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how to read this (aka the little white book)
Welcome to the digital written component of my Dramaturgy MFA thesis: COVEN-19, or Unprecedented Times. In the spirit of iterative process, queer failure, liminal exploration, and utopian practice, I am writing this thesis as tarot: 22 essays, spells, rituals, and magickal ramblings about Coven process, each inspired by tarot symbols and interpretations specific to its corresponding card. Like the tarot, this thesis is performative and always happening, always there-but-not-there. The major arcana tarot cards are numbered 0 through 21, outlining one version of the fool's journey -- but as evidenced through these card-chapter time stamps, which indicate the order in which I am moving through my thesis, the cards can be navigated in infinite ways. Common themes, theories, art ancestors, quotes, and citations circulate throughout this thesis deck; meaning is therefore deeply interconnected, and no card holds more critical or scholarly weight than any other. This is an experiment in ways to hold power with, rather than over, meaning-making: I need the reader as an actor needs a spectator, to move my words through time and space. And so, please read these cards in whatever order feels satisfying to you. Allow your choices to structure your meaning-making experience. For a divinitory reading experience, you can pull major arcana cards from a tarot deck, or this website, and navigate the pages accordingly. You can alternatively choose cards based on the corresponding images and key words. Eventually, I will link certain key words and citations to each other, so that you can click through the deck with new directional inspiration? That would be cool. Also, register to experience our Coven's Beltane ritual, and follow us on insta @umass_coven19 and on our cool tumblr blog. Start your journey here.
22 - coven
Jemma Kepner she/her - Jewitch i feel safe. i don't feel judged in coven space, i feel welcomed, no matter if i was late or had a sour face. i notice how coven made me feel when i left the zoom meeting. i oftentimes felt full, like after eating a warm bowl of soup. whereas in other zooms, i felt hunger after leaving the call. do i need to find an artistic or poetic way to just say i felt 'good' in every sense of the word in coven space? I FELT GOOD IN COVEN SPACE! GOOD GOOD GOOD coven gave me the greatest and most forgiving community in the most isolating and unforgiving of times. coven was much needed medicine. Percival Hornak he/they - Puppet Witch Many theatre spaces demand vulnerability from the getgo without providing a safe place to do so nor any room for that vulnerability to come out when it's ready - coven isn't like that. We let it build and made mistakes and learned from them and I think our processes were the better for it, in part because having a space that feels like an artistic home and a place where you can authentically be yourself without performing being okay or feeling like you need to hide what's really going on is a space that's really rich for creating something. I've become a better leader by living within coven space, where leadership means listening and watching for opportunities for others to use their strength. I've learned how to abandon the structures and power dynamics that make so many academic spaces really fraught and while I don't know how successful I was at really meaningfully making those feel like they weren't present in that space, I at least am more aware of what that power looks like and how to wield it responsibly. Micki Kleinman she/her - Inquisitorial Witch Unlike previous theatrical experiences, I literally felt like I was valued and respected and treated as a human being. coven did a great job at trusting each of us to be honest with each other and with other selves, it taught me how to recognize my needs and their validity, voice my needs, and to not feel bad about having them. I am taking the idea that things will come together in the end, calm down and enjoy the process. beauty is created. trust people. I have learned to be more mindful and have learned about witchcraft. Nicole Bates she/her - Music and Cinema Witch The coven space was unlike any other Zoom space I have been apart of over this past year. In no other Zoom spaces have I been able to cultivate genuine relationships like I have with coven. Because of the nature of Zoom, it is usually that you sign on, you listen to the lecture or the presentation or whatever it may be and then you sign off, but in coven, everyone was allowed to take up as much or as little space as they wanted. I think that is also something that made coven unique from other theater spaces. It felt truly collaborative and it felt that everyone's contributions were celebrated and appreciated. Coven space was a space where I could set down my usual depressive cynicisms and actually just enjoy. I never felt rushed in coven and I never felt like I had to put on a front if I was having an off day. I felt I moved through coven space with hesitation at first, but then with compassion and genuine love for everyone a part of the special space we cultivated. Tory Vazquez they/them - Astro Witch With coven, there has been plenty of room to grow and experiment and double-back on things. Lots of other collaborative projects/orgs try and fail to be living spaces that are fluid and change depending on the needs of the people participating. Coven has set a new standard for future spaces I engage with. Coven is truly open to feedback and criticism AND actively incorporates and builds upon that criticism. There is a tangible and genuine desire from coven members to adapt to the changing needs and concerns of each other. Additionally, coven goes beyond merely talking about wanting to disrupt hegemony and oppressive structures. There is oodles of space made for the actual disruption of colonial notions of time and gender and progress, among other things. Coven is one of very few spaces where I feel comfy being my totally human self. I can share incomplete half-thoughts, lay on the floor, eat tons of teeny peelable oranges, and wear blanket cloaks without feeling weird about showing an "unpolished" version of myself. It's nice. coven is so queer...if i had to take one thing from coven, it would be that i only ever interact with queer spaces in the future. also, helen's memes. Helen Rahman she/her - Poetic Justice Witch fucking hell there's no ego battles and if there are they're very small. this is the most collaborative artist space I've ever been in. every other place has weird competitive energy it's gross. coven represented unconditional acceptance to me. what i'm taking from coven: love, acceptance, beauty, collaboration, and of course lifelong friends fingers crossed top row: Tory Vazquez, Percival Hornak, Helen Rahman middle row: Matthew Gover, Maegan Clearwood, Parker Traphagan bottom row: Nicole Bates, Jemma Kepner, Micki Kleinman
script of beltane ritual
performed April - May, 2021 co-written and performed by: Nicole Bates, Alison Butts, Maegan Clearwood, Matthew Gover, Percival Hornak, Jemma Kepner, Micki Kleinman, Helen Rahman, Parker Traphagen, Tory Vazquez AT RISE: The crackling of candles. Cameras off. Maegan: ~Land acknowledgment~ We acknowledge that the members of our coven currently occupy the traditional, unceded territories of the Pawtucket (puh-tuck-et), Nipmuc (nip-muck), Pocumtuc (poh-cum-tuck), Nonotuck (nah-nuh-tuck), Timucua (tim-u-cu-ah), and Seminole (seh-muh-nowl) Nations. The Indigenous peoples of these Nations are still here and will continue to be here on their ancestral lands. We acknowledge that we are contributing to the ongoing colonization and settlement of these Indigenous territories. We invite you all to share in the chat whose land you are occupying. You can find this out by visiting the website linked in the chat: https://native-land.ca/ As a coven with largely Western magick practices, we also acknowledge how much of modern Western witchcraft steals and appropriates Indigenous cultural and spiritual practices. We can support Indigenous peoples by giving our time, money, and labor to Indigeous organizations, actions, and movements; by committing to returning land to Indigenous Nations; by prioritizing and uplifting Indigenous voices, and by learning and honoring the Indigenous histories of the land we occupy. Parker: This section contains mentions of police brutality, anti-Blackness, anti-Asian hate crimes, transphobia, and the coronavirus pandemic. Feel free to take space if you need it - the next section begins with a video of trees. We also acknowledge that the past year has brought with it a stark increase in violence and harm for so many marginalized communities - a rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders that went unacknowledged for far too long; continued police violence and murder of Black people with no accountability; transphobic laws passed in multiple state legislatures that bar trans people, particularly young trans women, from accessing lifesaving healthcare and playing on sports teams that align with their gender; rampant inequity in access to Covid-19 vaccination that puts communities of color at risk. This and so much more weigh heavy on our hearts and minds. It has been a year of incredible grief and loss with very little justice, but as a coven we send the energy and healing generated by this ritual to communities coping with these traumas and to the people putting their bodies on the line to advocate for change. If you are able, send energy and healing to the space so it may be absorbed by others here who are in need of it. If you are in need of energy, know that we are sending it your way. We invite you to take three deep breaths with us - with each exhalation, send the energy you have to spare. With each inhalation, take the energy you need. [Mics on: The COVEN takes three deep breaths.] -- HELEN’S WELCOME VIDEO -- -- OPENING: SUN + MOON INVOCATION -- PERCY performs Sun + Moon puppet show under the following: MATTHEW: The moon is a being of cyclical resilience. She has given plants instructions to rise and fall. She has given trees the right to bear oxygen, for dear Mother Earth, to cleanse many paletes. She has told both body and mind when to quiet and rejuvenate for the journey to come. From this quiet, The Moon has allowed us to redress our nights in cooling sheets of love. The Moon brings us to sleep, where our dreams run ferociously and our greatest manifestations take flight. It is here, the candle inside our souls begins to flicker, and the warmth of its glow takes us by surprise. PARKER: The Sun is the center of our Solar System, A bringer of light and with light, life. She grants trees the light needed to unfurl their leaves. She gives Mother Earth the warmth needed to get through winter. She wakes us up and rejuvenates us. She wakes us from our slumber to put our dreams into action. With her shining rays she spurs us into movement and energises us for the coming day. Her fire tends to our own spiritual fires, kindling and kin. MATTHEW: Together the beautiful entities of both Sun & Moon craft our sense of time and existence here on Earth. PARKER: The Moon guides us in our dreams allowing us to reflect on our actions of the days past. MATTHEW: The Sun propels us to act on those thoughts, reshaping our day’s present. PARKER:The Moon recharging and recrafting our emotional wellbeing with her ever-changing faces; MATTHEW: While the Sun ensnares us in an activated amber glow that calls our manifestations to mobilization. PARKER:Both Moon & Sun are here for us when needed the most. As they dance through the sky painting our world in light and shadows with each hour they help us all explore and search for our true selves. Now we invite you to take a small step in your large journey to delve deeper, braver, more lovingly, into this search of self. Believe what you feel, heed to your light, and make sense of your shadow. Breath! -- WITCHING HOUR VIDEO -- -- LIVE WITCHING HOUR -- Breathe. The Witching Hour video has just ended. MATTHEW starts to bring more candles on screen. His video is spotlighted, so we have the visual of souls to represent ancestors. MICKI- The witching hour is the hour in nighttime when supernatural, witchy, or surreal things tend to take place; the veil between the living and the dead is at it’s thinnest. The seconds tick by, and our bodies pulsate in tune. At this time we allow ourselves to slow down,and enjoy the stillness of nights, or wind down and transition from the state of awakeness to the state of asleep. We have nighttime rituals, our actions illuminated by the moon above. The circular orb of the moon which lights up the night sky, which affects the push and pull of the ocean tide, and which waxes and wanes every month. The ever changing and ever constant that is the moon. The moon can get us to think about the cycles in our own lives. In this way, we would like to take the time and space to think about larger cycles which we may want to break. Both the personal intimate nature of nighttime rituals, and the all consuming, vastness of the moon and the night, gives us the opportunity to evaluate the cycles within our lives. Cycles, habits, and patterns passed down through generations. TORY- We are going to engage in a ritual focused on ancestry. We understand that thinking about our ancestors can raise a lot in us, especially trauma. You may encounter strong feelings around oppression, generational harm, grief, and loss. We encourage you to participate with an open heart. However, if this subject matter may be too difficult to engage with right now, please take the space you need. Take care of yourself and listen to your body. JEMMA- We define an ancestor as: a temporarily distanced someone---a ghost, often---from whom I inherited something invaluable; someone to whom I feel indebted; someone whose lineage I am humbled or desire to be counted among.” TORY- An ancestor can come from your biological lineage but you can also look to an ancestor from a community or artist you connect with; these are chosen ancestors. You may find an ancestor from a religious group, spiritual practice, queer identity, or artist that you identify with. Your ancestors can be a community, an individual, or anything in between. MICKI- Some types of ancestors include, but are not limited to: Each type of ancestor will be typed in the chat as well for emphasis. MAEGAN- Art ancestors PERCY- Queer ancestors PARKER- Trans ancestors NICOLE- Blood ancestors MATTHEW- Religious ancestors PARKER- Spiritual ancestors JEMMA- Chosen ancestors HELEN- Science ancestors MICKI- Scholar ancestors TORY- Nonhuman ancestors- Including the Earth’s animals, plants, insects, and fungi who hold tremendous knowledge. Definition above is pasted in the Zoom chat. JEMMA- take a moment to gather a pen and paper so it is ready for you for journaling after we meditate. You do not need to answer all of these questions, they are merely there for you to ponder on or to be used as starting off points for your own reflection and empowerment. Feel free to focus on Matthew lighting the candles, spotlighted for you, as each candle represents a soul. Feel free to close your eyes, make sure you’re breathing, whatever you need to center and ground yourself. Breathe in whatever manner works for you. Try and visualize your ancestors. If you’ve never gotten the opportunity to meet your ancestors, or your ancestors are more abstract, you can imagine them as you please. Stay with your body and with your breath. What do your ancestors look like and sound like? Do they have distinct behaviors you’ve noticed? Maybe the way they laugh, or the music they listen to, or the way they breathe after they drink a glass of water. Do your ancestors smile wide, or in a more reserved manner? Is there a certain way they say your name? TORY- If the ancestor you’re connecting to is nonhuman, envision the environment they belong to. How do they interact with the world around them? What abilities and traits have they developed for their survival? How might they communicate? How might or have they interacted with you? MICKI- Are there life lessons, or nuggets of advice you’ve received from these ancestors? If so, what are they? Are there jokes or stories they’ve repeated over the years, or is every story of theirs a wild adventure you’ll never hear of again? Are there stories and narratives which have been sustained over generations? TORY- Take a moment to return to the space. Open your eyes if they’ve been closed, slowly come back to us as we delve into journaling. Pause. There is so much we have inherited from our ancestors, getting in touch with how they have influenced who we are today can greatly impact our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. To do so, we need to recognize these influences first, and then take a moment to decide what to do with what we’ve learned. You may begin writing or drawing, as we delve into the questions. Make space for journaling throughout. How have your ancestors brought you joy? Did they exemplify joy, or teach you about it? Do your ancestors have toxic behaviors which you have distanced yourself from? Are there traits and characteristics they have that you admire? Ideas or sentiments you disagree with? Do you navigate the world differently because of your relationship with them? Thank you for journaling with us, we’ll leave you with a few closing thoughts as we transition out of the witching hour into dusk(?). JEMMA-With every encounter we have with the world, we need to keep something in mind. Every experience and interaction is just an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, what we feel comfortable with, what we cannot tolerate, what we admire. The testing of our boundaries is just an opportunity to get to know our own boundaries a bit better. Now that we’ve identified things we’ve inherited from our ancestors take a moment and think about what you want to continue and bring into the future, and what do you want to leave in the past? MICKI- Who do you want to be? What kind of ancestor do you want to be? What example and behaviors are you setting and perpetuating? What legacy do you want to bring into the future? Turn off video. DUSK VIDEO Breath. LIVE DUSK MICKI: Dusk is the time after the sun has set, and after twilight, a time when the sun is no longer in the sky. A time when the world looks gray, and fuzzy, and the air cools down and envelopes us. Public parks are open from dawn til dusk, and when dusk hits it’s time to head home. Five minute warning to make your way home for dinner. Time seems to slow down, and make space for all the breathing, and unwinding, we need. Simultaneously, dusk is all too fleeting until the full darkness descends and time seems to slip through our fingers. The fleeting and the enduring, the stillness and the yearning, the transitioning from one chapter to the next, our bodies torn in two different directions. TIME SPELL Maegan and Nicole are highlighted. Maegan: This is a spell for lifetimes that are not measurable by clocks or calendars. Nicole: This is a spell for lifetimes that are not evaluated by profit margins, Or new years resolutions Or biological clocks. Maegan: A spell for lifetimes that are not limited by life. Nicole: Forever times composed of Nows. Maegan: This is a spell inspired by a woman Who measured time by frosted windowpanes and poems. Maegan turns camera off and turns Emily camera on. Nicole reads from her poetry book. Nicole: Some say goodnight — at night — I say good night by day — Good-bye — the Going utter me — Good night, I still reply — For parting, that is night, And presence, simply dawn — Itself, the purple on the hight Denominated morn. We invoke a timespace of unproductivity; we invoke luxurious sleep Maegan lights spell candle. Nicole: Pain — expands the Time — Ages coil within The minute Circumference Of a single Brain — Pain contracts — the Time — Occupied with Shot Gamuts of Eternities Are as they were not — We invoke a timespace of acknowledged pain; we invoke breathability Maegan lights incense. Nicole: AFTER a hundred years Nobody knows the place, — Agony, that enacted there, Motionless as peace. Weeds triumphant ranged, Strangers strolled and spelled At the lone orthography Of the elder dead. Winds of summer fields Recollect the way, — Instinct picking up the key Dropped by memory. We invoke nonlinear time; we invoke humility. Maegan flips a tarot card. Nicole We have all the time in the world. Cameras off. Maegan and Nicole’s screens are unhighlighted. END OF TIME SPELL EVERYONE TURNS VIDEO ON. HELEN - Now that we’ve looked inward, we’re going to do a spell for convening together, Coven and guests, in our magickal space -- so we thought we’d go ahead and introduce ourselves. -- INTRODUCTIONS -- Alison Butts (she/her) Stage Management Witch Nicole Bates (she/her) Cinema Witch Maegan Clearwood (she/they) In-Process Witch Matthew Gover (he/him) GemWitch Percival Hornak (he/they) Puppet Witch Jemma Kepner (she/her) Jewitch Micki Kleinman (she/her)Inquisitorial Witch S. Helen Rahman (she/her)Poetic Justice Witch Parker Traphagen (they/them) Moon Witch Tory Vazquez (they/them)Astro Witch Helen We invite you to introduce yourselves by typing your name and pronouns into the chat along with where you are in the world and of course, your zodiac sign, sun, moon and/or rising! The COVEN greets folks as they type in the chat. -- BREAD & CANDLE SPELL -- HELEN - As we near the halfway point of our ritual, let’s take a moment to nourish ourselves. We invite you all to light a candle along with us, or turn on some kind of warm and special light source to keep us all connected to each other. If you do have an open flame nearby, please use caution and have some water nearby (obviously). You can look at this candle throughout the rest of the evening and watch it burn bright, bringing our ritual to life. (Audience and coven members light a candle together. Cameras are on and out candles highlighted) JEMMA- We invite all of you, coven and audience and ushers alike, to join us in breaking bread. You obviously don’t need an actual piece of bread, but if you have any food or drink nearby, let’s take a moment to feed ourselves, to indulge in our nourishment! (the COVEN and the audience take a moment to eat a bite of something/take a sip of something delicious) HELEN - As you eat, Jemma is going to offer us an incantation to bring the spell to life. JEMMA- In mellem vitae descendant nostra corpēs. Let our bodies descend into the honey of life. HELEN - Eating is a sensual, and even an intimate experience. Make sure to chew that first piece of food at least twenty times. Sounds impossible, right? WRONG. When you chew every portion of your food of choice, invest full acknowledgement to your taste buds, individually; savor each flavor, bold or mild, tangy or sweet, bitter or spicy. Search for a new flavor if you must. What’s the new flavor’s name? Are you immersed in that flavor, tongue, teeth, lips, and all? Okay it’s just food, don’t get too carried away -- DAWN VIDEO -- -- LIVE DAWN -- Everyone’s cameras On. Music plays. PERCY: We’re going to call on the energy of some tarot cards to get our bodies moving - listen to your body, move in a way that feels good in whatever amount of space you have available to you, and if at any point you feel pain, feel free to take a pause and adjust. You can also feel free to turn your camera on for this section if you’d like. PARKER: We’re going to start with The Fool: The Fool is a card that is about freedom and being care free. Move freely, listening to what your body needs or where your muscles may feel a bit tight. Take this opportunity to improvise - move without knowing exactly what your next action will be, and focus on what feels good in your body right now. PERCY: Next, we’re going to embody The Hanged One: The Hanged One is a card about release and surrendering yourself to a situation. Move in a way that gives you a change of perspective - let the upper half of your body hang upside down, or just let your chin fall to your chest and feel the stretch in the back of your neck. PARKER: Finally, we’re going to take on the energy of The Sun: The Sun Card is all about celebration and Joy that is well deserved. We invite you to stretch in a way that makes you feel celebratory - take up as much physical space as possible. You’ve worked hard, you deserve it. PERCY flexes - music fades. Turn cameras off (except Matthew and Helen). -- Dawn Ending piece:-- Writing supplement: MATTHEW: We are present. We are not living in past views, but we are filled with them. We are not ignorant of our time across and on this planet. We are needing though. We are needing and wanting and hoping and having to break what no longer serves us and our spaces. HELEN: We are interested in breaking cycles that have been malicious, have maligned our beings, have taken space up in our souls. When we think of past, we think of ancestral journeys. We think of broken biases that have taken far too long to abolish. We think of strengths that were needed and are not too late to grasp. MATTHEW: However, when we think of present, we mustn't neglect the love for the cycles that serve. We mustn't forget the communal love that captivates our families, both chosen and bloodborne. We mustn't forget the positive self-talk that builds up our minds instead of tearing them down. We mustn't look away from the special moments where we gifted folks with the education and wisdom to do better than the last. We mustn't forget that each of us is an original, a beauty just waiting to be fully blossomed. Just as you would spread love and provide support to your own heart, spread love to people and communities who have experienced a lot of trauma recently. Spread love with your own heart, with your whole body, to your favorite person, your favorite people, your neighborhood, town, state, nation, the globe. In terms of the movement of life, through the reflection of the practices that envelop this coven, of the practice of Tarot, and of the energy moving through this sacred space, [Tarot Dancers turn cameras on] we grant you these thoughts to blossom that very beautiful original inside of yourself: Everyone flips through tarot cards in order. HELEN: A time in your life where you questioned your beliefs (Hierophant) A time when you made a tough decision that changed your life (Lovers) A time when you rose up from a destructive/tumultuous event in your life (The Star) A time when you disciplined yourself in honor of your long-term stability and happiness (Emperor) A time when you honored the nurturing divine feminine, mothers, women, grandmothers, great grandmothers, feminine people, daughters, independent women, your own femininity (Empress) A time when unexpected change impacted your path in life (The Tower) A time when you kept quiet and listened to your inner guidance (High Priestess) A time when you changed your mindset and thus your reality with perseverance and persistence (The Magician) A time when you felt your egoic side die and you felt connected to the world and humanity (Judgment) A time when you had to moderate your intake of pleasure and short-term gratification (Temperance) A time when you chose to lead with love when others didn’t (Strength) A time when you took a leap of faith (The Fool) A time when you studied your dreams and the human subconscious and unconscious (The Moon) A time when you let positivity uplift you instead of succumbing to darkness (The Sun) A time when you couldn’t control your emotions and succumbed to any form of darkness (The Devil) A time when you took a time out and followed your inner light to guide you to the right path (The Hermit) A time when your or someone else’s karma, good or bad or ugly, caught up with you or someone else (Justice) A time when you took hasty and/or calculated action towards an area of your life (The Chariot) A time when you counted on life’s ups and downs to lead you to your destination (Wheel of Fortune) A time when your life felt like it made a beautiful “full circle” around hardships and successes alike (The World) A time when you found a pleasant and enlightening new perspective on life and events in life (The Hanged Man) A time when things fell apart just to fall into place (Death) Now activated, whole, and in our bodies, we invite you to remain open to yourself and your ancestral energy. PERCY - We have a tradition, as a coven, of brainstorming together on Google Jamboards - it’s a space where all contributions have equal weight and we can lift up and respond to each other in the moment. We would like to invite you to participate in this tradition with us - we’re going to put a link to a collaborative whiteboard in the chat, where you can double click on a sticky note to add your responses to any or all of the prompts there. Link: https://miro.com/app/board/o9J_lJ0nVlQ=/ ALI STARTS SCREENSHARING Alternatively, I’ll read the prompts out loud, and invite you to write any responses you’d like to share into the chat, and one of our witches will add them to the board for you. You can see the board grow on your screen in real time. Jamboard Witches: Boundaries: Maegan Parker Time: Tory Helen Love: Nicole Helen READ EACH AS ALI MOVES TO THEM. Are there boundaries you want to set? Beat. What do you want to spend more time on? Beat. What do you love about yourself? Beat. Now that we have reflected on ourselves and our ancestry, and set our intentions for the future, we can begin to call those intentions closer to us. EVERYONE TURNS CAMERAS ON. We invite you to join us in reading responses aloud and calling these things into being - feel free to be brave and unmute your microphone and join the coven in speaking the things you love about yourself, the boundaries you want to set, and the things you want to spend more time with out loud. We know the magic of bandwidth does not grant us unison, so for this portion of the ritual, we ask that everyone speaks in their own moment, at their own pace. A wall of sound - the coven reads responses from the jamboard and the chat. When it comes to a natural end ... JEMMA - We invite you to blow out your candle, let the smoke fuel and feed your inner fire. We love and appreciate all of you, we hope you may do the same to yourselves. Blessed be. COVEN - Blessed be. The COVEN blows out their candles. JEMMA - Thank you for joining us in this ritual. We’ll be here for a little while longer to continue the conversation in the chat, dance, or do whatever else is needed in order to come back to the real world before leaving this space - feel free to turn your cameras on for a moment. Stay if you wish, but no pressure - we’re grateful you joined us this evening and hope you have a magickal night. (dance party - SHAKE IT OUT by Florence and the Machine plays) NICOLE - Thank you so much for joining us - have a good evening! END OF PLAY
17 - star
17- star guiding light, beauty, hope this card is dedicated to my mfa cohort, in celebration of our survivability and thrivability in soul-crushing times; and in honor of the radical, imaginatory, and transformative art and leadership that we will continue bringing into our professional work. the world is lucky to have us. special thanks to Tatiana Godfrey and Joshua Glenn-Kayden for their dramaturgical guidance with this card. "You have to learn how to daydream" -- Maria Irene Fornes coven ritual: journey to Coven Space created by Parker Traphagen Close your eyes and journey to Coven Space. Where are you? Is it a meadow or a forest? Is it a cottage with a roaring fireplace? With herbs hanging from the ceiling and crystals on the windowsill? Is the sun out? Maybe the moon? allow yourself to let go of stress about the future or past mistakes. Can you see your fellow members interacting in this space or are you alone? Interact with this space. Interact with your fellow witches. Breathe the same air, safely and comfortably. You have helped to create this sacred space that has helped every single one of us in some way or another. This space isn't going away after coven is over. You can always come back to how it has healed you, brushed away your tears, and how it makes you feel safe. It lives on in all of us. Hold this space close. dramaturgical killjoys I've always preferred uncomfortable truths to warm-and-fuzzy fictions. In my own family, I'm notorious for being the resident fun-sucker: "why can't you let us enjoy movies without picking them apart all the time?"; "not everything has to be about racism and sexism"; "you'll get over this feminism phase when you figure out that nothing ever really changes and it's just not worth fighting for." As editor of my undergraduate newspaper, I loved asking prodding questions of administration and took particular pride in becoming the arch-nemesis of the college president. Theatre spaces, I learned as early as middle school, are particularly antagonistic toward question-askers and pessimists, but I just couldn't help myself. The biggest note from my undergraduate theater instructor: "Fix your face: I can tell when you're bothered by something a mile away." In a previous theatre life, I was passed over for a very well-earned promotion because of my attitude: I have it on good authority that the under-experienced person who took the job was chosen for their bubbly personality rather than their resume (I on the other hand frequently skipped drinking-heavy work functions and encouraged my coworkers to openly discuss pay rates). I was eventually fired from this theatre company, no explanation given; I can only assume I didn't smile enough. thought-in-progress: is the theatre industry's positivity culture ableist? while working at the above theatre company, i was in the worst mental health shape of my life; my depression and eating disorder brought me to all-time lows. some days, many days, i was physically incapable of smiling. in capitalist-driven theatre, where is the room for unproductive pain? Even in graduate school, I fail to learn. In one class in particular, I had a habit of asking dissenting questions. The instructor tacked a minus onto my otherwise "A" grade, warning me to "watch what kind of energies I bring into the space." Perhaps my greatest queer failure (see wheel card) in graduate school has been my inability to meet the tenth benchmark listed in the Theater Department's Graduate Student Handbook: the "ability to remain joyful, playful, and resourceful in collaborative situations: a positive sought-after presence" (12). As I write this, I can hear my thesis advisor, Harley Erdman, assuring me that of course I am a positive sought-after presence, offering me examples of my glowing successes as a production dramaturg and instructor. To which I would respond that I have no doubts of my own intellectual and collaborative capabilities, and I am damn proud of my MFA dramaturgy portfolio. But I also know that I've pushed a lot of people's buttons; I've sidetracked production meetings; in post-mortems, my thoughts linger on the harms caused more than the accomplishments made in a process; my killjoy instincts run dangerously counter to the department's product-oriented mindset, and they show all over my face. It's funny to consider how theatre, the very art of affective storytelling, holds such tight control over how, when, where, and what kinds of feelings may be felt. After all, we rarely see the comedy theatre mask without its tragic counterpart: surely the theatre is a place for pain? And yet, only certain feelings are permitted in certain circumstances: actors are trained in how to feel feelings and directed to express them onstage; spectators are encouraged to laugh, applaud, and tear up, preferably at the right moments; those of us behind-the-curtain do not have the luxury of much feeling at all, thanks to tight production schedules. "Negative" feelings have no place whatsoever: there is nothing more unproductive to a process than a dramaturg raising their hand to point out problematic marketing imagery or an intern airing a grievance against a superior. Positivity is literally written into our rulebooks, whereas pessimism in its varied forms -- pain, confusion, ambiguity, frustration -- is squelched. From this capitalist, killjoy perspective, theatre peddles in feeling as something to be replicated, packaged, and sold to consumers rather than something to be simply felt. Colonialist tools are at play, as unhappy dissenters -- often artists and laborers working from the margins -- are silenced, erased, devalued, underpaid, blacklisted and fired. It's no wonder dramaturgs have such shaky standing in American theatre: our work is inherently anti-capitalist. We ask questions when others would rather have answers, demand conversation when the production calendar tells us we are out of time, and advocate for meaning-making over ticket sales. Making trouble is what we do best. I wonder what a killjoy theatre would look like -- not just the experimental space of Coven, but entire production meetings, workshops, companies, and college departments. What if we valued challenging energies over positive energies? Instigators over sought-after presences? I imagine that such a theatre would be slow-going. It would probably produce fewer products. It would involve hard, consistent shadow work (see emperor card) rather than once-a-semester EDI workshops. But for all of these meandering, seemingly never-ending efforts, I think that our eventual products would be healthier. And celebratory moments, while perhaps less frequent, would feel genuinely joyful. Still, after all the firings and failures, I would rather be a troublemaker. Still, like Sarah Ahmed, the ultimate killjoy, "I prefer pessimism to positivity" (Ahmed blog). I frown a lot, not because I hate what I see, but because I hold the things I care about accountable. I frown because I'm always hopeful for something better. I refuse to fix my face. radical hope & imaginatory knowledges All of this to say, pessimism and hope are not mutually exclusive. In fact, in order to chase hope, one needs a certain degree of pessimism. Why strive for something better if you can't acknowledge what is damaged? Radical hope is pessimistic about the present but passionately, erotically, unreasonably even, optimistic about the future. Radical hope for the future requires being a killjoy for the present. The Coven is overflowing with radical hope, but that is in part because "negative" emotions are so allowed. During our daily check-in, we welcome feelings of all kind. We even have a "venting" channel in our Coven Discord. In these spaces, we share out frustrations with the university and theatre department, family struggles, mental health setbacks, anger and tears. Prior to Coven, I can think of only a single instance in which I openly broke down in front of my collaborators, although I've had more than I can count in bathroom stalls and parking lots (there is so much shame that comes with having to have emotions in secret). In Coven, I have cried with my camera on, a lot. I've felt like shit, a lot, and talked about it. I've even rehearsed through panic attacks. I've also felt abundant, generous joy, far deeper than in any other theatre process I can recall. And we hold ourselves accountable in our damaged present. We do shadow work and update community agreements; we open multiple lines of communication to express grievances and concerns; the producing team has met with witches one-on-one as necessary to try to become better. Stuff slips through the cracks, harms are inevitably caused -- but we would rather sit in uncomfortable truths than smile them away. Radical hope, the ridiculous notion that there's an unreachable star worth reaching for, needs grief and rage and pessimism and accountability. There's a shadowy, mucky present that we have to keep trudging through: we need radical hope, not smiles and happiness, to push us through. Imagination is the knowledge system of hope. It's an epistemology of conjuring, of mentally mapping a then-and-there. After all, we need a blueprint if we are to build better worlds. We need to envision what we are moving towards, otherwise it's not worth the trouble. Leslie Stevenson calls this kind of imagination “the ability to think of something not presently perceived, but spatio-temporally real” – but imagination is also defined as the “ability to think of whatever one acknowledges as possible (italics mine) in the spacio-temporal world” (238). To imagine, then, is not to simply conjure something out of nothing. It is conjuring something out of the hope that it can exist. Perhaps it even holds just-over-the-horizon potential to exist. When Parker leads us through their beautiful journeying ritual, we are not only imagining Coven space: we believe in the possibility of such a gathering. We hope for magick-making, even in the dredges of a seemingly unending pandemic, and we use that hope to transport us to the utopia of a Coven space that's full of joy and warmth and touch. “Some of us are surviving, following, flocking—but some of us are trying to imagine where we are going as we fly.” -- adrienne maree brown (2016 pg X) ritual utopics We harness imaginatory knowledges through generative art-making, but more crucially, through ritual: the careful and collective manifestation of hope through imagination. For what is magick but doing the impossible -- that which necessitates daydreaming? In conjuring Coven space, in speaking our desires into existence through spells, we move in the direction of worlds of our imaginations -- the imaginations of young people, queer people, angry and terrified and hopeful people; we diverge from the straight-and-narrow timeline of capitalism and onto winding, circuitous, scenic pathways that make us feel good. When I light a candle and speak with my ancestors, my conscious mind tells me that I’m wasting my time – but I listen to the tiny voice inside of me that aches for a world that listens to the ghosts of history. When I pull a tarot spread about an upcoming interview or class, I know I am not literally divining the future – but I am giving myself permission to imagine futures that care about me. Witchcraft is the practice of imagining hope amid hopelessness; of imagining better ways of living in a world that refuseses to let us live well. Ritual, then, is collective imagining: doing nonrational things, together, in liminal space. As explained by fellow witch and dear friend Patrice Miller: “ritual has a defined beginning, middle, and end, these structures within liminal space, so that people leave behind who they are in society. Then there are supposed to be this moment or these moments of communitas where everybody is equal in the ritual; then something changes – like a coming of age – and you leave transformed.” Boundaries are critical here -- not for dividing the world into power-overs and -unders, but for marking the threshold between mundanity and spirituality. To enter sacred space, the witch sheds the binary, mundane categorizations of rationalism.She must leave such constraints behind if she is to transform. This is why witches cast sacred circles, why the Coven has cultivated a series of entering and exiting rituals: to leave behind tools of violence; and to open up space for immanent value, equal worth, and spirit. (Also, sacred space can be psychically risky: we need to know how to retrace our steps in case of an emergency.) Temporality and liminality are also key. We enter ritual knowing that we will not stay long: affective, embodied intentionality is a muscle we rarely stretch in our mundane lives, and it’s hard to work very long from a place of atrophy. Communitas is, sadly, temporary, but by engaging with the in-betweenness of ritual, we manifest flickerings of better ways of living. We feel what it might feel to be our fullest, highest selves; we taste this potentiality, not through fantasizing about unreachable stars, but reaching them, really reaching them, even if it’s just for a too-quick instant. Then, maybe, we exit ritual thinking, what would it take to feel like that all the time? What I’m describing is perhaps just a witchier rearticulation of Jill Dolan’s utopian performance: the theatre is “a way to reinvest our energies in a different future, one full of hope and reanimated by a new, more radical humanism… different kinds of performance… inspire moments in which audiences feel themselves allied with each other, and with a broader, more capacious sense of a public, in which social discourse articulates the possible, rather than the insurmountable obstacles to human potential” (Dolan 2). Theatre, like ritual, has thresholds; it is an aesthetically illuminated gathering space in which transformation and time-traveling occurs. Spectators and performers alike use imagination, rather than rational factual thought, to create truths. What distinguishes Coven from the kind of transcendent “this-is-why-i-do-theatre” moments that Dolan describes is that we do not limit utopian performance to a fixed end-point; we do not work towards communitas, but rather bring communitas into process, into us, through ritual. The more we practice ritual, the more we honor our immanent worth, and the more we stretch our what-if imaginatory selves, the more glimpses of utopia we see and reach for and touch.
20 – judgment
20 – judgment purpose, awakening, clarity, evaluation Starhawk theory ancestor ritual tools: a candle; a tarot deck (or this link) a note for those new to tarot: you do not need to know anything about tarot to read tarot. knowing the traditional meaning of the cards is helpful, but unnecessary. the most important message you can glean from a card is the one that resonates the most deeply and immediately. if you'd like a little practice before diving into this ritual, i recommend exploring the intuitive tarot exercise in the high priestess card. also useful is the tarot-reading example at the bottom of this page; you can find another tarot example with the lovers card. part 1: invocation of the element of fire incantation: The fire remains See it burn in the center of the circle where it has burned for a thousand years A living flame in a dying landscape a beacon surrounded by fences, walls, concrete, and barbed wire Watch the flame Hold out your human hands Feel the fragile warmth Breathe deep -- Starhawk, from Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery light your candle. take a few deep breaths and concentrate on the flames. consider your relationship with fire. when do you interact with it? how do you feel towards it? what message is it trying to tell you now? what does it allow you to feel, see, and reach? call forth the energy of fire to illuminate your way in this ritual. part 2: a prepositional tarot ritual for using power-to 1. sift through your tarot deck to find your signifier, the card that stands for You. it may be your birth card (link here), a court card that corresponds with your astrological element and age, or any card that you resonate with at this moment in time. place this card in the center of your surface. 2. as you shuffle your tarot deck, think about power. when do you feel powerful? when do you feel powerless? how does power move within and throughout your everyday life? 3. pull a card for power-from-within (see high priestess card). this is the stuff of personal magicks: the innate spiritual gifts that are always inside of you, waiting to be expressed. what is your poetry? your erotic self-connection? what is your well of creativity, generative energy, pleasure? place the card underneath the signifier (literally beneath it). 4: pull a card for power-over (see emperor card). this is the stuff of authority and unequal value. in a world of oppressive power forces, where are you situated? you may want to pull two cards: one for how you hold power-over others, and one for how power is held over you. place the card in vertical configuration with the signifier card, depending on its meaning to you. 5. pull a card for power-with (see empress card). this is the stuff of synergy and connection. how do you (or can you) manifest power-with others? what is the expression of your highest self in the context of community? place the card beside your signifier card, linearly and equally. 6. pull a card for power-to. this is the stuff of imagination, hope, and action; it is not a direction from, but a direction towards. now that you know where your powers emerge and how they manifest, what are you using them for? what world are you conjuring? what do you care about, what are you creating, what do you desire? in a world based on power-over, what are you attempting to rebuild? the other power cards should be pushing you somewhere, so let them move you with hope, imagination, and intent. place this card in whatever position feels the most dynamic to you, because remember: utopia is not a fixed end-point. it is unreachable but worth reaching towards. an example card 1: high priestess tonight, coming out of Coven space, i feel wise. card 2: the star my well of creativity comes from a desire to invoke better, healthier, more adaptable worlds card 3: four of pentacles power is wielded over me through shame: certain truths are not meant to be shared; our fullest selves are inappropriate, inconvenient, messy, selfish; bury what feels good, even if it hinders your growth *i wield this power over myself and others as well, so imagine this card in both the above and below positions* card 4: the hermit i guide others with my unique insights. my lived experiences and wisdoms are lanterns that burn brightly alongside the lanterns of my collaborators. card 5: ace of cups i use my power to conjure new ways of feeling, doing, thinking, and being.
13 - death
13 - death transformation, transmutation, journey ending/beginning, cycles "conclusion" (written May 2, the day after our final COVEN-19 performance) Something's coming, don't know when But it's soon, catch the moon, one-handed catch. Death (the card) has been haunting me all this year. I pulled her just this morning, as I have so many mornings over the past few months. Buried in my deck is a skeletal hand clutching a scythe, waiting to reap what was and clear space for what will be. And I just keep stumbling upon her, with this cryptic message: you're turning a corner and only i know what awaits you there. Of course I know, pragmatically, the things that are coming: farewell to the Coven; my thesis defense; final projects to submit and grade; graduation; family conflicts to ignite, marriages to attend, boxes to pack, jobs to acquire. But Death is the harbinger of something else, something less tangible than a project or career path. There's a sensation, a way of holding myself, a fresh smell in the air, a then-and-there that I can almost taste. I've also been haunted by this question all this year: What is this thesis about? In the spirit of intuitive process and unreasoned knowledges, I have intentionally resisted the impulse to answer (and the impulse is strong -- I am a Virgo, after all). I wrote what I was compelled to write and tried to feel rather than logic my way from card to card. Process over product, being over becoming. But I knew I was grasping at something, as phrases and quotes and words flickered throughout my writing drafts: time to think and feel a then-and-there to be openly, brokenly human radical hope in a world built on power-over, we must remake the world imagination ancestor utopia process grievable lives a well of replenishing and provocative force the difference between poetry and rhetoric breathability inherent worth spirit the view from somewhere interconnectedness power-to feeling embodied knowledges Together, these words form a constellation of meaning. And there is no singular way of reading a configuration of stars: one person might see a snail shell, another a bubbling cauldron, another a melting candle. But today, as I reflect on ending-beginnings and harbingers of somethings, I read this meaning in the stars: This is a thesis about conjurings and hauntings. Conjuring is distinct from manifestation (which implies end-points and fixed, achievable desires, and has its own time and place in a witch's grimoire) in its temporal instability. It is a kind of time magick. Eva Reyes defines a conjuring as "a purposeful subversion of energy... melding of spiritual, scholarly, and creative realms in order to best unsettle whatever is happening in that moment." This unsettling transforms the present by infusing it with seemingly impossible futurities. It is an act of not only imagining otherwise ways of being and living, but believing in and embodying them. A witch performs a conjuring out of dissatisfaction with the present (see star card) and a radical, unreasonable faith that better-worlds are across the horizon; to conjure is to not only envision but to feel, touch, taste, dance, and be awashed in these worlds. In the Coven, we conjure better-worlds by speaking our needs into existence; by taking time to breathe and listen; by taking energy when we need it and offering energy to others when we have some to spare. It is so hard to imagine a future that is breathable, but we reach for it anyway, in collective jamboards and guided meditations to Coven Space; and we conjure that breathable future when we choose to go slow, in magnificent resistance to the ticking clock of Production Calendar Time. I conjure a better-self in the Coven. In the floundering mess of my post-DNA discovery (see Hermit card), I am still surprised by my face in the mirror. But over this past year, in Coven, I have begun conjuring myself out of the nothingness that I was pushed into three years ago. I do not need a label for whoever I am becoming: I simply exist, unapologetically and as fully as possible. I am silly, sad, not-pretty, fat, pimply, exhausted, jewish, angry, hungry, messy -- and I find myself conjuring a then-and-there self: not a someone who is neatly defined, but a someone who feels and strives for better-thans. And in order to conjure, we must listen to our ghosts. Conjuring can feel like making something out of nothing, but it's more akin to alchemy than pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It is an intuitive but intentional combination of imagination, radical hope, and inherent worth, as well as ancestral knowledges and shadow work. Nothing comes from nowhere, and everything is connected to something else which is connected to something else: to conjure, then, a witch must know where her knowledges come from (see hermit card). She must look backwards in order to move forwards. This means honoring ancestral knowledges, breaking away from toxic ancestral knowledges, and choosing better ancestral knowledges (see lovers card). This also means shadow work: looking back at her own ghostly selves, recognizing what has shifted, and releasing what no longer serves. In the Coven, we heed the call of our ancestors by citing our work; by researching where our practices come from; by recognizing toxic cycles (in theatre, witchcraft, and our own selves) and breaking them where we can. Ancestral practices are acts of accountability. We conjure utopian futures even as we are deeply connected to ancestral histories. I am still learning what it means to be ancestrally haunted in my own life. Many DNA-discoverees describe their experience as being "unmoored," and perhaps my captivation with ancestors is an experiment in becoming anchored again. In choosing my own roots after becoming so suddenly un-rooted. In grieving unknowable ancestral knowledges and choosing new histories to anchor my ever-conjuring self. If I were to envision a future theatre, it would be one that conjures impossible worlds; a theatre that is lovingly haunted by the traditions and artists who came before; a theatre that rejects capitalist time and embraces slow, care-taking, iterative process. I imagine a theatre of eros, where feeling is a tool rather than a hindrance and time is unconstrained. A theatre that welcomes dissent; a theatre that sees harm, grieves pain, and does better next time; a theatre that celebrates radical joy rather than toxic positivity. But the conjurings and hauntings of this thesis are not limited by theatre, or any industry or art form form that matter. In fact, I do not think that this dramaturgy thesis is about theatre at all. It is a nonlinear account of one small community's attempt to hold on to each other in unprecedented times. And it is, in more ways than I could have ever initially anticipated, about one witch desperately grasping at words and philosophies to carry her through the liminal timespace of her late 20s. Slowly, from one tarot card to the next, I saw fractals of myself emerge and repeat at-large. I saw a strange kind of wisdom grow out of this synthesis of theory, personal experience, communal experience, and feeling-oriented time. A wisdom that can be applied to theatre, but that also expands beyond -- it's a wisdom for anyone invested in utopian possibilities. To the reader who stumbled upon this tarot deck: may it be an offering of eclectic, messy, and contradictory wisdoms, ancestral and newly conjured. I hope that, out of its specificity to me, my ancestors, and the Coven, this thesis can inspire temporal divergences that bring you closer to queer horizons. Blessed be. situated post-script (as i emerge from quarantine/grad school liminal space) This thesis is also a practice of intuitive creation and thought: in Coven space, we listened to what felt satisfying rather than what made sense; and in writing this tarot deck, I listen to my ancestors and stumble my way from one idea to the next (sometimes with joy, sometimes with frustration and self-doubt, but always with some deeply felt feeling). And with my newly sharpened intuition, I realize that my decades-long call to "do theatre" is as fictitious as my gender, my straightness, my family mythology: something presumed true for most of my life, but that is in fact only as true as my belief in it. And I no longer believe that theatre is my only medium for conjuring better-worlds. What am I called to do beyond theatre is as strange to me as my own ever-becoming face in the mirror. But I am learning that not-knowing is a rare (if existentially terrifying) gift. Not-knowing is a timespace of potentiality. If everything is fiction, then I have the power to rewrite my story. And through Coven, I have gathered so many new narrative tools: radical hope, ancestral wisdom, nonlinear time, imagination, inherent worth, interconnected love, to name just some. I tremble to think of the infinite worlds that I have the power to conjure for myself. My offering to the Coven before final performance: "The Coven doesn't follow linear time, so we aren't closing anything tonight." a shell-shedding spell for intentional transformation to be manifested on significant cyclical days, such as Beltane or a thesis defense tools: journal and writing implement; a fire-safe bowl; fire; water 1. journal prompts: today is a culmination of something. what is it? what have you created? what is coming to an end? imagine all of your hard work as a shell that you've been carrying on your back for weeks or months or perhaps years on end, that you have finally outgrown. how heavy is it? where on your body have you been carrying this weight? how has it affected your shoulders, lower back, feet, hips, chest? how will you feel when you have shed the shell? light and airy relief, or grief? or a mixture of both? 2. draw your spiral shell. label points on the shell with the various accomplishments, burdens, and creations that you've encountered along the way. go chronologically, from the outside in. the outermost point of the spiral is the culmination of your efforts; the innermost point of the spiral is the seed, the thing -- tangible or abstract -- that started it all. add as many points on the shell as necessary to lead you toward the center. you might need to draw multiple drafts to make room for your points on the shell. try not to predict what the seed of everything is -- start externally. 3. which of these points on the spiral will you look forward to shedding? which will you miss? which will you carry with you? which will you evolve into something new? consider the center point of the spiral. was this cycle of time born out of something joyful or painful? necessity or desire? compare the center point to the outermost point. what is their connection? did you expect things to culminate the way they did, or was the journey full of surprises? 4. on a scrap sheet of paper, make a list of everything you want to shed from this cycle. include points from your drawing, but feel free to add others as well. be as abstract or specific as you'd like. what are the burdens of this spiral journey that were harmful and you want to let go of? 5. prepare to burn this scrap of paper (have some water nearby in case things get out of hand). thank these burdens for being a part of your process. as you burn them, release each burden, saying, "i relieve myself the burden of..." 6. what is left on your spiral? circle the points that you would like to carry with you in some way on your next journey. rewrite them in list form and narrow them down to about three or so. 7. draw another spiral shell. label the center of this spiral with the points that you circled in step 6. don't label too much of the shell: you're just planting seeds. 8. when you are ready to begin a new spiral journey, choose another significant day (the first day of a job, or moving day, or an anniversary) to revisit this shell drawing. reflect on how you can spiral outward from these innermost points. keep this shell someplace visible, maybe on an altar. add points as you journey, day by week by month. as you continue spiraling, remember the ways that your past journeys are entangled in this one. journeys are never linear, of course, so this metaphor is very much fiction -- but let the fiction help you reflect your never-ending transformations. may this spiral shell be the first of many more as you intentionally, slowly, and iteratively outgrow what no longer serves you and build bigger and better houses. 9. if spirals do not serve you and the way you experience time, imagine another visual metaphor entirely. or maybe you hate metaphors and just want to set some stuff on fire. this is your permission to be a witch who serves her own needs.
8 - strength
8 – strength vulnerability, interconnection, care coven opening needs ritual When rehearsal officially begins, Stage Manager Ali Butts invites Coven witches to turn their cameras off and turn their microphones on. We breathe, stretch, and shake away the stressors of the before-rehearsal day. When someone is called to do so, they speak their need aloud. The Coven responds by speaking the witch’s name (active listening skills required) and speaking their need as a spell: by speaking their desire in present-tense, The Witch calls it into existence. The ritual continues, each of us speaking our needs as we are called to do so. When needs have been met, we take whatever final breaths or stretches are necessary, turn our cameras on, and begin rehearsal in sacred space. Witch: I need time. Coven: Witch has time… Witch has time… Witch has time… Witch: I need joy. Coven: Witch has joy... Witch is joyful... Witch is joyful... Witch: I need to get over this cough. Coven: Witch has gotten over their cough... We banish coughs... Witch: I need motivation. Coven: Witch has motivation… Witch is motivated... Witch is motivated... Eventually, Ali asks us to be brave, turn our cameras on, and enter Coven space. precarious magicks Vulnerability is baked into Coven practice. It is the core of our Opening Needs Ritual, but it is also in our permission to “come as you are”: wear what you need to wear; eat when you need to eat; engage via chat, speech, or video; listen to your body and speak your needs so that they can be met. Vulnerability is the simple act of being openly human in the company of others. Enacting this humanness through ritual and space-sharing is a joyfully affective experience, particularly given how unhuman we are required to act in most academic Zoom spaces. underneath this liberating practice, however, is a reckoning with our collective precariousness; It is an acknowledgment of vulnus, the Latin root of vulnerability: wound. We enter coven space each night having been harmed by the world, and we speak our needs because they have not been met elsewhere. This essay is an attempt to reconcile the grief, interconnectedness, and healing that are simultaneously bound up in the act of vulnerability. Why, in utopic process (see sun card), must we be openly, brokenly human? Vulnerability is central in Judith Butler’s many-essay/article/booked quest to establish pathways of thinking that lead to just modes of living on a global scale. Vulnerability in this context is not only a state of precarious being, but also a force that can be mobilized in resistance to oppressive systems. On an existential level, it is the universal human thread that renders us dependent on each other for survival, a key to ethically moving through the world and seeing Us and Them as bound up in each other’s survival. Our precariousness, the constant knowing that we are little more than skin sacks filled with bone and sinew, is a reminder of our eternal dependency on others, not only to survive physically, but to exist subjectively. Acknowledging our vulnerability requires seeing one’s frailty through the eyes of another, equally frail being, a process of being individually reconstituted through collective relationality: “As a way of being related to what is not me and not fully masterable, vulnerability is a kind of relationship that belongs to that ambiguous region in which receptivity and responsiveness are not clearly separable” (26). In knowing another, we lose who we are; intimacy is the practice of transformation, of being remade and unmade all over again. Rehearsal begins in anonymous darkness. On the zoom screen, no one is distinguishable from another. Then, we offer a need in exchange for a chorus of our name: we need other witches in the darkness, calling our personhoods into existence. We all enter sacred space needing something that we cannot receive elsewhere, and by echoing our needs back to each other, we are not only enacting community care: we are also allowing ourselves to be defined in relation to other. On a more global scale, we are seeing this kind of relational re-making emerge in the midst of a life-threatening pandemic, when communities of solidarity materialize in unexpected corners of the Internet, when we commiserate with near-strangers about isolation, fear, and the undeniable shittiness of 2020-21. Of course, this vulnerability of interconnectedness is not to be taken for granted. The United States is proof that showing one’s needs is not enough to have them met, or even seen. Butler’s ethics of vulnerability seems almost Pollyanna-ish in the face of anti-maskers and -vaxers. Relational vulnerability implies that, in a time of immense, mortal crisis, when even the air we breathe is potentially toxic, individuals would constantly see their own susceptibility reflected back at them – in social media death announcements, public urges from medical professionals, even in the now-terrifying experience of grocery shopping. But instead of collective care, we are met with individualist greed. It seems, then, that vulnerability holds universalizing, empathetic potential, but it is a potential that must be enacted if it is to become an ethical mode of living. Butler’s existentialist vulnerability is a kind of latent magick, an inheritance we receive upon birth that is forgotten as we become entrenched in an individualist, capital-driven modern world. We lose our ability to speak our wounds, thereby losing our ability to heal. But inasmuch as vulnerability is a constant existential loop of expressing needs to have needs met, of being in relation to others to know the self, it is also not universal in the least. Vulnerability is as equalizing as it is fundamentally unequal. Butler stresses the historical and political situatedness (see hermit card) of precarity. Athena Athanasiou considers this differentiated vulnerability in relation to the uneven distribution of breath, “especially imperiled and exacerbated breathing under political duress”: “Vulnerability, in this regard, is about pervasive, (un)exceptional assemblages of power relations which manage life and expose to death by means of producing dispensable bodies. Within this purview of vulnerability, resources are differently and unevenly distributed among different bodies – differently economized, racialized, and gendered bodies” (20). Breath is an unevenly distributed commodity, bound up in systems of devaluation. So, in a pandemic world, we are reminded of our shared precariousness as even the air we breathe is rendered dangerous; we are in variously dangerous states of precarity, however, depending on how worthy our lives are rendered by the capitalist state. Despite early rhetoric that this pandemic would be “the great equalizer,” Black and Brown communities, the incarcerated, immunocompromised, and aging – all are disproportionately at risk. Witches in the Coven, united as we are by our open, broken humanness, are also distanced by our varying access to breath. We are variously Brown, trans, femme, Jewish, neuraotypical, financially unstable – the needs that we show in ritual are inextricably connected to our personal precarities.
10 - wheel of fortune
10 - wheel of fortune restart, cycle, iteration, mutability metrics of failure Queer: damned if we do, damned if we don't. When the system is built for someone else, what does it mean to succeed? Jack Halberstam in The Art of Queer Failure: “If success requires so much effort, then maybe failure is easier in the long run and offers different rewards. What kinds of reward can failure offer us? Perhaps most obviously, failure allows us to escape the punishing norms that discipline behavior and manage human development with the goal of delivering us from unruly childhoods to orderly and predictable adulthoods” (3). For a Coven devising a performance within the context of a university theatre department, then, what is success? Is it a sold-out opening night? Educating undergraduate students in “real world” theatre skills, setting them up for internships and professional careers? Sparking conversation for our audiences, building bridges with the campus community, bringing important issues to light? In most conventional readings of theatrical success, COVEN-19 is a failure. We had full houses, certainly, but we provided no professional training for the undergraduate artists involved. (I cannot imagine that the skills acquired through our process would prepare someone for Summer Stock.) Perhaps we reached our audiences affectively, and I hope that we provided people with a much-needed space to breathe, but we did not educate on important issues or tell a perspective-shifting story. To that end, we failed miserably. Halberstam argues that queers, and I would add witches, are experts in this field: like Sylvia Plath’s death, failure is an art that we do exceptionally well. We succeed at failure not only because we are constantly set up to lose, but because we choose to lose gloriously, such that it becomes an aesthetic, an ethic, an entire way of life. It's Sylvia's "big strip tease"; it's Buzz Lightyear's "falling with style.” COVEN-19, which failed to accomplish so many of the approval-markers of even devised performance, failed – but many of our failures were glorious, intentional rejections of conventional success. We could have utilized a traditional rehearsal schedule, meeting for 4+ hours 4+ nights a week; we probably would have made a lot more progress, technically speaking; we might have created a more cohesive, intricate show. In meeting for two hours twice a week for most of the process, however, we chose exhilarating failure over exhausting success. Perhaps contextualizing the Coven within the university and department is too narrow a metric of success. What about the contexts of family, kinship, friendship, humanity, the universe, the past, the present, the future, survival, desire, compassion, grief? I am not convinced that we were entirely successful in any of these contexts, either. At various points, I failed to acknowledge the needs of a witch in pain, or to communicate production news from a place of generosity; and our Coven was not infrequently distracted by competitiveness, frustration, and over-ego. I am, however, convinced that we were successful at least some of the time – and to succeed and fail within the context of family, kinship, and the future, I believe, is a far greater accomplishment than merely succeeding within the context of the university. The rewards, I am sure, are far greater. anyone can sing: a ritual for glorious failure sing a song that you know by heart -- preferably a showtune that other people dismiss as cheesy but still, you just can't help smiling every time you hear it. alternatively, fluffy pop music: it's utter garbage but dammit you love a good party anthem. sing it loudly; forgo style for volume. even if you're a "good" singer, let yourself sound radiantly unpleasant. if you forget the words, make them up. channel your 3am-theater-kid-at-a-slumber-party energy. bask in how terrible you sound and how fun it is to do the things that others say you can/shouldn't do. if you're still stuck, have some sondheim: Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't- It isn't right, Don't-it isn't nice! Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't walk on the grass, Don't disturb the peace, Don't skate on the ice. Well, I Say Do, I say, Walk on the grass, it was meant to feel! I Say Sail! Tilt at the windmill, And if you fail, you fail. Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't, Everybody says don't get out of line. When they say that, then Lady that's a sign: Nine times out of ten, Lady, you are doing just fine!
1 - magician
1 - magician intention; manifestation; creation; doing; making a ritual in methodology, creativity, self-worship (this is a personal ritual, but you are welcome to join; i would appreciate the energetic solidarity) tools: a photo, drawing, or other tangible representation of the writer (in this case, me); sacred space; a spell candle 1. hand over heart, i light my spell candle. i speak the opening incantation and blow out the candle, watching the smoke carry the intentions into the universe. opening incantation: in this ritual, i enter a covenant with myself. i am the deity of my own research and writing process, and at my own feet, i make an offering of words. i write my methodologies and ethics as sacred texts. in speaking each intention aloud, i bind myself to its words. 2. I speak the below incantations, lighting and blowing out my candle each time. incantation: i choose my words with care light the candle I am indebted to thesis committee member Dr Laura Ciolkowski, my instructor for WGSS 691B, Issues in Feminist Research, who pushed our class to define and redefine and define again methods and methodology; the course evolved into an interrogation of not only how we do our work, but also the very words that define that work. It was a semester-long exercise in developing a personal feminist glossary of terms, starting with methods and methodology, such that the exercise became a methodology in itself. In many ways, this thesis is an iterative project in interviewing words. As I reflect on my work thus far (March 16) I find myself developing an unexpected intimacy with power, utopia, queer, coven, knowledge, spell, ancestor, invocation, eros, vulnerability, I/me/my – words that even a few weeks ago I used without intent. I am finding that, in simply asking these words what they mean – here, now, for me, for the Coven – I am crafting my own theory about utopic process. This theory-creation is slow and cyclical. Few of the revelations that I discover are mind-blowing; many are simply clarifications of feminist and queer practices that have been orally passed down as long as rehearsal rooms have existed. But in articulating these discoveries, simple as they may feel, I am cultivating an intentional artistic practice. In the capitalist-driven theatre world of low-paying gigs and ten-out-of-twelves and six week rehearsal processes, cultivation of intentionality is a rare gift. I am grateful for it. incantation: i choose my words with care extinguish the candle incantation: i cite my art ancestors (see lovers card) with gratitude, humility, joy, and love light the candle Since becoming a witch, I’ve realized that my spiritual passions are actually magickal extensions of my dramaturgical passions. I love dead people, particularly authors. I have always felt passionate relationships with women and queer writers whose work finds a way to converse with me from beyond the grave. Unbeknownst to me then, my tenth grade presentation on Margaret Fuller was a séance; so too did was my college project on George Elliot, as was my MFA project on Edith Craig. These women have haunted me since: they are my chosen ancestors, and the words that they left on the mortal realm are my sacred texts. As a dramaturg, I realize the spiritual weight that engaging with dead playwrights and historical characters has always held for me. I have forged intimate friendships with Sylvia Plath, King Mongkut, Virginia Woolf, Susan Glaspell, dare I say Lizzie Borden; I am currently cultivating such a friendship with Emma Goldman. I do my most fulfilling artistic work when I am spiritually connected with my art ancestors: why should my thesis not feel the same? In a WGSS speaking event this spring, Durba Mitra described citations as “declarations of allegiance” (Issues in Feminist Research conversationseries); mine are declarations of love. The theorists, playwrights, poets, and artists who appear in my thesis are those with whom I deeply, personally engage. I feel pulled to cite them. Dozens of additional writers, including plenty of dead cis-het-white men, appear in my bibliography, and I am grateful for the knowledge that I gleaned through encountering their work. The authors whose words and minds are embedded in my writing, however, are those with whom I want to be in allegiance; with whom I want to banter, laugh, smoke a joint, dance, primal scream; with whom I am in love. This thesis is a conversation with many ancestors, but especially: José Esteban Muñoz, Jill Dolan, adrienne maree brown, Judith Butler, and Audre Lorde. incantation: i cite my art ancestors with gratitude, humility, joy, and love extinguish candle incantation: i speak my truth and assume no one else’s i light the candle The Coven is not a primary subject of this thesis. More frequently, I find myself to be under the microscope. This does not come from a place of ego (at least I don’t think it does), but from a place of desire, curiosity, and necessity. Coven space is tender. This is not to say it is weak: we take enormous risk in the realms of vulnerability and empathetic connection, and we usually succeed in the monumental task of being present together. This kind of work asks incredible emotional and affective contributions from the witches, and I am not interested in exploiting that labor for the written component of my thesis. I therefore rely mostly on my personal embodied experiences to bring the reader into the Coven process. I realize that this thesis is skewed. It reflects the narrative of a Coven leader who occupies a seat of significant power, and it is the narrative of a white, cis, able-bodied person (see hermit card). There are holes in my reading of the Coven process, and I will endeavor to at least name them when I cannot fill them. In an lengthier, non-lockdown thesis process, I might have interviewed each Coven witch to gather broader embodied perspectives and weave their words into this text – but to be perfectly honest, I don’t want outsiders (readers) invading the Coven. Boundaries are critical in cultivating sacred space. On a personal note, I’ve had a really truth-shattering and transformative few years, with limited time to breathe and reflect. This thesis is deeply subjective in no small part because I need to look inward. If you are reading this and are not in the Coven, know that you are privy to so much and yet so little of our practice. In writing from my perspective, I hope that I can imbue this written document with a glimmer of the magick we create on a regular basis; I hope to show, through an admittedly narrow lens, the many ways that this process feels so good. Also, I give myself permission to speak my languages: tarot, Jewish questioning, showtunes, hope, rage, feminism, queer trouble-making. incantation: i speak my truth and assume no one else’s i extinguish the candle incantation: theory is alive; people live theory; people are theory i light the candle My closest and longest mentor, Trish McGee, is not a theatre-maker, but a small town journalist, an archivist of narratives. She taught how to care deeply about the people on the other end of the recorder. I had the privilege under her mentorship to weave Eastern Shore fables using the words of important people: a lottery-winning 80-year-old shoreman; a high school girl who loved her ribbon-winning cow so, so much; three generations of barbers all working together in their tiny, worn-in shop. Trish showed me how to listen, deeply, to stories of all sizes, and that embodied knowledge is the most truthful knowledge there is. Feminist theatre, devised theatre, queer theatre, witchy theatre – people have been doing caretaking, collaborative theatre in ways that a book or article will never grasp. A major part of my research process is interviewing artists and witches who embody theory: Patrice, Melissa, Bonnie Cullum, and Eva Margarita. I do not directly cite these four women very frequently in these cards, but their impact runs deep. These conversations shook me awake from the gloom and muck of quarantine winter break; they offered new directions for research and inquiry; I learned about ways of art-making that affirmed, challenged, and inspired my own. I take heart knowing that artists of such integrity and wisdom are manifesting magickal work in scrappy theaters across the globe. incantation: theory is alive; people live theory; people are theory i extinguish the candle incantation: i reject the well-made thesis. i write what i need to write the way it needs to be written. i light the candle “I don’t explode the form because I find traditional plays ‘boring’ – I don’t really. It’s just that those structures never could accommodate the figures which take up residence in me” (8): Suzan-Lori Parks’ Elements of Style has proven a deeper well of knowledge than Strunk and White or owl.purdue.edu could ever be. I am exploring utopia, queer temporality, and magick, and I am not interested in squeezing these impossible and unpredictable concepts into the narrow confines of a traditional academic thesis. I am attempting to write intuitively and erotically. I therefore reject colonialist, white supremacist markers of good writing; I reject heteropatriarchal notions of rationality, linearity, and objectivity. I listen to what “feels right to me,” what Audre Lorde describes as “a true knowledge, for what that means is the first and most powerful guiding light toward any understanding” (x). incantation: i reject the well-made thesis. i write what i need to write the way it needs to be written. i extinguish the candle incantation: this thesis is enough. this tarot card of this thesis is enough. this sentence of this tarot card of this thesis is enough. i light the candle My current self is limited: in space, as I mark the 12th month of COVID quarantine (see tower card); in emotional capacity, as I facilitate difficult conversations in my classroom, the Coven, and my family; and in time, as graduation draws near. I am therefore being forgiving with the scope of this thesis. I do not have an ideal page count in mind: each essay/spell card will be as long as it needs to be. I am also not engaging with extensive outside research – that is to say, I am mostly deepening relationships with art ancestors that I established in my production and course work, rather than seeking out new citational relationships. adrienne maree brown’s “critical connections instead of critical mass” (20) applies not only to the Coven’s iterative, interpersonal process, but also to my citational engagement with this written thesis. There are many areas of research that, in a non-COVID world, I might have explored further: devised theatre conventions and genealogy, the anthropological roots of ritual, representational and historical evolutions of the witch. I choose, instead, to continue down the theoretical paths that I have already forged in my graduate studies, so that my thesis may be limited in scope, but hopefully deeper in personal meaning -- an intuitive culmination of thoughts-in-progress. incantation: this thesis is enough. this tarot card of this thesis is enough. this sentence of this tarot card of this thesis is enough. i extinguish the candle 3. I light the candle again, speak this closing incantation, extinguish the candle, and let the smoke charge my self-portrait. closing incantation: i light my spell candle once again, charged with these intentions, as an offering to my creative self. with this final waft of smoke, may my intentions take flight and strengthen my covenant between present and future self.
2 - high priestess
2 - high priestess power-from-within, eros, interconnection, inherent value "In a world built on power-over, we must remake the world." -- Starhawk erotic powers within and with Power-from-within and -with are hard work. They cannot be enacted passively, like power-over (see emperor card), but instead require intent and active manifestation. We absorb power-over ideologies in classrooms, consumerist culture, mainstream news and narratives; power-from-within and -with must be learned out of and against these power-over systems. Within and with are therefore always acts of resistance, even in their smallest and quietest forms: to invoke Starhawk, they are grounded in the domain of spirit, or immanent value, rather than violence, which is the domain of power-over; to invoke adrienne maree brown, they are fractal (see sun card), establishing patterns at the small-scale that reverberate to the large-scale; to invoke Audre Lorde, they are affective, embodied, and deeply erotic. Lorde, in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” is speaking not of “the pornographic,” which is the realm of distorted, weaponized sexuality; she invokes an erotic that is affective, relational, intuitive, and always accessible to us, should we be so brave as to tap into it. This erotic functions in two ways. The first is achieved through “self-connection,” or from-within: “the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythm, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea” (4). It is the practice of listening to one’s body, intuition, and desires – not through the values system of capitalism, which considers such endeavors a threat to productivity, but through the simple, small pleasures that feed our soul. According to Lorde, we are indoctrinated in the systems of domination (or power-over) that gaslight us into disvaluing our own intuition, severing us from any form of intimacy with the self. She speaks from an explicitly feminist perspective -- “the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough” (1) – but I read Lorde’s erotic as expanding beyond the gender binary, offering a source of power for anyone who is “queer, marginalized, living in the shadows, or on the edge of acceptance” (Snow 16). Lorde’s erotic is, then, is a form of queer magick (see moon card). Indeed, most witches I know (granted, I almost exclusively traverse in queer witchy spaces) first found themselves drawn to non-institutional forms of spirituality because they craved empowerment: faced with a world that devalues our very existence, we need to find ways to re-value ourselves. Erotic power, with and from-within, offers alternative, infinite possibilities for asserting queer value, even while we are being crushed beneath the devaluing forces of power-over. A queer witch, then, is: One that sees the world itself as a living being, made up of dynamic aspects, a world where one thing shape-shifts into another, where there are no solid separations and no simple causes and effects. In such a world, all things have inherent value, because all things are beings, aware in ways we can only imagine, interrelated in patterns too complex to ever be more than partially described. We do not have to earn value. Immanent value cannot be rated or compared. No one, nothing, can have more of it than another. Nor can we lose it. For we are, ourselves, the living body of the sacred (Starhawk 15). Witchcraft is a practice of noticing, and then transforming from within, the interconnectedness between power-from-within (self) and power-with (others, beings, world). For many witches, particularly those practicing from the margins, identifying and cultivating power-from-within is magick enough. As Cassandra Snow notes in Queering Your Craft: Witchcraft from the Margins: “Magick is a skill. Magick is a love song to yourself and the world around you. Magick is internal, external, and beyond even that. Most of all though, magick is your right, and responsibility—as a human living on this Earth… The living of your life (your way) is a magickal act.” Healing from the wounds of capitalist, heteropatriarchal violence is an unending and cyclical process, and it is the most radical -- "from the root," to use Angela Davis' definition -- magick that a witch can perform, not only because it is an act of resistance, but because seemingly small acts reverberate. The witch operates in fractals: “infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales” (brown 51). adrienne maree brown describes the “structural echo” that comprises our universe, spirals of natural shapes that ripple outward from plants and bodies to rivers and galaxies. brown imagines a world built on intimacy and intentionality: “we must create patterns that cycle upwards” (59), including, perhaps starting with, patterns from within. Building a bookcase and writing a poem are acts of magick because they require listening to what feels good; they enact on the smallest of scales a world that honors immanent value in all. To be a witch is to know that “self” and “other” are fundamentally interrelated: to transform self, therefore, is to transform other in infinitesimal but immeasurable and very real ways. tarot as power-from-within My greatest power-from-within tool is the Tarot, which I discovered, as do so many queer witches, in the aftermath of personal trauma. In the early months of 2018, two fantastically, almost absurdly comedic Towers fell around me (see hermit card and tower card), both of which radically exploded parts of myself that I had previously assumed to be fact. Seemingly new aspects of my identity had emerged after a lifetime of dormancy -- what else was waiting to be found, just below the surface? here’s what I’ve found so far: hairy legs, anarchism, bisexuality, a belief in spirit/spirituality, pedagogy, a distinctly jewish habit of asking questions, chosen family, chosen and newly found ancestors, adhd, playwriting – and, especially, a beautiful ashkenazi woman greeting me in the mirror every morning Tarot, as I practice it, is dialogue with one’s subconscious, mediated by archetypes and symbolism. It is a creative practice powered by the reader’s intuition, such that no card can hold truly universal meaning: my relationship with The Empress is shaped by poetry, past tarot readings in which the card appeared, my relationship with femininity, my relationship with my mother, what I had for lunch – the most elevated meaning of a tarot card is its most specific to the reader. Tarot did not give me new sense of identity, nor did it heal me, but it did give me tools to reconnect with that “deeply born” knowledge only accessible by me (Lorde 4). With each pull of a card, I was asked to converse with parts of me that are otherwise dismissed from mundane life: my generative self with the Magician, my wounded self with the Tower, my higher self with Judgement -- selves that do not conform with the politeness and positivity I was raised to perform. I haven’t the philosophical expertise to make any claims about the existence of a “true self,” sacred, inherent, and buried beneath the violent ideologies that we are taught to believe. I do know that, in excavating my own feelings and memories through the tarot, I have discovered a deep-down, kinder self that deserves more care than I had previously thought to offer. In this way, tarot is an exercise of listening to and honoring one’s “immanent value,” or spirit, a sacredness that does not to be earned, or proven, or protected, but is always within – sometimes buried very deeply within, but it is always there. In Coven space, we call forth our deeply born knowledges, our powers-from-within, through tarot, but also a brilliant kaleidoscope of other witchy tools: journaling, affirmations, astrology, crystals, ancestral magicks, spellcrafting, lunar rituals, herbal healing, poetry, music… Each exercise asks us to engage with an intuitive self-connection that is not welcome in academic and work spaces. The Coven offers an affirmation and valuation of personhood. Each of us is spirit. Each of us has a “a well of replenishing and provocative force” of erotic, from-within power – we just need to dig, perhaps deeply, to find it. We have found that it is easier to do that digging when in the company of a generous Coven. intuitive tarot ritual i created this ritual for the fall Coven as both an introduction to tarot reading and an exercise of intuitive empowerment. it was subsequently adapted into a participatory element of the fall COVEN-19 Samhain ritual. ingredients: a tarot deck (or this website); a journal and writing implement 1. draw a tarot card. make sure that the card features a prominent living being; if not, redraw. 2. ask the following questions of the card. free-write your answers. don't overthink it. just write what feels right. What part of this image strikes you first? What is the figure doing? What are they thinking? What happened before? What is missing from this image? What does this world smell like? Sound like? Fell like (temperature)? There is a number on this card: what does it mean to you? There are words on this card: what do they mean to you? What direction is the figure facing? What or whom are they looking at? What might happen after? What does this image make you feel? What would you ask this figure? What would they say back? What message does this card have for you? 3. congratulations! you have officially read a tarot card, using nothing but an oft-ignored inner voice to guide your way.
7 - chariot
7 - chariot momentum, progress, direction, force, energy, action COVEN-19 time spell, from Spring Beltane ritual performed by Nicole Bates and Maegan Clearwood This is a spell for lifetimes that are not measurable by clocks or calendars. This is a spell for lifetimes that are not evaluated by profit margins, Or new years resolutions Or biological clocks. A spell for lifetimes that are not limited by life.: Forever times composed of Nows. This is a spell in honor of a woman Who measured time by frosted windowpanes and poems. Some say goodnight — at night — I say good night by day — Good-bye — the Going utter me — Good night, I still reply — For parting, that is night, And presence, simply dawn — Itself, the purple on the hight Denominated morn. We invoke a timespace of unproductivity; we invoke luxurious sleep. Pain — expands the Time — Ages coil within The minute Circumference Of a single Brain — Pain contracts — the Time — Occupied with Shot Gamuts of Eternities Are as they were not — We invoke a timespace of acknowledged pain; we invoke breathability. AFTER a hundred years Nobody knows the place, — Agony, that enacted there, Motionless as peace. Weeds triumphant ranged, Strangers strolled and spelled At the lone orthography Of the elder dead. Winds of summer fields Recollect the way, — Instinct picking up the key Dropped by memory. We invoke nonlinear time; we invoke humility. We have all the time in the world. a disavowal of standard plot times I don’t hate Aristotle, nor do I hate every dead-white-cis-male writer whose work is Aristotelian (Tennessee Williams was my first playwright love, after all). For years, however, I suffered from severe dramaturgy imposter syndrome because I did not grasp, let alone embrace, Aristotelian structure. It seemed as though other dramaturgs spoke some secret geometric language for which I had no natural gifts. Freytag’s Pyramid felt similarly constraining: rising action, climax, denouement – these words felt empty and mapping a script onto their linear trajectory was an exercise in futility. Aristotle speaks of the tragedy as “a whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end…. a well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles” (7). “I dug right down to the bottom of my soul” to visualize the wholeness of plays, but like Diana Morales attempting to be an ice cream cone, “I felt nothing.” Instead, I built timelines, a different composition for each play that I encountered. My first, I think, was for a workshop of a musical adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five, a plot literally unstuck in time and space that necessitated transposing three temporalities, each with its own rhythm, shape, fissures, and cracks. The trauma narrative of Slaughterhouse-Five is too unwieldy for a single timeline, so rather than mapping the story onto a pattern, I mapped a pattern out of the story. Suzan-Lori Parks describes this content-form relationship as it pertains to playwriting: “As I write along the container dictates what sort of substance will fill it and, at the same time, the substance is dictating the size and shape of the container” (7-8). Parks offers Rep & Rev (Repetition and Revision) as an example of departure from linearity, a pushback against the presumption that all events must lead up to a single cathartic moment. History, “time that won’t quit,” ebbs and flows through her stories, while words fluctuate in meaning and weight with each reconfiguration. Parks pulls from jazz aesthetic, noting that “the idea of Repetition and Revision is an integral part of the African and African-American literary and oral traditions” (10). She is not only working within an explicitly Black artistic methodology, but also building narrative room for her Black characters to navigate their specific spatio-temporalities. Narratives, and the people who live them, do not necessarily abide by beginnings and ends, nor by chronology and straight lines. Parks demonstrates the necessity of Black structure, narratives that expand beyond the progress-oriented pyramid of Western storytelling. I am reminded of Sharon Patricia Holland’s The Erotic Life of Racism, in which she demonstrates slavery’s unyielding presence in quotidian realms of the present. Whiteness moves through linear, process-driven time, whereas blackness is historically entrenched in space: “racism consistently embeds us in a ‘past’ that we would rather not remember, where time stretches back toward the future, curtailing the revolutionary possibilities of queer transgression” (44). Parks reroutes time by giving Blackness a temporal life, by engaging with the hauntings of history and working beyond the linear limitations of Aristotelian plot. Linearity also cannot contain queer temporalities, in which identity is formed against the grain of heteronormative adolescence and families are chosen rather than reproduced. Trauma time, also, operates outside the bounds of chronology, as individuals are dislodged from the present and thrown backwards into memory in cyclical, sometimes never-ending ways. And, of course, there’s lockdown time, Zoom academia time, and collective pandemic trauma time. I am inspired by the motion of the Tarot in understanding time’s limitless configurations: cards are numbered, representing normative understandings of individual growth, but the Fool is not bound by this chronology, instead traversing and retraversing points along their journey, never settling on any denouement-resolution ending for long. What, then, is Coven time, given this infinity of temporalities? little infinities & spiral patterns During a spring semester journaling exercise, Percival Hornack described Coven time as candle wax, happening “slowly, then all at once. You don’t notice until it’s pooling at the bottom and then the light is dimming/ending.” Tory Vazquez wrote that “Time is really quick in Coven spaces. At the same time, it feels like a realm/universe of its own. You can tell that there’s a sense of direction time-wise, but it’s flexible. If we need more time for something, it’s there.” Parker Traphagen spoke about the Coven feeling both rooted and in-motion, endless despite having an ending around the corner. Jemma Kempner said that she forgets about time in Coven space, particularly compared to other Zoom spaces, in which she finds herself constantly checking the clock. She spoke about a slowness born out of “trust that whatever we make will be beautiful, trust that it will happen.” Nicole Bates was reminded of “little infinities” from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve never read a John Green book, but there is something little and infinite about the Coven that I feel compelled to explore. In a typical, in-person UMass theatre department process, actors rehearse four+ hours five+ days a week, to say nothing of production meetings, email conversations, design presentations, and tech. How does Coven, which meets for two hours twice or three times a week, feel so temporally luxurious? How does time move at the steady, peaceful pace of a candle melting, where other artistic/academic spaces are dictated by clocks and calendars? The Fault in Our Stars, I have learned, follows Hazel and Gus, teenagers whose lives are rendered chronologically finite by terminal illness. When mapped onto the conventional (ie capitalist, Western, heteropatriarchal) timeline of a human life, their lives fall tragically short. Go to college, get a job, settle down, make babies, make money, retire and relax – the markers of a life well-lived are impossible to meet. The lovers break through linear notions of valuability and love, however, by articulating a timeline full of infinities. As Hazel explains through the magick that is math, “There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” According to number-smart people that I found on the Internet, Hazel’s logic may be incorrect (counter-argument: all infinities are equally infinite? If so, no matter how many infinities one stacks on top of each other, the final amount of infinity will be the same), but if anything, “real life” number theory only makes the concept of small infinity feel more palpable. Math Youtuber Vihart describes multiple theories of infinity: Whether those different sorts of infinities apply to something like moments of time is unknown. What we do know is that if life has infinite moments, or infinite love, or infinite being, then a life twice as long still has exactly the same amount. Some infinities only look bigger than other infinities. And some infinities that seem very small are worth just as much as infinities ten times their size. And so, the infinity of Coven space is as spacious, as valuable, as the infinity of, say, a traditional rehearsal process. Infinite temporalities intersect and interplay in a given artistic process, so it is not the number of rehearsals that ultimately defines whether time is well spent. Nor are all infinities equal: Coven infinity feels slow and steady, unlike a typical Zoom classroom, which might feel infinite in the most unpleasant sense of the word. Our little infinity, I think, feels liberatory because the Coven decides our own worth. This worth exists beyond the constraints of capitalist rehearsal time, which may be ten times our size, but depends on production quality and butts-in-seats to determine worth. Our worth is inherent. As magickal practitioners, we are most “successful” (see wheel card) when we honor the inherent value in ourselves as individual witches and collectively as Coven – not when we sell out opening night. …the world itself [is] a living being, made up of dynamic aspects, a world where one thing shape-shifts into another, where there are no solid separations and no simple causes and effects. In such a world, all things have inherent value, because all things are beings, aware in ways we can only imagine, interrelated in patterns too complex to ever be more than partially described. We do not have to earn value. Immanent value cannot be rated or compared. No one, nothing, can have more of it than another. Nor can we lose it. For we are, ourselves, the living body of the sacred (Starhawk 15). Of course, COVEN-19 is a public, marketed event, so we are bound to certain constraints of a traditional production process. We are luckily relieved of ticket sale pressures during Zoom theatre times, as the department is currently requesting donations rather than paid admissions. We still, however, must consider marketability: as part of our inclusion in the theater department’s official season, we need to craft blurbs for websites and press releases (hopefully language that won’t scare away skeptical patrons). We must communicate artistic decisions through the language of the mundane in order to collaborate with members of the department’s broader production team. There is also the general expectation that we generate a product that is consumable by a general audience: a performative output that looks and feels polished and complete. There are no little infinities within a production-oriented timeline, which is not an inherently “bad thing”: We need the support and resources of a funded theater department, so we have to accept linearity to a certain point. We invoke little infinities, however, by imagining artistic creativity beyond the limitations of a fixed public performance. Simply put, our final product is the least important element of Coven work. Most production processes focus energies toward the “climax” of opening night, but Coven operates fractally: practicing at the small scale what we want to see at the large scale (brown 52). We focus our energies inward, on valuing our inherent individual and collective value; our “finished” product is simply a reverberation of the tiny, intentional, care-taking practices that we invoke on a regular basis together. If I were to draw Coven temporality, it would reflect adrienne maree brown’s fractals, which she observes in “the prevalence of spiral in the universe – the shape in the prints of our fingertips echoes the geological patterns, all the way to the shape of galaxies” (51). We start at the center, from-within, cultivating power in small ways: checking in at the top of rehearsal, sharing and meeting our needs, laughing over memes and developing inside jokes. We build on this collective energy slowly, first through low-pressure research projects (become a mini expert in something witchy of your choice and present your findings in whatever way you feel most comfortable), then through devising exercises, writing, and performance. Our public ritual is, therefore, more a natural culmination of sharing space than it is a finished product. It is a continuation of generative process, rather than a capitalist break in our creative cycle. To quote Parks once more, we reject the pressures of a “climactus dramaticus.” Because our spiral timeline is mapped onto a linear theater department timeline, COVEN-19 does, technically end on May 1, 2021. But brown reminds us that fractals echo. Of course Coven time feels infinite: we are building ways of being that will ripple outwards for the rest of our individual witchy lives and beyond. queer-time excerpts from COVEN-19 tech process Me: Not to bring up a big dramaturgical question so last-minute, but I just noticed during tonight's run that Micki introduces the Witching Hour and Dusk sections, but we don't have an intro for Dawn. How important is consistency here, and is it something we feel called to tweak? Parker: If the show is all about breaking cycles and queering time, then maybe we should just leave it the way it is and let the last section be different. Micki: Be really honest everyone, is the Ancestry Ritual too slow? I know it's supposed to be meditative and quiet, but we don't want people to just lose interest. Tory: How was my timing for the ancestry journaling? Does it take too long? Varying Coven responses: Let it be slow! Take up space. So much Zoom theatre tries to be exciting and attention-grabbing, let's invite the audience to be quiet. Some of the glorious failures that happened during Invited Dress and Opening Night: Percy's puppet screen collapsed; long silences as we waited for music cues because Ali didn't realize her phone wasn't playing sound; Helen got tongue-tied and invited audiences to chew their poop at least 20 times. Varying Coven responses: "oof, failure is queer it's true"; "so queer!" "the queerest!"; lots and lots of laughter The ritual itself moved through the liminal timespaces of Witching Hour, Dusk, and Dawn, taking the audience from darkness into light, from interiority to exteriority. Meanwhile, outside our windows, the "real" world moved from light into darkness, meeting the ritual in the middle, very briefly, with Dusk.
about the coven
preliminaries In summer of 2020, I was supposed to begin conducting research for my Dramaturgy MFA thesis, which at the time was a feminist interrogation of violence and intimacy in The Sweet Science of Bruising by Joy Wilkinson. Instead, faced with the heavying reality of live theatre being cancelled for the foreseeable future, I conducted embodied research on spirituality, identity, witchcraft, activism, community/space-making, self-love, and imagination. Fall loomed, and I had not decided on a new thesis topic, but I was in a better mental and emotional state than I been in years. So I cobbled together a proposal for a thesis that served as a natural extension of the internal work I was already doing: a Coven of theatre witches, with the goal of devising a public, remote ritual through our explorations of feminist, nonhierarchical art-making. I had never dramaturged a devised theatre piece before. Looking back at my thesis proposal, I had more clarity on what this project was not than what it would be: "I refuse any longer to participate in theatre at the expense of my own mental or spiritual well-being; nor can I condone recreating the forms and artistic processes that risk harming me or my students and peers. If I am going to create art for my MFA thesis, I am going to do it intentionally and responsibly – as a feminist, activist, and powerful witch." Luckily, I pulled together a team of collaborators who helped shape the process into a meaningful, intentional devising experience. My co-founding collaborator was Helen Rahman, an undergraduate who is wise beyond her years in matters of spirituality and mysticism. The fall producing team was soon rounded out by MFA dramaturg Percival Hornack, who brought with him experiential knowledge on virtually any topic imaginable, from runes to queer space-making to facilitation of process. We held auditions early in the fall semester, welcoming anyone with an interest in witchcraft and prioritizing community building over “talent.” We were soon a Coven of 12, including our Stage Manager Alison Butts, whose intuitions in flexible caretaking and compassionate communication grounded our entire rehearsal process. Fall, 2020 We broke the process into three stages, meeting for two hours and 15 minutes per gathering: community building and research (two rehearsals/week); generation of performance material (three rehearsals/week); and rehearsal/tech (four rehearsals/week). Our goal was to devise an approximately 30 minute, interactive ritual for the year’s full moon Samhain, or Halloween. Performance dates were [INSERT HERE]. Rehearsals began with a check-in (what are we bringing into the space/feelings are valid) and warm-up (led by all witches on a rotating schedule). The main thrust of rehearsal varied depended on where we were in process. We closed with housekeeping from Ali and a check-out. Significant discussion and research continued outside of official rehearsal time via a Coven Discord server. Through a series of brainstorming Jamboards and research on witchy topics of interest, we decided to build the ritual around the theme of rest as a radical tool of resistance. We were also interested in crafting ritual components with our audience, then bringing those elements together in the ritual itself. These elements became music/gesture, found object/breath, words/drawing, and rage. Spectators were asked to fill out a pre-show survey and choose one of four tarot cards (the Queens of Swords, Wands, Pentacles, and Cups): these cards decided which of the four Brooms (breakout rooms) they would join. The performances were divided into three parts: 1. Audience and Coven witches together in Zoom space. We offered introductory videos about how to navigate Zoom and what to expect of the evening, then moved into a land acknowledgment and check-in. Spectators were asked in advance to, if possible, bring with them a candle and something to eat: together we broke bread and lit our candles to lsat for the duration of the ritual. 2. Spectators were sorted into their Brooms. In Gesture/Music (Queen of Cups), Nicole and Matthew led an intuitive movement and sound-making exercise. In Rage (Queen of Wands), Helen, Parker, and I led spectators on a guided meditation and then turned the audience’s rage into three poppets*. In Found Object/Breath (Queen of Pentacles), Micki, Mahek, and Percival asked spectators to connect with and breath into various items in their homes. And in Words/Drawing (Queen of Swords), Tory, Jemma, and Kat led an intuitive tarot exercise. 3. We gathered together in the main Zoom space. Broom witches shared what they and their guests were contributing to the ritual. The ritual itself was a moon invocation and a conjuring of rest as fuel for resistance. We blew out our candles and sat together in darkness. Prologue: Spectators were invited to decompress with a dance party. Spring, 2021 All but two of the witches from the Fall process returned for the spring: Ali Butts returned as stage manager, and Helen Rahman stepped fully into the Coven as an artist-witch and spiritual guide rather than producer. Our goal this time was to devise a ritual in honor of Beltane, or May Day, and we were promoted as part of the Theatre Department’s Rights of Spring Festival. Rehearsals were again two hours and 15 minutes, although we were more flexible with stages of development. We met twice a week for the first half of process, bumping up to three times a week once we started generating material. Percival, Ali, and I were significantly more transparent with the Coven about production decisions, including budget, performance dates, marketing materials, and rehearsal schedule, and we brought many of these conversations into rehearsal for general consensus. As of today, March 23, the general structure of our rehearsal process has remained the same, but we have built enough trust with each other to dig more deeply into research topics and shadow work.* The structure and theme of our Beltane ritual are still in development.