Thursday, June 02, 2016

Creating a New Oracular System

The Green Pulse Oracle

Frequently people ask me what I’ve been doing.  Well, one of the projects I’ve been helping my friend Jo Carson to brew is a new oracular system that’s never been seen before.  The late Fred Adams, founder of a religion he called Feraferia, chose Jo as his literary executor, and I must say it’s a testament to his foresight that he selected Jo; she’s taken his entire archives, which are extensive, and has been working on bringing his teachings alive and making them available to others beyond the Southern California birthplace of Feraferia.

For readers who may not know of Fred, he had a visionary experience of what he called the Goddess in 1956, and thereafter dedicated the rest of his life to bringing awareness of Her into the contemporary world.  He formally introduced the religion he called Feraferia in 1967.  Its symbol is the Phytala.  The periodical that he published and illustrated he named Korythalia, describing Feraferia thusly:

Feraferia is a Pagan fellowship for the erotic celebration of Wilderness Mysteries with Faerie style and grace, and for the lyrical unification of ecology, mythology, and sacrament.  In such play-love-work may women and men be reunited with Great Nature, each other, and their own beings...

Beginning circa 1970, Fred began amalgamating his understandings of various writings, divinatory systems, and symbols into his own unique set of symbols.  Drawing from the Tarot, the Celtic Ogham alphabet, the Chinese I Ching, astrology, and especially the Tree Alphabet Calendar as articulated by Robert Graves.  Originally called the Axerian Hieroglyphs by Fred, this nature-based system is now called The Green Pulse Oracle, the phrase “Her green pulse” taken from one of Fred’s poems.

In an effort to make Fred’s research available to the public, Jo has taken these massive amounts of notes, diagrams, marginalia, and such and synthesized them into the more accessible form of this Green Pulse Oracle.

We felt we needed something tangible to use in divination. Jo and her artist husband, John Reed, began by creating a set of cards, pictured below.

The idea is that they can be consulted, like the Tarot, the Ogham, or the I Ching, to help people get a sense of the forces and influences at play in a given situation.

John Reed then undertook the task of turning the symbols into three-dimensional markers.  First he began making prints of real leaves to use as markers, with the leaf pattern on the reverse and the glyph on the front.  They were pretty, but didn’t lay flat and were made of fired clay, which would have been heavy, easily breakable or chippable, and difficult to manufacture on any scale beyond an individual custom-made set.

Still, the leaf shape appealed to us and was in concordance with a system based on trees.  John experimented with thin pieces of wood, cut into a vesica piscis (Latin “bladder of a fish”) shape.  This shape carries many associations in sacred geometry, including the union of male and female, and the vagina, and is said to be a “source of immense power and energy.”  As Jo said, “We liked the idea of calling the markers ‘Leaves,’ since the system is based on the Tree Alphabet Calendar.”

In the photo above, you can see the wax version, prepared for using on ceramic markers, featuring the glyph called Ailm.

“Ailm” correlates with the Water element, the Moon Tarot card, the Silver Fir, Palm or Elm tree, birth and cosmic stimulus, the number one, the vowel A, Winter Solstice and Yule, and with the ocean deeps.

The second marker is a wooden “leaf” with the Ailm glyph burned into it.  The following leaves show test versions of the Feraferia Phytala design that will be on the reverse of all the leaves.

An explanatory book, featuring lots of Fred’s artwork, will accompany The Green Pulse Oracle.

The work of correlating Fred’s voluminous writings and notes, and fortifying it with independent research, is tremendous.  Jo is doing the heavy lifting while I am serving as consulting editor.  I find this project fascinating and engrossing, and I’m delighted to be in on the ground floor, as it were, in creating a brand new oracular system.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Kith & Kin

Upon my initiation as a Witch, I swore a vow that I assume many others have also sworn, which is to always protect and defend “my sisters and brothers of the Art.”  Now I’m wondering over the longer term exactly what that means.  Or what it might mean to me.

Who are my sisters and brothers?  Who are my kin?  This is a topic worthy of further exploration.  However, while awaiting that further exploration, I want to speak of my main takeaway from the 2015 Parliament of World Religions.

That is the notion of kinship.

I wasn’t as acutely aware of kinship, and its depth of meaning, when I was younger.  Now that I’ve experienced more turnings of the wheel, more dyings and birthings, more deaths and births, more souls leaving this plane of existence and more entering, I see kinship from a broader and longer perspective.

Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples

When I go to powwows (from Narragansett pow√°w ‘magician’ (literally ‘he dreams’)), which are held regularly in San Quentin State Prison where I volunteer with the Wiccan circle under the sponsorship of the Native American chaplain, I hear all people addressed with terms denoting kinship.  Older people such as myself are called “aunties” and “uncles,” elders are called “grandmother” or “grandfather.”  Younger folks are addressed as “sister,” “brother,” or “cousin.”

I experienced this again at the PWR, where there was a fire kindled by members of various indigenous peoples from around the world (the USA, Canada, Nigeria, New Zealand, Greenland, Lithuania, et al.).  At their various presentations and at the Indigenous Peoples Plenary, I heard similar references.

Black Churches

The same is true of much of the African-American community, as well as, I would assume, in the societies in Africa where they originated.  In Black society, particularly in churches (which are generally Protestant Christian), such forms of address are common.  We are all sisters and brothers.

Philosopher, scholar, and activist Cornel West both refers to and addresses everyone as “Sister” or “Brother.”  Barack Obama is “Brother Barack” and I am “Sister Aline” (or “Sister Macha”) to him.  (I introduced myself to him in an elevator lobby once, meaning to tell him what a fan I was, and he hugged me, said how wonderful it was to see me, though we hadn’t met before, and called me Sister.)


Quakers (Society of Friends) in general have in the past addressed one another as sister, brother, or friend.  In the 1945 Jessamyn West book The Friendly Persuasion, later made into the film Friendly Persuasion, Friends referred to each other by the kinship terms of sister and brother.  A biography of Betsy Ross, purported maker of the first American flag in 1776, also uses these terms for members of the Philadelphia congregation to which she belonged.

The Friends have a complicated history as a religion, as in fact most religious movements do.  Paganism(s) is certainly no exception.  Currently this practice of addressing other members in kinship terms has fallen away.

Notions of Kinship within Contemporary Paganism

Often I’ve referred to different individuals as my “witchkin.”

Other terms heard amongst Pagani are “tribal” and “clan.”  The former is often used in a utopian way to reflect the sense that we have found our own, or have “come home.”  Yet it’s also seen in a negative light when used in the context of nativism and xenophobia.  I’d like to see those notions discussed further, but for now my take-away from the Parliament is remembering our interdependence by considering ourselves kin.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Claremont Pagan Studies Conference - III (2016)

Dike Astraea in Vermont
This year's theme was Social Justice.

Sunday, January 25

Keynote:  Nikki Bado, “The Athame Cuts Both Ways: Pagan Responsibility and Social Justice” 

Through the modern miracle of electronic communication, Nikki was able to speak to us from the facility in Iowa where she was recovering from surgery.  I usually have a chance to visit with her at the AAR, but due to travel – she worked for a while in Japan – and health issues, she’s been unable to attend for a few years, and my not attending the last one because of a recent stroke, we haven’t seen each other in some years.

I love the title of her talk (even though I see the double-sided blade of the athame as a piercing, pointing, thrusting, stabbing tool rather than a cutter or slicer).  The root Craft tradition from which I sprang places a high value on expressing one’s spirituality, in part, in political and social involvement.  In a word, activism.

Nikki articulated three areas in which Pagans could serve their communities well in the area of Justice, the theme of this conference.  Nikki’s “3 Rs” are Religious Literacy, Respect, and Responsibility.

Religious Literacy:

The first is religious literacy.  Religious literacy is not something that Pagans learn in classes, study groups, or ritual work.  Nor is it, in general, taught in public schools, Ignorance of such common Biblical phrases such as, “as old as Methuselah,” or the distorted translation of “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” diminishes one’s fuller appreciation when such phrases appear in literature, or even in everyday speech. 

One Biblical quote, from the book of Ecclesiastes, is very common, and has the advantage of working for nearly everyone, Pagans included, since it reflects the Wheel of the Year as well as the five stages of life articulated by Robert Graves (birth, initiation, consummation, repose, and death):

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

Yet how many know its source?

Neither are theological notions of immanence and transcendence paid much heed in standard secular education.  Who ever emerged from an American high school knowing the concepts of, and differences among, monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, atheism, and henotheism?

Pagans, on the other hand, arrive upon a Pagan religio-spiritual path after plenty of searching and sampling.  Few Pagans were brought up in practicing Pagan households. (This is true of adults, and less true for Americans, especially those reared in metropolitan and/or academic environments.)  So we learned about various religions on our own.  I think it’s fair to say that Pagans generally have greater knowledge of non-Abrahamic religions than most people have.  I’ve also learned a lot through my involvement in interfaith.  I wish I could say that curiosity about religions that are not one’s own were more in evidence within the mainstream.


Which brings us to the second topic Nikki addressed, respect.  Again, speaking in generalities, and more particularly from the point of view of my own vintage, Pagans are countercultural.  Our movement in many ways grew in the soil of the 1960-70s countercultural revolution (hippies), which evolved from the Beat Generation, preceded by Bohemianism, itself preceded by Romanticism.  As such, our religion(s) is oppositional in nature.  Which tends to make us disdainful of the orthodoxy and dogmatism of mainstream religions with their established institutions.

This disdain had its place in the arc of growth, but is less serviceable as one matures (both personally and in terms of religious thought and practice).  It loses its usefulness in the pluralistic society in which most of us live today.

Speaking for myself and other Pagan colleagues who involve themselves in interfaith (more aptly, “inter-religious,” since Paganism(s) is not based on faith or revelation, rather, on experience), I have scrupulously observed this convention.  I only wish some of my non-Pagan interfaith colleagues were less presumptive about belief.  (See the last section here.)


The third R is responsibility.  To illustrate these ideas, she spoke of the care we must take to avoid cultural appropriation.  We need to be mindful of unconscious racism.  We need to remember some nations’ tendency towards colonization.  A good rule of thumb if you’re not sure of the provenance of a practice and accepted use is to ask, “May I?”

(Dr. Sabina Magliocco offers a useful overview on “Folklore, Culture & Authenticity.”  Note: Video is longer than one hour.)

Nikki also referenced Kareem Abdul Jabar and the Skeptics dictionary.  I’ve found this to be an excellent resource, if a bit cynical.

Kahena Dorothea Viale, founder of the Claremont Pagan Studies Conference -- praise be her name! – spoke in “Kali Dancing in Justice,” about the value of dance as prayer, and as a fun and healing activity, regardless of grace and skill.  Better, of course, when a dance has grace and skill of expression, but valuable to the dancer in any case.

 Joseph Futerman spoke on “Justice, Fairness, and Balance in Polytheistic World.”  He pointed out that the Universe is without justice yet infinitely fair, and cited Albert Einstein’s quote that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”  (The Born-Einstein Letters 1916-55).  Abstract justice is human notion.

He said that balance is a vector, not a still point; it’s motion.  Therefore, when it comes to Justice, we are better served by applying a vector instead of a scale, as shown in ancient images of the Titan Themis, Egyptian Ma’at, and Lady Justice herself.

In the field of Logic, “a statement that is true by necessity or by virtue of its logical form.”  Joseph claims that most human thought is “monotautalogical,” yet justice involves a feeling between two entities and therefore “polytautalogical.”  Justice is non-institutional (although often institutionalized in terms of having legal and court systems), individual, community-based, and direct.  (I apologize for what may be misperceptions or imprecise descriptions of this talk.)

Ma'at Weighing the Heart
 Joseph also mentioned the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic concept of weregild (“man price“), and the notion of reparations in general.  Reparation leads my thinking towards current efforts at restorative justice within our criminal justice system.

Although I don’t feel qualified to comment knowledgeably on chaos magic, I merely mention that Joseph, who himself practices chaos magic, included it in his talk, and his citing of servitors, egregores, and fetches.

* * * * *

My accounts of these presentations do not address every talk.  They are recountings of those that had the strongest impression on me.

Lady Justitia presides in Rome


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Claremont Pagan Studies Conference - II (2016)

San Quentin State Prison, Marin County, California

This year's theme was Social Justice.

Saturday, January 24, late afternoon session:

Journalist Marsha Scarbrough, in a talk called “Calling on the Orishas to Heal Racial Injustice,” spoke of the African teachings she received and the ritual work they did with the Orishas.

Herleena Hunt, “The Social Injustice of Mass Incarceration of People of Color: Can This Be Changed?  Herleena, an employee of the Amity Foundation which serves in five California state prisons using the Therapeutic Community (TC) model, works directly with inmates within the prison system, assisting them with acquiring a GED, counseling, and reintegration into society as productive people.

Unlike Herleena, those of us who volunteer with religious communities within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR), as I do with the Witchen circle at San Quentin, are prohibited from having personal relationships with inmates, or in fact knowing anything about their personal lives or the convictions that resulted in their incarceration.  Nor are inmates permitted to know anything personal about us volunteers.  I tried to explain the opacity of prison administration in my talk called “Into the Labyrinth: Finding the Way as a Volunteer in Abstruse Prison Culture.  For those who’d like more information, I’ve written six blogs about that work beginning here.

People tend to “find religion” after they been imprisoned, not necessarily before they entered.  Few are from Pagan backgrounds.  They explore Pagan paths in prison.  Now, due to recent federal court orders to alleviate overcrowding in the prisons, more people are being released.  The important thing to look at is how these people are integrated into Pagan society when they found a Pagan path on the inside.

I had prepared a decent PowerPoint and had notes about what I wanted to say, but in the event I just winged it and talked.  The entire late afternoon session of three presentations generated plenty of discussion, which I anticipate will continue online and at conferences and elsewhere in terraspace.

Sunday, January 25

Hannah Epstein opened with “Pagan Clergy and Unpaid Emotional Labor.”  I’m sure that all of those who run groups, circles, and covens, as well as those of us who volunteer in our communities on behalf of Pagans in interfaith and secular contexts, can sympathize.

Ayamanatara’s presentation was called “Synthesizing the Dark Goddess and the God of Light on the Internet to Effect Social Justice.  She spoke about technical stuff that was beyond me; however, she did suggest some remedies for too much involvement in online communications and too much time screen-gazing.

Lilith Nightsong’s talk was not listed in the program and I’ve forgotten the title.  However, she introduced those of who are older and/or technologically challenged to several terms and related internet phenomena which we’d be well advised to learn better.

Kimberly D. Kirner, who usually presents more scholarly offerings, this year spoke of her cross-identity as a Druid in service of justice in “Art, Study, and Service: Being a Druid and an Anthropologist Working for Justice.”  In particular, she offered a Druid prayer, evidently one commonly used, that I want to take to the San Quentin circle.

Mark Cedar Love-Williamson, in his talk called “The Activist Witch; the Virtuous Witch,” spoke about moral foundations theory, citing a book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.  He claimed morality is not rational, but rather it is intuitive.  He referenced LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), “a market segment focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.”  Mark said that moral elevation is when you see a good deed.  He cited a website called  I surfed around this site and registered on it.  I found it interesting enough to plan to return and explore it further.  I suggest that you who read this might also find a visit to a worthwhile investment of your time.

Mark continued with a list of Pagans whom he considered “virtuous activists.”  At least one person present who knows me well noticed that I had become agitated.  I will say a few things about that. 

One is that when you’ve been around a while, you develop histories and you know people for more than just their public persona.  Such is the case with me at some of the activists he sees as exemplary.  Some of our histories are personally painful to me, accounting for my discomfort. 

Another is that we all live in a society that emphasizes celebrity.  (See “BNPs, PPPs, & Leadership.”)  Paganism is no exception.  We do tend to look for ‘leaders.’  I’m not judging that tendency negatively or positively, simply noting its prevalence.  Annie Waters insisted that I “really oughta get it out.”  I did want to say something, but I wanted to be constructive.  I didn’t want to model a sulking person nursing her bruised ego; nothing is served by doing that.  So when the facilitator of the Q&A section called on me, I spoke to the issue of the culture of celebrity society-wide as well as in our Pagan communities, and cautioned people to keep in mind that everyone – you, me, celebrities – has feet of clay.  Just sayin’….  As it happened, I don’t think everyone was aware of the impetus of my comment.  No matter.  I felt okay about what I said and how I said it.  No direct criticisms, no accusations, no personal histories, and no ad hominen attacks.

[To be continued.]

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Claremont Pagan Studies Conference - I


Longtime pal Anna Korn and I shared the long drive to the Los Angeles area for this annual event that feeds my soul.  I’ve attended several times since I was invited to be a keynote speaker in 2009.  Last year was the first time Anna went now that she’s retired.

I find that this precious little conference (about 50 people) strikes a good balance between the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, which draws thousands of participants from all over the world and of which Pagan Studies and related sections (Religion & the Environment, Goddess Studies, New Religious Movements, Ritual Studies, et al.) are only a small part, and PantheaCon, which draws a general Pagan public, features a small number of scholarly presentations, and often tends to elicit fractiousness about one or another issue each year.

Each year presenters explore a theme.  This year's theme was Social Justice.

Saturday, January 24

Armando Marini, “Murtagh An Doile,” a co-founder of the Pagan History Project gave an appropriately historical talk on “Elitism and Identity Formation in American Craft and Paganism: A Historical Perspective” in which spoke knowledgeably about the underpinnings of contemporary American expressions of Pagan thought and practice found in Freemasonry, fraternal orders, early folkloric studies, as well as the spiritualist movement in 19th century America and the “goddess movement” of the 1970s.  Always fascinating to me, and always too brief.

Kellen Smith followed with a presentation of her doctoral study on “Feminist Spirituality: From Counterculture Revolution to the Feminist Movement.” Listening to her talk was like hearing one’s personal political history.  Among her visuals were images of key, dare I say “ovarial,” books such as Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman (1976, when I received it as a birthday gift and it turned my thinking around), Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), and Elizabeth Gould Davis’ The First Sex (1971), along with photos of the actions of W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), among whose NY members was Robin Morgan, editor of another germinal anthology, Sisterhood Is Powerful (1970).

Kellen had difficulty locating feminist periodicals from those years.  I mentioned that I had sent lots of old issues of WomanSpirit, Women of Power, Calyx, Lady-Unique-Inclination-of-the-Night, Chrysalis, Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, and others whose names escape my senior mind at the moment, plus a few more contemporary ones like Bitch and off our backs, to the New Alexandrian Library in Delaware.

As it happens, after my early months meeting with a consciousness raising group – that’s what we called those intimate women-only weekly gatherings where we shared aspects of our lives not normally discussed, offered sympathy and support, and analyzed how we saw our experiences in society – I joined with others to form the San Francisco Women’s Studies Collective.  Out of that group, three of us (Sandra Butler, Carolyn Shaffer, and myself) created a resources list of feminist books and other publications and resources.  There wasn’t a very long list then, maybe six double-sided typewritten pages.  We sold photocopies of it for cost (something like 25 or 50 cents).

Marie Cartier, Preview of The Homofiles, a documentary co-produced with Kimberly Esslinger.  We viewed the trailer which had fascinating interviews of Lesbians both in and out of the closet.  Marie has presented papers at past Claremont gatherings I’ve attended and I’ve always enjoyed them, and more importantly, I’ve learned things I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Keynote: Gus DiZerega, “Rethinking Social Justice in Accordance with Pagan Values” Gus spoke enthusiastically about Aristotle, James Madison and the Federalist Papers, specifically Federalist Paper #10, and John Locke as forefathers who wrote about issues of justice.  I didn’t take notes because I haven’t yet regained the ability to write legible handwriting since my stroke in July.  However, I did manage to write down an African proverb he cited that I think is worth quoting here:  “I am because we are.”  As someone with a ‘relational’ personality and worldview, this proverb resonates strongly in me.

Wendy Griffin, ‘The New Telling”:  Last year Wendy gave a presentation on Paganism and the state of our home Earth that elicited tears from everyone listening.  This year she had reworked some of that data into a story.  She began with a framework of the Triple Goddess, saying that the Maiden asks, “What about me?”  The Mother asks, “What about the children?”  And the Crone asks, “What about the planet?”  She also cited The Journey of the Universe, by Thomas Berry, and works on eco-consciousness, specifically a film, by Yale professor Mary Evelyn Tucker.  Mary Evelyn and her husband, John Grim, founded the Emerging Earth Community.  (Small world: Way back in 1998, John and I were both participants in the Biodiversity Project Spirituality Working Group, a small gathering of religious and environmental leaders, in Madison, WI; our work informed the publication of Building Partnerships with the Faith Community: A Resource Guide for Environmental Groups.  Unfortunately, the Biodiversity Project is no longer, nor is the guide available.  The current webpage of The Biodiversity Project is a different entity.)


Annie Brigit Waters followed Wendy with “Sustainability Must Embrace the Sacred.” Annie is an active member of the Grange in Willits, California, way up in rural Mendocino County.  Mendocino County, center of Ecotopia, is a far cry from the cornfields of Iowa and the fields of the Midwest where the Grange (National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (formed as a national organization with a local focus in 1867 right after the dreadful American Civil War) movement had its earliest chapters. 

Annie explained that the notions of Unity, Liberty, and Charity are its underlying values.  Although women have been equal members since the inception of the Grange, the founders were seven men.  They chose three Latin goddesses to symbolize their values, or as I would see it, as the matrons of the organization: Flora, Ceres, and Pomona.

Grange halls around the country contain art and decorative architectural embellishments featuring imagery of sheaves of grain, baskets of apples, cornucopia, and Romantic images of these goddesses.

I’m given to understand that the founders of the Grange wrote a series of rituals that in some way incorporated these goddesses.  I haven’t been able to find any online.  Regardless, however, what especially thrills me about Annie’s work with the Grange is her creation and performance of rituals devoted to these three goddesses.  These rituals can bring participants and viewers into new relationships, new understandings, new reverence for the gifts to humans that Flora, Ceres, Pomona embody. 

[To be continued.]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Thanksgiving with Our Homeless Population

Most years the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy presents an interfaith religious service on Thanksgiving Eve.  These events include music and singing, poetry and drumming, stories and prayers.  Some of the speakers come from the homeless population and some are religious leaders.  I’ve participated in many of these services as a representative of the Pagan paths.  (Technically, I’m Witchen, but I try to present the broadest and most diverse faces of Paganisms.)

In the past I’ve chosen to highlight Demeter, for several reasons.  One is that many Americans are familiar with the Greek and Roman myths; often they’ve heard of about Persephone’s descent into Hades and subsequent reunion with her mother Demeter in the Spring.

I also find that short talks that end with a song tend to be more memorable, leaving people with a song in their head.  The song called “Demeter’s Song” contains words, such as “the lover’s smile and the worker’s arm,” that are relevant to contemporary life.  People can relate to them.  They are not obscure or other-worldly. The song is not laden with appeals to a divine entity; rather, it’s sung in the first person and tells who she is, sort of like a brief introduction in a conversational group.

So I briefly tell how the land became barren during the time of Demeter’s grief and search for her missing daughter, and how the hens begin to lay, the orchards to bear fruit, and the people’s hunger is then assuaged when mother and daughter are reunited and Demeter again assures abundance.  I conclude with a duet with my partner Corby of “Demeter’s Song.”[1]

At the time in the service where offerings are proffered and the collection plates are passed, people pile gifts of new sleeping bags and packages of socks at the base of a harvest-bedecked altar.

Afterwards we gather in another room for casual conversation and refreshments.  During this after-gathering both homeless people and other religious leaders have told me how much they’ve appreciated this talk and song about Demeter.  For, although the service is broadly welcoming of all forms of religious expression, the fact of the matter is that, like society at large, it’s overwhelmingly Abrahamic in manifestation.  This year, in fact, there wasn’t even a rabbi or an imam there.  Except for a Buddhist and myself, all speakers came from one or another Christian denomination.  So it’s really great for me to learn how my offering was perceived.

This year’s service came shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris.  The discord around the world, especially in the Middle East, seems to be expanding.  Only the completely oblivious can remain unaware of these unfortunate developments.  This situation has been on my mind, and I’m sure it’s been on the minds of those at this event.

I was ready to rehearse our harmonies on “Demeter’s Song” again this year, but another song kept nagging me.  Another song about another goddess in another time and place.  I pondered the notion of speaking of something so unfamiliar and remote.  Then I decided to go for it.

I spoke about a goddess named Inanna, who showed herself to the people of the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago, about 4000 Before the Common Era.[2]  I talked about how the people of her homeland in Mesopotamia (literally, “[land] between rivers,” the Tigris and the Euphrates), now considered to comprise modern day Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait, live in such distress.

I told of Enki’s gift to Inanna of the 10,000 Me, all the gifts of civilization (music, medicine, agriculture, writing, mathematics, weaving, pottery-making, et al.).  I spoke of her journey to visit her sister Erishkigal in her underworld realm of heat and dust, and how she divested herself of her possessions at each of the seven levels or portals, beginning with her shigurra crown, then her bejeweled breastplate, until she arrived before Erishkigal naked.  I said that some consider Salome’s dance of the seven veils to have been a reenactment of Inanna’s descent, but that I was not prepared to argue the merits of that contention; I wanted to emplace her and give them something to think about.

Then I invited them to join me in a spell, a spell to reawaken the spirit of Inanna and all the wonderful gifts she represents – joy and abundance, beauty and prosperity, peace and creativity.  Like the Christian prayers for peace and healing of those gathered, we would do a “working” using our voices in song.  I said that if they were uncomfortable at the thought of performing a spell, they could view what we were about to do as simply a sing-along.

The song I used is a call-and-response in which every line is sung and then repeated by everyone; in other words, each line is sung twice.  They didn’t need to remember anything; all they had to do was to sing back the lines as I sang them. 

I explained that the words and images are from those ancient times when Inanna was worshipped, translated from the original cuneiform into modern English by the late Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer, and thence turned into a song.  They are not the words of romantic fantasy.

I asked them to think of the plight of the peoples of the Middle East and to envision them enjoying the gifts of Inanna and the pleasures of life -- safe homes, plenty to eat and drink, dancing.  With our song we would work towards reawakening these qualities among the people of her homeland.  And so we sang:

Barge of Heaven[3]

Your crescent shaped barge of heaven,
So well belayed, so well belayed.
Full of loveliness like the new moon.

Your fertile fields well watered
The hillock lands well watered too.

At your mighty rising
The vines rise up and the fields rise up,
And the desert blooms in green
Just like a living garden.

In the heat of the sun you are shade,
A well of water in a dry dry land.
Swelling fruits to feed the hungry,
Sweet cream to quench our thirst.

Pour it out for me.
Pour it out for me.
Everything you send me I will drink.

I had called for us to sing this through three times.  At the first round, some of the congregants’ responses were tentative.  Responses grew more convincing during the second repetition, until when we arrived at the third repetition, my words and their responses were full-throated and powerful.

I concluded with the words, “By all the power of three times three, as we do will, so mote it be!”

This year at the after-gathering I was a bit apprehensive.  I wasn’t sure if I’d pushed too hard against the prevailing mindset.  The feedback I got, however, reassured me that what we Pagans can bring to the common table of interfaith resonates and carries meaning.  Annie, the wife of the street chaplain who organizes this event, said, “You rocked!”

May the welcome reception I received for this spell-working encourage others who represent a public face of Paganism to make our presence known in a constructive way.

This was my Thanksgiving spell.

[1] Corby and I also sing this song as a form of grace before family holiday meals in our complex multi-religious and atheist families.
[2] You have to say “Before the Common Era” because most people think of BC (instead of BCE) as “before Christ.”  However, it’s more accurate, at least in a broad inter-religious context, to use BCE.
[3] Words adapted from Sumerian text (tr. Thorkild Jacobsen, Diane Wolkstein, and Samuel Noah Kramer)  Music by Starhawk, arranged by Lunacy.