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If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet,

then you will have to write it.

-bell hooks

 

Why This Blog?

I.

First, I would like to say “Thank You,” for taking the time to read this blog. The fact that I write words here, and you take the time to read them, means that we share something; there is some line of connection between you and me. So I just want to take a brief moment to say hello and thank you.

Initially, I was going to title this blog Queer Enchantments: The Fireside Folklore & Homespun Musings of a Disabled, Gay, Male, Witch, Anthropologist. Allow me to explain:

I was born in the caul, under a Dark Moon, June 1975, at 4:34am.

I do not remember this of course.

My first real memory is of The Storm:

I had to be about 4 or 5 years old. My mother, sister, two brothers, and me, were all sitting together, one evening, watching TV in the living room of our very modest lakeside home (it was a cottage, a shack, really) in rural Western Massachusetts. It was a typical evening, with nothing special going on. There was talk during the commercials, and lots of snacks. I was cradled in my sister’s lap, on the couch, which I always loved; she’s the eldest of all us siblings and the two of us were very close; she was more of a ‘mom’ to me in my younger years than my mother was.

I don’t know what came over me, but I kept seeing—“seeing,” meaning visualizing, or seeing inside my mind—a great blackness. I saw myself and my family completely enshrouded in a darkness so thick that I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. At such a young age, I couldn’t understand how or why I could ‘see’ two things at once—complete darkness and chaos in my mind’s eye, and, in my line of actual eyesight, my family watching TV in our brightly lit living room.

I started to cry in confusion.

Because I was so young, I wasn’t able to fully articulate my confusion and discomfort. I babbled something about it being “so dark,” but then stopped crying because I could clearly see that all the lights in the house were on. No one really understood what I was trying to say and, now, when I look back, I’m not even sure I, myself, understood, in that moment, what I was trying to say.

I was eventually soothed by my sister and became distracted, again, by the TV, as many a child gets, completely engrossed and transfixed by the moving, colorful, images on the screen. My nerves were settled, my outburst was over, I became quiet, and we all continued to watch TV together.

During the evening, a storm developed. It wasn’t too bad at first, but, as the night progressed, the storm became an all-out rage, with boisterous claps of thunder, and lightning streaking across the sky, illuminating all the widows of the house. I could hear the trees, outside in the yard, whipping and creaking, as they swayed with the storm’s winds. The storm upset me; I think small children and animals are often frightened by the power of storms. But, my entire family was with me, so I wasn’t too scared, just on edge.

All of sudden, there was a loud crash of thunder, a bright flash of light that seemed to fill all the windows, and all the lights in the house went out completely.  We lost power.

For the first few seconds of darkness we all just sat, quietly, in what seems like that brief moment of silence that follows a power outage, perhaps as people adjust to such sudden stimuli. The storm continued to rage outside, and lightning flashes illuminated the windows in eerie bursts and flickers.

All night, in my mind’s eye, I had been seeing my family and myself sitting in total darkness. And, here it was: total darkness. I was living what I had foreseen.

Well, that was all just too much for me, and I burst into tears, wailing at the top of my lungs.

My family tried to console me, but I was just not having it. I was fit to be tied.

Eventually, all worked itself out. Either the storm subsided, or I was finally able to be soothed by my family. I don’t remember much more from that night. But, I do remember this night and the storm, because this was the first time in my life that I really knew that there was something ‘weird’ about me. I had seen something that others had not. I had known something that others had not. And, I knew, perhaps more than a 5-year-old child should, that I, myself, was something that others were not. This night marks my first memory that something about me was ‘different,’ and, despite the fact that I was only a child, I knew that whatever this ‘it’ was, it set me apart from others, as an outsider, either to my detriment, or my benefit.

My ‘outsider’ status only continued, as I grew and developed:

I had a different relationship, than that of my peers, to my environment. I grew up in a rural farming area, so being attuned to the seasons and the land was not altogether uncommon. But my relationship with the world around me, the entire universe really, had an intimacy that I did not see in other people’s relationships to their environment. I remember as a child I would climb trees, as most children do. But, to me, the trees were live, sentient, beings. I didn’t just climb them; I crawled up them the way a small kitten may crawl up a person, and settle into their lap, dozing, safely, against their warm body; there was a connection. As I sat in the highest branches of a tree, I felt myself held, consoled, in its strong loving arms. And I felt we were communicating. It was a silent, unspoken, communication, but it was nonetheless very real; a flow of energy, of contact, was passing between the tree and myself. We knew each other. And, in my childhood, I came to know many trees, flowers, groves, fields, ponds, streams, rocks, and all the squirrels, birds, fish, and rabbits that inhabited these places. They were a part of me, and I of them. We shared something. There are no other words I can say about this. It’s like being in love; you can try to describe it, but until you feel it, there’s just no way of really conveying what it feels like, or what it means.

But, suffice it to say that I noticed, fairly early on, that my peers, friends, and family, did not seem to forge this type of deep, intimate, relationship or connection with their surroundings. They noticed the beauty of a sunset, or a flower, this is true; but they did not communicate or feel the thread of connection (I guess I’ll call it that) between themselves and what was around them. This made me realize that, again, there was something different about me that set me apart from other people, but not so much that I was a complete pariah; instead, it was almost like I was always in a dual position: part of me was in the here and now, with whatever or whomever I happened to be with at the time; and, yet, another part of me was somewhere else, or perhaps I’d even say more here than they were, noticing details and feeling connections to things that others didn’t.

Around 5-7 years old, I realized something else about myself: that, as a male, my attractions and desires gravitated towards other males. Now, as an adult, I just use the word “gay” or “queer” to describe myself; but then, I didn’t have such a vocabulary. Not only was I lacking the vocabulary, but I also didn’t see anyone else around me that was the same. No one on television was attracted to men, I didn’t see men holding each other’s hands in the streets, I didn’t hear any man speak about desiring another man, nor did I hear anyone speak about any man, that they happened to know, who desired men. This was terribly confusing, because what I felt was real; yet, I had no outlet, no models, no input, no information, about why I felt this way and what it meant. What was I supposed to do with these feelings that didn’t match anything else around me? At the time, I didn’t know what to do; but I knew this was not something everyone felt, and I got the distinct impression that this was something that stood outside of business as usual. Even at my earliest signs of desire and longing, I realized that these desires were something, yet again, that set me apart from other people.

When I was in my early twenties, I went hiking in Cornwall, Connecticut (I was actually exploring the ruins of a haunted place called Dudleytown, or “The Village of the Damned”), and I contracted Lyme’s Disease. I got bit by a deer tick, and did not see it soon enough in order to pull the tick out in time, which would have avoided Lyme’s transmission. This 48-hour period, in my young twenties, would be a pinnacle moment that would affect me for the rest of my life, even to present day.

The thing about Lyme’s Disease is that it is tricky to diagnose (it took doctors 11 years to figure out what was wrong with me) and it’s also an invisible disability (meaning, if you entered the room, and I was sitting there, you would not know, just from looking at me, that I am in pain from the nape of my neck to the soles of my feet). I think so many other people share this ‘invisible illness’ experience, those who live with lupus, fibromyalgia, some cancers, arthritis, MS, depression, etc. These are ‘invisible illnesses’ because they intensely affect people’s lives; but, just looking at us, you would not know.

Living with an invisible disability is like walking through a liminal space; I know that I’m not feeling well, but I also know that others don’t know that I’m not feeling well. Add to that the fact, that, most of the time, I want to somewhat hide that I’m not feeling well; no one likes a complainer. And, then there are those looks that I get when people learn or realize that I am sick; they start treating me like a frail flower. Or, even worse, I can see the doubt in some people’s facial expressions; they don’t really believe that I’m sick at all, because I look too good to be sick. And, of course, if I even crack a smile, well, then, how sick can I be, right?

Disability, and the ways it has manifested and played itself out in my life, is an amorphous ‘in-and-out’ position in relation to general society. I’m like everyone else; but, beneath the surface, in my muscles and joints, I’m so very much not like everyone else. And, I’m made very aware—during various times throughout the day, and in various ways—of how my disability sets me apart from other people.

My education is another in-and-out positionality that I straddle. I was lucky enough to attend university. I say lucky, because I am more than aware that not everyone has that opportunity. Coming from a background of abject poverty, I also use the word lucky, because I believe that university was the key to my upward social mobility. Attending university opened doors and opportunities for me that I would not have had otherwise: I am, today, a trained anthropologist and historian, seasoned by years of research and writing.

Yet, I was at odds with academia during my whole time in the academy. I performed research, wrote publications, and presented my work at conferences. But, what I always noticed was that scholarship never left the academy. It was almost like we were just having a discussion for and amongst ourselves, as academics. When I returned home, or hung out with friends who were not academics, they did not have the information that I had, nor did they understand the jargon which the academy produces in order to talk about social life. This is not to say that my family and friends did not have critical thinking skills, nor were they unable to produce and defend an argument; what I am stressing is that academia seemed, to me, to be a closed circuit. The actual dissemination of information, gleaned through research, was not reaching the masses. Instead, it was getting published in academic journals, academic books, and other sources, to which the masses either didn’t have access, or didn’t know to access.

I found this very disenchanting.

In fact, I spent years disenchanted in the academy, appreciating the opportunities for learning and growth that academia provided, while simultaneously feeling like my skills would be better put to use outside the academy, on the ground, dealing with the every day lives of people, and actively working to make the world a better place.

This precarious position was, yet again, another way that I was set apart from other people: within academia I was set apart from other academics, who felt that their work within the ivory tower was very poignant and produced social change; outside the academy I was treated as elitist, by people in my life who did not have the same educational opportunities as myself, and I felt like my education actually created more of a barrier than a bridge between them and myself.

These experiences that I am describing are but simple anecdotes, upon which I will elaborate in this blog; but, the point that I’m trying to make is that being ‘set apart’ from other people—navigating a liminal, in-between, in-and-out social space—was the strongest running theme in my developmental years, and, most of my life, really. And, it has been the case, for me, that, through both beautiful and terrible moments and experiences, my differences are always “brought to light, laid bare” (in the words of Myrtle Snow), through the vectors of disability, sexuality, gender, witchcraft, and education.

Thus, the initial title—Fireside Folklore and Homespun Musings of a Disabled, Gay, Male, Witch, Anthropologist—as a work, focused upon the ways that I have always felt different, and how these differences affected my witchcraft.

Now, as an adult, I find that I am still different from most people, in my values, my behavior, what I think is important in life, etc. Except, now, the sting and uncomfortable or isolating feelings that came along with being different are not there. I am at home in my difference. I have claimed it. And, I have found and made community with other people who are also different. Even better, I have found many people who, despite our differences, continue to engage with me, and I with them; we have bridged the gaps between our differences, finding some middle ground upon which to meet and build great relationships.

I think this speaks to time-periods in one’s life. To be a child, or teenager, who is different, can be isolating; whereas being an adult, who is different, does not quite feel so isolating; it feels liberating. As an adult, when people don’t like me, or react to my difference in intense ways, it just doesn’t affect me the way it used to when I was a kid. I stand on my own two feet now; I need nothing from anyone else; I have my own home and pay my own bills; I am free to cultivate community where I see fit, and ignore or leave behind those people and things that do not support or serve me well.

Not everyone gets the privilege of having me in their life.

I came to realize, as many a ‘strange child’ does, once they grow up, that, in adulthood, things are less black and white than they are as a child. There’s a whole lot of gray area.

This blog is about that gray area.

There have been many times, in my life, that I will express my beliefs, or discuss something dear to my heart, with people, and they will tell me that I should share these beliefs or ideas with others, that my perspectives are innovative, under-represented, and important. Anyone who knows me knows that, among friends, I am the loud one; a real gott-damn loudmouth, if you want to get right down to it. But, among strangers, or people whom I don’t know as well, I am extremely reserved. I have a loud private voice and a soft public voice. So, you can imagine my thoughts when someone says “Oh! You should write about that in a blog!” or “You should give a talk on that!” or “You need to share that with more people!” The thought of doing any of these things is fairly inconceivable to me.

But I’d like to change that.

With this blog I’d like to change that.

I believe I have some things to say. And I believe these things contribute to, and engage with, some very important contemporary conversations about witchcraft.

I’d like to join those conversations now, for better or for worse.

I hope it’s for the better.

 

II.

This blog started as a blog specifically on queer witchcraft, from the positionality of a disabled, gay, male, witch, anthropologist, because those are the major vectors through which I view my life.

Presently, there are hundreds of books that claim witchcraft as a female-centered, feminist spirituality. I am a feminist and I’m not sure that I think of witchcraft in that way. And, I find that the female-centered witchcraft rhetoric that gets circulated is, on the one hand, misleading, and, on the other hand, has a strange effect of erasing the voices and experiences of male witches in the movement.

Add to this the heteronormative template of Modern Witchcraft—that it is The Goddess and The God that create everything through sexual reproduction—and gay, male, witches are pushed even further to the margins.

In order to rectify this representational gap, queer men have written books in historical form (Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, Evans 1978), looking to history for queer-oriented pagan practices, deities, societies, and rituals; or, they write how-to books (Gay Witchcraft, Penczak 2003; The Path of the Green Man, Ford 2005; The Scarlet Wand, Dorotez 2014), which attempt to queer witchcraft through exercises, ceremonies, meditations, and some frail lore of queer gods from Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic pantheons, etc.

While I acknowledge the achievements of these writers, what these two forms miss are stories and folklore that share personal experiences about how witchcraft affects men’s everyday lived experiences, particularly queer men’s.

And I aim to fill that gap.

I am a writer by nature.  I have written many personal stories about my own coming of age, coming out, first sexual experiences, first boyfriend, relationship with my family, finding witchcraft, finding a coven, and how witchcraft played out in my life, through relationships, goals, work, home life, etc.

I am a story-teller by nature.  If given the opportunity, the stories will just pour out of me.  But, sometimes when I share my stories, the responses I get surprise me:

One friend said to me “So, what’s the point?”

Another asked “How does this connect to anyone else?”

Another asked “What do your stories mean to anyone who is not gay? Or male? Or a witch? Or disabled?

And I have to confess that my first response was:

 

Who the fuck cares?!

 

I mean, as a gay man and witch, living with a disability, I have been excluded from so much—in other words, I have not seen myself represented in so many cultural forms—that I felt like I needed to write my own story just to see myself in it. And, then someone’s going to ask me how mainstream people can feel more included in my project?!

Did The Civil Rights Movement care how to make white people feel more comfortable in public culture?

Did The Gay Liberation Movement, The Mattachine Society, Queer Nation, and ACT UP, worry about how to make straight people feel more comfortable during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s?

Were Feminists overly concerned with how to make men feel more comfortable with female equality and social equity?

Maybe some straight people are going to feel unrepresented in my project…I suppose they’ll just have to settle for the other three hundred and fifty books, blogs, groups, writings, rituals, etc., on witchcraft out there that represent them, and only them.

Boo hoo hooooo.

 

*sigh*

Let’s just say that my Shadow had a field day with the responses that I got from my friends.

I am a Faerie Witch, and, as a Faerie Witch I value my Shadow Work, by which I mean, in this instance, the difficult processes of sitting with my friends’ responses, exploring why they made me so angry, asking the hard questions about why I felt resentful, and then cleansing the blocks that got in the way of my honest assessment of my feelings. I did not want to remove my feelings; I wanted to make myself calm enough to appropriately explore them, investigate what made me so angry and disappointed, what made my reaction (as opposed to response) so explosive, and clear out unproductive thoughts, fears, doubts, etc., in order to get at the kernel of truth: what was this anger really touching upon.

I do feel that, as a gay male, I am not represented by the majority of modern witchcraft philosophies.  LGBTQ rights, in general, have come a long way in both the U.S. and Europe; we have marriage equality; many states have hate crime laws; queer representations can be found on television shows and in movies (some complete minstrels, but, others, are great representations). But, I feel like there is still a long way to go until I’ll feel like, as a gay man, I stand as a social equal, in the world’s eyes, to my straight counterparts. In witchcraft, specifically, I feel unrepresented by the myths, ceremonies, and philosophies of the movement. They are extremely hetero-centric, with male-to-female sexual coupling and reproduction being the major celebratory principles behind the theology. I feel like, as a gay man, I come to witchcraft with drastically different points of view, aesthetics, needs, and desires, than my straight counterparts; different even than other gay men. I want to have these points of view, etc., represented and reflected in my Craft.

Similarly, as a disabled man, I find that I have never heard a discussion about witchcraft and disability. I’ve never read any books about what it means to do witchcraft from a wheelchair, or, how one can practice witchcraft during a fibro or lupus flare-up, or, anything dealing with bodies that are not operating at maximum capacity (this could mean old age, a permanent disability, or a temporarily broken leg). And, I don’t think this lack of representation has anything to do with malice at all; I just think it’s something many people don’t even think about, except for those individuals living with conditions that significantly impact their mobility. With Lyme’s Disease, there are some days that my hips will just not tolerate standing for longer than 20 minutes. Just won’t happen. So my Craft is different, because it has to accommodate this, and I want to see that discussed more in Modern Witchcraft.

So, listening to my friend’s critiques—that my stories come across as “too niche,” “too specific,” and don’t connect to anyone outside the experiences of (1) gay, (2) male, (3) disabled, etc—I had to really stop, take careful consideration of what I was hearing, and ask myself some very important questions:

What really is the point of this project?

Do I really give a shit if my writing connects to anyone else?

And, I realized…yes. Yes, I give a shit if I connect to other people. I want to connect to other people. I am a builder by nature, not a destroyer.

I still, definitely, want to tell my own stories. I stand behind my initial desires: to write a blog about queer witchcraft, from a queer perspective, that is not how-to instructions or lessons, nor an attempt to locate queerness in the historic past, but is a collection of contemporary folklore, or stories, that express The Craft through queerness.

My queerness.

And, I still want my stories to connect with other queer men, who, perhaps, may share some of my lived experiences.

But, at the same time, I want to connect with those who are not like me, who are not men, or gay, or disabled, or witches, or academics. I want to connect with everyone, with anyone, in at least some way, because I value cultivating community.

This is mirrored in my everyday life. I am friends with some people because we are alike and share many lived experiences. I am friends with other people because we are different; but, by bridging the gap between our differences, through learning, acceptance, understanding, compassion, and empathy, we find ourselves reflected in each other’s differences, in interesting and intricate ways that allow us to learn and grow as human beings.

So, while this project may be about a queer male witch, who is telling stories about how his queerness has affected and influenced his Craft, this collection of folklore and stories will resonate with anyone for whom the ‘standard template’ of Modern Witchcraft lore, ceremony, and theology (meaning female- or Goddess-centric; heteronormative; sexual fertility- and reproduction-focused), does not align with, or represent, their realities, experiences, feelings, bodies, and desires.

This project is for those for whom the ‘script’ of Modern Witchcraft does not fit or apply. This includes queer men, such as myself, that do not see themselves represented in witchcraft theology or celebration. This includes lesbian-, trans-, queer-identified individuals of all genders and sexes. This includes anyone: straight men and women, people of all racial or cultural descents, individuals from diverse socio-economic strata, for whom partnership, marriage, and reproduction, are not a major component of their relationships and desires, whose lives and lived experiences stand outside the hetero-normative, socio-temporal script of boy-meets-girl, fall in love, get married, have children, raise a family, and die.

This project is about eschewing the script, ditching the template, making it up as we go along, holding onto traditions that actually fit our lives and have meaning for us, taking inspiration from our lived experiences, emotions, bodies, feelings, sensations, attachments, and relationships in our everyday worlds, in order to create new traditions from scratch. Witchcraft is a living, breathing tradition, and there are as many ‘traditions’ of witchcraft as there are witches who walk the earth. The potential ways in which we embody and practice our Craft are as myriad as the stars.

Overall, this project is about coming into one’s own power as a witch.

 

III.

This project is an experiment, an exercise in interpretation. It is a new approach, a strategic gesture on my part, at capturing the everyday of witchcraft by using my own direct experiences as a means of understanding the everyday lives of witches, who stand outside the normative templates of Modern Witchcraft. It is not aimed at representing any particular niche or one group of people; instead, it is aimed at highlighting a multitude of individuals, and, inspiring those at witchcraft’s margins, who, like myself, may feel un- or under-represented, to actively speak on our own terms, contributing to the rich and intricate nuances and textures that make up the tapestry of Modern Witchcraft.

I have chosen to do this through storytelling, myth, and folklore. There are already so many writings on spells, ceremonial rites, holiday celebration scripts, and deity invocations; and, this is great; I have been inspired by these witchcraft writings, books, blogs, zines, etc., and much of what I have read has, in some way, been integrated into my practice. But, leaving my own insights into witchcraft embedded within life stories highlights the everyday-ness of witchcraft, the orientations and attunements that make witchcraft a central component, in the form of daily practices, by which I bring meaning into my own life.

The majority of my witchcraft practices are not ceremonial; they emerge within the everyday, an epistemological space in which human and non-human forces and forms coalesce. Telling my stories is an invitation to the reader to share my lived experiences, not just with The Craft, but also with everyday life domains such as power, economics, homophobia, sexism, health care, familial relations, racism, love and sex, and many others, in order to find lines of connection between my experiences and their own. My stories act as a way to cultivate community around shared experiences, while simultaneously opening up a heuristic space for exploring the specifics that make each individual’s witchcraft practices and lived experiences unique.

In this sense, witchcraft is not represented as something that lays flat on the pages of a history book, nor is it the pomp and circumstance of fancy, high-magic, ceremony; witchcraft is embedded in daily practices, on the ground, in the home, around the hearth, enacted by living, breathing, three-dimensional persons, whose complex mental, emotional, and physical experiences can be seen as individual threads forming a tapestry of intricate textures—the feelings, emotions, sensations, and affects, that grapple with witchcraft as an American spirituality and queer form of sociality.

I am 41 years old (soon to be 42). Twenty three years in The Craft have shown me that there are serious gaps in the traditions made available to gay men and many individuals, whose lives stand outside the hetero-normative ‘business as usual’ trajectory of heterosexual union, reproduction, and family structures. I know this through my own personal experiences; but, also through my contact with other witches, who, when I share my practices and philosophies, light up with excitement, like I have told them something of value. What this underscores for me is that I have a point of view not previously expressed, something unique to contribute to an already-existing conversation about witchcraft. This project is my desire and willingness to share my queer point of view, to join that conversation, hoping (and, perhaps, already knowing) that someone will connect with my experiences, finding them thought-provoking, insightful, and useful towards finding their own power as a witch, claiming that power for themselves, and taking an active role to wield that power in the world, as we co-create a universe, one with another.

In love and lust,

‘ti Reynard

Dark Moon, May 2017