The Forgotten Lyrics of “Sweet Caroline”

[My friend Mike and I are leaning against the counter and catching up on each other’s lives, when a drunk, maudlin customer slowly wanders in and stares forlornly at the selection of hankies.]

Customer: “Which… one… is… penis?”

Me: “There is not a color that specifically means ‘penis.'”

Customer: “Penis…”

Me: “It’s more about what you’d like to do with the penis.”

Customer: “Penis… touching… penis.”

Mike: “…”

Me: [to Mike] “I know. But we’ll get through this.” [then, to the customer] “A white hanky means you’re looking for masturbation, but there’s not a hanky color that only represents frottage.”

Customer: [visibly disappointed] “… Oh.”

[long pause]

Customer: “I’ll… come… back.”

Mike and I took to the Internet after he left and went through the full list, but yeah, there were no colors for frottage (or docking, or sword-fighting, or friendly fire) to be found. I did come across another site that categorized frottage as a form of safer sex to be filed under black-and-white checkerboard, but we don’t have that design in stock, so I guess it’s a moot point.

I think I’m going to order a bunch of random camouflage patterns and just assign significance as the need arises. Like, “So you want to have an anonymous, bisexual encounter in the bayou while your boyfriend watches? Frog skin. Follow me!” This feels like a good way to reinforce my role as an authority on the subject while contributing to the evolution of my subculture.

PS: Belgian Jigsaw means “sexually aroused by subcultural authorities.” I read that in a book.

Symbiotes, My Lord. Kumbaya.

[Despite the signs all over the damn place that state we can only have two customers in the store at any given time, a group of four people — including a straight woman wearing a purple unicorn horn — try to squeeze in at once.]

Me: “Hey, guys, I can only have two customers in here.”

Straight Woman: [pointing to the man next to her] “Oh, it’s fine. We’re married, so we count as one.”

Me: “That is not how this works.”

Straight Woman: [winning smile]

Me: “Two of you need to get out. Now.”

She huffed a bit at that, but realizing I would not be swayed, the group had a brief conference in the doorway (right next to the sign that says, “Please Don’t Block the Doorway”) and decided to take their business elsewhere.

I probably could’ve been a little nicer to them, but frankly, her unicorn horn was pissing me off ferociously.

That and, y’know, her attempt to use heterosexual privilege to override the rules in a gay bar, because her marriage is ever so much more authoritative than our piddling little sodomite health guidelines.

But mainly just that fucking horn.

I told Ben this story, and he was like, “You should’ve said, ‘You may be one in the eyes of God, but He doesn’t work here.” This is why Ben has a career in Hollywood, while I have a desk job.

Alice Doesn’t Sling Here Anymore

Customer: “I thought Black Hawk Leather closed, but someone just told me it reopened?”

Me: “The owner of Black Hawk retired four years ago. After that store closed, the Montrose Forge opened up in the same space.”

Customer: “So Black Hawk reopened.”

Me: “Black Hawk closed, but a new store opened in the same location. That new store is called the Montrose Forge. This is the Forge’s bar store. Our main store is in the building where Black Hawk used to be.”

Customer: “Let me put it this way. Around the corner from this bar, there is a house. If I were to walk into that [air quotes] ‘house,’ would I find a shop similar to this one?”

Me: “… Yes.”

Customer: “Okay, so like a sex store or something.”

Me: “Sure. Just like that.”

Customer: “Great! I’m going to go check it out.”

And he zipped away before I could give him the main store’s hours of operation.

I am 100% looking forward to his angry online review about the Black Hawk employee who misled him.

Apotropaic chicken parts are better than friendship pins. Ask me how.

[A conversation with my Misfits brother Scott, who, it should be noted, lives in the country and deals with a lot of livestock.]

Scott: “A rooster got into the backyard earlier, and one of the dogs thought it was a toy.”

Me: “Oh, no.”

Scott: “Yeah. Blood and feathers everywhere.”

Me: “Jesus. That’s awful.”

Scott: “Yeah.”

Me: “…”

Scott: “…”

Me: “…”

Scott: “So, do you want the feet?”

Me: “Yes, please.”

And now he’s debating the merits of freeze-drying versus salt preservation while pointing out “all the magical things you’re going to do with my cock.”

This is definitely not how I thought things would go when Tony sandbagged me into joining a leather club five years ago, but you know what? I feel accepted, so I’m just going to keep running with it.

Shop Talk

[Although the bar store is still closed, I’ve picked up a shift at the Forge main store, and I’ve dropped by Ye Olde Tyme Magick Shoppe to kill a few minutes before I have to go in. I’m flipping through a text on West Country folklore and trying to remember the name of a different book my friend Jay told me about, when one of the salesclerks approaches me.]

Clerk: “That’s a really good book, if you want something traditional that’s not Gardnerian…”

Me: “Oh, actually, I am Gardnerian. I’m just looking for a particular title a friend recommended.”

Clerk: “Oh. Okay. In which case, just let me know if you need any help.”

Me: “I will. Thanks!” [I keep browsing.]

Clerk: “So… may I ask you something? You don’t have to answer if it’ll make you uncomfortable.”

Me: “Sure, go ahead.”

Clerk: “Do you practice with a coven?”

Me: “I do.”

Clerk: “Really? Where?”

Me: “North of town.”

Clerk: “Oh.”

[long pause]

Clerk: “Well, It’s always nice to meet a Gardnerian.”

He kind of followed me around the shop after that, even finding the book I was looking for (Backwoods Witchcraft, in case anyone’s interested), eventually introducing himself — I’mma call him Gary — and wishing me a good rest of the day. I took my purchase up to the checkout counter, behind which sat two more employees, manspreading like seasoned pros and loudly discussing the magical incompetencies of a mutual acquaintance.

“She was burning blue candles for wealth,” one said to the other while ringing me up. “Can you believe that? I guess some people just don’t want to bother with proper correspondences.”

I wanted to ask whether she was a Chaos Magician or a Hermetic Qabalist, since the color blue is associated with wealth in both of those systems, but I also accepted that this was one of those situations where the best thing I could do was keep my mouth shut. Instead, I glanced back at Gary, who was trotting around the sales floor, helping one customer pick out some herbs while pulling books on ancestor worship for an older lady who couldn’t quite reach the shelves.

You know, I turn 45 next week, and I’ve got a little mad money. Maybe I’ll come back and do some birthday shopping with Gary. I feel like we’d be happy to see each other.

That’s So Fucking Raven

A couple of evenings ago, in (yet another) Facebook group, my friend Scarlet decided to answer some questions that had been posted about a particular book. In doing so, Scarlet explained that the author was an initiate of Traditional Wicca, but that the book itself was not about Wicca.

This prompted some unsolicited feedback from a feisty, young Pagan named Raven, who had very strong feelings about Things Wiccan.

Here’s a fun pic of Raven:

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Raven was incensed that anyone would dare discuss Wicca without villainizing it and reported Scarlet’s comments to the moderators. Additionally, because the author’s website mentioned Lillith (three pages in, at the bottom of a long list of workshops and rituals), Raven accused Scarlet of appropriating Jewish culture.

Scarlet is Jewish.

In response, the moderators put Scarlet on mute, meaning that she was unable to post or comment for 24 hours. They also made some noises about “handling how Scarlet’s ethnicity/culture was assumed,” but it’s important to note that they did not mute Raven, nor anyone else involved in the conversation. As Scarlet herself put it, “Let’s silence the Jew and talk over her about how woke we are!”

And that’s what pisses me off about these performative little ankle-biters more than anything else: They have no problem stepping on minorities, so long as their virtue signals shine brighter than everyone else’s. And they have such a mob mentality towards the “rightness” of maligning Wicca, that they fail to realize it was Wiccans fighting for religious freedom in the not-too-distant past that allows them the luxury of being terribly and conveniently oppressed by Wicca in the present.

On the bright side, the wee bairns won’t ever do anything more drastic than complain, since a fear of ill-defined appropriation has replaced the Threefold Law as the preferred rationalization for inaction. “I want to practice Witchcraft, but that might be appropriative, so I’m not going to,” they say with pride, sounding eerily similar to last decade’s insta-witches loudly swearing off spellwork to avoid the fabricated wrath of the Universe. Meanwhile, Traditional Wiccans like Scarlet will continue the business of proactively educating themselves and others, secure in the knowledge that the Ravens of the world have literally no power over them.

But I did find Raven’s physical mailing address (ye Gods but I love the Internet), and I’m sending him an anonymous copy of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today. I mean, hey, after all, someone has to be the villain. Might as well be Wiccan me.

Any Resemblance to Fictional People is Purely Coincidental

[A telephone conversation with Ben.]

Me: “So yesterday’s blog post was kind of a palate cleanser. I figured I needed to take a break from bitching about those anti-Wiccan children on Facebook. But you know how I mentioned Discordian Witchcraft? I did some googling, and it turns out that no one’s written about it yet, so I’m going to write books about it, and then I’m going to go to conferences and be on panels and dress all in black.”

Ben: “With gray and purple accents?”

Me: “Well, of course. Except I need a Five-Fingered Hand of Eris pendant to complete the look, but I couldn’t find a sterling silver one anywhere, so I guess it doesn’t exist, which sucks, even though I did find a cool magnet.”

Ben: “Okay, I need you to rewind and think about that last sentence.”

Me: “Huh?”

Ben: “‘I need this pendant that doesn’t exist, but I found a magnet.’ That was just… peak Thumper.”

Me: “…”

Ben: “Like, if I was writing you as a character, that is word-for-word something I’d have you say.”

Me: “I mean, can anyone ever really have too many magnets?”

Ben: “Listen, I’ve got a box in the garage next to the kaftans packed to the brim with magnets, and… oh, shit, hang on a second. The timer just went off. I’ve gotta finish activating the THC in this weed butter so that I can get the next batch of jazz cookies in the oven.”

Me: “Wow.”

Ben: “Wow?”

Me: “All of that was just… peak Ben.”

Ben: “… Touché”

Enter Life, Stage Right

In a shadowy alcove on the first floor of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, right around the corner from the dinosaur exhibit, a video kiosk plays a continuously looped short film called Enter Life. Created by cartoonist Faith Hubley, Enter Life explains how four elements – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen – came together to form simple amino acid chains, which went on to develop into one-celled organisms. As such, these four elements were the building blocks of life on Earth.

The elements in the movie are represented by these darling psychedelic amoeboids, who caper about while announcing their names like submolecular cheerleaders: “Carbon! Hydrogen! Oxygen! Nitrogen!” As the story progresses, the creatures join together in conga lines and locomote through the primordial soup, cheering and singing and devising an acronym for themselves: “Carbon! Hydrogen! Oxygen! Nitrogen! Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon! Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon!

I saw Enter Life a little over 30 years ago, during an 8th-grade field trip to Washington, D.C., but the Chon Song stuck with me. Late at night, or alone in an elevator, I’ve been known to dance around gleefully, chonning to my heart’s content: “Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-chon! Chon chon chon, chon chon ch-CHON!” [spirit fingers]

The Greek poet/philosopher Empedocles is credited with originating the concept of the Four Elements as objective states of matter: That is, everything in existence can be broken down into the fundamentals of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, which can change, combine or revert to their original forms, based on the effects of two opposing forces, Love and Strife. (I have ideas about combining Empedocledian doctrine with Chaos Magic and Traditional Wicca to create Discordian Witchcraft, but that’s a blog for another time.)

This perception of the Four Elements have permeated philosophical, medical, and psychological thought for centuries, influencing everything from the Hippocratic theory of the Four Humours to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. Most recently (and by “recently,” I mean the late 1800s), the Four Elements were incorporated into the Western Mystery Tradition, eventually finding their way into modern Paganism. A lot of Pagans now view the Four Elements as metaphorical – Air is the intellect, Water is emotion, etc. – but it’s kind of mindblowing to think that 2500 years ago, a Greek philosopher declared that life was made up of four elements, and then a cartoon produced in the early 1980s declared that yes, he was right.

Some of Hubley’s other animated short films include The Big Bang and Other Creation Myths, which foretells the coming of the New Age; Yes We Can, featuring Gaia the Earth Mother; and Witch Madness, a documentary on the persecution of women throughout history, culminating in the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages. Methinks Ms. Hubley might have something else to tell the class.

I’m feeling peckish. Skip ahead to the part where we eat babies.

“I’m so happy this group exists. Now I can bitch about Wiccans to other people aside from my friends when I’m drunk.”

I came across a brand new Facebook group yesterday, the purpose of which is to discuss the issue of cultural appropriation within Wicca. In theory I could get behind this, except the group members are displaying no real knowledge or interest in actual history, and are using social justice as a front to merrily bash Wicca without repercussion. Which is really just the whitest thing ever.

The group is currently listed as “public,” meaning that one can read through the posts without having to actively participate, and it’s like a train wreck, y’all. I can’t look away from it. The first line of this entry comes from that group, and the person who posted it later started a thread entitled, “What irks you most about Wicca?” It garnered more than 400 withering responses, all of them pretty much what you’d expect from young, predominantly white people who’ve been given blanket permission to hate something: Wiccans are weak, heteronormative posers who are hobbled by stupid rules, and they can’t curse, and they’re also tyrannical monsters who steal everything, and they’re probably all going to hell for their sick, sexual obsessions, so there.

If it sounds like I’m not taking them seriously, it’s because I’m not. Mostly. I mean, they’re mainly just sheltered twenty-somethings who haven’t experienced Paganism outside of the Internet, but they’re also indulging in depthless gestures of support while scapegoating a demographic deemed “lesser than.” They haven’t done the work (what Phil Hine calls “deconditioning,” and what Paul Huson describes as “unbinding”) to liberate themselves from the perverted Protestant ethics ingrained in our society, so they need an appropriate Devil on whom to place blame, thus absolving themselves from personal responsibility. And that is decidedly not okay.

Below are some of the more hysterical and horrifying comments (It’s a public group, remember, so anyone can read and share the posts), along with my own color commentary at no additional cost. So, let’s see: What irks these people about Wicca?

“Their victimhood fetish & persecution complex.”

Yes. How dare the people we’ve banded together against feel like we’ve banded together against them. But this does sort of highlight the weird contradiction I noticed in the litany of complaints — Wiccans are powerless, yet also a dominant, oppressive force that cannot be resisted. As follows:

“The pressure that magic has to be done ~this way~ usually requiring a lot of resources.”

“It took me a long time for me to accept that my practice can be simple and easy thanks to Wiccan pressure.”

“Yeah I’m pretty sure Wicca is why I’m not into Celtic mythology, as it was my introduction.”

First of all, I am in love with the concept of “Wiccan pressure.” But considering how much disdain these people have for Wicca, you’d think it would maybe have, y’know, less control over them?

“I hate that there’s this element of spiritual gaslighting within it that basically blames you for any kind of suffering you experience while simultaneously expecting you to utilize your suffering in some sort of forced martyrdom. It always made me super uncomfortable and was weaponized against me a lot when I was interested in Wicca.”

Yeah, I have no idea what they’re talking about. But good use of buzzwords!

“I feel like it’s regularly wiccans who want to get all over you for hexing. Like if you don’t want to hex that’s fine, BUT I’m a witch who believes in self-protection and firm boundaries.”

They can “believe” in firm boundaries all they want, but if they’re this affected by people “getting all over” them, they don’t actually have any.

“I have expressed interest in multiple groups only to learn they actually have different roles for men and women and I’m not into it. I’m the femme-est cis women, but I asked if I could choose the men’s role and the technical answer was yes, but I could only choose one.”

So basically, she could’ve taken any role, regardless of gender, but they wouldn’t let her take ALL the roles. Huh. Enjoy that phantom penis, hon.

“The disregard for asexuality. Like sorry I don’t give a shit about fertility.”

Okay. Wicca is, at its core, a fertility cult, but sex (or sexual attraction) and fertility are two very different things, and they are not reliant on one another. Plants and animals that reproduce asexually are still fertile, and fertility itself is not limited to reproduction.

Here are some Merriam-Webster definitions of the word “fertile”:

  • Producing or bearing many crops in great quantities.
  • Characterized by great resourcefulness of thought or imagination; inventive.
  • Affording abundant possibilities for growth or development.

As we’ve discussed before, one does not need to be be heterosexual and/or cisgender to practice Wicca. However, if you fully believe that fertility is, by its very existence, stifling you, you’d probably be better off on a spiritual path that doesn’t feature a bread holiday.

But hey! Let’s talk about sex.

“My ex-friend wanted me to join her Wiccan cult. Luckily she lived in the states so I could only do stuff over the Internet so, you know, I lied. But I’m not unconvinced there wasn’t weird sex stuff happening. Which is awful because the coven was her, her parents, and her parents’ one female friend.”

“OMG! I don’t know that they were wiccan but my friends and I ended up on a thread the other day where a ‘sex educator’ insisted we all must bow to ‘cock power’ as if so many humans aren’t traumatized by that type of thing. They went on to talk about how whether we wanted it or not in order to be fully alive we had to have cock energy in our lives!”

“I saw Goody Cunningham dancing in the woods with Tituba.”

Right. I made that last one up. But hopefully you get the gist, since we’re taking the first tentative steps here into actual alarming territory. Hearsay and speculation are getting framed as fact, and things that have not a damn thing to do with Wicca are under the spotlight as examples of how awful Wicca is.

And that’s some funny-mentalist Christian bullshit right there. The seeds of another Satanic Panic. And these kids are too spellbound by privilege to see it.

In an attempt to get the discourse somewhat back on track, one of the moderators decided to pitch a new topic: “Let’s shift gears from angry to amorous. Share a time that you practiced love or sex magic. How did you do it? Did it work? Absolutely NO shaming allowed.” And of course, the people who, moments before, had been all, “EWWWW SEX,” were now all, “OOOOH SEX,” and posting their favorite love spells, along with the requisite dire warnings about “the pendulum swinging back” on them.

If they ever do get around to deconditioning themselves, the immobilizing belief in pyschosomatic punishment as an unavoidable consequence of witchcraft might be a good place to start.

But then again, I’m one of those dogmatic, no-goodnik Wiccans.

What the fuck do I know?

A loaf of bread, a jug of organic apple cider vinegar drink, and thou.

In the stage play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, which tells the story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob describes his addiction thusly: “I got a demon inside me… a real live evil spirit called John Barleycorn.”

That line always struck me as weighted, but it wasn’t until last night, on the eve of my eighth year of recovery, that I realized why: It’s fitting that I got sober a couple of days before Lammas, the celebration of the First Harvest, because when you think about it, I really did sacrifice John Barleycorn to ensure my own survival. And that was an uncharacteristically good decision on my part.

So here’s to you, JB, you irascible spirit. Thanks for taking one for the team.