Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Summoning the Ancestors

Summoning the Ancestors

M. Macha NightMare
© Samhain 2005 C.E.

Oh, mighty, many, myriad Ancestors, as we spiral in and out of time, we call to you.

You who first stood upright and walked the savannahs of Africa.

You who explored the inland waters of all the continents in curragh, canoe and kayak.

You who ventured out onto the open sea in triremes, galleons and long ships. You who crossed the middle passage in the bellies of slave ships.

You who learned to read the stars, to harness the trade winds, to ride the oceans’ currents.

You who followed the reindeer and caribou beneath the Northern Lights. You who swept across the Great Plains with the thundering bison.

You who climbed mountains with goats, hunted with dogs, worshipped cat and crocodile, monkey, ibis, bear and eagle.

You who rode great distances on the backs of animal allies – the horse, the camel, the elephant.

You who gathered in the wild rice. You who planted wheat and corn, beans and squash, orchards of olives and apples. You who found the precious seeds that give us chocolate, dark and rich.

You who kenned the healing properties of vines in the Amazon jungle, of roots and barks and mushrooms in the deep, dark forests, and of the flesh of cactus in the burning desert.

You who spun flax and wool, gifts of field and sheep, into garments both cool and warm.

You who shaped clay into pots; dug ore from Earth’s depths and pounded metal into tools; painted cave walls.

You who clustered in the Fertile Crescent, in Sumer and Akkadia, erected cities and wrote laws.

You who built the Great Wall of China, the great pyramids along the Nile, the great passage graves in the Boyne Valley.

You who fashioned flutes from reeds, and drums from skins. You who danced and rhapsodized.

You who brought us every gift, it is your DNA that thrives within our bodies tonight. We thank you, dear Ancestors, and we bid you welcome.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

For your use, if you choose.

My Irish Grandparents

This is a photo of my paternal Irish grandparents. I never knew my grandfather, Edward Joseph O'Brien, because he died before I was born. He was born into an Irish immigrant farm family in Moorestown, New Jersey.

My grandmother, whom we called Mom-Mom, was Kate Reilly from Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, Ireland. An orphan taken in with her siblings after her parents' deaths by her mother's sister Una, who already had a houseful of kids to feed, Mom-Mom came to Moorestown when she was about 19 or 20 under the sponsorship of a loving Quaker family. She served in their household until she worked off the cost of her passage.

Her sisters and brothers went to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, PA, and to Australia. Kate married Ed and together they had nine children, six girls and three boys. My father was the second boy, but one of the youngest children, just before John and Catherine, both of whom had bright red hair and freckles. My dad took after the black Irish side, with that light creamy skin and dark hair and eyes.

Although Mom--Mom was old and wrinkly and frail when I knew her, I always felt close to her and felt I resembled her a bit. She grew up speaking Gaelic. I often asked her to teach me, but she never did. They were nice Roman Catholics who probably preferred to assimilate.

What is remembered lives!

That Quote I Mentioned

Versions of this sentiment have arisen in many conversations with Sparky and Steven over the years. It's now been set down. This is accurate according to my conversation with Sparky today:

Whether we are creating a ritual, writing a poem, or building an altar, the point is to honor the gods and not to stroke our own egos. Then our priorities will be properly in place and we will generate worthy art.

~ Steven Posch and Sparky T. Rabbit
I intend to keep this in mind whenever I do sacred work, and it is with this in mind that I critique the Spiral Dance in past and future posts.

Spiral Dance and Other Samhain Press

Here's a fine article about the Spiral Dance, written by a reporter who is brand new to Pagan ritual. It features photos of Lauren Raine's glorious goddess masks embodied. I created a fine ritual employing 13 of these masks several years ago, performed at PantheaCon and later in a more refined form at New College. I have use of these masks should another opportunity and sponsor present themselves.

And here's another interesting series about Halloween by some young writers in Vermont.

My friend Victoria writes movingly about her experience in the center of the spiral when I offered her arms to a mother who wanted to dance but was holding her a sleeping baby

Blessed Samhain!

Monday, October 30, 2006

SD Postmortem -- Altars

As always, the altars were beautiful. The Quarter altars were in different places than they were last year; guess someone used a compass.

Teri Compost, Mallory and others erected their usual glorious North altar in memory of all our Beloved Dead but specially dedicated to the woman who created the original North altars, Judy Foster. I had brought my big copper pentacle made by Yuri Toropov years ago, and its stand. This pentacle has featured in many a SD North altar.

I was perplexed to see one with a big Latin cross or crux ordinaria on it until I saw upon closer viewing that it was an altar in memory of those who've died crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.

Last year saw the first altar to the unborn and newborn deaths: miscarriages, stillbirths, abortions, etc. Suzanne Pullen initiated the practice of having such an altar last year, and boy! is it ever important! So many women were moved by it last year that it had to have its own on-duty priestess. I know it has been an important part of her own healing. This year she spoke a "Blessing of the Babies, alive and dead."

Ivory Fly and friends did another Fire/South altar this year. Last year Ann Flowers from England made herself invisible and controlled the magic technology that made smoke issue from the volcano on that altar.

The only problem with the altars, all of them, is one that can, and hopefully will, be remedied in the future. That's one of lighting. No candles or other open flames are permitted in the building. Many altars were strung with garlands of holiday lights in different colors, but they didn't offer sufficient illumination to make the altars really stand out. I hope future altar builders will consider more lights and maybe using those cool new battery-operated votives and tea-lights.

Spiral Dance '06 Postmortem, Part I

Let me preface this entry by saying that it's gonna end up being several entries. I have too much to say to say it all at once. I want to be as honest as I can be, while knowing that many people I love may feel criticized. I hope that they can appreciate that even though I may seem caustic, I am saying what I'm saying out of love. I'm speaking from my heart as well as from my mind. I don't love them any less or more just because I may sound critical. I strive to hold us to higher standards.

My friend, ritualist, songwriter and performer Sparky T. Rabbit in Illinois has often said to me: "If it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing well." And "Does your ritual work honor your gods?" Everything I say concerning the Reclaiming's annual Spiral Dance Samhain ritual is said with these in mind.*

I attended the 27th Spiral Dance ritual on Saturday night. I had a small role proclaiming the feast. This is something I usually like to do and do rather well, if I say so myself. It's a beautiful piece written by Starhawk and modified just a wee bit over the years by Robin Weaver and myself. The last time I delivered it was in 1992, the last time, I think, the ritual was performed in the SF Women's Building. I remember its being a good one. Those I remember as being good are rare, and have gotten rarer as the years have past.

Last year the organizers rented a smaller venue, Kezar Pavilion, a basketball stadium with a very, very, very live floor. It's much homier. Last year's ritual took a 180-degree turn from exhibitionistic spectacle to community celebration. It's that spectacle part that I've felt so uncomfortable with. For me, Samhain is not the time to show off, even if you do invite the pubic; it's the time to honor our Beloved Dead. It's the time to mourn the loss of our loved ones, to share our grief, to have our losses acknowledged and respected with and among our larger chosen Craft kin.

Because of this emphasis on spectacle, some of my more cynical friends have taken to calling the Spiral Dance the "Spiral Dance du soleil." I think the term is apt, or at least has been apt when applied to many performances of the basic rite. It seems that some organizers adopted the bigger is better notion so prevalent in the overculture. That's not a way I've ever viewed my religion. I don't think it's for everybody. I'm happy to welcome people who choose this path. I'm happy to offer teaching, guidance, counsel, feedback, whatever. I even rejoice in my religion. I'm as proud and enthusiastic as the most zealous of the newly converted when asked about Witchcraft and Paganism. But I don't expect everyone to be and I don't expect everyone to resonate with it, and I don't want to be in anyone's face or convert the masses. I think people can share our values, such as a recognition of our interconnection with all of life on this planet (and probably beyond), our obligation to steward our precious resources, from whatever religion they find comfort in. They don't have to be Pagans in order to appreciate the mandate to care for our Earth. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, rely on Earth's riches for our food.

The Spiral Dance has for many years experienced what I liken to an identity crisis. It doesn't know if it's a ritual, a political rally, a circus, or a rave. It has had elements of all four, and has done no single one well. For some years, the SD saw giant puppets, stilt-walkers, people twirling fire batons, people on trapezes or coming down from the girders of Herbst Pavilion on ropes. Now these are all fun and interesting things to watch, very entertaining. But are those who perform them being priest/esses? Some perhaps are. Others have been hired for their particular performance skill, have left the ritual after they've been on, and I cannot think that they've considered their participation anything along the lines of priest/essing, or helping to move and shape the energy of the whole. (The notion of "priestess/ing" requires another tome. Suffice it to say that here I mean performing sacerdotal roles.)

Last year, however, a different crew took on the task of planning the ritual. Although I was invited by two of the main organizers to participate, there was miscommunication between one of those individuals and the cell, as the planning group is known, that resulted in my not participating at that level. I was, however, asked to invoke the Ancestors, the Mighty Dead of the Craft, and the Beloved Dead, who were not being individually named that year. A daunting task, I thought.**

I was pleased with how I met that challenge. I think I did right by them (the Ancestors, the MD, and the BD). I loved the whole ritual, nearly every little part of it. And believe me, I'm known to be quite the evaluator of ritual, not always a good way to be known.

In any case, I had hoped this year would improve upon last year. Both last year and this year I tried to persuade some of our more alienated kin to attend. Some did; most didn't.

* * * * *

* I may be misquoting slightly, so as soon as Sparky calls me back I'll correct these to read exactly as he says them. Steven Posch also says this. I have so many lively conversations with both of them about Witchcraft, Paganism, scholarship, ritual, gods, ancestors, and the like that I may have run together who said what. I'll clarify who said what and how and make corrections in a future post.

** Not calling the Beloved Dead by name is also fodder for another long exposition.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

El Dia de Los Muertos Altar

I took this after a Dianic coven's Samhain ritual last night at Victoria's house. This altar stands in her shared courtyard, where neighbors and friends add to it. I took several shots without flash, but I don't have a sophisticated enouch camera, or maybe a sophisiticated enough photographer, to have gotten much detail and all you can see are the flames in the novena candles.

Here's a darker one:

Triple Goddess

This is one of my favorite photos. Taken by the late Ken Willard either before or after, but not during, the Spiral Dance in San Francisco's Women's Building in 1982, it features Sequoia as the Crone, an eight-months-pregnant Cerridwen Fallingstar as the Mother, and the Maiden will remain unnamed because I suspect she's in the broom closet back in her home state in Dixie.

This year the Spiral Dance number 27 is in Kezar Pavilion, a basketball stadium in the Haight-Ashbury District with an incredibly live, bouncy floor, a delight for dancing. I'll be proclaiming the feast.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Global Orgasm Spell

On December 29, 2002, a chilly (for these parts) Winter day, Corby and I participated in a project called Baring Witness for Peace. We were among many local folks who stripped and posed for photos on Drake's Beach.

I'm the last woman on the far right of upper part of the final "E" in PEACE. By the time we women were photographed by the photographers on the cliff above us, the tide was turning and my skin was being lapped by the income surf.

Corby is the man on the vertical just above the upside-down "V" of the peace symbol.

Friends and I have posed in a couple more shots, most recently "VOTE" on Love Field in Point Reyes Station in July 2004, when Victoria and Prudence and I drove out together. I'll let you guess where Victoria and Prudence are; I'm on the top of the "E" again.

Now our friends at Baring Witness have come up with another of what we Witches might call a "working." Global Orgasm on December 22, 2006. Join us!

Monday, October 23, 2006

New Moon, New Tatts

Here's the results of my first session with Heath of Spider Murphy's Tattoo right here in San Rafael. This was the first tattooist I've actually been able to reach and make an appointment with since starting to search for one in August. I'd hoped Madame Vyvyn Lazonga could have done it, since she's done most of my others and I really like her, as tattooist, as friend, as innovator, as a committed feminist and independent woman, as an artist, and as Pagan. But alas! she's in Seattle and wasn't coming down here for that tattoo show at the Cow Palace that month.

These poppies turned out larger than I'd imagined, but glorious, methinks. They needed to be this large in order to get the detail that I wanted. They're just about the size of live poppies. The black outlines will be barely visible; they're just there to define the shapes. I wish they could be done in time for the Spiral Dance and Samhain itself, but Heath doesn't have any more open appointment times before then. Maybe he'll have a cancellation. It'll be interesting, and challenging, to see how he captures the subtle coloration of the leaves and flowers on my aging skin.

I'm publishing this photo to show you a work in progress. The next time I mention these new tatts they'll be brightly colored. Once these are done, I'll be satisfied that I have all the tattoos I want in this lifetime.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mighty Dead of the Craft

This photo is a detail from an altar to the Dead created by the late Judy Foster and crew in 1982.

As I move into a time of remembering the Beloved Dead, I realize that today is the birthday of my late husband, my daughter's father, Rod Wolfer. He was born in '33 and died on 11/22/88 (anniversary of the deaths of both JFK and Aldous Huxley in 1963) so had he lived, he'd be 71 today. As we often say, "What is remembered lives."

Here's a seasonal suggestion, something I wrote in 2001 for Witchvox called "The Mighty Dead, the Beloved Dead and Us." Caveat: Ruminations on such elusive and subjective topics are always undergoing revisions. Food for thought this darkening season.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Another Wonderful New Book about Our Earth

This book. entitled Circling San Francisco Bay, was written by one of the first people I ever initiated into the Craft, about 25 years ago, a lovely, sensitive, smart, accomplished, committed healer woman called Freyja. In fact, her coven, Stone Dancers, which she refers to in her bio as her women's circle, still thrives. They're one of my favorite circles. She published it under her mundane name, Ginny Anderson, only she didn't include the fact that she has a Ph.D. (under yet another name, her earlier married name). Not only is the subject matter sacred, but her writing is eloquent. Here's what I had to say for the cover:

Shamanic naturalist [Ginny] Anderson takes us to seven sacred sites around San Francisco Bay to gain a better understanding of their connections, and ours, in the complex web of life. The exercises she offers are accessible to all of whatever religion, or none. This is a celebration of our glorious bioregion, and our responsibility to it -- and not a moment too soon.

I trust that disclosing the fact that she's Pagan won't compromise her credibility in the overculture. In the first place, it shouldn't matter whether she's American, Scandinavian, Jewish or anything else, and in the second place, this blog is not widely read.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Three Witches

Here's a photo of Steven Posch, me, and Sparky T. Rabbit taken by Wren in front of Steve's (well, actually Craig's) elegant house in Minneapolis (built in 1912). I take this opportunity to say that these two men are the most creative, accomplished Pagan ritualists in North America that I've ever encountered. I ain't half bad either. ;-)

Back from Paganistan

I'm back home after several days and many scintillating conversations with my Paganistani pals. For readers who don't know where Paganistan is, it's the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, alleged to be 15% Pagan. I suspect that figure, if indeed it is accurate, includes Native Americans, Southeast Asians, Hindus, practitioners of African diaspora religions and others as well as contemporary Euro-Pagans; regardless, there's a thriving NeoPagan presence there.

I was invited to give the keynote speech for Twin Cities Pagan Pride Day on the theme of Bridging the Worlds. I spoke of several ways that theme might be approached, then chose to focus on interfaith and collaborative green efforts. If I can manage it, I'd like to refine and expand my notes into an article that can then be read by people who weren't there to hear.

I have nothing but praise for the organizers and all their supporters. Dealing with them was a pleasure. They were always gracious, professional and standup. I thank especially my old CoG friend Gary Lingen (since the very first MerryMeet at Rodeo Beach in Marin County in 1981) for suggesting my name and contacting me, as well as local coordinators Margaret Eastman and Shannon Fairbanks, CoG friend Bonita Blumenauer of the Paganistan Besom Brigade, pursewarden Wendy Seidl, publications Keith Campbell, and webmistress Nora Lundquist. They surely must have been exhausted at the end of the day because it was non-stop activities, from workshops to vendors to food to rituals, with lots and lots of people coming and going. I don't know the final tally, but everyplace I went was crowded.

I took advantage of this opportunity to come early and visit people I always have the most stimulating conversations with. I stayed with Steven Posch and Wren, spent a morning being interviewed by Todd Berntson and his assistant Cindy for their Witchy Films project, schmoozed with the "meddling elders," circled an old oak along the banks of the mighty Mississippi with Prodea Coven and the unquiet dead under a gorgeous Autumn Full Moon, and dined and shopped with my old pal Sparky Rabbit. On my last day there Steven, Sparky and I enjoyed sukkot breakfast under the sukkah shelter Steve, Wren and I had erected earlier, where Steven recited Hebrew prayers and we three sang to Asherah.