Tribal Feet

Jekyll Island Sand

Last March at the Pagans of the Deep South Gathering, I was rather stunned (okay, I was Hopping John pissed) at the derogatory use of our term “tribe.”  It came off about as un-Southern as it could have, was spoken to my husband and went something like so, just how invested are you in this, um, TRIBE?  The speaker might as well have said so, how faithful are you to your, um, WIFE?  As relieved as I was (and remain) that my little country ass wasn’t standing there at the time, it still riles me up a spell to think of our sacred unity being hurled about like a racial slur.  And I don’t hanker to those very sweetly, either.

Now, I could have pulled on my doctoral robe and gone stomping into our university library in search of academic defense, but I reckon the Oxford Dictionary Online website does nicely enough in defining the term:

1. A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities    linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader:  indigenous Indian tribes

   (in ancient Rome) each of several political divisions, originally three, later thirty, ultimately thirty-five.

   derogatory a distinctive or close-knit group:  she made a stand against the social codes of her English middle-class tribean outburst against the whole tribe of theoreticians

   informal a large number of people: tribes of children playing under the watchful eyes of nurses

2. Biology a taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below family or subfamily, usually ending in -ini (in zoology) or -eae (in botany).


Middle English: from Old French tribu or Latin tribus (singular and plural); perhaps related to tri- ‘three’ and referring to the three divisions of the early people of Rome. [1]

While I can get cozy with any of these branches of the tree, I believe that it is the biological use of the term that warms my toes the best on account of the reference it makes to family.  But, just for poots and chuckles, let’s break down Tribe a bit further, shall we?

As my blood runs thick back to Limerick Ireland and the Isle of Wight, but nestles closest in genealogy to a Cherokee matriarch, I am quite the Alabama mutt.  As such, I cannot, nor do I desire to, adhere or hail from the Deborean Clan of the East Coast.  It just doesn’t factor pragmatically–and being a practical craftsperson is in my bones.  You won’t catch me claiming a heritage that ran through and bedded a great-gran on a Tuesday, nor will you catch me switching stories on my lineage.  O’ Kiley, the name you know me by, is my magical name–but it is also the one that runs straight down my family tree, right to the roots.  Now.  I hold a doctorate in Philosophy–specifically within the vein of English Literature–and have always had a soft spot for etymology.  What I find, over and over, is the utter interchangeability of the word “tribe” with the word “clan,” delicious to the mind of a Cherokee/Celt, yes?

Now.  I realize that my Constant Reader is, by now, hollerin’ on give me some barbecue on that meat!  I will.  You know me by now.  Be patient, damn it, and sip yor’ sweet tea.

So . . . I came out of the magical broom closet two years ago and my “tribe” just, well, showed up.  I Swanee.  Just pounded down the road, one at a time, wearing my colors and smelling like my skin and thumpin’ the ground in the beat my heart recognizes.  ‘Bout scared me out of my skivvies.  I’m an Aries, therefore leading is part of my DNA–resistant or not–and these natives smelled me out, supported my mule ass when I wanted to quit, encouraged my heart when it broke, made me beer bread and wrote songs for my fires and before I knew it: Tribe.  Thick, soul-love, where-have-you-been-all-my-life-my-family Tribe.  Mutts, the lot of us.  But, for prosperity’s sake, what are we?

Hmmm.  Lessee:

The black sheep of our families.  ‘Ary one of us.  Misunderstood, from the Isle of Misfits and starved for a moment in which we could be loved without regard to our past or the positions and roles our blood families had carved out for us.  (This is not to say that our families do not love us, only that we are often misunderstood.  And need healing.)

Givers.  Empaths.  Dedicated to living in the moment, respecting the past and hoping for the future.  Most of us heard the call, wild and haunting, to come together long before we felt each other’s embrace.  And when we did feel it?  Ah.  Home.  Finally.

Eclectic.  We are so many audacious, diverse, multi-faceted paths.  My students learn the ways of Celt and Cherokee–but my Tribe are also Wiccan, Asatru, Dianic, FOI, Lakota and more.  You see:  we are a sub-family of Pagans, souls who have known each other before and who will know each other again.  Let me try, in my two voices, to define ‘Tribe” here:

Dr. Seba:  A “tribe” is a circle that encompasses the blood-family unit but extends to other like-minded souls and protects from within.  It does not preclude personal paths, nor politics, nor bloodlines, but includes a sense of community that breaks bread together and supports each other without regard to geography, skin color, class, doctrine or other extraneous attributes.  It is faithful to itself, protects its heterogeneous self and shares a deep and abiding love for the circle as a whole.  It is, in effect, the modern-day answer to the lost ancient family unit.

Momma Seba:  Y’all know what a tribe is, damn it.  We can chew the fat about each other, but no one else better lessen they want to feel the back of our hand.  We remember each other’s stories, help raise each other’s chillun, feed each other’s dreams and variously know that we know that we know that we are, in effect, real family like no other.  We share love, we share strength, in a way that needs not police each other’s paths for we are all headed up the mountain.  Mayhap I wear blue, but you wear purple.  In the end, we are all naked, expressing our colors in sacred abandon against an eternal sky.  Tribe.  Aho.

And still, that’s not good enough.  Let me tell you a story.

Last year, I started a Facebook group (PDS).  I did it on what I perceived as a whim: why not make a group that included the whole of the Deep South?  Right.  When Big Momma slaps my ass, I call it a whim.  Sure.  (I can hear her chuckling now.)  Just sipping my coffee, clicking the button “Create Group.” Magical LOL, anyone?

And, while the entirety of that group includes my extended family, a handful of those folks thumped at me.  Hard.  Mississippi.  Georgia.  Louisiana.  I could practically smell their cheeks against mine, this online “tribe,” as we put up photos in silly hats and cloaks–late into the night–vibrating across the airways and electric in techno world.  And then?  I suggested we (gasp) get together.  Somewhere between the photos of packed suitcases and tents (remember, Liz?), the updates on class times and reminders (hey there, Gralyn!), the collective oh my god, it’s really you, oh holy shit, it’s really you screams as another tribal member rounded the corner in my backyard and later standing bravely against the knowledge that it would all end on Sunday: we fell in love.  We became Tribe.  As I respect and value my sisters and brothers of other faiths, I cannot compare the term “tribe” to “coven,” or “church body,” but I can tell you what I mean by Tribe.

We break bread together. Occasionally, we break each other’s hearts.  We break ground, hard knotty ground, together.  And we will break more than that if you hurt one of us.  We’re older and have more insurance.

Seba and beloved student, Halloween 2012

Seba and beloved student, Halloween 2012

And so.  In answer to that original question, my husband answered: One hundred percent.  They are me.  I am them.  We are family.  We are always each other’s most fruitful harvest.  You might as well ask, how invested are we in magic?  The Earth? Our immortal souls?

Are we from three, the Tribus?  Why, yes.  Years upon years, it was myself, my husband and my sister Cam who sat in the backyard lighting Yule candles or holding hands against hard winds.  I was content and safe and needed not the hullaballoo that came with the concept of Party Pagans.  Year after year, the conversation between Cam and I went like this:

C:  You need to go to a gathering.

S:  Bullspit.  I don’t do naked, I don’t like party Pagans, I get pissed off in the movies when someone talks at the good part.  I’ll kill someone.

C:  You need to go.

S:  WTF eva.

C: Eventually, you will have to go.

S: Bullspit.

Until one night, damn if I can remember which, she sat down beside me at my wrought-iron table, leaned it and whispered:

C:  I need community.

S: Fine.  But I’m not gonna like it.

And sometimes, to be honest, I don’t.  But at the end of the day?  You ever had that feeling that, somewhere out there in the wind–maybe in the dead of night–there are others like yourselves, missing you from another life?  Missing your stories, your laughter, your smell  . . . and there you are . . . holding the hand of your pride and your precious time, missing out on this life with them to the techno tune of your television.  Hokay.  As long as it was for a good reason, right?

I figure, I’m running out of time on a daily basis.  And I’m not sure that I’ve found you all, yet.

On my long drive back to the country today, a song by Keith Urban played on my radio as a hawk dove back and forth in front of my Chevy van.  It bothered my wore-out-teacher brain, so I changed the channel . . . and there it was, again.  I got home, Googled “sacrifice” for a university lesson and there it was on the top of the search page.  It played through my head as I checked the chicken coop (yay!  eggs!), let the dogs out to run amuck and again as I watered the last of the okra, sad for the loss of summer.  The question, slipping between the pines and ruffling the flock’s feathers, weaving its way across the buzz of late crickets and my worn brain was the following:

And I wonder, would I give my life?  Would I make that sacrifice?  If it came down to it, would I take the bullet? [2]

The answer, Big Momma, is: yes.  Yes, I would.  For them.

Happy Mabon from the Deep South and my Tribe,



2. Keith Urban, “For You.”  Act of Valor, Capital Records: 2012.

Note:  The half-assed pics are my own, but the ones that make you feel like you are “there” are from my brother.  Jason Williams is the most DIVINE Southern Photographer in Mississippi and beyond.  You can find and “like” his page at:

This blog takes part in Rowan Pendragon’s Pagan Blog Project.

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