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Modern Pagans Excerpt: Thorn

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Thorn RE/SEARCH: Did anyone have a radicalizing influence on you?Thorn: In high school, I had a teacher named Sister Sharon. She would show us films about what was happening in El Salvador–things like that. But it wasn’t until much later that I heard about Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan–truly radical Catholics who have become my heroes. Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker movement, composed of Catholic anarchists who began feeding people in the Thirties. She was a suffragist and a truly radical woman. The last time she got arrested was with Cesar Chavez when she was 75.

R/S: What did you learn from the Sufi tradition?

TC: Sufis say, “Die before you die” … meaning, die to all the false parts of yourself that you hang on to, that keep you from joining with the divine.

R/S: At an early age you got into theater–why?

TC: I have seven older brothers and sisters. Our family always sang and danced at home, so I grew up with an impulse to perform. I sang in a folk group at church for Saturday Night Mass, and began performing in children’s plays at the Whittier Junior Theater when I was eleven.

I did “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Toad of Toad Hall” (from The Wind in the Willows), and “Oliver,” the musical version of Oliver Twist. The first play I did with Whittier adult theater was “Wait Until Dark”–I played the little girl, Gloria. I did a number of musicals where I’d have to sing and dance. For the first time I found a place where I could be myself, with weird, interesting adults who understood me and took me under their wing. I hung out with them, and they saved me from the terrors of school. I was a loner nerd who read books a lot; I didn’t fit in.

R/S: So your theater training helped you to later become a Pagan priestess–

TC: All my theater training definitely helps me. My voice is big; I can make my presence big if I need to. If we’re working with some kind of myth or fairy tale as a form of ritual story-telling, I can take on different roles.

Theater puts you in a non-ordinary state of consciousness and reality; it bends reality. And ritual and magic are quite similar to that. So my body and my being have this ability to hold and transfer this power that can then slightly bend reality for that moment.

Thorn & associates R/S: [For ritual] do you put on any special make-up?

TC: I’ll powder my face and put on some lipstick, but I don’t put on much make-up anymore. The only time I’ll put on special make-up is if I’m doing what we call aspecting, which is a lighter form of trance possession than people do, say, in Voodoo. That is allowing deity to speak through me.

Sometimes aspecting can turn into full trance possession; it depends on how strongly the deity wants to speak. For a full trance journey I sometimes paint my face or parts of my body to further distance the everyday reality of “Thorn” from what’s about to occur. In the past I’ve painted blue spirals all over my face, or used red body paint if the Red God was going to come through me–that sort of thing. Some priestesses use a lot more make-up; it’s a personal choice.

I always take off my watch before ritual, because we’re entering a space of no time. Also, I prefer to do ritual barefoot, so my feet have contact with ground. If this isn’t possible, sometimes I wear special shoes. I also have thigh-high suede black boots that I like; they’re very theatrical.

R/S: What other “props” do you use in ritual?

TC: I use an athame, a ritual knife that was crafted by a blacksmith I know. It fits my hand perfectly. It’s sharp because my intention and my will have to be sharp. I also have a blade made out of an old fossil which I use if I’m working with what we call the fey–non-human entities with an aversion to steel. As a 21st-century person I think, “Of course that’s ridiculous,” but as a Witch who also enters into altered states of consciousness, I understand the feeling. [laughs]

There’s a cognitive dissonance that any religious person in the 21st century has to manage. This means holding two realities simultaneously. We have an analytical, critical brain that says “That can’t be true,” while an intuitive, more primal and emotional part of us says, “That makes perfect sense.” Part of what magic does is to help us access those more intuitive realms of knowledge we possess. Human beings are not solely rational, y’know.

R/S: Tell us about Witch Camp–

TC: In many ways it’s participatory theater or performance art. At Witch Camps we do a lot of sacred drama, like take a fairy tale or myth, break it down, and do different rituals with the themes we’ve extracted. We also do ritual storytelling, with people enacting certain parts of a story to give it more meaning. During the old Russian tale of “Vasilisa and Baba Yaga,” at a certain point the girl, Vasilisa, has to sort seeds and beans. We’ll have people doing that to get a sense for what this task feels like.

Myths can be taken both as truth and as allegory, in the same way that gods and goddesses can be both unreal and real. Sometimes we feel them moving through us, yet our 21st-century brain says, “That’s ridiculous; this god or goddess doesn’t really exist.” However, a true skeptic is skeptical of science as well!


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