IN DEFENSE OF MY BARBARIC YAWP

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In time, we will all question ourselves, our motivations, our dreams and our faith. I call these moments Dante’s Revenge, a strange passing through levels of my past and my present in which I burn up residual doubts or slingshot myself even deeper into regret. Recently, a friend of mine gave me a nudge into one such level (perhaps the one in which Plato resides), and though my eyebrows are still a bit singed, I survived. I was simultaneously accused of being a control freak (by said friend) and too organic and unplanned (by the same friend) in both my work and my Craft. Strange, isn’t it, that as a High Priestess I should be both, yet I pondered the possibilities of harboring such disparate selves in one five-foot-two frame—and found it to be good.

It all started when I set forth to teach, in my Croning years, four phenomenal friends who were called to the Craft. Grappling with individual paths, diverging natures, and a “standard” plan of study, I found myself negotiating between the voice of my friend and my own, deeply rooted one. She contended that there should be no “standard,” that all degrees/stages were to be highly individualized. I contended that I could not measure such purely hedonistic learning and that there should be some methodology. She contended that they must not be held to an Oathe of Secrecy, while I contended that such an oath was both respectful and necessary for my own sense of safety as well as their own. She countered that I should allow for other teachers (herself) to lead them, in analogy as well as practice. This is the moment that all contention and polite banter ran ashore. Words were passed that would make my Irish ancestors blush with pride, or at least drink another beer. I was deemed a control freak, as it was noted by my antagonist that it appeared that a “my way or the highway” mantra marked my teaching. To use an old and sacred witchy term: Duh.

It comes as no surprise to me that this argument came on the heels of a recent lesson my students worked through. We had all come from strange beginnings, and although I protect the specific facts of their lives, I can note that they include many branches of Christianity. Some wanted a complete exorcism of their past spiritualities, a move that I have always perceived as demeaning and redundant. One of my “rules,” if you will, is not to erase the ink from a learning journal, as in doing so one erases the learning that comes from investigation. Rather, we all work to accept our past, however scarred or haunted, in order to move forward. Denial doesn’t work for me. It smacks of self-hatred and stagnation. After all, I told them, we all have Christians in our families who love and support us, pray with mercy in their hearts, and at the end of the day there are lots of ways to access the Divine. No, I don’t see the benefit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s just dry him off and give him warm milk, shall we?

What does all of this have to do with my own Dante moment with a friend? Hmmm. Let’s just say that we differ widely and wildly on how we see dark magic. Maybe I want to protect my Christian-turned-Pagan students from the violence that occurs when one painfully emerges into a world wrought with self-interrogation, or when one is firmly protective of a well-loved family that has spent a lifetime entrenched in Christian sensibilities. (Such a turn to the black is not one that they relished, nor one that they admired.) Or, maybe, I want to be rigorous with myself as a teacher, whose own beginnings were spun in Santeria and Voodoo and medicine wheels. We cannot erase these moments. We must give them the nod. After all, they brought us here. Yet, I have carved a path for myself that holds little truck in dark magic anymore. This was my choice, birthed of an understanding of what I need as a craftswoman, and as a live, beating thing I nourish that life rather than the circumstances that brought it hence. But: this is Seba. I hold it not as the standard for my kin, my friends, or my peers.

Certainly, we all have our own teaching pedagogies. Some allow for group work (as mine does) while some deem such interactions belittling to the students. Others insist on the singularity in a pledge to one teacher (as mine does) while some share these duties with “mentors.” But, riddle me this, Batman: Aren’t these pedagogical differences fantastic? They should be. Personally, I celebrate their existence, primarily due to the fact that they allow for a student to choose. The phrase “personal path” is knocked about often in my own circle and denotes the multifaceted, diverse, individual, private encounter with the Divine. I cannot imagine a world in which I could not access my own personal path. A student seeks out a teacher who comes closest to echoing what Walt Whitman called “the barbaric yawp” within, that essence of spirit that has no name. If we are chosen, under what pretense should we bend to alternative, or even alien, pedagogies? Is that not just a might misleading to a student?

I suppose this all speaks to my hereditary nature, an amalgam of Celt and Cherokee traditions as well as those tangled roots that reared me. Specifically within my Cherokee tradition, a Clan would often adopt outsiders and, in doing so, take them into familial protection. Although it might seem to be a contradiction, I find myself adhering to both the hereditary standard (teaching one’s own) as well as the Clan standard (a bloodline that does not denounce a soul-line). My own students have expressed intense relief at my insistence on the Oathe, a primary teacher/student relationship, and the protection that they both provide. Conversely, I cannot imagine that such a pedagogy would cohesively work for all. Thankfully, there are others. Delightfully, different others. Blessed be.

As I Crone, I have found that the act of questioning myself, intensely and often, is conducive to a more honest path. I have also found that, somewhat awkwardly, there is budding and earned wisdom here within my struggles and memories, there are lessons that are worthwhile and transferable, and that—most of all—those are the treasures I am to hand down. They are my only legacy, however flawed or simple, and in not acknowledging that fact I denounce something sacred that was bestowed unto my funny, little life. Now. That’s real blasphemy.

And so, I ended the torment of questioning my decision to follow, somewhat organically, my heart in my teaching. Students come to a teacher to garner knowledge that resides within a learned soul, knowledge that was inherently their own for a time. It is a gift. I should like it to be respected, albeit eventually morphed into a personal path, but inherently respected. For once upon a time, it was indeed mine. A Joe Cocker rendition of an old song reminds me daily of why it all makes sense:


Do you believe in love at first sight? Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.
What do you see when you turn out the lights? I can’t tell you, but it sure feels like mine.
— With a Little Help from My Friends. Originally produced by the Beatles on their “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and written by Paul McCartney in 1967. Joe Cocker’s remake was produced in 1968.

Apologize for the sacred transference of this barbaric yawp? Hell, no. Not to others in the craft and not to my wonderful students. Understand that it will change and grow within their own Craft? Surely. And that is the only negotiation I shall make.

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