Boundaries

SketchesI spend a lot of time feeling like I don’t really know who I am.

I don’t mean that to be melodramatic. We’re all composites of the stories we tell about ourselves, as well as the impressions we make on others. The things I do and the way I move around in the world, the words I say, the things I believe from moment to moment, the name I give when asked, and countless other things all make up this gestalt that is my self. And we all pick and choose, every day, in every moment.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about feeling like I live a double life. I’d suddenly found myself standing in a hallway between business suites, a music school on one side and a witch store on the other. I taught guitar in one place, read cards in the other, and both had my picture on the wall, with different names and different biographic blurbs. Literally caught in the space between two identities, and suddenly overwhelmed by the surreality.

Since then, I’ve built at least two other identities in addition to those. One is a public school teacher who, for the sake of professionalism and safety, has to keep her private life private. The last thing I need is for my seventeen year-old students (or their parents) to be able to Google me and turn up god-knows-what from my last twenty years on the Internet. The other is a competitive historical fencer, freshly in love with a weapon (okay, lots of weapons) and a community that I can’t believe I’ve fumbled around in the world without for this long. Like holy shit what have I even been doing.

I think one of the reasons I’m having so much trouble writing lately is that I don’t really know who’s narrating half the time. People ask me my name and I don’t know what to tell them. They ask me what I do for a living and I don’t know what to tell them. They ask me how I’m doing, and I think, “Which one of me?” The writer is kicking ass and as strong as she’s ever been. The high priestess is finding her feet again. The fencer is somewhere between elation and crying in the bathroom at any given moment. No one’s seen the teacher in a while, but hopefully she’ll be back by the time school starts.

Which version of me is currently driving the bus?

They’re all me, of course, but I’m constantly negotiating the boundaries between these facets of my identity. It becomes a profound act of intimacy to allow someone to meet more than one. Love and trust (and often pain) happen when we allow someone to cross from one to another.

I’ve been talking to some of my covenmates about the real reasons we keep our Craft secret. It’s 2017, and while it’s true that plenty of Pagans still need to be careful about being open, many of us don’t. No one’s going to take my property or my job or my life. At worst, people usually just assume I’m an idiot. Most of the time, people are too preoccupied with their own lives to care.

And yet I give separate names, build walls, and keep secrets.

Beginner books often tell us to make our mundane lives magical. I myself have written about the false dichotomy between those. We’re supposed to look for the gods in the everyday. We’re supposed to wash dishes mindfully and turn our morning coffee into a ritual and use the assholes at work to practice compassion. Every bird at the feeder is an omen and every card we drop shuffling is a message.

There’s got to be a middle ground here. Sometimes the voice in my head is just my own anxiety, fear, or laziness, not my gods. I don’t have the hubris necessary to think that I can always tell the difference. Sometimes I need to be totally grounded in the world of coffee and assholes at work, just so I don’t lose my mind. Some forms of suffering aren’t magical at all and we should stop telling people to keep trying to make them holy. Sometimes the sword is about a divine calling, sometimes it’s about learning to kill, and sometimes I just need the exercise and company (or to just be fucking hit in the face).

It’s never just one thing, and never just about one version of myself.

Lately everything has me thinking about these kinds of boundaries.

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About Thorn Mooney

Thorn Mooney is a Gardnerian high priestess operating in Charlotte, NC. A practitioner of various kinds of witchcraft since adolescence, she blogs about traditional Craft, coven life, contemporary Pagan studies, and being Pagan in the American South. Thorn holds an MA in religious studies and works as a university lecturer, musician, and tarot reader.