In Memory of Joann Hankamer...

Many years ago, when my life was recovering from a poor co-dependant relationship, I spoke with a spirtual advisor and co-artist of whom I had met while doing a panel called "Battle of the Sketches." This woman's name was Betty Carpenter ("Elspeth"), wife of Jim Odbert, a famous pagan artist (now known as "Nybor"). We had become good friends, and on this gloomy day, she introduced me to one of her assistants, a bouncy blond girl from Georgia, Joann.

Once in a rare while, you meet someone with such light and spirit, it almost takes your breath away. Although she was a very sexual being, I was instead attacted to her light as many were in a different way. You simply could not be sad around this girl. She had a unique way of putting things, and being very pagan in her own right, she taught things from a Wiccan standpoint. But she could do so with a raspberry of the tongue (aka "bilabial fricative"):

"The best and most magickal word I ever learned was [pbth!]. It is so powerful, you cannot spell it, and it can dispell the worst of insults or even the dreaded evil eye. If someone says, 'You soiled my robes, you bitch hound!', you can say [PBTH!] Just put two lips together, stick out your tongue, and blow. It's so easy, that kids use it all the time. Your boss says, 'You're fired!'... [PBTH!] You boyfriend says, 'You are such a dyke!', you say [PBTH!]... it's really a quite extraordinary word...!"

For a girl in her mid-twenties, she certainly had it all together. A liscenced generator technician, she was also a member of the Army Reserve with the 1015th Maintenance Co. of Ft. Gillem, Georgia ("I love military exercises, since they build up my pectoral muscles and make breasts look bigger..."), and she also did tarot and spells, and had quite powerful magick. Joann taught me a lot about the fine art of tarot ("Don't think of it as magick so much as a psychological random abstract to let the reader think of the problem in a unique way, and help them get out of the rut that keeps them having the problem in the first place...") and when she did a tarot reading for a girl named Christine, said she would meet a blond from far away places, and I met this girl several months later. Two years later Christine and I were married. She was amutual friend of ours, and had also taught Christine a lot of things as well. Joann always had funny stories that had interesting lessons, like one I will always remember about the relative view of something sacred:

It was the first day of the Maryland Renn Fest, and this wonderful pagan priestess gave a great speech and pep talk, and ended it with a great spell that would help the merchants make money, and wished peace would be the guiding hand for the customers. It was a great ceremony, and most who watched were impressed. When the priestess was done, she got off the picnic table and milled around with the merchants and actors passing time until the gates would open.

Two teenage actresses were chatting and sipping sodas, and one went to make a gestural point, and had to put her Pepsi can on the picnic table so she wouldn't spray it about. The second she did so, a woman in flowing robes and a staff decended like a hawk on the two of them, and screamed in defiled rage, "How DARE you put a soda on this sacred altar! Have you no respect? Just a few minutes ago, while you were yapping, a great priestess cast a holy spell on the park, and you defile her sacred ground with that putrid trash?? Shame on you, shame on ALL of you...!"

What a show stopper! Everyone there knew this woman had bats in her belfry, but didn't know what to say. An uncomfortable silence descended upon the gathering. But that stop this girl? Not a chance. She paused for a moment, caught off guard by the icy stare of the self-important woman, and then said, "Before this was an altar, it was a picnic table. before that, it was some boards and nails. Before that it was a tree. And before that, it was a seed. And you know what? Before that, it was part of another tree. I figure after this picnic table decays, it will also become part of another tree, and the cycle will start all over again." The girl grabbed her Pepsi can off the table. "Altar...", she put the can back on, "Picnic table..." she took the can off again, "Altar..." and then put it back on again, "Picnic table..." She did this several times before the woman finally left in a huff.

"Maybe we should put a sign on this table," she called after the woman into the crowd, "so that our customers will respect this sacred place and eat here in a holy manner...!"

When Betty and Jim took her to her first "skyclad" gathering, they worried how this girl from rural Georgia would handle a bunch of naked people. They tried to dissuade her, but she persisted, and when she got there, she said, "Cool!" and threw off her clothes to join everyone else. That's the kind of girl she was, nothing could phase her. When I was new to the actual theory of paganism, I asked her if she could leviate objects with her mind.. The paused, thought for a second, and said, "I don't know. I suppose, if I really concentrated hard, and stared at my coffee cup long enough, it might actually levitate or die of embarrassment, but it's probably best if I get my lazy ass off this chair and go pick it up with my own hands..."

In late 1989, Christine and I received a phone call late one night to say that Joann's body had been found raped and beaten to death in a park near her mother's house in Georgia. The shock was tremendous. She was on her way back home from her boyfriend's house when it happened. Homicide investigators said that she was fighting for her life to the very end, and had DNA evidence for five white males underneath her fingernails. It took a lead pipe to the skull to stop her. No witnesses. Two suspects found, later released due to lack of evidence. It was like a beacon of light had been extinguished in the prime of her youth.

Waves of the news shocked the local pagan world. A month later, a ceremony was held for her, where a green paper foil star was passed around, and and each person paid homage to her passing to the next world. Some people bawled, some like me just cried silently, staring at the candles' reflections in the hotel mirror. There must have been almost a hundred people at that ceremony. Stories were passed around, and some of her possessions were given away. I took a small pentacle, and Christine got Joann's Nolacon II (WorldCon in New Orleans) badge, complete with a tattered ribbon that simply said, "Merchant."

One of the things I remember someone saying to "Why do all the good people have to die young?" is "They were doing such a good job, the Gods needed them early and promoted them quickly." I suppose that Joann never died in me, and I vowed to spread the light I saw in Joann to everyone that could use a little boost.

Joann, we miss you...