How being a witch looks an awful lot like being a Christian.

I’ve been reading a wonderful series of books by a guy named Terry Pratchett. Rereading really. I read them once, and now I’m reading them to Trevor. Most of them take place on a planet (if you can call it that) named Discworld, and most of these books use the same 8 or 10 characters. Recently (as in 5-6 years ago) Mr Pratchett developed a new character. Her name is Tiffany Aching, and she is a witch. Only she’s not like any witch you’ve ever read about before. She is young, smart, resourceful, and talented at working. She also does the magic stuff well, but that is really a rather small part of the novels with her in them. Mostly what she does is grow up and learn from other witches, and its what these other witches teach here that I find amazing.

Below is a long quote from the second Tiffany Aching book (out of four) called A Hat Full of Sky. In this scene she is having a conversation with Mistress Weatherwax, who everyone agrees is the best witch around. In this conversation they refer to two different witches who are polar opposites. They are Miss Level who is the kind, long-suffering witch that Tiffany is now training under, and Mrs Earwig, who is selfish, conniving, and not the least bit helpful to others.

Miss Level’s life is difficult because she is so self-effacing that no one respects her, they literally walk all over her. Mistress Weatherwax understand this, mentioning it at the beginning (its her speaking at the start), but look at where she goes with it.

“Respect is meat and drink to a witch. Without respect, you ain’t got a thing. She doesn’t get much respect, our Miss Level.”

That was true. People didn’t respect Miss Level. They liked her, in an unthinking sort of way, and that was it. Mistress Weatherwax was right, and Tiffany wished she wasn’t.

“Why did you and Miss Tick send me to her, then?”

“Because she likes people,” said the witch, striding ahead. “She cares about ’em. Even the stupid, mean, dribbling ones, the mothers with the runny babies and no sense, the feckless and the silly and the fools who treat her like some kind of a servant. Now that’s what call magic – seein’ all that, dealin’ with all that, and still goin’ on. It’s sittin’ up all night with some poor old man who’s leavin’ the world, taking away such pain as you can, comfortin’ their terror, seein’ ’em safely on their way . . . and then cleanin’ ’em up, layin’ ’em out, making ’em neat for the funeral, and helpin’ the weeping widow strip the bed and wash the sheets – which is, let me tell you, no errand for the faint-hearted – and stayin’ up the next night to watch over the coffin before the funeral, and then going home and sitting down for five minutes before some shouting angry man comes bangin’ on your door ‘cos his wife’s havin’ difficulty givin’ birth to their first child and the midwife’s at her wits’ end and then getting up and fetching your bag and going out again. .. We all do that, in our own way, and she does it better’n me, if I was to put my hand on my heart. That is the root and heart and soul and centre of witchcraft, that is. The soul and centre!” Mistress Weatherwax smacked her fist into her hand, hammering out her words. “The . . . soul. . . and . . . centre!”

Echoes came back from the trees in the sudden silence. Even the grasshoppers by the side of the track had stopped sizzling.

“And Mrs Earwig,” said Mistress Weatherwax, her voice sinking to a growl, “Mrs Earwig tells her girls it’s about cosmic balances and stars and circles and colours and wands and . . . and toys, nothing but toys!” She sniffed. “Oh, I daresay they’re all very well as decoration, somethin’ nice to look at while you’re workin’, somethin’ for show, but the start and finish, the start and finish, is helpin’ people when life is on the edge. Even people you don’t like. Stars is easy, people is hard.”

So Mistress Weatherwax thinks the most important thing about being a witch is helping others. Obviously the author does too because this is a theme that is constant through all of the Tiffany Aching books. Work hard, help others, measure your value by how you help people, don’t waste your time on material things, its the people that count.

To give you an idea, here’s a quote from the first book in the series, The Wee Free Men. In this quote a very young (9 year-old) Tiffany is talking to Miss Tick who is a witch finder (a lady who looks for girls showing unusual signs of power). All of this is done partially in secret; where Tiffany grows up, they don’t like witches. In fact they kill an old woman because they think she was a witch. But I digress.


“Witches are naturally nosy,” said Miss Tick, standing up. “Well, I must go. I hope we shall meet again. I will give you some free advice, though.”
“Will it cost me anything?”
“What? I just said it was free!” said Miss Tick.
“Yes, but my father said that free advice often turns out to be expensive,” said Tiffany.
Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said, “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now…if you trust in yourself…”
“…and believe in your dreams…”
“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”



Notice how the traditional advice given in movies (trust in yourself, believe in your dreams, etc.), all those things we like to tell our children, the author happily tramples with hard work, and an education. This is a kids book, and yet the advice is so absent of fantasy, and so full of practical good advice that it tickles me pink.

And you know, every time I run across these words I am reminded how much they sound like Jesus. Which I find fascinating.

The god of the handy

I was riding our exercise bike out in the garage (meaning, in the cold) this morning. I had a good book, and everything was going fine for the first 6 minutes, up until it got to the “steep” part of the program. Then the darn thing started slipping like an elephant on ice skates. There is a belt that transfers the pedaling force into something the computer can use to tell you how you are doing. It was this belt that was slipping, no doubt because of the recent cold temperatures around here. Well I tried pushing for a while to see if it would warm up some, but it didn’t. The darn thing was slipping so much that every push was too easy. So cursing my luck, I got off, and looked at the bike. There’s only a few screws holding the case, I told myself. This should be easy.

Famous last words.

An hour and a half later, I had the whole thing opened up, the pitifully antiquated bearings were soaking in gasoline, and most of the parts were clean. (As an aside, when was the last time you broke down an open bearing? For me it was on an old bike over 25 years ago. Were talking metal races holding a dozen large bearings. Huge gaps in the side with nary a bearing seal in sight.) While I was trying to tighten down the old style bottom bracket I was forcing the wrong wrench on a part while my knuckles kept brushing the last plastic guard I had left on the bike. That last piece was held on by only 6 screws. I knew because I had taken off it’s opposite, mirror-image piece on the other side. 6 screws was just that much more to break down, and I really was trying to finish up. Those of you who are handy will know the rest. Sure enough, the wrench slipped, and wham! I got a pressure cut across the back of the knuckle. Damn.

Funny enough, after that, it was smooth sailing.

All this has lead me to conclude that the god of small repairs must be Hephaestus; the crippled Greek god of the forge. On little projects he does not care as his help is not as needed. But on big jobs, he likes to see a little sacrifice in order to get things to work well. Blood mixed with grease or oil must be his thing. I cannot tell you how many times I bloodied a car engine, or a lawnmower engine, or pretty much anything that takes an hour or two to break down, and put back together. And it is usually after the hand has slipped, and the blood has flowed, that the project begins to snap.

When I got the whole thing back together, I discovered that the belt was still slipping. (insert sound of face palm) A few twists on the belt tensioner seemed to do the trick, and I finished the rest of my ride, 2.5 hours later, in peace.

But it sure pedals nice now.

Don’t know. Create

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Tree of Knowledge, you know, the one from the bible. The fruit tree that if you plucked one, and ate it, it gave you knowledge, and a free trip out of paradise.

You know what I think? I think that is all horse shit. You see I’m pretty damn sharp at times, and I know a thing or two. I don’t know everything mind you, and sometimes the lack (not knowing everything) drives me crazy, but I do know some things, and you know what? Knowing ain’t worth shit. Really.

Think about it. What do you know? If your average, then I’ll bet you know a little bit about a lot of things, and a lot about a few things. Maybe even a whole funking lot about one or two things. So what has that knowledge gotten you? Did you ever get laid because you knew about Socrates? Did you ever earn a good meal at a restaurant from knowing romantic neo-classicists? Ever got a broken car to work because you could conjugate French verbs? Yeh, me neither.

See I don’t think that tree in the garden was about knowledge. I think it was the Tree of Creativity. Think about that for a moment. Creativity is the thing God starts out doing. His first job in the bible. It is his main gig, his bona fides. If you ask, “are you qualified to be my God?” He’ll respond, “Well, ah hum, I did creates the universe,” all while buffing his nails on his shirt.

Creating is right there on God’s turf, his main thing. When you create, you are actually being a little God like. Remember Man was created in his image. I think that means, we could create like he does. Not on anything like his scale, mind you, but we sure as hell can create.

And man, is creation the coolest thing or what? It is the best drug, the only cool high, and there is never any hang-over. Making cool shit up is just the bomb! With nothing but a computer, and a little bit of time, I can make up people out of thin air. Try that, mofo. I’ll bet you can too. I can put scars on people who are flawless, or remove their flaws and make them sexy. I can make them look like anything I want. Hows that for power?

Creation is the only thing that could get poor Lucifer to give up his cushy day-job, and move on down to hell with a third of the angels. You think they gave up Heaven for knowledge? Dream on brother. They gave it up to create. No wonder God gets jealous. No wonder he kicked out Adam and Eve. He couldn’t hang with the competition.

So I may not know shit any more, but watch out, because I sure as hell can create. I am a fire-breathing, book reading, mind bending cre-a-tor. I can make up cool shit at the drop of a hat, for a deadline, and pull it off on time, and under budget. Beat that bitch. And you know what, that is the power of the gods.

Here’s an apple kid, Wanna bite?

The Mark of Cain

Yesterday I made an unscheduled trip to the Laundromat. Our clothes washing machine was acting wacky (it turned out to be the timer), so while we were waiting for our excellent repair man to come, I decided to kill off a few loads to get our looming pile of dirty clothes back to manageable levels.

While I was waiting for the machines to wash, I ran across a guy who was homeless. His name is Michael, and he lives under a nearby bridge, or so he told me. Mike is not a small man (6’3″ and every bit of 200 lbs.), and is somewhat handsome in a rugged sort of way. He didn’t smell, but could use a shave. He also needed to eat as he had spent his last few bucks getting high. He looked to be in his mid-early thirties, but exposure had weathered his face to make it appear somewhat older.

I met him when he started talking to me about God. He must have included the words God or Jesus as least a dozen times in his first couple of sentences. Subtle as a brick, this one. Since I was a God-bot in the past (or as I like to say, a bored-again), I find mysef immune to this type of language/reasoning, and I’ve spent enough time around the mentally ill to not be afraid of the harmless ones, so I figured I could, at the very least, keep him from pestering others while I waited for the the machines to finish.

Mike saw God in everything. He heard God in every car horn (which he happily pointed out every time someone set the alarm on their car), saw God’s hand in the finding of an ink pen, and had wonderful ways of looking at numbers and telling you how God was related. Nothing was in the least bit happenstance to Mike; everything showed the hand of God.

Those of you who know me, know I spent a fair bit of time studying God, and trying to be good at it. That I have so demonstratively failed at the attempt, does not reflect the earnestness of which I attempted it; which is to say I used to be a real asshole for God. However, this experience has given me some insight into the “logic” of Christianity, and more importantly, the “logic” of extreme poverty, having at one time in my life been both homeless, and a Christian. So I have some real empathy for Mike, or any man who slowly takes the road from family man with a good job to penniless and living under a bridge. At one point Mike had a business, a wife, ran an AA half-way house, and was a tax paying citizen anyone would be happy to have as a neighbor. Now he is the kind of guy one instinctively shuns while passing on the street. The twin daemons of mental illness and addiction (or maybe mental illness brought on by addiction) have ripped this poor man apart to the point where he has to see God in everything; any other explanation for his life would simply be too cruel to contemplate.

The sad part is that for all his talk, Mike does a much better job showing the absence of God, than the proof thereof. That any creator would bestow upon one of his creatures a sickness so profoundly disturbing that only ruinous self-medication, and delusional ramblings, could alleviate the pain, is cruelty beyond all scope or belief. That he would then demand that this creature proclaim undying love for him, is vile and grotesque.

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