Bamboozled

My dad has been talking about taking a mahjong class at his church (Episcopalians being ambitious when it comes to tabletop entertainments), so for Christmas, I surprised him with a set of his own. He was delighted, and we both got very excited about it. And then we started reading the directions.

Me: “Okay, so the dragons correspond to the suits.”

Dad: “Dragons correspond to suits. Got it.”

Me: “There’s a red dragon, a green dragon, and… soap.”

[beat]

Dad: “I’m sorry, what was that last one?”

Me: “Soap.”

Dad: “A soap dragon.”

Me: “Yup.”

Dad: “Huh.”

Me: “Oh, and there are flowers and seasons, but they’re, like, interchangeable. I think.”

Dad: [flipping through the rule book] “And at some point, there’s something called a Charleston. Are… are we supposed to Charleston?”

Me: “Apparently. But we should probably figure out what these dice are for first. And all these coins. And this little spinner thing.”

[contemplative silence]

Dad: “Let’s play backgammon.”

Me: “Yes, please.”

He won.

Happy Boxing Day!

Join the Leather ‘Neath the Mistletoe

Customer: “So…”

Me: “Yes?”

Customer: “What do you recommend?”

Me: “…”

Customer: “…?”

Me: “Is there… something in particular that interests you?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Me: “Okay. What is it?”

Customer: [gestures vaguely at everything]

Me: “Of course.”

His crippling inability to clarify aside, wanna know why he can see all the things in the ambiguous direction toward which he’s flapping his hand?

Because the sun came back.

Happy Yule, my loyal Marjorettes. Go ring some bells for me.

AM VALID

The daytrippers would take their cotton-candy version of Wicca home, and when it had dissolved away to nothing in their hands would wonder why they hadn’t gotten the fulfillment they’d been promised. They’d feel cheated, and vaguely dissatisfied, and think … that the people claiming to get that much out of Wicca were deluded, or lying. Neither is true. The difference between that world and this is the difference between an afternoon’s idle play and years of training and study and practice. It’s a difference that lies in that which can’t be spoken of, because it can’t be put into words. But as it is in fairy tales, you only get what you give.” Rosemary Edghill

Customer: “So hey, I read your blog.”

Me: “You do?”

Customer: “I do! I enjoy it, although I’ve noticed that you mention Paganism quite a bit. Are you involved with a particular Tradition?”

Me: “I am, actually.”

Customer: “Cool. Please tell me you’re not Gardnerian, though. Ha ha!”

Me: [winning smile]

Customer: [eyebrows up] “Oh, shit.”

It’s been a minute since I’ve encountered this sentiment, but back in my Pagan heyday, I smacked into it a lot — usually on listservs, occasionally in person. I wish there were some epic reason why so much antipathy exists towards Gardnerian Wicca (And nine, nine rings were gifted to the Gardnerians, who immediately sold them on Etsy…”), but in reality, it’s just the disconcertingly human need for outside validation, coupled with the conviction (thanks, Capitalism!) that nothing has merit unless it’s better than something else.

The Gardnerian trad doesn’t lend itself to public consumption, and seekers in the market for a fast track to legitimacy sometimes develop resentments about that. Others are just unfamiliar with the history of the late-century Witchcraft Revival and fill the perceived dearth with fanciful misinformation. The latter are my favorites, especially since Wicca ain’t as trendy as it used to be, and Wiccans who once identified as More Authentic Than Gardnerians now position themselves as Real Witches who are More Authentic Than Wiccans. Cursory inspection tends to reveal that they’re still just practicing Wicca, though, even if they’ve rearranged the metaphysical furniture and hung new drapes.

Many moons ago, I was invited to a Pagan meet n’ greet at a local pub, where I found myself presented to one of the Houston-area scene queens. Names were traded and hands dutifully shook, and then — she’d not seen me around before — she smiled benevolently and asked, “What questions can I answer for you?”

“Well, I don’t really have any questions,” I responded, trying to sound professional yet friendly. “I’ve been doing stuff for awhile, so… um… yeah. You know?” (So much for professional.)

“Ah!” She said. “Do you practice a Tradition?”

“Yes!” I said, smiling brightly and praying that we could talk about anything else.

“Well, which one?” she asked.

So I told her. And without so much as batting a false eyelash, she replied, “My tradition is older than yours.”

“Great!” I said, because what else can you say to a statement like that? I mean, I guess I could have replied with something along the lines of, oh, I don’t know, “You are so full of shit that you could fertilize soil,” but that would have been declassé.

“Yes, ours is a very old tradition,” she continued. “It’s not Wiccan at all.”

“Cool,” I said, glancing out of the corners of my eyes for anyone who might come save me.

“Why don’t I explain it to you? It makes so much more sense than Wicca.”
And she told me all about it. And… it was Wicca. Casting Circles and the Four Elements and the Triple Goddess and the Horned God and Merry Meet and Blessed Be, as described in every book on the subject since Lid Off The Cauldron. But she kept saying, “Doesn’t this make more sense than Wicca? Doesn’t this make more sense than your modern tradition?”

I told her that I could certainly see how it made sense, because I really, really didn’t want to get into a polytheistic pissing contest without backup. And there actually were some mild differences here and there, but they were superficial, designed to create an illusion of separation: “We call the Element of Air in the Southwest instead of the East, and our ritual knives have burgundy handles instead of black. Doesn’t that make more sense?”

The evening eventually came to a close, and I was able to extricate myself from the conversation without any permanent scars to my psyche. I figured this was pretty much the end of the debacle, so imagine my surprise when she emailed me the next morning, saying how nice it was to meet me, and how I was much friendlier than the Wiccans with whom she occasionally sparred online. Maybe we could get together sometime, and I could give her [repeat: not making this up] some secret, oathbound, Gardnerian material to look through. Not that she needed it, mind you, but wouldn’t it be fun to compare notes?

In response, I thanked her for her kind words and suggested she read Lid Off The Cauldron. And I left it at that.

Et voilà.

It’s easy to laugh in retrospect, because a) the Big Secret is that there is no secret, and b) the validity of my identity is not contingent on whether or not the Sense Fairy (or anyone else, for that matter) says it’s so. And you know what? Maybe she’s the Witchiest Witch Who Ever Witched, and her mastery of the Dark Arts far exceeds my own: If that’s the case, good on her. But if her practice is rooted (like a sad number are) in nothing but Not Being Wiccan and measuring herself against lesser-thans, all I can say is that I hope it takes her where she wants to go, and that she lives happily ever after.

And I hope that anyone else she targets with her senses stands firm in the knowledge that they are valid too.

Topspin on the Backhand Lob

Customer 1: [eyeing the solvents display] “How does Amsterdam compare to Pig Sweat?”

Me: “They’re similar in strength, although some people feel that the Pig Sweat is a little stronger.”

Customer 2: “Mmm. My bootyhole just went ‘Oooh!'”

Customer 1: “We know. We heard it. Four ping-pong balls just shot out of you.”

It’s a good thing I’ve got all these paddles, I guess. Just need to figure out what the point value would be if I manage to hit one back in.

It could also be the title of a comedy album, but I want to be taken seriously as an artist first.

Customer: “I don’t like these socks.”

Me: “I’m sorry to hear that. What don’t you like about them?”

Customer: “They don’t make socks for guys like me. My calves are too big. It’s like trying to slip a sausage into… um…”

Me: “…”

Customer: “…”

Me: “Into something smaller than a sausage?”

Customer: “… skinny jeans.”

Me: “Like slipping a sausage into skinny jeans.”

Customer: “Yes. Definitely.”

I am not a musician by any means, but if I’m ever in a situation where I have to produce a hit Gay Country Crossover single, I’m going to call it A Sausage in Skinny Jeans. The Grammy nod will totally be worth the Parental Advisory warning.

I, Too, Forgot Cranberries. Because Leather.

Topics discussed in depth on this month’s Facets of Leather that have everything in the world to do with leather:

… and topics discussed in depth that have not a damn thing to do with leather:

It was an even split. I’m calling it apropos.

Most of this episode’s music came from the Go-Go Boys’ Gay Apparel Xmas Songs, but personally, it’s not the Yuletide until I hear “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses. Not only is it the greatest holiday song to be birthed in the 80s, but it’s also a consolation for those of us who got sent to Whamhalla, because our boss lives around the corner from our place of employment and can control the Ripcord jukebox from the safety and comfort of his living room.

May the buoyant saxophone be a balm to your soul, my fallen warriors.

Nothing but a Pound Dog

Customer: “Do the colors of these pup hoods mean the same things as the colors in the Hanky Code?”

Me: “Not really. I mean, a pup could wear a certain color hood to display interest in a particular kink or fetish, but a lot of people are just partial to one color or another. Whether or not someone’s flagging a hanky is the only sure way to tell what they’re into.”

Customer: “Oh. So a pup wearing a red hood wouldn’t necessarily be into fisting.”

Me: “Correct.”

Customer: “But if a pup were into fisting, would that make him a puppet?”

Me: “…”

Customer: “…”

Me: “Get out of my shop.”

Mazed and Confused

[A customer wanders into the store, picks up a bundle of bondage rope, drifts over to me and places the rope on the counter.]

Me: “Are you… wanting to purchase this?”

Customer: “No. I just want to be here.”

[He turns and wanders back into the bar.]

Short story shorter, if any minotaurs are reading this, I think I may have found the dude you’re looking for.

I always kind of expect Greek heroes to be taller, though.

Olympic Tangents

Me: “… So then Hera was like, ‘Yeah, this one’s a might too unfortunate-looking,’ and threw the newborn Hephaistos off of Mount Olympus into the sea, where he was found by the nymph Thetis, who raised him as her own and introduced him to blacksmithing, and he started making her all kinds of amazing jewelry, which she wore when she visited Olympus, and Hera was all, ‘Damn, hon! Where did you get all this awesome shit?’ And Thetis was like, ‘Funny story. This random baby fell from the sky and turned out to be talented AF, so now he bangs out accessories for me.’ So Hera was all, ‘Oops! He’s actually mine. I’d like him back, please, now that I know he’s useful.’ But of course, the whole myth is really just an allegory for plunging heated iron into cold water to temper it.”

John: “…”

The rest of the Misfits: “…”

Everyone else in the leather bar: “…”

Me: “Anyway, to answer your question, yes. I definitely think you should get a new tattoo.”

It’s moments like this when I can tell how my brothers neither regret electing me president nor ever having met me. Makes a guy feel powerful and wise, that does.

Keats and Yates Are on Your Side

Recently, in a private Facebook group geared toward such topics, an acquaintance of mine asked, “What are some of the strange, unusual, funny, interesting, weird things you’ve done for witchcraft?”

I am currently not the most observant of Witches. That extended depression I went through earlier this year is partially the cause, but I also just kind of lost interest in the occult (other than the occasional geomantic reading), and I really don’t know what to blame for that. The question, though, got me thinking about how much more content I was when I was actively practicing religious witchcraft, not to mention all the strange, unusual, funny, interesting, weird experiences I used to enjoy on a regular basis as a result of it.

My goal at the moment is to start having those experiences again. I’m not sure how I’m going to go about making that happen, whether I’m going to plug back into old Traditions or branch out into new ones, but either way, I feel like my life is about to get a lot more entertaining than it already is.

In the meantime, please find below a phone call between myself and my co-Witch Trothwy. The call itself occurred ages ago, but in the spirit of Repaganing, and since we have a big holiday coming up, I figured it was worth a retelling.

Trothwy: “Hey! It’s me.”

Me: [quietly] “Hey.”

Trothwy: “Did I call at a bad time?”

Me: [a little louder] “No, no, not at all. What’s up?”

Trothwy: “Well, you know how we were talking about re-reading Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft together?”

Me: “Yeah, I’m enthused about that.”

Trothwy: “And you know how we’ve also been talking about building up more of a visible profile in Houston? I was thinking, what if we combined the two and offered a monthly book study?”

Me: “This is a great idea.”

Trothwy: “Because it’s such an iconic book, you know? And I really feel like the serious practitioners in this area could get some good information out of it.”

Me: “I agree.”

Trothwy: “But here’s my one reservation. Huson covers a lot of fascinating, useful stuff, but he also doesn’t pull punches with his writing. I’m not sure that everyone who might agree to participate will want to hear what he has to say.”

Me: “That is a conundrum.”

Trothwy: “And… okay, do you mind if I just vent?”

Me: “Sure, go ahead.”

Trothwy: “I’m tired of hearing people talk about what amazing Witches they are, when they’re not doing anything. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, fine, you’re a big ol’ Witch, but what actual Witchcraft are you practicing?”

Me: “I understand.”

Trothwy: “And I know there’s this trend right now to separate Wicca from Witchcraft, and to make Wicca all mainstream or whatever, but still, I can’t be the only damned one in this city who feels like…”

Me: “Oh, shit.

Trothwy: “[Thumper]? Are you alright?”

Me: “I think a security guard just spotted me.”

Trothwy: “Um… pardon?”

Me: “Crap, he’s definitely coming this way. I need to get back to my car.”

Trothwy: “If you don’t mind my asking, where are you right now?”

Me: “I’m in a cemetery.”

Trothwy: “And you are in a cemetery, running from security guards at 4 o’clock on a weekday afternoon, because…?”

Me: “I needed graveyard dirt, and they lock the gates at 5.”

[beat]

Me: “Everything’s fine, though. I paid the guardian spirits with old coins, and I wiped down my offerings for fingerprints before I left them. But I’m sorry, I interrupted you. What were you saying?”

[another beat]

Trothwy: “I fucking love you.”

[Ed. note: The title of this post is a bit obscure, so for more info, click here and bop along to what we used to identify with before Emo was officially a thing.]