I feel something frying–and it’s not my chicken. My magical panties are in a bit of a wad and, as this is my own blog, I plan on hammering it all out until they are smoothed a bit. Here’s the turd in my pond, the hitch in my stitch and the stick up my rather robust ass:
Performative personas. Plastic, interchangeable magical identities/faiths/religions/statements that play upon the masses and newbies at such a rate that most never see the slight of hand, nor the string on the puppet. Welcome to Oz. Don’t pull back that damnable curtain, now. I have a new term for y’all to chew on: Wannabepriestians. Yup. You know these folks: one month, it’s Asatru, the next, Wicca, on a Tuesday, Hoodoo, but Saturday? Heathen. Laws, by the time it’s Sunday, we’ve been anointed at a Golden Dawn ceremony–but by Monday? Ceremonial Magician. All while using Christian biblical references, terminology and pedagogies. One day, the Wizard is Western, the next, Eastern, the next, German, the next, Cherokee . . . and the newbie–half mad with the erratic nature of it all, the you-can-eat-all-the-candy mentality–runs headfirst into that chaos cornucopia with no compass. Bam. Fubar.
Who can blame them? It’s the Wikipedia Wonder of Wizardry, on crack. And here’s the big pile of poo in the middle of Oz: as long as a Wannabepriestian skips fast enough, you can’t see the color of their hat. Worse, that chaotic, morphinic high that comes from each and every infusion is fleeting–and therefore, addictive. Cosmic crack to go, please. I contend that our upcoming generation deserves better than a quickie, so let’s look at it Southern, nice and slow.
Last night, my tribe and I held a lesson on Saturnalia Cooking. Y’all know the kind, right? Well, I like olives and tomatoes, but I also like hazelnuts and green peas. What if I . . . and before you know it, there’s a casserole on the table of who knows what the hell to call it of flavors that don’t jive and that no backyard dog will swallow. It is a buffet born of gluttony and negligence of balance. Look at it this way:
The best kitchen witches know better than to concoct a hot holy mess of chaos in a skillet. We know that, iffin you hanker on flavor–pure, deep flavor–there’s an equation to factor: which flavors work together like they’re kin? Mmmmm, chicken and rosemary. Lemon and thyme. Tomatoes and basil. Chocolate and citrus. Right, then there’s process: bacon always in cast iron, Dutch ovens over crockpots (every time), high and fast for toasting, low and slow for tender meat. Keep your scrambled chicken love on simmer to prevent drying and mind that you “cook” your raw flour down in butter for a roue. It’s the simplest recipes (when cooked with attention, balance and intent) that are the ones that make us miss our childhoods, heal our wounds and live forever, albeit grease-splattered, on our grandchildren’s bookshelves. And energy works in that same pure, simpatico way. I’ve heard such a concept referred to as Low Magic–and I would firmly agree, if the term means that we consider the dirt under our feet and “craft” from a local, seasonal, pragmatic manner that elegantly engages our Earth. It worries my mind that we may have forgotten some simple, true premises of magic:
Be faithful to your tradition–even if you leave it. It’s now your legacy.
Long, thorough study of a path results in melt-in-yor-mouth knowledge.
Pure, clean simplicity of design and process has less chance of failure and a higher incidence of divinity.
Understand and THEN balance the diversity within your practice.
Respect and hone the artistry of process. Don’t be a glutton: we don’t have to be the master of every skill. Put that ego down. And become the sacred thump you chase.
Be true to and teach that which has sustained generations of souls. There is no greater blasphemy than creating chaos out of purity for the sake of gluttony–or sheer carelessness.
This translates rather simply: If you want to learn Heathenry, go to a true, blue Heathen. If you want to become nothing more than a Ceremonial Magician, show up at their door and don’t leave until there’s nothing left to gain. If the Native path feels like it’s carved for your feet, run down it straight and hard as if a gun were at your head. Don’t look back. At the end of the day, I reckon I’m saying:
Screw being a Jack of all Trades, be a Master. Honor that tradition, comprehend its joints, feel its muscle, swim in its blood. And then, when you know it like your own skin, if it becomes uninhabitable to your soul-beat, then bid it (respectfully and with dignity) adieu. And not before. Anything else is a frat-boy-one-night-stand and you look bat shit crazy walking down that dirt road, high heels in one hand, mascara scarring your cheek, hollerin’ on that it made you a professional. Hell, naw, it didn’t. And Hooker Paganism will leave you hungry, broke and beaten. (Or/and with an incurable case of astral nasties.)
Why, I think the Karate Kid had it right, all along. Wax on. Wax off. Takes more sweat than log in, log off. It takes, ahem, patient process.
Say you want to learn how to whip up Southern Peach Cobbler. Now, in Alabama we have something called Crazy Crust Pie: the perfect balance of sugar, self-rising flour, peaches, milk and salted butter. The ratios are tried and true. Grandmas and Mommies have been spinning this crusty concoction up for decades down here, trading out only the fruit, adding in only one spice at a bake and spooning it out all hot and crusty alongside vanilla ice cream. Now, I’ve tried messing with the sacred ratio. I’ve added honey, subtracted salt, replaced milk for cream and extended the cooking time . . . but nothing is as full-tilt-boogie Camelot as that sacred ratio. Discipline. Respect for the recipe. Aho.
Extend that metaphor to Southern Cooking. It has taken me forty-six years to be half as divine over a stove as my Grandma when she threw down her spoonhand. I understand this endeavor as a commitment, not unlike any warrior learning a sword for battle, and factor that when my hair completes its transformation to snow-white I might have finally mastered the perfect crust on roast and the creamiest gravy on a biscuit. Then, there’s my Momma’s Orange Christmas Rolls, risen all yeasty in small aluminum tins of zest and cinnamon, her homemade barbecue sauce simmered in bay leaf and real mustard and her skillet potatoes that were always soft on the inside, salty and crunchy brown on the outside. Naw. I ain’t done learnin’ yet. And I ain’t jumping ship on account of iffin I do, who’s passing down that legacy?
Yup. I reckon it chaps my forty-something, Cherokee/Irish ass to hear folk running ramshod over traditions that they’ve read about in a book, heard about at a county fair or scared up on the internet and then labeling that experience “learning.” In fact, it makes my ass rash crimson to then find them posturing as a teacher of those fine and hard-earned thumps, flipping out decontextualized nuggets of knowledge like so much fast food in order draw in starving newbies. I suppose I could chalk it up to: well. If those chillun will eat chaw but taste fatback, they ain’t ready for the real thing, anyhow.
But it worries my soul.
I hope that there will be, still in this off-centered civilization, those who still honor real butter over margarine, roasted turkey over tofu and dark, green grass over plastic turf. I hope that they will search, undaunted, for a Master of Their Thump who will hold them to an ethical, sound and thorough lashing of learning. I hope that our Asatru, Wiccan, Celtic, Native, Faery and all our other fabulously pulsing paths will not be disseminated nor watered down by an internet Wannabepriestian. I hope that our legends and stories, processes and arts will not be demeaned into the capsule of a 101 class taught by some cyber asshat with whom they have never broken bread. (Or couldn’t pick out of a police lineup.) I hope that newbies will recognize the Wannabepriestian whirl of chromatically designed Pagan propaganda as not the wisdom of a magi simply because it’s “intellectual,” but rather only the intoxicating, addictive, masturbatory horse shit of someone with an agenda. And– I hope that newbies realize– that at the end of the day, inorganic rhetoric is the crack that they have smoked in place of an organic journey. I hope students investigate their mentor, look them in the eye, work the ground beside the flesh that holds the knowledge that they seek. I hope.
As for me?
Well. As John Lennon said, I’m not the only one. Search us out. Usually, you can find us by a fire, in a garden, on a mountain, by a stream, or in front of a bubbling pot. You’ll have to learn in person (gasp!), share cricket space with our feet and hear the inflection of our voices. It’s called work. Real. Muddy. Sweaty. Bloody. Work. If we catch you slacking off, we’ll cut you loose–you’ll feel it–and if you give it everything, we’ll tell you our secrets. You’ll feel that too.
Of course, you may just want to go the drive-through option. I mean, everyone wants a Big Mac every now and again. The snag in the carpet is: You really wanna derive your spiritual knowledge, your personal path, from a cartoon character? Have you seen what Big Macs do to an artery when eaten on a daily basis? Think. Not ‘ary witch out there in Cyberland is giving you the real juice, bleeding in front of you, or acknowledging their failures. There are some who would sit in a gold chair and blog at you that it was pine. Parade a Pagan legacy that never existed from a path that would have considered it unholy. Garner your trust through the calculated use of colloquialisms and histories that could not be farther from the truth of their bones. They are so much cooler online. Careful, Batchildren. You might be served a peanut butter/salami/banana/cheddar casserole. Most times? Those who know them in “real” life wouldn’t eat a cracker on their porch, much less trust their mentorship. 
It worries my mind. In the middle of the night, driving down Country Road 158, standing in the shower and drinking my morning coffee. We have lost the smell of truth, the taste of synergy and the hard, blistered feel of working for knowledge. The woman I have become has not once regretted the girl I was: ravished for the real thing, magic in my hands, gritty against my skin.
I said: I wanna touch the Earth. I wanna break it in my hands. I wanna grow something wild and unruly. Oh, it sounds so good to me. 
When it came to my soul magic? I craved slow-braised, hand-carved sustenance. Special sauce, be damned. I put on my doo-rag when I was wee, turned off the t.v. and saddled up for the ride of my life. 
But, then again, I never was chicken shit.
1. As a “live” teacher in a University system, I have been privy to the debate on the subject of online teaching. And, while I agree that there is a need for an online system (in order that more students have access to education), such a system is never an even replacement for the live classroom. I claim this even as a part-time online instructor of over five years. There are real losses for the average student: face time, personal engagement, sensory experience, discipline to time/work and interaction with peers. Like sending a text instead of making a phone call, it is easier to just walk away from an online class than it ever would be to walk from a human being looking you in the eye. Live learning breeds personal connection. And while I realize that such a stance is not the popular one, I’d rather know the real name of the person with his/her hands down my magical pants. Call me old-fashioned.
2. Dixie Chicks, “Cowboy Take Me Away,” Fly. Monument Records: 1999.
3. My own son is taught, year after year, over campfires and dinner tables amidst the voices of old salty dogs and wise old women. He can’t get that kind of spiritual osmosis against the flash of graphic moons on a purple screen. My son has to be present, pure and simple. It will be his truest inheritance, that time he spent waxing on, waxing off under a palpable and unbearably real sky.