Monday, September 30, 2013

Choosing to Do the Hoodoo

I've been thinking a lot over the past two years, mostly to myself, about how much I've been struggling religiously or spiritually, and how much I've been fighting against some inner change. I realize I've been in conflict with myself for pretty much all of the ten years I've been practicing witchcraft, as well as attempting to fit into any number of Pagan traditions. I've researched and gone through motions of Wicca, Druidry, Celtic Recon, Thelema, some eclectic version of Egyptian religion. I kept looking and trying because I was holding so hard onto what had developed into my identity as a religious, Pagan person. I was willing to accept anything in order to be a religious person, but the whole time, I was forcing it. And my lack of progress in these traditions was evident. My identity is changing and I am embracing it, because now I'm really beginning to understand what everyone else is talking about when they say, "It just feels right."
My makeup for opening ritual at last week's Hoodoo Fest to invite in the Ancestors.
I'm no longer a religious person. I don't believe the gods exist as anything other than archetypes. I don't believe in karma, though that's sort of old news. I'm losing faith everyday in the occurrence reincarnation. I no longer view the elements as individual, conscious energies. I'm basically an atheist.

But I still consider myself a spiritual person, because I do hold beliefs in things that aren't directly observable, things that haven't been explained (or accepted) by science. I believe there is a truth to energy manipulation. There is truth in being able to sense and respond to energy that is outside of your own. Energies that belong to the air and the soil and the plants, ponds, rivers, lightning, stones, the moon, animals, the dead. I believe that land spirits are a real thing, they are unique to their own ecosystems, and that we can learn about them by spending time in our environments, paying attention to what we feel when we're there. And I think it's because that I believe in these things that I don't need the religion anymore.

Probably the biggest influence on this personal change entered my life two years ago, when my church began its West Kentucky Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival. Our third consecutive Hoodoo Fest just ended last week and each time I attend, I learn and become even more confident in leaving religion behind to pursue a craft-like approach to spirituality that is rooted in the practices of energy manipulation (magic) and ancestor reverence. And these practices also have a different quality that captivates me more than any others ever have: they're American.

One of the biggest things I've been struggling with for the last decade is that I don't know how to practice something that is so culturally-involved when I myself am not a part of that culture. Yes, my ancestors came from Ireland and England and Prussia, but I didn't. Even having lived in Europe, attending a British school, studying abroad in England, visiting Ireland, hanging out in Germany every weekend, I'm not Irish or English or German. I am American, and before I knew what hoodoo was, it seemed like there was no practice of which that I was ever going to feel truly a part. I might not be a native of the Carolinas or grew up in a household with a grandma who sprinkled brick dust and had superstitions about how to store a broom, but I don't think that matters. Since I've began my own personal research and practice, and since I've been attending hoodoo-focused workshops every year at my church, I've enjoyed success and improvement in my spiritual life that I feel I was always missing out on before. When I dress candles and write petition papers and create sachets, I feel like I'm participating in something that works and enriches my life, rather than something frustrating and discouraging.

I'm even shying away from what I called European witchcraft. There is a feeling of so much freedom in Hoodoo when my materials are just yarn, salt, paper, herbs (among other very easy to find or make ingredients). No need for wands and atham├ęs and censers and grand gestures. Hoodoo is the kind of craft that I can practice sitting on my deck listening to the birds, wrapping string around a little piece of paper. I don't have to be chanting and raising my arms and dancing around an altar at midnight. It's a relief.

And it's also relieving to understand and come to terms with how my beliefs are evolving. I think there's a lot of pressure in the Pagan community to be a polytheist, and to adhere to a karmic worldview, and to never harm anyone or anything, even in self defense. There's a stark dichotomy between "black/dark" and "white" witchcraft that frankly, I hate. It's always been my opinion that overall, Neo-Paganism should draw its spiritual inspiration from nature and it just drives me crazy when Pagans devise all these ethical constructs and fantastic beliefs that have nothing connecting them to the natural world. Hoodoo seems so different in the still early stages of my practice because it is directly connected to the land and the community in which I live. The rainwater I collect comes from my backyard. My petition paper comes from local thrift store packaging that wraps the many jars I also purchase there. The more I learn about this craft, the more I try to use materials that I can walk outside of my house and find right in my yard. I want to personally make my materials as much as I can, like when I made my own Florida Water. Next, I'd like to make my own rose water, and try my hand at my own candles and oils.

Hoodoo to me represents a practice of self-accountability, responsibility, and creativity. It provides so many opportunities for an individual to experience self-growth through trial and error and learning at one's own pace, along with practicing traditional methods. Specifically to me, it allows me to figure out my own ethics and beliefs without the requirement of belief in gods and karma and all the other things that hang me up about other spiritual/religious systems. But it's flexible enough that many practitioners of it (at least most of the people I've met), do approach it from a religious point of view. Some even identify as Christian or at least work the magic within a Christian context, using psalms, calling on Mary and Jesus. It's that flexibility that really makes hoodoo a true craft to me, not just a spiritual activity. From all I've learned and done so far, it's not a meditate-y, prayerful, fluffy bunny, unconditional love and peace type of spirituality. And I need that because nature and life and my own experience are sometimes rarely those things. I need a practice that is grounded in the type of reality that I'm looking at everyday. I don't want a religion or a spirituality for which I have to set time aside, or get into the right (somewhat altered) mindset to participate, or ignore my education as a scientist, or any other ways of removing myself from this world. I'm looking for a spirituality that isn't supernatural, but is still mysterious, with concepts and skills to learn throughout my life.

I believe ultimately that spirituality should be about enriching one's life in the present. I also believe that the enrichment should be driven by oneself, through study, active practice, learning from mistakes and remembering successes for next time. The practice of hoodoo allows these things to happen for the individual, for me, and it's because of that that I don't think I'll be looking back at much of anything else as I move forward. The deeper I go into the study and practice of hoodoo, the farther away these inner conflicts about gods and religion and fitting in with other Neo-Pagans become. This system of American folk magic makes me feel like I know what home is. And home to me is not worshipping deities and drawing down the moon and turning the other cheek until there's nothing left because performing a curse is "wrong." Home is reading and coffee and little red bags filled with lodestones and herbs, enjoying a breeze, sitting with friends, sprinkling salt in the corners of the house, cooking and beer and laughter. Religion or spirituality should not be separated from everyday life, and it just feels right to finally be experiencing them together.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Outside, With Vincent

...It feels like it's been years. I've finally made a new photo! I'm really excited about it, I'm excited to be "working" again. I found a new little skeleton friend; his name seems to be Vincent. This is what we did today:
Two photographs combined. I think it looks like Vincent is laughing his ass off. 
My friend Alice inspired me to do this when she showed me another photographer's photo using a mirror in a similar way. I don't have a story to go along with this one because it wasn't really planned at all. I just grabbed a big-ish mirror of mine, a few props (large black sheet, my favorite hat), and Vincent and headed out into my yard.

This is definitely an idea I want to explore some more. It was actually a little difficult figuring out where to stand to get the angle I wanted for the mirror reflection. Having my remote shutter release really helped out with that; it would have been incredibly frustrating to have to use the self-timer.

I like the way it turned out and it was fun to spend an afternoon making this after a hard shift at "real" work. So thanks to Alice for the motivational kick~

Monday, September 16, 2013

I'm Still Here {Updates}

I've been pretty absent from the internet for a couple of months, but now that I'm starting to get back into my more normal routine, I plan to return fully to this blog and all the future projects I have planned. It has been a long time, but I'm excited to be returning to some creative endeavors, exciting upcoming events. It was a really wild and strange summer.

I left for New Jersey in late June. I had to secure a clinical internship with a veterinary hospital. I had to try to see all my greatest friends. I had so many plans for things I planned to do, and overall, I disappointed myself. I didn't achieve the goals with which I had started the summer. To be honest, I'm pretty glad the summer season is over (and will be officially this coming weekend). I miss everyone in Jersey terribly, and Kentucky doesn't have much that thrills me, but I'm glad I'm back down here.

I'm graduating the university in December, and hope to have my certification by March or April. I'm thinking about job searches, where to go, how to be a real adult. It's completely terrifying and I feel the procrastinator in me starting to shut down my motivation, but I'm so afraid of allowing that to happen. I recently had to write a list of personal, educational, and professional goals for a professional development seminar, and it challenged me to think about all the things I could do. If I get off my ass and do them.

The same thing goes for art. I hardly took any photographs the entire summer. I didn't work on a single piece. But there is one serious project in the making that has already begun: it's a musical/film collaboration with my best friend Sean. He's writing a song, the lyrics to which are the words of the poem featured in my short story Vultures, and I'll be doing the vocals. I'll be working mostly on a video to go with the song, but of course Sean will be there to help film and edit, and he will be in the video as well. I've already begun gathering filler/inbetween film for connecting scenes, and Sean has come up with a rough draft of the music. It's entirely electronic, very synthy (what else would it be). We haven't come up with any name to give ourselves, but lists of ideas have also already begun for that. I'm really excited to continue this project and hoping (!!!) that we can finish it before 2014. I will continue to update about that.

I've also been coming up with lots of ideas for photoshoots and have been scouting new locations. I have some ideas saved for more short stories and maybe some more poems. Those will be posted as they become realized and finished...

Some other events happening for the rest of the year:

  • Hoodoo Festival with my Pagan church! It's the third annual festival celebrating rootworker, voudon, and other African diasporic and American folk traditions. This is the first time I will be able to attend all five days of the festival -- I'm leaving Wednesday afternoon and won't be back until Sunday. I can't wait to show photos of the different costumes I have planned and all the great workshops and music I'll be able to see and participate in. Hoodoo Fest is one of the highlights of my entire year.
  • After that, a true dream of mine is coming true: I'm seeing Nine Inch Nails in concert, finally!! I have always wanted to since I was a teenager and have never been able to afford it. A few years ago when Reznor said that NIN would no longer be touring, I was crushed. I can't believe that he decided to start work with the band again and release their new album, go on another tour. I was enjoying his other projects with his wife, but nothing he does compares to NIN, in my opinion. I am so unbelievably overjoyed and cannot wait. Makeup and styling plans have already begun for that evening...
  • Resuming the 52 Week Self Portrait Project. I think I was way too ambitious starting such an exercise at the beginning of a summer that I knew would kick my ass. So I'm going to rewind and try it again, now that summer is winding down into fall and I have the lowest class load I've ever had. Stay tuned for those...
  • Lastly, Hallowe'en, of corpse! My absolute most favorite holiday, the finale of my most favorite month. I have my costume totally decided on and construction of some of the elements of it have already begun. I'm still gathering some makeup and effects supplies, and figuring out the wardrobe. I think it's going to be one of the best costumes I've ever had. I will definitely be talking more about it and letting little bits of it slip as we get closer. 

So, in the next couple of weeks I hope to write about some of my internship experiences and about Hoodoo Fest, as well as share my new art projects. I missed blogging. I need to stop disappearing every year. To sign off, here's the first photograph I made since being back in Kentucky:
I've made a new friend -- there's a Praying Mantis now living in one of my windows! ♡

Thank you for reading.