An Orange and Blue Witch

Lambhood, 1967
Baby Dr. PD

“A picture’s worth a thousand words,
But you can’t see what those shades of gray keep covered–
You should have seen it in color.”
Jamey Johnson, “In Color”

“I bleed Orange and Blue.  Auburn University made me what I am today–and I never turn my back on family.”  Dr. Privett-Duren

My heart is broken. And this is a really, really good thing.

As a little girl, I knew the difference between a skinned knee and real sorrow. Loss of blood had nothing on the latter. From the moment I entered your world, I grieved the impending death of my Grandma. At four. At ten. At thirty. At forty-two. Knowing that she would die became the foundation I grew upon, red and sundown yellow against whatever innocence I should have understood. Something in me knew she loved me better, harder, deeper than anyone ever would again. And so, I suppose, it was selfish from the beginning.

She broke my little girl Southern heart, from the moment I breathed air. And she was worth it. Some things, and some folks, just are.

I fell in love with Auburn University while she was still alive. For this, I am so grateful. I remember her, rocking back and forth on the porch and chewing her nails, trying to grasp the difference between being a doctor and holding a doctorate. Not that it made any nevermind to her: I had made it. The little girl she had taken in, over and over, since 1966. Her taterhead. Her baby had survived—and she was so proud of me. The feel of her rough country hand on my shoulder, her finger tracing my eyebrows that she was so fond of from birth, her voice in my ear . . . these things are all I have left now.   They now whisper in the wind, just memories I’m imparting to you on a computer. But, laws. You should have seen them in color.

I’ve never been loved like that since, and I expect, I never will. It made me fearless. It made me impenetrable. It made me witch.

And now, even though some might think they knew her better, I know she grieves with me. Grandma knew what it was to hide herself from the public eye—and she knew that what might seem, at first glance, to be evil can be very, very good. I promised to hold her secrets. And forever I shall. But I can still hear her, I still can taste her bravery in my mouth and I still know where she stood on “what tweren’t right,” and let me tell you: there wasn’t any gray area for that woman. She told me stories of bigotry in Alabama and how she subverted its spread, tales of love so wrenching there were not words for their demise and spun stories of “heavenly” grace that most Southerners would only comprehend in the abstract. We agreed. On everything that mattered.

But here I am. Without her. Struggling to stand again.

My story is about to be released in the news, and I suppose, that was inevitable. But before it does, let me say:

I loved teaching. It made me high. My students loved me and I loved them—and something truly magical happened in those rooms, cornered against Fitzgerald and Matheson and grappling with old dead white men. We . . . found our voices, albeit them innocuous to academia and the numbers on standardized tests. I loved them: Christians, football players, Muslims, sorority girls, outcasts, hippies, every one. We forged forts and valleys and ideas and memories. Sometimes, they would go on to be teachers, themselves. Sometimes, they went on to be lawyers. Always, they looked back and said: “It was Camelot.” Every single class.

Faculty pic
Faculty pic

And while this should have been enough, shoved up against my impeccable annual reviews, it wasn’t. Not when they found out that I was, am, a country witch. No one has bothered to ask what this means—although none of my students seem to care. After all, folks like me are in the Bible, advising and prophesizing and generally decorating the whole shebang. Either way, they knew me to be “good.” And this, in their estimation, was all that mattered. Well, that and teaching my arse off.

And they came damn smart close to loving me as much as Grandma did.

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 5.10.36 PM

I remember one review, about five years ago, in which my supervisor lamented:   “I wish we could take whatever you have and bottle it.” Ironic, really, when you finally understand that “whatever [I] had” was of a magical nature. Although, I suppose that in the end, they did try to bottle it.

My grandma would have their hide for that. After all, I had done my best, had won awards, had incited multiple students to go on for their graduate degrees and had overall sweated over their fields and prayed for rain. In the end?

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 5.43.09 PM

Here’s what I remember: desks scooting closer, books adorned with scribbles of thoughts and questions, eyes brimming with pain over a love over two-hundred years-old, arguments fueled by ancient rhetoric, frat boys grappling with concepts of justice, football players saddling up next to Dickens, ESL students following me to the elevator with hope. I can draw this for you, all day.

But you should have seen it in color.

The chalkboard art that awaited me, Fall "10, World Lit II
The chalkboard art that awaited me, Fall “10, World Lit II

I was Dr. PD. And it was Camelot. You will read a bit about what happened in the news soon, and for those of you who didn’t know, I’m so sorry if this upsets you in any way. What you need to know, if you find yourselves angry or confused, is really simple.

Two weeks before my termination.
Two weeks before my termination.

Yes, my darlings. I am, have always been, a country witch. And everything anyone has ever told you about what that means should have also told you that we love you. That we love a “Great Spirit/aka God/aka Goddess” just like you, honey. That we have ethical boundaries, believe in the power of love, count on faith and walk on dirt just like you. I may burn because of your confusion, but know this:

While I do, I will be blessing you. The “me” you loved is still here. Being a witch does not mean that I am evil, or bad, or vengeful. It just means that the sky blessed me once with a little extra something. And somewhere, deep inside you, the truth is there.

For Auburn University: You broke my heart. And you were worth it.

For my readers, I promise you: I am back. Being outed on this level was the impetus to my healing, finally, of my identity. I am no longer in the closet. I am the Southern Fried Witch, turning and spinning and loving out in the backwoods of Alabama. And I am, also and indelibly,

Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren (Seba)

War Eagle!


28 Comments on “An Orange and Blue Witch

  1. I’m disgusted, purely and totally, that this has happened. Unfortunately, I am not surprised, as a Deep South “category: other” myself. I don’t know what you want to do next, but I hope that you proudly announce your awesomeness when you get there. You are the kind of teacher I always dreamed if having and what I hope to be one day as well.

    In times like these, I hear many say, “Keep the faith.” But since that’s not issue, because keeping the faith was the problem for those pinheads, I say, “Grow the faith.” Which is also what you have done so well here.

    • I cannot talk about it without crying yet. I can talk about the facts, answer questions. But not really, really talk about it without my heart cracking. It’s how you know that you really loved something.

  2. Sorry if I seem incredibly naive, and I don’t know under what “official” reason you’ve been sent packing from Auburn, but firing someone for religious beliefs is illegal. You could probably pursue this through the ACLU if you chose, if it is worth the time and the grief and the further exposure.

    This is astounding to me. Then again I studied at the State University of NY Stony Brook and at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. We had Anthropology of Witchcraft and Magic classes on offer. Practicing witches were invited to lecture. One grad student at SUNY SB wrote her PhD thesis on the resurgence of goddess religions. It’s true that the Wiccan grad students at Rutgers preferred to keep quiet about their religion–probably because some our professors (a bunch of old men!) might have stopped taking us seriously.

    It amazes me. We don’t all live in the same country, do we? Not really. Well, that’s what organizations like the ACLU are for…to even the playing field. Again, that’s if it’s worth the personal angst it will cost to fight this. Goddess knows, you’ve earned some peace and quiet. If you just let it go and retired to your own happy, witchy world, no one would blame you.

  3. You have been, and are, loved. No one can take that, or change that. Blessed be, my sister.

  4. Love love love.

    P.s. I have that same Marilyn print in my “hall of Marilyn”. 😀

  5. After the hurt there is still that gratitude for the love and the time spent together. I am so proud of you.

    That part aside, your civil rights been violated, and you have suffered because of it. You getting outed isn’t the problem. Their response is. I am glad the story will be told. I bless them with lessons in diversity and tolerance so they may learn to see the good in people.

    I love you.

  6. Their loss, our gain. So sorry you are going thru that. Sometimes, I just don’t know the ways of these imperfect humans. I wish all the happiness and glory and success in this new chapter of your life. I for one, sister, I’m glad to know you, sister-witch!

  7. As always you are are very loved and have all the support we can muster, and as I’ve said from the start…good for you sissy. Because of you, there are many others who will walk with heads high no matter their path, your nephew being one of them ❤

  8. SEBA, I can not believe this. I am speechless. I hurt with you, however; not for you, but for that school and the students that will miss your lessons. oh how I feel the pain of your grandmother’s heart right now. how could this happen and what the fuck? excuse me, but this subject needs exclamation. how could this happen and how could we let it happen? I am totally dumbfounded. I send love, lifting love, love that will prevail and make you a world known country witch, love that will change things for us, love that will heal our broken hearts. I am so sorry.

  9. Know that you are not alone and that the power of many are behind you.
    Blessed Be our sister.

  10. I am so very sorry. I’ve lost a position because of my beliefs too, long ago. It meant a total change to my lifestyle, and I’m better for it. But it hurts, terribly, when it happens. Blessed be.

  11. You’ll hear the whispers…you’ll understand them and move in the direction they take you…
    I wish you well, I wish you success but more I wish you a moment to have a peace-filled quiet to regain your Balance.
    Your story saddens me….but I also know Witches are not only healers of outside energies, they are healers for within too…

    Know I will join the whispers on the wind with others, Our Divine will hear and respond in the best way for you and the others who would judge you as this is the night of the beginning of year of judgement…..
    Take Care…You Matter…

  12. I am sorry that the excrement had to hit the fan for you like this, but; you did say it was worth it. So, now the question is, what now? I can feel all that love you are full of, just bursting to be free, teaching. Teaching, probably some of Grandma’s lessons, teaching what you do best; just in a different environment. You are stronger than you know and Goddess willing, you will be better than you have ever dreamed of being. BBFN

  13. I left you a note on FB…and my arrogant yankee Irish is up…then I remember, perhaps that this unexpected decision is an impetus to spread your wings and soar to newer heights, I want you to know that if you ever need the solace of the water, I’m so very close to the Gulf and while my home is little more than a hovel there is more than enough room for hugs, shoulders and friends should you all need to get away and think…you were very kind to me on a what would seem a random day and that I shall never forget so I know that you are an amazing teacher and it’s auburn’s loss! ❤ you! ~meri the big ole earthy northern hedgewitch!

  14. Hopefully, they will wake up. I’ve been the fight over religion and my work place. It’s not fun. Be strong and know that many stand with you.

  15. I am so sorry. My husband was outed and fired from a nursing job in GA. That was twenty five years ago. I am hoping that this will be a rebirth for you, a new path and a new life with growth and beauty. Thank you for fighting back and speaking up to share your story.

  16. I’m sorry Seba this has happened. I know that you will find your way as you have through other trials. Your Gran like mine still resonates in your ear and heart. Stand tall, stay strong. War Eagle!

  17. You have been and are *still* loved Lister. I am so sorry this has befallen you. You and Big Momma think on it some more, especially as the retrograde moves ahead. Continue to speak your truth, when you are ready. The only way out is through and you are freer now than you realize. Let the healing balm of those who love you, known and unknown, help you to heal.

  18. **Submitting this again due to my big thumbs and a typo!!**
    You have been and are *still* loved Sister. I am so sorry this has befallen you. You and Big Momma think on it some more, especially as the retrograde moves ahead. Continue to speak your truth, when you are ready. The only way out is through and you are freer now than you realize. Let the healing balm of those who love you, known and unknown, help you to heal.

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  21. I’m so sorry to read what has happened! I was just reading the blog entry from April where you mentioned this lawsuit and what was going on. I have to pinch myself to see if this is the 21st Century or if we’ve been transported back to the 17th Century and earlier. This reeks of illegality to me, and I believe too that the ACLU could help you, if you decide to go to them. This is madness, when you have every right to worship how you choose. I myself am looking into Paganism and a path for myself, as other schools of thought (like the religion that persecuted you) have left me sour over the years. Why is it that the nicest people have to deal with persecution from those who are supposed to “love thy neighbor”. I hope you find a better future than you thought possible and wish you all the happiness in the world! Love, Tuxicat

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