How we respond to the challenges life sends us is what turns the lesson we learn into WISDOM. In this next installment in our TABOO series, I am delighted to share the wisdom of a warrior – indeed a crusader – for children. Her foray into the world of TABOO is an adventure that will make you shake in your cowgirl boots. Or, shout out a huge HURRAY! ~ Annette, Managing Editor.
The Bottle of Glitter is Staying in My Pocket.
by Jessica Bowman, M.A.
As this is 2014, not 1614, this accusation prompted an immediate swirl of indignation, disbelief, wonder and offered a great opportunity for reflection.
You see, I work in public education administration and recently moved to a very rural, isolated, conservative and Christian community with skies a million miles wide watching dutifully over rivers, lakes and mountainsides of beauty. My years of experience in public schools have been challenging, fulfilling, exhausting and fascinating. I completed a master’s program in Educational Leadership with an urban cohort and our professors called us “change agents” reminding us we must always be prepared to move to the next place if the case warrants.
I’ve always worked in programs with “at-risk” students (I hate that term, aren’t we all at-risk of something?) where poverty, racism and violence were routine experiences. In those places, I was always asked, “Aren’t you afraid of those kids?” Those kids?! (indignation stirring) Unbelievable. “Those kids” are amazing and profound and taught me more than I ever learned in any other experience or university, I’m sure of it.
I’m more afraid of the culture we live in;
that values the results of the Super Bowl
more than our education system
and has little concern for the children
starving down the street from each and every one of us.
Sparkle is evidence of the Divine. Truer words were never spoken. During my 2nd year of teaching, I had the privilege to work with 17 high school girls in a program called “advisory”. Beyond the normal high school classes, every student at this school was assigned to a teacher for advisory class where we had the directive to provide experiences to help build camaraderie and a deeper connection to the school program and to each other.
This school, like many inner city programs had very tough kids. Like many other urban youth across the nation, these beautiful young people experienced more trauma, violence, poverty and grief than I’ll ever comprehend. In this group of young ladies, not one was free of a major traumatic event including death of an immediate family member, rape, child abuse, hunger and violence.
As I worked with them throughout the year we had many major breakthroughs, and just as many not. Despite their deep experiences with grief, every single girl always wore some kind of sparkly “bling”, as they called it then, every day. When I inquired about the reasons why, a beautiful young lady told me,
“Ms. B, you gotta understand. We love sparkle.
Sparkle reminds us of God
and sometimes that’s all we have to get us to tomorrow.”
At the end of the year, they gifted me with my own sparkly J. It is on my altar, always, as a reminder of how very hard it is to hold a safe container for girls experiencing this much grief.
As a direct result of this experience, I always have bottles of body glitter and I always take them to the school sites where I work. It is quite a sight to see high school boys and girls, of every color and every walk of life, come running at me to be first in line. It’s really funny actually. This past year, we had sparkles every Friday and it was a huge hit with all the elementary school kids.
This past year, I also coached the girls’ volleyball team as I have done in many other programs for over 20 years. I played myself as a collegiate athlete and in the indoor and outdoor tournament circuit. It is my obligation to share my knowledge and love of the game with the girls and boys I work with. During my college days, our college athletic department worked with a sports psychologist who incorporated athletic visualization into our training. This was, and is, a common practice in competitive athletics. I have always added this aspect to the high school teams I coached as it is very effective. In this case, we added the practice three times to our program during the fall season. Several girls commented on how much they enjoyed the experience and how helpful it was.
Six months later, I’m learning that one of the athletes, the daughter of my accuser, claims that she saw demons during the volleyball visualization and that I must have conjured them. I’ll let you wrestle with that.
I’ve been chosen several times to go to school sites to “fix them.” I’ve been sent to schools with more dysfunction than you would believe. Years of failing test scores, employees double and triple billing grant sources to the tune of making $160,000 in a single year (for several years), sex scandals, and embezzlement. Programs and people simply not serving children are unfortunately typical especially in schools located in neighborhoods riddled with crisis, poverty and people trying to survive.
I earned a reputation of being fair and putting kids first which always made adults really angry. I never could figure out why they weren’t angry before – how could they tolerate all of those crimes against children? This was the case with my current assignment. I am the 9th administrator in 10 years; the community has a reputation of running people out of town, Wild West style. I’ve added programs, classes, services and supports for our children. I’ve set high expectations for all, especially myself. I’ve raised the level of professionalism, increased involvement in our community and increased the amount of agencies and organizations offering internships and post secondary options. I am fair, but firm. I will not tolerate mediocrity when it comes to children. I won’t.
In my current assignment, they began with a professional attack every chance they got. They paid employees of their companies to attend board meetings where they used the public comment section as the stage for their anger and vendetta to unfold. They actually complained about multi-cultural lesson plans and school safety protocols. They called on every source they could to prove what we were doing was illegal. In every situation, the outside sources always corroborated my decisions and provided the education codes, government codes and penal codes to show why the decisions made had to be done.
So, they decided to conduct a personal investigation and found my website, Creativity and the Divine Feminine, with references to the Cosmic Cowgirls. Ritual, creating sacred space and sacred practice and, of course, reverence to the Divine Feminine are prevalent concepts in my personal work and were documented in my blog; all of which I have removed. (I’m not sure it matters.) I also removed my photos and my name from both websites.
This along with my glitter bottles and adding sports psychology to high school sports resulted in my branding as a witch. Please keep in mind, I am a very private person and have never been the one to be center stage, it doesn’t suit my personality. I lead with what’s called a shared leadership style pushing others to reach their potential, giving away the credit for success but always taking the blame for shortcomings.
Here’s the kicker: I claim the title.
Clearly this taboo has deep roots in our psyche with a history of violence against women at its core. Starhawk, Vicki Noble, Ruth Barrett, Z Budapest, and Billie Potts are some of my favorite authors and have much to say about the return of the Divine Feminine. I have always, always been drawn to the shadow; the realm of witches. I’ve absolutely loved my many experiences in working with circles of women in a variety of capacities. I love Halloween – I really do. Autumn is by far my favorite season and I love the symbols associated with this season: pumpkins, oak trees and apples.
I believe strongly the shadow has much to teach us and therein lies the mysteries of life, women’s mysteries to included. I am drawn to the veil between the worlds and the mythologies of the Dark Goddess across cultures and throughout time. So much so, I wrote my thesis comparing the Dark Goddess to the inner city kids that I worked with every day. They have several things in common including the vilification by their own societies. The underworld and inner city neighborhoods also have much in common. I facilitated a workshop for women using the art and spirituality of the shadow as a method to grieve from rape and the loss of their own children.
We should strive for the light, it’s true. We must also acknowledge the dark and learn to embrace it as well.
In my experience, Kali, the Morrigan, Inanna, Ereshkigal, Mary Magdalene, Hecate, and Persephone have much to teach us, about ourselves and the world around us. Just like the beautiful children I work with who teach me with such grace and patience. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés tells us, when she refers to the Abuende, the cycle of life:
Without the underworld, the soul cannot rest and regenerate.
Without death, life cannot happen.
Also, in my experience with Shiloh Sophia and the Cosmic Cowgirls, my understanding of religion and spirituality has changed greatly. I don’t care much for titles anymore. I resonate with the role of the priestess and find the pursuit of the sacred to be my focus.
Clearly, this accusation was intended to run me off and incite others, in the way that only taboo topics really can. I hope to make it just as clear, the bottle of glitter isn’t leaving my pocket. I’m off to gather my cauldron, my broomstick, my pointy hat, my black cape with the oak leaf closure and find the nearest full moon. I have always felt the cauldron is an especially powerful symbol. What other container, womb if you will, has the capacity to feed the community, make medicine for those who need healing and make magic!
Care to join me?
Jessica Bowman has worked in public education for many years in both urban and rural programs. Having the privilege to work with so many students of different nationality, heritage, religions, perspective and values has provided a tremendous worldview reinforcing the importance of tolerance and acceptance of others. Diversity truly is the spice of life.
Jessica is very interested in the Sacred Feminine found in the archaeological record and world mythologies across time. She finds the practice of making art to be a wonderful vehicle for personal transformation and is captivated by the idea that making art is an active form of prayer. Jessica has a bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology and a master’s degree in Women’s Spirituality. In addition, she has studied alternative healing methods such as medicinal herbalism and aromatherapy resulting in her own botanical business, The Spice of Life.