11 December 2013

Don't Stop Me Now!

An accurate description of graduate school.

I just got a text message from a classmate that says “I can see the finish line!!! Have a great day!”

I rarely get texts (I don’t have them included in my phone plan because I’m a poor graduate student) but this one made me smile. It was sweet for my classmate to send out a message to us all, reminding us how far we’ve come and how close we are to the end.

I’m not super close to anyone in my cohort, but I still see them as comrades, as sisters and brothers in arms, so this was a nice reminder that we’ve all been in it together, that we’re thinking of one another, and that soon, we’ll all be parting paths, following our own destinies.

This journey has been simultaneously long, fast, quick, hard, difficult, crazy, and amazing, and while I’ve enjoyed being a student, I’m incredibly excited for my future life that waits beyond that finish line.

After finishing my undergraduate degree in journalism, I thought about graduate school off and on. When I first moved to North Carolina I was torn between studying folklore at UNC or finding some place to study sex therapy or sexology online (yes, these are real degrees.) I even went as far as buying at GRE study book, but decided that graduate school was too expensive.

It wasn’t until many years later after I suffered from some health problems and some pretty serious depression that I thought about graduate school again. I went through an obligatory mid-life existential crisis and my bishop gave me some great advice. He said “you know, if you really want to help people and integrate these different areas of your life, you should study counseling or therapy.”

What? Me? A therapist? But I’m crazy!

And I thought about it and then he and I talked about it some more, and I did some research into area programs and degree plans and decided that social work was the way to go.

So of course when I told people I wanted to be a social worker their minds went immediately to working for the Department of Social Services or working in child welfare or Child Protective Services. “Are you sure that’s the job for you?” someone asked skeptically. And he was right to be skeptical. Those aren’t jobs for me. But the great thing about social work is that there are lots of options, so many options.

I found programs, I let my boss know I was applying, I told my husband I was applying, I studied for the GRE, I took the GRE, I filled out applications, I waited, I waited, I waited, and finally I was rejected from one school (which wasn’t a good fit for me, anyway) and then I was accepted into two others. Two! Grad schools! Who wanted me!

So I had a great summer and bought some new clothes and a new laptop, and then went to orientation and freaked out.

There’s this thing that happens to some people where they don’t feel like they belong, that they are imposters, and I felt that big time my first semester. I was going to fail! I was a journalist, not a social worker! Why did they take me? Were they gonna kick me out? Why did I ever think I could do this?

That first semester was hard. And the second semester overall was a bit easier, aside from HELL WEEKS in April. But I soon came to realize that graduate school, and especially social work, were the perfect places for me. Social work is this great mix between social justice and care and helping. You look at the individual, their families, their communities, their societies, their world. It’s policy and analysis and attending behaviors and non-verbal communication and theory and psychology and women’s studies and racial justice and all of these wonderful, important things.

And while I’m not done yet, I’m almost there! We can see the finish line! There it is!

I just finished my third semester of graduate school, which isn’t bad for someone with my background. I’ve changed so much as a person, and I know I’ll keep on changing. I’m happy and I’m excited and I have a healthy dose of stress and anxiety, and I think I’m a better person than when I started, too. It’s been a wild, crazy, wonderful ride, and just after a few more months it will be over, and I’ll be starting another new great, wild, crazy, and wonderful adventure.

10 June 2013

Et tu, GOP?

the sign reads “et tu, GOP? Teachers have been betrayed!” as part of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays.

Photo courtesy of NC Policy Watch.

19 April 2013

Now I'm Here

Pagan Blog Project - Week Seventeen - H #2 – Hestia
My house is falling down.
We're renting, thank goodness. But since we moved into this place over five years ago there have been serious foundation problems: backed up plumbing, cracks in the wall and ceiling, damp spots on the floor, dirt in the bathroom...
I've had a strange relationship with this house. At first I was indifferent and uncomfortable. Haven moved from a really great place in Texas, North Carolina was weird and foreign. A friend visited with us a few months later and he said "oh, you have such a cute little witchy house!"
Hmm… maybe.
The indifference continued until a few years ago when I decided I hated this place. I was tired of it and all of its quirks. I wanted to leave, to rent or possibly by a new place. So, we shopped around for houses, looking at prices and financing. It was just not possible. Moving to another rental was also not really a good idea, either.

I'm not sure what happened first. Was it cocktails with my girlfriend, or my at-the-time Coven's ritual devoted to Hestia? But something changed in both my perception and relationship with my house. Slowly, but surely, it became my home.
As a group we devoted a ritual to Hestia/Vesta. I did a lot of studying on her before the ritual, and included a little lesson for the ritual itself. Though the ritual was focused around creating foci (in this case, a tool of devotional focus), looking back now I realize something else happened, at least for me. I finally bonded with my home. Most of all, I realized my physical space was not the source of my dissatisfaction, but I was depressed about more meaningful areas of my life. Changing my house wouldn't make me happy. I would have the same old problems but in a different box.

I needed to change the focus of my life.
In the center of my crappy little home is a huge fireplace, and while the Coven did rituals together in my living room, the fireplace was a natural center staging area, with the mantle and hearth serving as the perfect altar tables. I had always decorated the mantle with flowers and kitschy holiday decorations. But I found that over the years the mantle was less of a mundane seasonal piece of home decorating, but had become a seasonal shrine. And at some point I had begun using it as an altar, charging items or creating little charms. Over the years, my Pagan tools and paraphernalia weren't just hidden and tucked away, but were slowly migrating into the house and into my mundane life.
It wasn't just this refocus on my hearth that shifted my perception of my home, but the ritual itself and learning about Hestia. One of the ladies in the group was going through transitions in her own life and had suggested we do a ritual and lesson regarding reconnecting to our habitats, and Hestia was a natural choice for this.
Hestia’s domain is within the home. But she’s not just about cooking and cleaning, but about protection and nurturing energy. She’s about keeping our focus, and she’s about making sure our domestic energy translates easily into our public lives, and vice versa. The Vestal Virgins in Rome were priestesses who guarded the hearth and flame (may it burn forever!). Their energy in both a literal and a magical sense were devoted to the protection of Rome as both a micro and macrocosm, and this devotion and attention is a useful reminder to anyone who might be feeling a little scattered, a little discontented, a little out of sorts. In my experience, Hestia’s energy is useful for anyone who is looking for something with which to devote themselves.
After spending some time to Hestia, a shift happened in my life. I began to reconnect with and love my home. There was magic there now, in ways I hadn't realized. (Though to be fair, it's not like magic came out of nowhere. The magic had always been there. I just hadn’t really noticed it yet.) And an added and serendipitous bonus of working with Hestia was starting communication with Hermes, who is Hestia's total bff forever.
Most of all, this moment was a catalyst for meaningful change in my life. I got a promotion at work. I was given a car. I applied for graduate schools and was eventually accepted. I have a room now devoted to my Pagan tools and altar. Now I might even love my little house, even though the molding is coming down and my bathroom wall is rotting out.

Working with Hestia totally and literally change my focus, and that's powerful magic

05 April 2013

Good Company

Pagan Blog Project - Week Fiveteen - G #2 – Gnostics

What we know about the ancient Gnostics is that we don’t know much. We know that the people who modern people might call Gnostic never called themselves Gnostic. The word Gnostic might have even been used as a slang. (Kind of like how the people who modern people call Pagan never ever called themselves Pagan.)

Plotinus, who is considered by many modern people to be a premier writer of Gnostic source materials, often wrote about the Gnostics as those goofy radicals down the street. "It is NOT as the Gnostics say..." (Kind of like how modern Pagans often write about “those fluff bunnies”, even though two thousand years ago we might all be seen as fluff bunnies.)

In regards to the Gnostics, we don’t know more than we know. But what I’ve learned about the Gnostics is that they’ve always been misunderstood. We don’t know who they are now and no one knew who they were then. Which translates to me that anything can be Gnostic, nothing is Gnostic, nothing is not-Gnostic. (Which works out really great for me.)

We know that the Sethians in Egypt were considered to be the first Gnostics, about 200 years or so before Christianity. These people were a sect of radical Jews who were probably inspired by Mediterranean (Greek) mystery traditions. And these Mediterranean mystery traditions were probably inspired by the Ancient Egyptian mystery traditions, which were inspired by God Only Knows. But whoever the Gnostics were, they went on to inspire Christianity, the Kabbalah, Masons, The Golden Dawn, Wiccans, modern Pagans, comic book artists, rock songs, books, movies, and a continuing cycle of inspired texts and prophets (Dick, Hesse, Moore, Smashing Pumpkins, ELO, etc.)

What I love about the early Gnostics was that they just wrote stuff all the time, and some of it is crazy. I get the impression that if there is was aspect about their current Gnostic myth that they didn’t like, they just wrote their own. So this means as a modern person reading this stuff it seems confusing and contradictory, but contradiction only need to exist in religion if one is looking at religion from a literal point of view. But when looking at religion as something that is organic, changeable, and evolving, the Gnostic myths make perfect sense, especially from a Universalist point of view.  We’re all on a path towards God, we know that each path is different. We’re all just wandering around on a crooked path and at the center is God. 

So who were the Gnostics and what did they do? We don’t really know. But what I like to think is that two thousand years ago, Gnostics, Jews, Pagans, Christians, atheists, agnostics and whoever else got together in comfy backrooms every once in a while. I’d like to think that they were all friends. That they sat and breathed together, wrote stupid stories about talking snakes and laughing gods, chanted, raised energy, talked about God, shared wine and bread, laughed, told jokes, had ecstatic moments, and afterword, in the words of my Bishop, they sat around in joy and said “how cool was that?!”

26 March 2013

Dreamer's Ball

Pagan Blog Project - Week Twelve- F #2 – Fairies

This is a continuation of my post Sweet Lady for week eleven of the Pagan Blog Project.

Even though the lineage of my family isn’t the most formal (like, no one is passing down heirlooms or great heroic stories or anything like that) my mom was great about fostering new traditions with me and my sisters. She kind of hates holidays, but she always went all out for us kids. That always meant a lot, especially now that I’m an adult and I feel similar now to how she has always felt about holidays. I can look back and see how hard it must have been for her. But, I’d like to think that St. Patrick’s Day is one holiday that she actually enjoyed.

From very early on she encouraged a sense of magic for this holiday. I remember being in kindergarten and she made a point to make me wear green to bed or the leprechauns would get me. I tried to argue with her, of course, insisting that I was going to wake up that night and get them and their gold. She laughed, tucked me in, and let’s just say that night I had a dream that, to this day, I still remember quite vividly. In all honesty, it shaped my world view concerning magic, St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns, and fairies.

So, a tradition was born and I went to bed every March 17 wearing as much green as I could. And when my sisters came along, sharing this blooming family mythos with them was quite easy. When they were old enough I started telling them leprechaun and fairy stories, too.

One of my favorite things to do with my kid sisters was to take them on leprechaun hunts. They’d be different every time, continuously evolving and changing, each year more exciting and detailed than the last. I’d take them through creek beds, following scavenger hunts, cryptic letters, chalk drawings, maps made from notebook paper stained with coffee and teabags, making traps out of glitter and shoe boxes, following clues and trails left by my friends. It didn’t matter, because it was something magical we could share together.

And after taking them on a chase around town or in the desert, the trail would always lead to home, because maybe even then I was trying to teach them that true magic was in the most mundane of places, even if that place was in low income housing or a trailer park or in the poor part of town.

Darling Niece and Spoiled Sister, 2013 
One of the best moments of my life was when I was away at college and my mom called me up to tell me that my sisters were taking my step-siblings on a leprechaun hunt. My heart could never be any bigger than it was at that moment, knowing that our fairy tradition was being passed down to a new generation. And now that my sisters have started reproducing, I hope that my nieces and nephews get to go on leprechaun hunts, too, that the fairy magic of my family is passed down to them.

And of course, my sisters and I now have a healthy respect and fear of fairies. Like the year that they heard the banshee wailing at the high school bleachers, or the time that the banshee caught my friend Patty behind the house, or the time that my little sister swore to me that she saw a leprechaun in her bedroom and to this day I can’t tell if she’s trying to pull my leg or she’s telling the truth. (both are equally likely)

So this is my experience with fairy magic. It’s family traditions and fun. It’s a healthy experience of blurring fantasy with reality. It’s about finding something to laugh and shriek about, of reclaiming a time and tradition for you and your loved ones. It’s making magic in the mundane, which is as real and genuine as this stuff can get, anyway.

Éirinn go Brách!