Landbase, Community, and Reestablishing Practice

Literata (ok, that was over a year ago; I’ve been wandering through various people’s archives) talks about a witch’s landbase, meaning the local land in which an Earth-based witch or Wiccan bases her practice, her bit of Earth, from which she draws power, and which she serves.

And I’ve been thinking about it, and I realize I’ve never connected with the land here much. When I started practicing, I was still in high school, living in the house I’d been in since I was five. I knew that land there intimately. I never had to think about a connection with it. I had my bit of beach, my tree in my own yard, my favorite places in the swamp beyond the yard.

When I moved to Tallahassee for college (and then stayed there nine years), I never had much trouble connecting, either. I was still in Florida, even if I was significantly north and in the panhandle, much farther from salt water. (I’ve always connected best to salt water.) I understood sugar sand and sinkholes, live oaks and slash pines. A few blocks from campus and my first apartment, I found Old City Cemetary, which dates back to before the Civil War. It’s a entire (small) block, bounded only by streets. It’s no longer in use, either. Always peaceful. Plenty of trees, old ones. I found a cedar tree there that I loved, and that loved me back. It was a place of power for me. I found a grave with my own name on it — Rebecca Scott, beloved consort of Andrew, who died of yellow fever at the age of 27. (I was even there with a friend named Andrew on the day I found it. And they were from Maryland, which is where I was born. It was a bit much.)

There was the grave of Elizabeth Budd Graham, who local legend holds to be a witch. Her grave faces west instead of east (which every other grave around it does, although there are other graves facing west in other parts of the cemetery). The inscription reads:

AH! BROKEN IS THE GOLDEN BOWL: THE SPIRIT FLOWN FOR EVER! LET THE BELL TOLL – A SAINTLY SOUL FLOATS ON THE STYGIAN RIVER; COME, LET THE BURIAL RITE BE READ, THE FUNERAL SONG BE SUNG; AN ANTHEM FOR THE QUEENLIEST DEAD THAT EVER DIED SO YOUNG, A DIRGE FOR HER, THE DOUBLY DEAD, IN THAT SHE DIED SO YOUNG!

I love an old cemetery, from before modern embalming practices, from before we sealed the dead up in airtight steel caskets and put them in cement vaults. These are places where people return to the earth that gave them life. It’s special to me. It was a quiet place in the middle of the most urban and built-up part of Tallahassee, between the two big campuses and only a mile or two from the capitol building (which, for those that don’t know, is … ithyphallic, shall we say? An erect phallus, complete with testicles). Once, I got there and heard bagpipes. There was a piper walking the perimeter, practicing. Lots of little things happened to me there. I found a branch that became my wand. Other things I won’t mention.

I had a beach, eventually, although it was a longer drive from home to get there. Mashes Sands, it’s called. A long, shallowly sloping floor. I could walk out a quarter mile, and still have the warm water only up to my chest. Sometimes in summer, it had phosphorescent algae. It was magical, especially at night. (I always love beaches best at night.)

And then I moved to Seattle. It’s a far bigger city than I’ve ever lived in before. When I first got here, I had no car, the bus system baffled me (and it isn’t very good), and I got immediately lost whenever I got too far from my tiny apartment. The land and I made a few overtures to connect with each other, but it never really happened. Eventually, I found Golden Gardens beach, which I love, but it’s always so full of people, it’s hard for me to find the peace I’ve always had at the beach at night. The water was cold, and a bit foreign. The Sound is salt, but so far from open ocean that you can’t even see it. There’s no watery horizon, clean of land. I made it out to La Push beach on the peninsula once, which is much more my sort of thing, but it’s a long enough drive to be impractical without an overnight stay, and I haven’t had the time and money at once to do it again. A few years, I’ve been out to a festival at Fort Flagler State Park, which overlooks the Sound and the Straight of Juan de Fuca (sort of), and which, in the mist that’s usually hanging around in Spring when I’ve been, almost looks like there might not be land right there.

I’ve never found a tree to love, either.

My knees are bad and getting worse, and going for long walks to find places to feel happy is less and less often an option.

In Melbourne (where I grew up), I had a circle of friends who would ask me for tarot readings, or for advice on paganism, and such. In Tallahassee, though I never joined any group, I was part of a shifting, amorphous social circle of pagan, semi-pagan, and occultist community of 20-something, and people came to me for help. I gave tarot readings for tips at a local bookstore. I had a community to serve. (Part of my worship of Hekate is to work magic, especially theurgy, for others, and to teach is when they ask.)

I never found a community to serve here, either. I can’t help but connect not having a land-base with not having a community to serve.

I’m renewing and deepening (re-deepening?) my practice after several years of not keeping regular ritual or worship. When I owned a restaurant, that ate all of my life. I still had a ritual room in the house, I still felt my dedication to Hecate and to Dionysos. I designated the restaurant as a shrine to Hestia, and its pilot lights as her eternal flames. I kept a statue of Hermes in the office, and asked him for help with business and money. But I kept no practice that fulfilled me personally.

But now I’ve started doing my morning ritual again, and I’m doing a tarot study as a way of warming up my symbolic-thinking muscles. I’m keeping the ritual of Hekate’s Supper at the new moon, and worshipping Dionysos ecstatically when I need to. I can tell it’s starting to work, because the little synchronicities are starting again. The same topics or phrases coming up repeatedly through a day, a friend mentioning a video I’ve never heard of, then coming home to find it on my Tumblr dash. They don’t mean anything yet, but that I’m seeing them again means I’m paying attention more. It’s a good thing.

I stopped weaving for a while. Ran out of steam on the big piece, focused more on spinning for the Tour de Fleece, then burned out on that. Frustrated. But I’m starting that up again, too. I’m working on a set of Saori-styled straps that were originally part of a Ravelry weave-a-long, which is now long over. It’s not complex, but it lets me flex my intuitive-weaving muscles a bit before I go back to the seascape.

I’ve mostly abandoned WordPress since I found out they reinstated a blog that outed, harassed and threatened trans women — not incidentally, but as the central mission — after WordPress had taken it down for terms of service violation. I’m trying to find another blogging platform that I like, but the platform I did find and was starting to move things to shifted to a pay model, and I simply don’t have the funds at the moment to spend anything at all to maintain a blog. I wouldn’t post this, but I really wanted to put these thoughts down in a space dedicated to religion and magic rather than my personal LJ, and I have this. I really don’t want to generate more content for this site, and as soon as I can, I’ll be moving this blog elsewhere. But this is going here for now.

And here’s a shot of the straps, which are on a backstrap loom I made myself, and made too narrow, so it’s kind of a pain to use.

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Devotional piece for Athene

Since weaving and spinning are becoming a significant part of my life again, my art and my meditation, I have been wanting to do a devotional piece to Athene in her guise as patron of fiber arts. At first, I was going to do a small tapestry, but I turn out to be very bad at the planning stage of that. Really. Bad. Ugh. So I’ve been looking for something else to do.

I found, on one of the Saori groups on Ravelry, the idea of a diary hanging. People with writing words on strips of paper, ribbon, fabric, whatever they liked, and weaving it into the web. So I decided to do that with a prayer to Athene.

Pallas Athene
Athene Ergane
Weaver, Goddess who stands alone, independent
Steady and support my spindle
Let my warp not tangle
Guide my shuttle and my needle
Grant me both inspiration and skill

I am using some of my oldest yarns. A coarse, dark grey wool that was the second yarn I spun when I was learning (the first was a stripy grey-and-white, and I wove it on an inkle loom and turned it into a belt, with a nifty dragon-headed penanular buckle); a green wool-and-mohair that came from a friend’s goat, that had died recently (Vincent van Goat, in fact); the very first cobweb weight yarn I spun, a white wool, single-ply and over-twisted, which had been sitting in a skein for twelve years at least, and was hairy and felted and tangled and broken in many places. I pieced enough of the white cobweb together to make a warp out of, and I wrote out the prayer, line by line, on strips of paper I made. I’m also including the newest threads I’ve spun, reeling silk and bamboo straight of the spindles of works in progress. And I’m using bits of leftover yarn from my last project, the scarf for my wife.

I’m weaving very loose and open, a technique I have not used before, but so far I’m liking it. I may end up backing it with something, though. Which will let me get in sewing as well as the spinning and weaving already there. I might dye the backing myself, too, to get that aspect. I’m also experimenting for the first time with having random warp threads double- or triple-sleighed.

This piece is very much about how far I have come since those first yarns, and how far I have yet to go in my craft. It’s also a sacrifice, not just of the work of making it, but of the thread I’m currently spinning, and of the attempt at new techniques.

The imperfections of the piece are also becoming very important. My ancient wool warp keeps breaking, and I have to knot in new lengths to repair it. I leave long ends on these, and do not try to hide them. Where Arachne the weaver showed hubris in trying to compete with Athene at weaving, I am showing all my mistakes and flaws, in humility. (But now I wish I’d added “or break” after “Let my warp not tangle.”)

The biggest challenge of this piece wasn’t the physical difficulties — although the warp broke, threads from different sheds caught on one another, and both the warp and the weft threads I reeled off the spindles were “energized” so that they kept kinking up — but psychological. Weaving so loosely is very new for me, and the way the threads don’t lay tidily alongside one another, and the uneven beating, and the warp thread that broke inside the web so I couldn’t repair it without undoing a bunch of weaving, and the occasional float, well, they aren’t things I’m accustomed to tolerating in my work. I’m having trouble liking the piece, even though it’s exactly what I set out to do. Hell, because it’s exactly what I set out to do, which was to do something very different for me, to put myself outside my comfort zone, to stretch, as tribute.

Athene has never been a favorite goddess of mine. She’s always seemed very distant to me. As I weave this, I’m finding places where I’m closer to her than I thought. I’m discovering things about her independence, her . . . not quite solitude, but her ability to stand alone, and to be strong alone, that are resonating strongly for me right now.

Most of these posts I crosspost to LJ and DW, but I’m skipping it this time. It’ll automatically be posted to Tumblr and Twitter, and I’ll let it, but I’m also not posting it to any of the discussion boards on Ravelry, not even the one that inspired it, or the pagan one I follow. I’m feeling weird and self-conscious about sharing religious bits again.

If there are tense inconsistencies, it’s because I wrote this in bits and pieces as I worked, and not at all linearly.