A Bump in the Road

I seem to have hit a snag in working through ADF’s Dedicant Path. And since this week is supposed to be a High Holy Day in terms of the workbook, so I think I’m gonna hit pause and see if I can work through a few things, especially since I’ll be traveling the week of the Solstice this year. I’ve had holdups and reservations from day 1, forever unsure that this ritual structure truly works for me. Some elements, I’ve found I can pretty easily get past like the honoring of the Earth Mother, which feels far too Neo-Pagan for my liking. But as an animist, I can also make this more literal or metaphysical and less archetypal. However, the juxtaposition of her with the Sky Father is one I really can’t seem to get past and frankly I’m not sure I even want to. The Earth is, in effect, our mother, however I’ve always seen her as somewhat of a single parent, if that makes sense. This likely has to do with how I view the sun and its associations with Áine and Grianne. Clearly the sun is important, but I don’t view it as a deity in its own right. And as far as that goes, I don’t view the Earth as a Goddess™, but that language still seems fitting and she certainly deserves a place of honor as our home and the only planet we know of that can support life as we know it.

There’s also the issue of some of the ritual language. At times, ADF refers to “Land, Sky, and Sea,” which is very familiar and comfortable to me as a Gaelic Polytheist, but then other times it seems randomly interchanged with the Fire, Well, and Tree symbolism. And maybe I’m just not used to it, but I find it a little grating as of now. There’s a lot of other language that I’ll have to rework for my own personal rituals, though I did stumble across a Gaelic Polytheist ADF ritual that may be a better starting point. However, I’ve never been one to engage in language that goes against my own theology, so the idea of a group ritual being so far out of my own beliefs is somethin that gives me pause. As The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year states,

“ADF celebratesThe eight Neo-Pagan High Holy Days. They are celebrated in ADF because we are a Neo-Pagan organization. Not every Indo-European culture celebrated these festivals at the times that ADF and the wider Neo-Pagan community celebrates them, but as we are modern Neo-Pagans (not ancient pagans or reconstructionists), part of our identity relies on the fact that we keep these days holy.”

Though I don’t really use the Recon label anymore, I do still operate in that sphere. I know it’s an argument of semantics, but I also very much do not identify as a “Neo-Pagan” and never have, largely cause I feel like it gives a very wrong impression of my practice. But I also worry how that might sound, especially to folks who don’t really know much about me.

At the same time, this whole thing still seems worthy of pursuit, at least to see it through the DP program. It has, however, made me very curious about OBOD and AODA. For now, I may try and apply the ADF structure to this year’s Queer Ancestors ritual and see how it goes. Since I think I’ll be doin that in 2 parts this year, I may try one part with ADF and one more like last year and see which resonates better.

And a last note: thanks for bearin with me this week. This is far from eloquent writing and is certainly a lot of stream of consciousness, so just know I appreciate y’all.

Advertisements

A Return to the Past, A Path to the Future

A landscape photograph. The background is made of a gray sky peaking through the branches of leafless trees which are covered in cascades of blooming wisteria, appearing as a purple haze around the branches. The foreground is vibrant green, mostly wisteria and ivy, a few blooms of wisteria clearly visible. To the right in the foreground is the corner of an abandoned house, paint peeled away and mostly gray, darker than the sky, with remnants of vibrant teal pain along the bottom edges. Photograph by author.

So, I tried a new thing. In Gaelic Polytheism, we don’t usually celebrate what many Pagans call the “Quarter Days,” (Yule, Ostara, Litha, Mabon) usually just celebrating our Fire Festivals that most of the generally Pagan Cross-quarter Days come from (Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh). A few years ago, maybe longer, I started celebrating Grianstad an tSamhraidh (Midsummer). We know historically that rent was payed to Manannán Mac Lir for his protection of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Mann) and in southern Ireland Áine was honored at the same time. A year or so after that, I also decided it made sense to celebrate Grianne at the opposite point of the year, Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Midwinter).

But for the last couple years, it’s really struck me how much that doesn’t line up with my seasons Down South. I’d already made mental adjustments, thinkin of the holidays truly as the beginning of seasons rather than just days, but it still wasn’t right. And it makes sense. This far south of Ireland, our climate varies muuuuch more wildly. Our winters are shorter (though can be colder or warmer), come later, leave sooner. We rarely get snow. And our summers come soon are are easily 30°F/21°C hotter. We have much faster and more visible transitions. So, oddly enough, I’ve moved forward while lookin back, so to speak. This year, I decided to use the Spring Equinox (I don’t know the Irish for this or how appropriate it would be) to officially say goodbye to Grianne for the year and welcome Áine. It was nothin major, but it felt nice to do it. I’ve got a pair of candles on either end of my house, one for each that represent winter and summer that I burned from sundown to sundown and gave water to Grianne for her rest while offering flowers to Áine as a welcome and thanks for the warmth to come. The plan, I think, is to do the inverse come Autumn Equinox and incorporate this into my relgious calendar.

An image of Áine’s shrine. A y’all candle in summer shades of yellows, oranges, and a few reds is surrounded by pink and white azalea blooms, a purple iris, unknown small white flowers in clusters on branches, and cascades of wisteria, all on a teal table. There is a window behind that is dark, reflecting the light from inside the house. Photograph by author.

It’s strange because, after years of somewhat retraining my brain to forget the 8 holidays of the wheel, I’m seemingly returning to them, but in a decidedly different way. Just as Grianstad an tSamhraidh and Grianstad an Gheimhridh are relatively minor holidays with simple offerings, so are the Equinoxes. Or so will they be. To me, it makes sense, both as a modern practitioner and one decidedly influenced (as we all are, whether someone wants to admit it or not) by modern Pagan practices and communities. I think I fought this for as long as I did because of clinging to a Recon label, but I find that so constricting now. Is my practice any less informed by history? Not at all. I’m simply makin room for new ideas and evolution. And if I decide I don’t like it or it doesn’t work, I can always drop it again. But for now, it feels right.

Additionally, as I begin to explore ADF, it makes sense to me to find meaning in times like this that I, personally, already find meaningful. And who is to say that this wouldn’t have been a natural evolution anyway? So often anymore, it seems that hardcore Gaelic Recons want to simply act as gatekeepers rather than spiritually sound people or even individuals who can agree that all our practices won’t look the same. Just as Áine was honored locally, not nationally considering that’s a modern construct itself, it only drives home the point of a truly local cultus that can express the needs and desires of practitioners.

Southern Folk Magic

I recently got an ask on tumblr about Southern Folk Magic. I haven’t been able to post here lately cause of the move and starting grad school, so I thought I’d share it here.

erynn-lafae asked:

Can you talk a bit about Southern folk magic? What’s that like? How’d you learn it? What makes it distinctly Southern?

So, I’ll start with a little background on the term “Southern Folk Magic.” Obviously, hopefully anyway, the term is to denote regional variations of folk magic practiced in the US South. That said, I use it as an umbrella term for the practices that happen Down South because there are TONS. We tend to talk about the South as a whole, but what many folks from outside the region don’t seem to realize is just how much diversity there is down here. Like I mentioned here, there are tons of subregions in the South and just as our food, accents, and dialects are different, so can our magical practices be. My personal experiences have been in Memphis/Mississippi Delta/North Mississippi and Knoxville/East Tennessee/Southern Appalachia. I’ll be addin Atlanta and hopefully North Georgia to that list soon, but not quite yet. 

For those not from the Delta region, Memphis is often jokingly referred to as “the capitol of Mississippi.” This is largely cultural and demographic and I’ve long said “Memphis will always be more Mississippi than it’s ever been Tennessee.” And the older I get, the more true that seems to be. According to the 2010 census, Mississippi has a 37% Black population. It has also seen the largest increase in people reporting to be of “mixed race.” Memphis has a 61% Black population, with many of these folks bein the direct descendants of freed slaves who moved out of the rural South and into a city. And in West Tennessee, which runs from the Western border of the state to the western bifurcation of the Tennessee river and represented by the far left star on our state flag, even small towns often have 30%+ Black populations whereas Knoxville, the largest city in East Tennessee, only has a 13% Black population. So the folk magic I grew up around in Memphis is largely influenced by Black folks whereas East Tennessee Appalachian folk magic is much more influenced by Cherokee and Scots-Irish practices. 

So, when I moved to Knoxville for college, it was absolute culture shock. I wasn’t actively or knowingly practicing magic at that point, but the foundations had been laid. I got a blue doormat for the front door because that’s what you do. Now I realize this comes from a West African idea that harmful spirits can’t cross water and the blue doormat (or painting the underside of your porch roof) will hopefully confuse em. I’ve since learned this is common in Carolina Lowcountry from the Gullah-Geechee people, so I’m not sure the exact lineage of me learnin it, but it’s somethin I still do. Little things like this abound and I honestly only think about it when I find myself doin one of em.

Another tradition I grew up around is water-witchin water dowsing. The first time I heard the term as a kid, I was confused, but both of my grandparents on my daddy’s side could do it and it basically involves balancin a forked stick and when it drops, that’s where you dig your well. Other people use 2 sticks or metal rods and wait for em to cross. Either way, it seems to work.

I also wear a dime on a red string on my right ankle for good luck and to avert “the evil eye.” This is somethin a childhood friend’s grandmother made for me the first time sayin, “honey, you just need it.” And I think she was right. This is a practice that, from what I’ve read, also comes from African tradition, but specifically what or where has been all over West Africa. But the red string also carries over into Irish lore on good luck and as a Gaelic Polytheist, it makes a perfect blend of practices for me.

There’s also what I feel like is a broder American tradition that comes to us likely from the Irish of hangin a horseshoe above the door. Modern folklore says to hang it points up so that the “luck doesn’t run out,” but it also seems to do have to do with the idea that horseshoes are traditionally iron and the fae don’t like iron.

In East Tennessee, it’s not unheard of to see a tree with ribbons or scraps tied to it. The type of tree varies, but the idea is similar to Buddhist prayer flags (for a more recognized practice) and seems to come from the Gaels that settled in the area. But over heard people say it has Indigenous ties, too. How much of that is true and how much is “Cherokee Princess Syndrome” as I like to call it, I just don’t know. That’s one thing about bein down here; we’ve created a string cultural identity that, regardless of how it happened, mashed cultural practices together that there’s just no tellin where some of em exactly come from. And that’s honestly part of what makes it “Southern.” Our culture is an amalgamation of various African cultures, Irish and German immigrants, Acadians, French and Spanish historical colonization and influence, and countless indigenous cultures. If the stories of how that happened weren’t so absolutely mortifying, it could be beautiful, but we’ll always carry the wounds and scars of the past, imo.

As for how I learned, it’s been a wild ride. A lot of things I just learned culturally growin up. When you’re “born in the South, given to a town raised on hand to mouth,” a lot of things I’d now qualify as folk Magic are just a part of life. But as I’ve grown and begun intentionally practicing, I’ve read everything I can. Lots of times, this means pickin through charlatans and pseudo-intellectual horseshit. It means often bein VERY wary of other white folks claimin to know anything about anything. I’ve talked to older folks who practice and try to learn what they’re willin to teach. But it’s been a tough road. And that, along with other historical factors, are why I don’t use terms like hoodoo for my practice. I think hoodoo is a form of Southern Folk Magic, but it also has its own specific history and practices ties to the Christianization and slavery of African peoples. I’ve found a lot of similarities in my practices and Hoodoo™, but I also have a much more heavy and specific Irish influence because of bein a Gaelic Polytheist than a lot of other folks.

So, as with most topics, it’s incredibly nuanced and I’m sure I’ve left somethin out or even said somethin that wasn’t super clear, so if there are any questions, shoot! And if there are any other folks that practice Southern Folk Magic or Southern-influenced Magic, hit me up! I’d love to hear from y’all cause lord does it feel lonely sometimes. We can pm here, send me asks, hit me up on twitter, or shoot me an email at TheModernSouthernPolytheist@gmail.com.  

Restin’ Them Bones

Go and get my bones,
Bring ’em to the Deep South,
Somewhere they can thaw out,
Here in the the Deep South…

A black and white photo of the grave of an unknown soldier in Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, MS, restin place of both Union and Confederate soldiers from the Battle of Shiloh. The grave marker itself stands upright, has a very slightly elevated point in the middle, and appears to have been white or light colored originally, but is now covered in a layer of grime. An equal-armed cross adorns the top and the word "unknown" is written in large block letter along a curved line in the middle of the marker. A large, gnarled tree root buts up against and then grows up the bottom right corner of the stone. Other grave markers can be seen, blurred in the background.

The grave of an unknown soldier in Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, MS, restin place of both Union and Confederate soldiers from the Battle of Shiloh.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a stranger to death. Or rather, Death™ has never been a stranger to me. My father passed away when I was 6 months old, his father following 6 months later. After that, it was a seemingly endless parade of funerals and funeral processions through the country roads of the North Mississippi and broader Mid-South until I tuned 19. At that point, I was seemingly granted a reprieve until 23 when my first close high school classmate left us unexpectedly. At this point, I feel like my dealings with Death and death have been at fairly ordinary intervals, but when you stare her in the face more often than not as a child, it leaves an irrevocable mark. This mark has led to my relationships with ancestor veneration, methods of divination, certain deities, and my practice in general.

Recently, my uncle passed away. It was somewhat unexpected and definitely hit me hard. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt cause it had been a while since I’d seen him. Then I realized that my younger cousin has never really faced the death of a close loved one, let alone a parent. Her older brother was ~12 when our grandmother passed away, but she was only 5. I know she’s been to other funerals, but that’s not the same. They’ve been amazingly strong, but I know hoe deep-seated that pain can be and how quickly it can come rushing to the surface with the force a tsunami without a moment’s notice.

This funeral was different for me in many ways, too. This is one of, though not THE first time I’ve attended a family funeral as my adult self. For my very rural family, sometimes this presents the issue of “explaining” me to their friends and neighbors as I walk in with blue hair, stretched ears, and a face full of metal. Now Daddy’s side could care less what anyone else thinks for the most part, but Momma’s is the opposite. Thankfully, as weird and wrong as that sounds, this was Daddy’s side, but it doesn’t change the way death always seems to mark me as an outsider since I’ve become an adult. Of course a funeral that isn’t mine isn’t about me, so it just leads to long-term suppression of those emotions that tend to erupt down the road in unpredictable ways.

The drive to rural North Mississippi alone gave me a lot of time to reflect on my own thoughts about death and afterlife. This was compounded by the times I had to zone out because the message that may or may not have been comforting to every other person in the room was doin nothin but grating my nerves. I found myself pondering the Greco-Roman nature of the rural funeral parlor, the motifs a mix of Christian and pagan elements, wondering if I was the only one to notice. It certainly allowed a much needed escape while pinned between in-law-esque family members that would likely string me up were they to ever learn of my religious practice or beliefs. I guess it’s worth noting here that I’m not actually related to these particular folks, but I know em well enough to know their thoughts on the matter. But these Greco-Roman pediments led down an ADHD trail of my own musings about what comes next. In that same vein, I always worry what family who pass will think of me as they view me from their Otherworld, but I swear if I didn’t feel a bit of comfort from my uncle, a Southern Baptist preacher, as if I felt him laid a hand on my shoulder and tell me he understands when envisioning adding him to my ancestor shrine space.

I firmly believe in an afterlife, but what that looks like, I frankly have no idea. For me, it feels natural at this point to think that I’ll spend some time with Donn after passin on before movin on to Tír na nÓg (or some other realm of existence) at some point. But do I think that same reality applies to everyone? I don’t know. Comin from an evangelical Christian background, a background that told me that everyone goes one of 2 places despite whatever religious convictions they held in life, I find it ridiculous to reassert that same belief system that forces everyone in to a cookie-cutter conception of an afterlife. So where does that leave me? Honestly, at an impassible juncture as of now. Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters; what happens after death is what happens, regardless of what I might like it to be. Maybe we each go where we believed we’d go in life. Maybe we can visit other peoples’ afterlives. Maybe we all go to the same place. Maybe there’s not anything after this. At some point, it becomes counterproductive for me to continue to dwell on the future in that capacity when there’s so much to be done in the here and now. And that’s where it’s left me.

But drivin those small town roads, a caravan of vehicles farther in each direction than the eye could see as we crested those Mississippi Pine Country hills, made me realize how much “home” is here for me. The casseroles, the funeral chicken, the good memories, all call to me in a time of death and remind me that Death will always be a constant companion, even if we lose touch for a little while. Despite what anyone else has to say about it, my home is here in the rituals, the landscapes, and the people of the South. Regardless of where I draw my breath, it always will be. I’d be just fine with an afterlife on the old family property, watchin the next generations learn and grow, protectin them, guidin them, and remindin them of those feelins of home. This is where I want to be, where I belong, and where I’ll hopefully one day rest my bones. Anything else is just gravy.