Spring Cleaning

Mar 22, 2010
I've got a new look for the blog, what do you think? The black was getting a little oppressive. I can't completely abandon my morbid side, though, so there's still a raven. I stumbled on this free layout completely accidentally, and I love it.

Spring is really hitting me in my happy place right now. A couple of weeks ago we had seventy-degree weather -- unheard of in Wisconsin in March! -- and although it snowed on the equinox, it's warmed up a little again and the grass is still green and the lilies are starting to pop up out of the ground and yes, even the rabbits have moved back into their home under the trailer that's been sitting in our front yard for the past several years. (Don't talk to me, talk to my landlord.) As far as I'm concerned, it's spring now, and anything else is backsliding.

Unfortunately I still have a month or so left of classes. I didn't know you could get senioritis in a two-year program, but here I am, itching to be done. And I keep writing job applications, even though I've heard back from only two of the ones I've sent out since February. Hope springs eternal. It's all more than a little stressful, but I keep telling myself that this is good change. It doesn't stop me from wanting it to be over.

At least in this way the academic calendar matches with the turning of the seasons pretty well; unlike the beginning of the semesters, in the Spring when everything else is lurching toward change us poor graduates are being thrown out into a wider world that actually seems pretty welcoming, even if the economy hasn't shaped up enough yet and the job market is a little thin. At least it'll be summer, and few things are as bad as they could possibly be in summer.

on the Internet you are never alone

Mar 14, 2010
The Wild Hunt has been keeping us updated on the story of Dale Halferty, the Iowa schoolteacher who refused to let a student build a Wiccan altar table in shop class and is now under suspension for his refusal to back down from his statements that "This witchcraft stuff - it's terrible for our kids."

I'm not sure why this story hit me so hard; perhaps it's because I was a teenage Wiccan in small-town Iowa. I know where Guthrie Center is; I know people who live there. I could have been this kid, if I had been brave enough to attempt to tie my religion into my class projects.

Seventy of this guy's classmates signed a petition saying that they didn't want witchcraft practiced at their school. For a sense of proportion, Guthrie Center High School has a student population of 185.

As far as I can tell, both the school and the media have been handling the story pretty well. The teacher has been put on unpaid leave, and the media are addressing this as a civil liberties issue with very little scaremongering about Wicca. (Well, the Guthrie Center Times article is a little shakier, but really very good for a small-town Iowa paper.)

As is right and proper, we don't know the student's name. I'm sure everyone in Guthrie Center, and probably most of the people in central Iowa, know who he is, but in no way do I think his name ought to be thrown about on the Internet. Still, I wish I could send him some support.

I wish I could say, I know just how you must feel. I feel a little bit of it right now, remembering being in high school, remembering how it feels to know that people don't want you there because you're Not Their Kind Of Person. Remembering the social isolation that comes of not having a church when church activities take up at least three days of the week. Remembering people shrugging your weirdness off as just a fad, something you'll grow out of when you stop trying to shock people for fun.

I wish I could say, my sister cried for an hour when I told her I was Pagan, and her church group prayed for me for a year, until she finally decided that a church that told her that I was going to hell wasn't worth her devotion. I wish I could say, my mother still doesn't quite understand what I do, but she's come to accept it. I wish I could say, I still don't even know if my father knows what I do, and I'm afraid to ask.

I wish I could say to this unnameable high school student, good for you for standing up to yourself. Dale Halferty thinks he's a good person and doesn't see what he did wrong, and you have to fight to get people to understand things like this sometimes. I wish I could say, it's only four more months until graduation. Hang in there.

I wish I could say to him, the whole world isn't like this. There are places you can practice out in the open and most people won't blink, and if they do the community will have your back, not just in apathy or condescension but in honest truth. You can cut your ties with the place you grew up in and try to scrub out the culture that shaped you and edit your conversations with your extended family and be, really, pretty happy in your practice and in your life. You lose things. It's hard.

Or you can be the kind of person who fights tooth and nail like this your whole life, and makes the world a little easier for the rest of us to live in. You lose things that way, too. It's even harder. I'm not that kind of person, but maybe you are.

I wish I could say, whatever path you choose, whichever way you go, I wish you only the best. You have the support of the whole Pagan community behind you, and I hope you know that. I hope you vanity Google this story every day and see how we're standing behind you, even though this may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of the universe. Because so many of us know that feeling, the cut of ignorance combined with disdain, and we wish we'd done enough so that no one else ever had to feel it again. We're not there yet. Not yet.

May your gods protect you, and support you, and hold you in the light.

Reading sticks

Mar 5, 2010
I really have to thank Feithline for her suggestion of daily divination as part of a spiritual practice. I was working with Tarot cards for a while, but the other day I remembered that I'd bought an ogam set last year, and I pulled that out of the drawer.

Ogam is an ancient Irish alphabet, probably dating to sometime in the Roman period -- that is to say, when the Romans settled in Britain and had the most extensive contact with insular Celtic peoples. It's most often found on single standing stones which are not grave markers, so the suggestion is that the inspiration for them came from inscribed Roman monuments. The manuscript tradition, though, implies that ogam was a sacred alphabet associated with the druí and the filí, the priests and the poets.

I am hugely indebted -- as is the rest of the Pagan and Celtic Reconstructionist community -- to Erynn Rowan Laurie for her work in turning the ogam into a divination system. Her book Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom is absolutely invaluable to anyone working with ogam, Irish traditions, or the difficulty of reconstructing an ancient belief without falling into the same fluffy Wicca-101 systems that do no justice to the original. Yes, I really love this book.

On a personal note, I'm finding the ogam speaks to me much more clearly than the tarot does -- which is hugely desirable for a one-draw-a-day reading, although I can definitely see reasons I'd still use the tarot. I've always been drawn to tarot over other divinatory systems because it's so rich in symbolism, but ogam has that too -- it's just not visual symbolism. There are three distinct kennings that still exist for the ogam. They're not explanations of the system, they're more like mnemonics or koans. I think they read like prose poetry if you read them from beginning to end. But what this means for divination is that each fid -- each symbol -- has at least three more-or-less cryptic associations to draw from, not to mention the literal meaning of the letter name as written in the manuscript (some of which are untranslatable). That's a lot of symbolism to dig through every morning.

And there's another aspect of ogam I've always wanted to poke at, one that Laurie doesn't go into in her book, but that I'm starting to wonder about again. You see, ogam is made up of four sets of five, sets of hash marks really (there is another theory that says that ogam is derived from Roman numerals -- you can see why), distinguished by which way they run across the center line: to the left, to the right, straight across, or across at a slant. I'm discovering a pattern in my draws. (I took this picture yesterday. And this morning, what did I draw? Yep, lus, the last of the two-mark letters.)

Three is a hugely important number in Irish mythology, of course. One is also relevant -- one-eyed figures are very powerful, and often can see things that others can't. Some spells are done with one hand, or standing on one foot. In this context, I think that two might represent a whole -- not a pair or a balance, but a symmetrical unity. That would certainly make sense for my life right now, but I think I need to do a little more work on the subject. (Oh woe, a new topic for research! Whatever shall I do? *hand to head in a dramatic fashion*)