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.)

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.

Sticks and wands and making

Today I’m discovering just how often I use the pad of my right thumb. It’s got a blister I acquired yesterday in a few minutes of slicing the bark from a branch that’s going to become a broomstick. (I’m not done yet. I sat down with it once in January and took off bark from about five inches on one end, and my left thumb got a blister that took more than a week to heal. This time, I got about halfway done, and my left thumb doesn’t have much of a blister — it’s mostly healed already — and my right thumb has an impressive one.) I also collected some maple sticks blown down in recent wind storms that will hopefully become a staff and at least one wand, but they need a few weeks to dry out first.

I’m not a woodworker, so this project is also an exercise in discovering what else I don’t know. Are my fingers unused to handling a knife, or is my knife dull? Am I using woods that are harder than others? How do I sharpen my knife? Where in my small town do I get small quantities of boiled linseed oil? At what point do I need to stop researching the best way to do something and just give it a try?

That’s a metaphor for my practice of witchcraft, I think. I spent years reading books and discussions about tools and how to create them; I read people saying that a wand is not much more than a stick of wood and people debating what types of crystals and wire are best to wrap around a wand and how. I read arguments for the wand being a tool of Fire and for the wand being a tool of Air.

Yet I don’t even think I owned a wand for the first five or six years I was a Pagan. My oldest one, passed to me from a friend who was getting rid of her things, is all crystals and wire wrapped around a glass rod, no wood in it at all. (It doesn’t resonate with me and I’ve never used it, but I’m happy to keep it. Maybe one of my wee witchlings will like it when they’re older.) The one I use now, I bought a little more than a decade ago from a wandcrafter in the UK; it’s hazel, which isn’t native to North America, so I rather had to buy it.

Thus it’s taken me this long to simply choose a stick from my backyard and begin making it into a wand.

Not just any stick, to be fair. I have an affinity for maple trees in general and this maple tree in particular, and the branch called out to me for days before I went out and picked it up. But still… a stick. My backyard. That simple.

My staff, on the other hand, dates from the earliest days of my being Pagan and was indeed a large stick I got in the woods behind where I lived at the time. I’ve slowly chipped the bark from it and kept the surface natural, and thus it remains.

It’s all a spiral. You come around back to the place you were before, but you’re changed and it’s different, yet somehow the same.

It’s the all-new, all-beautiful Maewyn.net!

If you’ve checked out the text on the Home page, you’ll see my apology for this messy site (although, really, that page is all that’s messy at the moment) as I dragged Maewyn.net into a new, much less mopey age.

Why? I have had it in my head for a number of years now that I’d have a coven someday. Which is weird, because I don’t want to lead a coven. I’m a socially anxious introvert. Maybe I only want a coven so I can have circle without leaving my house. Still, for whatever reason, I’ve had this particular bee in my bonnet long enough to cycle through two possible names, buy domains for one (which lapsed after a few years of nonuse), and spend most of a day (today!) creating the website for another one. A joke name — Coven of the Forest Moon of Endor — but a name nonetheless. Even the placeholder text said, “This coven doesn’t exist, but if it did…”

By the end of the day, though, I wondered, Is this ever really going to happen? Am I honestly ever going to use this? I didn’t think so.

But I’d found some really nice stock photos (shoutout to Pixabay) and compiled a Resources page. And my goal, my original goal, was to establish Wicca in West Michigan because it wasn’t there when I’d gone looking for it. (If I’d looked a little harder, or in different places, maybe I’d have found it. It was here all along. Just very well hidden.) So, now I want to curate a list of resources for anyone who’s in the same boat as I was, and maybe along the way I’ll be able to start that coven.

A decade-long cycle of growth and regrowth

On the old version of this blog, I wrote (somewhat poetically) about my experience of waiting. Let me say a few words about it in a little more depth.

From 2007 to 2010, I was actively studying Wicca on the East Coast. I sought it out, found Blue Star, and for much of that time I circled with two different Blue Star groups, one in the city where I lived and one further south, where my teacher lived. As a shiny new Dedicant, I had many new experiences, learned a ton from a lot of people, made friends, even survived a falling-out or two. So much growth happened in these years! I expected that things would just always be like this, now that I was “home.”

At the end of 2009 and heading into 2010, there were major changes all around. I made a difficult decision to leave one group. I thought an elevation to Neophyte was coming, but instead, doors seemed to close all around me. My teacher’s family had to move, and they struggled to find a safe, secure new place to live. I was laid off from my job. My husband’s disability became severe enough that he missed the safety net of family and friends back home in Michigan, and after a few months of job searching didn’t yield much for me, we decided to move. By the time we arrived, I was pregnant, and preparations for baby plus a new job with a long commute took up much of my time. Our daughter was born in 2011; about a year later, I deactivated my Facebook account over some privacy setting, and I stopped updating my LiveJournal because I no longer had time to write or read there. As a young working mother, I no longer had time for the lengthy, ponderous online discussions I used to love or the same round of 101 questions that often cropped up in Pagan discussion groups, and I stopped participating in those places too.

And thus I was cut off from the community I’d taken for granted. Now I was too far away to visit regularly, and I had (perhaps unwisely) removed the easiest ways to keep in touch. I was lonely and isolated; I thought that having a baby was a kind of isolation I’d chosen, but I was devastated and hurt when life went on for my community, and I didn’t see that there were ways I might have continued to participate. All I saw was closed door after closed door.

Every Blue Star elevation announcement made me bitter. It should have been me, I thought. I was ready.

Time has since mellowed some of that bitterness. I wasn’t ready — even at the time, I thought, if I’m feeling this way, I probably do need to wait a bit longer and do some self-work — and the people closest to me weren’t ready, either, though I didn’t know this at the time. Their stories aren’t mine to tell, but I can say that I wasn’t the only one who experienced major life upheavals.

This is the part of the story that’s still weaving itself together. By 2013, I’d changed jobs again, had another baby, and moved to the rural spot we live in now. My first attempt to fit in with a Grand Rapids Pagan community hadn’t gone well, and I was too disheartened to keep trying. Why? I now implored the gods. I’m ready. Why am I out here? Why am I still so lonely?

The Craft can wait, I had heard; the Craft will be there. So I waited. And then I had a battle with postpartum depression to fight.

In late 2014 and 2015, I started therapy and I started running. Slowly, the gray clouds parted. They’re still not gone, but I learned how to cope, how to function when there didn’t seem to be any point in it, and then I learned to find the point.

I started to wonder if the gods hadn’t thrown me into the wilderness just to see if I’d find my way back. So I decided to come back.

I reached out to a new Grand Rapids Pagan discussion group, one that hadn’t been around when I searched before, and I found enough of a fit to attend a circle or two. They were active on Facebook, so I activated my account again, and just like that I had my network of family and friends and acquaintances back.

In 2015, a treasured priest of Blue Star suddenly became very sick, and he didn’t have much longer to live. The community rallied around him to share their love and ease his passing, and because I had learned from him and circled with him and feasted with him, I shoved aside the last of the bitterness that I still felt and I joined in. At this point, I had been away from the community for years, and the hurts that seemed fresh to me were ancient history for everyone else involved — I wasn’t even sure that I’d be remembered.

It turned out that I was remembered, and I was loved, and I was welcome.

Through 2016, I took baby steps toward restoring my sense of community. I renewed my relationships with close friends who I’d lost touch with. I attended a couple of circles with the discussion group and participated on Facebook. I brought my children to Grand Rapids Pagan Pride and participated in the rituals. And in the last days of the waning year, I started participating in a new Blue Star group aimed at connecting those of us who were solitary and lonely and feeling isolated. Simply the knowledge that I wasn’t alone — that others had rows as tough as mine to hoe — let so much of my grief and heartbreak fall away.

This is the part of the story that has yet to take place. I feel that I’m on the cusp of something new, that other doors will soon open, and that I have to really absorb the lessons of the past decade. I’m not sure what will happen next, but I am here. I’m still here.

In which I get back something lost

I have a few Tarot decks, and the one I’ve been reading with most often is the Witches Tarot. It’s a solid deck, but it uses Wands/Fire and Swords/Air and the court cards are special cases in a few respects, which I have to remember to keep track of. I have a Rider-Waite deck that I learned on, working through Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, but I let my kids check out my decks at some point. Long story short, I lost four cards from my Rider-Waite deck and couldn’t read with it anymore. (Well, I suppose I could have, but the idea of reading from a deck with missing cards bugged me.) In October 2014, I made a note of what cards were missing, I stashed the rest of the deck in a safe spot, and that was that. Periodically I looked through the kids’ toys or anywhere else the cards might be, but they never turned up. And I considered re-buying the deck, but I’d worked with this deck. I didn’t want a new deck, I wanted my cards back.

I was thinking about this last night, listening to the Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour podcast from December 6, where cat yronwode read for a client on air from a Rider-Waite deck and described what was on each card. Even though it had been a while since I’d read from this deck, I could see the cards clearly in my mind as she described them. The VI of Wands came up twice, I remember, because I thought it was remarkable for the same card to show up in readings done by two different readers (cat and Madame Nadia) for the same client’s question.

The second part of this story is that I have a hate-hate relationship with opening mail and filing important papers. It triggers an “I can’t deal with this right now” anxiety thing. I chuck mail and papers in a box to deal with later. Months and years pass, until this bullshit hits a critical mass and, in this case, papers spill everywhere and threaten to take over my office (when they’re supposed to be relegated to a small file cabinet in a back corner). Today I hit that point and hauled all the boxes and papers out, put on some music, and enlisted the fam to help me open envelopes and sort through things.

In one of those dusty boxes, Matt found a jack-o-lantern cookie tin Margaret once kept special things in. And in that tin, there was a stack of Tarot cards from the two decks I let her play with back in 2014… and my four missing Rider-Waite cards: VI of Wands, Page of Cups, X of Pentacles, Knight of Pentacles. We’d never have found them if I hadn’t hauled all that crap out of the office to finally straighten up the room.

I knew the four cards had to be the same ones I was missing, because I don’t have two Rider-Waite decks, but I checked my note anyway (curious about the date): VI of Wands, Page of Cups, X of Pentacles, Knight of Pentacles. Same order.

So thank you, Universe, for the impetus to get my witch on last night, to listen to that podcast, and to tear up the office today. Thank you for sending my four cards (and, by extension, the whole deck) back to me. They get a brand-new bag sewn for them tonight.