“To everything there is a season and purpose under heaven”
St.Francis of the Winos
The first time I met St. Francis, I was procuring obtanium along the railroad tracks. Giant rusty spikes used for all sorts of folk magic, flow performers, and pyrotechnics. I know people who do all of those things and I happen to like train tracks. In the parts of the world I have lived the tracks occupy a liminal, mythic space. They are a boundary and space, like the old fairy roads. I walk them whenever I can.
In Houston there was a railyard just outside of the Central Business District near a freeway overpass and over Buffalo Bayou, if you knew where to look you could find a Hobo Jungle. That’s where I first met St. Francis. Back in those days I would go to the jungle to buy odd items the people living there had found. They knew me as Buddha Bill and they knew I loved bones. The bigger the better. Funny enough I got a Lisa Simpson mask there once.
So one evening as I was collecting spikes, and going to buy bones, I heard a wonderful baritone singing “How Great Thou Art”. It was my grandfather’s favorite hymn, he was the one who taught me to love all things train related. A chill ran up my spine and goose bumps covered my flesh, so great was the passion of this singer. I was surprised to find a spry lean man barely five foot two.
His name was Reggie and he was from a town just outside of Detroit, Michigan. He was a Franciscan monk. Twice a month, out of his own pocket he made sandwiches and bought wine. He found more people from the camp would listen to his sermon and let him bless them if he had food and communion. He had been raised Catholic and St.Francis was his hero as Merlin was mine. These people of the jungle were the birds of his flock. This was how I learned St. Francis was still alive and like all saints wears many masks. He is the reason I still honor St. Francis to this day.
Don Pedro and the Carnie
My first experience with psychedelics was the direct result of a summer at my conservative father’s house. Yes you read that right, well it is actually my even more conservative stepmother to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. In 1983, I had barely turned 15 and I was bored beyond belief, so my stepmother suggests I read some of her books from college. The first tome she placed in my hands was a queer little book called The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda. I had been raised with German folktales learned at my Grandmother’s knee and at the urging of my high school Wiccan friends read Buckland’s big blue book, but nothing had prepared me for this. This was before I had found out about TOPY or read anything by Mc Kenna, Wasson, Burroughs,or Leary. I was out of my depths, off the map. I subsequently tore through A Seperate Reality, Journey to Ixtlan, the Power of Silence; this was all she had in her library.
I spent as much the rest of that summer sleeping outside as I could. I learned what both peyote and datura looked like and began searching in vain for them. I paid special attention to crows and vultures. Little did I know but my iniation had begun. Summer ended and I had to return home to Houston. I joined a coven of teen age wiccans, mostly we hung out in cemeteries at dusk and smoked cloves. Something was missing, the vitality of Summer was gone. School started and Autumn equinox loomed.
As it so happened that year, the Comal County fair opened on Autumn Equinox 9/23/1983. Two of my uncles were living with and working for my father at the time; a third uncle had brought my brother and me for our regular visitation. That Friday it rained buckets, but that did not deter the good German Citizenry of New Braunfels,TX, from turning out on Saturday for beer and wurst. This was a warm up for Oktoberfest. A true Harvest festival in the grand old style. The pigs were weighed, calves, lambs, vegetables,pies, quilts, and jams judged. The Bier Garten was packed and my siblings and I were encouraged to disappear into the fairgrounds, as long we showed up once an hour, we were released again.
Somewhere between the freakshow (mostly b/w photos of days long gone by) and the haunted house, I smelled Mother Ganja on the wind. (I am a second generation hippy, among other things.) I was tired of being harassed and hoping to find some bikers or hippies to hang with, Gothic Cowpunk had not quite caught on in rural Texas in those days. Next to the haunted house I stopped to beat the mud off my boots when I heard a raspy voice behind me, “Hey kid.” I turned around and met the Devil for the first time. There he was disguised as a carnie with a penchant for biker wear.
“Yes”, says I.
“Want to get high?” He queries
“Do I ever.” I respond. So he leads to the carnie camp which were travel trailers arranged in a square with a fire in the middle. They were drinking and smoking and eating bar b que between shifts. I was introduced and invited to join the smoke circle. After 3o minutes the Devil shows up again and ask me if I want to get real fucked up. I am hesitant as he reaches into a bag made out of faded denim and pulls out a peyote cactus about an inch and a half across and two inches long with it’s tapering root. I recognized it from the previous summer’s research. He tells me that normally he would charge $30 for this size, but he likes me so he’ll let me have it for $15. I had $17 and some change so the deal went down. Instead slicing off little pieces as he suggested, I quartered it and ate two immediately. They tasted like dirt. It was time for me to check in.
I arrived at the Bier Garten just in time to be naseous. My family was incredibly drunk and having a joyous time; I vomited. Right into a trash can. They all laughed and asked how many had I had. Then they offered me beer and sausage which made me purge some more. More laughter.
I went out and roamed the carnival. So a Harvest festival turned County Fair in an area settled by Germans with a freakshow is what imprinted on my brain the first time I did psychedelics. If you know me, I think this is very illuminating. If not keep reading this blog, it will become apparent.
I went back home after that weekend, dropped out of the Wiccan Circle and a month later at All Hallows Eve entered a graveyard and iniated myself into Witchcraft. I have never looked back.
That night that Halloween night 33 years ago is when I met Oma. I am not going to say much about her as she is my spirit guide. I know now where she is buried in that German cemetery and why she urged me constantly to listen to my own German Grandmother’s stories, which I sorely neglected to do enough.
She appeared shortly after my declaration and asked why I had done such a thing and did I realize what I was giving up? As she speaks German and I very little our conversations have been very humorous and frustrating over the years. I have actually learned a lot of German from her over time and I am taking semi-formal lessons now.
The gist of her argument was that if one wants knowledge they should be a librarian or an occultist. If they seek power go into politics or be a sorcerer. A healer? Become an herbalist or physician. Witchcraft was for hermits who could live without blind faith. One could live in the middle of a city, but their eccentricity would mark them so that they ended up living a hermits life even if they married and had children. I am only beginning to understand this. A witch only has faith in that which they know, this makes for a hard life at times.
She taught me that being a witch is not as glorious as portrayed in books. I told her that I did not know of any books where it is portrayed as glorious. Exactly she said.
Every now and again someone around me discovers Pickled Okra. This is something I take for granted as it has always been a part of my life, in fact it is perfect analogy for my praxis, more on that in a minute. This query by social aquaintenances inevitably sends me through a nostalgia spiral. Lateley this spiral has been amplified by several factors. One I am in the middle of acquiring a more permanent housing situation, which may include a move to New Braunfels, TX where in many ways my journey began. I have also found myself hanging around Walmart parking lots, talking to RV’ers because I am very close to being able to achieve my goal of living in an RV. This has put me back in contact with Nomads, homeless, and carnival folk. St. Francis and St. Jude keep showing up over and over again. Then a few days ago at a potluck with my people from that thing in the desert someone said the magic words, “I just tried Pickled Okra for the first time. How did I not know about this?”
There also seems to be a Witchcraft craze going on right now. I am not sure what spurred it or why, but these things happen and they seem to happen in waves. The older I get the more I understand the first question Oma put to me, “Child, what are you that you desire to be a Witch?” (Kind, was bist du, dass du eine Hexe sein willst?), not Why do you want to be a witch or even Why do you wish to study Witchcraft, but What are you? I have come to believe one must have an outlaw soul to be a witch. Many who believe they want this path are better suited to be yoga instructors or substance abuse counselors. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Takes a while to find oneself. I am happy wicca exists to provide many with the oppurtunity to worship witches without having to get their hands dirty. I want say much more, Silence prevents me. The knowledge is easily gained, even Consumer Zombies are willful enough, a few posses the daring, but very few can simmer in silence gathering the sardonic wisdom like jewels to be used only when appropriate. At this point accusations of elitism arise, to which I ask one simple question. Have you tried pickled okra?
See that question is about an experience. How would I describe pickled okra to someone who has never tried it? Simple, I give them a piece.There is no description of the experience that will adequately substitute for the experience. It really is that simple. Now for an analogy that relies on Pickled Okra that may make sense. I said my praxis is like Pickled Okra and indeed it is.
My praxis like the aforementioned delicacy could only be born in Texas. First one starts with a Germanic practice; pickling or in reference to my practice Teutonic folkways and hexenkraft. Add something southern that actually originated in Africa; okra or hoodoo materia as I do. Lastly something local or indigenous like jalapeños, or in the instance of my praxis some saints borrowed from Mexican catholicism not necessarily recognized by Rome. There you have it Pickled Okra, which like America is a crossroad in time as much as space where multiple cultures and techniques come together to create something new. A place where everything new is old again.
PEACE LOVE LIGHT