Wicca does not cost money: A position statement

First of all, I don’t think this is a controversial opinion. There used to be banner graphics posted on, like, coven Geocities pages that said “Trad Wicca does not cost money,” or some such. (I went to find one today but had no luck.) This debate appears to have been settled, and it might now be common knowledge that teachers of Wicca don’t charge their students beyond small fees to cover handouts, candles, or other consumable items used in the course of classes or rituals. That said, consider the following a position statement.

Traditional Wicca does not cost money. 

I’m making flyers for Saturday Night Witchcraft, and on them I was thinking about noting that it’s free to attend. However, I struggle with how much to emphasize that “free” here actually means that money will not be required of you at any step in order to learn Wicca. It’s not “free” as in multilevel-marketing “girl time party,” in which you don’t have to pay anything to get in the door but the entire purpose of the party is to sell you stuff. Neither is it “free” as in “here’s a taste, but I’m holding the good stuff back and you’ll have to pay to get it” — for example, I get mailings from a popular Tarot site that has just rolled out an expensive certification program, and while the free booklet I got for signing up for the mailing list was useful in my study of Tarot, the mailings since then have been nonstop advertisements for this certification program.

This is not what Saturday Night Witchcraft is about. When I say it’s free, I mean I don’t have anything to sell you.

You will not finish my free classes only to find out that the next level has a price. I didn’t pay to learn at any stage; my teachers freely gave me counsel, instruction, coaching, and friendship, as their teachers gave them, and this is what I will pass on. You will never have to pay me or anyone else in order to keep studying Wicca or to be initiated. If you’re considering studying with someone who does charge, think twice and do some research before paying, because this is not common or expected.

Granted, a certain amount of money will be involved as you study. You’ll have to pay for gas to get here, you’ll be expected to have your own set of tools someday, and you’ll probably want to buy books or jewelry or witchy clothes, too. But the key point here is anti-guru. You can buy (or make!) whatever tools you like from whatever source you prefer, not from a charismatic person with a catalog. You can borrow books from the library or from friends, or you can buy them from a local bookstore or from Amazon — your money goes wherever you direct it. Also, you should not have to choose between paying your electric bill and buying some shiny witchy thing. Keep the lights on; the witchy stuff is all optional.

As a side note: If you have plenty of money, buy whatever you want! Have custom tools and ritual robes made by the best artisans you can find. Drape yourself in jewelry and rare stones. Amass a staggering library. Fly to every festival and convention. But the fact of the matter is that you will still not be spending money in order to learn Wicca.

Instagram aside, we don’t judge who’s wisest or witchiest by their clothing, by how many crystals or Tarot decks or altar tools they own, by how big their library is, or by the number of events they can afford to attend. (Have you seen some of the items left behind by Gardner and other elders of Wicca? They’re simple, not flashy.) What matters is the power you can raise and wield skillfully in ritual — and that can be done with dollar-store tealights and a stick from your backyard. Spiral notebooks and a pen to write notes with. The rest is theater.

And you won’t have to pay your Wiccan teacher in order to learn it.

On handwriting material

My Tarot journaling has had an interesting, unintended effect: I’m rediscovering comfort with handwriting.

I type fast. I’ve wholeheartedly embraced computers as a whole and Word documents and apps like Evernote and blogs and online journaling; in fact, one reason I was successful at journaling online (I was a terrible diarist as a kid) was that I could finally write as fast as my brain supplied the words. So, here in 2017, it is perhaps not surprising that I hardly ever handwrite anything. There are even apps for grocery lists.

Tarot journaling, on the other hand, is almost always a handwritten task for me. I don’t take notes when I read for other people, but when I read for myself, I prefer to sit at a table or on my bed, lay out the cards, and write by hand in a notebook. I sketch the spread, note the meaning of each position, write which card appeared in each position, and add a short interpretation. I’m also working my way through the deck via daily one-card draws, and those get handwritten in a different journal. In fact, I’d been writing like that for at least a month before I realized how much effort I’d been putting into penmanship and how little I used those muscles anymore.

But why handwrite, other than the vibe? Why not type?

To answer that, I need to digress a little more.

I’m currently reading Merry Meet Again by Deborah Lipp; I’m working my way through lots of Craft biographies and autobiographies lately. In Chapter 10, Lipp describes working on a coordinated healing ritual and adds a practical note — these appear in each chapter — suggesting that a well-illustrated anatomy book, a medical dictionary, and a medical encyclopedia belong on the bookshelf of anyone doing healing work. “Most spells must, in order to succeed, manifest themselves in the physical world, so understanding the physical reality of healing is a necessity,” she says. And for the medical dictionary, Lipp suggests some good online sources but, she says, “I like having a book on the shelf that coven members can read from, pass around, and bring into ritual.”

Why can’t you just bring your phone into ritual and use it to look that stuff up? This book was published in 2013; people have smartphones now, so it’s not like you need to drag your laptop into ritual space.

There are two main reasons, I think.  For one, the energy flow inside the circle functions much like an electrical current, and electronics sometimes fail or don’t work right inside a cast circle. Particularly intense circles can short them out or break them entirely. And I’m not speaking mythically here; a grovemate of mine once forgot his phone in his pocket during ritual and it wouldn’t turn on afterward. He had to get a new phone. Will that happen in any circle, no matter what? Probably not; it has a lot to do with the quality of the circle casting, the energy raised, the work done, and so on. But do you want to depend on risking your phone to access information you could have just written down, printed off, or gotten from a physical book?

Another reason, and perhaps a stronger one where regular practice is concerned, is that the presence of electronic devices can interfere with the suspension of disbelief that goes along with theater (and ritual is theater). It’s incongruous. Allow Alexander Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda to demonstrate:

My point: To preserve the bubble of sacred space that you’ve spent so much time and effort to create, whatever you bring into circle should be handwritten (or at least printed off).  I don’t have a whole lot of Pagan ebooks because I might want to bring the book into circle (or loan it out, but that’s another digression entirely). I may type up my rituals, but I’ll print them off and bring the pages into circle, not my laptop or my phone. And I handwrite my journal of Tarot readings so I can bring the entire notebook into circle, do a reading in sacred space, or carry the notebook and cards with me so that I’m not dependent on wifi or a battery to write.

And, also, the vibe.

“There are no Pagans near me!”

I’ve recently become a fan of Thorn Mooney, who writes Oathbound at Patheos and has a YouTube channel with years’ worth of videos that I am, apparently, slowly working my way through until I’ve seen them all. (And this from someone who forgets that YouTube exists sometimes.)

The video below is from 2014, but as a witch who is laying the groundwork for a coven in a rural area, it gives me a little hope.

I also have hope from something that happened between rituals at Artes & Craft sometime this spring. There were 10-15 of us sitting on chairs and couches in the reading area talking about how all of us, at one point, had thought there were no other Pagans around. I had driven 2 hours to get there, past Grand Rapids — for the record, I’ve met up with two GR Pagan groups that are still going strong so I’m sure there are more out there, and the area has enough of a Pagan community to support a Pagan Pride Day for 17 years and counting — and I think I had come the farthest that day. Literally, there were 10-15 of us physically in the same room, and most of us had been sure that there were no other Pagans this close by.

So, despite my rural, middle-of-nowhere (future) covenstead, I have hope that this “There aren’t any Pagans around me!” thing is an assumption that we make uncritically, sometimes without Googling the obvious (as Thorn mentions in the video). And I hope that once I’m ready to put up my own Witchvox listing and open the doors, it will be found by five or six folks who really are interested in learning Alexandrian Wicca, even if they have to drive an hour or so to do it — and even if they had been really sure that there were no other Pagans out here.

Notes on Tarot practice

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been doing daily Tarot card draws and writing meanings in a journal — both my own intuitive meanings and notes on each card from 78 Degrees of Wisdom. Here are a few notes so far:

I’m really hesitant to write down more than very brief meanings before consulting the book. I don’t want to get them wrong because this Tarot journal is also intended as a reference, but that also means I’m relying more on copying someone else’s words than on intuition. So, this practice is kind of a mixed bag, but I do find that I’m able to look at a card I haven’t drawn before — today’s was 2 of Wands — and intuitively say, “Oh, this card is about how I have what I worked for (in my case, a book to edit), but my success means that I have to sit on the sidelines and wish I was doing something else.”

However, court cards are the most difficult so far. Even if a specific court card has popped up multiple times and I’ve had a solid intuitive sense of its meaning, I look at the card and go, “…uh?” It’s like the meanings fly right out of my head.

It’s also interesting to look at what cards have come up so far: queens of every suit, but only one king (King of Wands). Pages of Wands and Cups, knights of Cups and Pentacles. Eight total cards from Wands, Swords, and Pentacles; seven from Cups. None of the pips have shown up in all four suits, none of the aces have shown up at all, but at least one of each number has shown up (and I’ve had three 10s and three 2s).

I’ve been drawing cards for 40 days, but that doesn’t mean I’ve drawn 40 different cards. Some days I had “stalker cards,” or cards that show up repeatedly (sometimes days in a row, no matter how well I shuffled), because the situation they refer to is ongoing or because I wasn’t getting a message. When I did readings for myself with this deck, I also wrote down the meanings of the cards I drew, just because it was becoming apparent that simply drawing a card a day would not get me to 78 card meanings on its own. (Which makes sense; over time, that might happen, but if the cards are meant to reflect a wide range of human experience, that’s a lot for one person to go through in three months or so.) I suspect that at some point I’ll run out of patience and just finish writing journal entries.

So, this might be a longer-term project than I’d thought! It’s worthwhile, though, because I’m acquiring a facility with Tarot and a confidence in my own intuition that I didn’t get from simply reading through 78 Degrees of Wisdom. 

Returning to Tarot and meditation

Daily practice used to be very difficult for me. I’d forget, or there wasn’t anything that seemed to be important enough to do every day, or my heart wasn’t in it… any number of excuses.

Just this year, however, I’ve finally begun (and maintained!) two daily practices that are often recommended for beginners: meditation and Tarot. And I’ve found that both of them really are useful, separately and together.

Back when I first started — I love that I’ve been around long enough to need that qualification! — meditation practice was very different. Guided meditations were included in many books published in the late ’90s and early 2000s. But how do you actually have that guided journeying experience from a book? Personally, I developed a mental ability to be in two places at once; part of me was reading the words on the page, and part of me was off doing the journey. That’s not as satisfying as participating wholly, but it got the job done.

My alternatives were to memorize what the journey was supposed to be, then put on a CD of drumming (yes, I paid money for a CD of nothing but drumming in different increments of time) and attempt it, or have a friend read the meditation for me. Highly embarrassing. Or I could get out my trusty Walkman cassette tape player and some blank cassettes, record myself reading the meditation, and then listen to it later. (A lot of folks went the tape recorder route, but this is also how I memorized Bible verses for quiz team, so I didn’t want to touch it.)

Or you learned Zen meditation, which was about emptying your mind, and you didn’t need a book or drumming or a friend with a good reading voice to do that. However, you were supposed to come out of the meditation after so many minutes by hearing a note played on a special bowl… and how were you to know how long it’d been without watching the clock? And if you were “back” enough to play the note, did you even need to hear it?

Here in the future, however, we have iPhones and apps. I’m hitting my meditation groove with Insight Timer, which is so much easier. Yes, there is a timer that will play a number of calm sounds when time is up and at intervals along the way, but there are also thousands of guided meditations in many languages available, and — crucially for me — there are milestones shown by stars for the number of days you’ve meditated with the app and the number of days in a row (because daily practice isn’t important for everyone). Some guided meditations help you sleep, some help you ground and center, some help you clear your chakras (or focus on specific chakras), and I’m sure there are tons I haven’t explored. And you can even do the old-school meditations outside the app by recording them on your phone, no blank cassettes needed.

Also, this practice has already borne fruit, less than three months after beginning. I really wanted to keep my days-in-a-row streak alive even though I was fatigued and it was nearly midnight, so I meditated with the timer for five minutes and had some experiences of second sight. In that moment I understood why newbies are told to learn meditation: not only is it important to learn how to focus your mind and keep that focus where you want it for as long as you want it (a skill you need just to cast a circle), but regular practice will also open you up and make you more sensitive to spirit and to altered states of consciousness. And I’ve also used meditation twice now when I was writing rituals to let something bubble up: the perfect activity, a concept to tie the whole thing together, the best order of steps.

Speaking of sensitivity to spirit, my practice with Tarot is also improving quickly. When I started out, I bought a deck or two, didn’t really understand how to read the cards, and the books that came with the decks didn’t clarify things much. I don’t think I had driving divinatory questions, either. I set Tarot aside as “not for me” for a few years. However, sometime around 2008, Tarot struck me as a necessary occult skill to learn, and I picked up the Universal Waite deck so I wouldn’t have to translate image descriptions. I also bought 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack and read it cover to cover, cards in hand. I found Aeclectic Tarot and did many readings with many different spreads. My interpretations gained more depth (and I successfully predicted my first pregnancy, which shocked the hell out of me when I realized), but I was still dependent on the book; I understood the Major Arcana well enough but the Minor Arcana eluded me.

I didn’t read Tarot often when my kids were babies, however. I didn’t like my reliance on the book, didn’t how I’d get past that without investing time I didn’t think I had, and had lost four cards from my Universal Waite deck so I couldn’t read anyway. (Finding them again felt like a sign.)

Becoming much more active in Wicca this year brought back my interest in all of this, though, and I decided two weeks ago — on the night of the New Moon — that I was finally going to learn Tarot in a more structured way. I’d become more confident in reading with Earth Magic Oracle cards, which used a symbol set that I understood immediately and intuitively, and I’d been doing daily single-card draws with Extraordinary Oracle cards, which were much the same. So I began drawing daily Tarot cards as well, and with guidance from Biddy Tarot, pressed a pretty notebook into service as a Tarot journal (tip: steal ideas from bullet journaling, like adding a table of contents and page numbers and pretty headings!). So far I’ve discovered that the two cards work with each other, the oracle card often building on or highlighting an aspect of the Tarot card; for example, today’s cards are the 10 of Swords and Broomstick, which tell me to quit my whining and tackle some overdue housecleaning chores I’ve been putting off because they’re haaaaaaaaaard or they’re groooooooooooss. (And I didn’t even need to get out the book to know that, because I’d drawn the 10 of Swords reversed earlier and had written the upright and reversed meanings in my journal.)

So, one important idea here is that the advice given to beginners is sound. It’s not just busywork or distractions aimed at teens or twentysomethings who are interested in Wicca — these two practices, among others, really will help you later on, so they’re good first steps (and don’t cost much or take up much space). Another key idea is that you can always come back to something that wasn’t important to you at an earlier point on your path, and you might find that it’s important now or that experiences you’ve had along the way can shed light on it now.

Also, just know that Tarot cards will call you out sometimes. It’s way more fun to write 1200 words on reminiscences and lessons learned than to do gross household chores. FINE, I’ll DO IT now, ugh.

Books: On borrowing and buying and keeping and returning

I just have to share: I’m rediscovering the joys of the local library and inter-library loan. This is a story about how I get books.

When I was first studying Paganism and witchcraft as a college student in the early 2000s, I read every book on the topic I could get from the university library, so obviously I knew all about borrowing the books I needed. However, right around that time, Amazon (and free shipping!) became popular. Folks on Pagan email lists (yep, that’s how I first learned) spoke with astonishment about all the hard-to-find books that were now readily available on Amazon. Buying my witch books has pretty much been a habit since then. Why would I not, especially when I can get them used for cheap?

But six or seven years ago, when my first daughter was born and my attention span dropped off sharply because infant, in stolen moments I started reading way more fiction and very little nonfiction. (I just did not have the brain cells left for history or theory. It happens.) That’s when I discovered ebooks and, specifically, that the reading experience and the quality of the books themselves and had gone way up while the price had gone down. Joy of joys! The future is awesome.

Within the past year or two, however, enough of my bitterness had faded and my heartbreak healed that I was ready to pick up witch books again, and I do have a few ebooks. But they’re largely priced around $10, and when you get used to snagging ebooks for free or cheap ($1-2), laying out $8-12 for a book starts to look like an investment.

I’d also been thinking about what I wanted to do with my books when I was done reading them, rather than just indiscriminately collecting them. Did I just want to read this book once, and maybe I didn’t care if I kept it after that? Did it end up being shitty, and added to my pile of shitty books no one else wants, either, so I can’t sell or donate them? Or was this book so good, I wanted my daughters to read it, too, without having to ask permission to use a tablet? Did I want to loan the book to anyone else? Did I want to make sure I had it forever and ever, no matter what changes ereaders and apps and publishers and sellers went through? (I started out buying Nook books, and it is now a process to get to them on my Kindle, let me tell you.)

There’s one more factor at play here, too. When I had resolved to start a coven (or, given my current status, a weird not-coven maybe-study-group thing) and I started developing the Resources page here, I went to the libraries closest to me to evaluate the books they had on the shelf. Could I tell my future students to go get this or that title from the library? Or would I need to loan out my own books instead? Also, could I test-drive being “out” locally by borrowing books that were very obviously about Wicca and witchcraft? (Librarians could hardly give someone my contact info, but maybe they could tell some lonely seeker that someone else was borrowing witch books too, and they weren’t alone. Or maybe that lonely seeker would see me checking out the books and strike up a conversation with me.)

Side note: The Greenville library has a small but decent Wicca-specific section. The Lakeview library has a few mythology books and only two on Wicca, both by Steve Russo and published in 2005: Protecting Your Teen From Today’s Witchcraft: A Parent’s Guide to Confronting Wicca and the Occult and What’s the Deal with Wicca? A Deeper Look into the Dark Side of Today’s Witchcraft. So, you know. Not particularly friendly.

Instead of trying to find cheap used copies of books that were recommended to me but that I didn’t know for sure I’d want to keep always… enter the library! And thanks to the MelCat interlibrary loan system, it doesn’t matter if my local library only has books that are antagonistic to Wicca. If a participating library anywhere in Michigan has a copy of a book I want, I can borrow it. It’s not quite so broom closet-friendly as Amazon, because you can click buttons to request books online but you do have to interact with another human to pick them up. It is free, however, and that’s hard to beat.

This post was brought to you by the books I’ve read recently that were interesting, but not worth keeping on my shelf or in my ereader, and books I’ve just requested that are similarly interesting but I’m not sure I’ll love them (and if I do, I’ll buy a print copy to keep). If I’d paid money for the books I just finished, I’d be cranky. But I didn’t! And they simply go back to the library! Off you go, mediocre books! May you be just the thing someone else is looking for.

Further wand update

So, in my last post about wands, I’d made tiny kid-size wands to make sure I knew what I was doing when it came time to make the one I wanted. I carved the bark off, made one rounded end and one pointy end, then used 100-grit and 220-grit sandpaper to make the finish silky smooth.

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They came out super tiny — and I want to reiterate that this is the result of starting with a stick that’s about as wide as you think you’ll want the end result to be. Go bigger! Your wand will lose width as you remove bark and sand it smooth. Start with one that seems a little too thick, maybe the size of your thumb. The piece I ended up working with was from a long stick I’d intended for a staff, but once I started this project, it became clear that this stick was too skinny to be a staff (and one end was starting to rot anyway). I cut my wand from a long, straight section in the middle.

A little while after Ostara — so, these sticks had had a few weeks to dry indoors — I carved the bark off my wand, shaped the rounded end, and shaped the point.

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I’ve left a lot of time in between steps here. Partly, that was because I didn’t want to rush things; another part was that I had my Chthonioi Alexandrian dedication over Beltane and wanted to finish the wand sometime afterward. I did not, however, wait to find out if there were tradition-specific elements that needed to be included. I’m sticking close to published information about wands in Traditional Wicca, so I don’t think I’m way off base. (If I am, I know how to make wands now. I can make another if I need to.) Also, I feel strongly that this is my wand, of my own creation, and I don’t want to carve or burn any symbols into the wood or wrap it in anything or attach crystals or feathers or anything else. I like simple and straightforward witch’s tools.

In the meantime, I also read The Witch’s Wand by Alferian Gwydion MacLir (from Llewellyn’s Witch’s Tools series). There was rather a lot of silliness about Harry Potter–style astral phoenix feather cores, as well as information about pairing stones and woods for those who do want to add to their wand, but there was also some solid info about using the wand that made the flow of energy really click for me. I couldn’t wait to finish my wand to practice with it.

Last week, I gave in to the feeling that my wand was too big somehow. Too thick, certainly, and too long as well. I took my knife again (the Opinel No. 7 that’s pictured above), cut about an inch and a half off the tip, and remade the point. (No photos of this, unfortunately.) Now the wand feels right, both in length and thickness.

This week, I began sanding it. The weather has been quite warm for May, so two days ago I sat on my back patio at sunset and spent a good hour with my wand. First I sanded it with 100-grit sandpaper, feeling the surface of the wood as the light faded until I sensed very little roughness in it. And then I tested it out energetically: letting the energy gather in the rounded end from the chakra point in my palm, then sending it through the shaft of the wand and out the tip. (I was careful to make the point in the very center of the wood for best flow. You can see the tiny core of heartwood right at the tip.) Then I cast a satisfying circle with it and just sat holding it, joining with it, falling in love with it, to be honest.

Today: Sanding again with 100-grit sandpaper, to get any rough spots left because I was working in low light last time, then 220-grit. This only took about 20 minutes of meditative work.

Six months ago, this was a living branch on a tall maple tree that’s not 20 feet from the office where I now sit, typing. When I finished sanding today, my wand was really starting to feel like a wand, not a glorified stick. I’m showing you all the photos I can, but nothing about them is as inherently magical as experiencing the process of making this tool.

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It’s so smooth now — and I’m not even done. The fine-grit sandpaper pack I bought had some 220, 320, and 400, so I’ll give it a pass with each grit before I start finishing.

The kids’ wands were finished with a coat of boiled linseed oil every day for 7 days, then a coat of beeswax polish that I’ll use to maintain them. Or, at least, that was the plan. To apply the oil, you’re supposed to rub it on with a rag, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then wipe off any excess. I don’t think I did the wiping off excess part right. Either that or I didn’t let it dry completely before applying the beeswax, because the kids’ wands are still the slightest bit tacky to the touch. I may take another piece of wood and test applying the oil, then waiting a week before applying the wax, to see if that prevents the sticky feeling.

Here’s what the kids’ wands looked like after finishing, next to my wand before sanding (and a quarter for scale).

I’m thoroughly enjoying this process.

Wands update

I’m having fun with this, even as I’m learning how much I don’t know. Then again, I’ve always thought it was more fun to be a beginner because you’re not expected to know much. If you screw up, somebody will laugh and show you a better way or the proper way, if there is one. Once you’ve been taught, though, you’re responsible for knowing what to do, and that’s what I’ve always found difficult to handle. Naturally, that’s the space I’m in right now.

So, let’s talk about the thing I’m a total beginner at.

The blisters I thought were no big deal lasted a good 10 days. The skin still isn’t totally healed, but at least my thumbs don’t hurt anymore.

I opted to buy a better knife. I’d been using my husband’s secondhand Leatherman, and it’s never been sharpened since he owned it. I did a little research on whittling knives — I could have sharpened the Leatherman and kept using it, but it bothered me to make a magical tool with a borrowed knife — and I chose an Opinel No. 7 with a carbon steel blade, which I’m very happy with so far. I also bought mineral oil to keep the blade in good condition (they tend to rust and pit if they stay wet for even a few hours) and a sharpening stone, though I haven’t needed to use it yet. I also appreciated that if I’m good at sharpening the blade, I can use this inexpensive knife for decades, but if I completely screw it up, I’ve still screwed up my tool but I didn’t pay a lot of money to do it.

I watched a few videos that showed different kinds of whittling cuts. This, plus the actual hands-on whittling, reminded me that I’ve done this before — at least, I was able to take a knockoff Swiss Army knife and sharpen random sticks to a point to cook hot dogs over a campfire. I mean, I’m not doing advanced carving here.

Whittling Basics – D-I-Why Not? from www.KORDUROY.tv on Vimeo.

So, I’ve got my sticks, my knife (and mineral oil for the knife), fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface, and my linseed oil to finish it.

I started with the smallest maple sticks, thinking I’d make wands for the kids and be sure I knew what I was doing. It took me about 45 minutes to carve the bark from the first stick, cut off one splintered end and roughly round it off, and sharpen the other end to a dull point (here, it helped that I had a wand tip I wanted to imitate). The second stick took me maybe 15 minutes to do the same. Then I sanded both with 100-grit sandpaper. This took maybe another 15 minutes.

I’d say I don’t quite know how to put into words what I learned during this process, but the point of this blog is to try, so here goes: I saw the layers of the wood and learned how to take off only the dark brown parts. I learned how to make long, slow cuts, in the direction of the grain, and saw the grain appear as I carved and shaped. How to hold the blade at a small angle, like peeling potatoes with a paring knife; these were thin sticks to start with, and they ended up thinner when the bark was gone. I’d say they started as the size of my index finger and ended up the size of my pinky. I tried the different cuts that I saw on videos, especially the channel cut, which I used to shape the rounded ends. At some point in the process, it began to make sense, and I relied on my intuition to shape the final product. It wasn’t hard anymore — I mean, it was pretty simple to start with, but I can certainly make things harder and more fraught than they need to be — and I was more confident in reaching for what I needed.

The next step is 220-grit sandpaper, and if I’m happy with how smooth that is, I’ll start putting on coats of linseed oil over time.

However, I think that the bigger stick I picked up for a staff isn’t going to end up thick enough to use for that purpose, so I’ll probably cut a thick segment out of the middle to make my wand. With photos of the process, maybe.

Being Maewyn on St. Patrick’s Day

I’m not Irish and don’t particularly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day besides wearing a green shirt and making sure I get a shamrock shake from McDonald’s (hey, I’m a mom now; drinking and carousing comes at a high price), but as the owner of Maewyn dot net, I probably ought to have something to say today.

It’s about chosen names and growing up.

As is wise in this day and age, I’ve long had a Google alert that brings me any mention of the name Maewyn on the intertubes. Mostly, it had news about an Irish pub named Maewyn’s in York, Pennsylvania, which opened in 2010, closed in 2014, and is now a seafood restaurant called Rockfish Public House. These days, the alert is normally quiet but picks up again in February and March. The fact that St. Patrick was born with the name Maewyn Succat livens up many a St. Patrick’s Day history post.

I didn’t name myself after him, though. I made it up, or so I thought, by combining the name Mae with the -wyn part of names like Eowyn and Bronwyn. Voila, Maewyn. I Googled it to see who or what else might be using the name — this was 2002 or very early 2003; we did have The Google, but only just — and in my journal, I wrote that at the time, the results included an exotic cattery, a female gamer going by MaeWyn, and listings for a male UK government official named Maewyn Cumming. Most of the results were about St. Patrick’s Day.

Here’s what I wrote about it back in 2004:

Three of the better Google results: a 1996 CNN posting on St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday guide (scroll a bit, St. Patrick’s is the first listing), and a kids’ holiday-info sheet. I seem to remember also coming across the name Maewyn in St. Patrick’s Confessio, though I’m not sure if I actually found it there, or just read it looking for the name and didn’t find it.

A confessio is a medieval autobiography. The link above is the version I borrowed from the university library; I don’t remember reading anything remarkable from it. The name Maewyn really doesn’t appear in it, I can tell you, now that the whole Confessio is online and searchable.

However, there’s an added dimension to using Maewyn as my Craft name (well, technically, it’s just the name I use in online Pagan spaces): the antipathy many Pagans have toward St. Patrick because he’s credited with Christianizing Ireland.

Here’s my younger, more enthusiastic self in a 2004 post:

We’ll start with the usual anti-Christian sentiment among Pagans, that St. Patrick is widely celebrated as a Christian hero but there’s also the story that St. Patrick drove the snakes (symbolically, Druids) out of Ireland, St. Patrick was antagonistic toward the Druids, etc. So for those of you who don’t want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, call it St. Maewyn’s and you’ll be fine. Personally, I haven’t found anything substantiating the “snakes = Druids” story, and there are no snakes in Ireland because Ireland is an island, so it would be difficult for non-aquatic snakes to get there in the first place. That, and I think Pagans spend entirely too much time angsting over and persecuting Christians anyway…

So there ya go…Happy St. Maewyn’s Day!

I posted “Happy St. Maewyn’s Day” every year for a few years. From what I wrote in 2003 (one’s own journals hold a wealth of embarrassment), the CNN article linked above had the offhand comment “Good thing he changed his name. St. Maewyn’s Day doesn’t have the same ring,” and — feeling that I’d invented the name before I’d ever heard this history, therefore it was mine — I decided to take March 17 for myself. I read the Confessio because I didn’t want to “make a fool of myself (unintentionally, that is) when I start declaring March 17 St. Maewyn’s Day and my own personal worldwide holiday.”

Well. I hereby forgive my younger self for trying to make St. Maewyn’s Day a thing. I am grateful that it didn’t catch on with anyone, that my friends graciously let it roll on by, and that I eventually stopped saying anything about it in public.

What has caught on in some Pagan circles is calling today “All Snakes Day,” proclaiming “Bring back the snakes!” and wearing black, as if St. Patrick slaughtered Pagans by the thousands. Ian Corrigan, a past Archdruid of ADF, wrote about this “St. Patrick’s Fakelore” on his personal blog in 2015:

Let’s be very clear – St Patrick was no friend of Pagans. However he is in no sense responsible for a genocide of Celts, Pagans or Druids in Ireland. Since the bad folklore that circulates on the internet has trouble distinguishing between those three terms, let’s start there.

Corrigan goes on to mention, also, that the snake legend was borrowed from legends of other famous saints and that snakes were not a metaphor for Pagans in it. He links to Morgan Daimler, who traces the possible origin of the connection. (Also, National Geographic suggests that the most recent ice age kept Ireland too cold for reptiles, that the surrounding seas kept them out afterward, and that there’s no fossil record of snakes ever having been in Ireland in the first place.)

All that said, I’ve now gone by Maewyn for about 13 years — I had begun to use it before I started my journal in April 2003, but an entry on July 15, 2004, marked the “official” change — and it’s as much my name as the one I was born with or the one I married into. I give very few flying figs about St. Patrick or snakes in Ireland, but I took a name that was once his, so I have this awkward connection to March 17. And it is, in its own way, a story about where I come from and who I was, how I’ve changed and how I’ve stayed the same.

If you came to this blog to find information about St. Patrick, I hope the links in this post will be useful to you, because they’re all I can provide. If you’re here for musings, natterings, and the odd bit of navel-gazing, drop your email address in the Subscribe box below, and welcome!