Honoring Your Blood Ancestors (even if you probably would’ve hated most of them)

Awhile ago, I had a DNA test. The results contained a couple of surprises, though the fact that there were surprises wasn’t, in itself, surprising.

Let me back up.

Years ago, when I was recently diagnosed with IIH, drugged to the gills, recovering from a spinal tap, and bored out of my mind, I decided genealogy would be more fun than staring at the ceiling and trying not to throw up. There was only one problem.
We’ll call him Albert.

Albert was my great-grandfather. He was my maternal grandmother’s father and, by all accounts, an absolute chemical toilet fire of a man. My grandmother wasn’t really raised by her parents — her mother died in a sanitarium at age 22, and her father, well…

Let’s just say I didn’t have much to go on other than that side of my family was French-Canadian, and their name was spelled wrong. It was extremely difficult to get more information about them, because every search result for my great-grandfather only turned up his many, many, many appeals from Attica. (Also, he was the one who changed the spelling of his last name, and was the only one in his entire family who spelled it that way. It’s like he went out of his way to make this impossible.)

I probably would not have liked great-grandpa Albert if I had known him in life. I have two toxic relatives who are both much closer to me and still living, and I don’t even talk to them. Neither of them have even been in and out of maximum security prison (as far as I know. It’s been awhile).

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Winter Things Yule Love

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(Also, that Yule pun was terrible and I’m not even a little sorry about it.)

Now that November’s almost through, I feel like I can talk about Yule. I confess, Yule isn’t my favorite holiday — like a lot of other witches, Samhain’s more my jam. Still, there’s a lot to love about winter, from bundling up with my partner, my cats, a cup of star anise tea, and a fuzzy blanket, to visiting the National Arboretum and Rock Creek Park to take in all of the things nature hides under the greens of spring and summer. (I’m a sucker for watching fluffy little titmice puffing themselves up in red-berried hawthorn boughs. They’re so freaking cute, they’re basically alive Pokémon.)

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As a Pagan, it can be tricky to find ways to make Yule feel special when so much of U.S. culture revolves around Christmas this time of year. So, I put together a short list of things that, to me, help make this season a little extra sweet.

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A small, helpful rock.

Chronic illness demands strange rituals from you.

Sure, you go to the doctor. You take what they give you, though you might find that you have to do so at a certain time of night, or with a certain type of food, or adjust your dosage based on the weather or time of the month you take it. You start developing the small repetitions that (hopefully) keep you functioning.

Sometimes, that isn’t enough. So you branch out — you start adding medicinal baths, special pillows, vitamins, herbs. You go to a massage therapist, maybe an acupuncturist. You stretch, meditate, and spray yourself with magnesium oil. Your house becomes a haven for therapeutic smells.

Maybe you go further still. You look up the meanings and properties of crystals, and leave little groups of them huddled on your shelves or nightstand. You draw sigils on your medicine bottles, and paint runes on yourself in arnica gel and muscle rub.

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All of this is to explain how I ended up with my favorite medicinal rock.

Crystal guides usually give the same set of properties for a given stone — you use rose quartz for love, amethyst for peace and relaxation, and so forth. I come from a magical background staunchly rooted in personal associations. I don’t believe it’s necessary or desirable to reinvent the wheel, but most of the herbs, stones, and other tools I use are ones that I have a personal history with, and what I’ve learned about them doesn’t always match what the guides say.

Selenite is usually used to cleanse things. You can keep it with other stones or tools, or use the little wands to clear negative energy out of spaces like a spiritual lint roller. One crystalworker uses them to help itching from bug bites and eczema. I used to keep a couple pieces of it around to keep stagnant energy from accumulating. Now? I use selenite crystals for pain.

I get terrible neck pains sometimes, a direct consequence of a rare, incurable  neurological condition. There’s no help for it. I’ve been given everything from massage, to camphor gel, to opiates, to tricyclic antidepressants, all to little avail. If the pain becomes bad enough, it means I need to visit the ER for an emergency lumbar puncture and more hardcore pain management (which is also why I have several opinions on how the opiate crisis is affecting the way pain is managed in emergency settings, but that’s neither here nor there). If it isn’t yet at the ER point, I just have to suck it up.

One night, in a moment of sleepless desperation, I picked up a rough selenite wand and pressed it to my neck. And it worked.

Now, I keep a smoothed and shaped wand of selenite in my bedside table, ready for all of the times when pain keeps me awake. I don’t need to do much with it, just pressing it lightly to the places that hurt is often enough to give me enough relief to sleep. Would I use it instead of evidence-based medicine? No, but I also haven’t met a doctor yet that objects to me having a safe, drug-free means of relieving pain. I still need to visit the ER when things become bad enough — I haven’t found any stone that can substitute for having about 15 mmHg of extra fluids siphoned off my brain, unfortunately — but this helps make the other days more bearable.

Sometimes, chronic illness makes you do things. You might give up nightshade vegetables, take up polyphasic sleeping, or begin carrying magnesium oil in your bag.

Or, you might befriend a small, helpful rock.

 

You Can’t Erase People.

Every fall, I drag my S.O. out for what has become a small, but important, tradition for us: Persimmon Quest.

I’d never had a persimmon before, until I moved to California to live with my then-boyfriend on his family’s pomegranate orchard. His mother brought a dozen Fuyu persimmons — squat, sweet, golden bundles of deliciousness. Ever since returning to the east coast, I’ve had a much harder time finding them. Most grocery stores in my area don’t even know what I’m asking for when I call to see if they have any, and there’s only one that carries them with any kind of reliability this time of year.

(All of this, despite the east coast to the midwest having its own, wild type of persimmon. However, like paw paw fruit, they’re not exactly easy to find for sale.)

Wild persimmons on a branch.

Persimmons have their magic properties, like any other thing. The tree is used for healing magic, and good luck, too. The fruit, however, has a very intriguing use in folk magic…

Changing sex.

Folklore holds that, if a girl wanted to be a boy, “all” she had to do was eat nine unripe persimmons. (“All” is in scare quotes because, if you’ve ever accidentally tasted an unripe astringent persimmon, you probably know how horrifying the idea of having to eat nine of them would be!)

This isn’t new magic. It’s old-school Alabama folklore. So, why do legislators seem to think that transgender people are a new idea? That the days they have such misplaced nostalgia for weren’t also populated by transgender people? Or do they not care, so long as they never have to confront the idea and can remain comfortably ignorant while others live in fear and pain?

(I think I know the answer.)

I am considered to be under the trans “umbrella,” though I don’t consider myself trans — I have no desire to transition, and I would not talk about myself in the same breath as those who suffer from dysphoria. I have no real concept of gender, which, at times, can also make it more difficult to empathize with those for whom gender is a real and vital aspect of their identities. (Pink pens for women, black rubber loofahs for men, I don’t get it.) I also don’t care which pronouns are applied to me, because all of them are equally valueless. In truth, I’d rather people not apply any, because I dislike being talked about behind my back.

When I was younger, I used to care more about putting on a gender performance. Like a high school kid preoccupied with wearing the right labels on their clothes, I cared about how my gender was perceived. People still saw through it, though… I will never forget sitting in a living room with a group of friends, getting ready to watch T.V., only to have my room mate (annoyed that we didn’t want to watch what she wanted to watch instead) huffily declare,

“Well, [J]’s not even a real girl!”

Shit, I thought, am I that obvious?

As I matured, I learned better than to sacrifice my energy to keeping up a performance that, frankly, I couldn’t care less about. I’m a witch, I do as I please, and gender is a game I’ve no interest in playing. I live as I please, I dress as I please, I wear my hair (or not at all) as I please, I paint my face as I please, and I perform gender-expected functions of society as I please. I’m not the only one. This is going to continue, regardless of who thinks they can attempt to legislate my, or anyone else’s, existence away piece by piece.

It’s not going to work. Not on me, and not on anyone else.

You don’t get to erase people that easily.

Have Familiar, Will Travel. Part III: And then someone poisoned the car.

Some things are unavoidable. As it turns out, occasionally accidentally poisoning your car is one of them.

Unfortunately, sometimes pipes burst, tanks leak, deliveries get mixed up, or janky gas stations in the middle of nowhere try to cut costs by selling gas with a prize inside.
(The prize is extra chemicals.)
All told, it’s not really that unlikely that you’ll end up with a bad batch of fuel that has the potential to turn your car into a very expensive, highly impractical paperweight.

We filled up in Mississippi, and again in Tennessee. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the trouble started — it’s not like we could call a gas station and say, “hey, you just broke my car,” and expect whoever answers the phone to just sort of agree with us, you know? Either way, we ended up en route to Nashville when the check engine light came on, and we started feeling a pretty serious knock.

We were on the highway, and not far from Nashville, so we looked up a mechanic in the area and got there as fast as we could. Several hundred dollars later, we had replaced all the spark plugs, tested the fuel for diesel several times, and were not really any closer to an answer. The mechanics were pretty awesome about everything, though, and did their best to get us back on the road as soon as possible. We managed to get home, driving the last seven-odd hours with our fingers crossed and me fervently hoping that the travel protection amulet I’d made also extended to car engines.

(It did. We limped it back to our apartment’s parking space just in time for the car to decide it was not going to start again.)

Another mechanic and yet more hundreds of dollars later, we managed to get the car running — after dropping the fuel tank, flushing it out, and accepting a very flexible definition of the word “running.”

If you’ve been in this situation, it is scary (in a very how-am-I-going-to-get-home-oh-god-isn’t-this-basically-the-beginning-of-House-of-1000-Corpses way), frustrating, and infuriating. It’s expensive to fix, and it isn’t even a problem you can try to avoid to begin with, unless you visually inspect and thoroughly test every drop of fuel that goes in your car. So what do you do if you end up with a tank full of tainted gas?

As it turns out, this:

  1. Call your insurance company. Your coverage may handle tainted gas, but it’s important that you contact them before having any repairs done. Damage from tainted gas is not your fault, or a consequence of regular wear and tear on your vehicle, so it’s not really any different than any other damage someone else inflicts on your vehicle. You’ll have to be able to provide some proof that the damage was from contaminated fuel, though, so…
  2. Narrow down where you got the gas from. This is important — save your receipts when you get gas. Always have the last receipt from the last place at which you filled up. We didn’t think to keep our receipts, so we had to go by a bank statement. It made the process a bit longer and more tedious.
  3. Call the Department of Weights and Measures for that station’s county. As it turns out, they’re the ones with jurisdiction over this, and they’ll see what’s up.

It should be noted that, if you have a feeling you somehow ended up with diesel-tainted fuel, it is not a super great idea to keep driving your car. The longer you drive with contaminated gas, the more extensive (and expensive) the damage is going to be. We didn’t have much of a choice — the first mechanic said we’d be alright if we added some octane booster and let everything cycle through, and we didn’t have another way home.

All told, it was definitely one of the more nerve-wracking trips I’ve ever been on, and I once went on a cross-country train ride where someone died, four people got arrested, and we spent an extra twelve hours stranded in the Utah salt flats. True story.

Have Familiar, Will Travel. Part II: Mobile Magic.

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Man, where do I start?

This trip came right when I was in the middle of a thirteen-day uncrossing. (It’s something I like to do periodically to ditch other people’s accumulated nonsense, in addition to regular clearing and protection stuff.) Fortunately, I was able to take it with me. This got me thinking — how do you perform spells or rituals on the road?

We were going to be gone for a week, so I knew I wanted to be able to handle whatever came up. Since we’d be in hotels every night, whatever I used had to be:

  • Discreet.
  • Transportable.
  • Smokeless. Not all hotels have smoking rooms anymore, and almost none have windows that can open. It’d be really rude of me to light a bunch of incense or diffuse oils in a confined, temporary space in a non-smoking room — what if the person after me has severe asthma or allergies? It’s one thing if I accidentally give myself a headache or trigger my allergies, but another thing entirely if I accidentally smoke out my cats or the poor unwitting soul who’s going to occupy the room after me. (Also, some places will heck of charge you if your room smells like smoke when you leave.)
  • Difficult for me to forget. This is saying a lot — I have a neurological disorder that makes me forget things very easily. I’m not even supposed to do things like cook, because there is a significant chance I will lose track of what I’m doing and burn my entire block down.

In the end, I settled on a couple of key items that I could use for pretty much whatever I needed to do.

Like a portable altar.

The altar structure I use only really needs three things: a tree, a well, and a hearth. These are somewhat malleable. The tree can be any representation of a tree, or even an upright stone. The well can be a cup. The hearth can be three candles. With a quartz point and three tea lights stored in a glass food saver, I had a tree, a well, and a hearth that could travel. (And I brought along a wand I made recently, so I could both have it with me, and see how well it traveled/held up to being in my purse for days at a time.) Score.

I also wanted to be able to do some more specific work in contexts where busting out an altar (even a portable one) and lighting candles wasn’t exactly… doable.

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Cat relaxing in a car harness.

Have Familiar, Will Travel. Part I: “THEY ALL SAID I WAS MAD!”

Note: I link to some products here, but I’m not getting compensated for anything. Trust me, I don’t think any of these companies actually wanted to be associated with this idea.

This was not the post I planned to write.

This was not the week any of us planned to have.

Let me start from the beginning.

Neither my S.O. nor I have family in the area. I left the house I grew up in pretty much the second I was legally old enough to do so, and have moved wherever the wind blew me more times than I can count. He left home for college and job opportunities, to pursue his dreams. The end result is that we’re here pretty much alone, though his family has always been just a phone call away when we needed them. Unfortunately, this awesome family sustained a terrible loss.

Tl;dr: With pretty short notice, we had to find a way to get to a funeral in Mississippi.

We looked up plane tickets — $857 worth of no luck.

We looked up Amtrak — 44-odd hours of no luck.

He didn’t want to be away from home for too long if he could help it. I didn’t want to leave our cats alone if I could help it. We’ve had them for a little over a year and, in that time, we’ve discovered that Pyewacket needs more daily mental stimulation than a human toddler, and Kiko has separation anxiety that will make her try to destroy doors and hit the road in a bid for a Homeward Bound-esque reunion. Since they are both rescues, we also didn’t want to put them through the experience of being taken and dropped off in a kennel-like boarding facility. We also haven’t had to use a sitter in the past, so we didn’t really have anyone we knew well enough to trust them with.

(By the way — If anyone tells you cats are independent creatures, laugh at them. Laugh the high, gibbering laughter of the mad.)

We love them, but they are weird, weird animals. Ultimately, we decided that the simultaneously-most-sensible-yet-most-ludicrous solution would be to take the cats on a road trip.
Yeah, I know.

Two cats. Five states. One car.

It should be noted that these nerds hate being in carriers. They had a vet appointment for some boosters and a general yearly checkup two days before we left, where they sat in the waiting room growling at each other, Pye hissed at everything, and the vet came right out and said, “Yeah, this trip? It’s a pretty bad idea.”

Nevertheless, I kept on keeping on with my dumbass plans.

I’m not gonna lie, this was a long, strange journey. My S.O. was a surprise pallbearer. We visited a rad occult shop in Memphis. Mississippi poisoned our car. I’m going to have to break this up to keep it from turning into some kind of novella.

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