Meet Our Authors: Heidi Parton
Welcome to the second installment in our new blog series, Meet Our Authors. Today's author is Heidi Parton, whose writing appears in two of our forthcoming publications. You can keep up with Heidi on Twitter and Instagram at @thecunningwife. Now here's Heidi, to tell you more about herself in her own words:
Tell us about a significant magical or spiritual experience that stands out in your memory.
During my initiation period, which involved frequent journeys into the Otherworld, there was one particular journey that had a huge impact on me. I first arrived in a forest clearing beside an enormous tree. While I stood in its shade, the tree's leaves turned white and began to shed like snow. I watched it for a while and then decided to head into the forest. It was ancient and sunlight-dappled, and here and there I had to climb over fallen tree trunks covered with moss and vines.
Eventually, I came to a place like a temple ruin. There was no roof, but there were columns all around the perimeter, and it had many circular pools of water set into the marble floor. I entered the temple and stepped down into the nearest pool of water. Once I was waist-deep, I was suddenly hit with overwhelming exhaustion: I couldn't keep my eyes open; my body was incredibly heavy; and I started to fall back into the water, struggling to stay awake. I held on and pushed through it, and when the feeling cleared, I opened my eyes and saw a tall, auburn-haired woman standing in the water next to me. She gave me a name, which signified the purpose She had for me, and told me that I needed to stop worrying about unimportant things and get to work. After that, I ended up back in my body.
I knew this was a pivotal moment, and I took the command to "get to work" seriously and really focused on exploring, defining, and developing my path. But I only recently realized that it was a kind of baptism, the crux of my initiation. Even though much of the experience was straightforward and clear, certain things -- like how I'm supposed to do what I'm meant to do -- were kind of vague, and I've spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. I think that's part of the journey, though -- some knowledge can only be gained through doing. The uncertainty can be frustrating at times, but it's also exciting and fulfilling to know that there are secrets yet to learn.
What are you reading right now?
One of the books I'm reading now is Aaron Oberon's Southern Cunning: Witchcraft in the American South. I've lived in the South for much of my life, a total of 25 years, and the culture here is very complex and rich. There's a lot that's painful and embattled and toxic, but there's also a lot of depth and beauty. Oberon is kind of a kindred spirit for me, in that he places a huge emphasis on folklore and tradition, but he isn't afraid to depart from it when it makes sense to do so. One example is a folkloric initiation ritual that involves boiling a black cat alive -- Oberon discourages doing that part of it because it's cruel (and so do I). Instead, he recommends harvesting roadkill for the rite. Doing so still allows for the rest of the ritual to happen in the traditional way, and it maintains that sense of uncontrived earthiness and connection to life, death, and the land that folk magic offers. It's a practical approach to folk magic that understands that living traditions must evolve in order to stay viable.
We wouldn't be the first generation to rework traditions -- our ancestors have done it over and over again, with every change in faith, every immigration, every new development in society. One example is the lineage of sacrifices to household spirits for new houses: archaeologists have found human remains buried within ancient foundations, but later on, animals like horses, dogs, and chickens took the place of humans in sacrifices. Eventually, wine poured over the threshold replaced animal sacrifices. It's perfectly natural to renegotiate how things are done according to what you're willing to do and what spirits are willing to accept. There's a tension between maintaining a strong thread of heritage and keeping it relevant, living, and intimate, but that tension is what spawns authenticity.
Do you practice divination, and if so, what’s your favorite divination method or tool?
Divination is an important aspect of my work, and I've worked with a lot of different methods: ceromancy (scrying with candle wax), runes, I Ching, tarot and oracle cards, fire scrying, etc. It's hard to pick a favorite because each method has a different character with pros and cons, depending on what you need -- not just information-wise, but also emotionally and spiritually in the process of asking. Divination is an experience, not just a means to an end; it's a form of communion. Lately, I most often work with cards and runes. I have times where I do a lot of study and work with the I Ching, too, which I started after years of studying Taoist texts, which have had a big impact on me in many ways.
I do have a really deep love for runes, though. I started working with Them post-initiation. A friend of mine, Emma (who blogs at Cunning Green Raven), was also studying the runes at the same time, and we both started having very deep experiences with Them. Our experiences and the messages we received were different, but it became clear to us both that the runes aren't just symbols. They're living, primordial forces, and the written symbols are Their physical forms. Any time we use runes in magical work or divination, we're invoking and petitioning Them, so it's a form of spirit work. Later, I came to know December Bryant through Twitter, and she has a similar relationship with and perspective on the runes. I've had incredible experiences with runes in divination, trance work, and witchcraft.
Who are some of your spiritual and magical allies?
Most of my allies are animal spirits. Birds have always played a significant role in my life, and for the past year, I've been building a closer bond with the vultures that live in my area. There's always one or two in the sky, and the peak of the mountain behind my house is called Buzzard Rock because of how they've proliferated. The scientific name for turkey vultures is Cathartes aura, "golden purifier," because of the golden cast of their wings in flight and their crucial role in consuming decaying animal matter, preventing disease. Some indigenous folklore and traditions link them with purification, healing, and rebirth. They're powerful psychopompic creatures, and I've been guided by them in the Otherworld.
Other animal allies include slugs and salmon, the latter of which I've written about in the upcoming issue of Stone, Root, and Bone. It's not a coincidence that all of these have connections to Otherworld travel, decay, purification, and/or renewal.
Is there a place in the world that you’ve been that felt amazingly magical?
Southern Appalachia, where I live now, has been a deeply, magnetically magical place for me for a long time. When I was 16 or so, my family went to Boone, NC, for spring break. It was unusually cold and snowy, and I remember sitting on the back deck of the cabin at night with a blanket around me, listening to the trickling of the creek below and gazing at the shadows of the mountains around me under the stars. I was so captured by the quiet, deep power of that place. The next day, I came down with viral meningitis, which was miserable, but I still look back on that memory with so much love. Ever since, I've had a passion for this region and felt a deep desire to live here. Two years ago, my husband and I moved our family to southwest Virginia, just a few hours north of Boone, and it feels like I'm finally in the right place.
Mountains have always been important to me, though. I was born in Idaho near the Rockies, and when I lived in Bavaria as a kid, we'd vacation in the Alps. Mountains are such mysterious, challenging, and powerful places, full of complex spirits.
Where else can we read your work?
I've written articles and reviews for Witches & Pagans magazine, and I have a blog called "Hob & Broom" about household spirits and traditions at Pagan Square. I also have a personal blog, The Cunning Wife, where I write whatever hits me hardest (when I can): prose poems inspired by powerful times; mini-essays digging into the folk magic and spiritual knowledge buried in fairy tales; and my own thoughts about witchcraft, animism, and polytheism. I also have an essay in Hagstone Publishing's upcoming Living With the Gods anthology.