Since starting my business three years ago, I have experienced all sorts of surprising challenges and joys, but one of the most magical and unexpected gifts has been the community that I have discovered. I have connected with herbalists, artists, educators, and activists, all bravely sharing their magic with the world, and I am continually in awe of these inspiring humans.
“Tending the Hedge” highlights some of these individuals who engage in a practice of “magical stewardship,” living and working with intention. I see this as a form of mutual aid and raising each other up, and as a rejection of competition and scarcity culture. Moreover, in a time when many of us (myself included!) can feel hopeless in light of all that’s happening in the world, I want to explore ways we might all “tend the hedge” of our own communities.
Each mini-interview had the same questions, and wow, what inspiring and diverse answers I’ve received so far! I’ll be sharing more of these features over time, but today I am thrilled to be kicking off with an absolute powerhouse of a human. I first met my dear friend Nora Revenaugh what seems like a lifetime ago— Nora and I attended the same high school, and though our paths diverged for some time, we reconnected and have both found ourselves back in upstate NY, pursuing magic and meaning in unplanned ways.
A gifted writer and musician in her own right, Nora works in marketing at Foreign Affairs Magazine, and with her husband Mike co-owns Garret on the Green, a B&B in upstate NY that offers artist residencies, “to fill what we perceive to be a gap in support for working artists. While we love traditional residency programs, we also know that there are financial, family, and career conflicts that prevent many artists from having the flexibility to attend month-long residencies at traditional institutions. We believe that creatives who need to hold down their day jobs or care for their families are no less talented and no less worthy of support than the artists who are able to create full-time.”
In 2019. I stayed with Nora and Mike at the Garret when they hosted a Halloween gathering, booking my tarot reading services for the fete, and I can personally attest to it being an absolute joy of an experience. This year, the Garret has partnered with the Kirkland Art Center for a new residency program focused on artists who need studio space— including painters, illustrators, composers, choreographers, and other visual and performing artists. (Learn more about the Snowed-in Residency here.)
Here, Nora shares her thoughts on the importance of rest and how rejecting being a “Good Girl” can be a truly liberating act.
What are your pronouns and what is your sign?
She/her/hers, and I’m a Sagittarius. (Or an Ophiuchus, if you go in for that 13-sign malarkey.)
Are you a witch? If so, what does that word mean to you?
I AM a witch. It took until this year to be comfortable calling myself that, partly because it’s a term often associated with Wicca and Neo-Paganism which are not my practices.
For me, being a witch has been an evolving process of research, reconstruction, and repair of my ancestral traditions. I was raised Irish Catholic, a faith that at the best of times feels like a light rebrand of indigenous pagan practices, and at the worst of times can really fuck with the head of a young queer girl with a people-pleasing perfectionist streak.
Twelve years ago I had a crisis of faith around the time that I came out of the closet, and during that time I walked a Catholic pilgrimage across Spain, visited a bunch of convents thinking about becoming a nun, and started studying Gregorian Chant in a program taught by Benedictine monks in the west of Ireland. Part of the program there included visiting stone circles, holy wells, and other sacred sites and learning about the pre-christian faith traditions of the area.
I had grown up with traditional music (my dad plays bodhrán, my grandfather played tenor banjo) and had been read Fionn MacCumhail myths and stories from the Lebor Gabála Érenn as a kid, but being physically at those sites shifted something around my faith that felt both destabilizing and liberating— very tower-y! There’s a poisonous myth that a lot of us grow up with in the colonized world: that indigenous people and indigenous traditions are not living and breathing in the present, that Applebees and The Olive Garden are real, but our own recent family history is not. But being on still-in-use sacred land, learning that the practices I’d read about in the past tense were still alive in some form in parts of the west of Ireland, made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for wanting to dig at the roots of what I’d been handed as my heritage.
So I started reading and researching, and began to uncover a more complex story about Ireland, the church, and female bodies than the one I had been raised with. And it opened up room for me to leave the church, connect with a more nuanced version of my ancestors’ faith practices, and start being a whole person— not just a Good Girl.
Shorter answer: The closest word for “witch” in Irish is cailleach, which according to native speaker and scholar Manchán Magan has multiple meanings. It can mean a wise old woman, or a tree blasted by lightning that remains standing, or a kind of hole in the wall by the hearth where you can store things. I think this is a beautiful definition of what it means to be a witch. My goal as a witch is to be all of these things— a preserving-place for knowledge that needs to be stored, a warm place people can come to when they need something, a woman strong and flexible as a tree, who is capable of staying rooted and reaching for the light through unthinkable and often uncomfortable transformations.
What drew you to your work? Why is it important?
I was drawn to this work for the same reasons I’m drawn to all my work— because I don’t know how to do it. In my fiction writing, I’ve noticed that I write towards questions that I can’t yet answer. That’s the same with the residency program, really! I struggle with resting and slowing down, so I built a place that would hold that for others. And in order to hold a truly grounded, peaceful space for others you really have to make time and space to embody that yourself—there’s no way around it. So I built something that would teach me what I needed to learn.
It seems counterintuitive to be doing work that’s about holding space for deep rest and pleasure and creation during a time when everything feels so urgent and apocalyptic. But that’s also why it feels so necessary. We’re living in a time where truly “what got us here won’t get us there.” Before this very recent period of history that has caused catastrophic extinction-level damage, our ancestors had to be deeply connected to land, seasons, and cycles. It’s a very new delusion that the line on the graph can go up forever, that productivity should only increase and that anything else is failure, that grinding harder will fix things. We need seasons and cycles in our own lives, and it’s alarming how few of us are comfortable with rest—not Netflix-binge, dead-eyed scroll rest, but real, restorative, creative, transformative rest. And behind our own ingrained fear of rest is the fact that the people exploiting our exhaustion need us to stay burned out, because they fear a truly well-rested polity. Is it an accident that this year’s liberation movements came hard on the heels of many people having a COVID-induced respite from grinding minimum wage jobs along with an extra unemployment stipend? Giving working people time, rest, and resources is fucking powerful!
I love the work of Tricia Hersey at The Nap Ministry who speaks better than I can to this idea that grind culture is a tool of white supremacy and capitalism. (If you don’t follow her instagram, do it now!) After a lot of wrestling with these ideas and my own good-girl-work-ethic programming, I can say with real conviction that making space for rest and creation is not the same as disengaging, and not the same as toxic positivity or abdication of our work. It’s an acknowledgment that as Audre Lorde says, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and that glorifying a culture of working to death is one of the master’s tools. If we are always burned out, we are disconnected from the source of our power. When we reconnect with that source, we have what it takes to show up for The Work.
How can others engage in this work and tend the hedge in their own communities?
I’m going to answer this question in a really roundabout way.
So when I was in Ireland hanging out with those monks, I realized that they were living in the church but they also still half believed in fairy forts and the Other Crowd, had a buddhist meditation garden, and talked about smoking pot with Sinéad O’Connor. Being at that monastery felt great— peaceful, energized, full of the spirit. I saw how free those monks were, and I contrasted that with how all the convents I’d visited had felt policed by priests, very rigid and competitively pious.
That contrast between the experience of Catholic women with a vocation and Catholic men with a vocation made it very clear that priesthood—and by priesthood I mean social permission from your community to be grounded in and speak of your own experience of the Divine— would never be accessible to me as a woman in the Catholic Church. And it was a particularly stark feeling, because my studies and the land I was studying on were full of evidence that my female ancestors had been allowed a direct line to knowledge, power, and God.
Around that time it became clear how many figures in my life I had followed because I placed their credentials above my own. Older boyfriends, talented but boundary-challenged professors, a doctor who put me on a starvation diet when I was already underweight, the list goes on! And I began the process of reconnecting with my own priesthood… or as I would call it, learning to become a cailleach.
It’s possible to take the whole “intuitive inner knowing” thing to a place that is very ego-driven and resistant to any criticism, and that’s not what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of value in examining what feels like intuition and asking whether it might actually just be fear, or unexamined bias. But what I am learning now is that being your own Hierophant isn’t about knowing everything— it can also be about trusting your gut in discernment of your teachers. I went to bad therapists before I found a good one. I learned fiddle from people who judged my aural non-western-music-theory background before I found one who didn’t. I got writing advice from a million authors whose processes would NEVER work for me, before I found a mentor who was the right match. Sometimes it took way too long to let go of what was obviously not working, to disconnect from the idea that the problem was me needing to be a different person, and to move on. But allowing yourself to trust your discernment is more than half the work, I think!
I guess what I’m saying is that the first step to tending your own hedge is to stop trying to tend hedges that other people say you should, even if those people are fancy, and even if the idea of disappointing those people fills you with fear and shame. Everyone’s hedge looks different, different soil needs different amendments, and different gardeners like growing different shit! If there’s a thing that feels deep down in your gut like it’s your work,—it might be the arts, it might be law or cooking or business or really anything—and you don’t yet have the skills or knowledge to do it, trust your gut and look for good teachers. Vet them well. Know that you have the power to listen or not listen, and ask questions, because adult learning isn’t Catholic school.
And that magical, invaluable mentor who will help you break through will always (I promise) be someone who doesn’t make you feel shamed or stupid for asking questions or having more to learn.