Wednesday, June 7, 2017

When a festival becomes a community

Every large city has at least one metaphysical festival of some kind.  The lucky one's have several.  These events bring together a wide variety of alternative healing therapies, musicians & other performers, local artists, organic food & bath goods, psychics, and teachers of various spiritual paths.  Far from being simply hippy dippy entertainment, they provide a true community that aids in healing and empowering people in countless ways.

Above: A crystal vendor at the monthly Mystic Market held at The Brick in San Antonio, TX.

While an interest in various spiritual practices & the occult draw many to such fairs, fueled by both family folk traditions and Hollywood sensationalism, the search for alternative healing modalities is the primary focus.  Chronic pain sufferers turn to massage and acupressure for relief.  PTSD sufferers, ranging from our Veterans to adults who suffered childhood abuse, find relief in drumming, art, and counselors.  Those with physical illness can employ oils, color therapy, and energy work to aid their recovery.  People with depression and anxiety may discover that certain stones, dancing, or mediation helps them.  These are the individuals who either have not found relief in mainstream Western medicine or they add alternative therapies to their existing medical regimen for added benefit. Some call on certain spiritual beings, others approach it only as energetic techniques.  I've met several professionals from both Veteran Affairs and private practice at metaphysical fairs who are interested in using these 'other' type of treatments along with mainstream medicine.  I think it is becoming more acceptable now to discuss herbalism and energy in the medical fields.

Above: Energy healers & Reflexologists working at the Mystic Market, a monthly festival at The Brick in San Antonio, TX.

Above:  Mariam of Pure Aloha handmade soaps & beauty goods at the Coexist festival, held monthly at the Airport Hilton in San Antonio, TX.

While it might look to an outsider like a lot of feel good hoo-hoo, rainbow crystals, and tie-dyes, many of the people involved are dealing with very serious questions and health concerns. Oftentimes, as a person experiences their own healing journey, they then grow to become a teacher and healer themselves.  This is empowerment.  People are taking initiative in their own healing on all levels: physical, mental, and spiritual.

That's one giant freakn crystal right? I found this at Nature's Treasures in Austin while attending a fair.

Although the traditions represented at any given metaphysical fair might not share the same terminology or even disagree on basic concepts, they have certain things in common.  First, they are present to share their knowledge and abilities.  Culturally specific knowledge and appropriation issues should always be considered by both a practitioner and any interested student.  What is being shared openly by say a Hindu sadu, a Santero, a Wiccan Priestess, or a Native healer is a rare gift.  All of these traditions have their hidden and private realities.  That an Elder would choose to open even a small part of their pathway to outsiders is a gift.  In many traditions, healers themselves experience sickness and bad luck until they give themselves to their path, to the spirits, to the people.  There life is not their own anymore.  It is a life of service to others.  The impact metaphysical festivals have on practitioners cannot be discounted either.  These community events are one of the few spaces where different practitioners might meet and share with one another.

Above: Olga sharing Lakota hand drum traditions at San Antonio's Coexist festival.

The movement to build local green economies also fuels the market for handmade and organic bath, food, and fashion goods.  Cities with a variety of metaphysical and farmer's markets allow crafts people and artists to make a living doing what they love while offering high quality local goods.  Those attending festivals are willing to pay a little extra for healthier and unique things.  For those that ask why hand crafted items cost more, remember that the artist spends a lot of time working on their crafts, pays for all supplies and ingredients, travels, does all their own shipping, packing, and advertisement... it's a lot of work!  Most of the earnings go right back into their cottage business usually.  An essential point, for someone to make a living in the metaphysical community, they really need more than one venue once a month.  Having a variety of events, online sales, and even a local shop space allow practitioners and artists to survive and thrive.  Support local handmade, support your local fairs!

While I am so grateful to fair organizers!  Their efforts provide a space where I am able to make a modest living doing what I love, living as an artist and practitioner.  I most love the sense of community each festival develops.  We are a tight knit bunch that supports each other in our ups and downs.  We are our own community's best customers.  We are brothers and sisters there for advice, learning, and hugs.  Thank you to all!
My girls Crystal & Becky! Always ready to help

Above: My own handmade oils, salves, and soaps.

Coexist Festival in San Antonio and Austin

Mystic Market Festival in San Antonio

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fantom Fest 2014 in San Antonio, TX

I was very excited to be able to return to the Menger Historic Hotel to vend at the Fantom Fest 2014.  This hotel is beautiful and situated right across the street from the Alamo in downtown San Antonio, TX.  As a previous night auditor there, I can tell you without a doubt that this place is truly haunted... but I was made to sign disclaimers and documents preventing any public discussion of my 'paranormal experiences'.  You'll just have to read the book "Histories & Mysteries of the Menger" for the fluffier versions. I'm hoping at some point that they do allow a TV show to do a ghost hunting episode investigation there.
 My vending table at Fantom Fest, featuring handmade organic herbal goods, candles, jewelry, and magickal supplies.  Because it was a ghost hunting event, I focused on cleansing and protection.
Because there were Cosplay, Gaming, and Comic conventions going on simultaneously, I decided to dress up as myself- a Witch.  Just put on my regular clothes and popped on my pointy hat!
I was very busy setting up and vending so I was not able to take any of the classes or workshops given by the many celebrity speakers.  I did really enjoy myself though and want to thank my friends who stopped by and my brother who helped me so much that weekend.  I met all of the paranormal guests at least briefly.  For the most part, they were just really down to earth cool people. They brought their books, their art, and their stories to teach and entertain us. There were a few disappointments... I think being on TV or radio shows gave certain folks an inflated sense of ego, but hey, that is their luggage to haul around.
There was a guy making the most realistic vampire fangs I have ever seen. They were $100 but Hollywood quality. I passed on those (I think I would injure myself somehow) but bought several books and a St. Michael's medal that had been blessed at the Vatican. These were available at noted paranormal radio host's Dave Schrader's table (pictured below). We joked that even though he didn't know exactly who blessed the medals- the Pope or not- even a janitor working at the Vatican is sanctified!  I've been listening to Mr. Schrader's radio show for years- Darkness on the Edge of Town now usually shortened to Darkness Radio 
 Both Dustin Pari of TAPS and psychic Dakota Lawrence were very nice guys and great to meet!
 Robert Murch, an expert, collector, and artist of Ouija Boards was great. He had some really beautiful work at his table and gave me an ear load about working with the djinn. Very knowledgeable and interesting guy!
He brought both classic rare boards as well as many handmade pieces.  The snakeskin leather planchettes were gorgeous.

It was good to see psychic medium Jen Devellier again!  I met her last year at a Day of the Dead Paranormal event downtown. She was kind enough to sign one of her books for me.  Local horror author Tim Miller was there. After hearing that his writing was so graphic that wouldn't carry it, I had to pick up a few titles.  I'll let you know how that goes when I get some time to read those.  I really nice guy had helped my brother and I push my giant wagon train of boxes and display pieces into the vendors room before the event. Turns out that this was San Antonio's local Leather Face who is at so many conventions!  Thanks so much dude!  He scared the crap out of my mom once at MonsterCon. She was good natured about it and I have pics.

I also got to meet Steve Santini and his very sweet wife from the show Deals from the Darkside! He was named most extreme escape artist by Ripley's Believe it or Not and has been seen on Stan Lee's show Superhumans.  A fellow deep freak with a heart of black gold! Loved meeting them both. He had a table with a few curious antiques such as a chastity strap, a very evil looking iron mask, and various torture devices and chains.

Some of the other costumes seen about the event:

Curandero, Brujo, Witch, & Wiccan: Conflation & Defamation

While reading through the discussion board of an online Curanderismo class I'm taking offered by the University of New Mexico, I came across a thought provoking thread on the terms 'Witch' and 'Brujo' in relation to the healing practices of Mexico and other indigenous people's of the Americas. There were many good points on both sides and passions ran high.  It began when one of the instructors, who self identifies as a Curandera, separated herself from 'witchcraft' and 'brujas'.  She told of how as a spiritual and herbal healer she had been called a 'puta' (equivalent to English bitch, slut, or whore) and a 'bruja' (witch, sorceress).  She was visibly uncomfortable and strongly asserted she is not these things.  As this is an extremely large online class open to students around the world, there of course are those who practice various modern Witchcraft, Shamanic, and Pagan religions. Some took offense.  I know I was a bit put off but was willing to listen and consider. The thread ran in many tangents. Some claimed all herbal and energetic workers were Witches and that all terms that could be translated as 'witch' needed to be reclaimed for positive uses. Other felt all 'witches' were Satanic. There was plenty of misinformation about the various African Diaspora Traditions and synchretic Catholic elements.  There were well founded requests for European descended practitioners to respect indigenous definitions of their own terms and to avoid conflating them with modern Wiccan understandings. I had this creeping sensation that all the lines we draw in the sand are so temporary and not worth drawing blood over...  One aspect of stepping into another culture to learn is setting aside your own cultural assumptions and really listen with fresh eyes and ears.  The cross comparisons, the conflation and appropriation, the act of labeling others and ourselves- this is not why we are here but seems like such an ubiquitous human impulse.

Before going any further with my discussion I would like to deeply thank the Elders and Teachers in the Curanderismo class who have taken the effort to open their traditions to outsiders.  It is unprecedented and a true gift. Their efforts to create a form of wholistic health combining modern Western medicine with traditional herbal knowledge and techniques takes its cue from the success of Chinese medicine which has done the same on a very large scale.  We saw that many Curanderos are using elements of Chinese medicine within their own practices. In fact, the Mayan's had their own ancient form of fire cupping and scraping similar to Chinese cupping and gua sha and so these elements meld easily.  This approach has been refreshing after listening to rants about cultural, magickal, and racial purity. A distinct tradition exists but if it is living and breathing, it grows, adapts, and overcomes. The class has just been a joy to take.

Curanderismo class website:
The specific thread in question:

So my response to the instructor's comment, the original thread poster's question, and all the bugaloo following:  I was initially really astounded by the instructor's aggressive attitude toward being called a 'bruja'. The open distaste as she spat out the word bothered me. But it demonstrated that she, like the majority of other Hispanic and Native people, agrees with the definition of brujo as evil.  So what is this 'evil' that brujos are supposedly doing, that Curanderos are separating themselves from?  I know Curanderos who do blocking, binding, removal, and send back work- all defensive and occasionally offensive movements of energy. I also know many who will give spells to help criminals be invisible, help to steal other people's spouses, to get your boss fired, etc. You can walk into any of the 20 + botanicas in my city and ask for this.  Those all could be defined as negative workings. The difference between a Curandero & a Brujo is really semantics. The Brujos I know locally laugh at it. Still I'm very cautious with any attempt as an outsider to reclaim the word 'brujo' for 'good'. I know workers within the cultural context who are and that is their struggle. However, I think as a student I have a legitimate complaint. Any teacher in this course must know on some level that within the hundreds of online students taking it, some herbalist or spiritual worker will be identifying themselves as 'witch'. Why alienate them by singling out that word in your introduction video?

I am a working Witch. I provide services, ritual art, and hand made organic herbal goods for both spiritual and physical cleansing. This is both my Spiritual Path and how I make a modest living. I actually do a lot of work on trade. I have strong personal ethical code and have turned down negative work on many occasions. No breaking marriages and no spirits in bottles. I do believe any worker has the right to defend themselves and their clients, which may manifest as either defensive (blocking and removing what has already been sent) or offensive (reaching out to bind one from doing harm or sending that ugly energy back to it's source).

I have multiple forms of praxis but am largely informed by Southern style Conjure and Traditional Witchcraft, Hedge and Sabbatic varieties.  The healing energy in plants, both genuinely therapeutic and the imbued anima, are my main form of expression. Taking the Curanderismo course has expanded my knowledge of the physically therapeutic aspect of native plants in my region of the Southwest.  I do plan to continue in my herbal studies after completing this course.

The majority of my clients are Hispanic Catholics.  I have a few regular Caucasian Pagan and Protestant African American clients as well.  I respect the very different views that each of these populations comes to me with.  I use 'Witch' regardless of the cultural baggage associated with it bc it best describes what I do- I 'see' (Witta- witness, witty, wisdom) and I 'bend' (Wicca- wicker, wicked, whittle).  My work is fairly shamanic but I don't refer to myself with that term (it has it's own special baggage centered around cultural appropriation and the New Age). Hispanic people will often ask if I am a 'white witch' or a 'bruja'.  I do not work in distinct fields of black or white- energy is like water in Nature, both destructive and creative, killing us in floods or feeding us with rain on our seeds.  I usually say I am a 'Green Witch' meaning a natural Witch.  I've had people seek my services but still insist I'm going to hell.  That is their cultural perception, not mine.

I did have one run in with local members of a biker club, which will remain unnamed.  They had wanted the same flea market stall I was in but I had offered the rent first that morning.  I was warned by nearby merchants to be careful. 4 large members of the local chapter walked by a few times then came in gruffly asking who I was and what I was doing in that stall.  I told them I was a Witch and discussed a bit of what I sold. One of the guys looked at the others and said 'Bruja'. They left without saying anything else. Later that week my brother got a call from a friend of his who is a club member.  He was freaking out about the whole thing, very concerned for me. He couldn't believe I was 'the Witch' because he had been over at our house for dinner a few times and it was never mentioned.  Our house looks like a very good Catholic home downstairs- my private world is upstairs.

Both the words 'Bruja' and 'Witch' have real power in Hispanic culture. This is much more than just wearing fairy jewelry and flitting around festivals in your sparkles. This can lead to ostracism, people not doing business with or renting to you, job loss, unfriendly neighbors, death threats- there is a real level of fear and willingness to take action against perceived magickal threats that most Caucasian Wiccans will never have to face. There are also strong associations between witchcraft and the violence of drug cartels.  I've had to talk to my mom about publicly outing me at local Bar-B-Q's and adverting my services at her work place. While she is just proud to have a daughter that is different and a family that is progressively respectful of diverse religions, how the word 'witch' sounds on our Hispanic neighbor's, in-laws, and coworker's ears is not to be underestimated. It's one thing to whip up a batch of green rice for ladies playing bingo. It's an entirely different playing field when they come over with a cow tongue and jar of nails to deal with their gossipy coworker.  I don't want my mom associated with any of that or be targeted by fearful people. The majority of people we live and work with are Hispanic. I've married into a Mexican American family. We have to respect these beliefs. In another incident, I was stopped from drinking out of my cup at work one night because a security guard saw a coworker put powder in it when I stepped away.  She wrongly felt I had worked against her and consulted a local Brujo on how to 'destroy me'.  Such an ugly cycle to get caught in. Needless to say, I dealt with it successfully and she is out of my life.  I think this is the type of negativity and fear that the instructor of the Curandero course was trying to separate herself from.  In that regard, I completely understand.
Interestingly, I have some of the loveliest Brujo friends. Very wonderful people. They have claimed the word for themselves and also accept the English word Witch.  These are Spanish speaking Mexicans living in the US. They barely speak English- my point being I'm not sure there is a case to be made that they are influenced by European varieties of Wicca and Caucasian reclamations of the word 'witch'.  Between my conversations with them as well as a few other Brujeros online, they feel that they are doing much the same work as Curanderos.  When I asked what the difference is they say that there really isn't much, just a perception by outsiders of 'good' or 'bad'. They discussed Curanderos who do take on defensive and offensive work beyond merely healing. They also rejected the notion that a brujo is essentially 'evil'.

This does not deny the fact that there are many Hispanic followers of the new religion 'Wicca', which came to the Americas in the 1950's via various British authors.  Some of these folks do equate a Brujo with a "Wiccano".  Many of the popular mainstream Wiccan books being pumped out by Llewellyn are now translated into Spanish and readily available.  There are also many pulp pamphlets and booklets in the botanicas containing a mix of Catholic folk magick, Hoodoo, and Granny Magick. These do not contain a shred of Wiccan elements.  Any resemblance between them is the result of both groups drawing from Ceremonial Magick; hence the sigils, pentacles, and zodiac. Wicca of course completely leaves out the psalms and other Abrahamic elements.  I would argue that while traditional Brujeria is from a totally different cultural base than European derived Wicca, there is a growing trend blurring these lines.  That sounds like a fantastic thesis on synchretic new religious movements for some young grad student.

Here is one example of a psychic site equating the two systems.
Here is Spanish Wiccan shop offering "produtos e artigos Wiccanos"

Here is a Bruherio book, how much Wiccan influence it has, I'm not sure but I will try and get a copy to see if this is so.  The description: "El presente manual ofrece a lector una variada y sencilla selección de fórmulas, conjuros, hechizos y encantamientos, para lograr los más diversos objectivos a través de los enormes poderes de la brujería: Cómo curar y evitar enfermedades, cómo alcanzar el amor, cómo obtener trabajo, Qué hacer para tener buena suerte, cómo alejar a personas indeseables, que hacer para librarse de maldiciones, salaciones, envidias y mal de ojo."

This is my quick translation, forgive any glaring mistakes- my Spanish needs some work! "The present manual offers a lecture of various selections of formulas, conjurations, and enchantments for diverse objectives largely used by the brujeria. How to cure and evict sickness, how to draw love, how to obtain a job. How to make good luck, how to make a person __?, and how to free from maledictions (curses), gossip, envy, and evil eye".

This site combines the author's interests in both Mexican Brujeria and American Conjure and Hoodoo traditions.  The folk magick elements & Christian veneer in Southern Conjure are probably much closer to brujeria ways than Neo-Paganism and Wicca.

In the Daily Wicca blog, there is a vague attempt to understand Brujeria on its own terms.  Many eclectic Wiccans will probably be fascinated by this new 'exotic' element to add flavor to their rituals, completely oblivious to the offense taken by such outside appropriation. I would suggest that if you are going to call yourself such, you should be studying under a true Elder in the tradition.

I have also come across very ignorant but well meaning Wiccans who used 'brujo/a' to refer to themselves.  The first time was at a Samhain costume party in Ohio. I wasn't sure what her point was beyond 'all witches of the world must unite' but I was pretty sure that the term she was using was not appropriate for her. Still I kept it to myself.  Years later I made my way back home to Texas and ran into someone wearing a Brujo t-shirt at a metaphysical festival.  A psychic at a nearby table, an older Hispanic lady, pointed her out. She was a local Wiccan I had met a few times, with fairy earrings, a large pentacle, and a red 'Proud to be a Bruja' t-shirt. The girl meant no harm but she was warned to take the shirt off because of 'expectations of what she should be able to do'.  The girl was confused and embarrassed and I felt for her. Considering the type of actions some of my Hispanic clients have asked me to do, I don't think your average festival going Wiccan or Celtic Neo-Pagan is up to it (although I'm sure the Scottish and Irish curse traditions work just fine- these elements of the full magickal tradition aren't generally found in the 'self- initiated' eclectic American Wiccan scene, in fact being frowned upon by the fluffier elements).
It seems unwise for people outside of Hispanic cultures to either appropriate the word 'brujo' for themselves or try to force a redefinition of the word within Spanish traditions, mirroring their own reclamation of European based Witchcraft. I in no way impose my definition of 'witch' upon another culture. I also wouldn't insist a healer carry the term 'witch' if they do not find it useful or accurate.  Their are healers, diviners, wise people, shamans, sorcerers, singers, priests, and all other manner of spiritual people throughout the world using their own cultural terms. We all tap into the same Universal Source.  I think a healthy respect for one another and avoiding disparaging remarks about any term a practitioner wishes to identify with is the best way to move forward and learn.