The Way of the Witch

This afternoon, I anointed a candle, said a little incantation that I devised on the fly, and lit said candle.  

 

It felt like the thing to do.  

 

The spell is one called “Road Opener”, and it is meant to do just that–open roads, in the proverbial sense. I felt a shift happening, and I feel a shift is needed, so I used the tools around me to ask The Divine for a little boost in that area.  I asked for some opportunities to present themselves, and for the peace I need to close the chapters that aren’t meant for me and to let go of things that I am holding on to without good reason.

 

Last night I felt this rage rising in me.  I was infuriated at wrongs against me, and the ways that people spread lies and misrepresent others and make up stories to fit a narrative they prefer, instead of the way things really are.  The way things are? I’m being slandered by a selfish, insecure, jealous girl who for one reason or another sees me as the enemy that traps her where she doesn’t like being. Whether that is because she admires something in me that she lacks, or she sees something in me that connects with something in her that she dislikes about herself, I cannot begin to guess at or understand correctly.  But the crap thing is that she isn’t being aware enough to see that the thing that bothers her isn’t in me, but in herself, so she is gaslighting and lying and verbally assaulting and slandering in order to make me into the enemy she so desperately needs. And that makes me the enemy of her friends, by some strange loyalty that I have yet to comprehend–because logic has always been somewhat more important to me than loyalty.  

 

But the Universe intervened time and again as that feeling rose in me.  

 

Flex came in and kissed me hello.  Kory forgot that we know one another and introduced himself again.  Mark started yelling my name from the corner in a slightly disturbing manner, but I knew that in his damaged brain it was an endearment and not an offense.  And then I met a wonderful man whom I hope to meet again and again. Chai told me to go after what is good for me and makes me happy, not to wait around for things that won’t likely change for the better.  Raven texted that she will be out tomorrow and can’t wait to chat with me about her week.

 

At one point I ignored all the love that I was being sent and still went back to the other establishment where I had been mistreated and slandered.  I wanted the owner, whom I had always been on good terms with, to know that the situation that had happened with the girl was not one that I meant to impact him, and I hoped to say my goodbyes to him, since he is selling said establishment.  But the girl and her sidekick were present, and the owner treated me just as poorly as they had earlier. Clearly the narrative was spreading, and I was being painted as the enemy of all.

 

I felt that frustration and rage rising again.  I wasn’t sure what to do. So, I went back to the place where the love was being poured out earlier.  And there was more love on tap.

More good conversation, more assurances of my worth, and more positivity swirled around.  I put a few songs on the jukebox and basked in the glow of goodness that I had found.

 

So, today, I knew that what needed to be accepted and anointed and encouraged in my life was this opening up to the places and people who show love and acceptance and encouragement, and a closing of the door on people and places that do not.  The best way to embrace that was with a ritual that I know to express and to empower such a thing.

 

I’ve been one of the many who misunderstood “witchcraft” over the years.  I took it as opening up doors to devils and demons. I took it as power that you couldn’t control or understand.  I took it as one half of a supernatural or spiritual war that had Jesus and an angelic host on the other side of the field of battle.  And I even got sucked into these ways of believing after I had practiced witchcraft of sorts, because I saw and experienced things that I didn’t fully understand or have the rubric for explaining.  I didn’t have the framework in which to hold the powers that be.

 

I’ve been building that framework for about 26 years now, and I have a much broader understanding of these things.  I’m not scared of the devil anymore. Spiritual warfare isn’t really a thing–life is life and it isn’t divided into physical and spiritual bits, whether you are connected to your spirit or totally unaware–and demons aren’t attacking you on the regular.  Spells don’t welcome evil spirits and start horror movies. They are rituals for those who are connected to The Divine. They are kind of like the Eucharist for a Catholic–only less stuck in the age of men who thought the universe revolves around the earth and taking money in exchange for the promise of heaven was ethical.  

 

Honestly, I think it is far less weird to use some herbs and oils and stones to acknowledge my desires and questions and fears and strengths to The Divine than it is to wear a torture/murder device around your neck as a symbol of your adherence to ancient codes of conduct.  And I am an ordained minister with degrees from both Evangelical and Jesuit seminaries–so I’m not really biased toward, but away from, Earth Magick and Celtic practices.

 

Getting in touch with what is going on inside of me–my spirit–and then assessing how that self is interacting with the world around it–the Universe–and connecting with my understanding of deity–The Divine–for guidance and assistance in having better understanding and connection all around, seems like a totally normal, necessary, and sane way of living life.  It doesn’t seem weird to follow this way of being and interacting. It doesn’t seem evil or dangerous. And I am sure that there are many who would quote the few bible verses that say witchcraft and divination are evil and forbidden. But I don’t think that the ancient Hebrews had much contact with the Druids, and I believe that the understanding of witchcraft and divination that would have been expressed in those passages was much different from the using of stones and herbs and oils to affirm and express and seek to align myself with positive and helpful energies.  Context is important.

 

There isn’t any shame in the way I align myself with positive and helpful energies.  And I’m not afraid to have my smudge stick and my tarot deck and my books on herbs and shamanism and spiritual discovery displayed on shelves in my living room.  These are all ways that I seek wisdom, align with positive energy, and keep myself in a healthier space.

 

It might seem strange to some, but there have been threads of witchcraft running through all of my theological study over the years.  I learned to be a witch before I learned to map ancient Israel or translate biblical Greek text. At Fuller Southwest, one of my cohort used to call me Jesus Witch, throughout our Saturday classes, after learning of the ways that Sufi converts keep using their rituals after learning of Jesus.  I would often smudge my apartment and carry crystals even while I studied at Loyola Chicago. There was never really a time when the knowledge of the needs of my spirit left me, even though these practices were not seen as normal or acceptable in mainstream religion. I never stopped needing these things to keep me healthy, in touch, and connected to The Divine.  When I tried to leave these practices behind, I stopped being healthy, in touch, and connected–not just to The Divine, but to myself and to the people around me. They are essential to my wellbeing.

 

The way of the witch is a part of my overall “religion” (a word that I generally reject, because of the way that organized religion has tainted it–I usually claim to be “spiritual but not religious”).  I’m not a Wiccan, in the sense that I have joined that organized group either. I simply find that my connections and my energies and my rituals are essential to my overall health, and that using these forms of witchcraft are one piece of that puzzle.

 

I’m healthier, stronger, more balanced, happier, and less stressed when I use these rituals–whether that be the lighting of the candle and incantation of this afternoon, or cooking with particular herbs, or sage smudging the house, or carrying particular crystals with me during the day, or using more involved spells and incantations, or reading tarot.  Some days that means going out to the beach on the new moon and dancing to the drumbeat and fire. Some days that means setting intentions. Some days that means noticing the rainbows that come from the strategically placed prism in the window. But it always means following the way of the witch.

 

If you want to know more about it, email me or comment and I’ll be happy to share some of my favorite resources for beginning such a journey.  

 

I’m hoping the roads open even more.  I’m hoping that I get to see Raven tonight.  I’m hoping that my new acquaintance becomes more than an acquaintance, because he seems–wow.  I’m hoping that the old things pass away without me concerning myself with the insecurities of others, and that I can move forward and keep being my best self.  I’m hoping I can hold fast to Chai’s advice and do what makes me happy, taking a better road and leaving behind a dead-end sort of situation. And in many ways I don’t have to hope.  Because I have already affirmed it, chosen it, anointed it, and lit it on fire–telling The Divine that I am willing and ready to move and that I am asking for all the helps to do so.  I have yet to be denied those helps.

 

So let it be.

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Earth

My house smells like dirt.  It is fabulous.

Last night a dear friend came over and we planted veggies and herbs in pots that will live in my front room/office/art studio.  (Yes, it is getting crowded up in here.)  At least I hope they will live!  I’ve already got a great rosemary plant, a struggling mint plant, and some wheat grass that has been growing long, grassy tendrils toward the window sill, while the half away from the sill dies.  Once the grass gets uncontrollably long, I cut some off and feed it to the dog. Its purpose is solely to aid the dog’s digestion.  (The juicer hasn’t made it out for use in months. It takes too much energy to clean the thing.)

We dug in the dirt and planted seeds and navigated the challenges of filling large pots without using up all the potting mix, and we talked and laughed and repeatedly chastised the dog for eating dirt.  It was quite lovely.

And later that night, the whole house smelled of wet earth.  And it made me long for a place to call home, where I could dig up the actual earth, on the surface of the Earth, and dig my toes into that cool, dark dirt.  Something about gardening grounds you.  It ties you to this crazy ball of fire and rock and sediment that is flying around in the solar system, and it leads you to the knowledge that health and wellness and beauty and good come out of that sweet, musty, damp, dirty soil.

I remember thinking last night that it smelled like earth, like home, like life.

There are a lot of people in this world who don’t have the pure joy of the experience of gardening—of growing what sustains them and offers them beauty.  There are many more who burden under the sun and the weight of bushels of produce to offer food to the world, while they are left with little for themselves.  And then there are some farmers who grow inedible crops with vats of chemicals and strip the earth of its beauty and its life-giving nutrients, but who believe that they are those feeding the world in a noble way.  My favorite are the farmers who have recognized that way of stripping the earth is not good, and who have taken the time and the effort to create organic farms that offer a rich variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, and grains that heal bodies and sustain life and the planet.

No matter how you view food and farming, there is no doubt that food, and access to it, either fuels life or takes it from us.

This past month, I have been living on what we might call a skeleton crew of body fuels.  Because I am disabled and currently do not have income, I rely on the SNAP program for paying grocery costs.  But, for some reason, the office which hands out or refuses to offer these food benefits was “behind”, and they had (without informing me in any way) received an extension on deciding my annual re-certification of benefits.  I am usually allotted just over $300 to feed a household of 2, and that benefit arrived every 4th day of the month, in the form of automatic payment to a little plastic card in my wallet.  As you might imagine, $300 for two is usually spent in full by or before the 4th rolls around again.  So, when the state decided it needed six weeks to put my information into the computer system, instead of the 15 days that is customary, I was left with two weeks of no funds for food.  And you might think this is some strange isolated incident that happened only to me, but all sorts of families, many with babies or young children, were alongside me in the delayed food boat.  Can you imagine not being able to feed your 3-year-old, because the state is “behind” and got an extension?

I can imagine that.  There were times when my daughter was young that there just wasn’t enough in the food account, and I chose to go without eating so that she could. After all, she was developing a tiny little body and brain that needed nutrients. My parts were fully developed.  There was also a time or two where I was brought to tears because I had chosen food for myself over experiences for my daughter.  She missed her 1st grade field trip because I needed the only $5 in my account for lunch between college classes the day before.  I had forgotten to pack a lunch, and had classes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day.  I needed to eat.  So, I bought a sandwich with that last $5, and I cried in my car in the school’s parking lot as I ate.  (It is a challenge to sob while eating, by the way.)  I knew that my hunger had just deprived my daughter of an experience that every other 1st grader would have.  She sat in the corner of another classroom reading and doing word puzzles for the entire day, while her class went away without her.  She cried for some time after school.  I cried myself to sleep that night.

Food security is one of the most affecting issues in the country.  Millions of people are on programs like SNAP and WIC that assist them in purchasing healthful foods.  Millions more utilize food pantries, where you often get less healthful foods, like canned corn and pasta and boxed meals.  The nearest grocery store to my home is over a mile away.  And without a car, I must take two buses or a train and a bus to get to the store, and then must be able to carry what I purchase back home on my shoulders.  I usually opt for the market that is four miles away, but requires only one bus ride and walking a half block to the bus and to the house, so I don’t collapse from the weight of my milk and beans and greens on the way home (usually).  I live in what is considered a “food desert”.  Where I can access very expensive, unhealthful foods with ease at corner stores or gas stations, but I cannot access fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats at a traditional grocery store.  And there are many more like me.

I used to marvel at the homes of friends that had a second refrigerator and multiple freezers in different parts of the house.  They were all stacked to overflowing with pizzas and casseroles and meats and ice cream.  Everything you could possibly want to eat was there for the taking … and they would stare at the food and say, “there is nothing to eat”.  That was never our family’s situation.  We gardened, so we did have a deep freezer and a row of jars in the basement after canning season, but those spaces were filled with the surplus of the garden, and not with the mounds of convenience foods and beverages that friends had at their disposal.  I remember my mom would make BLT’s for dinner and the bacon was rationed in such a way that we could have one sandwich, with 3 slices bacon, or we could choose two sandwiches and 1.5 slices bacon per sandwich.  I used to think my mom was stingy or strange in the way that she would micromanage food consumption.  As I got older, and had to navigate the world on my own, with hunger and budgets and social services and need becoming real for me, I realized my mom was just trying to make scarce resources into enough.  She just wanted to feed us all month, so she rationed our bacon, and fed us SPAM, and allowed us pizza once or twice a month.

I can’t imagine, and wouldn’t have understood, times without food in a family with five mouths to feed.  I can imagine times without food—or have actually experienced them.  And I think upon my childhood limits and the limits I have set for myself these past two weeks without grocery funds, and it is painful to have knowledge of how messed up our food system is in this country, and how the majority of farm land houses no food for people, but food for cows and seeds for more food that doesn’t feed people.  Vegetables and fruits are considered “specialty crops” and are not subsidized by the farm bill the way that seed corn and soybeans are subsidized.  Farmers are rewarded (and paid handsomely) for growing what I cannot eat.  So there are piles of rotting corn in some places in the U.S., while I have been eating cucumbers and bananas every day, because they are the most affordable fresh items at the store right now.

At times, I see advertisements about farmers and how they are feeding America.  And I usually make a strange chuckle that expresses disbelief and the ludicrous nature of that claim.  My tomatoes are from Mexico, and my bananas from an unknown tropical area.  None of the food that comes to my table can claim to proudly be grown in Iowa, where I grew up and where farmers are revered (the ones that grow the useless corn, not the specialty vegetable crops).  What they can claim is that they are feeding cows, but on $300 a month, we almost never eat beef or pork.  They can also claim to be supporting ethanol, but I haven’t a car, and ethanol costs more and more the farther you get from the Iowa fields.

So, this is a long post about food, I guess.  But it is also about the earth.  And I feel like that love of the smell of the damp earth, and the desire to have my bare toes deep in black soil says something about both food and earth.

I think we are meant to grow things.

Sometimes people argue against my friends who have chosen not to have children by saying that god told Adam and Eve to populate the earth.  But what if that is a slight mistranslation of intent.  What if the meaning behind that command was more like, “I’m not going to let you live in this lush garden that I created for you anymore, but you need to go out and grow life on the planet yourselves.”  Maybe it was the bird kicking the babies out of the nest, so to speak.  Maybe it was a command to go out and till the soil and water the plants and nourish the vegetables and fruits and create a garden of their own.  And if that is the case, then the piles of rotting seed corn, and the hog confinements, and the stripping of and polluting of the soil are all against the will of god.

Now, I’m not strictly religious at this point in my life, but I do believe in a divine presence, and I do believe that the earth, the soil, the water, the wind, the sun, and all that grows and is sustained because of them, are divine gifts.  Divine gifts that somehow arose from primordial ooze after an explosion of stardust, but gifts, nonetheless.  And right now, we are starving millions.  This cannot be what the gift was meant for.  This cannot be the way we are supposed to utilize the beauty and nourishment and life that these gifts offer.

Today I received my SNAP benefits for March.  They are two weeks late, but I can make the long trek to a market and obtain fruits and vegetables and eggs and whole wheat bread and all the things that I have been longing for in my diet the last couple of weeks.  I can stop worrying about hunger and the empty feeling in my gut when I peer into the nearly empty fridge.  I can stop subsisting on cucumbers, and actually have some avocado and beets and pineapple and maybe even some goat cheese if I budget really well.  And I want to rejoice, and I will rejoice, at this end to my deep need for nourishment.

But I can’t help but wonder, at what point the state might, once again, endanger my life by taking away my access to healthful foods, or comprehensive medical care, or safe housing, or whatever else I need to survive as a single, disabled adult in America.

So, the smell of earth in my front room/office/art studio is not just a memory and a hope of toes in dirt at a home that is more permanent and more mine than what I have been offered the past several years, but it is a reminder that sustenance and stability are not mine.  And planting herbs and vegetables is the first step to sustaining life, and perhaps the only step I can take at this time.  Because I lack agency.  Because I am poor.  Because I am not respected as a human being equal to all the other, non-poor human beings.  Because people consider poverty to be indicative of stupidity or moral depravity, and not indicative of systemic injustice and a society that discriminates against people of color, the disabled, women, singles, people without children, people with too many children, LGBTQIA+ people, Muslim people, people emigrating to the U.S., the elderly, the young, and a host of others.

And I wonder, will we ever get to a place where we are all working together to sustain a giant garden flying around in the solar system, with peace and compassion and abundance being the standard that we hold most dear and present to all?  Or, will we stay in a place where one individual has an extra fridge full of soda and beer and surplus food, and one is dependent on the state’s timetable for survival and is forbidden from purchasing beer or soda?

The sun is currently pouring in the windows, heating my skin and boosting my vitamin D, and offering life to my little seeds pressed into the dirt.  The smell of earth is still heavy and inviting and beautiful.  I imagine the abundance that could grow from these tiny pots.  I imagine a life that holds on to abundance, and isn’t plagued by a cycle of need/enough/need/enough/need.  I imagine a “someday” that holds a little home of my own with a garden where I can sink my toes into the damp, darkness and feel tied to the earth.  Grounded in the land of enough.  Grounded in my spirit and in my life, because the stress and the worry of living in a constant state of lack, and never having enough resources, is gone.  Grounded in ways that let me speak to the divine in gratitude more often than in need.  Tied to the earth.  Tied to a community.  Tied to life, instead of the fear of death.

Life.  This sunny addition to my apartment is bringing so much life.

And all it took was a bit of dirt.