The Dangerous Edge: A Review

Tangential to the mission of the literary magazine, we will occasionally review work by Pagan authors and musicians, whether or not the work is specifically “Pagan” in theme.  In this case, Tina Whittle’s debut mystery The Dangerous Edge of Things, available from and at your local bookstore.

I’m not normally a big fan of mystery novels, but my mother sure was.  If it had a detective, an unsolved murder and a rogue’s gallery of suspects, she had read it.  Consequently, our house was full of paperback mysteries as well as other literature; naturally, being the sort of child who would read whatever was around, including Dante’s Inferno at the age of eleven, I read some of them.  They were there. I read from the beginning of the genre…Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and (of course) Edgar Allen Poe…and worked my way through a fair amount of Agatha Christie.  I saw a production of The Mousetrap in London twenty years ago.

What I am saying is, you could call me an educated outsider with regard to the genre.  I’ve read the classics and not much else.  I like to think that makes me an ideal reader…I know enough about mysteries to know how they work, and yet I’m not jaded.  I pick up a book and don’t have a lot of rigid expectations about what I do and don’t like.

I did, on the other hand, live in Atlanta for fifteen years.  And I grew up in the South.  I do have some strong opinions about that.  If you pick Atlanta or Georgia as “local color” without knowing the place…I’m sorry, no matter how much I otherwise like the work, it will annoy me and I will bring it up every time the book is mentioned. I’m looking at you, Neil Gaiman.

Fortunately, Tina does no such thing.  She grew up here too, and she nails Atlanta as a setting…the landscape, the many Peachtrees, the shiny buildings and the constant construction, and also the absurdities of the place.  Christian conservative state politics and more strippers per capita than any other city in America; that’s Atlanta for you.  She also captures the surreality sometimes produced by rapid social change:  Can a young woman whose for-real best friend from high school is a gay black man find herself the owner by inheritance of a Confederate-themed gun shop?  Oh, yes.

And that brings us to the characters.  Tai Randolph, the narrator, is snarky and funny; she notices the absurdities in her world (including her sudden and shocking introduction to the book title’s “dangerous edge”) and comments on them.  She also bulls her way through, however she must…a trait with which I empathize.  Her sometime-antagonist and developing love interest is a fascinating character:  GQ-perfect, a slick, Ferrari-driving, Special Ops-trained Ice Man with real-life super-powers (he can tell when people are lying) and a tragic past.  Yet he is saved from becoming a cliché or annoyingly ubermenschy by an inversion of the archetype so clever I won’t spoil the effect by explaining it here.   Let’s just say that as a writer I admire the creation of the character, and as a reader I love the bits with him in them.

The “Pagan” quotient is low, but one of the minor characters is a Tarot-reading massage therapist whom I could have easily met in my days as a professional psychic, though her beat is a lot more plush and moneyed than my grungy, touristy, downtown Underground Atlanta clientele.  I knew people like her, though; an Ishtar priestess who taught sacred dance and took massage clients in her incense-and-candle-filled studio, and a former Coca Cola executive who provided “intuitive counseling” from an office in Buckhead.  For anyone who has run in Pagan circles long enough, Gabriella is wholly believable, and an example of how even the minor characters in this novel have roundedness and depth.

The plot is satisfyingly page-turning and logical enough to be cohesive while complex enough that you don’t see it all coming.  I sat in my car and read it in the bookstore parking lot, if you must know.  If that sounds like a good time to you (it does to me), go hence and get thee a copy.

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An Open Letter

In response to this:  Catholic Church Issues Guide on How to Convert Witches

Dear Paranoic Christians,

Plz to stop writing up “guides” on how to “save” people being “lured” into witchcraft.  We aren’t luring them.  In fact, if they’re as flighty as all that, we don’t want them.  We are full up on crazy here, also our exponential growth in the last fifteen years is causing us serious problems which we are having a hell of a time trying to solve.

In related news, plz stop being so cray-cray, such that your flocks are deserting your shepherding in droves and then come a-baaing at our door.  See “exponential growth” above.  Goodness knows, it’s not our sharp marketing campaigns which cause people to come looking.  Have you READ Silver RavenWolf?  We don’t even proselytize, and yet we have more people than we can handle, while you are hemorrhaging congregants.  We respectfully suggest that it is due to something you are doing and is therefore your own damn fault, not ours.  To be specific, you might look into that child raping problem you seem to have.


The Witches

PS.  Harry Potter is not a Pagan.  If anything, he’s Church of England.  I can see how you would be confused.

Posted in Ethics, The State of the World | 26 Comments

On Initiation

Call me late to the game. I’m not a major figure in the Feri world, and that’s just the way I like it. I don’t subscribe to many lists, I just don’t have the time for them. So it is with profound shock and sorrow that I hear there are some initiates who don’t believe that initiation is all that important in Feri.

Evidently, that some folks believe this is not new news. It is a belief that is profoundly wrong, and I have to question whether someone who believes this could possibly be referring to Feri when they say as much.

I agree that something like spontaneous initiation can occur, that there’s not necessarily the need for an intermediary in order for one to approach the Mystery. I imagine that’s part of how these traditions get started. Some poor soul hears the Undeniable Voice beckoning them to look deeper, and they get a glimpse of the Universe As It Really Is, and they’re their own Messiah. Or something like that. But I also agree that this is vanishingly rare, and when someone without appropriate guidance hears a voice, I would guess schizophrenia first. Even if they’re a Feri student.

Especially if they’re a Feri student. “Dead, Mad or a Poet” is intended to be a warning, not a reward.

If initiation is “marrying the Goddess,” then self-initiation (or whatever you want to call it) is kidnapping one of the wedding party at random. You may get the Goddess, you may not; there’s a reason for all those bridesmaids. And unless you know what She looks like, you might end up with crazy Aunt Sally, the one who thinks it’s okay to burn the hemlock incense while driving.

There are other esoteric reasons why initiation is important: the connection to the Mystery and the ways in which that happens cannot be enumerated here for several reasons, including my own oaths on the matter. But there are also a couple of mundane reasons that are just as important, and perhaps more so.

Initiation, whether into Feri, a fraternity, or E Clampus Vitus, has the practical value of making someone  a member of a community, often in a way that can’t be taken back. And members of a community tend to all get tarred with the same brush (just ask any Muslim). So I would hope that my fellow initiates would think very carefully before initiating anyone; there is no place in my community for those who cannot be trusted to be honest, exercise good judgement, and respect the Will and rights of other people.

In Feri, there is no way to “un-initiate” someone just as there is no way to un-ring a bell. So rather than it being “no big deal,” initiation is deadly serious business. The repercussions can last for a lifetime (or more). Removing someone from the Feri community is difficult, since nobody can gainsay their claim of initiation and the process of social ostracism is fraught with pain and peril on all sides, and usually isn’t worth the effort.

Initiation is also used to mark someone’s accomplishment. This is a critical aspect of initiation that is often overlooked. It is, or should be, a sign (or perhaps a warning) that someone has reached a certain level of communion with one’s God Self. It’s like a professional certification.

And here’s the thing: you can’t have it both ways. If Feri is potentially dangerous, then you don’t want untrained people teaching it, any more than you’d want an untrained surgeon operating on you. If Feri is a martial art, then you don’t want anyone below a black belt teaching the techniques. And just as not everyone has the aptitude or dedication to become a doctor or a black belt, not everyone has the aptitude to become a Feri initiate. That doesn’t diminish them in any way: the world needs writers and hair stylists and chefs as much as it needs surgeons and martial artists.

If you want to make Feri safer, for mass-market use, then it’s not Feri. Call it something else.

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