Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Interfaith Retreat -- The Interfaith Path: Many Roads, One Way

Marin Interfaith Council offers periodic retreats, open to all.  Two speakers from two different religions reflect on the same topic.  This is about the most recent retreat, held at Green Gulch Zen Center last week, and posing the following questions.

What would interfaith spirituality look like if we practiced it faithfully?  How do we engage the unique practices and teachings of our own traditions in a way that includes, rather than excludes, those of other traditions?  Is there a life-giving path in each tradition that is both unique and inclusive?

 The first speaker was Fr. Thomas Bonacci, C.P.  Our paths had not crossed prior to the day of the retreat, even though we are both active in interfaith locally.  A scriptural scholar and activist, Fr. Tom is founder and director of The Interfaith Peace Project, which “encourages interfaith peace and mutual respect through small discussion, study, prayer, ritual, and practice.”  Here are some of his observations that I managed to note:

“Jesus is only one way.”  “The way” is one route; we are to be the road, not the obstacles.”  “When you go to the ‘soul of your heart,’ you sense interrelatedness, interdependence, not as ‘we’ but as the awesome One.”

“The tao is a bucket of water.  Tip it over and it flows to the lowest places where it is most needed.”

“Who do you think you are?  God’s gift to the universe.  You are the light of the world.  Your responsibility is to let your light shine.”

He spoke eloquently of “the river of peace, the pool of healing, the lake of serenity.”

Fr. Tom also explained, for us non-Catholics, that there are different kinds of priesthood:  Diocesan priests “make a promise.”  Monastic priests and nuns in orders “take vows.”  I had no idea.

The second speaker, the Rev. Shokuchi Deirdre Carrigan, is a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, founder of San Francisco Zen Center.  She met her teachers, Zen Master Tenshin Reb Anderson and Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Donald Moyer 30 years ago.  She has been practicing, and later teaching, Zen and Yoga. 

After Fr. Tom spoke, Shokuchi, who was brought up in a Catholic family, was visibly moved when she said that if she’d been brought up with the kind of Catholic scriptural interpretations and teachings Fr. Tom offers, she may not have sought spiritual sustenance elsewhere.

At our quiet delicious vegetarian lunch with other Green Gulch residents, I enjoyed an infrequent opportunity to catch up with my friend Sister Marion Irvine, “the running nun.”[1]

When we returned to the zendo after lunch, Shokuchi had us read aloud together this Loving Kindness Meditation:

Loving Kindness Meditation (Buddhist)

This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
Who seeks the good, and has obtained peace.
Let one be strenuous, upright, and sincere.
Without pride, easily contented, and joyous.
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world.
Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches.
Let one’s senses be controlled.
Let one be wise but not puffed up and
Let one not desire great possessions even for one’s family.
Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would reprove.
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety,
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
In high or middle or low realms of existence.
Small or great, visible or invisible,
Near or far, born or to be born,
May all being be happy.
Let no one decieve another nor despise any being in any state.
Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things.
Suffusing love over the entire world,
Above, below, and all around, without limit,
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
During all one’s waking hours,
Let one practice the way with gratitude.
Not holding to fixed views,
Endowed with insight,
Freed from sense appetites,
One who achieves the way
Will be freed from the duality of birth and death.

After that, she invited us to do a slow walking meditation in the glorious gardens of Green Gulch Farm.  Unfortunately, I twisted my knee on the walk down the hill, so did the rest of my meditating on a bench.  (This was on the right leg, the one that was affected by the stroke I suffered last year and that I’ve been working to heal and strengthen.)

It’s been several months since MIC has sponsored a retreat, and I for one have missed them.  The current staff, including Interim Director Rev. Scott Quinn, Acting Programs Associate Stephanie Humphrey, and Executive Assistant Janice Lum, did former Executive Director the Rev. Carol Hovis proud.

[1]           More about Sister Marion hereherehere, and here.  There’s lots more.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Table to Action Initial SF Bay Area Meeting

Last week I attended an invitational meeting at Starr King School for the Ministry (UU) of the first local iteration of the Table to Action Project.   This project is co-sponsored by Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC (where I have presented and served on panels for several years, with, among others Judy Harrow, Katrina Messenger, and Grove Harris, in case you happen to know those Witches in interfaith) and the Arcus Foundation.  I really didn’t know quite what to expect, except for this description on the invitation:

 that seeks to bring together faith and moral leaders from across the landscape of the social justice sector to build an activist community and network grounded in right relationship. 

Our goal is to craft a blueprint for multi-issue organizing that presses past transactional and competitive ways of working and being together toward a vision of progressive organizing that can allow us to stand with and for each other in honesty, truth and compassion other over the long haul.

When I checked the website, I found that I had engaged with several of the key people over the years, at both Auburn and MountainTop about which I’ve blogged.  I was glad to have another opportunity to engage with the convener, Lisa Anderson, her colleague in Atlanta, Melvin Bray, and Gabriella Lettini of SKSM.

The first meeting was held in Chicago, the second in Atlanta, and this was the third. They plan more in other cities, which is where you, my Pagan colleagues, come in.  I will be asked for suggestions of participants.  So if and when one of these meetings takes place in your area, I can let them know of your interest.

About half of those 20 religious leaders at last night’s meeting were POC and the majority seemed to be (some said, some didn’t) LGBTQ folks.  There was one Muslim, several Jews, and lots of Protestants.  Evidently two participants were Buddhists, but I didn’t hear them state that.  Needless to say, this collaboration needs more diversity among its participants.  Same problem at MountainTop — a noticeable absence of Catholics, Buddhists, and Hindus, much less Pagans.

I spoke to the convener, Lisa Anderson, about that observation, and disappointment, at MountainTop (also co-sponsored by Auburn) as well as at Table to Action.  She said they were well aware and wished to remedy that.  So for the next meeting in this area I will be inviting some Catholics, Buddhists, and Hindus whom I know in local interfaith.  Maybe a Pagan or two as well.

To be clear, there were four Witches at the first MountainTop in 2013, which I consider a more than adequate representation.  Evidently there were others at the second MountainTop gathering; I did not attend.

I also mentioned this observation to Dr. Lettini, the local host, who told me the same thing I heard after MountainTop, which is that others were invited and for whatever reasons were unable to attend.

I told both Lisa and Gabriella that I was surprised, because in my experience in local interfaith, my friends from the Roman Catholic Dominican Sisters of San Rafael are among the most committed activists.  So are my friends and colleagues at Green Gulch Zen Center, Spirit Rock (Vipassana), and other local Buddhist groups.

It’s tricky to address the organizers about these omissions or unbalances without seeming critical and ungrateful.  I did, though, and they were very receptive.  (If I’m not good for anything else, I can really network well.)

So for our next meeting I’m soliciting one or more of my Catholic interfaith colleagues, whom I know would be a good addition to the mix.  By that I mean they’re open-hearted and caring, accepting of diversity and not hesitant to work.

I’m eager to see what Table to Action does and to participate to the extent that a congregation-less Pagan can.  That said, I thank the Covenant of the Goddess (an assembly of smaller congregations called covens) for financial support for my more distant interfaith activities.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interfaith Report -- Religious Leaders' Gathering

Green Gulch Farm & Zen Center
Last month I attended one of MIC’s religious leaders’ gatherings at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, California.  As is customary with these gatherings, three leaders from three different religious traditions spoke on the same topic or theme, followed by small group discussions and Q&A with the presenters.

At this gathering, we explored and shared “how we can speak from our different faith perspectives in a way that not only honors our similarities but also honors our diversity and places of disagreement.”

The Rev. Stephen Hale of Green Gulch Zen Center said Zen teaches practitioners to honor the similarities and differences of all faiths.  Zen also stresses impermanence and seeks to end suffering.  With respect to theism, trying to prove or disprove the existence of God(s), efforts are futile because “ultimate reality is beyond comprehension.”  Rather, one’s efforts are better expended in cultivating and acting with kindness, generosity, and compassion towards all.

Moina Shaiq
Moina Shaiq, President of the Tri-City Interfaith Council and founder of the Muslim Support Network, has dedicated her life to dispelling misunderstandings of Islam and its followers.  She maintains that all religions and their practitioners are different so we must look beyond exterior appearance.  She advocates getting to know one’s neighbors in the surrounding area of forty homes in diameter 

Neighborly neglect seems more the norm in contemporary society than in earlier times.  Nowadays people focus on careers and acquisitions, and families relocate more frequently, in my view.  I think her suggestion is a good one.  We humans fear what we do not know, so the obvious remedy is to listen and learn, and to reciprocate.

When queried about the prescriptions, prohibitions, and exhortations in sacred text, she responded that one is judged based on piety over obeying texts.  This statement directly contradicts the interpretations of the precepts of the Koran by those who seek to eliminate or convert all non-Muslims by jihad.  I welcome Moina’s alternative views.

Rob McClellan
The third speaker, the Rev. Rob McClellan, Senior Pastor at host congregation Westminster Presbyterian, said that when he was at Reed College in Oregon, either he or a group with which he was affiliated issued an apology by testifying to all the wrongs done in the name of religion.

Generally speaking, I love these opportunities for religious people to share their views, beliefs, and experiences in an appreciative, non-judgmental milieu of multi-faith colleagues.  I’m grateful to Stephen, Moina, and Rob for their sharing and to Marin Interfaith Council for providing the opportunity.

[Please bear with me, readers, because since my stroke I cannot write clearly and quickly.  I’m interpreting some sloppy notes, hoping they are accurate.]

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Charlie Murphy -- Hail the goer!

Earlier this month I got the sad news of Charlie Murphy’s passing.  This was not unexpected, since we knew that he’s been ill.  I have been including him in my devotions to Brigit for many months.  Still, it’s a shock when the time comes.

I knew Charlie fairly well from his early collaborations on Reclaiming Spiral Dances and other Reclaiming activities, and though we seldom saw each other out of that context, I always felt a connection between us.

On one of his early visits to the SF Bay Area he opened the Spiral Dance ritual with a rousing rendition of his song, “Burning Times .“  That particular production took place in the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.  He and I walked as a pair in the opening procession, and I told him that he was about to participate in a rite that really showed how to honor our gods and our Beloved Dead.  After the ritual, he agreed.

I’m not sure if it was during that visit or another, but we spent one beautiful sunny day together in North Beach where I then lived.  Over the course of the day, Charlie and I climbed up Telegraph Hill to the base of Coit Tower.  There, overlooking our glorious Bay Area, he taught me a new song he would soon be recording.  It was “Calling on the Spirits.”  One phrase from that song in particular I have had occasion to use again and again over the years:  “With visions of the past and memories of the future…”[1]  I even used it as the title of a panel on NeoPaganism in California in 2005.

Charlie and I had lost touch for some years until we became reacquainted on Facebook.  I did not know his husband or family, only Jami Sieber.  I extend them my condolences over the loss of their loved one, such a remarkable man loved and esteemed by many.

The other song Charlie wrote that I have disseminated far and wide is “Light Is Returning “ Its appeal crosses religious boundaries, a characteristic I’m always on the lookout for in my work in the area of interfaith relations.  When my local Marin Interfaith Council offers a multi-religious celebration of light, I offer reflections on Midwinter and the light in the dark from my Pagan perspective.  After that we conclude the entire ceremony with a lively rendition of “Light Is Returning.”  Everyone in the room, of whatever religious persuasion, sings this song together.  This, to me, is one of Charlie’s lasting legacies. 

I am grateful to Charlie for enriching my life.  May his contributions, his voice, and his unique magic live on.

[1]  It’s on the Canticles of Light album which can be purchased on the site of Charlie’s longtime collaborator and friend cellist Jami Sieber here.

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