Technical HiccUUp

Online Worship Leader: “Today, we’re starting with social hour! Unmute your microphones and take this opportunity to check in with one another other.”

Me: [unmutes microphone]

Also Me: [immediately forgets mic is unmuted and belches]

Congregation: “…”

My webcam faces the bay window in my living room, creating a backlit effect, which means that at the moment, the local Unitarians only know me as the mysterious shadow figure with digestive issues. I think I’ll wait until in-person services resume before officially introducing myself.

I started to say, “… before revealing my true face,” but my true face burps a lot, regardless of occasion. So, y’know, they’ve already met the real me. I just need to give them a name to go with the nonsecular gas bubbles.

In Which I Finally Understand Why the Maids Always Quit

Ben: “Hey, can I set some stuff on this table? Because it looks like you’ve got some witchcraft going on here, and I don’t want to disturb it.”

Me: “Go for it. Those are just regular candles.”

Ben: “Ah, gotcha. Speaking of, though, I noticed that old, grubby key next to your sink, and I was going to clean it for you, but then I figured it was probably witchcraft.”

Me: “I actually found that outside a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to wash it off and see if it works on the door to the porch.”

Ben: “I mean, it really seems like it’s maybe witchcraft.”

Me: “It’s honestly not.”

Ben: [skeptical silence]

Me: “I promise.”

Ben: “Well… okay, then. I’m going to start cooking. May I move these rubber gloves, or are they for witchcraft?”

Long story short, I am very lucky to have a boyfriend who is unfazed by occultism. He’s currently making a meatloaf, although dinner is postponed until after I finish putting explanatory sticky notes on everything in the apartment.

Helper of Peoples, Maker of Troubles, Claimer of Titles

[An excerpt from a conversation in a Pagan social media group, edited for grammar and clarity. Guess which one is me.]

Pagan 1: “I know I really shouldn’t, but what are some love spells to bring back an ex?”

Pagan 2: “He’s your ex for a reason.”

Pagan 3: “A spell to let go might be more helpful than a love spell.”

Pagan 4: “Nope.”

Pagan 5: “Just don’t.”

Pagan 6: “Do a spell for self-love instead.”

Pagan 7: “On a Friday, during the waxing moon, stick seven pins down the side of a pink taper candle, and place two lodestones in front of it, seven inches apart. Name one of the lodestones for you, and the other for your ex. Light the candle, move each lodestone half an inch toward the other, and recite the Song of Solomon or read love poems out loud until the candle burns down to the first pin. Repeat every day for seven days: On the seventh day, make sure the lodestones are touching and magnetized together. Once the last pin has fallen, let the candle burn itself out, then place the lodestones in a small pink or red bag along with some Balm of Gilead. Tie the bag shut with pink or white string, keep it with you during the day, and sleep with it under your pillow at night.”

Pagan 8: “I did a love spell for someone once. He regretted it and had to get a restraining order.”

My participation in the discussion fit my usual M.O., in that I was going, “Dooooo iiiiit,” while everyone else was going, “Tabitha, no! Mustn’t twitch.” Alas, the thread quickly simmered down once Pagan 9 swept in to Set Things Right.

Let’s call her Samantha.

Samantha explained that she was very experienced in these matters, and while she had never cast a love spell herself, she had in the past performed [thunderclap] manipulative magic, the kickback of which wasn’t pretty. “I see so many want to resort to magick to fix or attract things,” she opined with a virtual sigh, “but never do anything to further their soul.” She also added that spellwork to control things was a recipe for disaster, which honestly made me giggle, since spellwork by its very definition is an attempt to control things.

When asked (by Pagan 3, I think?) why she wanted her ex back, Pagan 1 said that she’d been having dreams about him, which made me realize what the actual root of the situation was: She missed him, and she wanted process that. The challenge here, though, is that Paganism doesn’t count among its adherents too many pastoral counselors: A lot of us call ourselves ministers, and we have the credentials to back that up, but we don’t have the training or education to do more than lead rituals.

Not that leading rituals is an irrelevant thing, mind you. But the skillset doesn’t really translate over to situations where someone is trying to work through grief, or needing spiritual guidance, or presenting a problem that would best be solved with therapy. In these cases, all we can do is wait for them to start waving a magic wand in a threatening manner, then tell them that being a witch is all about not practicing witchcraft. Apparently.

This is a big part of why I’m thinking about going to seminary — as much as I piss and moan about the Pagan community, I really do want to be of service, and there’s a niche that I think I could at least somewhat competently fill. But I’m not gonna lie: At the moment, another part of me wants to go to seminary, because Samantha once yelled at me during a psychic fair, and I kind of want to lord it over her.

The fair was held at a now-defunct occult shop, and after things had wrapped up, a group of us were hanging around, chatting companionably, when Samantha (in a kaffeeklatch with some of the local “elders”) jabbed a finger in my direction and said, “Hey, who’s he?”

“Hi. I’m [Thumper],” I said, hoping my tone conveyed the sheer delight I felt at being addressed in third-person.

“I don’t know you,” she said. Then, to the manager of the shop, “I don’t know him. He’s…”

And I swear I’m not making this up.

“He’s not one of us.

“I’m sure you know Thumper,” the manager replied, ignoring the “one of us” comment but shooting me a wide-eyed “The fuck?” look that could’ve shattered glass. “He’s on all the Yahoo! groups.”

Samantha paused for a second, scrutinizing me. “Oh, wait, I do know you!”

“Yes, you do!” I agreed.

“You’re one of those troublemakers.”

And with that pronouncement, she turned away and went back to holding court with less worrisome Pagans, while I tried my best not to burst out laughing, and the manager grinned and shot me another look that read, “high five.”

I should say that I came by the title “troublemaker” honestly, as Samantha and I had butted heads several times, usually over what it truly meant to be a part of the Pagan community: She defined the community by those who attended the correct events, supported the correct organizations, and acknowledged the correct people as undisputed monarchs, whereas I defined the community by those who were welcoming to the newbies, and who weren’t dickheads to the rest of us.

Same planet, different worlds, I guess, but I’ll happily take “troublemaker” over “sycophant.” And in the long run, I’ll take being true to myself, and being known as “that annoying AF Unitarian minister who doesn’t know when to stop helping” over anything else.

Dress to Progress

[I am sitting out on the Ripcord patio, playing on my phone, and waiting for my shift to start. I’m wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt with a coordinating Nasty Pig baseball cap, and I look cute as all hell, if I do say so myself. A guy at a table across the way is studying me intently. I assume he is jealous of my hat, and I do not blame him.]

Guy: “Black Lives Matter, huh?”

Me: “Yes, they do.” [I smile politely and go back to my phone.]

Guy: “Interesting.”

[I don’t respond.]

Guy: “Do you know how many white people were killed by cops this year?”

Me: “I would guess quite a few.”

Guy: “Nineteen. AND DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY WHITE PEOPLE WERE KILLED BY COPS LAST YEAR?!”

[As he raises his voice, everyone on the patio turns to stare at us.]

Me: “Yeah, I’m not going to have this conversation.” [I stand up and walk toward the bar.]

Guy: “THEN I WIN.”

I stopped for a moment when he said that to consider how I wanted to react. The urge to wheel around and scream enlightenment at him was strong, but if recovery has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no point trying to argue with someone who’s drunk before sundown. Instead, I just rolled my eyes and headed inside to open the shop.

While I’m kind of proud of myself for not engaging, the interaction forced me to accept an uncomfortable truth about my motivation for wearing the shirt in the first place. I wanted to show solidarity, yes, but on some level, I presumed that my privilege would deflect any negative consequence. And not just my white privilege: I mean, I work late hours at a busy gay bar, and in that environment, the customer is most assuredly not always right. I have the right to refuse service; I have a say in whether surly patrons can stay or get kicked out; I have the solvents, and you want the solvents, so who’s sorry now?

At worst, I figured someone might see the shirt and try to amend it to, “All lives matter,” in which case I would provide some helpful analogies (“If you break your leg and ask me to call 911, would that be the right time for me to mention that all legs matter?”), and then… I don’t know, we would hug and cry it out and sing “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” or something. It never occured to me that it might anger someone to the point of aggression, because my privilege assured me that this couldn’t happen. And that was very fucking Caucasian of me.

Walking away kept the situation from escalating, and there’s nothing I could’ve said that would’ve changed the guy’s mind, but I can’t help thinking what would’ve happened if I’d held my ground and calmly replied with something like, “Wow, it sounds like cops are involved in an awful lot of killing. We should do something about that.” What impact would that have had on the people around us listening in? Would it have changed any of their minds? Am I really as much of an ally as I like to think I am if I’m avoiding confrontations instead of facing them head-on?

I am starting to suspect that I have a lot more to learn before I can effectively educate anyone. But I also just found the most adorable “Dismantle White Supremacy” shirt, and I cannot wait to hear that guy’s thoughts on it.