Literature Outside Its Time

One of my favorite authors of all time is Robert Heinlein.  I discovered his books the year after he died, and I read them voraciously throughout my teenage years.  Through his books, I learned about things as varied as being resourceful and self-reliant, the value of honor and integrity, libertarianism and voluntaryism (though I didn’t learn those words until later), and polyamory.  All of this was packaged into some amazing science fiction, with many different planets, spaceships, and even time lines.  What’s not to love?

Plenty, according to criticism I’ve been hearing just in the past few years.  Most of the criticism seems to be accusations of misogyny.  It’s always a little upsetting to hear that somebody else hates something you love.  The first reaction is defensive.  I have to admit, though, that I have noticed more and more things in Heinlein’s books that are a bit bothersome as the years go by.  He doesn’t have a lot of fully developed female characters in much of his early work (with some notable exceptions).  You can see a lot of evidence of ideas that women belong in the home, that girls are just pretty sidekicks even if they are smart, as well as language and attitudes conveying racism.  I can certainly see where the critics are coming from.  The more time that passes between the writing of one of his books and my reading of it, the more I can see these problems.

My response is that Heinlein’s books were a product of their time, and they were in fact pretty visionary and free-thinking…for their time.  Most of his writing was done in the 40’s and 50’s, in the form of short stories and serial novels for science fiction pulp magazines as well as juveniles aimed at teenage and preteen boys.  There was zero publishable market at the time for female leads, strong women, feminism, or parity between the races and religions (civil rights for blacks didn’t come about until the 60’s, rights for women didn’t really begin to flourish until the 80’s, and both are still works in progress today).  It would never have been published.  The language used and the treatment of female and non-white characters in Heinlein’s books, therefore, reflect the time in which the books were written and the market the books were aimed at.  I think it is a little unfair to apply the culture of our time to the literary works of another era…and the early-to-mid 20th century was most definitely a completely different era, irregardless of how many people are still alive who lived through that time.  Today, I can pick up any science fiction magazine and find stories where women and girls feature prominently or as main characters, stories that would pass the Bechtel test or whatever its literary equivalent is.  But those stories simply would not have been publishable in 1941.  John Campbell would have sent it back with orders to change it.

This is not true across the board.  This post does a very nice job of finding all of the wonderful examples where Heinlein was able to push the boundaries of sexism and racism beyond his culture a little bit, to give us a taste of things to come (although even the great Heinlein didn’t get a lot of this published until he had already established himself as a name).  This is something Heinlein was very good at, looking into the future and seeing some of the ways the culture could potentially evolve.  It is something all good science fiction does.

There are so many great messages buried in the science fiction of the 20th century, whether it is Heinlein, Asimov, H.G. Wells, or any of the other greats.  None of them would pass modern feminist or civil rights muster by today’s standards, but I don’t think that diminishes their messages.

Today, it’s hard to imagine what taboos are left.  You can find books in any given bookstore about virtually any subject.  Culture is swiftly moving towards acceptance and tolerance of just about any lifestyle or belief that doesn’t hurt others.  You can look at writings of the early 20th century, though, and find that the people living then felt the same way.  How wonderful is our time, how free! How many different ways can people live now, how many religions and cultures and methods of dress!  The same refrain, repeated again and again every few decades.  I’m not naive enough to think that we really have come of age.  There’s going to be something that will set our time apart once another hundred years have passed, something that we take for granted now that our descendants will find abhorrent.

I wonder what it will be.   And I wonder how our own literature and legacy will fare when our descendants judge us by that thing we cannot now see.

Aspecting Loki

I didn’t write about this the first time because it was such a new experience.  I’m still processing it, a bit.  The whole idea of aspecting is something relatively new to me since joining group rituals with my current church, something I read about but never really practiced.  When I was solitary, I communed with Deity, but I did not seek to allow it to speak through me…mostly because, really, who would it be speaking to?

Aspecting, or invoking, is a step beyond communing, an attempt to assume the persona of Deity or one of Its faces, allowing it to speak through me.  I see this as primarily a tool of group ritual and worship, a way for a priest/ess to facilitate communing with Deity for another.  I might aspect the Goddess and deliver the memorized Charge (which could also suddenly morph on delivery!), or I might aspect a specific god/dess in order to provide advice or another viewpoint someone.  My high priests frequently present a workshop on aspecting for various festivals to teach the concept of aspecting and give attendees an opportunity to try it for themselves.  Ideally, during this workshop they learn to feel the energy of the deity they invoke, and often they will deliver messages or answer questions for others while invoked.

I have now invoked multiple deities in various circumstances, so I am becoming a little more familiar with the process and how it feels.  For me, it is a feeling of energy flow rather than of energy touching, and it definitely consumes energy when I do it.  I’ve learned to make sure I am reasonably well-fed before attempting to invoke, lest my blood sugar crash midway!  When I seek to pray or commune with a deity, I am interacting with something external, seeking to touch a force outside myself.  When I invoke, I am bringing some of that force into myself and allowing it to flow through me.  It is like pulling a filter over my thoughts, so that what I think and say is colored and changed by that energy flow.  I may have rehearsed or memorized particular lines that I intend to say for a prescribed ritual, but those words might be altered in the moment as that filter of energy is applied that perhaps wasn’t fully present when those words were written.  If someone asks me a question, thoughts and words may come to mind that I might not have considered before.

I have invoked Loki twice now, both times in the workshop setting.  Both times, I was hesitant to speak, but I could feel His energy pushing me forward, and I eventually went with it.  Both times, I had some questions regarding my relationship with Him, and both times I got some kind of answer.  The second time was pretty memorable, for me.  Just before the workshop started, I had been chatting about how I’d been feeling “poked” at again, with little things constantly going wrong, spills and breaks and mishaps ever since I’d left for the festival.  I acknowledged Loki’s presence with me in that spiritual space of festival, and I went into the invocation with a rather open question of, “Why are you poking me?”  I was one of the last to go in that workshop, and everybody else had sort of made the rounds of the circle, speaking a few words to each of us while invoked.  The whole time, I felt His energy pushing me, humor bubbling behind it.  When I finally took my turn and drew Him down, I felt Him look around, roll his eyes, and refuse to participate, telling me on the side that He was poking me because it was fun and He felt like it.

Which resulted in a bit of an irreverent salute from me as I devoked, which I felt was well-earned.

Oddly enough, though, I did feel more at peace and comfortable with the poking afterward.  Rather than feeling pushed to look for a reason for the poking, as I had the past two times it happened at festival, it felt more like a comfortable presence, an acknowledgement that I am one of His own, teased because I am loved like a child or sibling.

While I do try to commune with Him on a regular basis alone, I have not felt comfortable attempting to invoke while alone.  I have preferred to stick with the interaction I know, to commune and pray, to seek answers from divination when they do not come in meditation.  It has been nice to feel His energy more directly those two times, though, and I do hope I get more opportunities.

Those Daily Devotions

Yesterday my teachers asked me how my daily devotions and my relationship with Loki were going.  I never know how to answer open-ended questions like that on the spot, but they do make me think.

I didn’t have anything resembling a daily devotional practice until last year, when I received my first degree and finally opened my ears to Loki’s call. I would play at it a bit here and there, but it was never regular. It always took second place and it always fell by the wayside.  I even set up an altar once when we first moved into our current house, but keeping the kids out of it and keeping it maintained proved to be too much, and it didn’t last long.

After accepting Loki’s call, I set up an altar.  It’s not really an altar just to Loki, although he is featured on it and his offering glasses are there.  It’s a general altar, my place to leave spells to run and have remembrances.  It’s not very big, just a spot on top of my microwave, but I find that this forces me to be very mindful of what I place there and how long it stays.  Clutter just can’t fit.  It’s been there continuously for more than a year now, the longest I’ve ever had one in place, and it is a big enough part of my day now that I take it with me when I travel.

Last year I worked through T. Thorn Coyle’s Crafting a Daily Practice online course.  The course uses one of her books to try out lots of different ideas for daily practice, including meditation, chanting, journaling, exercise, candles, and more.  For a few months I worked at this, meditating daily, journaling daily, lots of things.  But as before, it grew to be too much and got squeezed away.  What remains is the daily recital of my prayer beads and a Hail to Loki, lighting my candle (and incense if Brian is not home), and placing offerings of food and drink.

A few months ago, I felt that tapping on my shoulder again, that knocking on my mental door from Loki.  Reflection and readings seemed to indicate that it was time for something more from me, more that just an acknowledgement of His attention and a reflection on His role in my life.  I began to compare myself to others around me and find myself lacking, thinking I didn’t spend enough time in worship and prayer.

I realize now that was the wrong way to look at it.

My life is full of chaos.  I have a few anchors in it, like reading and having my drink and a smoke at the end of the day, that help me relax and take stock.  But mostly it’s running around, from waking to sleeping, with constant distractions and emergencies.  Try as I might, regularity and predictability are hard to come by.  Nobody else has my life.  Nobody else has my relationship to the world.

Why should I worry about how my daily practices stack up to someone else’s? My life doesn’t look like anybody else’s. My practice doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s, either.

I said earlier this year that I felt my first year of following Loki was like an appenticeship or a postulancy, a time to reflect and learn and make sure of my path.  This year feels more like taking the first steps down that path.  Rather than sitting quietly, I am working to get out into the world more.  Rather than continuing to beat my head against the goal of routine and ticking off checklists (definition of insanity?), I am working to set life goals and work towards them, to not worry so much about all the little things (because there’s damn sure a lot of them around here).

I find myself smiling and laughing more, finding humor and joy in things a little more and getting frustrated a little less.  I might laugh at something only I think or see.  I switch tasks when I lose flow and focus without worrying about trying to follow a straight line from beginning to end of something.

My role is to set down new paths, to find rules of life and behavior and break them, to find boundaries and cross them.  I am here to break expectations, to shatter molds.

That is my daily devotion, and I don’t find it at an altar or in front of a candle (unless I feel like it).  I find it in everything I do and see, the little extra light in my day, an extra star shining at night.

I Want to Dance

As Tamara moves into her cheer career and I’ve been posting pictures and comments, one of the more frequent sentiments I’ve heard from my friends is along the lines of, “Imagine you involved with cheerleading! That’s so unlike you!”  At first, I laughed along with them and agreed.  And then I realized that was wrong.  Most of my friends have only really known me in adulthood, maybe from high school.  And since the best friend I had before then has been lost to me for more than twenty years, nobody else knows how wrong it is.

I’m a big girl.  I’m not as big as some girls.  I have plenty of friends who are bigger than I am.  I still wear clothes smaller than a size 20.  Although I’m back at my highest non-pregnant weight, I’m not even as big as I was the last time I was at this weight thanks to being in much better athletic condition.  I complain about not being able to buy clothes I like and how much I hate shopping, but I can still trust that a race or event t-shirt will fit me.

I was a big girl growing up, too.  I remember how difficult it was to find jeans that fit when I was a girl, and how one time my mother had me wear my cousin’s hand-me-down jeans to school…which mortified me because they were a boy’s jeans.  Starting in second grade and continuing for years, I dealt with the petty bullying of being the fat girl.  I believed I could never be physically fit and so I never really tried.  I worried about sucking my tummy in constantly.

I took dancing and ice skating lessons when I was a girl.  I dreamed of being a ballerina when I grew up, like most little girls do I guess.  I took lessons at a studio that taught ballet, tap, and jazz all together.  I loved dancing. I loved being able to follow the beat, to move my body with it. Learning choreography was like learning to play piano or learning to knit: it always came easily to me, and I rarely had to work very hard to master any step or sequence.

That all stopped when I was eleven or twelve, when my ballet class graduated to en pointe dancing.  After allowing me to dance with the class for a year or so, the teacher told my mother that I could not do it any longer, that it would permanently damage my feet to dance en pointe at my size.  So I quit dancing.  As I recall, that was about the same time my mother started signing me up for weight loss programs, too.

Shortly after that, as I moved into high school, I discovered the drill team.  This was a group of girls who went out and did dance and marching routines during games, like a cross between the marching band and the cheerleaders.  This sounded like so much fun, so I tried out.  I spent a couple of weeks going to the training sessions.  I bought a shiny unitard to wear (it was pink).  I spent hours at home stretching to try and master the splits.  Shortly before the official try-outs, they handed out a list of rules for drill team members.  Including in that list was a maximum weight.  And that was it.  I tried out, but I was obviously disqualified no matter how well I danced.

One secret that probably only my lost friend Alicia would know is the “How to Be a Cheerleader” books I had when I was little, and how I would practice doing jumps and cartwheels and cheers in my room or my backyard.  Forget about actual cheerleading.  In Georgetown, all the cheerleaders were elected by the student body.  The only thing I would be able to garner votes for would maybe have been “most invisible.”  I tried going back to the dance studio then, but since I couldn’t dance en pointe I was thrown into a class of beginners several years younger than I.  Not much point in staying.  In my sophomore year I discovered show choir, where I got to use my talents at both singing and dancing.  I lettered in show choir, and those were some of my best memories of high school.

The next chance I had only lasted a few weeks.  In between my first and second year at TAMS, there was a couple of months when it looked like I would have to go back to high school.  I spent that time training with the local high school marching band, where I got to be a flag (I played oboe and bassoon, which aren’t allowed to march).  Not only did we have set marching routines that we did along with the band, we worked on special routines where we got to step out from the band and do our own thing, dancing and spinning those giant flags.  I had so much fun, and a bit of me was sad when I got back into TAMS and left that marching band behind without ever having performed.

Once you grow up, the opportunities for dance seem a bit more limited.  I discovered ballroom dancing around the time we got married, but lessons were expensive and Brian can’t dance or follow a beat at all.  (He can’t carry a tune, either, but he has other fantastic talents.) I was good at it, and I would love to do it again if I had a partner, but I don’t.  I tried joining an adult tap class once, but I was only 19 and felt terribly uncomfortable and out of place with a group of women my mother’s age.  Once I was over 21 and discovered the world of topless bars, I thought that sounded like fun, too, but they didn’t want anything to do with girls over a certain (small) size, either…although I got to play at it a bit when Plato’s Playhouse was still open.

Skating is the closest I’ve been able to come to the dancing I want to do.  While I still never get to do couples or trios skating (no partner, no friends), anybody can skate up to a group working on a slide and just join in.  It’s athletic, it takes rhythm and coordination, you follow the beat and show off to the music.  I still tend to feel out of place there, like I’m the wrong color, but it’s one of the most fun things I do these days.

Still think being involved in competitive cheer is out of character for me?

All of that, and we come back around to Tamara, my oldest daughter, my little clone.  She’s built just like I am, strong and stout.  She also shares my love of music and dance, my coordination and ability.  She loves to sing, she loves to show off for a camera or an audience, and she is even better at gymnastics than I ever was, able to do backbends and splits with far greater ease.  She started asking me a couple of years ago if she could sign up for some activity that would involve dance or gymnastics, because she wanted to be a dancer…and my heart sank.  I thought back to all the times I tried to do those things and was knocked right back down, and just as I homeschool in part so my children won’t have to deal with the cruelty of their government-school peers, I didn’t want to throw Tamara into something where she would just be told “no” or put in a box because of her size.

I spent most of a year trying to find something.  I sent messages and emails out to my big girl friends, asking about any outlets they might know that would be size-friendly and welcoming.  I didn’t get much response, and in fact I felt like they thought I shouldn’t even be asking.  I even tried sending an email to Ragen Chastain, since I thought a woman who actually was an adult fat dancer would be able to give me some advice, some direction to look in. (She never responded.)

Finally, in January a post came across my homeschool group from a Young Champions cheerleading coach who was looking for more recruits.  I had seen her post before but had never followed up on it.  This time, I clicked through and took a look at the team and their pictures from past events…and I saw big girls!  I saw big, strong girls, girls who could throw other girls in the air, who could support the base of a pyramid and still do backflips!  And they were smiling and posing with their teammates, appearing to all be good friends despite their size differences!  They did the things the drill team used to do, performing fancy dance routines in between their stunts and shouting.

So here we are.  I felt a little uncomfortable at first, but mostly because I think I was expecting the other parents to act the way I remember cheerleaders acting in high school, all exclusive and special and part of a club I can’t join.  But now I’m a cheer mom, and my daughter is a cheerleader.  And all I can do as I clap from the sidelines is wish I was out there with her, and be grateful that she’s found an opportunity that I never did.

The Little Ways We Lead Ourselves Astray

When I was growing up, I loved reading stories that had anything to do with babies and motherhood.  I remember reading about the coming-of-age ritual of wearing your hair up in the Little House books, and wishing I had something like that to mark a transition for myself.  I remember stories of girls who cared for children, who adopted children, who had children of their own, whatever the ultimate plot point, these are the things that stood out.

When I finally had children of my own, I had somehow concocted this image of the perfect mother and housewife.  My idol was some strange conglomeration of Ma Ingalls, Maureen Johnson Smith Long, and probably some goddess of an Amazon.  I felt guilt over no longer working and bringing in money, so I built up this image of the perfect housewife as the “job” I now had to do in order to earn the living Brian was providing for me and our children.  While the triplets were still in NICU, I stopped painting my nails and cut them short so I wouldn’t accidentally scratch their skin. I started wearing my hair up all the time, ostensibly out of practicality but also with the thought of that prairie rite of passage in the back of my mind. I started making lists for myself of housework, laundry, ironing Brian’s shirts, and I pursued these “job assignments” so industriously that I regret not spending more time in the hospital with the babies. (Although after a few weeks, the NICU became an incredibly boring place with little for me to do except sit in a rocking chair with one baby or another.)

Over the next years, as my babies grew and multiplied, I continued my struggle to become that perfect wife and mother.  I pursued various home organization programs with varying degrees of success but consistent loss of direct time with children.  I went from one modest hairstyle to another, again with the idea of practicality but also with those idols in my mind. Putting my hair up like a Latina Texas housewife was neat and easy, and it made me think about being able to cook everything from scratch, even the most elaborate baby food and tortillas.  Wrapping it in tichels got my hair out of my face while it dried, and it made me feel like a focused, virtuous housewife.  Letting my hair down became more than an expression, it became the reality of resuming my “real” persona when the children were absent or asleep.

In other words, the face I was showing my children (and much of the rest of the world) was a mask.

On a slightly different note, I have realized that I do not learn by instruction, not really.  I can absorb some ancillary instruction, but I primarily learn by diving in and doing.  I can’t learn a programming language in a class, or through a textbook; I have to sit down and start coding, looking up things as I need them, and only after I have done that a few times can I get some benefit from asking for guidance or looking through a book for tips and tricks.  I don’t pick up a language and retain it by studying a book, but I can jump in and start talking and reading and tack on words as I encounter them (which is why DuoLingo seems to be working so well for me, I think). Knitting, cross-stitch, math, even swimming or skiing, I don’t seem to do well with instruction or lessons.  I learn and progress best by jumping in and doing, and asking questions along the way.

I remember how I  learned to ski.  I didn’t ski until I was 15 years old, and it happened to be a first that year for my mother and brother as well.  She signed all three of us up for lessons.  They stayed with their groups all day.  Only a couple hours into my class, though, I became fed up with waiting for everybody and left the class, along with another boy.  We sped down the hill, went back up to the hillside restaurant for lunch, and then skiied on our own for the afternoon, up and down and passing our class.  My mother was furious, feeling like she had wasted her money…but I ended up skiing better by the end of that day than the rest of the people who stayed in that class, and it cost nothing to leave it.  I’ve tried other group skiing classes, but the same thing happens: I get bored or distracted, and either do something stupid or leave.  When I go one-on-one with a teacher, though, we go up and down and the teacher gives me tips.  I spend just an hour or two getting a list of tweaks and tips, and then I can spend a day or two by myself working it out, no class or teacher.  Cheaper, in the long run.

I remember all of my physical skills being the same way, whether learning to swim as a child or learning hardanger embroidery or double-knitting as an adult. I sign up for a class, scan the material, and take off on my own, learning as I go and using the instructor as a springboard for questions.  It’s what I was doing with Kender while we still had access to services from the school system, following his lead and learning with him, while using the teachers for questions and tips and advice.

What brings both of these together? A reading I got recently saying, essentially, to go with the flow.

My patron god is often seen as one of chaos, although I prefer to think of it as not being bound by rules. I do better, I learn and progress and accomplish more, in chaotic environments where I pursue a goal free of the confines of a prescribed plan or somebody else’s pace.  I work better alone, able to move and change directions at a whim (and able to assume full responsibility for any consequences), than I do as part of a team.

Why on earth have I spent so much time trying to fit my home, my motherhood, my life into this neat, clean “homeschooling housewife” box that is defined not by my end-goal but by other women around me and imaginary women in books, by all this external imagery?

Community

I grew up Baptist and Presbyterian.  I have nothing but fond memories of my church communities.  I remember Sunday school: coloring pictures, memorizing verses and books and stories, watching videos, putting on plays for special holidays, learning little kid songs about the faith, teachers reading us stories while acting them out on a felt board.  I remember the Baptist church I was baptized with in Carrollton, Texas, how they started out meeting in a school in Plano, raising funds to buy property and build their own church, moving to meeting in an actual house near my own, the construction of the church and the empty rooms and the little round metal circles punched out of electrical sockets.  I remember the thrill of being baptized, both Baptist as a little girl and later as a Presbyterian, how grownup it made me feel to be going through this ritual in front of the entire congregation.  I remember Vacation Bible School, day camp at church really, with crafts and games for a whole week of fun.  I remember youth group activities, both at my own church and at churches with my friends, bowling, picnics, hiking, caroling.  I remember singing in the children’s choir and the adult choir at First Presbyterian, the youth choir at Crestview Baptist where we went touring around the state of Texas.

I remember the feeling of my church being like a second home, and the congregation being an extended family.

I only ever went there because my parents went there, and all my friends did the same thing.  Everybody goes to church, that’s just what you do.  I never had any real belief, no rapturous faith, no communion with that God.  When I discovered Wicca in high school, it was like coming home as far as my faith was concerned.  I found a name, a system, a religion that encompassed my feelings toward the world, my love of magic and mystery and nature, gave them words and structure and form.  I left Christianity behind without a second thought, because it never really was my religion, after all.

What I miss, though, is the community that I left behind.  I miss the potluck dinners and presentations.  I miss singing in the choir.  I miss the circle of dear friends that we saw every week, the ones who would pray for you and bring you food when you were sick or had a new baby, who would ask about you when you came to church every week.  I miss being comfortable in scouts, instead of feeling excluded when they work on bible-study badges and pray and go to vespers.

I didn’t realize this all at once.  I found Wicca at about the same time that I left for college, and so I would have naturally been leaving behind that church family even if I hadn’t had a change of heart.  A loner at heart, married young, I didn’t feel the need for that extended family.  I had my husband, we had each other, we had fun.  It was good.

Until we had kids.  Until we were left alone with triplets and all our “friends” disappeared.  I remember encountering a woman in the baby store one day.  It started out as a standard, “Oh look! Triplets!  They’re so adorable!”  Usually the next line is, “You sure have your hands full!”  Instead, this woman said, “You must get a lot of help!”

“No,” I said.  “We really don’t have any.”  I probably started crying at that, I don’t know.  So much of the first year or two is a blur now, but I remember being so tired and frustrated.  This encounter happened the first summer they were home, so they were sleeping through the night but still bottle-feeding, not really eating solids although I kept trying, busy crawling and trying to get into everything.  My parents both lived out of state, the girlfriend I had before getting pregnant had disappeared, I had no playgroups or moms groups, there really just was nobody that we knew who was even interested in helping out or even visiting.

This woman in the store had assumed that I was a member of a church, as she was, and that my church community at least was helping us out.  When I explained that I had no church and no family nearby, she jumped into action.  She put us on her church’s list of new families, as though the triplets had just been born.  For a month, people brought us dinners to eat.  A crew of ladies came to help clean the house for me.  Just that little bit made such a huge difference to me, when the only people I ever saw besides Brian were the therapists who came by every week.

This is what I lost by becoming Wiccan.  Not just the chance to receive things, but the chance to give them, too, the chance to just take that meal to a family in need, no questions asked, the chance to find out about somebody who needs help and go provide it.  I lost the chance for my children to have those experiences I remember so fondly from growing up, the chance to have a scouting experience that is not exclusionary, the chance to experience something like Vacation Bible School.

I’ve gotten a little of that community back recently through our wonderful homeschooling group.  We circle the wagons and take care of our own when bad things happen and when babies are born.  I’ve gotten some more of it from my church community.  I cherish getting that back…and I want to give it back to others.  I want more.  I want to make sure others have that space and place, that home and family of shared faith and fellowships, shared songs and stories.

That’s why I initiated into the ATC tradition, with its commitment to congregational structure and clerical support to the community.  That’s why I continue to study and pursue the path to my Third Degree, which will require my commitment to a Great Work of my own.  Whether or not I ever go home to Texas and start my own church, I will still work wherever I am to find ways to provide those bits of church community to the Wiccans and Pagans where I live, however I can, to the best of my ability.  My life’s work to this point has been family, children and nurturing.  I intend for that to continue even after my children leave home, so that they can have their children with the benefit of a strong community.

Carving Horn

I have been practicing my nalbinding skills as part of my devotional work this year.  One day, perhaps I will make socks and mittens.  For now, I am making sampler wristbands so that I can practice lots of different stitches and see the fabrics they make. I’ve heard that nalbinding is all but impossible to learn without having somebody teach you in person.  I’m out to prove that one wrong!

20140319_225652This is the basic Oslo stitch with a 2-loop connection, so UO/UOO F2.

20140319_225706This is the Björsbo stitch, UO/UOU F1.  It somehow makes a more intricate, thinner fabric.  I want to do the Oslo with a F1 instead of a F2 connection next to see how that affects the fabric.  So much to learn!

One of the things that was holding me back from nalbinding before was tension.  I have very large hands for a woman, with big, fat thumbs.  Nalbinding is traditionally worked on the thumb, and the tension works out because the thumb is the right size.  Only, mine is NOT the right size!  I tried using my pinky, I tried using a knitting needle, I tried working flat and freehand, but nothing worked.

I was fortunate to find at Con something that makes a fantastic nalbinding needle…almost.  It was one of a collection of bone pins for sale at the Amber Fox’s stand (the one with the amazingly huge collection of ALL THE JEWELRY), about 4 inches long, a quarter inch wide at the top and a slight taper to the other end, and a hole through the top.

20140319_222438This needle is just the right size to use for needle-tensioning with double-knit or sport weight yarn (thickness in between sock yarn and worsted weight).  I still use my thumb for forming the stitches, but as I take each loop off my thumb, I tighten it around the top of the needle before pulling the needle through.  As you can see in the pictures above, this is working splendidly.

The downside to this “needle” is its extremely blunt tip.  In order to join new pieces of yarn, I was having to get out a tapestry needle that was sharp enough to poke between the plies of yarn.  In the videos I’ve seen, though, the women are using the same needle for the nalbinding and for the joining.  In addition, I found the tip a little too blunt for picking up the loops and forming the stitches, and I anticipated more difficulty as I moved on to more complex stitches. So I decided to further my ancient craftiness and recarve my needle to suit!

I tried a grinding stone and an exacto knife, but what I ended up using primarily was 100-grit sandpaper.  In a few minutes of work, I was able to get a nice point onto my needle.

20140319_224615Amazingly, the horn used for this needle was almost smooth enough that I could have gone ahead and worked with it right then.  I wanted to at least try to get the new surface to match the old, though.  First I went after it with 100-grit sandpaper.  Then I put some plain toothpaste on a cotton napkin and polished it.  The toothpaste worked amazingly well to fill in the little bit of roughness left by the sandpaper and gave the needle a velvety-smooth feel.  I rubbed at it a while longer with a dry bit of cotton napkin, and then I got some plain hand lotion and rubbed that in and polished.  While I didn’t quite get the original mirror finish, I got an incredibly smooth, soft surface that will never catch my yarn.

20140319_225439My needle is definitely a needle now, pointy end and all, and I’m looking forward to working on some more nalbinding with it!

Working With Loki

I have put off this post for several weeks.  Despite all the writing I’ve done here up to this point, I am still very shy and nervous about discussing my beliefs and practices.  It is hard for me to own my religious experiences, for me to stand up for them instead of continuing to be in the shadows over in the corner.  Our society does not place much value on individual revelation and spirituality, despite our reputation for being an individualist society.  As I’ve said before, though, I hope that my writing, my “coming out” as it were, might help somebody else who feels they are stuck in the corner with nobody to relate to.

About a year ago, I acknowledged Loki’s call and accepted Him as my patron.  The next twelve months were a period of reflection, introspection, and revelation for me as I worked through His charge to Know Myself.  I’ve learned to see my life and my self through a new lens, one cleaned of the foggy filter of perfectionism and trying to fit in.  I’ve learned to see all the intricate ways the randomness in my life is connected, how so many chance things have converged on my path.  I have spent time studying both the religion and culture of my ancestors.  I even took on teaching a class on the Vikings in our homeschool co-op, forcing me to delve deeper to stay a step ahead of my students (often at 1 a.m. the night before the next class).

Essentially a year and a day passed, and I found myself again being nudged by Loki.  Except with Loki it doesn’t really come as a nudge; it comes as spilled drinks and broken cigarettes, random jukeboxes and fritzy elevators, machines that don’t work, stumbles, power outages, loud noises in the silence.  I can be dense sometimes, but I did finally realize He was trying to get my attention, so I asked a close friend to do a reading for me to shed some more light.  The impression that I took away from that complicated reading was that the past year has been analogous to my postulancy with Loki, my year of learning and thinking and looking around through these new eyes.  Now, He says, it’s time to step it up, move forward.  There is no time with Him for sitting around letting the same old same old go on every day.

It’s a hard place to be in.  I am already in a fringe religion.  Now I am being called upon by an even fringier god to light my torch for Him in this world, to stop observing from the sidelines and be that agent for change, be the one to shake things up, be the one to be loud and proud.  He is not asking that I abandon my path toward priesthood in the Craft, but rather that I take a step up in working for Him and owning His patronage in my dealings with the world.

I am doing smaller things, for now.  I wrote a prayer for Him and added it to my daily devotions.  I’ve started studying my ancestral crafts, making them also a part of my daily practice (and how lucky for me to finally find something to use as a nalbinding needle the very weekend all of this happened!).  I buy lottery tickets and keep them on my altar.  I’m keeping my mind open to His voice and paying attention when I notice it, even when it’s something as simple and silly as, “Let your hair down,” or something a little bigger like, “Bring your music back and share it with the world.”  The negative nudges have mostly stopped (except the trouble with machinery) and positive ones have started to flow again, the serendipitous encounters, the chance findings of lost or needed things.

I have a strong feeling that an oath is wanted, but I’m not ready for it yet.  I know how this goes.  I know that anything could happen once that oath is given.  It’s like jumping off a cliff, no going back.  I’ve had my back against the wall for most of my life, safely secure as a wallflower so I could watch things go by (not that it has stopped the missiles of chance from continuing to land square on my head).  I’m working my way out from that wall, but I’m not quite ready to leap into the fire that calls my frozen core, to jump off the cliff and trust my fragile wings to help me soar.  I know if I wait too long, I’ll probably get shoved out there against my will.  One way or another, I’m going to fly soon.

What it was like at Con

Last weekend I attended my fourth major pagan event ever, my second year at ConVocation and my second time altogether staying the entire weekend for a festival.  Most of the weekend I had this little girl voice in the back of my head, repeating in a hushed, awed voice, “This has been going on the whole time????”

I’ve been Wiccan for 23 years now, but I’ve always been a solitary.  This hasn’t really been out of choice.  I’ve tried to get in touch with others, to find a group, a coven, someplace where I wouldn’t be alone anymore.  I found egomaniacs looking for disciples.  I found the male equivalent of Crazy Cat Lady, who just wanted validation by having a student.  I found disorganized collections of random pagans who couldn’t manage to maintain regular meetups for more than a few months at a time.  I always wanted to be part of a group.  I just couldn’t seem to find the gods-damned groups!  (On the positive side, this means I have had many years to become comfortable with my relationship with Wicca and my status as a witch and pagan before being exposed to “peer pressure” or lots of outside influences.  I know where I stand, and I’m comfortable saying, “Eh, that workshop/class/practice is not for me.”)

Since being introduced to damn near every local pagan group at once one Mabon at a homestead outside Jackson, MI, I’ve discovered this incredible, vibrant, active community.  There are more open circles celebrating each Sabbat than just the ATC church I work with.  There are pagan-oriented charities, dances, picnics, Pride Days in both Lansing and Detroit…so much going on that I could never hope to attend all of it!  What stunned me the most this weekend at ConVocation was the full realization that all of this has been going on for so long, longer than I’ve been in Michigan, almost as long as I’ve been Wiccan myself.  Part of me is just swimming in joy at finding my group at last, and part of me is seriously grieving the loss of all those years spent alone.

Staying at any pagan festival, as I imagine staying at any convention hotel or campground must be, is like entering another world.  For a time, everything from home is left behind, and you enter a new world full of kindred spirits.  None of the things that make me unique or special mark me out here, at least not as anything more than an item of interest.  There is no shunning, there is no in-crowd that I can feel.  Everybody is welcome at every circle, every table, every dance group and every set of drums.  Everyone is safe, thanks to the vigilance of the wonderful security team moving throughout the event.  Even at Con, where we take over the hotel and therefore are dealing with the non-Pagan staff of the hotel, there is no animosity from them, no wariness.  Everywhere we are surrounded by acceptance, from those of us who look like your average soccer mom to those of us dressed to the nines in leather, wings, cloaks and robes, makeup, gender-bending, pentagrams and mjolnirs, black, white and in between.

This was my first time teaching at such an event, and that was in interesting experience of its own.  I have had occasion over the years to teach in other venues.  I have taught music, history, and crafting to children not my own. I have taught some crafting to other adults.  Workshops at a pagan convention rarely seem to follow such concrete, educational paths.  Instead, they are more likely to focus on inner growth and development.  I have never before taught such nebulous life skills, nor have I ever taught as large a group of adults as showed up for my first class.  (And thank you to all who did!)  Despite my nervousness going in, I found the experience to be fairly similar to teaching any other class, and for that I am grateful.  I hope that I did at least half as good a job as my High Priestess claims I did on the class she attended (I feel like I have to discount that a little bit, it’s like praise from a mother or sister).

It was certainly interesting, and disconcerting, to encounter my students later on in the weekend, random encounters along the halls or on the dance floor.  Unlike other classes I have taught, the workshops I ran last weekend pretty much required my students to reveal some pretty personal details about themselves.  As teacher and priestess, I have to keep those details in confidence.  It’s weird seeing these people who are essentially strangers, and yet about whom I know a little something here, a little something there.  I can’t imagine what that’s like for the truly big-name presenters, who have hundreds of students and followers everywhere they go!

It also felt a little weird being a presenter who was not an author.  This blog is pretty much the only outlet I have.  I’ve considered writing a book or three, but really, I don’t have the time for that right now.  I can’t even manage to get enough stuff together to justify paying for a vendor’s table!  I felt like I must be the only presenter there who did not have a stack of books available for purchase and autographing!

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend immersed in a world I used to only dream of finding, and as before it leaves me longing for more, more time, more things, more events…more money to attend them all!!!

A Prayer for Loki

Hail Loki, Bringer of mischief and magic
I see you, hiding in the shadows
I feel you, lurking in the corners of chance and mystery
I long for you, when my life has grown still
I worship you, when you bring the gift of change
Never a dull moment is what I’ve always said
Because of you
I don’t fit in anywhere, I’ve always said
Because of you
My life has been blessed with chaos and joy
Because of you
My eyes have been opened to a different way
Because of you
The strife with others need not be my own
I can stand for myself with you at my back
Lead me down the rocky path
That I may see the beauty beyond the pass
Every change has its price
But you will not ask more than I can pay
Whether or not I know it
Every ending leads to a new beginning
With you as the fire to light my way
Though sometimes it may burn
Hail Loki! The catalyst! The firebrand!
Hail Loki! Speaker of truth! Take my hand
Save me from drowning in complacency
And send me always down strange new paths.