I have been struggling with what to call myself for over the last couple of years. I posted a question on Live Journal several years ago that spawned a rich discussion, but still left me scratching my head. Am I a witch, a magician, a shaman, a mystic, an oracle, a priestess or something else altogether?
Recently, I had settled on “wiccan mystic” after using “shaman and mystic” for a few years. But now I am once again grasping at straws.
This all came up recently at the urging of my mentor, Dr. Michael Conforti. He wants me to drop all the qualifiers that reference my religion, my role in the tradition or any of my in-born traits (like psychic or healer). He thinks they unduly restrict my audience and leaves me in a small niche within the marketplace of ideas.
He said something that made me think as well as laugh really hard. He said, would you ever hear Elie Wiesel introduce himself saying, “Hello, I am a mystic and a Jew?”
I laughed and said, “Well, maybe he should!” But I of course understood what Conforti meant. Wiesel’s message transcends his spiritual orientation and ethnic background. And although we all know he is Jewish, he doesn’t have to declare it in order to be heard. *1
So why am I declaring my religion and spiritual orientation? Do I think that I would not be heard otherwise? Do I think that no one would notice unless I spelled it out for him or her? Am I using it as a smokescreen to hide behind?
I have no idea. Sigh …
But I am old school, I shout back in defense. I call myself black or African-American because I am proud of my African heritage. I call myself Cherokee and Irish for the same reasons. I declare myself a witch and a bisexual because I believe that doing so may help make it safe for others. I own my disability and my tough urban background because I am not ashamed of who I am or where I am from. In fact, a lot of my self-descriptions are matters of pride, a stand taken in the face of oppression.
I say to the world, “This is who I am. Deal with it!”
But is this something that is still needed? Does the world not know who and what I am? If you read my words, attend my classes & rituals, or see me walking down the street, what else really needs to be said?
Michael Conforti is also from a tough urban upbringing. And when he opens his mouth, you can sometimes hear it. But you also hear his scholarship, his brilliance and his passion.
Does he have to express his roots as in “I am a Catholic and a Brooklyn born Sicilian”, in order to exhibit his pride?
Conforti and I have been discussing one of my father’s precepts -- respect or fear. “If you do not show me respect, you will have cause to fear me.” I have lived out this precept most of my life. In fact, I now realize that I fall back on generating fear as defense mechanism. I am uncomfortable being seen as tame or harmless. But as I age and my physical limits grow, it is getting harder for me to effectively live with this as an operating principle.
So now, I use the moniker of witch to generate fear, suspicion and surprise. (And other various tools of the inquisition!) Which is kind of silly at so many levels. I mean, I am a large black woman with a booming voice, what else do I truly need to shock people anyway.
What if I shocked them instead with my scholarship, my intellect, my passion and my humor? What if I stopped trying to frighten people and instead just focused on expressing my thoughts, ideas and musings?
In many ways, that is exactly what I have been doing for the last two decades. So why is it so hard to craft a self-description that is in-line with how I actually present myself?
I don’t know. But I am a lot closer now that I have begun to think about it critically.
So who am I?
- I am a teacher, a blogger, an author, a web designer and a singer/songwriter.
- At some point, if I am successful, I will become a certified archetypal pattern analyst.
- I am a mystic and a pagan.
- I started a school, a ritual group and a spiritual tradition.
- My ancestry is African, Cherokee and Irish.
- I am bisexual and I self identify as queer.
- I have academic degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.
- I worked in the telecommunications/internet technology field for 25 years.
- I spent over forty years as an activist in the black nationalist, communist, labor, feminist and other political/social justice movements.
- The mountain and river of my birth are both called Anacostia in the city of Washington DC.
- I returned to DC in 1990 and bought a home.
- And my name is Katrina Messenger.
- And I am so much more than all of this …
All of these statements are true.
Which of these, if any, do I use as my calling card to the world?
1.What is funny is that the Elie Wiesel page in Wikipedia does exactly what Conforti says not to do. The opening line is, Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel is a Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. Considering that it was probably written by someone other than Wiesel, it's still kind of amusing.
Submitted by katrina on Mon, 05/16/2011 - 8:10pm.
The 2011 Reflections Mystery School book study is Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. This year we are responding to portions that move us from his 10 letters by writing our own letters. Our letters can contain prose, poetry, songs, images, ... whatever. Here is my first letter to Rilke.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Letter 1
Washington, March 18th, 2011
“Things are not all so comprehensible and utterable as people would mostly have us believe; most events are unutterable, consummating themselves in a sphere where word has never trod, and more unutterable than them all are works of art, whose life endures by the side of our own that passes away.”
I read your letter with much delight this evening. I am taken with a simple passage in the first paragraph. Although it seems to do a disservice to your entire exquisite note to stop as I have done to remark on a single opening entry, I confess that I presume to take my time in responding your letter as one slows down to enjoy a favorite confection.
I have walked around my fair city with your words twirling within my thoughts. What if it is true that most of life is unutterable? What if my penchant for self-narration was blinding me to an enormous well of beauty that surrounds my everyday life?
My heart swells with the notion that life is meant be lived, not spoken. As a writer, I adapted a mode of living that had me living in the words and descriptions of all my unwritten stories, essays and lectures. I now wonder if the words themselves have obstructed me from the essential but unutterable experience of being at one with the world.
I choose now, dear sir, to check my prose filled arrogance. I seek to participate in that life of art that “endures by the side of our own.”
Yours in respect and gratitude,
Submitted by katrina on Fri, 03/18/2011 - 8:48pm.
On Saturday, February 26, 2011, Cherry Hill Seminary held its first ever graduation ceremony at the Sacred Space Conference. I delivered the following as my commencement speech. It was an honor and a privilege to participate in this historic event.
Often we encounter moments of wonder without noticing. We see a rainbow over the water and we do not even stop and stare. We see the top of the mountain poking through the clouds and we miss our stairway to heaven. A flower opens its inner bud and we are too busy, in too much in a hurry to appreciate its final unveiling.
I wonder sometimes if we even notice the beauty, majesty and mystery that surrounds every single day. It is our collective loss when we are absent from the everyday miracles that surrounds and infuses our lives
But today we have an opportunity to pause and reflect during just such a moment. We have set aside this time with an intention of being present and aware of the meaning of this within the lives of these graduates yes, but also within the cultural journey of our diverse intertwining communities.
I have witnessed such moments before in my life when as an African American I was able to attend African American studies courses at Howard University taught by African American professors. I have had friends and colleagues who have shared with me the delight of studying Women’s Studies at a Women’s college from Women professors.
So I truly GET what it means to be a pagan in a pagan seminary studying our own culture, liturgy, history and scholarship from pagans.
It is so important to be mirrored and mentored by our own. Now of course, you don’t have to be an African American, a woman or a pagan to mentor us, but sometimes, every once in a while, it feels so good when it is even possible.
And that is one of the wonders of this moment today. We are holding a pagan graduation ceremony at a pagan conference for OUR pagan seminary. Do you get what that means?
My parents were part of the community that built my neighborhood Catholic school when the Catholic school in our area would not admit blacks. Those black World War II veterans took it upon themselves to build the best school possible for their children. Years later at the first graduation, those working class parents stood proud as they collectively acknowledged and welcomed those first graduates.
I can imagine how they felt, proud and hopeful not only for their own children but also for what they together had accomplished. And that is exactly how I feel today, and I bet many of you feel the same way. Yes, we congratulate each of the graduates, but we are also proud for us as a community.
We need to soak in this moment for a while … until it begins to dawn on us how much this means for every single one of us.
But then, this moments doesn’t just belong to us as a community, it also belongs to Cherry Hill Seminary. Cherry Hill has all these years attempted to fill a hole within our vast and diverse community. It wasn’t just to provide a quality education, or bring together world-class instructors – oddly enough that is pretty easy to do. Just look at this conference and others like it that occur all year long. No, they had the vision and foresight to identify a need for professionally trained clergy. Every major religion in this country had a seminary of some sort that awards divinity degrees, except for pagans. Cherry Hill stepped up and met that challenge.
We should be proud of Cherry Hill Seminary and all the academics, clergy and other professionals that founded, supported, guided and today keep it moving forward. We should donate to Cherry Hill and we should encourage our up and coming clergy and academics to consider them.
Will everyone who works at and for Cherry Hill please rise. Let’s support these people and let them know just how much we appreciate all they do for our community everyday.
And so I have honored this moment and Cherry Hill, now it is time to honor the graduates.
It is customary at graduation ceremonies to offer advice to the graduating class. And this advice varies from being pretty straight forward to being funny and off color – I am capable of going either way. In fact some of the suggestions I received were surprising even to me. And for a drink later, I might share some of it with you.
Because right now I need to rein it in just a little … a wee bit … because I do have some important advice I need to share.
Mostly because I think you know for example, what color snow to avoid, and what not to do directly facing the wind. I think you know how to both cross the bridge and pillage the village before you burn them.
So I am going to stick to the stuff you may not know, and if later you feel you lost out due to missing the standard graduation advice component, complain to Maggie and she will gladly refund your graduation advice surcharge – no questions asked.
Because first I need to tell you graduates what you represent to all of us before I tell you what you need to do going forward. So here it is ... brace yourselves.
You are our future. That’s it. You are our future.
Normally we say these words to the young and fresh faced graduates who have not yet clearly stepped into the real world. But it doesn’t matter how old, or how experienced you are. For us, you represent our future.
Because you are the ones that sets the bar of how high, how far, how good, how smart, how committed, how serious we can be as a community.
You are our future.
You are our highest potential.
And of course, it is not just you, it is also all the instructors and administrators. But you are the product of this system they collectively fostered. And from you we expect the best and the brightest.
You are our lights of the coming dawn.
You are our future.
You mirror back to us our highest potential and because of this, you are our ticket to the future.
But that can be a heavy burden, acting as projection screens for our brightest shadow. How can you possibly carry it? It is so deep and so vast it might obscure your humanity or dampen your own brilliance.
I know a little about his because I personally carried such a bright projection for a large part of my younger years and I know the cost and the struggle associated with it. So I am here to tell you what you need to do with all this hope and with all of these expectations.
You need to show us who you really are.
If we can see the real you, you will be able to teach us how to be ourselves in return.
You who carry the future, you to whom we expect so much, your job is to help us find that same hope within ourselves.
And you do this by most of all just being yourself.
And you will know when and if you are successful.
You will know if you have made a difference.
You will know if you got it right if and when you get to the future you find yourself walking side by side with all of us.
Good luck, and Congratulations!
Submitted by katrina on Mon, 02/28/2011 - 4:04pm.