Remembering Morda

Those who are remembered, live.

This morning I prayed with sadness and gratitude at my ancestor altar as I recalled many memories about my first spiritual mentor, the late Donna Cole Schultz of Temple of the Pagan Way and the Gardnerian coven, Temple of the Sacred Stones, here in Chicago. Had cancer not killed her on March 31, 2004, she would have been 80 years old today.

Donna went by the Craft name, Morda, and it was through her vocation as High Priestess of Temple of the Sacred Stones that I would come to know and love her and be profoundly influenced by her Taurean, no-nonsense and fervently devotional ritual demeanor. “I’m a Jew-Witch woman, what can I say?” she’d rhetorically ask with an inflection in her voice and a playful shrug of the shoulders whenever her stern reputation in the Chicago Pagan community would surface as a topic of discussion.

Donna.jpg

HPS Donna Cole Schultz, aka Morda. May 15, 1937 – March 31, 2004, Chicago

In the years since her physical passing, from what I’ve observed with trends in American Paganism at large (which loosely includes the communities that identify as British Traditional Witchcraft but which I see as separate from them) as well as the local scene here in the city of Chicago itself, I can say that groups and communities and the habits of individual practitioners–assuming they really do practice anything beyond showing up at Meetups or other public events whose goal is to socialize, not do ritual–could certainly benefit from Donna’s attitudes of discipline and focus in magical training and work and heartfelt devotion to Holy Powers.

The Temple of the Sacred Stones was a tightly run ship, reflecting Donna’s other particular Taurean values of commitment and loyalty. All coven members were required to attend every Sabbat and Esbat gathering on the agreed-upon date per tradition and at the appointed time–if Lammas Eve fell upon a Tuesday night, then we showed up on a Tuesday night, not on a weekend date before or after the holiday in the hopes of having more people attend. If the ritual began at 7 o’clock and you showed up 6 minutes late and knocked on the door, guess what: you weren’t admitted. No “Pagan Standard Time” here; Donna held it in contempt.

Witchcraft, as I was taught it under her leadership, was both a religious worldview that framed one’s interaction with Holy Powers–our Goddess and God of the Witches, as we understood Them–and ways of moving and being in the world as well as serving as a technology, the Operative “Craft” part of Witchcraft. Ideological underpinnings of theoria informed our praxis, as they do for adherents of other religions.

We were all assessed by our proficiency in our Craft. We kept log books of spells and their outcomes for both group and individual magical workings. Proof of magical efficacy was evidenced in life improvements. (Did your I-need-a-job-NOW-spell manifest a result within a moon? If not, why not?) We also did workings of healing and yes, of banishment and binding as well: one of the highlights of my magical experiences thus far was a Dark Moon working in the early spring of 2003 to bind George W. Bush and his fellow war criminals!

There was always room for improvement in one’s magical training, always more time for in-person study (book learning could only get you so far) and cultivating mentor-mentee relationships. Like any good leader, Donna would be able to intuit your unique gifts and strengths within moments of meeting you/sizing you up and would encourage you on which avenues to pursue in order to develop those strengths. Like a good Taurus, she was an inspiring and nurturing figure. She sensed my Priestessing/clergy potential abilities immediately and would ask me to do spontaneous ritual invocations of our Goddess long before I even became an official coven member! She also encouraged my talents in certain forms of divination–scrying in addition to cartomancy and rune work. She sensed Hermes and Hekate in my auric field, and would comment that my dead brother Mark protectively stood by me as well–she described him to a tee, right down to the outfit he last wore when alive–before I’d ever discussed his tragic accident in San Diego that claimed his life at the age of 20. Donna was impressively clairvoyant but she never touted her skills; her strength was in her ability to Keep Silent about her own gifts.

I would sit entranced during rounds of post-ritual feasting, listening to Donna and her second husband Robert discuss their travels to magical places around the world and the powerful items they’d acquired for the coven’s use. I loved Donna’s anecdotes about what the occult scene was like in London in 1968, the year she received her initiation by Madge Worthington and Arthur Eaglen through the lineage of Rae Bone, one of Gerald Gardner’s direct initiates. “There were fewer books and everything was more secretive,” she would eventually say in a series of interviews that comprised the 2001 anthology Keepers of the Flame: Interviews with Elders of Traditional Witchcraft in America. Folks had to show they were earnest about becoming Witches–and that they were doing so for the right reasons–and really work hard to attain initiation. I couldn’t help but draw extremely similar parallels with my process of becoming a Co-Mason.

In this age of instant everything–instant information retrieval, instant technologically driven “connectivity” (or the illusion of it), and especially instant gratification–people no longer have the motive nor the incentives to work hard to attain what they say they want. This Culture of Entitlement has had, from my observations, a pernicious effect on Paganism in the U.S. This is why I see groups like Traditional Witchcraft covens and other magical orders centered around an initiatory/hierarchical model–all of which emphasize participatory Mysteries–as perhaps the last repositories of wisdom (applied knowledge) earned through effort. Diverging from Paganism’s current focus on exploring and even creating new forms of non-committal, ideologically barren (aside from, perhaps, identity politics) groups, these initiatory orders build on existing traditions because those traditions are worth preserving. They’ve never lost their relevance. However, they’ve never had a mass appeal either and they’re not meant to. By their very nature, they’re simply not meant to.

“I think the Craft as practiced in the sixties and seventies was more fervent and more intense. There was more dedication,” Donna declares as Morda in Keepers of the Flame. When asked about her thoughts on the value of hands-on training in the context of committing oneself to a group versus scouring the Internet on one’s own, she answered: “Experience is the best teacher. Too many Americans want/get everything out of books.”

All of the Witches interviewed in the book were unanimous in their answer to the question of the effect that Neo-Paganism (the editors’ term) is having on Traditional Craft. As Morda said, the effect is one of “watering down, and there will be more of a growth explosion in Pagan groups that will be more suited to the masses. I think that anything, once it is more widely accepted, loses some of the original intensity and creativity.”

Donna Cole Schultz, you were an original, intense, creative, and immensely inspiring Witch, mentor, Priestess of the Old Ways, and second mother to me. I hope that the work that I do serves, in its own humble way, as a form of your legacy here in Chicago.

Hail, Donna! Hail, Morda! Hail, the Mighty Dead! May you watch over us and guide us aright until the appointed time “when we shall meet, and know, and remember, and love one another again.”

Blessings bright!

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