This blog started out as solely focused on food. cooking and spirituality are incredibly co-mingled for me, and now I'm adding to the focus by making the blog more about my spiritual life in general. I hope the result is something readable!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day Nine: Deity and Gender

Okay. OKAY. It is a little bit ridiculous that I have let this blog project languish so much and it is maybe a LOT ridiculous that the post that’s been tripping me up is the one about gender. GOSH.
The plus side of writing and hating it and re-writing and hating that too and letting it sit for months while I observe and engage in tumblr-based outrage about the kyriarchy is that I think I’ve finally got some of my thoughts about gender figured out, and I can therefore articulate how those thoughts intersect with my thoughts about Deity.

I have had a lot of problems with goddesses in the past, or, rather, the idea of THE Goddess. To be honest that was probably the chief theological reason I drifted from Wiccish to Something Else, I just could not get behind the oft-touted great Divine Feminine. (The chief actual reason was that I grew out of being an arrogant smartass with a persecution complex)
Here’s the thing. I LOVE Femme. There are days when nothing will make me feel comfortable except my pink skirt with flower print and lace on the edges, when I want to channel Joan from Mad Men, when I need to wear red lipstick and have my hair fall in waves over one side of my face like a film noir starlet. (also there are days when I feel nothing like that at all and I feel deeply uncomfortable in my body but that is a tangent I’m not gonna go down today.)
But it’s only recently that I came to terms with those feelings, and I never found, in my spiritual wanderings, that the Divine Feminine resonated with those feelings at all. Or maybe that just never resonated with me. And part of the problem is I think when people talk about the Divine Feminine or the Great Goddess they are talking about a female deity whose domain lies in traditionally-constructed ideas of What Being Female Entails. Which is most of the time reproduction. And I just don’t connect with that at all.

All this time I’ve been sort of arguing with myself in increasingly anxious mental circles about whether it’s “wrong” somehow to be a (cis)woman and not feel any connection to a Goddess of Womanhood, whether I should feel guilty for connecting to two deities who are male, whether I should make room for a Divine Mother figure in there even though I never got much of a response, whether this makes me less of a woman, etc.
I could go on for a bit.

Long story short, I think I need to re-frame my views of goddesses, which have been up to this point really quite narrow. Female deities aren’t necessarily ABOUT Being Female. There are a bunch of them, and they are about a bunch of different things. And some of those things are, I think, things that I am also about, and I’m reasonably certain that in the future I might be able to build a spiritual relationship with one (or more) of them.
But right now I probably need to focus with the two dieties who have pesternudged their way into my life, as opposed to tacking on more Others like I’m some sort of deity pokemon collector.

They have domains, things that they’re about, and they happen to be male in...presentation. I say that with a sort of dubious trailing off ellipsis because B is not anthopomorphic to me most of the time anyway, and I get the sense that Liminal God does not give a shit about gender and finds all my anxious hand-wringing just hilarious.

And this brings up something that has always, ALWAYS bugged me about gender inequity in, say, the arts: the old “if a man paints a flower it’s a flower, if a woman paints a flower it’s a vagina” thing. The way society is structured, men can be about Stuff and women can be about Being Women. It is so, so easy to slip into analysis where a female creator’s work just automatically represents The State Of All Women, and LO AND BEHOLD I have been unwittingly been applying that flawed framework to my view of the gods.

That is some bullshit, right there. And it is going to stop. 

waking myself up again

So lately I've been feeling spiritually dead inside, which is not a good feeling to have, and it tends to contribute to a general feeling of mild depression. which I'm already prone to. So.

These periods of disconnect are surprisingly common among those of a Pagan persuasion, so much so that a term has been coined: Fallow Times. On some level just knowing that I'm not alone in going through this helps the climb out of the hole become a little easier.

This was a time of letting the stagnant, devouring pattern of everyday life just sap my interest in things. I know it wasn't a complete disconnect from the gods because I kept getting little nudges in really indirect ways, even as I was wailing and gnashing teeth about not getting any responses to the rote prayers and halfhearted offerings. I heard about mindfulness meditation for the first time ever, and got interested to the point of buying a really nice book that I'm not finished with yet, and it reminded me of the joyful way I used to look at the world.

Everywhere I went on the internet I seemed to keep running into articles and quotes about self-care and personal sovereignty, and how these things are often just at odds with the western ideal of productivity. This type of productivity eats up my energy and good feelings like nothing else. :c

I also haven't been cooking much, lately, and the things I have been making are not inventive, engaging things but basic quick things. One of the funny things about being unemployed was that (thankfully) I had enough resources to cook, and I really deeply enjoyed doing that, as a way of managing my environment and taking care of myself and those around me. It was a job, and I enjoyed it. But now that I'm employed cooking has become just another damn thing I have to do if I want to eat, and I'm already tired from standing on my feet all day or evening. It does not contribute to fun and engaging cookery. I think what I'm going to have to do is just plan my weeks out more thoroughly, and save big cooking projects for my days off. That's what it's going to have to be.

As for crafts stuff: I've had lingering, horrible guilt over the fact that the ram I was knitting for LG's shrine still did not have horns, and that's definitely contributed to a slowing-down of knitting fun. Well. That and the fact that we've had INSANE DEADLY HEAT for like three weeks running now and I haven't really wanted to touch yarn and have anything big and wooly on my lap. (Oddly enough I HAVE gotten the spinning bug during this time, but that involves less actual smothering contact with heat-trapping fiber)

Well that silliness STOPPED TONIGHT. News flash everyone: Reese the Ram has horns, dammit. And they look super cute as he is sitting on my nightstand, all big fat sheep belly and tiny cartoonish legs. This is a good first step, I think, to getting back on track.

Next Steps: doing things on a weekly (or daily, but I don't want to take on more than I can handle while I'm still finding my feet again) basis, and continuing the now laughably extended 30 Days blog posts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


This post is going to be a hodgepodge of thoughts, much like the fermentation one. Hopefully once I get past the 30 Days posts the blog will tend to lean in more this direction. The 30 Days posts, by the way, are obviously taking more than 30 days but I have a lot of thoughts swirling about the Gender post and I've written it like three times and haven't felt fully satisfied with it so it'll be a while. Don't worry. It'll get done.

Anyway, the topic of this one is Seasoning! But not really like..about spices. Although if you want my opinion on spices my answer is this: CUMIN. Maybe turmeric.

The seasoning I'm discussing here is about process, about shaping something and the way something becomes itself, or, more itself than it was before in its raw state. (okay yes a lot of crossover with the fermentation post)

I've been drawn to things lately that require seasoning: I find it soothing and empowering, using and re-using and repeating these steps to enhance my connection to an object and make it come alive for me and work to its full potential. And this happens in my spiritual work and the kitchen. I'm starting to think that there's really no difference between those two realms.

Let's talk about Cast Iron Skillets. Because they are simply fantastic. I tend to need to boost the iron in my diet,  and cooking with cast iron helps accomplish that. The thing with cast iron of course is that it needs seasoning. If you get one new from the store, it will have a rougher surface, more graphite than black, and THINGS WILL STICK TO IT AND YOU WILL CRY. Unless you season it. The process is basically this: Clean it out with soap and water, dry it thoroughly, don't let it air dry because that way lies rust. Then, IMPORTANT: Slather that thing in fat. If you're of the vegan persuasion use a vegetable oil, but be sure to use one with a high smoke point because you don't want it turning rancid and leaching all sorts of horror out into your food. In my kitchen worklife, I like to use bacon grease. Or if I have extra around from pie adventures, homemade lard.

And then you bake your skillet (or dutch oven, or griddle, or what have you) in the oven, at a low-ish temperature, for a long time. And turn it over, and rub it down with a towel, and make sure that the fat is soaking into its pores. Cast iron has pores. and you want to basically cook that lubrication into the pores, and keep cooking with it and taking it to the cookware spa, basically, until you develop a smooth as glass shiny black surface that no egg will stick to. It's hands-on, sort of intimate caring work that by its very nature fosters a sense of connection and familiarity with a kitchen tool. When I season cast iron, I am helping to bring it to life.

It did not occur to me until recently that there was anything I'd call magical involved in this process, but it snuck up on me and caught me unawares. During my ongoing study of hoodoo I realized that the basic repetitive care annointing process I'd been using on my skillets is essentially the same steps one would take to make a mojo hand, or various other types of conjure working. These things need to be "fed," to use the terminology, which emphasizes that what is being made is a living spirit, and it needs to be sustained through continued care on the part of the practitioner.
I gave my number 3 skillet a name without even really thinking about it. I call it Baby Skillet and I'm very protective of it, which, okay, looks a little deranged to an outside perspective, but Baby Skillet and I have an excellent working partnership and my breakfasts would not be the same without it. By that extension, I would not be the same without it.

More recently, in my tea-appreciation journey, I've purchased one of those Really Excellent Ancient Chinese Secret Totally Superior Yixing Clay teapots you may have heard touted at Teavana. I'm not going to get into my problems with Teavana here, but yixing (or zisha) clay has some really nice properties that make for really, really, amazing tea preparation, depending on the type of tea. Not so much green tea, since the pots tend to hold heat too well and turn it bitter. But oolong? puerh? spot on. And it did not come as a surprise to me at this point that my new teapot needs to be seasoned, though repeated brewings and washings and care. Already by the third brewing, the teapot has lost almost all of its "I've been in a box" smell, and the tea that comes out of it is starting to taste better.

Of course this is going to be a long process, and the teapot (I'm thinking I'll call it Marceline? since it's sucking up color?) is still very much in the absorption process so the tea does not quite have the nice thick mouthfeel that it would if I brewed it in a nonporous container like a gaiwan. But I'm okay with that, really, because I know that if I keep working with the teapot and invest time in a long-term relationship with it, this will be more rewarding for me in the long run.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day Eight: Holidays

Yes, yes, I'm way late with this, but life is busy and leaves me not a lot of time to devote to thoughtful spiritual writing, so I've resigned myself to the fact that this is going to take more than a month. In any case, here's the next entry:

8. Beliefs – Holidays

Holidays are weird for me, for a few reasons.

The first reason is that man it is hard to remember when they happen. It’s an unfortunate side effect of living in a country where the state holidays tend to intermingle with the Christian ones, but I was never, in my Wiccish days, able to remember when Imbolc was, or what the hell it was celebrating, anyway.

Generic Wicca-flavored paganism tends to use the Wheel of the Year, a cycle of 8 holidays divided into the major sabbats (which Gardner, founder of Wicca, ripped off from Celtic traditions) and the minor sabbats (which are the solstices and equinoxes). One of the Major sabbats is Samhain and god help me but I can’t pronounce it like it’s supposed to be pronounced--fuck it it’s Halloween anyway.

(you see how lazy I am?)

(seriously though if someone could actually tell me how that damn word is pronounced I would be in debt to you, because I’ve heard about a billion versions and they all sound equally difficult/ridiculous. I know it’s supposed to be like “sa-wen” but I have so much cognitive dissonance with how the word looks as opposed to this pronunciation that the word just makes me frustrated and angry. Also as a misanthropic solitary pagan I have never actually heard a live human being say “sa-wen” so I’m just going on internet research basically. I’M DUBIOUS.)

Regardless! Where I’m at now in my religious practices, I observe the solar holidays on the solstices and equinoxes. It’s easy to remember, found on every calendar, and I can physically observe the changes in daylight throughout the seasons and these holidays keep me mindful of how much life on earth is dependent on the Sun. A nice bonus to using this simple system is that season affective disorder is a bit more manageable when I can observe and take specific days to reflect on the Sun’s importance to me and to the earth. Granted it’s still winter and I’m still depressed and miserable on all these overcast freezing awful gray days, but I can see the sun moving higher in the sky, and it gives me faith that like most things, my melancholy will pass.

I’ve already mentioned my visits to Cahokia, which are more about observation than celebration, obviously. I like to be able to hold a candlelight vigil on the winter solstice, or at least stay up as late as I can if the solstice is on a work night. I also like to reserve that night for knitting! The summer solstice on the other hand I prefer to spend outside (within reason, because as much as I love the sun I hate skin cancer with a passion) making offerings or just being out and active and enjoying nature.

One very nice spring equinox I made ghee out of some local organic butter, and it was a very rewarding experience, to make it with that kind of mindfulness on that day and then use it, like a little bit of sunlight, throughout the rest of the year. The Autumn equinox is such a harvesty-type day, I use it, generally, to take stock of things, organize yarn, bake bread, and sort of store up projects for the winter to keep myself sane.

Now, that’s been my holiday structure for a few years now, nothing big or flashy, just a few little activities to celebrate the turning of the seasons. And then I went and brought deities into it. And of course research indicates that they were historically worshipped on specific holidays: Shining God-who-is-probably-Belenos is associated with May 1, designated on the Celtic and Wiccish calendars as Beltain(e). So I’m in rather a pickle, since my questings have started to take a Celtic turn, wondering if I should try to go back to the full eight holidays or is that just too much for my poor little brain to remember? Or maybe I should add that one in and have five? And I always liked Halloween even though I don’t care a whit about the whole Horned God death and rebirth myth cycle that’s associated with Samhain, do I do something celebratory on October 31st? Often I’ll have a vigil on the Day of the Dead despite no Mexican ancestry that I know of, but a lot of my ancestors on my dad’s side were REALLY Catholic so that’s as good a day as any to give them food and such.

Meanwhile, Liminal God is pretty difficult to pin down, I’m tentatively identifying him as Gaulish Mercury (there at least hasn’t been any strong negative feeling towards that identification, but that’s not necessarily a positive) and there’s like...no real evidence for any specific holiday other than the Mercuralia celebrated on May 15 by Roman merchants to ensure good business throughout the year. Not sure about that, as I am not a businessperson.

Then again, that is for springtime, and I have a good while before I have to make any decisions about celebrating.

Is everyone bored of my ramblings yet? Here have a tentative calendar for this year:

Mar 20: Spring Equinox
April 20: My freaking birthday and if I hear any 4-20 jokes I will hit you.
May 1: Beltaine, MAYBE
May 15: Mercuralia?
June 20: Summer Solstice
Sept 22: Autumn Equinox
October 31-Nov 2: candy and also food for dead people.
Dec 21: Winter Solstice

That is really spring-heavy! Gosh! We’ll see. We shall SEE.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day Seven: Divination

7. Beliefs – Divination

Coming back from a little bit of a break (hey, I had company and wasn’t motivated) to talk about divination. I read Tarot, which is a lot less...mysterious and spooky than it sounds. I’m pretty shit at reading for other people, it should be known, and I basically just use the cards as a tool for self-reflection and guidance on how to sort out the tangled jumble of stuff that is my brain.

The important question, I guess, is how do I think this stuff works, anyway? First it should be known that I hold no illusions about some arcane ancient egyptian/atlantean store of knowledge coded in the symbols on tarot cards. I’m more of an intuitive reader than a...whatever the other kind is. All the Golden Dawn/OTO/BOTA Thothy stuff doesn’t grab me as much as being able to look at an image on a card and feeling drawn into it, taking on the role of the figures and discovering how that relates to my daily life. But how that connection is formed? I have no idea.

It could be the Jungian notion of archetypes and the collective unconscious as we just understand certain images because the human mind has a mental...culture and language, as it were, that can be understood intuitively.

OR, from an animist point of view, my spirit is coming into contact with the spirit inherent in the deck of cards (because everything has spirit in animist thought, remember) and communicating on an unconscious level and gaining insight from that.

Aesthetic ramblings and some pictures under the cut!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day Six: Place

  1. Beliefs – Place

Continuing from some of the threads I left hanging in that last post, I’m going to talk about the importance of Place to me. I’ve already mentioned how some of my most memorable spiritual experiences have been the result of encounters with different place-spirits. Now I want to give some thoughts to the place I call Home.

Last year I left the state where I’ve lived my whole life to move to upstate New York and live with my long-distance girlfriend. It was a very important experience for me, not just for my relationship (which is awesome), but also for getting a much-needed perspective on how I view the world, and Place.

New York is a whole different country. I was living in the Finger Lakes, ice age relics carved out of the earth by glaciers. I made an offering at a gorge in Ithaca, surrounded by shale, not the clay and limestone that characterizes the earth back home. The winter was cold, unforgiving, and steady. It was hard (and amazing) to see how severely the angle of the sun changes with the seasons at this higher latitude. I did not feel entirely at home. I didn’t really feel welcome there. Not by the people I was staying with, who are wonderful people, all of them, but by the land itself. I was in attitude and composition a foreigner, and though I enjoyed my travels and definitely made some great strides in my spiritual journey, those strides were made because I was feeling out of place and needed someone to turn to.

I first encountered Liminal God in New York, perhaps because I was a stranger in a strange land. My new awareness of the Sun in the north gave me a deeper understanding of the solar deity I seek to honor with my life and my work.

Now I have returned back home, to live and to work and to make money (you know what sucks, being employed in a place you can’t call home) and to figure out where my journey goes next.

I want to tell a story about a tree.

When I was a toddler, I remember being outside with my mom and dad one spring or summer day while they were cleaning and weeding in the front yard. Peeking up through the ivy was a little baby plant. It was a tree, and maybe I was being a soft-hearted child but I didn’t want them to just uproot the baby tree and let it die. Or maybe my mom and dad thought it would look nice along the fence, helping to block the view from our annoying neighbor who likes working on his antique junk cars at all hours of the day. In any case, the tree was taken out of the ivy and re-planted in the backyard, and it grew up along with me. I’ve always thought of it as my tree, my little juniper that’s now taller than me and wild and uncontrollable and often covered in vines. When I was exploring neo-Wicca I took a small branch from an autumn pruning and made a wand out of it. I didn’t want the traditional athame (black-handled knife) for spellwork, it felt too violent and cold and dangerous. I wanted a wand, something with life in it that I had a connection to. It still sits in a drawer of pagan sundries, even though I don’t use it anymore. I never knew what kind of a tree it was, only that my dad said it was a juniper and we left it at that.

I now know that the tree I grew up with is, specifically, an Eastern Red Cedar, which is the same species used by the Mississippian culture across the river at Cahokia to build the Woodhenge there. It’s not a true cedar, but a juniper, and the red color of the heartwood is reminiscent of blood and therefore gives it enhanced religious significance. It’s one of the only conifers native to the region. The Eastern Red Cedar is the sacred tree of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: it is their axis mundi, or World Tree, the thing that is the center of the worlds and a place of power for spiritual journeys.

All these years I’ve been interested in liminality and journeying and spirits and how the concept of the axis mundi exists across a LOT of unrelated religions and I have the World Tree for this place growing in my backyard, quietly carrying on since I was a baby. I cannot help but find that meaningful.

The archaeologists at Cahokia rebuilt Woodhenge the year I was born, placing red cedar posts to mark the sunrise throughout the year, showing how the Mississippians laid out their ceremonial grounds. My best friend and I try to go to Cahokia on the solstices and equinoxes to see the sunrise (all attempts so far have been on overcast days), and listen to a talk by one of the docents about the history of the place and the mounds and th people who lived there. Pagan-type celebrations are not allowed at Woodhenge, both for concerns about the integrity of the archeological site and, I assume, cultural appropriation, but when I visit the place or hike up Monk’s Mound, I feel at home in the landscape, and in my own private way I recognize this Place, this environment as one of the factors that has shaped the person I am today, and for that I’m grateful.

I cannot live entirely in the past, though. There are other environmental factors that shape me. The Mississippi River is a huge presence. I remember 1993, the year of the great flood, and being worried about our house, and making sandbags with my girl scout troop, and feeling awed at the smallness and powerlessness of people in the face of this angry brown god. I owe it respect. It gives me the water I drink (no other water tastes right) and the soil I stand on. Also, the presence of the river is essential to the development of my city, the way it was founded and grew and then eventually declined (gosh THANKS railroads and planes) and now we’re at a different Place, with a different feeling, surely, than the commerical hub it once was. It feels like the city is asleep, in a way, stretching out west as people move away.

That came out sounding a little sad. Wow. In any case, this is the place in which I grew up and it’s had a powerful effect on me. I don’t think I could live in a place without a body of water nearby. It just makes things seem...more connected, in a way, to the earth, and it keeps me aware of my place in the world. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day Five: Dance Magic Dance

  1. Beliefs – Magic: In which I rant about my past and talk about word spelling and genealogy and hoodoo

The time has come, friends. I’m going to talk about MAGIC. Brace yourselves.

When I originally stumbled into the world of modern paganism, I was a little bewildered by all the magic. It’s not that I outright thought magic wasn’t real, per se, but I was, shall we say, dubious. Imagine that in a Tim Gunn voice. All the emphasis on magic, or “magick” as the sources I was reading spelled it, seemed, well, a little hokey. And big disclaimer here, I was reading some really bad books. I was reading Silver Ravenwolf, for goodness’ sake. It was ridiculous. Just recently while Girlfriend was helping me clean my room out of all my old useless shit, I came across a copy of Teen Witch and I had to work really hard to convince her that it was much, much better to recycle the book, or shred it or burn it, than donate it to charity or the library. Because it’s just...harmful to a person’s outlook on life and their religion. It just is. And I maintain that if I want to burn a book I paid money for once upon a time and, horror, read and enjoyed at the time, I can totally do that. Girlfriend objected. Whatever it’s getting recycled so hopefully people can make good books out of it. Or maybe it’s going to be reincarnated into a James Patterson book. That would just be my luck.

Oh my god can I write a blog entry without becoming a ridiculous rambling crazy person, please. So Magic.

I don’t spell magic with a ‘K’ because in the first place I grew to think it was kind of stupid to spell it that way, and then when I learned why the K was added in the first place, I realized I don’t agree with/care about that system of thought. Aleister Crowley’s application of Hebrew numerological significance to his ceremonial magic does not hold any spiritual meaning for me. Now for Ceremonial Magicians (CMs), I can see how that spelling would render the word “magic” much more significant and powerful. This doesn’t explain why every piece of Wicca 101 pulp has to use that spelling, but whatever.

Magic as I first learned about it seemed stilted, with all the incantations and elements and casting of a circle to create sacred space and tools required. My early attempts made me feel self-conscious and stupid. My focus turned to my domestic environment, and the cleansing and protection of it. I used a lot of salt. I was never one for big grand spellwork, and the one time I attempted something really serious it had serious and seriously unexpected results. There were ramifications. It sparked a really strange short-lived relationship between two people who were both young and confused and full of emotions and, okay, there’s a little bit of regret there, but from this experience I learned some important things. I don’t use magic unless I think it will genuinely augment, NOT replace, physical mundane efforts I make to fix problems and improve myself.

I have also learned that I really don’t think witchcraft as a magical system works for me. It’s very European in feel, to my mind. Generic neopagan magic tends to rely a lot of new age ideas like the powers of various crystals without really going into why these things work. And, as earlier stated, ceremonial magic just does not appeal to me at all.

There is, however, a magical system I’m learning to use (sparingly, and so far only directed at myself). One of the factors sparking my spiritual renaissance (let’s call it a renaissance, I like that) is the idea that my local environment should inform my practice. The difficulties I encountered when learning about cultural reconstructionism involved the fact that I can’t in good conscience pick one culture or pantheon to honor. My ancestors came from all over the place. I look in the mirror every day and see a mix of features that I enjoy, surely, but are also problematic in my everyday interactions with people. (pro tip: If you see a person who looks like they might be multiracial, it’s rude to blurt “what are you?” Particularly if this is at someone’s place of business and therefore undermining their ability to do their goddamn job.)

My father’s family all identify as African-American, but (like many African-Americans) they have a significant portion of European ancestry. Specifically, there is a lot of French ancestry, as well as a bit of Native American ancestry (also on my mom’s side as well, though her family is chiefly British Isles-oriented). I feel like it would be disingenuous of me to focus on a pantheon or a magical system that is purely European in origin. At the same time, though, I feel a bit nervous about investigating African traditional and diasporic religions because it feels like cultural appropriation. Also, there’s not one single African culture, and thanks to slavery, it’s impossible for me to research exactly where in Africa my father’s ancestors came from. Okay not without a really expensive genome test, which I REALLY WANT SOMEDAY because I love genealogy and the study of human origins but that’s another story for another time.

Long story short, I feel like if I’m going to continue to incorporate a magical system into my life in some way, it needs to be one that reflects the varied cultures that are part of my ancestry, and it also needs to be thoroughly American. Because that’s what my culture really is, let’s be honest. I am an American, and the city and the state and the country in which I live colors my view of the world, natural and political and spiritual.

Last year, I learned about hoodoo. It is basically the jazz music of magical systems. Derived from the African diaspora with influence from Latin American, Native American, and various European cultures, it is firmly associated with the Blues and the South and it has rules and structures that make sense to me. There’s no “harm none” advice in hoodoo, but more of a “be aware that if you do something harmful to someone they have every right to retaliate so take some precautions.” It is a magical system developed by and for marginalized people, who do not get their needs met by hegemonic societal structures.

Basically this draws the biracial queer girl like hipsters to a sale at the thrift store.

One thing I really enjoy about hoodoo is that it’s not squeamish. It’s all about bodies and the things they do and produce. It accepts death as a part of life and a great importance is placed on bones, claws, roots, the things left behind by plants and animals and people. Another thing in its favor is that hoodoo or conjure workings have an animist element to them. Making up a mojo hand essentially involves creating a container for power through the addition of various items, and giving life to that power and feeding it and maintaining it over time. It is the direction of the spirit in things, and a reciprocal honoring of those spirits that continues. There’s a relationship involved, like responsible pet ownership. You have to take care of it. Other systems of magic I’ve looked at seemed oriented towards the raising and focusing of energy and then just sending it out into the universe to do its work and...then sort of moving on. The structure of hoodoo fits much more easily with both my ethics and my daily life.

So far I’m only operating on the fringes of this system. I like to research things before I jump in and start going crazy with conjure. There are some good sources available online, the first of which is Lucky Mojo. There are also, surprisingly, a lot of shops on etsy that make the materials available, and (HUGE bonus points here) hoodoo supplies are a LOT CHEAPER than other magical supplies. It has a lot in common with green or kitchen witchcraft in that it’s a very do it yourself system, but given my cultural identity and my location, hoodoo seems to work much better for me.

Has this blog entry been ridiculously long? Has it been too off-topic? Was there more I could have said? Please do let me know. Blogging your innermost thoughts is hard, man.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Day Four: Prayer and Offerings

4. Beliefs – Prayer and Offerings

It’s only been recently, relatively speaking, that I’ve started giving any thought to prayer at all. I’d say within the last year, two years or so. Before that time, so much of my spiritual life was directed towards self-improvement and using tools like journeywork and Tarot to get a better perspective on my life and issue that needed resolving. You know what another great tool is? Therapy.

To be perfectly honest, this is proving a very difficult post to write. I feel like there’s a lot of ingrained embarassment about it, like...I feel like all my athiest friends will judge me for talking about how I pray. Is that weird? I feel it’s a little weird, being self-conscious about admitting this. Yes, when I am troubled, I pray and it makes me feel better. I can’t be sure if anyone’s actually listening, or if this is all in my head, but for the most part my worldview is appreciation and honoring above absolute understanding. I can take it on faith that my prayers help me, and that they give some pleasure to those I’m honoring.

Of course sometimes it’s not about supplication, like “help me get through this troubling time.” Sometimes prayer is all about the spontaneous creation of words, put together and sent out into the world to be enjoyed. So in that sense I view it as performance art. A very private sort of performance, but the idea is there all the same, and there’s a certain amount of staging that is required. I usually like to accompany prayer with an offering, just to be polite and reciprocate. If I’m asking a deity for something it’s only logical to offer something in return, to maintain a good relationship.

Making offerings is a bit of a trial and error process, but it’s highly interesting. It’s hard to describe how the process feels, but it’s like a change in air pressure, or a tingling on the back of my neck like the kind that happens when you catch someone watching you. Deciding what kind of offerings to make is a sort of intuitive process. Sometimes water is sufficient, particularly if I’m outside. It’s easy to libate, isn’t doing any harm to the environment, and I can partake of it without getting loopy, as opposed to say, a nice merlot. Other types of offerings I’ve branched out into. In my initial “hey anyone wanting to work with me, here’s some gifts for you” offering I used ghee that I’d made myself out of organic butter, and that got a pretty strong response. The amount of work I’ve put into an offering increases the likelihood that it’ll be well-received, I think.

I wasn’t expecting milk to go over as well as it did with Shining God. By the time I started offering it I’d done enough research and meditation to narrow down a bit which solar deity I was working with, but the huge favorable response to milk was a great help—I had the strongest impulse to pour it out on a rock as opposed to just a bowl or on the grass and I couldn’t quite figure out why until I did it, and it was such a strong visual key that things immediately clicked. It was very emotional, in a weird way.

I feel like at this point I could start to completely ramble and I have to go to work soon, so I’m going to wrap this up with a brief non-inclusive list of things I’ve used as offerings:

Artwork, small bits of sculpture, words, sex, mentrual blood, water, milk, tea (green, oolong, black, pu-erh), alcohol (beer, vodka), incense (loose and sticks), ghee, bread, honey, strawberries, knitting

And surely this will expand as time goes on.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day Three: Deities

  1. Beliefs – Deities
Okay so I really don’t know what to write for this day’s theme, but Girlfriend is insisting I keep up with this post per day for the new year deal, and I’m too tired from work to think up another subject for day three and then sneakily go back and change in the master post so no one is the wiser.

So: Deities! Or my rambly musings on the nature of Deity in general.

One of the most useful things I have come across in my time identifying as Pagan is the God Map, a concept illustrated wonderfully by Joyce and River Higginbotham in their really quite good book entitled Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions. The God Map basically shows, in a nifty and easy to comprehend graph, how various religious throughout the world have different ideas of what Deity is, on a spectrum of abstract to concrete and permeating to transcendent. There’s a great rundown of it on another blog that I found during a frantic search effort while trying to explain my jumble of thoughts to Girlfriend one day. Read it here.

I don’t yet know where I stand on the God Map. Like, okay, some spiritual encounters I’ve had, like Lake Michigan, are very far removed from recognizable communication, and I would hesitate to ascribe anthropomorphized characteristics to spirits that are places. I’m very much in the animist region, in that respect. Permeating but concrete, but not so concrete as this is a guy in the sky who has a beard and wields lightning bolts, or any other sort of defined appearance other than the actual physical appearance of a very old lake that has claimed the lives of a lot of people over the years.

In other more recent Deity interactions, for example with the one I tentatively title Shining God (more about Him on day 12), I get a fairly concrete mental image of a golden, smiling, male solar deity during meditation, as well as UPG associations of sunlight reflecting on water or leaves. He is a solar-associated god but also not the actual Sun, which I do honor in a different way. The Sun itself, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t give a crap whether I worship it or not, it keeps on doing its thing regardless of any human activity. Shining God, however, seems to enjoy or at least look kindly on mindful offerings, and to further muddle things I will sometimes address Him and the Sun interchangeably in prayer.

So you see, it’s already a bit tangled. In addition to this, I’ve only recently begun trying to have good, productive, respectful relationships with more concrete deities and I’ve yet to research/experience enough to say definitively what I believe the nature of these gods are. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day Two: Cosmology

  1. Cosmology

This is a bit of a tricky area for me. At heart, I think, I’m an animist. (note that I added a glossary tab up top there to help allay any confusion my fast and loose term-dropping may cause) I believe that the universe came about through the normal scientifically-accepted means, I just happen to also believe that the natural world is full of spirits.

There have been times in my life where I’ve been aware, with absolute certainty, of presences or personalities in nature. This is one of those tricky sometimes silly-sounding things called Unverified Personal Gnosis (hereafter UPG), when one comes into a state of knowing something, really fully knowing something that’s been reavealed, but there is no way to prove this to anyone else. And in a way, I think, it shouldn’t have to be proven to anyone else, if the meaning you get out of the experience is a personal connection with the divine.

Anyway, during these instances of UPG I have felt in the presence of things so much older than myself, larger and more powerful and completely foreign from any human presence. These have been spirits of specific places, and sometimes they make me feel welcome and sometimes they simply make me feel like a foreigner who doesn’t belong. But either way, they make me feel something, and I’m grateful for the interaction and knowledge of their presence.

More recently, as I perused various online Pagan forums and read (lurkingly, I am a master of lurking) about other people’s encounters with specific deities, with names and images and attributes and everything, I found myself wondering if I even believe in gods at all, or if these spirits of place are all that’s out there (or all that care about making themselves known to me, anyway). Also, since so far these place-spirits show up when I’m traveling or hiking or other occasional times when I’m not at home, I wanted to try and expand my horizons a bit and put out a call, as it were, for any deities who were interested in working with me in my efforts to get a solid daily religious practice going. There have been a few answers.

Right now I can’t say for certain where I fall on the polytheism spectrum; I don’t know if say, all spirits in the world are aspects of one greater whole that permeates the entire universe or if everyone is separate and distinct. Place spirits feel different from Ancestor spirits, and those feel a bit different from more Deity-type spirits, and there’s another low-key type of spirit-feeling I get when I’m putting energy and work into something, like reading Tarot or working on a painting that’s really coming together.

Something that really fascinates and terrifies me is the thermodynamic concept of entropy. I first was smacked in the face by how amazing it is while reading Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia while sitting in the park in Charleston with my wonderful girlfriend. It’s difficult for me to conceptualize the idea that like, all the energy in the world has basically come from the sun or residual radiation from the Big Bang, and slowly it’s all being frittered away and at some point the universal temperature is going to normalize. When I try to vizualise this really, really full of math concept (note: math is not normally my friend) I get a mental image of a great beast, permeating the layers of reality, devouring everything indiscriminately. And because I’m such a huge Borges fangirl I imagine that beast is a Tiger.

Generally though I tend to keep my focus closer to home, so to speak. However: if I ever become an intrepid spacefaring explorer I will probably be making offerings to the great devouring coldness before I go, just to be on the safe side. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day One: Why?

  1. Beliefs—Why am I Pagan?

The short answer is that I don’t think I could be anything else. When I was a wee one, my favorite activities (aside from drawing on the walls with whatever I could find) were collecting things I found outside: pinecones, sweetgum balls, shells, pebbles, feathers—all sorts of stuff. It got to be so much stuff that my mom had to take a plastic box and label it “Nature Box” to go along with my duplos and my little ponies and stuff, because I just had So Many Things. I never stopped collecting things, really, not when I was thirteen and angry at everyone and called myself Wiccan and was every bad stereotype ever, not when I stopped really telling anyone about anything I believed because it’s no one’s damn business. When I go on vacations, or live in another place, I’ll bring back small rocks to remember them by.

I was, thankfully, raised by parents who generally thought I needed to find my own spiritual path. My dad was raised Catholic and is now severely athiest, although that doesn’t keep him from having a tongue-in-cheek interest in all the ancient aliens nonsense that passes for programming on the History Channel these days. My mom, similarly, was raised Lutheran but now, I think, she’s agnostic. Anyway, when I was born, they thought I ought to have some sort of religious schooling just so I’d have answers to toddler questions, but I was never baptized. I went to sunday school at a very open, friendly Presbyterian church that my parents didn’t really get anything out of, though the people were nice. And basically by age seven I’d decided that I didn’t really believe any of this Bible stuff, and I wanted to stop going to church, and that was fine by my parents. I was one of those precocious kids who always absolutely knew her own mind.

So far none of this is very pagan-specific, I know. In my angsty middle school years I discovered this thing called “Wicca” (which of course, now, I recognize is not really Wicca at all but fluffy eclectic paganism, but I was young) and it was very eye-opening and empowering and I got very self-righteous about those evil Christians and stolen holidays, the usual rigamarole.
Thankfully I outgrew that, because I’ve always had a strong love of reading and research and history and I learned what was what and what didn’t work. One of my huge problems with “Wicca” was that I never really had a connection to the deities. I’m not quite on board with the soft polythiest interpretation that’s common in wiccish eclecticism, and beyond that, I could never, ever, for the life of me remember the dates and names of the damn wheel of the year holidays. To this day it’s impossible.

In my seemingly lifelong quest to find a spiritual structure that works for me, is managable and fulfilling in my life, I have yet to find a single tradition that really speaks to me. I haven’t been “thwapped,” so to speak, by any dieties in particular, and for a while I was rather disgruntled and insecure and thought no one wanted me. What I had to learn, in effect, was how to be mindful of the spirituality in my everyday life, and build my faith from the ground up, starting with my daily routines and finding ways to incorporate religious and spiritual practices into that.

In recent years I have grown rather fascinated with Reconstructionist paths, though none in particular jump out at me as something that I need to be doing with my life. I enjoy the approach though, the research, the history, the necessary critical analysis, generally the very thorough structure that goes into a religion. Ideally that’s my approach as well, though I have a lot of disparate elements that make up my personality and environment and religious views. “Eclectic” seems to be a dirty word in some circles, it conjures up images of people who throw in radically different dieties from radically different cultures with no thought as to appropriation or how these different elements work together. I don’t want to do that. I want to have structure and order and an holistic way to live my faith every day, and in that respect I like to call what I do “Constructionist.” I want to build my faith with a strong foundation and make it functional and fulfilling and beautiful, while at the same time reflecting the odd patchwork that is my life.

The blog is called the Liminal Pagan because once I first heard the world “liminal” and learned what it meant it struck me to the core. This is what I’m about. There are so many ways in which I just..cannot fit into a simple category. Growing up biracial has had a huge impact on my world outlook and, consequently, my faith. I’ve never been one or the other, I have a tendency to reject polarized approaches to religion, politics, philosophy, art (and this would be why actual traditional Wicca doesn’t work for me either, personally), and in addition to that (and I swear I’m not trying to just become the most marginalized person ever), my sexuality and spirituality don’t fit into a neat box either. I’ve stopped thinking that this is a problem and more of a signpost indicating that my life, and my path, is going to be something I have to define for myself.

That sounds about as good a stopping point as any, so I’ll elaborate more on a lot of this stuff in further days’ posts.  

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