the favor of God which has heretofore granted it, is in immediate peril of being withdrawn at the instance of foolish alternatives designed by the Defendants. [Lots of undefined “its” there. Makes it confusing to read, but there it is.]

And you know, it would all just be sad, except that there are people in Congress and people running for President who associate with, and are indebted to, this guy. Goddess guard us from them, because, trust me, these people DO want to burn Witches and, once they’re in power, and need a scapegoat, they’ll do it. It’s happened before. It happened in Salem. It’s happening right now in parts of Africa and India. And it can happen here, too.

Now, they’ve declared “Spiritual Warfare” on the District of Columbia, geared to reach a crescendo during the Pagan high holy days of Samhein.

Phase two of this 11-11 Campaign will be a 40 day worship invasion in Washington DC, coordinated by James Nesbitt. The 40 days of worship is scheduled to begin around Rosh Hoshana and run through Election Day to November 11, 2011.

“Laying spiritual siege” and “spiritual warfare” are dogwhistle terms that have clear meanings for Dominionists; and those meanings run well beyond mere metaphor. In fact, spiritual siege and spiritual warfare are forms of malificent magic, often done by people who don’t really understand how magic works or what they’re doing. Both forms of magic can indeed be effective. These types of Dominionist magic rely upon raising energy and directing it towards the downfall of some object. In the case of Benefiel’s attack on the District of Columbia, the specific objectives are masked with nice talk about “changing the atmosphere” in DC, “bringing light,” “praying together as families,” and “standing together.” There’s a lot of warlike jargon: “shields locked,” “each state serving as ‘pointman,'” and “siege.” (And the appeal to Younger Self, to emotions, is done masterfully. Lots of Pagan ritualists could take lessons from these folks.) But when you put those together with Benefiel’s repeated attacks on Columbia and Lady Liberty, it’s pretty clear what this is about.

As a devotee of the Goddess Columbia and a Witch who lives and practices in the greater Washington, D.C. foodshed, I don’t intend to simply stand by and ignore this. I think there’s a tendency among many Pagans (and I include myself) to find this stuff pretty freaking distasteful, to view Dominionsits as nutjobs, and to not want to engage. And, of course, sometimes, giving energy back to these attacks just feeds them.

But I just have to ask: How’s that approach working out for us?

These people are a rather small percentage of the population, yet they have an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. (In other words, their magic works.) And they’re attacking the primary Goddesses of our Nation (Columbia, Lady Liberty, etc.) and doing it during our high holy season. (Imagine for a moment how provocative it would be for Pagans to plan a similar event of “magical warfare” against the Christian deities during, say, Easter or Christmas. We’d never hear the end of it. We could issue ersatz “divorce decrees” and “petitions for declaratory orders” asking Columbia to make clear that America has nothing to do with Christianity and isn’t a Christian nation. And the Dominionists would go ballistic and the press would give them coverage. Well, when we’re attacked, I think it merits a response.)

For me, to be a Witch means to be in relationship with The Land, the land of which it used to be said, “The King and the Land are One.” It means to be in constant relationship with my watershed, my foodshed, my landbase, with the plants and animals and human people who live with me. And I can’t do that without being in relationship with the deity/deities of this Place. And because the history’s been lost, I don’t know how to be in direct relationship with the deities of the First Peoples who originally lived here (which may have been most true to the landbase, itself). So, for me, here, in this not-yet-very-old city of Power, being a Witch means being in relationship with Columbia, a Goddess/archetype (at her best) of Freedom, a modern-day version of Libertas, a descendent, as she’s told me, of the Arthurian cave bear, power and protection of the land, the Goddess of the land, Sovereignty, the woman who gives the government its sacred sword and appoints the guardian of the Hallows of the Land. And I mean to defend Her.

So what does that mean: to defend her? Well, I propose (and thanks to Literata for the suggestion) to seriously ward my Bit of Earth, my own tiny temple to Columbia. I propose to, a number of times between now and November 11, 2011, circle the United States Capitol, sprinkling, inter alia, rosemary (that’s for remembrance) and warding the beautiful statue of Columbia that presides over, and directs energy into, the United States Capitol. I propose to write to my Senators and Congress person, on paper that I’ve charged and with ink that I’ve mixed with sacred herbs, and ask them to disavow this hateful group of Dominionists. I propose to ask my own Circle if we can do some protective magic. I propose, as Summer slips into Autumn and as the Veils Between the Worlds begin to thin, to call upon all of my ancestresses and ancestors, especially those who have worked to make America the Home of the Free, and ask them to block what the Dominionists are doing to this country and to my beloved City on a Hill. I’m an urban Pagan and I propose to do magic to sustain my urban area.

And because I don’t enjoy being merely reactive, I intend to do some magic to strengthen Columbia’s hold over her own city, to help everyone who lives here to see the benefits that she brings to her polis, to increase her influence over this landbase.

D.C. is a small city, in some ways, and it has a small, although growing, Pagan community. If there’s ever a time of year when we ought to be able to get together and work for a common, protective goal, it’s Samhein. What will you do?

Do you take these kinds of “spiritual” attacks seriously? What do you think is the best way to respond? How do you relate to the Goddesses/Gods of your own place? How would you defend them from attack?

Many thanks to Literata for alerting me to this story and contributing her insights to my own thoughts on the matter.


Update: Literata has a very good post up on this topic, as doesThe Wild Hunt.

Those of us who live in Columbia’s district are v grateful for all the help the Pagan community can give to us.