Developing My Teaching Style

Last month I took my second turn teaching at HSA Spirit Circle.  My first round, in October, was a reiteration of my Spirit Conjuration workshop that I ran at Heartland last year.  This time, I tried something new: a class focusing on elemental energy and circle-casting.  The course built on my oldest work – energy manipulation of that style that everyone I know from the 1990s learned somewhere, but which I have seen mentioned in few books and really explored in only one – and then intense elemental experiences of the rituals my crew and I designed and led for HPF 2015 and ’16.  It was a really great class, and I’ll probably write about it in detail eventually — maybe after I run it a second time at HPF this coming year — but that’s not actually the interesting part to me in this moment.

The class on spirit conjuration went fairly well, and the purification ritual I did after was reasonably received (and exceptionally potent when I re-wrote it as an outdoor ritual a couple weeks later).  But there was a …. dryness to it.  I was definitely speaking from an academic place.  It was a lecture not a class, and I don’t think anyone went back out into the world more ready to conjure spirits than they were when they came in.    Which, on the one hand, makes sense: I’m an academic as much as I am anything else.  All the very best classes I’ve taken were lectures and discussions.  My hands-on training was all much more informal, and over longer periods of time.  But the Kansas City Pagan and magical communities are … not academics, by and large.  And while the particular individuals who attend any class I’m teaching are probably not the anti-intellectuals causing so many problems in the community, it does no good to talk over their heads.  Also, I was super nervous and it really showed.

The elemental energies class, however, was a different matter entirely.  Rather than teaching from a place of expertise and authority, I came from a place of nerdy enthusiasm.  Instead of giving a lecture on a subject about which I was knowledgeable – though there was a citation-heavy introduction – I ran a hands-on class where I showed a half-dozen people how to do this thing I do.

It went fucking splendidly.  We cast circles.  We conjured the elements.  We passed around orbs of magical power.    People were engaged.  Lively.  There was laughter.  No one even tried to sit out the hands-on portions.  New friends were made.  It was a struggle to kick everyone out at the end of the evening.  Aradia thinks it was one of the very best Spirit Circles we’ve done, almost if not just as good as Shauna Aura Knight’s chanting class and full moon ritual.

In the process, I (re-) learned a thing as well.

I am large and hairy.  I have a resting bitch face that borders on serial killer visage.  I have been accused (perhaps fairly) of arrogance.  I don’t send the signals Pagans want and expect.  These are facts.  Teaching from a place of authority emphasizes all of that in all the worst ways.

Teaching from a place of enthusiasm, however, seems to mitigate all of that.  Even when my enthusiasm strays into the citation-heavy academic side of things, people are less put  off by it.  As an added bonus, I seem to have more fun, as well.

For much of my life, I have prided myself on my adaptability.  When my behavior was not achieving my goals, I changed it.  Tragically, that is exponentially more difficult at 36 than it was at 16.  But this change … this change I think I can make.

Success! Now the work.

Success!  Now the work.

If you have been living in a hole or otherwise not seeing my posts across various media platforms for the last 30 days, you may not know that I had a kickstarter running, trying to raise funds through preorders to publish my novel.

That campaign was successful, and I am excited and thankful beyond words.

Forty-five people came together to support my project, and pledged a total of $2284, with an average pledge of $50.76 per backer.  Thank you all for bearing with me as I focused on promoting that rather than producing content for this blog.  Thank you doubly if you are one of the eight backers that I’ve never met in meatspace, or one of the four who know me only as a Kansas City magician and priest.

If all goes according to plan, The Mark of the Wolf, the first volume of the Book of Secrets, will be available for purchase via major online dealers by the end of May.

In the meantime, despite festival preparation heating up, I will hopefully be able to return to producing actual content for this blog.  I just taught a class on Elemental Energies that I have a lot of post-facto thoughts about.  I just did a witchcraft photoshoot with a friend of mine, and have finally secured a model release for the shoot I did back in January.  I have things I want to tell you about the upcoming festival, and all the fun you’ll have if you come.  I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

Settling In and Going Big

Well, friends, it’s been a wild ride these last few weeks.  Some of it is good stuff that I’m proud to share, some of it has been a rampaging nightmare of social politics and conflicting interests about which I will never speak publically.  As for the latter, please raise a toast and pray for my strength.  Regarding the latter, however …

Firstly, I am pleased to announce the opening of my campaign, where you can support my art and bribe your way to first access to literally all my art and writing projects, including blog posts here.  Monthly support will also free me from a lot of the financial stress that’s keeping me from writing.

Secondly, I have also launched acampaign to raise funds to get my first novel, The Mark of the Wolf, in print.  The novel is done, ready to rock, but starting an LLC publishing company, securing consecutive ISBN numbers for the sequels, and actually getting printed copies is somewhat beyond my current means.  You can support me with as little or as much as you want, but $20 or more is preordering a copy of the novel in either paperback or hardcover.

And, yes, because these are the End Times, the inaugural post here at the new address is me begging for money.  But I promise you’ll get your money’s worth.  And that the blog will continue to be free, and — as an added bonus — no longer advertise anything but me.


Relocating Soon

Hey, friends –

I apologize for my long silence.  The holidays ate me alive worse than usual, and I’ve been sort of reassessing everything re: my web presence.  The good news is that I’m not going away.  Hopefully I’ll be MORE here.

I have purchased my relevant domain names –,, and – and web hosting.  In the short term, what that means for you all is a new site to follow, and a disappearance of all 3rd-party advertisements.  In the long term, I hope that this will be an exciting journey for us both.

See y’all on the flip side.

JS Groves

Satyr Magos

Witchy Vibe

I had the opportunity to shoot some photos with a friend of mine last week, which was a great deal of low-key fun, particularly after my NaNoWriMo victory.  A couple of them turned out a little witchy, so I thought I’d share them here.

Presenting Lottie Dha:



I began this blog in November of 2009.  My adventure into public occultism began under my own legal name, and on blogspot, and it’s been a hell of a ride.  A lot has changed since then.  I’ve taken a pseudonym that sort-of-no-really turned itself into a magical name.  I’ve migrated to wordpress.  The blog has been personal and political and experimental by turns, and at its best is all three at once.

When I started the blog, I was doing little enough in the rest of my life that it made sense to talk just about my magic.  When I started pursuing a career in academics, it made sense to cordon off this portion of my life in the name of respectability, and to that end I obscured my identity and location with poetic pseudonyms.  I was so little known, at the time, than anonymity frankly improved my credibility in the occult community.  But things have changed since then.

I have given up my dreams of professional academia – if not, perhaps, my dreams of some day, in a different cultural and economic climate, of continuing to educate myself in a formal setting – and no longer fear my private life being a professional concern.  Even in my day job, I no longer work for squares: I now work for Kansas City’s premier New Age book store and jeweler.  Respectability politics … well, they will always be a hobgoblin that haunt my life, but I’m now being judged by wholly different criteria.

Now, by this point, you all, my highly intelligent readership, will suspect that I am going in one of two directions: I am either going to re associate this blog with my legal name, or possibly burn it to the ground.  You are neither wholly right nor wrong

I am also now doing a great deal more with my life, today, than I was seven years ago.  I have published my first novellas and am attempting to publish my first novel.  I have taken up art photography.  I am now a public leadership figure in the Heartland Spiritual Alliance, stewards of the annual Heartland Pagan Festival.  I have nothing to hide and, if I may say so myself, quite a lot to show off.

My dilemma, then, is how to show off all the things I do in one place, because I am frankly not enough of a coder to create however-many interconnected “standalone” websites — one for the novels, one for the photography, one for the masks and jewelry, one for the occult, and all somehow feeding into one blog.  (Because I’ve tried it and i know that I can’t keep up with multiple blogs.)  More to the point, the question is how to do so with the least disruption to either myself or my readership — because I love y’all and I don’t want to lose you.

Toward that end, I am actively soliciting suggestions.  What is the best way to integrate my various projects?  How do I migrate the blog without an epic shit-pile of off-site links (like I’ve still got knocking around, linking back to  blogspot)?  What is the most graceful way to integrate my online presences into  something marginally cohesive?

One Witch’s Gender

Although I have only very recently acquired the language to articulate my experiences, I have never identified comfortably with my assigned gender.  From my earliest memories, I have struggled against the things that have been expected of me in the context of my presumed masculinity.  I was too sensitive, too passive, too interested in emotional fulfillment, in intellectual pursuits.  I had no interest in sports fandom or physical competition – a matter of great consternation to my peers and the adults who surrounded us, given my physical size.  I was drawn to darkness, but not to cruelty – I had been subject to too much of it, and could not comprehend the logic whereby it was validated by making others, in their turn, suffer as I had.  While I certainly wished destruction upon my enemies, I rarely wished them to suffer or be humiliated, and never carried through on that impulse.  I was drawn to contemplative, experiential mysticism, not the violent and muscular Christiantiy that pervaded my home town when I was growing up.

My earliest spiritual practices, after rejecting both the God I found in the Bible and the one advocated by my Protestant peers, began with a pubescent and misinformed obsession with the Yin-Yang, the first non-theistic  spiritual symbol I encountered.  In a world filled with hard dichotomies of antagonistic oppositions – good versus evil; men versus women; Christians versus everyone – the notion of complimentary opposites, each containing echoes of the other, was deeply appealing to me.  It was ignorant wank-sauce Orientalism, I know that now; for what it’s worth, it was 1996 and I attended public school and I didn’t know any better.  And, more to the point, today: it was the only place in the world that I had found any context for the parts of myself I now describe as queer.  The notion that I might be energetically yin, rather than yang, gave me a way to contextualize myself and my experiences.

When I discovered Paganism, proper – not just energywork and New Age mumbojumbo – I was drawn to Goddess-worship and the effeminate undertones of witchcraft, though I was yet too contaminated by the respectability politics of the 1990s to embrace confrontational quality of the word.

I have more words, now.  Better words.  I am bisexual.  I am queer.  I am genderqueer.  I am something man-ish; something woman-ish; something neither; something both.  “All of the above and none of the above,” I tell people when I’m being pithy.  Sometimes, I am more sincere, and just tell people that my gender is “witch”.  My pronouns, though I rarely insist on them, are xie/xir.  Damn right I use the weird ones that got dropped from even the most inclusive lists.

I started coming out as bisexual in 2001.  I embraced the witchcraft identity in 2006, at about the same time that I embraced the label queer.  Though I recognize this is not true for everyone – or even most people who use either identifier – those two words are inextricably linked for me.  My queer identity and experience inform my witchcraft; my witchcraft shapes my experience of gender. “Witch” is not quite as confrontational as “queer”, but it’s better than “Pagan” (though I use that word, too).

I’ve touched on these themes beforeSeveral times, actually.  More times than I’ve just linked.  More times than I can remember.  And I’ll keep talking about it until the world is a better place.  Until admitting to those identities publicly is no longer a potential job-killer at any level of society.  Until they no longer come with a risk of having everything you own and/or love taken away by a hostile judge in a divorce hearing.  Until they no longer bear the risk of being executed by police and vigilantes.

I’m here.  I’m queer.  I’m tired.  And I’m angry.

I am a witch.  I have seen visions such as are granted only to prophets of other faiths.  I have raised my friends up and laid my enemies low.  I have made love to monsters and screamed in the faces of gods.

I am an artist.  I have a penchant for drama.  That doesn’t mean I’m lying.  Just that I talk about things others would rather keep quiet.

Today is National Coming Out Day.  Here I am.  Fucking fight me.

Come out if you can.  And if you can’t, know that you have friends and allies.  You are not alone.

In Search of A Map

In the earliest days of my magical exploration, my cosmology was very simple.  There was the mortal, material, world in which I existed primarily, and the energetic, spirit, world in which it was encapsulated, and which intruded into the material at whim.  The literature I was reading at that time spoke of the Otherworld, and the astral, and the Akashik … each monolithic, undifferentiated, either identical to or incomparable with the others.  Owing to my obsession with achieving astral projection, I tended to conceive of it all as the astral plane.

As I continued my magical practice, encountering spirits and phenomena that could not fit within that simple construction, and began encountering descriptions (often shallow) of other cosmologies – the Tree of Life; the Upper, Middle, and Lower worlds; competing theological visions – I incorporated these other realms as layers running parallel or perpendicular to the mortal world, or wholly elsewhere… perhaps as separate realms, floating distinct and distant in the astral sea.  In retrospect, I am embarrassed how much my personal cosmology was shaped by role-playing games.  But however ill-pedigreed it may have been, that multi-layered map succeeded in describing the world I actually saw, where no other really did.

Years passed.  My practice waxed and waned, and waxed and waned again.  I became isolated, finding few pagans practicing serious magic, and – as I became ever more queer – finding pagan spaces increasingly hostile to my gender.

I began studying shamanic visionary practice, and finally achieved the out-of-body experiences that I had craved since I first began studying magic ten years before.  And, somehow, without even noticing, I bought into the implicit cosmology: a Middle World, where mortals and land spirits dwell; an Underworld, full of the dead and demons and trickster spirits and cthonic gods; and an Upperworld, populated by angels and sky gods and archetypes and ascended masters.  It did not do as good a job of describing my own experiences, or the experiences of my friends, but the practice seemed to require a certain commitment to the metaphor, and after a couple years I forgot some of the subtitles and vagaries that had previously defined my personal map.

Then came the ceremonial experiment, and my complete inability to buy the Tree of Life cosmology, and my eventual emphasis on conjuring spirits of the planetary spheres.  The Platonic planetary spheres were even less adequate to describe my previous experiences than the “shamanic worldview”before it, but it was operationally effective.  Once again, being a terrible Chaos Magician, I bought in.

Somewhere in the temporal mess of the above two paragraphs and the decade they represent, I was shown a vision of the cosmos.  All such visions are suspect, and this one was doubly so as it conformed more closely to one of my previous worldviews than any I have heard described before: a black-skinned goddess, hair in dreads and face obscured by a wooden mask, lifted me up into the sky and showed me a vision of the Earth, made up not of tidy layers or ascending spheres, but of lines of force and raging currents and irregularly shaped planes, all jammed together around and through one another, some vast beyond imagining, some trully infinite, and some shockingly small.  In this vision,  the mortal world was formed by the places where those lines and planes and currents intersected most densely, and the Otherworlds extended outward beyond the material.

Now, almost fully extracted from the ceremonial experiment and the painfully regimented structures in which I inadvertently bound myself, I find myself going over old notes and dredging up near-forgotten memories and magical techniques which defy the cosmologies in which I have spent the last five to ten years.  I find myself in need of a new cosmology.  I need a new map.

The map is not the territory: there are subtitles of texture and meaning and contrast that a map simply cannot convey.  There are regions inadequately represented, and at some point editorial decisions of scale and significance must be made.  That does not mean it is not helpful to have one.

The world exists.  Get in your car and drive in any direction, and there it is.  Perhaps you will find yourself in Dullsville, or a Cave of Wonders.  But without a map, that experience drifts free without anchor.  Perhaps you will avoid Dullsville in the future, or perhaps you will somehow find yourself there again and again because the road looked more appealing at the outset.  Perhaps you will manage to return to the Cave of Wonders, or perhaps the angle of sun or rain that drove you down that road will never again align in your favor, and it is lost to you forever.

I recall the vision I was given with sharp clarity, and relate it often as one of the most profound magical experiences of my magical life, but I have not managed to … internalize it.  To see, it seems, is not, in fact, to know.  I need a map.

So I ponder.  I recall the times I have wound my way through magical defenses by stepping sideways.  I turn the worlds I have seen over and over in my mind.  And I keep that vision in mind.  I think of ghosts, and shadow people, and all the phenomena I have seen and experienced which never rested comfortably in the maps I have used before.  I recall, also, the experiences of others that have been related to me – ancestor works, and godspouces, and cryptids, and alien abductions – which must also be accounted for if my map is to be useful.

Art may serve me better, in this quest, than science.  But I shall pursue it with all of both that I can muster.

Have you checked out my novellas yet?

ozard mountain nightmare-1

Ozark Mountain Nightmare

Megan has been coming out to the cabin every summer since Eric and Liz brought her and James with them on their family vacation after their sophomore year of high school. Things have changed since then – Eric’s gotten married; James is now exclusively gay – but the tradition remains: the axis of peace and hope and, for lack of a better word, family around which her otherwise banal and depressing year revolves. Angel comes with them, now, and every year James brings a different boy. This year is no different, at first.

An unseasonable cold hits the mountain as evening approaches, and a cold rain falls as the sun sets. The wind sounds like someone screaming, and the lamps don’t illuminate the cabin like they should. They manage to convince themselves it’s just their imaginations, at first — rain happens when you’re camping, right? And James’ buddy Randal is just a religious nut who’s scared of storms. Nevermind that the locals don’t go out alone after dark, or the number of tourists “lost” in the Ozarks every year. The darkness can’t move outside the window.

What’s worse, though, the darkness, itself, moving? Or something moving outside in the darkness?

Bad Trip Cover

 Bad Trip

Luke, Jacob, Steve, and Rich are four friends on a summer road trip, looking for good time girls and exploring haunted houses up and down the east coast. One house, though, outside of Athol, Massachusetts, is full of much more than just bad vibes and cheap thrills. As the four friends make their way the Whitley manor, room by room, they find first mystery, then horror, and finally doom.