Wiccan Reads: Sexy Witch by LaSara Firefox

Sexy Witch is a self-empowerment guide for women via witchcraft.  It’s a book that, underneath it all, teaches women to love themselves and tap into our life-giving power.  Being a woman is a very powerful thing and the author re-awakens that within us.

“Women’s virtue is man’s greatest invention” is a phrase we’re exposed to almost immediately in the book.  I couldn’t agree more, as the keyword here is “virtue”, itself.  Virtue means good moral character…yet, virtual means “not really”, like virtual reality.  The very meaning of the word virtual is proof that our “virtue” was, in fact, made up and conditioned into us, not a natural phenomenon.  Throughout the introduction, she explores this connect in a little more depth and acknowledges the wounds it has created to our sex over the millennia.  (I believe it goes without saying that it’s common knowledge women have been subdued over the course of most recorded history and if you somehow disagree with that, you might as well just stop reading any further…Now that I got that out of the way…)  She says we cannot heal from this until we claim these wounds.  By accepting what has been done to us, we begin to move forward to change it.  She expresses we deserve our own faith and worship.

On to healing…Firefox reminds us that our body is a sacred space.  More than merely a home to our hearts and souls, our body IS our hearts and souls.  I believe we have been taught to disconnect ourselves from our bodies, so I’m very glad she brings that up.  People very quickly forget (or are encouraged to disregard) that our bodies are just as important and significant as what’s going on inside them.   That stuff about the soul living on after you die is real nice and stuff (and I’m not arguing with it at all), but our bodies are a symbol of our animalism and reconnect us to the Earth.  Sometimes growing is overlooked in favor of transcending and Sexy Witch is teaching us to do both.  This re-emphasizes Firefox’s next point that our bodies and souls are not 2 separate things but 1.  Our minds are processes, not objects.  Our bodies are vehicles which we manifest our will on Earth and life’s journey is inside ourselves.

Firefox then jumps into getting acquainted with our bodies.  She recommends taking nude photos of one’s self and focusing on the parts you like about your body.  She then discusses the major body part that separates us from men.  According to Firefox, the vagina is the primary signifier of our femaleness, even more so than breasts (and more hidden).  The author suggests we view it in a mirror and paint a picture of it to get a better understanding of it.  She gives us some wordplay by telling us where origins of “vaginal” words come from.  For instance “vagina”, itself, is Latin for “sheath (for a sword)” and “cunt” comes from the same root word for “country”, “knowing”, and “kin”…

[More wordplay unrelated to the vagina*]

“Intention”-from the Latin “intendere”-stretch into the future;  “Taboo”-Polynesian for-sacred, menstrual

Firefox informs us that the clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings and is about the same length as a penis (internally speaking).  She also corrects us that a vagina is not, in fact, a space, but the potential for space because when aroused, the walls (read as:  vagina) make room for insertion.

The next part of the book discusses what the vagina leads to:  The womb.  The concept to grasp here is that the womb is our temple.  It’s a seat of intensely primal power because child and mother meet here for the first time as well as being the “factory” of life.  She suggests that the opposite sex is afraid of this power and I find this quote relevant:

“American women who are sure of themselves, sexually, are often made fun of, sometimes ridiculed, and are at times even at risk of harm or death for expressing themselves, sexually.”

We then learn about the term “wandering womb”.  The ancient Greeks believed the uterus free-floated around within a woman’s body and was not “attached” to anything, internally.  This was also believed to be the cause of hysteria in women and thus deemed women of fragile, less rational mindset.  This belief was carried over to Europe and taught throughout international medical practices well into the 19th century until microscopes were invented and cellular research was beginning.  All of this reiterates the idea of reclaiming our wounds and the power to heal in the beginning of the book.  She states that burning is the best route of destruction.

*Not that I’m trying to tell anyone what to do, here, but I was taught (and do believe, on my own) that burning something is giving it great power, so I choose to assume the author means burning something metaphorically as opposed to physically.

The book then proceeds to discuss magic and explains sympathetic magic as using 1 thing to stand in for another (usually larger, more complicated) thing.  The author declares that speaking words that make us whole is a conscious act of magic.  “I am safe in my sexual energy.”  She describes the importance of creating a sacred space, but also talks aboutrecognizing a sacred space.  This leads into existentialism (assigning meaning to an experience) which theorizes “we are, so we become”.  This can be applied to sacred spaces.  She confesses that as she practices the craft, more, she goes to sacred spaces more than she creates them.  I agree that being drawn to a sacred space may have more of an effect simply because it is already built up.  Anyone can make any space sacred, but it takes time to keep it that way from frequent use.  Part II of the book is all rituals for a coven of witches or a solitary witch.  I like that she says to take all these ritual formats as suggestions, because there is no wrong way to perform ritual.

“Sometimes we must believe before we can see.”

In this section, Firefox brings up mentors.  She strongly recommends a mentor for us on our journeys to self-ownership and self-love.  A “divinatory” method she suggests is Googling values that you hold very highly or want to embody within yourself.  After trying this out, I have that I am driven by muses just as much as mentors.  The 2 serve different purposes but can very often overlap and intertwine.  I think it’s important to recognize our muses as symbols of our unconscious desires.  We tend to feel inexplicable (and irresistible) pulls to our muses on a base level.  For good or bad, it would be in our best interest to understand why we are attracted to them.

Now as far as my summarization of the book, I was all over the place.  Ms. Firefox does a better job of organizing the ideas into chapters.  I was very passionate about the book and I even got excited when I saw the front cover.  It’s a great symbol of the message of the book and I think every woman (pagan or not) should read it!  Firefox fearlessly acknowledges the wretched history of women but then teaches that this does not have to define us.  We can take back what we lost (as it’s certainly not going to be given to us).  She uncovers a woman’s real power and societal role that everyone likes to pretend doesn’t still exist.  Could it be considered a feminist book?  I suppose so…but I believe it’s not quite that.  It is bringing the truth of what has happened and then learning from it.

As I read every chapter, I felt like words were being taken right out of my mouth.  Even though it largely reinforced what I already know, I did learn from the book.  So it enhanced what I picked up on my own.  Touching back on the feministic argument, this book was not written for men.  Although I do think there will be men out there who appreciate what she is saying, they will never be able to fully grasp the concept of it.  I’m not saying they’re stupid.  What I’m trying to say is they will never be able to put themselves fully in a woman’s shoes (so to speak) as I don’t think women could ever know what it’s like to be a man.  I’m sure if a man had written a Sexy Witch book for men, he could touch on things that a woman (like me) will never be able to truly feel 100%…but you know I’d read it (Why not?). 🙂  Bottom line:  we’re all sexy witches.  The author just tells us how.

sexy-witch

Advertisements

Magickal Arts: The Spiral Dance

What up, witches!

I’m gracing you with two videos in a row for this series!  Aren’t you lucky?  This time the video stars me.  J  I performed my very first belly dance solo at my University’s 2nd annual belly dance festival.  Belly dancing has been such a new and liberating outlet for me to express myself, even spiritually.  Upon joining the belly dance club at school, I started to see how much of an overlap there is between belly dancers and pagans.  I wanted my first solo to combine my two passions that I’ve thrown myself into head first, since becoming a student here at UMass.  So, what better song to choreograph to than “Spiral” by Godsmack?  The song is very symbolic for me.  First of all, Godsmack frontman, Sully Erna, is a practicing witch and wrote the song under the influence of paganism.  They’re also from Massachusetts.  My friends in SPIRALS made it our unofficial theme song!  Hope you like my performance…I admit my arms are a little awkward but I’m getting better.  I will say my hips are already going pro! 😉

Sometimes we only live for the here and now

Sometimes we’re lonely, Sometimes we feel we need a place to be grounded

Or fly away again

I will fly away again, oh

I will fly away again

Why are we feeling something’s familiar around us?

Are we just dreaming? Always we search for the answers but nothing is found

We’ll fly away again

I feel rain pouring down

I wait to

rot away

Live again

Here forever

The spiral never ends!

Action shots!

11038690_741377919312889_8838978755145579481_n 11152348_741377869312894_6685744303752435453_n 11169801_741377872646227_5188301758713974006_n

Magickal Arts: It’s Britney, Witch!

For my first Magickal Arts entry, I’m quite excited to kick it off with an entity I have a strong affinity for:  Britney Spears!  OK, now before you go unsubscribing and cease to take me seriously as a witch (or a human being, in general) just hear me out.  I’ll start with a little bit of background info…

“Touch of My Hand” is a song Britney Spears co-wrote for one of her albums.  She wrote it about masturbation, but it was done quite tastefully.  I think it was pretty brave of her to write and sing about something that is extremely personal and in a celebratory fashion.  She left herself incredibly open and vulnerable by choosing to express that side of herself and sharing something we all have in common.  It was recorded 12 years ago, and I think Britney was in a really good place of introspection when she wrote it.

Instead of the original inspiration for the song, I choose to associate it to my own personal practice and belief of paganism.  People learn a lot about themselves through their faiths (and masturbation, I suppose) and I think that’s the main idea of the song:  Self-discovery.  All of the lyrics to this piece I apply as a metaphor for how I practice witchcraft.  Regardless of how you choose to interpret this song, it’s still a powerful method of expression.

Hope you enjoy the song!  I picked this video because the picture suits the mood better than the lyric videos.  I’ve transcribed the lyrics below:

I’m not ashamed of the things that I dream
I find myself flirting with the verge of obscene
Into the unknown, I will be bold
I’m going to places I can be out of control

And I don’t want to explain tonight
All the things I’ve tried to hide
I shut myself out from the world so I
Can draw the blinds

and I’ll teach myself to fly

I love myself, It’s not a sin
I can’t control what’s happenin’

‘Cause I just discovered
Imagination’s taking over
Another day without a lover
The more I come to understand
The touch of my hand

From the small of my back and the arch of my feet
Lately I’ve been noticin’ the beautiful me
I’m all in my skin and I’m not gonna wait
I’m into myself in the most precious way

There’s a world undefined
In my body and mind
I won’t be left behind
I’m all

ready

here

Magickal Arts: Tale as Old as Time

Since I have not posted a book review in too long of  a time, I figure I’ll hold this over for now with a paper I wrote comparing folktales with more recent picture-book adaptations.  I was lucky enough to enroll in yet another children’s literature class and the above-mentioned comparison was a 6-page assignment.  The reason I feel I can include it on this pagan-reading review is because folktales have very pagan spirits to them.  The parts that relate very closely with paganism, I have emboldened for those that want to skip to the juicy parts.  Enjoy!

The following folktales were first recorded in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm in Germany. “Rumpelstiltskin”, “The Frog Prince” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” are supposedly all German oral stories that are quite familiar across the globe. I have examined some more light-hearted picture book versions of these tales. The time spanned across writing these modern versions definitely reflects a different way of thinking vs. the school of thought when these tales were first published.
The first and best example of psychological differences among these tales is Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter. The book maintains the first part of the original story with the miller lying to the king about having a daughter who can spin gold. The king’s avarice and opportunistic trait gets the better of him and he ordered the miller’s daughter to spin a room full of straw into gold for his own benefit. Rumpelstiltskin shows up and offers to help Meredith, the miller’s daughter. Meredith does have a child that Rumpelstiltskin desires. These elements were maintained, obviously, to keep familiarity with the original story, but also to set up a larger conflict with the king and present a better solution to his greed.

Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter
Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter

Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter was published in 1997 by Diane Stanley who is an American children’s author and illustrator. The change in the plot happens when Rumpelstiltskin gives his reasons to Meredith why he desires a child. He says he would want nothing more than to care for and love a little one like his own. Meredith contemplates this and decides she would rather marry this kind little man than be married to the rich, greedy, ruthless king, who gives nothing back to his people. Rumpelstiltskin and Meredith sneak away the night before she is to wed the king and have a child of their own, Hope.
Unfortunately, Hope is also mistaken by the king to have the ability to spin gold and faces the same fate as her mother. Since Hope has inherited her father’s cleverness, she subtly tricks the king into thinking he will have loads of gold. However, in the process, she teaches him to give back to the kingdom and shows him how grateful and thankful the inhabitants are to him. At first he is disappointed with not having any gold as promised, but Hope explains to him that he has something more than gold; the ability to help others in need. He soon likes all this attention and shows his thanks to Hope by offering to marry her and make her the queen. She requests to be prime minister instead and inspires him to give charity to his subjects when he is feeling low.
These differences were created by the author to serve justice to the king and reform him of his greed. Meredith got a second chance at wealth and happiness instead of “spin gold and marry the king, or die”. Rumpelstiltskin wasn’t portrayed as a pagan, wild forest-gnome who is not to be trusted like in Grimm’s tale. The author painted him as a sympathetic character who genuinely wanted to help people and have a loving family. Hope was accurately named in that she was a beacon of hope, not only to Meredith and Rumpelstiltskin but the kingdom’s citizens and the king, himself. She somewhat redeemed Meredith in a feministic way. The original tale involved Meredith being married upwards in society or dying. Hope introduced new, humanistic ideas to the king and was definitely more empathetically evolved than the king and his guards. She became the heroic figure of this story.
Stanley does a lovely job with the pictures, having them touch every inch of the pages, immersing the text within them. They are reminiscent of Georgian-era oil paintings, vibrating a proper, haughty environment where there is no room for tantrums (the exception being, of course, the king.) The pictures really evoke the personality of the king, in particular, and how his greed is so powerful, it causes his kingdom to suffer. What words can only describe of his short-sighted gratification, the pictures speak volumes in showing the reality of how it has affected his people and how he does not hesitate to satisfy his every whim.
Gold was a highly emphasized theme in the pictures, as well.  Almost every page with the king depicted has something made of gold or representing gold (for example, the barley and woolen clothes produced by the citizens of the kingdom.) Other humorous, subtle pictures included various portraits of the king in famous settings throughout his castle such as the Mona Lisa, Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait, and the Birth of Venus. These can show the young reader how self-absorbed the king was that he had to insert himself within glorious moments of artistic history.
The Frog Prince Continued is a 1991 expansion of the Frog Prince written by Jon Scieszka and painted by Steve Johnson. Both are American. All of the same story elements are there with the Princess turning the frog back into a Prince and they get married. Those events were left untouched to expand the story before the happily ever after. It acknowledges what happened in the tale, but offers a further explanation and journey to the happy ending.
The first change made was saying the Princess turned the frog back into a Prince by kissing him. In the original tale, she throws him at the wall in anger which turns him back to a human. I suppose this change was made to remove violence but it’s also a key device for the prolonged happily-ever-after. The Frog Prince Continued shows the couple’s marital problems of people not changing overnight. In particular, the Princess is still high-maintenance and spoiled. She likes things her way and is greatly irritated by her husband’s froggy habits. The Prince’s old frog ways haven’t quite worn off yet, showing he, too, is having trouble adjusting to his new life.

The Frog Prince...Continued
The Frog Prince…Continued

He becomes rather depressed by their differences and runs back into the forest looking for the witch to curse him again, as he thinks he was better off as a frog. Along the way, he runs into several witches from other fairytales (the sleeping-beauty witch, the poison-apple witch and the candy-house witch) but all they are interested in doing is performing the same curses they afflicted upon their most famous victims. After an unsuccessful run-in with a fairy godmother (she turned him into a carriage, leaving him stuck in the woods until midnight), he hurries back home as he has discovered he has taken his life with the Princess for granted. She was the only person who kissed him when he was a slimy frog so upon his return he kisses her and they both turn into frogs, living happily ever after. Also, the frog prince’s attendant, Iron Henry, was left out of this story, entirely.
The author seems to have written this version with a more relatable portrait of a married couple for modern times. When comparing the two tales, one can notice the original ending was too convenient. The frog was turned back into a handsome prince which merely was enough for the princess to fall in love with him. The continued version showed the characters as less influential and flighty. The absence of Iron Henry, however, seemed to make perfect sense as he did not have a large (or seemingly relevant) role in the traditional tale.
Steve Johnson’s paintings for this piece were cartoonish with lots of shadows, giving the book a quiet, mysterious, floating feel. There were many visual references that complemented the text such as the Prince sticking his long, frog tongue out at the dragon-fly wallpaper. He was shown sitting in a chair that resembled a frog while the Princess sat in a chair with a crown on it, reminding the viewer of their initial backgrounds. This was carried over to the witches. The sleeping-beauty witch has “Z”s decorating the borders of her clothes. The poison-apple witch had a sign saying “The Fairest” on her door and was reading “Hague” magazine (a play on “Vogue”). She was also shown surrounded by potion bottles resembling cosmetics to remind readers of her vanity. Also, when the Prince was turned into a coach, he looked like a giant frog with the opening of his mouth holding the seats. Even the back cover of the book displayed frog-foot-prints with shoe-prints suggesting the Prince’s inner conflict of acknowledging the frog within.
Our final story discusses Snow White and the Seven Dwarves compared to the American Disney picture book. The Disney book is a 1984 re-telling of Snow White based off of Disney’s animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” from 1937. Snow White is still a princess who keeps her red, white and black features, inspiring her name with a jealous step-mother who unsuccessfully tries to have her killed by a hunter. The hunter takes pity on Snow White and lets her run away for her to befriend some dwarves who take her in. As tradition holds, the vengeful queen learns of Snow White’s survival and tries to kill via her own hands but fails and Snow White is married to a prince who finds her lifeless body in the woods.

Disney's Snow White
Disney’s Snow White

Many of the original points in the classic oral tale were maintained to simply glorify it, as opposed to give a new twist to it. Disney is merely celebrating this classic tale with slight modifications, rather than using it to teach a modern morality tale. The story is sanitized to make it family friendly and doesn’t necessarily try to suggest a positive message. For example,the queen falls off a cliff while being chased by the dwarves and dies, accidentally, in Disney’s version. The original story has her dance in iron-hot shoes until she dies. I believe this death was changed to paint Snow White and the Prince as pure, kind-hearted characters. It divides the bad from the good and implies that bad things will just happen to bad people because they deserve it. No person serves justice to the wicked queen in like in the classic version.
Also, the Grimm’s publication shows less magic and more realism and logic. The queen merely poisoned the items she gave to Snow White and painted her face to disguise herself as an old woman. Snow White is awoken by the piece of apple becoming dislodged from her throat, by chance. Disney’s book/film shows blatant, miraculous magic showing the queen drinking a potion to age herself and become the disguise. As fate would have it, Snow White is awakened by a kiss of true love from the prince because it was her destiny. This also implies that good things happen to well-intentioned people.
The Disney picture book is essentially identical to the film adaptation of this story that Disney also released. This book would not be in print under the Disney name if it did not closely resemble its film. Disney is known for its visual accomplishments and that is the selling point for children reading this book. Most people know the story of Snow White, but they want this book in order to see a condensed version of the Disney movie.
Upon the end of this exploration I find that the original folktales discussed above, were much simpler than their modern counterparts. They were simple tales told by/for simple people in much simpler times. The characters were judged more for what they did, rather than what they intended. They were earthier and more realistic. The adaptations I discovered were certainly created with children in mind, therefore changed some events to make the stories less harsh. Rumpelstilstkin’s Daughter and The Frog Prince Continued also both challenged the reader psychologically, to be more empathetic and also the nature of politics in today’s society. Diplomacy was the key to victory, which was shared among the community and not singled-out to the plighted main characters. All three of the picture books were drawn/painted in simplified, colorful format that didn’t bombard the reader with too much dimension or realism. This, of course is what makes a successful children’s picture book.

When Witches Fly

I just finished my second course about witchery here at UMass and this time it was a History course called Witchcraft, Magic & Science.  For our finals we had to write a 15-page research paper about any subject relating to witches through history (specifically in the Middle Ages).  We had to get our subjects pre-approved so I chose witchcraft and drug-use!  Maybe you’ll learn something from my paper.  🙂

Witches on Drugs

I propose that witches were real even in the Middle Ages and were, in fact, sought out for help in a number of things because of their wisdom, knowledge, skill and power.  Even in the Bible, there is a witch of Endor seeked out by Saul:

“And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines he was afraid…And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.  Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her and inquire of her.  And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at En-dor.  And Saul disguised himself, And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those with familiar spirits, and the wizards out of the land; wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?  And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice   (Anonymous, 1915 BP, p. 341).”

However, where does the witches’ perceived supernatural power come from?  Flying on broomsticks, the unexplained ability to kill and resurrect without contact, bestowing great strength upon men…Where do all these stereotypes and presumptions about witches come from and why were they propagated so heavily in the Middle Ages?  My hypothesis suggests drugs; or more specifically, highly potent herbs.

Margot Adler directly addresses the issue of drugs in her book Drawing Down the Moon.  She interviews a witch who works in the health field, Sharon Devlin, about her perspective on the subject:

“In all indigenous Paganism possession of the participants by the gods and goddesses occurred frequently.  This is not occurring frequently among Neo-Pagans.  I attribute this to our loss of skill in the use of…psychogenetic drugs.  Another thing that was essential to the rites in ancient times was ritual drunkenness (Adler, 2006, p. 145).”

Adler then goes on to compare the effect of drugs while attempting or almost even expecting to have a paranormal experience:

“While “paranormal” events are extremely difficult to chart…much research has shown chances of such increase dramatically during altered states of consciousness–in dreams, hypnosis, drugged states, sensory deprivation, deep meditation, and highly emotional experiences….facilitate psychic activity (Adler, 2006, p. 157).”

Devlin also dares to attempt to suggest why drugs became not nearly as prevalent among witches particularly during the Middle Ages: “This form of Christianity has produced fear of…use of hallucinogens.  Flying ointment was used in ancient times.  Drugs…are an essential part of magical rites.  Some of the heaviest power is obtained that way (Adler, 2006, p. 146).”

The earliest example of this “heaviest of power” to give from the Middle Ages comes from the Scandinavian region of the Vikings.  These are the Berserkers among the Norse men.  Neuro-Psychiatrist, Howard D. Fabing references historical texts regarding this phenomenon in his article:  On Going Berserk:

“In the old Norwegian historical writings it is mentioned, in many places, that in olden times there was a specific kind of giants who were called Berserks, that is, men who at certain times were seized by a wild fury, which, at the moment, doubled their strength and made them insensible to bodily pain, but which also deadened their humanity and reason, and made them like wild animals. This fury, which was called ‘Berserksgang,’ occurred not only in the heat of battle, but also during laborious work. Men who were thus seized performed things which otherwise seemed impossible for human power.  This  condition is said to have begun with shivering, chattering of the teeth, and chill in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its color. With this was connected a great hotheadedness, which at last went over into a great rage, under which they howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down everything they met, without discriminating between friend or foe. When this condition ceased, a great dulling of the mind and feebleness followed, which could last for one or several days.”   In 1784, Samuel Lorenzo 0dman (26), a theologian at the University of Upsala, undertook to      explain the phenomenon of going berserk. He reviewed the Sagas for descriptions of the state. He found King Halfden’s Berserks depicted in Roifs Saga in this manner: “On these giants fell sometimes such a fury that they could not control themselves, but killed men or cattle, whatever came in their way and did not take care of itself. While this fury lasted they were afraid of nothing, but when it left them they were so powerless that they did not have half of their strength, and were as feeble as if they had just come out of bed from a sickness. This fury lasted about one day (Fabing, 1956, p. 234).”

It should also be noted that these Berserkers were called such because in Old Norse, the word “berserker” means “bear-skin”.  It was quite common for the Berserkers to wear bear and wolf pelts draped over their heads and shoulders in hopes to take on the fighting spirit and immense strength of such creatures while in battle.  Now of course these men were not “witches” (certainly in the typical sense) but they were witnessed as having super-human strength and in some kind of trance that triggered them into a near-blind rage.  The emphasis here is on the perceived supernatural level their abilities changed to.

Fabing also takes care to describe the sudden halt of these Berserker rituals with the knowledge the Viking lawmakers gained on how these occurrences were happening:

“One of the curious aspects of Berserksgang is that it disappeared abruptly in the 12th century A.D., after plaguing Viking sociopolitical life for more than three centuries.  Schuibeler pointed out, too, that the more enlightened Viking leaders soon learned that the state was one which could be prevented, and therefore could be legislated against. He wrote: “Before Erik Jarl left Norway he called together (in 1015 A.D.) the feudatories and the mightiest peasants in order to deliberate with them about the law giving and the rule of the country. At this meeting campfighting (holmgang) was abolished, and Berserks and robbers were outlawed. In Thorlak’s and Ketil’s Icelandic Christian Law, which was adopted in 1123 A.D., there is the following decree: ‘If someone goes berserk, he is punished with three years of banishment (fjorbaugsgard), and the men who are present are also banished if they do not bind him; but if they bind him, none are punished.  If this is repeated, then the punishment occurs!’ Schiubeler regarded this as proof that the Vikings came to know that the paroxysm was temporary and preventable. Berserksgang ceased after this law was passed (Fabing, 1956, p. 234).”

Let’s explore a little further into the use of this fungus.  Fabing uses Odman’s research again to describe this process of ingesting the mushroom:

“He then reviewed the possible botanical products indigenous to Scandinavia which might have been used in this manner, and decided that /lugswamp, the mushroom Amanita muscaria, was the one which solved the riddle of the Berserks.  He then compared the accounts of Berserksgang in the Sagas to the “amanita debauches” of the Koryaks and other far-eastern Siberians, and found them to be almost identical behavior patterns (Fabing, 1956, p. 234).”

Fabing, however, takes time to place an addendum to that research with the opinion of Frederik Gron:  “He feels, however, that the best explanation would be that of ecstatic fury psychogenically determined in a group of aggressive psychopathic personalities (Fabing, 1956, p. 234).”  This is to suggest that those who were capable of “going berserk” when ingesting fly-agaric had certain genetic pre-conditions of the brain that made this possible.  It is also hypothesized this specific neurology could be from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Referring back to the mention of indigenous Siberian tribes, Michael Harner touches upon them and their use of  fly-agaric in the introduction of Hallucinogens and Shamanism:

Native Siberians had close relationship with fly-agaric (Amanita Muscaria)…fly-agaric produces intoxication, hallucinations and delirium….certain degree of animation and some spontaneity of movements.  Many shamans eat fly-agaric previous to their séances to get into ecstatic states.  Under strong intoxication sense become deranged;  surrounding objects appear very large or small, spontaneous convulsions.  Attacks of great animation alternate with moments of deep depression.  The intoxicated sits   quietly rocking from side to side.  Suddenly the eyes dilate and they converse with unseen persons (Harner, 1973, pp. xii-xiii).”

Note a few similaritiesetween the Siberians and the Berserkers (before the rage kicks in) while ingesting fly-agaric.  Perhaps the Siberians is where the Berserkers learned of Amanita muscaria in order to test its capabilities.

Earlier mentioned was how did witches fly on broomsticks?  Well, there is plenty of recorded history to deduce that hallucinogens were absolutely used by women in order to make this happen.  The next few paragraphs will examine some recorded testimonies of women who admit to anointing themselves with “flying ointment” in order to fly by broom (or sometimes by beast) to their moonlight meetings…sometimes with the devil.

Using Hallucinogens and Shamanism again, Harner writes:

“The Inquisition…has supplied the bulk of our data on the role of hallucinogenic plants in late medieval Europe.  From the variety of sources, it is clear we are dealing with practices that were widespread throughout Europe.

Elizabeth Style on Flying Ointment 1664:  Somerset witches used a “greenish” oil in transporting themselves to their meetings…carried in a very short time, using these words as they pass, THOUT, TOUT A TOUT, TOUT, THROUGHOUT AND ABOUT.  And when they go off from their Meetings they say, RENTUM, TORMENTUM…all are carried to their several homes in a short space (Harner, 1973, p. 129).”

Alice Duke contributes to her own experience: “…After all was ended, the Man in black vanished (Harner, 1973, p. 129).”

Lady Alice Kyteler in 1324:  they (the legal authorities) found a Pipe of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin, when and in what manner she listed (Harner, 1973, p. 130).

So, in essence, this is how the image of a witch riding a broom is conceived!  Harner elaborates further: “The use of staff or broom was undoubtedly more than a symbolic Freudian act, serving as an applicator for the atropine-containing plant to the sensitive vaginal membranes as well as providing the suggestion of riding on a steed, a typical illusion of the witches’ ride to the Sabbat (Harner, 1973, p. 129).”

A question to consider then is why were these women doing this?  Why, in a time and place where religion ruled with an iron fist and permeated every aspect of Medieval Europeans’ lives, did these women (considered second-class citizens, at best, thus much more harshly punished for acting out, especially against the church) succumb to taking drugs and risk facing horrid torture if caught?  Perhaps the answer can be found in an account from Bartolomeo Spina, 1523 that Harner reveals:

“A certain witch, who said that she had often been carried on the journey, was being held in the prison of some cleric Inquisitor.  The Prince, hearing of this, desired to find out whether these claims were true or dreams.  He summoned the Inquisitor D., and finally prevailed upon him to let the woman he brought forth and anoint herself with her usual ointment in their presence…Having anointed herself several times, however, she remained motionless; nor did anything extraordinary manage to happen to her…it is rather that when they think that they are so carried, it happens by a delusion of the Devil (Harner, 1973, p. 133).”

He also references Giovanni Battista Porta, a colleague of Galileo, about how the ointment is made and applied.  Often Cinquefoil, blood, fat, datura, and belladonna are boiled together.  The lard is then kneaded into some other herbs here & there.  Finally it is rubbed into body so it becomes hot and the skin pliable in order for pores to absorb more hallucinogenic material (Harner, 1973, pp. 137-138).

He reasons that these oppressed women have visions of dance, feast and gentleman they desire but they are really just lying naked and motionless.  They are essentially rendered unconscious by the drugs and experience lucid dreams/hallucinations from the drug working with their psyche (Harner, 1973), p. 138).  To answer my earlier question of why do these Medieval European women resort to this even if they know the consequences, I say that this is the only relief they have from their repressed lifestyles.  It’s an escape and a way for them to feel like they have control of something.  In psychology, they call this a “rage at helplessness” and the term is usually associated with people who criminally deviate from society (drug addicts, thieves, murderers).  These women have learned the universal lesson that power is never given, therefore it must be taken.  They criminally deviated from society because witchcraft (or drugs in this case) was the only source of power they had.

This can also carry over to the mythology of witches poisoning people for vengeance or using love spells to attract eligible bachelors (or in some cases, eligible married men).  A witch stole your husband?  She likely put a depressant and aphrodisiac in his soup to slightly incapacitate him and influence his mood.  Why?  Probably because he was rich or well-respected within the community and she was either poor and unmarried or too old to bear children anymore.

Also in witch mythos there is the notion that witches dance naked under the full moon.  Being a witch myself, I can attest that is still in practice today.  However, after taking a close look at the drug-use guided by Harner, it can be theorized that witches were naked so they could absorb the herbs effects without fatally-poisoning themselves.  It’s likely they had knowledge of how much of a dosage these herbs could cause death.  Ingesting them orally, of course, was much more likely to result in never waking up from these deep sleeps.

Well-known in the pagan world, green-wiccan Scott Cunningham provides four recipes for flying ointment in The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews.  Two of the four contain a few poisonous herbs and he highly advises against using them.  Some of the common ingredients include Cinquefoil, Parsley, Aconite, Belladonna, Hemlock, Cowbane, Hog’s Lard, Hashish, Hemp Flowers, Poppy Flowers and Hellebore.  The directions state to anoint the body with the mixture prior to attempting astral projection (Cunningham, 1989, p. 127).  There is little difference between this modern procedure and the one described in Medieval Europe.

A final look at drug-use among witches involves the modern a bit more.  In his own book, Serpent and the Rainbow  Harvard Ethnobotanist, Wade Davis  reflects on his experience  researching pharmacology in Haiti.  He’s employed by his university to research “Zombi-poison” used in the country.  They are trying to find an alternative to anesthesia and think the near-paralyzing zombi-poison will work (Davis, 1997, p. 21).

Davis describes the zombification symptoms through the perspective of Clairvius Narcisse, a recent zombie victim:

“Quite incredibly, he recalled remaining conscious throughout his ordeal.  And although completely immobilized, he heard his sister weeping by his deathbed.  He remembered his doctor pronouncing him dead.  Both at and after his burial, his overall sensation was that of floating above the grave.  That was his soul, he claimed, ready to travel on a   journey that would be curtailed by the arrival of the bokor and his assistants (Davis, 1997, p. 62).”

Also because the zombi victims are actually paralyzed and not dead, they are buried alive which causes them to suffer brain damage from oxygen deprivation.  The oxygen deprivation is responsible for zombis being in their submissive state and not having the will to rebel when they are carted into slavery (as is custom for zombification in Haiti) (Davis, 1997, p. 29).

Upon his journey, Davis learns that the main psychoactive ingredient in the poison is tetrodotoxin (puffer fish venom), one of the most deadliest nerve-toxins on earth.  The “potion” made by the bokor is usually sprinkled on the victim’s doormat and absorbed through the feet (Davis, 1997, p. 117).   Davis also concludes that zombis are very real in Haiti because the people have cultivated the mythos around it and belief is quite a strong power.  Poisonous drugs, however, are also very real in the modern scientific world and many people end up sick because they believe they are poisoned (Davis, 1997).

The reason I say that is because Davis goes a little further into other uses of puffer fish venom.  Japanese chefs have been taught how to cook the fish just right so that microscopic traces of the venom are left raw within the fish, so the consumer can feel a slight inebriation when eating the meal.  However, the very wealthy in Japan will pay a hefty price to bribe cooks into adding more than the legal amount of raw venom.  This is to increase the intensity of their altered state but can have dire consequences!  Some Japanese celebrities have died from this (Davis, 1997, pp. 120-121).

So why is this relevant to witchcraft?  Well, the bokor of Haiti, much like the witch of Endor in the Bible, is hired for his services.  He is the one people turn to when they seek revenge.  Essentially when someone believes they have been severely wronged by another member of society, they hire the bokor to work his magic.  He mixes the zombie potion, sprinkles it on the offender’s doormat, waits for them to be buried, digs up their body in the middle of the night with a band of helpers, and transports them—usually to a plantation to be a slave for the owner (Davis, 1997, p. 100)

The bokor is not respected in Haitian society.  He is seen as “the priest who serves with the left hand”, or a witch doctor who dabbles in the black arts.  Davis meets man who defends the bokor, however.  He says the bokor “must know evil to combat it…But this talk is all in vain.  This is a land where things are not the way they seem.” We also learn that even though people do not like bokors, they still turn to them in times of desperation.  In my own mind, I compare him to the neighborhood drug-dealer.  The Haitian police also know who the bokors are, but understand that they also serve a means of justice.  The police and the Haitian vodun secret societies have an understanding with each other.  One cannot separate a Haitian citizen with the vodun subculture (Davis, 1997, p. 47).  After knowing this, one can compare a bokor to a living deity.  A god people would pray to for whatever they wanted or needed.

All of these examples give us quite an interesting lesson in power dynamics and perception.  The Vikings used drugs to grant them what they thought was power; great physical strength and extended endurance to last them in battle.  The oppressed women of late Medieval England (and much of Europe at the time) used drugs to escape from their miserable lives or sometimes gain a providing husband.  Finally, the bokors of Haiti use drugs to enact revenge for the people.  Drugs are just another tool for people to empower themselves in whatever means they find appropriate.

To better explain this point of drugs being very prevalent in their effect changing from culture to culture, I think it can bee summed up best by quoting Davis a final time:

“This is what experts call the “Set and setting” of any drug experience.  Set in these terms is the individual’s expectations of what the drug will do to them; setting is the environment-both physical and this case, social-in which the drug is taken.  For example, in the northwest rain forests of Oregon there are a number of native species of hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Those who go out into the forest deliberately intending to ingest these mushrooms generally experience a pleasant intoxication.  Those who inadvertently consume them while foraging for edible mushrooms invariably end up in the poison unit of the nearest hospital.  The mushroom itself has not changed.

This did not suggest that the zombi poison might be only a pleasant hallucinogen.  But like the mushroom, its potential was latent.  The Japanese victim lying conscious but paralyzed while his family mourned his death  might, upon recovery, rationalize his terrifying experience within the expectations of his society.  Everyone knows that is what fugu poisoning is like.  Without a doubt, Clairvius Narcisse had his own expectations that he carried with him literally into and out of the grave” (Davis, 1997, p.130).

On a final note, I can say from my own personal experience that drugs are still used for the same reason witches have been using them: to feel in control, or powerful…even if it’s only minute and nothing more than escaping the real world for a little while.  I suppose when any of us take control of something in our lives or others’ lives we are witches.

Works Cited

  • Several Authors, Bible(approx. 1915 BP) Middle Eastern Region.
  • Margot Adler, (2006) Drawing down the moon:  Witches, druids, goddess-worshippers and other pagans in america. New York, NY:  Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Scott Cunningham, (1989) Complete book of oils, incense and brews. Woodbury, MN:  Llewellyn.
  • Wade Davis, (1997) The Serpent and the rainbow. New York:  Simon & Schuster.
  • Howard D. Fabing (Nov. 1956) On Going berserk:  A Neurochemical inquiry. The Scientific monthly, Vol. 83, No. 5, pp 232-237. http://www.jstor.org/stable/21684.  Date Accessed: 2/27/2015.
  • Michael J. Harner, (1973) Hallucinogens and shamanism. Oxford University Press.

Habitat for Humanity: No Boys Allowed

2 months ago I learned of an opportunity to build for Habitat for Humanity in a unique setting.  The officers of SPIRALS were notified of an interfaith meeting for women only.  Since the president of SPIRALS and myself are both female, we signed right up for this.  The University director of religion and spirituality was quite adamant about having 2 Pagans be represented, so needless to say he was very pleased when we agreed to do it.

The first hour or so of the gathering was right on campus in the Student Union.  We enjoyed a free breakfast and introduced ourselves and a little bit about our experiences in the spiritual paths we follow.  There were 2 Muslims, a Buddhist, 3 Hindus and 2 Catholics.  One of the Catholics was from Germany.  She was studying abroad for a semester here at UMass.  Our supervisor was Jewish, but he was a male, ironically…We let him talk, anyway 😉

Since Nic and I were sitting next to the Muslim girls we ended up talking to them the most.  Believe me when I say I didn’t think 2 Pagans and 2 Muslims would have much to say to each other given our faiths seem to be on opposite ends of the religious spectrum.  We learned the girls are Pakistani descent, but if I remember correctly, they were born in the US.  They didn’t wear hijabs and everyone in the group was very curious to know why.  The girls explained that the hijab is totally a woman’s choice and is more cultural than religious, but is suggested in the Qu’ran.  They also said Islam is not a pick-and-choose religion.  You must follow the Qu’ran, entirely.  Of course once the other girls found out they were among witches (or a “cunning woman” as Nic prefers) they had many questions for us, as well.  Maybe that’s why we bonded so well with the Muslim girls…We both represent very misunderstood and negatively perceived religions and bonded over it.  If there’s one thing we really tried to have the girls understand about Paganism it’s that it’s all about the practitioner.  There is no sacred text or official doctrine to give guidelines or rules.  The only rule is you have the power to make things happen.

Then came the work!  Woo baby—it was COLD!  We bundled up well and once we arrived at the location, Nic and I volunteered to nail all the trusses and ceiling beams into place.  It was strangely satisfying banging a hammer all day.  Good way to let out frustrations.  We met the woman who was to be living in the house we were building and surprise—she’s Pagan.  We broke for lunch for a little bit and listened to soon-to-be occupant of the house tell us stories from her youth and give us advice as young women.  We made a lot of progress that day…I definitely remember more walls and roofs to the house as parts of the house that weren’t there when we started.  During clean-up, Nic and I power-swept the entire floor of all the leaves (so many leaves!), dirt and sawdust.  We made a dance-like race out of it.  When the supervisors commented on good we were with the brooms I said “It’s a Pagan thing”.  We all had a good laugh about that.

We made it back to the campus and filled out a sheet about our experience that day and some further info about our spiritual paths.  Larry, the supervisor then encouraged us to ask each other more questions about our faiths.  I jumped on that to ask the German girl if she noticed a difference between Catholicism in Germany vs. Massachusetts and she said “Yes, absolutely.”  According to her, the American Catholic services (at least the ones she has attended for students) seemed rushed and too judgmental.  In Germany, she has more time to meditate on her religious goal(s) during service and they seem to encourage spirituality more than condemning everyone who isn’t doing things the Catholic way.

We had more questions for the Muslims and they said in Islam women are very highly regarded and mothers, especially are supposed to be worshiped at their feet.  Since women give life, once they fulfilled their sacred duty of giving birth, nothing more is expected from them.  We talked about female oppression and one of the girls said “I mean, we’re both Muslim and I don’t think we look oppressed.  The women in places like Saudi Arabia, yes obviously they’re oppressed, but it’s because of the culture and Islam being used to fulfill the male-serving culture over there.”  One of the Hindu girls said pretty much the same thing about Hinduism…how women are very highly regarded and there is much goddess worship in the faith, itself, but the culture has now infused it with oppressing women.  She said men are favored more than women in India, culturally-speaking, and it shows in her family.

Another subject brought up was menstrual cycles (don’t ask me how that happened—but a room full of women—not totally shocking.)  The Muslims informed us that women are expected to rest during their menstrual cycle and refrain from domestic tasks especially cooking.  There is an Islamic belief that a, ovulating woman in the kitchen is not pure…Nic and I were quite confused by what that meant and we chimed in that many Pagan factions celebrate menstrual cycles.  We told all the girls about the rite of passage ceremonies for when a maid becomes a mother (translation: a girl gets her first menstrual cycle) and the blood is considered sacred and the essence of life; “Blood of the Moon” and how some believe using menstrual blood in a spell makes it more potent.  It was quite an opposite exchange of ideals.  Larry, the supervisor, even joined in and compared the ceremony to the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of his tradition.  He said there are also some Jewish beliefs similar to the Muslim beliefs of a woman resting during her cycle and staying out of the kitchen.

This was a very eye-opening experience and I definitely see Islam, Catholicism and culture, in general in a different way.  I’m glad, too…I feel like I’ve been too manipulated by mainstream media and I’m thankful I was able to open myself to listening actual practitioners of the misconceived traditions.  Afterall, Nic and I were just trying to do the same for them about witchcraft.  So we all reached conclusion that religions themselves are not oppressive—men around the world just use them to oppress women.  We forgive you, Larry.  😉

Wiccan Reads: The No-So-Wicked Witch of Western Mass by Steffi Porter

I had an article written about me! 😀  A friend of a friend was writing a paper about witches and he referred her to me.  Steffi (a journalism major) got an A on her paper!  When she has it published, I’ll post a link to the article

“Magic is merely what science hasn’t explained yet. That doesn’t mean it’s not real,” –-J.ME

Jamie is a witch. She casts spells. She loves black cats. She reads Tarot cards. She believes in fairies, spirits and magic. She celebrates the solstices and other Pagan holidays. Jamie is also a University of Massachusetts Anthropology major and a twenty-six-year-old resident of Amherst, Mass. She is a native Floridian, a huge fan of Britney Spears, and an avid belly dancer.

When I first meet Jamie she is on her way to class in Herter Hall at UMass, and I see no outward indicators that she is a witch. She has long brown hair that falls like a sheet down her back, wears ripped blue jeans with fishnet stockings peeking through and a winter coat. Later, I find that witchcraft is a large part of this university student’s social life and identity, and has been for three years.  She invites me to a meeting of the UMass Pagan society, SPIRALS, which stands for Student Pagans Integrating Religion and Life Spiritually. The club meets in the Campus Center later that evening.

***

I don’t know what to expect, attending my first SPIRALS meeting. I have always been fascinated by the modern practice of witchcraft and the Pagan religion.  Paganism is a polytheistic religion, meaning Pagans worship many deities, both gods and goddesses, while also worshiping the Earth.

I ride the elevator up to the ninth floor of the Campus Center, and then walk into a small room with a long, rectangular table where ten people gather. Among them, the SPIRALS Treasurer, who goes by the name Apple, and leads the group in the first activity of the evening: finding a spirit guide.

I did a quick online search about SPIRALS before attending the meeting, and learned that anyone within the Pagan faith can be a member. Jamie is Wiccan, though she prefers to be called a witch. As she describes it, all Wiccans are witches, but not all witches are Wiccan. Wicca is a religion, a branch of Paganism, and is an earth-based faith that involves witchcraft. A primary symbol of Wicca is the five-pointed star in a circle, a pentacle. It is the equivalent to the Christian cross or the Jewish Star of David. The five points of the star symbolize the five elements in Wicca: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit.  Members of SPIRALS vary in how they identify, all under the umbrella of Paganism.

“So, what is a spirit guide?” I ask.

“It’s like a guardian angel, almost,” explains Isabella, an undergrad SPIRALS member with black hair, glasses and red lipstick, who is a member of the UMass Belly Dance club, like Jamie. The two have just finished a rehearsal, and sit at the table in bejeweled bras, shawls and dramatic eye makeup.

When everyone has gone around the circle and named their Spirit Guide, they are led by Apple in what is called Astral Projection: letting your soul leave your body and travel elsewhere while staying attached to you, as if by a cord.  The purpose of this evening’s Astral Projection is to give everyone a chance to meet their spirit guide. Some of the discussed guides are Athena, Persephone and Artemis.

Today’s Astral Projection has certain parameters: you can travel to one of two possible destinations. The first, Akashik Records—a library with all the knowledge of the universe, and the second, Yggdrasil, a Norse word for a tree that connects all possible worlds and realities.  Apple shuts off the lights, and kicks off the projection. He says everyone will have ten minutes, starting in ten seconds.  Nine. Eight. Seven…

For the next ten minutes, the only sounds are those of a ceiling fan spinning, and some students talking in the room next door. These ten young adults, who live in a world of almost constant stimulation from technology, sit in total darkness, with nothing but their minds and spiritual beliefs to entertain them. Most say, once the minutes are up, that they wish they’d had longer.

***

Once the SPIRALS meeting has adjourned, Jamie and I bundle in our coats and scarves. Winter comes early in New England.  It is 9:15 p.m. on the twentieth of November, and the temperature hovers somewhere around 28 degrees. We walk through campus and catch a bus into town, where we stop to pick up some snacks before heading back to Jamie’s apartment.

Jamie lives in a second-floor walk-up in South Amherst with her roommate, Katie, a UMass graduate student and fellow witch.

Entering Jamie’s apartment, I see it is, as Jamie said it would be, “pretty obvious that a couple of witches live here.” The first thing I notice is the scent of incense. The walls are decked with string lights, and the living room furniture is an eclectic mix of thrift store and garage sale hand-me-downs, refurbished with paint and lavish tablecloths. There is a plush rug on the floor, paper flowers and leaves on the walls, and a sign that says No Parking, Broom Lane—a humorous reminder that this is a witch’s house—posted by the door.

Jamie definitely has a sense of humor about witchcraft, while also defending it fiercely as her spiritual and personal belief system. People often ask her if she is offended by popular culture’s representations of witches: Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the witches on the popular 90’s drama, Charmed, or the Disney Halloween classic, Hocus Pocus. What about the iconic green-faced, warty-nosed old women in pointy hats flying through the sky on broomsticks and turning people into toads?  Her response is, simply, “not at all.”

“We’re not old ladies who fly around on broomsticks,” she says while we sit on her couch eating pretzels dipped in Nutella. “I mean, I’m not old yet. Hopefully one day someone will invent a broomstick that I can fly on.”

In Jamie’s apartment, she has quite a few homages to the classic witch, from an oversized pointed black hat she got in Salem, Massachusetts, to a sign on her bedroom door that says “The Witch Is In.” While we lounge in the living room, she even dons a “Sexy Witch” tank top, also a purchase made in Salem. Jamie has a lot to say about common misconceptions of witchcraft, though, and they all fall under the same general category: judgments and assumptions.

“A common misconception is that it’s bullshit,” she tells me. “But it could be argued that a lot of religions are considered bullshit by other religions.”

The main misconception people tend to have, though, is that witches are Satan worshippers. This is simply not true. Satan, as Jamie will tell you, is a Christian belief, one that has no meaning or existence in Paganism. If you are a witch, she says, there is no God and there is no Satan.

“Oh, and we don’t really sacrifice babies,” she adds, offhandedly popping a pretzel into her mouth. And we both laugh. Do people really believe these things about witches? I ask. Is it possible for someone to look at Jamie, a college student in her twenties with big green eyes, shaggy bangs, and a generally peaceful, free-spirited manner, and think her capable of “evil”?

Apparently, people have made such assumptions. Assumptions, Jamie says, that completely contradict the final lines of the Wiccan Rede: “An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.” In other words, as long as you are not hurting anyone or anything, do what you please.

The Wiccan Rede is also at times referred to as the Threefold Law, and is a document of the Wiccan’s rules to live and practice by. The Wiccan Rede states that Wiccans are meant to do no harm, physical or mental, or ever violate another’s free will in the practicing of their craft.

***

Jamie moved to Massachusetts in early 2012, from Tampa Bay, Florida where she was raised by a single mother. She was raised Agnostic, though she was baptized in the Lutheran church. Her family’s responses to her religion range from tolerant to clueless.

“My mom knows I’m a witch,” Jamie tells me. “She basically thinks I put a pointy hat on and wave a magic wand around. She doesn’t take it seriously at all. Like, okay you’re a witch, whatever. She knows I’m a good person and don’t hurt people. She just thinks I’m weird, and doesn’t really get me.”

Jamie has other family who is more open to her beliefs, like an aunt and uncle who encouraged her to start her Pagan blog.  They even send her a card for the Pagan holiday, Yule.

Sometimes, when people find out she is a witch, a belly dancer and a fan of Britney Spears (she has a poster of her above her bed) they don’t take her seriously, she says. Especially guys.  Especially ones who know that sex is very key in Wicca.

“It creates life,” Jamie explains. “It is one of the biggest forms of magic. We [Wiccans] are very sex positive. Some guys who know that will twist it to their advantage to get laid. I think that’s the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with—men being more attracted to me because I’m a witch, and not for the right reasons. Because they think they’re gonna get kinky Pagan sex with me.” In general, Jamie has found some non-Pagans to be much less open about sexuality.

***

Jamie’s roommate, Katie, walks into the room. It is after eleven. She wears a baggy sweater and sweatpants on her petite frame, and her eyes peek out from behind thick, black bangs. Katie tells Jamie that she will be doing a house cleansing on Friday with her boyfriend, a fellow Pagan. I interject:

“What is a house cleansing?”

The client, she explains, lives in a town in Massachusetts where a lot of people died in a flood. Katie will be assisting in scouting out the area, searching for “trouble spots” and encouraging spirits left behind to move on to the “afterworld” and “stop bothering the family.”

“There are ten spirits there that aren’t really causing any problems, but died in the flood. One person there died in the house because of a heartbreak. That is the one that’s causing the problem.”

Witches have witch friends, it seems. Jamie definitely does. She finds bonding with other Pagans to come naturally, and most of her friends are Pagan.

One of her favorite experiences is meeting a fellow witch, which she compares to finding the Christmas presents early as a kid. One year, Jamie met another witch on her way to the grocery store. She and this woman are still friends today. Jamie had just moved to Boston, at the time, where she lived with family before moving to Amherst.

“I was walking to Stop and Shop the day after St. Patrick’s Day and there was a parade going on because we’re all Irish in Boston, including myself.  I saw a woman talking to another woman outside the grocery store and she had a long black braid and a fairy clip in her hair and a triquetra—do you know what a triquetra is? It’s an Irish thing, kind of like the holy trinity in Christianity. Wicca uses that symbol a lot. So she had that hanging in her hair. And I was like, this lady’s gotta be a witch. So I just walked right up to her and was shaking her hand like ‘hi!’ I had a pentacle ring on, hoping she’d notice it and she did and she says “oh, blessed be!” And I see she has a huge pentacle bracelet on.

“I love her. I call her my Strega Mamma. Because strega is Italian for witch and she’s Italian. She treats me like I’m her daughter. She’s only 10 years older than me, but she’s very maternal.  I love going to her house. It’s very witchy, and very spiritually dirty in a good way. Like you can tell a lot of witchy things have happened there. She’s really your kooky, New England witch and I love it.”

A little later I catch sight of something on Jamie’s end table: a black journal with a pentacle on it. This, Jamie says, is SPIRAL’s Book of Shadows. Jamie goes to her room and grabs her own Book of Shadows,  paging through it, describing it as her “magical diary.”

A Book of Shadows can really be whatever a witch wants it to be. It can be used to write about spiritual experiences, or to write down spells. Spell, as Jamie explains, is a very broad term. Anything can be a spell, not just the common representation of candles, cauldrons and chanting.

“There is no wrong way to do a spell. People have weird rituals that they do to get their favorite football team to win—that’s a spell,” she says. “Even wishing really hard for the bus to come could be a spell. Spells are very personal. Tea you use to relax, a song you wrote. A spell is putting your intent out into the world to try and make something happen.” It can be done with candles or cauldrons, she says. But it does not have to be.

***

If Jamie could tell any non-Pagan one thing, it would be this: “There’s more to you than you ever thought there was.”

Paganism is her “personal therapist,” she says. She learns a lot about herself through being a witch.  “The way I view spirituality is as paint,” she says. “It’s very fluid. You can take two colors and mix them together.”

**copyright Steffi Porter