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Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
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The "F Word" in the Craft
Article ID: 15018
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Seba O'Kiley [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: April 22nd. 2012
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As of yet, I haven’t saddled up beside a hearty Pagan without eventually hearing: “I just don’t have enough faith.” Now…. we don’t tell each other that right away, not during meetings or festivals or at the local Wal-Mart. Naw, that little crystal moment doesn’t happen until trust starts vining up our friendships, usually a few years in, a few beers in and a few tears in. By this time, we know each other’s bra sizes. My official response to this moment is: Get on. Do you fart, too? Doubting the self is the human condition–’fraid y’all are all with me in this boat, on account of it’s made of flesh and bone. But, wait. There’s something a little more . . . substantial to chew on here.
Let’s study on this a spell. (Don’t you just love a good witchy pun?) When everything gets hazy, I turn to my training -- which was organic and Southern, slow enough to taste it and strong enough to sustain growing bones. Try this: close your eyes. Imagine someone you love so fiercely you would die to protect his or her smile. Now. Imagine his/her “soul, ” that illusive/real, red-thumpin’ heart of him/her. See it? Feel it? Now. Prove it.
That’s what I thought.
What I find intriguing here is that if I told you that beloved soul wasn’t real... you’d pop me one in the jaw, huh? Guess we all have faith in someone. I figure if we saw the universe, our gods/goddesses and our own selves in this way–the “f” word would be a non-issue. And that’s just it. I think we’re talking about good old-fashioned lovin’ and that never demands qualitative data or scientific proof. But, just for prosperity, let’s get a little academic, here.
Carol Christ (yes, that’s right) writes the following:
“As we creatively re-imagine symbols, it is important to remember that symbols are not an end in themselves.” 
In Christ’s view (yes, I hear the funny) , it is critical to remember that one cannot symbolize or signify anything that does not have some meat to it. In other words, I signify my son as, well, my son. And “Jacob.” And, depending on the day, “teen smart-arse.” Take all those signifiers away? Still that Red-Thump One that makes my heart crack open. See, souls are different. They are easier–because they don’t beg for that extra symbol upon their skin to be real. Go a step further: I signify a knife “athame.” I charge it, bless it and slice through all kinds of interesting matter with it–
But if you found it in the yard? Hey. Cool knife. It takes my own presence, my own visceral relationship of soul to skin, skin to athame and athame to purpose engage in the very real act of magic. It’s all symbolic, sure. But something must be a priori to those acts and of thick substance to be significant in the first place. In simple terms, there must be energy.
If we, those red-thump souls, are real then what we touch, love, tap into is also real simply on the premise that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. See, we can get groovy that the soul we love is energy. The snag in the rug is when we try to wrap our heads around the concept that a soul, also, can neither be created nor destroyed. Science has proven, quite by accident, that souls exist. We cannot destroy it. Got it. Cannot create it. Got it. But we can, oh yes, manipulate it.
I teach my students that an athame is a choice, an extension of your hand that works past our earthly flesh and human doubt. I also teach them to never make the mistake of thinking it’s actually the knife doing the work. Nope. That’s you. You’re just faking yourself out–in the most audacious, universal manner. It seems, at the end of the day, that the very thing in the way of our “walking on water” is: ourselves.
Now. If we can believe in ourselves, then, we can believe in athames, tarot cards, a priestess cape, an altar cloth . . . you get me? Because we are charging these little items with our own sacred, blessed energy shared by the Great Thump of the universe. As an organic, hereditary witch this makes complete sense to me. But, just in case, here’s a little ditty from the land of red clay:
A friend of mine, a Bear of a man, came by the house the other day after I suffered a little cyber attack. Negativity sucks. So do a lot of things. And, even as I am the one who teaches and protects and provides for my tribe, I was a little . . . injured. Not in a place to get my own ass right. Bear shows up and puts a stone on leather around my neck, obviously a beloved item, and says: Wear it until this is over. It will protect you. Now, in my ragged state that late afternoon, I was having a bit of a “f” word disability–but I kissed him hard and went on. That night, something woke me up and it took a minute to factor the buzzing around my neck. Warm stone, against my chest, accompanied this feeling of peace like a nicely strung hammock under a warm, August breeze. Ah. Well, damn. His energy in a rock. Faith on a string.
But, I get you. Oh, sista/brotha, I get you. So, you’re having a problem with faith. Try this one too: close your eyes. Wrap your arms around yourself, nice and tight, and rock. Feel that? Mmm... Hmm. Now imagine yourself . . . as the universe.
Get back to me on that one. Turns out, it was inside. All along. We can fall in love with each other, heal each other and crack mountains in half with our thumpin’. Such a phenomenon is possibly the only thing that is commonly shared among our incredibly diverse paths. It doesn't need "rules" or a standardized language, it doesn't concern itself with the color of skin, sexuality or what you had for breakfast. The following is a passage from an article I wrote about six years ago:
Clement and Kristeva note that, unlike the religious which must have organization, the sacred: “does exactly the opposite: it eclipses time and space. It passes in a boundlessness without rule or reservation, which is the trait of the divine.” 
Amen. Sacred souls, sacred energy breaking all the rules and resisting policing. Amen. For this old country gal, this means the following:
When I lose faith, I look at my son’s eyes–blue with a chestnut speck–shining in the sun. I feel my husband’s arm around my hip in the dark, snuggled tight against the day-world of bills, bumps and bullies. I smell the skin of a friend’s whiskered cheek against mine, whispering sister. I lean into the whisper of a coming spring in a backyard haunted by past lighting bugs and laughter. I believe. It’s an active verb.
And it’s all up to me to set it in motion. Because, as George Michael told us, 'we gotta have faith'. The alternative entails resisting energy (which ironically takes quite a bit of energy) . Today, when I hear someone say, “I just don’t have enough faith, ” I just smile and say: “No, you don’t. You just called its name.”
1. Carol P. Christ, She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) , 200.
2. Catherine Clement and Julia Kristeva, The Feminine and the Sacred, Trans. Jane Marie Todd (New York: Columbia UP, 1998) , 30.
This essay first appeared in reduced form at Southernkitchenwitch.com on February 28, 2012.
Location: Auburn, Alabama
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