Have You Ever Heard of a Superstitious Witch?

I normally keep my spellwork pretty quiet, partially because it’s none of people’s business. But if I were extremely honest with myself, I’d also have to admit that I’m afraid—not of the people who would think I was evil. Ironically, the prejudiced and terrified are fun to poke with my non-traditional beliefs. Rather, I’m afraid of those who will think that I am silly and superstitious.

I know when people find out that I create my own brand of spirituality by drawing from Paganism, Buddhism, and other religions, many raise an eyebrow at the idea. Why would I trade in the Christian doctrines for another set of rituals and practices?

Sometimes I try to explain the thinking behind the value of choosing your own worldview for the benefits it brings to you. More often than not, I try to emphasize the difference between rituals that are done for fun and rituals done out of sheer terror. But many times I just kind of want to hide because I know that, no matter how good my explanation is, there will always be a handful who will deride the things that have helped me connect to the deeper levels of my self.

I’m not afraid of debate, but for some reason, I’ve been afraid of judgment. Up until recently, I felt almost as if someone else’s disdain could destroy the joy I get from my own practice simply by making me feel silly.

But when the impending visit of my family left me feeling anxious, trapped, desperate, and helpless, I turned to the one thing I knew would work.

Magic.

When my partner offered to help with the housework OCD/anxiety supergirl cleaning rituals, I didn’t shrug him off and wait until he left the apartment so he wouldn’t laugh at me. Instead, I handed him a jar of my freshly made Protection Wash from Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery and told him he had to use that to mop with.

I didn’t silently mutter my incantations as I sprinkled salt in front of my doors. I said them boldly out loud.

When I hung my protection charms (from the same book) by the doors, I didn’t hide them from sight for fear someone might ask what they were.

I was to the point where I didn’t care if others thought I was superstitious because I knew that the spells would serve their purpose for me.

I didn’t care if I was superstitious because I suddenly realized that it’s okay to have a superstition.

I would never try to force someone else to adopt my beliefs or practices. I would never expect the world to conform to them. I wouldn’t want teachers to present them in school. In short, I wasn’t violating my own rules of respect for others’ paths, nor was I trying to claim scientific or academic backing for these rituals.

I can recognize that there’s no scientific evidence that hanging herbs by my door or sprinkling salt across the threshold does anything to actually protect my home. There’s nothing new in that revelation. I have always approached my new path with a sense of agnosticism. I’ve embraced the doubts as part of myself and found that many things retain their value even in the face of doubts.

One of the first things I learned about magic was that it worked less on changing the world around you and more on changing your perspective of the world. Aren’t superstitions the same thing? On Dictionary.com, superstition is defined as “an irrational belief,” “not based on reason or knowledge.” But what about its purpose? People turn to superstitions when they are in an uncomfortable, uncontrollable situation and need something to ground them and give them a sense of power.

In other words, superstitions help people cope when they feel powerless by giving them a means of altering their perspective to an empowered one.

Perhaps a better definition would be unintentional magical thinking for those who don’t claim to believe in magic.

There’s no shame in that. There’s no harm as long as people can recognize when they are making use of a superstition to cope and don’t allow fear to rule their lives (because unlike the dictionary, I don’t think fear and terror are the basis of superstitions).

I could go more into why I think magic is different from superstition—but ultimately, it’s going to come down to something along the lines of “it’s in the eye of the beholder.” The point is, some people pray. Some people put on a lucky shirt. Some people sprinkle salt. But we all have little things we do to help us cope.

My spells worked as they were intended to. They set the foundation for me to protect my sacred space from the potential invasion of others. They helped connect me to my own power in maintaining my boundaries. And in a roundabout way, they helped me realize that my beliefs and practices aren’t subject to the rationale of others. don’t think magic and superstition are the same. If someone else thinks my path is superstitious, that’s only because they don’t understand my way of thinking.

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The Point of No Return: When Survival and Freedom Are At Odds

Spoiler Alert: The Awakening and Crewel
Trigger alert: suicide

I finished reading The Awakening for the first time about four weeks ago. I think when I started it, I was expecting feminist erotica—titillating, empowered romance.

While it was certainly titillating and empowering in its own metaphoric way (I don’t think I’ve ever read more vague yet obvious references to a sexual awakening without there even being a kiss in the first three-quarters of the book), what I found was that it was less about sex and more about autonomy. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting the suicide at the end. And part of me wanted desperately to cry and to see in her death the tragedy of a life lost . . .

But I couldn’t.

All I could see was the freedom that she had found—both the freedom of life and the freedom of death.

It was the same feeling I got at the end of “Thelma and Louise,” when I wanted to scream as much from horror as from joy.

"Something's, like, crossed over in me and I can't go back, I mean I just couldn't live."

“Something’s, like, crossed over in me and I can’t go back, I mean I just couldn’t live.”

I know that feeling oh so well. I don’t often talk about my views of suicide because they tend to be hugely unpopular. I’m not even sure I’m prepared to get into all the nuances of my thinking here. Suicide is a deep topic, complex no matter how you approach is. But suffice it to say that I don’t always see suicide as a tragedy, as weakness, or as giving up.

Sometimes it can be exquisite. Sometimes it can be noble. Sometimes it can be a victory.

I can picture the reactions of some who are reading this, the horror and disgust they feel at my words. I’m sure some are going to accuse me of saying various things that I haven’t said. Others may attack me out of their own pain. And that’s okay. Those who don’t want to hear what I’m trying to say won’t be able to hear what I’m saying. I know they don’t understand—they can’t understand. And I accept them where they are.

But for some, their hearts are whispering, “I know what you mean.” They, like me, have experienced what Edna experienced and what Thelma and Louise experienced—even what the unnamed character in the Yellow Wallpaper experienced (although she didn’t technically die).

People can live a long time in a stifling environment, whether it be an abusive relationship, a totalitarian regime, a controlling community, or a hateful culture. The ability of the human spirit to adapt to such stressors and even rise above them is well-known and inspiring.

But I’m not here to talk about the endurance of the soul.

I’m here to talk about when the soul is no longer satisfied with merely existing.

For some, there comes a moment when they get a taste of hope and freedom, and they know they can never go back. That moment when they know that conformity doesn’t cut it, that treading water isn’t worth it, and that anything is better than what they have. That moment when the soul whispers, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

It’s a brilliant moment and a beautiful one!

It’s the point of no return.

To the rest of the world Edna, Thelma, and Louise may look like horrible, senseless tragedies, but those women understood what it meant to value their identity, autonomy, and freedom more than anything else.

Once you have that kind of awakening, it’s irrevocable.

I can remember the moment that I realized I couldn’t stay in the IFB. I’d been suicidal for most of high school, but I always felt ashamed of my desire to die. Then one day I knew that if I couldn’t get out, I would kill myself—and I would do it with relish–because it was far worse to be trapped in that life.

It was my point of no return, and I still think suicide would have been a victory for me if there were no other options.

But this post isn’t just about death . . . or well, it kind of is, but not the kind that we think of. In Tarot, the Death card is a special card. It rarely signifies a physical death. Rather it serves as a symbol for a transition that is so complete that it feels like you are dying in the process.

From the Traditional Rider-Waite illustrations.

From the Traditional Rider-Waite illustrations.

I think in our society’s fear of death, we’ve lost the ability to see it as a symbol. The point of no return is as much about the death of inhibition and the death of your old identity, relational ties, security, and place in society as it is about the willingness to die physically.

And that’s where I find Edna, Thelma, and Louise become symbols for an entirely different action—embracing the unknown. Hurdling off a cliff, surrendering to the vast, endless ocean—choosing to let go of everything you’ve known in order to pursue freedom and autonomy.

I was finishing Crewel around the same time that I was finishing The Awakening. Two books with vastly different plots and vastly different endings, but they felt like they were mirroring each other in a way that not even an English professor could orchestrate. The day after I cried my happy tears as Edna gave herself over to the pull of the tide, I was reading about Adelice ripping open the fabric of her society and contemplating her chances of escaping into the void beyond.

And I saw myself staring into the blackness of leaving my religion.

The point of no return is terrifying, but enlivening. You don’t know whether you’re going to be annihilated or break through to a new world, but in that moment of leaping, it doesn’t even matter.

Technically, we don’t know for sure whether Edna dies at the end of The Awakening. It’s implied that she cannot live, but the moment of death is never actually shown—because it’s the surrender that is the most important part, that moment when she decides she’s not going back. In Crewel however, we do see what happens after the point of no return. Adelice pitches herself over the edge, admitting that the fall could have potentially gone on forever, but nevertheless reaches out in faith, breaking through the unendurable illusion of her former life into an unknown, uncontrollable, but totally authentic world of her own choosing.

“What’s worth doing even if you fail?” Brene Brown asks in her new book Daring Greatly. I know that sacrificing my life for my freedom and autonomy was worth it . . . and that no matter how it ended, I couldn’t fail because I was claiming my freedom.

As Jesus once asked, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” In the IFB, I was taught that question was pointing to the waste of worldly possessions in relation to salvation. Now, however, I see it differently. What is the point of surviving–what is the point of safety–if your sense of self and freedom are the price? The point of no return isn’t about death; it’s about freedom being more important than survival.

As a Feminist, I Believe in Men

It would be appallingly easy to hate men. I honestly can’t blame women who do. With the amount of sexism, objectification, and misogyny women face on a daily basis, it would be easy to think that all men are like that.

And when a guy comes onto my Facebook wall declaring that he needs women to be sex objects and is only concerned about seeing boobs—and then generalizes that and says that all men are like that, it’s tempting to believe him.

But even though real life experience and statistics both show that sexism and misogyny are thriving to one extent or another, I’m not buying the whole “it’s just the way we are” tripe.

I have faith that men are better than that!

You see, as a feminist, it’s not just that I believe that women are just as capable as men. It’s not just that I believe that women should be given equal opportunities, that they should have the rights to their bodies, or that they should be able to live like human beings.

I also don’t think women have to take over the world in order to achieve that, which means . . .

I believe that men are capable of being humane. I believe that men are able to recognize inequality and fight with women to change the system. I believe that men aren’t driven by their penises and that they are capable of emotional processing and empathy. I believe many of them want to be set free from the hypermasculine expectations. I believe they don’t inherently want to rape and that, if we give them the resources and education they need to learn respect and understand consent, the majority of them wouldn’t rape. I believe that men can get offended by objectification too and that they can want to see women in active, equal roles. I believe that men can appreciate beauty without dehumanizing someone . . . or that they can keep it in their pants when it’s not really appropriate to take it out.

“What guys do you know?” I was asked when I expressed my belief that men aren’t all chauvinists.

And the lucky thing is that I know a lot of guys who fit that model of a man. I know they can exist because they do exist.

I’ve heard a lot of feminists say that men don’t deserve to be thanked for being feminists. And perhaps in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be necessary to praise people for refusing to partake in oppression, but in this world, where rape threats and hateful comments are directed at women for little other reason than being visible online, I think it is appropriate to give a shout out to the male feminists and allies of the world—not because we should find it so extraordinary to find someone who isn’t an ass, but because it takes a lot of courage to stand up to the status quo and say, “I’m not having it.”

We as feminists should know that.

So . . . my dear male feminists and male allies,

Thank you for giving me something to hold onto and hope for while we struggle to change the world together. I know it’s not easy for you, just as it’s not easy for me. I know you face your own brand of backlash, and I am sorry that standing for equality is such a shitty experience for both of us right now.

Thank you for standing up to your friends, not buying that product because there’s a sexualized woman in the ad, getting angry when you see the news, and even apologizing when you yourself find latent sexism slipping out from time to time. Thank you for being beautiful, equality-loving human beings who are willing to try to recognize and change the patriarchal culture that other men are content to just assume is the way things should be.

As a feminist, I admire you. I believe in the future that you represent—where respect and equality are things that all of humanity can strive for and achieve.

****Note: Due to an unusual schedule this week, I will not be interacting as much online. I love your comments. Feel free to leave them, but forgive me if you don’t get a detailed or personal response to yours right away.****

Facebook Turned Red and Heterosexism Came Out to Play

When Facebook turned red for marriage equality, I had a lot of friends change their profiles in solidarity to LGBT rights. Many of them shocked conservative friends and family members with their stance, which isn’t surprising since, even as an out and vocal bisexual woman, I still shock people with my support of marriage equality.

It was a little annoying to hear about some of the rude questions my friends faced as a result of their stand. I don’t really know what it is that makes people feel like they have the right to nose into your personal life or judge you simply because they disagree with you, but I thought I might take a moment and remind others of a few general tips of politeness with regard to the sudden awareness of those who support marriage equality.

First of all, the fact that someone reveals their personal stance on marriage equality is not an invitation to ask them, “Are you gay?” If they haven’t made a point to inform you of their sexual orientation, it’s none of your business. You are not entitled to additional personal information about someone else based on the publicity of their political views.

I’m not saying we should all assume everyone is straight until told otherwise. There is a polite and respectful way to ask about someone’s orientation. If you’re meeting a new acquaintance, it’s actually nicer to ask if they have a partner as opposed to a boyfriend/girlfriend. You’re opening the door for them to talk about themselves without making a heterosexist assumption or (as I’ll talk about below) stereotyping them as gay.

However, politely giving someone the space to reveal something about themselves as you get to know them is not the same thing as accosting someone you already know to question them about their sexual orientation because they revealed a political position of which you were previously ignorant. The former is a courtesy; the latter is just the opposite.

Secondly, if they feel comfortable answering such an obviously rude question, it doesn’t give you the right to shove your more conservative beliefs in their face. Again, if you’re not close enough to them to know their sexual orientation, you’re probably not close enough to them to tell them how to live their lives. If someone feels comfortable asking for your opinion on an aspect of their life, THEY WILL ASK YOU. If they don’t ask you, keep your mouth shut. Simple as that—and that goes for parents too!

Thirdly, don’t assume someone’s orientation based on how they look or who they’re with. If your “gaydar” is based on stereotypes, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. There is no such thing as a “gay look” or a “dyke look.” Femininity or masculinity are not clear-cut indicators of someone’s orientation. Saying someone looks or doesn’t look gay shows you up as a bigot who can’t think outside of clichés.

Furthermore, just because someone is dating or married to a member of the opposite sex doesn’t mean they are straight. Many people feel trapped in a false identity out of fear or have been sucked into unfulfilling relationships under the lie that marriage can “fix” their same-sex attractions. And if you’re the type of person who would break any of the above courtesy rules, you can’t expect a closeted person to feel like trusting you. In fact, you’re probably contributing to them feeling like they need to stay closeted.

Also, don’t forget about the middle. Sexual orientation is not black and white. Most people fall somewhere along a continuum, and a good number of them fall close to the middle, meaning they are attracted to multiple gender expressions. That also means that there are a good number of people in heterosexual, monogamous relationships who do not consider themselves strictly straight. I’m one of them. Just because I don’t happen to be in a relationship with a woman right now doesn’t mean my attraction to women ceases to exist. In the end, judging someone’s sexual orientation based on their relationship status is just another form of heterosexism.

Lastly (for now), supporting marriage equality DOES NOT mean that you are gay. Straight allies exist, and they can be as vocal for marriage equality as any LGBT person. It’s not a hard concept. White people have been allies in the fight for racial equality. Men have been allies in the fight for women’s rights. Christians have been allies in the fight for religious freedom. Pretty much for any struggle, you’ll find members of the power group lending their support to the oppressed. Stop assuming that only gay people support gay rights.