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.

Merry Beltane!

This weekend I’m off to MoonFire’s Beltane celebration. There’s so much going on! It’s like a mini festival! Which is doubly exciting for me because I don’t usually get to go to festivals (from some combination of brokeness, lack of ability to take time off work, and anxiety about traveling there or attending alone). This time, however, I’ll be there! Possibly with bells on, in a very literal sense!

In other news, I’ve borrowed The Witch’s Athame by Jason Mankey, The Witch’s Broom by Deborah Blake, and The Witch’s Wand by Alferian Gwydion MacLir (all from Llewellyn’s Witch’s Tools series) from my local library, and I’m currently reading through that last one. All three are tools that I’m currently making or working with, and I’m enjoying the deep dive.

Spring cleaning also continues, possibly a little harder because the whole family will be away this weekend and I like to come home to a clean house (as much as possible with little kids; I’ll settle for being caught up on the laundry and the dishes before we go). When I was at the library I saw The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on the shelf, and the KonMari trend has mostly passed (I think?) but I hadn’t actually read the book yet. I’m giving her folding method a chance — so far I kind of love it; every time I open my dresser drawers, it’s like picking something new from a store, just because every piece of clothing is now visible — and I’ve gotten a little ruthless about tossing or donating items that we don’t need. (Like sheets. We do not need 10 sets of sheets. Five or six of those sets are just taking up space.) And as many jokes as the “does it bring you joy?” thing has spawned, I honestly love the animistic approach Marie Kondo takes to considering each item in your household and where it would best be happy and useful. If you are the least bit sensitive, you can make this same kind of connection to your stuff and think about who you are, deep down, and whether you need or want this item, what its function is in your life. If it’s worn, you can thank it for its time in service to you and send it to the trash; if it’s still useful to someone, just not you, release it to the Goodwill bin or maybe an eBay buyer with gratitude. (Also I totally am throwing out my electric bill. I don’t need to keep the past four years’ worth of bills — and shouldn’t I be getting them as PDFs anyway? Go online and click that e-statement option.) And I do personal transformation as sort of a hobby, so the challenge for me right now is to go through all my stuff without the pressure of moving, to reinvent myself while remaining rooted to the house and the family I’ve worked hard for.

OK, back to packing. Overnight bags for two adults (for a ritual weekend) and two kids (at Grandma’s) are about as much work to pack as a camping trip for one adult.

Wicca is connection

I’ve really been enjoying Deporodh’s series over at Swangrove Coven about eight qualities in the Charge of the Goddess: beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence. Her most recent post is on humility, and I want to pull this excerpt from it:

…if you boil Wicca down to a one-word core concept, it is “connection”; (K.C.’s example for Christianity was “forgiveness” or for Buddhism was “mindfulness”). Humility joins people, and that junction, that connection, so key to the love and trust intrinsic to Wiccan magic & Wiccan ritual—that connection depends on the equalizing effect of humility as much as it depends on that love and trust.

This… this is a beautiful core thing that I want to hold onto. Without getting too deep and spilling out too much of my needy inner self, I can say that connection is one of the driving forces that brought me to Wicca and keeps me here. I’ve been solitary, as a baby Pagan and as a more experienced adult. I’ve been part of a small group that met literally down the block from my own apartment, I’ve been part of a slightly larger group that met hours away from where I lived, and I was far away from blood family and my home state both times. Now I’m finding myself home, still living far enough away from my group that I only make it to a few events, but also part of a group with 20+ regulars attending public full moons. My goal is to build a group that will actually meet in my home, which is going to be an entirely new experience.

The connections that I’m building now are part of being in a tradition. I’ve always been very aware of my self, my personality, my thought patterns and habits and experiences, and able to analyze them and make changes in my life. Yet I’ve recently concluded that this ability is only half of the story. If I can’t give voice to those understandings and tell about those experiences, what good does it do anyone else? How can I be connected to other people? What value do I bring to the table, and what value can I get as part of a functioning group? It’s all of a piece: willingness to speak my piece, showing why anyone should listen to what I have to say, how someone could connect to me and why they might want to be part of a coven with me.

And then there’s connection to the gods. We help Them and They help us. We’re connected to them and to each other at the level of the divine soul, and physically here on Earth, we’re all part of many ecosystems. All connected.

(All this said: My lesson is probably to have more self-esteem and only as much humility is appropriate. It’s what I’m fighting against by learning to stand up, metaphorically sometimes, and say my piece.)

Resources for pronouncing Old Norse

I’ve recently discovered Dr. Jackson Crawford, a professor of Old Norse who posts YouTube videos about the language, the runes, and Norse myth and sagas (as of today, there’s 61 videos on that playlist, so enjoy). If the Norse gods are at all part of your Paganism, here’s a few that are worth a watch.

Pronunciation of Old Norse Gods’ Names, Part 1 (Part 2 is here)

Introduction to the Norse Gods and Goddesses

The Names of the Runes (Elder Futhark) — also interesting are Runes: A Two-Minute Introduction and Where Do the Runes Come From?

The 9 Worlds of Norse Myth — from this one I really like the point that “the medieval Norse did not have a concept of a planet in space. These Nine Worlds are more like realms with a very vague geographical relationship to each other.” To me, it seems that they’re more like the astral realm, which may have its own geography but doesn’t necessarily map to the physical realm.

Dr. Crawford has a Patreon to continue making these videos, so if you enjoyed them, consider signing up to support him. (These are not affiliate links and I have no connection to Dr. Crawford personally; I just think this is quality content.) He also has a contemporary English translation of the Poetic Edda available on Amazon, which you might be interested in if you found Hollander’s a bit, um, challenging.

And if you were wondering, no, he’s not Asatru or Pagan. I know. I’m disappointed too.

A statement on Kenny Klein and sexual abuse

Time for a serious moment. I may not be the best person to speak on this, but because I have publicly (here on my website) stated a willingness to host circles and to take on students, I feel the need to say something in the interest of transparency. Potential attendees and students should know where I stand. (However, please note that I cannot and do not speak for Blue Star as a whole.)

On Thursday night, Kenny Klein was found guilty on 20 counts of possessing child pornography. His sentencing will take place on April 20. Kenny was a traveling musician and a priest of Blue Star Wicca.

News reports truthfully characterize Kenny as “a nationally known Wiccan high priest, musician and author.” The first article linked above is accurate to the best of my knowledge, describing Dr. Tzipora Katz as “a former high priestess who co-founded the Blue Star tradition of Wicca that Klein discovered and joined during the 1980s in New York. The couple left New York in 1988, starting a four-year odyssey in which they performed music at Pagan festivals and Renaissance fairs around the country while primarily living out of a van.” During those four years, they also began study groups across the United States that later developed into covens. Kenny and Tzipora’s acrimonious divorce in 1992 caused much damage to Blue Star.

There are many discussions happening now in the tradition. We have no governing body and no official spokesperson, so I doubt any sort of blanket statement will be made. In general, however, these discussions condemn Kenny’s actions and consider the jury’s verdict just and fair. Kenny’s crimes do not represent Blue Star, and I state emphatically that sexual abuse is not part of the tradition or part of Wicca as I know it.

To the adults who testified on Thursday that Kenny sexually abused them while they were children in his care: I believe you. Everyone should have believed you then. I will work to make Blue Star a safer place for children and for adults.

When Kenny was arrested in 2014, many initiates and elders signed public statements, two of which are available at Sabrina Mari’s blog. One mentions waiting until Kenny’s case has been decided by the judicial system. If additional statements are published now that a guilty verdict has been returned, I will link to them. For now, The Wild Hunt has a summary of the case that ends with statements from Kenny’s fiancée (hers is the only statement I’ve seen that defends him) and from one of Tzipora’s children, noting that Tzipora herself was unavailable for comment. However, she has said that she left the Pagan community after divorcing Kenny “because allegations she and her children made against Klein at that time were not believed, and they felt unwelcome as a result,” according to The Wild Hunt.

[Update, 4/10/17, 1:24 pm: This piece from Kristin Barton, a Blue Star Third Degree and High Priestess, is a brilliant summary of the situation and a plan for the future: Kenny Klein Blue Star High Priest, Guilty: The Aftermath and Going Forward: An Opinion Piece by a Survivor, Containing Strong Words and Well-Placed Profanity]

Revoking initiations and elevations is not possible. Neither can Kenny’s past contributions to Blue Star be erased or his initiates disparaged solely because he initiated them. It is not helpful to say that he wasn’t a real Wiccan; he was, and his initiates are good people whose grief this week is deep. Kenny may not have abused them, but he betrayed them just the same.

I came to Blue Star in 2007. I never met Kenny, though if he’d visited covens on the East Coast when I was available, I undoubtedly would have, simply because he’s a big name in Blue Star. Instead, because he’s a big name in Blue Star, I heard stories about who he was — and those stories painted him as creepy, as not quite worthy of trust, but as someone who had nonetheless made worthwhile contributions to the tradition and was grudgingly tolerated because of them. Some Blue Star elders have known Kenny since the 1980s. Some initiates and students met him in the last 10–15 years and were still studying with him. At some point, Kenny seemed worthy of their trust and friendship. Without those stories warning me away, I may have come to the same conclusion.

Again, I cannot and do not speak for Blue Star as a whole; I speak only for myself when I say the following:

I will not tolerate even a whiff of creepiness in the members of any coven or other group I may run. Not Kenny himself and not anyone else like him. Moreover, I am the mother of two little girls, and I will not extend trust to anyone who might hurt them. Neither will I wait for such a person to act before kicking them out and barring the door. This is one of the lessons I’ve learned from Kenny’s arrest and trial — and from other high-profile sexual assault cases in which victims were not believed and people continued to give an abuser chances.

I hope that I and others in Blue Star will be watchful to prevent abuse in the years to come. If you feel unsafe while attending an event that I host, I will believe you when you tell me so, and the person or situation that is making you feel unsafe will be removed.

(On the other hand, if you are concerned that you might be seen as creepy, Captain Awkward has a lengthy discussion with links and other resources for what you can do about it. If your group has a creepy dude problem, I offer even more advice from Captain Awkward.)

Kenny is now in jail awaiting sentencing, and he could be in prison for the rest of his life (a minimum of 105 years if his sentences are consecutive, but 10 years or less if they are concurrent; he is 62). Although there is a conversation to be had about reintegration and the risk of re-offending, I think this conversation should wait for the least bit of remorse from Kenny. Conversations about safety, consent, and the right to bodily autonomy are more important.

[Update, 4/21/17, 12:13 pm: Kenny’s sentencing was postponed after his lawyer filed 11th-hour motions seeking a new trial, reports. Prosecutors have until May 4 to respond. If the judge does not grant a new trial, he will impose a sentence on May 12.]

[Update, 5/12/17, 6:39 pm: Kenny was sentenced to 20 years in prison: the 20-year sentence for the most severe count and a minimum sentence for the other 19 counts, served concurrently. Upon release from prison — if Kenny is released before he dies — he will be 82 years old and will have to wear an ankle monitor for the rest of his life. According to the article, the judge “had never before received so many letters both in support of and opposed to leniency for a defendant before a sentencing decision.” May those who hurt find healing.]

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 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.