Well, here we are, on a fine and rainy Michigan day. And on March 9th, we were chatting as Bernie made the mitten of burn and the flames were warming up the oil and tea as we sat down with Janet Callahan and a surprise guest.
Have a chat in our virtual salon. The table is set with lovely place cards made of hand pressed seed and fiber paper, and the smell of fry bread and orange mint tea is intoxicating. Please pull up a seat as we sit and have a nice chat about a topic that seems to be puzzling some folks.
Welcome to the Salon, Janet.
First thing, I guess, is that we have to be clear. There are no filters in this space. We talk freely. So don’t be afraid of offending me. Hell, I offend everyone!
Recently I was reading an article about how it seems that many Pagans are flocking toward more of the folk magicks and ATR in order for more oomph and power in their spells, especially concerning negative magick e.g. curses, hexes, etc. I found that kinda sad and lazy in its analysis. What do you think?
Well, I think it’s at least somewhat true - there are people looking for that sort of stuff, because “standard Wiccan-like Paganism” supposedly doesn’t do hexes or anything really negative. Love, light, and lollipops is the name of the game.
I think that some people are looking for things that are more true to their own cultures too. And when they don’t find those things easily, the next best thing (as best they can figure) is to go check out what the neighbors are doing that seems interesting.
I think the effect is that for a portion of the population, it’s lazy and appropriative (is that a word)?
*Grabs some saucers from the side board and fills with Faygo. Makes a taco and spills the lettuce all over the front of her shirt. Typical.*
I think the word is appropriationist. I call it the magpie meets the magician. There is nothing wrong with incorporating spell tech into your stuff from varied sources, but at this point it is more than that. It has become a systematic blob-like gobbling and vomiting up what is not digested in order to go on some sort of anthropological bulimic feast of religio-mythic theft. Just snatching up pieces of other folks stuff with no regard for how it developed, why it is still here, and the people who continue its existence. Seriously, calamus root is not your damn version of “binding Nancy”.
Exactly! That’s the image that just keeps coming to mind, honestly. The lack of understanding of the whole background is a problem (and frankly, it means your results may vary, because you didn’t understand the way a spell or whatever was put together).
I’ve worked in groups that only did “light” work. And that was very strange to me, because it doesn’t make good sense. Light and dark are two sides of the same coin, as far as I’m concerned.
*Belladonna laughs so hard that the tears in her eyes seem to make the steam from the tea look like wagging fingers. Illusion?*
It was particularly funny to me, because this was a group very fixated on the moon, and the cycle from dark to full and back again. So….why can’t we do anything negative?
I suspect these are the same people who don’t get that there is an element of a form of animism in the inner workings of plant magicks in Hoodoo and other folk magicks from the diaspora. There is a definite spiritual and mental shift that needs to be embraced when working with plants, in the forms of seeing them as inanimate objects, power sources, Plant Peoples, Plant Spirits, and Devas.
And as such, they have freaking moods! Umm, maybe that Maple tree does not like your sorry ass, and that is why your spells don’t work. You disrespected her vain ass and so she decided to denude your craft working since you did not appreciate her leafy swag attire this
Spring. Inside joke.
Spring. Inside joke.
And some plant folk are just damned ornery. They LIKE to do baneful working. It’s their thing. Somebody gotta make sure that population controls are functioning. Just saying.
Maybe the reluctance to embrace ALL the aspects of REALLY WORKING MAGICK, and not just the POLITICALLY CORRECT AND GENTEEL FORMS is indicative not of ethics, but of the fact that YOU JUST AIN’T THAT GOOD, BOO!
You just can’t cut the mustard, churn the butter, or spell your way out of a soap bubble. Bippity Boppity Boo can’t make magick work for her in Modern Neo Pagan Witchcraft, so she goes to someone else to “write her term paper” so to speak.
*Quietly steals Janet’s Acorn cakes*
Exactly. You have to know some stuff, and you have to know your tools and your helpers. And that takes work. Which seems to be an issue for some people.
Hey, give those back!
*pretends to put them back, and secretly tries to substitute Jiffy Mix muffin”
By Sander van der Wel from Netherlands ([301/365] Muffin) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I am just wondering why all these folks I see around who are always talking about how much they LOVE the practices of the ATR, the Hoodoo, the Appalachian Folks, the Amish, etc., never seem to be interested in the issues these folks have going on in their lives. So, you think that the magickal beings that are OF these peoples are really just like a library book you can check out and use? For real, for real?
And then you wonder why your Granny Magick doesn’t seem to work, huh? You wonder why when you smoke cleanse, your results vary? Oh, and can we talk about the use, and misuse, of the word ……
*watches Janet’s hand as it transforms into a giant slap machine in search of a place to smack down*
I’ve had that discussion with someone, “so, you like this thing from this culture - what do you know about them? What do you do for them? Oh, nothing? Right…..”
You know what word I am going to say.
*leans forward and whispers*
*Mistress Belladonna watches as a giant shadow of a Coyote appears in the background, just before her handle on her Faygo glass breaks.*
No, really, you know, we have a word problem, along with a magic problem, when it comes to appropriation. We use “shaman” in really ridiculous ways, and smudge, and I’m sure there are others.
You mean Dr. Quinn was not a Holy Person? You mean using a Newport is not Holy? You mean tobacco is not just something to smoke? You mean I cannot just “smudge” no matter where I am in my Moon Cycle?”
*Notices that a smiling face is peering through the window, laughing holding a bottle of Haitian Rum*
By Boricua (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Dammit Kenya- you’re getting me back from the comments aren’t you? :P
(Cultural aside)...You mean that people who are struggling to survive have all this time for “self improvement/enlightenment/”community building” when they’re trying to make sure they can eat tomorrow… or this week?
You mean that the Residential Schools trauma and juxtapose genocide of an entire continent of peoples, as well as the centuries of chattel slavery, in this nation may actually have indicated that folks did not have time to make black salt from the depths of Asia, and that they did not have time to make soy pemican? You mean that the stories and Grandfather teachings are relevant?
Wow, and here I thought that everyone’s “grandmotherauntiefirstcousinremoved” was a freaking INITIATE OF THE MYSTERIES!!!!
You mean they aren’t “Wiccan Shaman Druid Santerian Masters of Atlantis”?
*Sets another place at the table, offers the sunflower seed cakes that were hidden behind the bowl of berries*
YUM! <3 Thank you <3 …….(YES- but of course a privileged white “pagan community leader” has no frame of reference WHATSOEVER for understanding those things. >.< )
And I mean that claiming titles for ourselves that aren’t given to us is sort of bullshit… And that traditional magics (to bring it back to the topic) work because they had to work, and the whole framework goes together. They weren’t doing magick for enlightenment, they were doing it for survival, and they were doing it to keep food on the table. If it didn’t work, you didn’t do it, and you knew how to use what was available - not sooper sekret rare stuff, though you might call it that to hide it. But it’s not like there was time to worry about as much stuff as is taught in many “modern” magicks classes.
YES! YES! YES! At the point one has the time and resources to focus on “community building”, they aren’t dealing with anything near the same situations as SURVIVAL. It worked or you (and yours) starved. Period. Don’t have that (whatever item?) Make do. Use what is on hand as close to the purpose/”recipe” as you can. Kind of like cooking :P (But you can’t do that until you understand what that purpose/recipe IS)
I just want to say that I am not downing anyone for incorporating other practices in their OWN workings. Nor am I saying that training in other Traditions is wrong. BUT WHAT I DO THINK IS WRONG, IS JUST FLAT OUT STEALING STUFF AND SETTING YOURSELF UP AS AN EXPERT WHEN YOU HAVE NEVER EVEN SAT DOWN AND STUDIED WITH THE FOLKS YOU ARE RIPPING OFF.
Flat out. How the Hell are you going to seriously look at me with your bare face hanging out, using someone else’s borrowed magic with your “add water and stir ass” and tell me how my stuff is wrong because of YOUR system of mores?
Did you even ask yourself why the hell someone even USED skunk cabbage for anything? Why would they have been in such close proximity to something like that to even explore it? What grows around it? What does their version of the Doctrine of Signatures even look like to have lead to them assigning a certain energy to it? Just saying.
*slips Anise cookies from Rebecca’s plate*
Right! You gotta know enough to know. I do think that stealing stuff for your own work is lame, and not as likely to work. The why is important! If you don’t know the why, how do you substitute for that crazy rare thing you can’t get? Or….if your recipe is from someone who claims to be an expert, and they have changed things because of what’s available to them, how do you even know that? Or if they changed it because they didn’t know any better…..
And THAT is one of the big issues. Where is the vouching and the vetting. There is such a thing a personal gnosis. But there is also that reality that if someone calls themselves a physician, you would want them to train in certain things and reach certain benchmarks and outcomes before you would accept them as having that right to call themselves that title.
Hell, who taught the first teacher?
Using something in one’s own practice for the purpose of testing and verifying for repeatability and effectiveness is perfectly legitimate- UNTIL you start calling it “authentic (this or that)” If you’re pulling random shit off of the internet or some book you picked up at Half Price, don’t even try telling anyone you’re doing “authentic (ANYTHING)”... Call it your own “based on preliminary reading of and interest in…” but don’t try to pass it off as something it’s not. As you continue your research (hopefully… ) perhaps at some point you will be able to more closely align one with the other (IF that is what you are intending to attempt), but… Unverified personal gnosis is really just “your own personal bullshit”. (And while that may be effective, (MAY) it’s not some “authentic lineaged tradition” with accurate historic representation behind it.
*offers Janet and Rebecca some of my Graveyard Jambalaya to make up for my constant pilfering*
I mean, I don’t sit up and write treatises on the proper wild harvesting and environmental spiritual historicity of mandrake based magics in Tuscany. I don’t do this kind of thing because I have neither been to Tuscany, nor communed with the spirits there. So, I find it kind of challenging to accept that people who have no stiletto heels on the ground at ceremonies, teachings, and rituals have the eggs to claim Grand Pubah status on these issues that are not easy to find in the local grocery tabloid section with any authority.
MAYBE that is why some teach, and some DO EFFECTIVE SPELLWORK.
Maybe that is why I have become incensed when I hear folks give instruction to newbies with no basis in reality. I have actually witnessed someone tell a student that black salt used in African American Diaspora Folk Magic is only correct if using black salt from Asia. I am not kidding.
Image byy FotoosVanRobin (originally posted to Flickr as Black Salt)
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Rebecca VanLear (Let me guess… “white pagan person”?) (Sorry, I say that as a white occultist)
It is not that it is only a racial issue. It is a cultural issue. I feel it is like me telling someone all about Heathenry, or Lodge Teachings, or Tibetan Sorcery. I don’t have enough experience or knowledge - or even connection- to those spaces and cultures to do that past a certain point.
At least not do that and be able to look myself in the mirror with honor.
*looks outside to see someone selling talking sticks made in Taiwan R.O.C. and launches a Nerf rocket at them from behind the curtain*
No, it’s not just a racial issue. I do, however, see A LOT of problems with the “white American” clueless elitism exhibited, well, nearly everywhere. (Again, speaking as a caucasian female here). And that is DEFINITELY a cultural issue. One culture presuming it has The Supreme Understanding of All That Is.
(Sorry Kenya :P Live edit docs and me…. well… ask Andrieh about my feelings on that… LOL)
Black salt from Asia?
Yep. They improved on the recipe and stated that “ignorance kept practitioners from understanding what the original Slaves were trying to accomplish.” Apparently we have better sources and knowledge about what works, nowadays.
Wait. So, they’re claiming that the “black” sea salt from Asia, is the same as the “black salt” used in African rituals?
*falls on floor laughing hysterically, spilling tea all over the table in the process*
No wonder their magick doesn’t work!
Rebecca VanLear Wow. Just WOW… *headdesk*
*hands everyone a napkin and proceeds to sprinkle Tiger Teeth pepper flakes into the pot*
Sorry. I just...wow. Homework, people. This stuff comes with homework.
Homework, yes. And if you intend to TEACH on the subject, it requires the equivalent of a Doctorate. At the very least a Masters if you’re teaching “The Basics”.
*smashes another tea pot, with a hot sauce bottle*
Well, guess here is where I burn the place down.
How about we not prepackage everything and sell it for our own glory and actually teach folks during classes that they paid for rather than be goddamned infomercial? I mean, yeah, sell your stuff. But don’t lie about being a teacher.
If you cannot teach, don’t pretend.
Cheers. (Holds up lighter) That seems to go to ethics and credibility. What is the purpose of the offering- to provide information as a packaged product or to set one’s self out as a teacher (to me the latter implies more of an interactive situation between teacher and student). In either case- don’t go out there selling something that doesn’t deliver. Packaged products, yes- they are marketable and everyone has to make a living. They can be great for self-paced work and can be very informative/educational. The problem comes in when people try to fleece the customer and offer the sound-bite Twitter ad and try to pass it off as substantive content. If you are taking on a teacher role with that personal interaction with students, at that point you owe a duty to them and need to be accountable with regard to that interest/duty (including the duty to provide solid information).
That’s what all the marketing folks these days are telling people to do. You too can be rich and famous on the internet and make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by teaching. You don’t have to be an expert (sort of true) but you have to know more than your target audience. And you can charge $100s of dollars an hour for that. You gotta sell it though - internet slick, and lots of marketing mumbo jumbo.
(ACT NOW- you too can be a Living God… And be certified in Crystal Healing within 30 days… and have a Ph.D in Auric Reading. But CALL NOW and we’ll throw in TWO e-books on making your own Holy Water and how to Command Spirits!) Only fifteen easy payments of $999.99!
*Mistress Belladonna lights glass encased candle from the lighter and says pre written mass produced novena on side*
Agreed. However, once upon a time people went door to door selling “snake oil”... Eventually “the establishment” decided that was bullshit and went on to enact laws regulating commerce… ;) (And that addressed things like “fraud”...) While we can’t exactly enact laws to regulate the presentation of information and knowledge relative to spiritual and-or magical paths, (nor would we WANT to if we could), we CAN point out certain concerning points and refuse to “politely ignore” when people are spouting off horse shit.
*glass candle explodes*
Let’s be blunt. The worst kept secret in the Popular Pagan Circuit right now is that many folks are full of shite. We are not supposed to say anything because it is “hurtful”. But, really, you and I all know that most folks are just offering up psychodrama. IF that is what you stand for in your practice, then excellent. Be the best facilitator of this out there.
BUT, if you are selling magicks and quickening and spiritual journeys, then damn it, make that real. Or tell the truth that it may not be actual “invocation or evocation”, but you are attempting it. Don’t take people on a ride of their own imaginations and call it good.
“Oh, but Kenya, ALL paths and practices are valid and EVERYONE is a Priest/Priestess….” (SARCASM)
There is a time and a place for psychodrama. It can be effective in some contexts. But again, passing off something as X when it’s Y is plain misrepresentation.
There’s a difference between “valid” paths and a valid fact. You can have one without the other….
*CHEERS* (@Janet) Well said!
*Janet, at this point, has failed to notice that Belladonna has eaten everyone’s fry bread*
NOOOOO!!!! NOT THE FRY BREAD!!!!!!! *tears* Now I’m NEVER going to get to taste real, authentic fry bread… *sniffles*
So, anyone feeling froggy and want to jump on the drumming issue?
I should probably refrain on the drumming issue. :P I love drumming. (BUT I don’t put some spiritual/magical/cultural meaning behind it outside of my enjoyment in doing it. ;) I learn different techniques that are associated with certain specific practices that I incorporate, but never would I presume to claim to be trained in “traditional (insert path/practice/culture here) methods”.
*starts sneaking away Rebecca’s bowl of Jambalaya*
I think it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s context. And if you’re gonna make it something, please be courteous and tell the other participants that.
HEY! Starving law student here! *pouts*
Agreed. I think that’s what so much distills down to- is honesty. If you are going to do something and present it as (something) be accurate and forthcoming. If it’s not “yours”, have the courtesy to “cite your sources”.
*gives it back and adds some corn bread with it. Slathers on real butter*
Or admit that your sources are your own brain cells and/or something between you and God/dess/es
I think people can be so afraid to claim that their own ideas have value and merit that they feel they have to hide behind “something else” that seems more valid. That is unfortunate, because let’s be real- how did ANY of these things come into being? People’s inspired “own ideas” and practices that over time developed into cultural ideas and practices.
*Mistress Belladonna starts to Jit Dance in joy and revelation!!!!**
True. But there’s also bias in the community about things that are “made up” - I think because so many of us are afraid that outsiders will see all of our beliefs as made up. More and more I’m seeing things like “crystal healing certifications” and this certification and that, and it just…...bothers me. I mean, I get it - I remember when Reiki was like $1000 per level, and it meant a lot to me to finally get attunement from someone as a gift, because in my head, they’re worth so much. But...I know as much about crystal work as most healers out there, and I’ve done it…..so why should I go back and get a certificate at great expense? We accept that you can be a “solitary” Pagan of virtually any flavor, learning on your own, and coming to a point of having great skill and wisdom, but having that official degree still means something more.
Absolutely. People have the need for validation- to see some sort of external verification of their accomplishments. Kids get their star stickers, adults get their certificates. It’s all the same thing, really. And that is a GOOD thing when it means that we are inspired to exercise our skills and DO THE WORK. In those cases, the certificates hold MEANING. They reflect more than the fact that one paid their $49.95 to have access to a course and be sent a piece of paper. It’s the same thing I see with people who choose to get tattoos… For many people, they are selected with GREAT care, thought and PURPOSE. For others, they show up drunk on a Friday night and flip to board #3, close their eyes and point… (Gee, should I choose a certificate in “Auric Reading” or “Geo-Mancy” or maybe the sale on “Tarot”) That is a FAR cry from the person who has had active interest in (an area) and has been making progressively more substantial progress for whom that certificate is a culmination of effort (rather than a front-loaded aesthetic…)
As far as the issue about bias in the community about things that are “made up”... I think, in large part, that relates to the dynamic between paths like Christianity with the perception of ancient unbroken traditions (TOTAL BS) and the fact that, at least as U.S. Pagans and practitioners we do live in a very “new” culture (compared to many/most others, respectively) and people are legitimately looking for “tradition”, for foundations. They ascribe longevity to authenticity and meaning because of a lack of confidence in, well, THEMSELVES in many instances.. and I think it is simply a part of human nature to want to find those foundations and “where things come from”- the origins of “Stuff”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but like anything else, taken to extremes we find the problems and pitfalls of absolutism and rigidity of thought when that is given too much credence…
Well, and look at all the pushback when people realized Gardner really did “make up” a lot….
*sacred cow walks into room, falls over onto the white buffalo statue, both fall on top of the Black Church Conjure dinette set and cause a giant clatter*
Now look what you did, Janet!!!!
*TEARS* (Laughing so hard I snorted in the law library… ROFL)
Janet, it has been a pleasure. Mistress Belladonna- thank you for inviting me. (I have to run to Property Law ;) )
*makes you a goodie bag of hidden fry bread and Wojapi, with a side of Jambalaya*
By John Pozniak [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Thank you for coming!
*muttering to herself, Mistress Belladonna takes out the previously hidden plastic slipcovers for her furniture and zips them over all the chairs and loveseats*
I see you’ve been holding out on us, goodie wise….
What can I say? I am greedy.
I am not all bad. I did save you some wild rice salad. Since it is not actually rice, it is not a duplication of foods (winks). Mmmm, raisins.
I think that what we can probably agree on is that folks need to not be so afraid to own their own Traditions, even if they are creating them. Be proud. Be honest with your sources. Be willing to be reviewed by your peers and take correction and help. I get corrected all the time, didn’t stop me from deciding to teach. And I know I have no monopoly on my techniques. But I do try my best to give my credit where it is due, and OWN MY OWN THINGS.
My favorite drum beat is the cadence from my High School, General John J. Pershing. Doughgirl here, all day. And that is ok. And I can raise energy with it and know why. Own your gnosis.
And look what that’s gotten you :)
Yep. And I would not trade the journey for the world. Seriously, I am two steps from making a book of Mayor Coleman A. Young inspired spell works just to be THAT DETROIT WITCH.
I GUESS we have to tidy up the table and call it a day now. The food is gone, the salon destroyed - as usual- and the neighbors have been scandalized.
That’s the price you pay for having guests like us.
*packs snacks for the road*
I guess my parting words are:
Be true to who you are. Your own moral codes, your own cultural roots, and the embrace of other cultures in an ethical and moral way. Enjoy all the world offers, but always be mindful of when you are the Stranger, and when you are the Host.
And most of all, be authentic to the person in the mirror. Your Ancestors made you, and there is great honor in representing them.
That means also allowing other to be authentic to themselves, warts and all.
Any parting words?
Hm. I think, just, own your practice. Do your homework. Frankly, if what you do works, and you can explain why, that’s the biggest thing when it comes to teaching others. They have to know the background, not just the recipe.
Thank you for coming for a nice spot of fun and conversation. I would say I was sorry for eating all the food, but it would taste a lie. So let’s just not lie. (smiles)
Well, readers, you have done it to yourselves again. You have sat down and wasted a perfectly good segment of time enjoying a salon with us. Hope you had a chance to sample the tea, it was delicious - until the pot exploded. Ahh well, at least there was Faygo Red Pop. Til next time, keep it real.