Monday, November 3, 2008

The Legend of Bert Grimm

Artists who are placed in the “contemporary folk art” category (next to self-taught, outsider, and visionary artists) are usually given more personal presence than their mainstream artist comrades. For example, a casual perusal of two representative art magazines—say, Raw Vision and Sculpture—reveals that critical writing about outsider art is mostly biography and mainstream art is mostly aesthetic and interpretive evaluation. The critics seem to believe that what is most interesting about outsider and folk art is that which has to do with the lives and personalities of its creators. So they seek out these stories and peculiarities and often place large portraits of the artists in their articles, portraits which often eclipse the work itself. One would be hard-pressed to see similar practices in magazines devoted to mainstream art.

Understandably, it is unusual to find a folk artist who takes matters into his own hands and actively creates a cult of personality around himself. But just such an artist was Bert Grimm, the famous tattoo artist who, in 1952, set up shop in the now-defunct Nu-Pike amusement park of my native Long Beach. The Pike (Nu-Pike after WWII) attracted a continuous flow of sailors, truckers, and other interesting folk to its rides, food stands, fortune-tellers, and tattoo parlors. I suspect that the old tattoo artists of the Pike in its heyday gave Long Beach its now deeply-entrenched tattoo culture and affection for those vintage West-Coast-style tattoo designs.

But back to Bert Grimm. Details about Grimm’s life are fuzzy, mostly because he seems to have purposefully imbued it with a certain amount of mystery. Basically, he spent his first and last day in Oregon and somewhere in between he was in Chicago, St. Louis, and Long Beach. But here, I won’t belabor suppositions about exactly where he was when and with whom. That’s for (other) historians to sort out. What I find fascinating is the mystery itself, and how he actively created legend around his name. Tattoo artist and Long Beach native Don Deaton, who knew Grimm in his later years (and was in fact a pallbearer at his funeral), reports that Grimm had a self-christened “famous ten minute speech” that detailed his illustrious career tattooing the likes of Buffalo Bill, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde. As he spun out his tale to his enraptured customers, he would repeat his mantra: “I am the greatest. I am the greatest. I am the greatest tattoo artist in the world.” Word of this “greatest tattoo artist” spread like wildfire and soon hundreds were making the pilgrimage to Long Beach to be festooned with his designs. Today, he is still remembered as one of the greatest tattoo artists to have ever lived. He was inducted into the Tattoo Hall of Fame (then located in San Francisco) in 1983, two years before he died. His old Long Beach shop at 22 Chestnut St. is still in operation, now the oldest running tattoo parlor in the U.S.

So, there’s the artist, his legend, and his legacy. But what about his art? Bert Grimm and other artists created what is known as “flash,” that is, archetype designs that can be reproduced on a number of bodies. His flash can still be seen in tattoo parlors, museums, archives, and the internet. However, in themselves, flash designs are not tattoos, they are simply designs. Tattoos require bodies for activation; they require bodies to lift them from the realm of the flat and the merely graphic, to give them life and form. Furthermore, each body necessarily manifests the designs differently, according to skin tone, body shape, wrinkles, hairs, moles and freckles. The tattoo, like a piece of music, cannot exist separate from its corporal activators. Both of these are art forms that must be continually manifested by bodies.

And there’s the rub. Because tattoos must be activated by bodies, tattoos are by nature ultimately mortal. They require the movement of living flesh to give them motion and life. They need the pulse of hot blood to make them glow. They need the curvature of muscle, fat, and bone to give them shape. They cannot exist abstracted from their bodies any more than pieces of music can exist abstracted from their performers. Composed music is merely a graphic representation on a page until a performer lifts it into the realm of the aural, the performative, and the sublime. Each song dies when the singer closes his mouth and the instruments cease their vibrations, just as each tattoo dies along with the body that gives it life. As a tattoo artist, you must deal with the fact that your creations can never have the immortality of a Bernini or Velasquez because your chosen medium will not last like marble and oils. No one can deny that Brunelleschi has achieved immortality through the beautiful structures that still grace the Tuscan skyline. But how can the tattoo artist achieve immortality?

Bert Grimm actively created a legendary place for himself. If he could not live forever through his art, he could at least live forever through his cult. Indeed, even though his tattoos have passed on with their bodies, his flash designs remain, and they fetch top dollar. But the designs are seldom evaluated aesthetically; rather, they are placed in the context of Grimm’s colorful life, or rather, legendary status. He has created a brand name for himself: people still seek out his designs, longing to be marked by this man even though his hand hasn’t held a needle in decades.

Each new body that acquires his designs revives his legacy, and this is the irony: even though his art continually dies, it is also continually revivified. His legend has created the desire that summons activating bodies to his art. So it turns out that the art of Bert Grimm has, in fact, achieved immortality. But this immortality is not like that of a cathedral but that of a sonata: his art exists in graphic abstraction but is repeatedly manifested—performed even—by the bodies that are drawn to it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Urban Homesteaders

Before Chávez Ravine was razed to the ground to build Dodger Stadium in 1959, it was home to a vibrant, largely Mexican-American community. Zeke Contreras remembers: “Everybody had fruit trees. Fence made out of nopales [edible beavertail cactus]. There was mustard plants growing wild, parsley. I would go up to the hill to pick stuff and dad would cook them. Most everybody had chickens and rabbits and a few people had pigs and cows.” The inhabitants of Chávez Ravine ate mostly what grew or lived in their own yards, and also relied on the plants that grew wild in the hills that surrounded them.

Many Mexican-Americans still do this. A look around L.A. reveals gardens that are overflowing with fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and quite a few of them house chickens as well. But there are others who have turned to what has been brilliantly called “food, not lawns.” My friend who grew up in Salinas, in the heart of California’s farm country, now lives in Long Beach and grows corn, squash, string beans, apricots, blackberries, and gourds in her backyard. Her two little girls grew up loving vegetables because they always had a hand in growing them themselves. Many such agricultural transplants to the city have followed suit.

Standing at the beginning of the 21st century, we are now witnessing a massive food revolution, and California—having never really abandoned the 60s or that pioneer spirit—has a very healthy population of back-to-the-landers and do-it-yourselfers who have turned to urban homesteading as a way of strengthening their connection to the food they eat. Vibrant community gardens are blossoming in unexpected locations all throughout our cities. Avid foragers are roaming hills, fields, and vacant lots for wild edibles. Brewing, canning, preserving, and drying are once again becoming standard kitchen techniques.

Well, with environmental crises looming (indeed, already here), it is clear that cities—where most of California’s inhabitants live—need to become sustainable in the truest sense of the word. Richard Register, in imagining such “ecocities,” asks us to envision a world in which cities “actually build soils, cultivate biodiversity, restore lands and waters, and make a net gain for the ecological health of the Earth.” What if cities became living organisms that not only enriched their local ecosystems but themselves became ecosystems, nurturing the well-being of all living things that lived within their borders?

L.A.’s Hispanic population may teach us all that steps toward self-sufficiency will lead cities in the right direction. Imagine if you didn’t need to drive to the grocery store, but your food came directly from your own yard or those of your neighbors. I have an orange tree, and you have tomato vines: let’s trade. And with the man down the street who keeps chickens and the woman a few blocks over who has honeybees, everyone can have a nice little breakfast with fresh eggs in the skillet and honey in their tea. This weekend, let’s all go out into the surrounding hills and gather epazote, watercress, and acorns.

My San Franciscan friend reports that her city, in honor of the Slow Food Conference, recently replaced the grass in front of city hall with fruits and vegetables. Imagine if trees on the sidewalk were fruit trees, if meridian bushes grew vegetables, if every office building had rooftop gardens. Cities themselves could become farmland, leaving surrounding acres to native habitat.

There is a new word for those who prefer to eat only what grows in their vicinity: a locavore. Locavorism (although it was not called that then) was revived in the 20th century by Alice Waters, the Berkeley chef who founded Chez Panisse. The paradisiacal climate of coastal California was perfect for locavorism because all sorts of radiant delicacies were available from farmers’ markets year-round. Essentially, Alice Waters took these delicacies and created what has come to be known as ‘California cuisine.’ Although ‘California cuisine,’ in the rest of the country, automatically signifies anything with goat cheese, avocado, or sundried tomatoes, it is really a way of eating that celebrates simplicity, the garden, and all that is most beautiful and delicious at any given seasonal moment. The way most Californian tables appear, with their fresh herbs, pure vegetables, and luscious fruit is a testament to the pervasiveness of ‘California cuisine’ and the success of the locavore revolution.

Gratifyingly, this revolution has spread to many other parts of the country as well. In the four years I’ve lived in Rhode Island, I’ve definitely witnessed the dramatic blossoming of locavorism here: new farmer’s markets are popping up, eateries serving local produce are spreading like wildfire, and even Brown University’s dining halls have turned toward local agriculture to supply their kitchens. A return to what is local, fresh, and made oneself—in other words, a return to what California’s Mexican-Americans, hippies, and foodies have indulged in for decades—may well save us all in this time of great economic and environmental uncertainty.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

BN: A Tall Tale From Mono County

In July, 1947, Western Folklore published a letter from Gertrude May Lutz. It seems that Lutz couldn't help but relate a wonderful tall tale from one Joe Koenig, a "colorful character" who had worked at the Golden Gate Mine near Coleville, Mono County, in the early years of the century. In turn, I also can't help relating it. So here it is, in both her words and his:

There was hard-packed snow on the mountainside, and one of the experts who was inspecting the mine decided to slide down, sitting on his shovel, with its handle between his legs as a steering-stick. He had no sooner started than he lost control and began to shriek as he went faster and faster. Finally he was able to get a boot-hold and stop himself. Joe, who had been watching, spoke: "Yuh know, I had a pardner who tried jist such a tom-fool thing. It was like this. We heerd about a claim on top of a mountain, so steep that that the sheep on it had to tuck in their front legs to keep from falling over backwards. We finally crawled up and was so doggoned tired we couldn't stand up for a week--and then, would yuh believe it?--thar warn't no claim. Tim, that was my pardner, he was so mad he sprawled on top of a shovel, jist like him." Joe jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "And went a slam-bangin' down that hill so fast I couldn't hardly see him. When I clumb down, I found the shovel all right...." He shook his head, remembering. "Would you believe it? He warn't thar a-tall. Thar warn't nothin' in that shovel, but a dad-blamed grease spot."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

BN: Jerry Rubin on People's Park

This "brief note" isn't so brief; it's a somewhat lengthy excerpt from a book I picked up at a garage sale in Fullerton a few years back: Do It! by Jerry Rubin (New York: Social Education Foundation, Simon and Schuster, 1970). From the back cover: "Do It! is to be danced to. Read aloud. Studied. Memorized. Debated. Burned. Swallowed. Eaten." Jerry Rubin went to the University of Cincinnati and then UC Berkeley, but dropped out of school to "wreak havoc" as an "Outside Agitator" in the city. He led protests and demonstrations, advocated a completely new social order and cultural system, and co-founded the Yippies with Abbie Hoffman. What follows is his account of the creation of People's Park in the late spring of 1969; you will want to compare his account with others. Here it is:

In an airport hideaway in San Francisco on September 11, 1966, a secret meeting was held to plan a new long-range operation to "pacify" Berkeley.  Present were representatives of the CIA, the FBI, University of California officials, the state's top businessmen, officials from the Defense Department, five California police chiefs and Berkeley businessmen.
The plan? Simple! Take away the sea from the fish.
The "outlaw element" thrived in all the low-cost housing that surrounded the university, the old, rambling Berkeley homes.
The University of California, which played the major role in the CIA's insidious conspiracy [to rid the city of 'liberated freeks'], planned to buy all the low-cost housing, rip it down and build in its place dormitory buildings and IBM cardboard apartment houses--too high-priced and esthetically revolting for the nonstudents.
We'd have no place to live and would have to leave Berkeley.

The university began by buying the square block of land right behind Telegraph Avenue and three blocks from campus. They tore down all the old buildings to build dorms: completely unnecessary because 30 percent of the current dorms were uninhabited.
The nonstudents were pissed off when the bulldozers arrived. We knew what the goal was: "Hippie removal." We went on our way, muttering.

Then the wonderful contradictions of capitalism fucked up the CIA's scheme. War came to the university with strikes, tear-gassing and armed occupation of the campus by the National Guard.
The state legislature freaked out. Uptight at university officials for not killing the rioters, they slashed state aid to the university. Gone was the money needed to build the dorms.
The land languished as a big mud puddle--a parking lot in the day, a mosquito breeding swamp at night.

Then one day a freek looked at the dismal bog: A VISION FLASHED INTO HIS HEAD!
He ran to see his friends. They mimeographed leaflets.
Within an hour 300 people were at the swamp. Bulldozers arrived to flatten the land. Rocks were shoveled up, green sod laid. After one day's work, a small section of the swamp had been transformed into a park.
A park!
The word went around Berkeley: come and see the new park. A notice was printed in the [Berkeley Barb]. Money was collected on the streets. The next day 600 people were shoveling up rocks and laying sod.
While Ronnie Reagan was reading movie magazines at home, and while the entire university administration was drunk, sucking each other off in the back rooms of the university, people came to create People's Park.
Like a Chinese commune, thousands scraped cement from old bricks which others then used to create winding mosaic paths.
One group built a barbecue.
Another created a playground.
Some people made music on cans and drums, guitars, flutes, harps, recorders, voices and bodies.
Others made films.
Free food every day. Rock bands played.
It was a theater for the free play of creativity, energy and community. All of the art and life force of the underground culture swelling in pure love.
Within five minutes after you'd go to the park, you'd be stoned.

free food.
free work.
free sex.
free smiles.
free sun.
free moon.
free love.
free theater.
free store.
free music.
free dope.
free living.
free park.

Every day middle-class people from the Berkeley hills left their children to play with us. People came to the park to plant their own trees.

Hippies, students, yippies, fraternity boys, sorority girls, Panthers, middle-class people, everybody grooved in their own park.

"Hey, can I plant a corn patch?"
"It's up to you. You decide."

"Hey, can I put some swings in?"

There was no Master Plan. Nobody gave orders. Some people wanted to turn the huge pit in the middle of the park into a swimming pool; others wanted to have a fish pond. Everybody working on the park got together in a town meeting and debated it for a few hours, and voted to have a fish pond.

The university deans woke up and saw what was happening. People were creating a park near the university! Motherfuck! That would attract all kinds of filth and vermin.
Ronnie was telephoned, and he zipped up his pants and rushed to a secret meeting. Two CIA agents were flown in from Washington.
What to do to stop these longhaired beasts from creating a base in the heart of the area the university was trying to destroy? The students had expropriated land valued at 1,300,000 dollars!

One morning at three A.M. Berkeley police arrived and shoved 50 people out of the park, making way for workmen who began to build a fence. By dawn a barbed-wire fence, lined with pigs, surrounded People's Park.
A noon rally at the campus resulted in thousands of people roaring down Telegraph Avenue to tear that fucking fence down.

Hydrants were opened up.
Rocks thrown at pigs.
Pigs released tear gas.
People climbed on roof tops to throw rocks, and police pulled out shotguns!
The critical escalation in the war between the cultures: For the first time police opened fire on white Amerikan dissidents, shooting with birdshot. At the end of the day, James Rector was dying in a hospital, another man was blinded and at least a hundred people were wounded.
The National Guard turned Berkeley into an occupied city.

Vietnam helicopters stalked the city on reconnaissance missions looking for Viet Kong (anyone on the streets) to direct pig cars to club, attack and arrest.
Helicopters bombed the campus with tear gas.
Public gatherings were outlawed. People were tortured in jail.
People's Park became the base camp for the Occupational Forces in the war against the natives.
Tents replaced our playground.
Tanks and troop carriers ripped the trees and shrubs and flower beds.
Crude Army boots destroyed the green grass.
Beer cans and cigarette butts floated on the pond.

And Old Glory proudly few above the carnage.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Petroglyphs and UFOs

The popular memory of California’s prehistory often maintains a close connection between the mysterious and the unknown. The folklore surrounding the petroglyphs of our great deserts and canyons, for example, has often been linked to the folklore surrounding UFOs and extraterrestrials. Many have seen the unidentifiable shapes and curious anthropomorphs to be prehistoric depictions of spaceships and their inhabitants. Ufologists have sought in the petroglyphs proof that humankind has been visited in the past by extraterrestrial beings, and that we continue to be so visited. Some have even desired to prove that these ancient images reveal a direct ancestral lineage between our own species and one more distant.

Why do people look to the petroglyphs for proof of extraterrestrial activity on earth? For one thing, we know next to nothing about the meaning of the petroglyphs and the societies that created them. This leaves them open to a wide variety of interpretations, and, for all we know, one interpretation is as valid as another. Whether a particular anthropomorphic image depicts a shaman or an extraterrestrial is merely a matter of opinion. There is no evidence to support one over the other.

Furthermore, in arid cultures, the open desert is often associated with the otherworldly. Jesus had journeyed into the desert to confront Satan. Early Christian hermits built their homes in the desert to battle demons. Krishna had led Narada into the desert to come upon enlightenment, the Hebrew scriptures find it the ideal place to meet God, and the Egyptian Bedouin consider it to be infested with ghosts and jinn. It is no wonder, then, that our own culture sees the desert to be the prime location for extraterrestrial activity.

But whatever the reason for the connection between petroglyphs and UFOs, my purpose here is to ask that we consider the ufological interpretation of California’s petroglyphs to be part of the life of the petroglyphs themselves. Let me explain. Amy Remensnyder has argued that, in medieval monastic society, “imaginative memory” continuously reimbued objects with meaning, often transforming object into monument. For example, a fragment of wood could first become a relic of the True Cross and then a monument to a particular monastery’s foundation. Medieval Europe had its reliquaries; California has its petroglyphs. The ufologist’s reinscription of meaning has transformed the nature of the images themselves.

Whatever meaning the petroglyphs had to the societies that created them is lost to us. The petroglyphs now possess new—and often contesting—meanings. But this doesn’t mean that the viewer is the only active agent, creating and imposing his interpretations on passive objects, nor that the whole process is a big interpretative free-for-all. Remensnyder reminds us that “in this process of reinterpretation, the physical object itself is not inert; its design determines the range of possible meanings.” Unusual anthropomorphs could have been shamans, gods, spirits, or ceremonial dancers. Or, of course, extraterrestrial beings. They are visibly distinguished from the images of more ordinary human figures, but whether these distinguishing characteristics mark them as spiritual or extraterrestrial can never be certain.

What is certain, however, is that images are never dead. Although relics of past societies, the petroglyphs are also, in a sense, relics of our own. They do not and can not exist in the past, out of time, but are as part of the present as the sun and wind that continuously bombard their surfaces. The meanings our culture inscribes upon the petroglyphs constantly revivify them, reincorporating them again and again into the present.

(image courtesy of Don Gennero)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Recipe: Salmon with Huckleberry Compote

My dad’s friend is from the Yurok (Puliklah) tribe of the coastal redwoods, along the lower Klamath River. A recent visit coincided with their salmon festival, and this recipe is based on what I had. It was one of the best meals of my life.

In late summer, in the morning, go out with your family and friends and catch some salmon (make sure to thank the salmon for giving you sustenance). Prepare a bed of coals by making a shallow ditch in the earth and filling it with flaming hardwood. When the coals are smoldering and hot, cut the salmon’s gorgeous, watermelon-colored flesh into generous pieces with the skin still attached. Skewer the pieces onto long shards of redwood and season with salt and freshly cracked peppercorns. Plant the skewers in the ground around the ditch of coals, so the meat is suspended above the heat. Allow to cook for about an hour. The skin will be crisped, the outside of the meat will be caramelized with smoke, and the inside will be fragrant and moist.

My dad’s friend’s sister, who had tattooed her chin in the traditional manner as a near-political declaration of heritage (female tattoos are no longer widely practiced), had made huckleberry shortcake. I took some of her huckleberry compote and spooned it over the salmon—delicious.

Gather as many huckleberries as you can. This may be difficult, as I’ve noticed that huckleberries have grown scarcer in recent years (perhaps due to climate change?). You may supplement with wild salal berries (if they grow in your area) or store-bought blueberries. Californian blackberries are more abundant, and I don’t see why you can’t use these as well. Sweeten with sugar to taste and simmer in a small saucepan (blackberries will need more sugar than less). You may also use a squeeze of lemon juice and/or a dusting of cinnamon if you feel so moved.

Serve the salmon with the compote, outside, surrounded by redwood-covered hills. Late summer brings mosquitoes, so be aware of this as well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Neopagan Bodies

Southern California, it turns out, is much like the stereotype. This stretch of coastline does indeed covet that lifestyle of sun, sea, sand, smoothies, fish tacos, and effortless yet immaculate fashion. Image-conscious and health-conscious, Southern California--like other coastal Mediterranean and subtropical cultures--prizes the body that is radiant, bronzed, athletic, and slender. This is particularly the case for the female body, which is almost perpetually called upon to expose itself to sunlight, ocean breeze, and the critical gaze of the onlooker. This body has become a reified thing, crystallized and reinforced (enforced, even?) by every image Southern California uses to speak to and about itself.

Therefore, I find it fascinating to note the existence in this same geography of female religious communities that purposely flaunt these images and, instead, envision a female body that is multiplicitous and diffuse, often finding in the ‘deviant’ female form a perfect expression of divinity. The goddess-centered neopagan communities of the southern coast locate the feminine divine in such culturally and chronologically diverse figures as Isis, Diana, the Virgin Mary, and Kali. They find divinity and power in bodies that are menstruating, pregnant, obese, aging. The feminine divine (particularly in Wiccan circles) can also be more diffuse, becoming what the famous San Franciscan witch Starhawk has called “the great forces of birth, growth, death, and regeneration that move through the universe. …[the Goddess] is immanent within us as well as in nature.” This boundlessness and multiplicity has meant that neopagan communities have created their own conception of the female body that mirrors this fluidity and shatters the restraints and boundaries imposed by majority culture.

Thus, the neopagan body, like the Goddess, is diffuse. Aniitra Ravenmoon of the Temple of Isis in L.A., for example, asserts that she can become dozens of goddesses in the span of a day, depending on her emotional, spiritual, and physical needs at any given time. Cathleen, also of the Temple of Isis, writes:

Well, we’re threading through togetHER, Moving in
and out and ‘round,
Weaving with COSMIC EARTH.
We’re growing all togetHER, Sowing underground,
Seeds about to give BIRTH.
Who are we WILD WORLD-WOMEN weaving
blood-red c(h)ords,
Cosmic Co-Creating FEMININE DIVINE.

The poem creates a linguistic and imagistic space where worshippers, in their spiraling movements, can actually create the body of the Goddess by weaving their own bodies together with fertile seeds, soil, and what seems to be the red blood vessels of living flesh. Here, the feminine divine, although diffuse, is not in the least abstracted—rather, it is actively ‘co-created,’ manifested, and embodied by the assembled bodies of the faithful.

The neopagan body, therefore, by expanding its boundaries and drawing inspiration from a variety of cultures and periods, seems to transcend the limitations imposed by majority culture and even time itself. For example, despite what many sociologists have identified as a stigmatization of the obese body in contemporary society, neopagan communities instead often locate in the obese female form a perfect expression of the feminine divine: they celebrate largeness as largesse, as abundance and fecundity. Such a body can, perhaps, be thought to be in a perpetual state of pregnancy.

Closely tied to this is sexuality, wherein neopagans celebrate voluptuousness as transcendently sensual and supremely powerful. Witness the popularity of ‘bellydancing’ in neopagan communities as well as the ubiquity of the prehistoric ‘fertility’ figurines.
Voluptuousness becomes, almost, a reclamation of a woman-centered sexuality: here, notions of the erotic radiate from within—and are not imposed upon—the embodied self. Feminine power arises bodily, through fertility, voluptuousness, and sheer monumentality.

For example, at a women’s retreat in the Santa Monica mountains, a priestess portraying (rather, embodying) Diana during a ritual drew her ‘goddess essence’ from her physical size. One participant in the ritual remarked: “Other images of Diana are all sexualized from a male point of view, kind of a scantily clad Playboy bunny in the woods. . . . [But] this was a female who radiated power with her body and costume. Her unselfconsciousness about her body was powerful and the way she walked was almost majestic. I’ll never forget it. This was the Diana I want to relate to.” You may notice that, according to the observer, the priestess/Diana drew her divinity from her “unselfconsciousness about her body”—the embodied feminine divine was powerful precisely because it defied the critical gaze that elsewhere permeates majority culture.

Elizabeth Reis has argued that accusations and self-affirmations of witch-hood (from the 17th c. to the present day) rest on a “fear of women’s power.” Contemporary witches largely define themselves against popular conceptions of acceptable femininity, proudly flouting expectations and transgressing boundaries, even with their own bodies. This is where a “fear” (or, perhaps, awe) of women’s power rests: self-affirmed witches often testify that rituals can shock them, surprise them, and catapult them into realms of female power they can only dimly comprehend, let alone control. By using their own bodies as tools of this power, they, I suppose, embody their own empowerment as a way to make it manifest.

Sociologist Tanice Foltz has argued that women come to Goddess spirituality “to heal their identities as female ‘others’ in patriarchal society.” Glory Vernon, for example, holds her Long Beach “Introduction to the Art of Spell Crafting” workshops for “those who wish to take a more positive approach to empowering their lives.” The Circle of Aradia, a Dianic community in L.A., pledges to “heal and empower women in their personal lives.” This empowerment goes hand in hand with the divinization of the female body. The female body is wrested from the realm of commodification--torn from the magazine page, the billboard, and the movie screen--and carried into the realm of the sacred. Neopagan women, through ‘magick’ and alternative conceptions of the body, ultimately acquire power precisely because they transgress, ignore, and destroy boundaries and expectations through the multiplicitous embodied self.