Thursday, December 27, 2007

Still in the Middle

We had a modest Christmas this year, and I have to say a lovely one. We bought very few gifts, since 2006 was a financially challenging year that saw some unanticipated, very large expenses. Corby baked cookies, as is his custom, not as many different kinds as usual -- yet. Deirdre baked cookies too. We received cookies from Corby's brother Blake and his partner Mary, too. Our house has been a Cookie Monster paradise of late.

What little shopping I did I didn't do until Christmas Eve. I took a short list and a credit card. I didn't encounter a fruitless search for a parking space at the mall nor boring waits at the cash register. I had to drive to another shopping center a bit farther down the freeway in order to purchase fresh pasta noodles at the only place in Marin that sells fresh pasta, and then to a corporate pet store for small treats for our family felines, Fernando and Oona.

We didn't even manage to get a tree. I decorated a small desk with a red-and-green plaid tablecloth with some gold thread shot through it, upon which I put a deer antler, several red-and-green tapers, some votive candles, and the few presents. Deirdre has a Christmas stocking with her name knit into it that was made for her very first Christmas by our friend Dee.

We considered having a more traditional Christmas meal, but in the end I decided to make lasagna because Deirdre loves my lasagna. Corby is the cook in the family, so he got a little break, although he did make his delicious, labor-intensive salads for us. Us being my daughter Deirdre, Corby and me -- and aforementioned kitties.

After dinner we watched a DVD of Practical Magic, which, surprisingly, I'd never seen before and neither had Deirdre. Corby enjoyed it enough to watch it again. We like several of the actors a lot, especially Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. We just snuggled on the couch under an afghan my mother made years ago.

I can't recall ever having a mellower Christmas day.

From the Middle of the Holiday Season

For the Solstice, I forewent Reclaiming's annual beach ritual with plunge in the ocean. As it happens, I haven't gone in years, although I find the Solstice plunge at Ocean Beach (at both Solstices) one of [the old] Reclaiming's most moving traditions. Besides, there was no plunge this year due to the recent oil spill in the Bay, which was swept up and down the coast beyond the Golden Gate. Instead, celebrants performed a cool bio-remediation spell using matted human hair. Even though I knew that would be a compelling thing to do, I opted to attend a smaller private circle in Berkeley with some Gardnerian friends in Coven Trismegiston.

Corby had wanted to sing Yule carols that night at Vicki's house. He loves choral singing and had missed Vicki's caroling group last year because he arrived after it was over. Vicki does not operate on Pagan Standard Time. I would have liked the ability to bi- or tri-locate so I could attend all the rituals I wanted to that night. I also had to decline an invitation to Bonny Doon, overlooking Monterey Bay from Ben Lomond Mountain. Corby and I regularly joined this Faery/Feri circle at the Winter Solstice for some years. Then it didn't happen for a few years, and this year we decided it was too far and we couldn't afford the travel time or gas, in consideration of everything else we were trying to pack in. I've missed this annual reconnection with Linnea, Leigh,, Geoff, et al. Missed viewing the Midwinter sky with Linnea's big telescope and sitting under the stars in her hot tub; missed caroling while the mulled wine stayed hot atop the iron fireplace.

As it happened, Corby hadn't finished a job he'd agreed complete that night and got home too late for any of the rituals. I went alone to Berkeley, where I enjoyed the ritual and the post-ritual socializing. I was unable to persuade any of those guests to cross the Bay to San Francisco to party and vigil with the gang at Oak's house. Finally, it was so late I just went home.

On Saturday, Corby and I joined six other people in a ceremony on San Bruno Mountain to celebrate the Solstice by preparing a despacho with our friend Freyja. We offered the despacho, containing bay leaves, sage, a eucalyptus button, flowers, some chocolate, brown sugar, wine, and other organic substances, in gratitude and prayer to the Spirits of Place on San Bruno Mountain.

Not only is San Bruno Mountain "the largest urban open space in the United States - 3,300 acres of undeveloped open space," but it also is "the last fragment of an entire ecosystem - the Franciscan Region - the rest of which is buried beneath the city of San Francisco." Freyja says that this mountain is "one of the Bay Area's major guardians of energy." She serves on the Board of Directors of the San Bruno Mountain Watch, which is working in opposition to the San Bruno Mountain Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), "the test case for the undermining and dismantling of the Endangered Species Act..."

Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson ranks San Bruno Mountain as one of the world’s 18 biodiversity hot spots. It is home to several endangered species, including three butterflies: the Mission Blue Butterfly, the San Bruno Elfin Butterfly, and the San Francisco Silverspot Butterfly (found only on San Bruno Mountain).

Shockingly, neither Corby nor I, both of whom have lived in the SF Bay Area for decades, had ever been on San Bruno Mountain. From Freyja we learned a chant that the band of Ohlone who once lived there used to sing. It was about jack rabbits and quail and dancing on the edge of the world. Ohlone people have left a record of approximately 13,000 years of human history in a large part of what is now California.

As we were concluding the ceremony, Freyja asked me if I had a song or chant we could sing. It just so happened that I was thinking exactly that when she asked. We sang a chant we in Reclaiming have used on Midwinter Morn for many, many years. The words are by e.e. cummings; I don't recall who wrote the tune. It goes "i who have died am alive again today, for this is the sun's birthday, this is the birthday of life and love and wings, and the gay, great happening illimitably earth." I joined our hands in a circle and led a brief spiral dance round the buried despacho.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Midwinter Musing


On December 10th I attended one of MIC's quarterly retreat days. They haven't been going on for long, and I've managed to make it to most of them. I've mentioned them in this blog.

December's retreat, at Santa Sabina Center, was on theme of light and dark. The teachers were Rabbi Stacy Friedman from Congregation Rodef Shalom and the Rev. Tim Mooney from the Lloyd Center at SF Theological Seminary (Presbyterian). Tim's primary pursuit is painting; his "Winter Solstice" appears above.

The better part of the day at these retreats is spent in silence. Unless one has a regular practice of meditation, retreats are the only time most of us manage to take the time to do it. I find it very restorative.

Stacy opened by speaking of the candles of the menorah and of Hanukkah in general, and how glad she was that this year it occurred at a different time than Christmas. She mentioned a medieval debate between two rabbis. One rabbi thought all eight candles, plus the extra shamash candle, should be lit at the beginning of Hanukkah, with one being extinguished each night until there was only one light left. This memorializes the story of having only enough oil for eight nights, and then the light rant out. The other rabbi, Hillel, argued for light one more candle each nights so that the light grew. Most of us know that Rabbi Hillel's practice was adopted.

In the morning, before we retreated into silence, we were each asked to think about what we might be looking for and what we might bring to the retreat. These were not spoken. I decided I was looking for models of eldership as they have manifested in other religions and religious communities. I considered that I brought to this forum a freshness due to the fact that our Pagan religions are 'new,' and an openness to learning.

We remained in silence until mid-afternoon. Art supplies were available for those who wished to explore with those media. We could roam the grounds, the courtyard, the chapel, the library, the 'pillow room,' the 'rose room' and all the other spaces at Santa Sabina that were neither administrative nor lodging.

During the feedback portion after we broke our silence, several participants spokes of profound revelations they'd experienced, from the time spent in silence, from the painting Tim brought out towards the end, and from the words spoken by the two instructors and other participants. This very dark painting portrayed a faceless naked woman holding a small bright candle just beneath her belly. The flame illuminated her belly and forearms, and radiated out to show her form and nothing more. She could have been standing anywhere.

I offered that we Pagans are concerned with honoring cycles: the cycles of life and the seasonal cycles, all kinds of cycles. That we assemble eight times a year to celebrate the turning of the Wheel together; that four of those sacred dates were at the points of the solar year, the Solstices and the Equinoxes. I said that at this time of year I considered that on Midwinter eve we began to sit vigil with the Great Mother -- Mary, if you will -- as she was going into the world of spirit on this longest night of the year to retrieve another soul, that of her divine son, to bring him safely to this plane of existence. I said we tell stories, sing, bake cookies, sit around the hearth fire, as we honor her during her hours of labor to give birth. Then before dawn we go outside onto the hills to sing and rejoice at the Sun's rebirth.

Later, after the retreat was over, several people told me how much they appreciated that perspective and loved the story. The director of MIC told me how glad they were to have a Pagan presence and that, when other interfaith groups learned of this, how 'cool' they thought that was. "Cool" is an exact quote.

What did I come away with, you might ask? I came to realize, yet again, that I really know more than I think I know, and that we Pagans have much to bring to a mutually respectful interfaith environment.

So I offer this story to readers. May all enjoy a splendid return of the Sun and a healthy, happy, prosperous and green New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stunning Midwinter Phenomenon


My friend Sabina sent me this photo of the simultaneous sunset and moonrise at the North Pole. I don't know where she got it, but I think it's much too splendid to keep to myself. If you know to whom credit belongs, please let me know so I can extend it.

CORRECTION: Thanks to Yarrow, here's the NASA's explanation of this image, created by Inga Nielsen, who, going by her URL, is in Denmark.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Masks of the Goddess


My friend Lauren Raine created a set of exquisite leather masks of many goddesses for the 20th anniversary of Reclaiming's Spiral Dance Samhain ritual in 1999. I think we used about twenty of them; I wore the Morrígan, the baddest-ass Morrígan you ever hope to encounter. Even my friend Urania who helped me put it on was afraid once it was in place. To add the effect, I reddened my palms and displayed them as the Washer at the Ford in the processions.


Bad-ass Morrígan

I was displeased with how this use of the masks for the goddess invocation was done. I thought they were given short shrift: a three-minute invocation sung by the chorus, as opposed to eight minutes for the god invocation. What's wrong with this picture in a goddess religion? My displeasure, however, inspired me to create a ritual that I felt was worthy of the glory of those masks.

For PantheaCon 2000 the following February I whipped up a ritual using 13 of the masks. I say whipped up because I had almost no time to fill the ritual time-slot I was asked to fill due to the withdrawal of a concert performer. In spite of our rush, it came off well. At least people said they really liked it. One liked it so well she asked me if I'd do it again. I said I could only pull something like that off if I had a sponsor. I'd love to produce more original Pagan-themed public rituals if I can. I think I have a flare for it. But alas! you just can't do projects of that scale without a good, solid sponsorship and trusting collaborators. Here's the program description:

Goddesses Alive! A processional and experiential ritual of masked, embodied goddesses to bring a re-awareness of the Goddess into current Pagan practices. We encounter the goddess embodied by 13 priestesses wearing stunning leather goddess masks created by Lauren Raine. ... Amadae, Urania, Deborah Grenn-Scott, Mary Kay Landon, Farida Fox, Tara Webster, Sabina Magliocco, Lee Henrikson, Juan Carlos, Corby Lawton, with help from others.

With the sponsorship of the Lilith Institute and the New College of California Women's Studies Department, I was able to recreate, even better this time. The script was written mostly by me; some pieces were written by Mary Kay Landon and one, Brigit, by Diane Darling. Because of a local goddess lecture series called The Goddess Is Alive, I had to give the ritual a new title to avoid confusion. I settled on "A Rainbow of Goddesses," even though I think "Goddesses Alive!" is perfect.

This time we had original music for each goddess by Amy Luna Manderino (koto music for Amaterasu, Mexican guitar for Guadalupe, chimes for White Tara). We also had a little chorus I called "Corby & the Arctoi," since the single male voice was Corby's and most of the other singers were young women and teens. Jan Dance flew from Portland, OR to drum.

"Corby & the Arctoi," showing Jan Dance
on left, Corby in hat, Luna on right.*


Hekate, Valley High.
This mask is the face of
our late friend Judy Foster.
Luna's jazzy-bluesy composition
was absolutely perfect -- for both Hekate and Judy.


Laura Janesdaughter flew up from Los Angeles to do Amaterasu.

Amaterasu, Laura Janesdaughter

Dawn Marlowe and friends drove from San Bernardino so she could do Oshun.

Oshun, Dawn Marlowe

And Willow Kelly and Crow came all the way from Virginia so Willow could wear the Isis mask. Tansy Brooks, a belly dancer and keeper of snakes, danced with her snakes as Inanna; one of them slithered up her neck and over the the queen's crown while she danced.

Susan Levin (Kala) as White Buffalo Woman
engaged the help of attendees.


Frejya Anderson's Sedna,
with deep, resonant music evoking
the underwater, solicited compassion.



Amie Miller danced Pele
swinging balls of fire.
Photo by Peter Hughes

There's so much more to tell about this ritual. Did I mention it was performed in the dark? And boy, was it low-tech! I loved it.

Other ritualists took off with the idea and created goddess masks rituals of their own. Some used newer goddess masks Lauren made in the years since Goddesses Alive! I had always hoped to recreate the one I did using the 13 (for the number of lunations in a solar year), but alas! they are now to be released into the universe of art lovers and Pagans everywhere.

This is your chance to bring one of these gorgeous images into your home. Go here, feast your eyes on all of them, and put in your bid

Visit Lauren at her Threads of Spider Woman blog. Tell I said hi.

* All mask photos by Tom Lux except that of Pele.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Whatever Happened to Macha?

I'm alive, folks. And overflowing with all manner of stuff I want to write about.

Samhain events have caused me to re-evaluate my connections with Reclaiming (whatever that is), to ponder upon dysfunction and roles and honor and honesty and scapegoating and straight-talking and too many other factors to itemize.

My time at Between the Worlds in Delaware was unbelievably affirming. I felt clear and strong and articulate. I felt that my voice was welcome and respected. I was able to hear support for who I am and the value of what I bring to Paganism, to my own communities, to friends and colleagues.

I came home sick and took to my bed with the flu for the entire week after I returned. I still have a lingering cough. Just as well, because I had no money to attend the Conference on Contemporary Pagan Studies (CCPS) and the AAR Annual Meeting in San Diego the following week. I was really disappointed. Here it was right in California; I could have driven. But going this year was not in the cards.

Talking, analyzing and planning with ICT (Independent Craft Teachers), a newish group, small and intimate, deciding on what we want to do now that we are beyond being a counter-influence in the WitchCamp scene (which I never was), has helped in this re-examination.

This period has inspired me to redo my website, with my friend Panthera Orbweaver doing the heavy lifting, as well as to update my résumé. Neither is quite finished yet. Readers of this blog will be among the first to know when they're ready.

On Sunday Richard Man took a series of photos of me in my friend Freyja's backyard in Atherton. Expect to be seeing them soon, too.

At Marin Interfaith Council's quarterly retreat this past Monday I achieved more clarity.

So I guess you could say I've been doing inner work. Obviously I've not been playing in the Pagan blogosphere. I'm back now, though, so please return in a few days if you've a mind.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Keith Hennessey Gets "Goldie"


I last mentioned Keith Hennessey's work a year ago when I wrote about How To Die. I'd call him a friend, because I really like him and his work, except that we never hang out, so I guess he's more of an acquaintance. I first encountered him when he invoked the God at Reclaiming's Spiral Dance Samhain ritual way back in the days when it was at The Women's Building in the Mission District. His invocation left me panting. We know each other through Reclaiming circles, see each other socially and at tribal events like weddings, Obviously I'm a fan.
One of the most powerful theatrical experiences I've had was at the performance of Spell. We, the audience, outdoors in the yard of an industrial building that housed art galleries and a theater, hoisted up a dripping Keith from a tub to a Eucalyptus tree above. Dangling by one foot from the rope, with his body in the form of The Hanged Man and the roar of the Central Freeway practically right next to him, he implored the Ancestors for help. His prayer was so earnest and holy I nearly wept.

The good news is that the latest work of contemporary circus and performance by Keith and his colleagues in Circo Zero, called Sol Niger (Black Sun), will run again in January at Project Artaud. I missed its first run this past September because that month was too crazy for me to find a night to go. Enjoy this YouTube video.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, the San Francisco Bay Guardian has thanked Keith for his work with the award of a Goldie in the category of dance/performance. Congratulations to Keith! May his message spread.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

So Many Thoughts Running Round in My Head

I sure wish I had more time to blog. I have a good half-dozen juicy entries in my head. I hope they're not getting stale while they await my attention.

In the meantime, post-Samhain, I direct readers to Blog o'Gnosis and branches up, roots down, and my comments therein.

I'm off on my trusty broomstick to Between the Worlds in Wilmington, Delaware, and very excited at the prospect.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hallows' Eve


By Mexican artist José Luís Serrano,
permission to use pending.


"This is the Feast of Samhain, when the veil is thin that divides the worlds, the seen from the unseen, the day-to-day from the mysteries. ..."

I've been so wrapped up in celebrating this, my favorite sabbat, in ritual, I've had no time to tend to this blog.*

A week ago Sunday afternoon some Witchen friends and I sat at the big table in Victoria's loft making El Dia de Los Muertos candles. This was a year for deceased men in my life. I made one for John Patrick McClimans, my brother Jimmie O'Brien, my dad James T. O'Brien, and my late husband Rod Wolfer. Victoria has taken some fine photos of the altar in her shared yard, but she's been so wrapped up in her demanding new job that she's disappeared from the Pagan blogosphere for a time. I'm happy with the way they came out.


My brother Jimmie at about age 20,
shortly after the accident in which
he lost his left arm and his right leg.
You can see that his right ear has
not been entirely reconstructed with
plastic surgery yet.


My Dad Jim (Seamus)


My friend John Patrick. As you can
see, he had lost his legs when this photo
was taken. It's not very high resolution
because this is a color photocopy of a
photo which was then scanned and
saved as a jpg to put on the candle.


Friday night some Dianic friends graciously included me in their Samhain rites, also in Victoria's loft.

Saturday night I proclaimed the feast at Reclaiming's 28th annual Spiral Dance ritual** in San Francisco. I went with my friends Michael York and his partner Richard, who were virgins to this experience. I told them they would love the spiral dance (meaning the dance itself, not necessarily the whole ritual), and they did. Michael's knees were hurting so I insisted he sit in a chair in the center of the spiral with the wheelchair-bound, sleeping babies, and the likes of me, whose arthritic back cannot take that long dance. We were just as much a part of the spiral as the dancers. We looked into each pair of eyes as they danced by. A most intoxicating experience!

Sunday Corby and I were back at Victoria's big table carving jack o'lanterns with Prudence and Pasha and her. We were among the later arrivals; everyone else was gone when we arrived. That's because I was so wiped out from the night before I couldn't get going any earlier.

When we finished, we took the jack o'lanterns out in front of the El Dia de los Muertos altar and sat in a circle in the firelight and sang Samhain songs to our Beloved Dead. Accompanied by Pasha's guitar, we harmonized, in particular, a song that begins:

Dark is the night, still is the Earth
As the veil unfolds.
Turn the shining Wheel of rebirth.
May Earth received thy soul.
For me, that was the most moving and magical moment of this year's celebrations -- so far.

Tonight we are going to use those jack o'lanterns to mark our circle as we dance with the dead under the starlight.

You think that's enough? Nope. Next Saturday we, meaning ICT (Independent Craft Teachers, a guild), will be presenting a Dinner with the Dead at Martin de Porres Hospitality House in San Francisco. We will bring foods our ancestors loved, laid out on tables draped with black lace and topped with sugar skulls freshly-made by Oak. I've never done this particular ritual and I'm looking forward to it.

"What is remembered lives." May your departed loved ones live on on your hearts and minds. Blessed Samhain to all!

*Come back soon for two posts that aren't ready yet, one about death and dying practices and the other about critiquing rituals.

** Stills and videos of this ritual will be made public shortly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ancient Seasonal Songs Concert

Saturday evening on Corby's third day post-surgery, he felt strong enough for me to accompany him to an intime concert in Vicky and Shelby's downstairs "concert hall." About 40 people listened as Vicky's group, Women in Song, opened. Among the eight or so songs they sang, one was one of my favorites, "All Among the Barley,"

Broceliande, a Celtic and Early Music quartet comprised of two women and two men, all of whom both sing and play a variety of instruments, enchanted us with Autumn songs from their album called "Barley Rigs."


I've been enjoying the CD in my car ever since. It was a refined evening in a beautiful home, with elegant intermission comestibles, lovely people, and entertaining, accomplished musicians.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Macha twirl


My dear friends Sparky T. Rabbit and Steven Posch have stated that they think this photo of my most typifies who I am. It's not the most flattering photo in the world, but I agree it captures something. George Franklin took it during an antiwar March when our WOW (Witches Opposing War) Besom Brigade made our first public appearance. He put it on the cover of Reclaiming Quarterly. I got a kick out of being a cover girl. Anyway, I think it suits the Broomstick Chronicles so I've changed by profile photo to this one.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

In Hot Water

Well, I did my best, but, as my friend Oak would say, "mistakes were made." No sooner did I release that press release than I received objections and corrections. My most egregious mistake was to list Lady Liberty League as a supporter. LLL does not take public stands on political matters, only those that directly concern Pagan legal rights. For that, I apologize to LLL and to Jerrie Hildebrand personally. My mistake was using a former press release that LLL did sign as a template for this one and neglecting to remove their names.

I also apologize to Caroline Kenner, the Chesapeake Pagan Community and the Sacred Space Foundation.

A few folks complained that their names were not included and they would have wanted to sign. I circulated the press release -- so many people seem to confuse 'press release' with 'petition' or 'letter'; it is neither -- with the words "TIME-SENSITIVE" in the subject line and said in the text that we intended to release is around midnight on October 12. Yes, it was rushed.

I had tried to list organizations separately, to strengthen the statement by inferring memberships. In order to accomplish that that, I lifted the names of people who'd signed and listed an organizational affiliation and put them into a list of organizations. This was a mistake. As things turned out, I got some of those folks in trouble with their organizations because they apparently weren't authorized to sign on behalf of the entire groups. To them I also apologize, and will do so to their memberships as a whole if requested.

I also tried to keep it to one page, also not possible. Anyway, after the fallout, here is the corrected press release:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Press Release

PAGANS OPPOSE MILITARY INTERVENTION IN IRAN

October 12, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Ellen Evert Hopman saille333@mindspring.com 413 323 4494 East Coast
M. Macha NightMare herself@machanightmare.com 415 454-4411 West Coast

We are an ad hoc group of Americans who practice diverse Earth-based religions. We affirm the wisdom of peace, tolerance, and justice. These principles are consistent with the values and beliefs of our Pagan religions. We seek to exist in goodwill and fellowship with all peoples, cultures, and nations. In so doing, we express our love for the Earth and acknowledge our interconnectedness with all living things.

In the face of escalating international tensions regarding Iran, we urge the use of diplomatic actions for a peaceful resolution of differences. We reject any rush to military action, since we believe that diplomatic means will lead to a safer, more just, and more constructive solution. Therefore, we call on our political leaders to use diplomacy to create goodwill, peace, and harmony among nations, religions, and peoples.

Respectfully:

Maureen Duffy-Boose, Rainbow Chalice CUUPS, Salt Lake City, UT
Board of Trustees, Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS)
Ellen Evert Hopman, Co-Chief, Order of the WhiteOak, Massachusetts
Nancy Machin, Pagan Educational Network, Indiana
M. Macha NightMare, P&W, San Rafael, CA
Cairril Adaire, Founder, Our Freedom: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition, Bloomington, IN
Rev. H. Byron Ballard, Coalition of Earth Religions (CERES), Asheville, NC
Jo Carson, Fairfax, CA
Phyllis Curott, New York, NY
Max Dashu, Oakland, CA
Gus diZerega, Ph.D., Sebastopol, CA
Ivo Dominguez, Jr., Elder, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, Delaware
Holli S. Emore, Columbia, SC
Cerridwen Fallingstar, Forest Knolls, CA
Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh, Sierra Madrone Grove, ADF, California
Caroline Kenner, Board Member, Chesapeake Pagan Community &
Sacred Space Foundation, Washington, DC
Rev. Robert Lee (Skip) Ellison, Archdruid, Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), East Syracuse, NY
Sabina Magliocco, Ph.D., Northridge, CA
Rev. Patrick M. McCollum, Director, Our Lady of the Wells Church, Moraga, CA
Michael McDermott, M.D., Black Earth, WI
Katrina Messenger, Founder, Connect DC, Washington, DC
Nava Mizrahhi, Oakland, CA
Ariel Montserrat, Editor, Green Egg Zine, Tennessee
Anne Newkirk Niven, Editor in Chief, PanGaia Magazine, California
Penny J. Novack, Elder, Step by Step Tradition, Buckland, MA
Rev. Rayna Ardren Owens, PhD., Miami, FL
Beth Owl’s Daughter, The Dragon’s Cauldron, Reclaiming, Durham, NC
Lynn Pacifico, New York, NY
Lauren Raine, Tucson, AZ
Angela Roberts Reeder, Baltimore, MD
Vibra Willow, P&W, Reclaiming, California
Rose Wise, Administrator/High Priestess, Ozark Avalon, Boonville, MO
Michael York, Ph.D., San Francisco, CA
Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Church of All Worlds, Cotati, CA


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So here I am publicly going on record that I'm sorry for those misunderstandings and my big mistake with LLL.

I'm embarrassed about those mistakes, but not sorry that we made the effort. It's high time for us to engage with the world. Make of this what you will, but I am pleased to get this response from Beth Owl's Daughter:

Thank you, Macha, for the powerful and focused intention behind this. Your timing turned out to be impeccable, paralleling Gen. Sanchez's bitter testimony yesterday about our "failure" in Iraq.

Through our actions and our magic, may peace and wisdom prevail.

The water's cooling off, so jump in and join me. Let's keep a-brewin' that magic.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hoping & Praying & Casting Spells

This is what I've been up to this week, with three collaborators: Maureen Duffy-Boose, Ellen Evert Hopman, and Nancy Machin of Pagan Educational Network. We four live in different parts of the US (Utah, Massachusetts, Indiana and California). I think it's also fair to say that we represent the diversity of American Paganism (Ellen is Druid and the rest of us are Wiccans or Witches of one sort or another). I want to thank these colleagues publicly for helping to make this happen, especially Ellen, whose original idea it was, for nudging us to speak up as a demographic.

We (not exactly the same "we"; "we" meaning an ad hoc group of Pagans) did this once before when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling on Newdowe v. Elk Grove Unified School Dist., et al., a lawsuit to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. That press release was issued on July 4, 2002, Independence Day.

This time it was my desire was to release this on October 12, Indigenous People's Day (fka Columbus Day). I chose that date arbitrarily for two reasons: (1) I think time is of the essence in terms of the administration's plans, and (2) I like issuing these things on "patriotic" days. I guess you could say I like the magic of the timing.

I know we rushed this. I felt a sense of urgency. I don't know how widely this will eventually circulate, and I am not so naïve as to think it will do much good in terms of influencing the administration, but I do believe it shows solidarity among Pagans, concern for the commonweal, and a willingness to stand up and be counted. The more we can act in solidarity, the more seriously we may be taken as a valid voting block.

You are free to circulate this widely. In fact, if you'd provide a copy to your local press (newspapers, radio and TV), that can only help. You may also wish to print this and send it to your elected representatives.

I'm viewing this as a big spell-working.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Press Release

PAGANS OPPOSE MILITARY INTERVENTION IN IRAN

October 12, 2007 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts: Ellen Evert Hopman saille333@mindspring.com 413 323 4494 East Coast
M. Macha NightMare herself@machanightmare.com 415 454-4411 West Coast

We are an ad hoc group of Americans who practice diverse Earth-based religions. We affirm the wisdom of peace, tolerance, and justice. These principles are consistent with the values and beliefs of our Pagan religions. We seek to exist in goodwill and fellowship with all peoples, cultures, and nations. In so doing, we express our love for the Earth and acknowledge our interconnectedness with all living things.

In the face of escalating international tensions regarding Iran, we urge the use of diplomatic actions for a peaceful resolution of differences. We reject any rush to military action, since we believe that diplomatic means will lead to a safer, more just, and more constructive solution. Therefore, we call on our political leaders to use diplomacy to create goodwill, peace, and harmony among nations, religions, and peoples.

Organizations:

Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF)
Assembly of the Sacred Wheel
Cherry Hill Seminary
Chesapeake Pagan Community
Church of All Worlds
Coalition of Earth Religions (CERES)
Connect DC
CUUPS-Continental
The Dragon’s Cauldron
Green Egg Zine
Lady Liberty League
Order of the WhiteOak
Our Lady of the Wells Church
Pagan Educational Network
Reclaiming
Sacred Space Foundation
Sierra Madrone Grove, ADF
The Suppressed Histories Archives

Individuals:

Maureen Duffy-Boose, President, CUUPS-Continental, Salt Lake City, UT
Ellen Evert Hopman, Co-Chief, Order of the WhiteOak, Massachusetts
Nancy Machin, Pagan Educational Network, Indiana
M. Macha NightMare, P&W, San Rafael, CA
Rev. H. Byron Ballard, Coalition of Earth Religions, Asheville, NC
Jo Carson, Fairfax, CA
Max Dashu, Oakland, CA
Gus diZerega, Ph.D., Sebastopol, CA
Ivo Dominguez, Jr., Elder, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, Delaware
Holli S. Emore, Columbia, SC
Cerridwen Fallingstar, Forest Knolls, CA
Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh, Sierra Madrone Grove, ADF, California
Caroline Kenner, Chesapeake Pagan Community & Sacred Space Foundation. Washington, DC
Rev. Robert Lee (Skip) Ellison, Archdruid, ADF, East Syracuse, NY
Sabina Magliocco, Ph.D., Northridge, CA
Rev. Patrick M. McCollum, Director, Our Lady of the Wells Church Moraga, CA
Michael McDermott, M.D., Wisconsin
Katrina Messenger, Founder, Connect DC, Washington, DC
Nava Mizrahhi, Oakland, CA
Ariel Montserrat, Editor, Green Egg Zine, Tennessee
Anne Newkirk Niven, Editor in Chief, PanGaia Magazine, California
Penny J. Novack, Elder, Step by Step Tradition, Buckland, MA
Rev. Rayna Ardren Owens, Ph.D., Miami, FL
Beth Owl’s Daughter, The Dragon’s Cauldron, Durham, NC
Lynn Pacifico, New York, NY
Lauren Raine, Tucson, AZ
Angela Roberts Reeder, Baltimore, MD
Vibra Willow, P&W, Reclaiming, California
Michael York, Ph.D., San Francisco, CA
Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Church of All Worlds, Cotati, CA

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Collective Joy


Just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich's fascinating study of the history of collective joy, Dancing in the Streets. The occurrences she describes are so like our biggest and best Pagan rites. Here's one of many quotes I could excerpt. This one has relevance to interfaith dialogue.

...[C]ompared to the danced religions of the past, today's "faiths" are often pallid affairs--if only by virtue of the very fact that they are "faiths," dependent on, and requiring, belief as opposed to direct knowledge. The prehistoric ritual dancer, the maenad or practitioner of Vodou, did not believe in her god or gods; she knew them, because, at the height of group ecstasy, they filled her with their presence. Modern Christians may have similar experiences, but the primary requirement of their religion is belief, meaning an effort of the imagination. Dionysus, in contrast, did not ask his followers for their belief or faith; he called on them to apprehend him directly, to let him enter, in all his madness and glory, their bodies and their minds.

Photograph of "Dancing Maenad"
by Dimitrios Constantin, Greek,
1865, from the Getty Museum,
Los Angeles

I might add that Dionysus is the original Christos, or the god who is apprehended by the worshipper's consumption of his essence. In the case of Dionysus, wine. In the case of the Christian eucharist, the body/bread and blood/wine of Jesus the Christ. The Christos is an entheogen ("becoming divine within").

Monday, October 08, 2007

Stanislaus Pagan Pride Alive & Well!


Dorothea in front of CHS banner in our pavilion

This is a late report, but a good one nonetheless. Dorothea, a seminarian at Pacific School of Religion who's doing field work with CHS, and I drove to Modesto for the Stanislaus Pagan Pride Day. The last time I was there was for PPD in 2004 and I think that may have been the most recent PPD in Modesto. This community, like most, has had some struggles, but I'm happy to report that they've coalesced into a wonderful group. All very helpful, very friendly, and very enthusiastic.

Several members drove to Lafayette when Victoria and the Pagan Alliance performed a ceremony to honor Wiccan military casualties. They come to PantheaCon in San Jose in February. I saw their crew two weeks earlier at the Sacramento Sacred Harvest Festival Honoring Pagan Pride Day.

They were kind enough to provide us with a pavilion and people to set it up for us. The site near the riverside was shaded by Valley Oaks native to California with lots of their unusual looking acorns covering the ground. We used them to prevent our flyers from being blown off the table by the wind.


Our booth

A producer, cameraman and interviewer Martin Sargent from Revision3 came to interview me for a Web Drifter podcast. Martin interviewed me a few years ago for a now-defunct late night show called Unscrewed with Martin Sargent for TechTV. Martin and I participated in the main ritual as more and more people browsed the booths and gathered to watch the circle from outside. Thankfully, Dorothea covered the CHS booth while I gave a talk, attended the ritual, and conversed with Martin for the interview. Martin's a wise guy, so I hope I held up under his jesting.

They extended warm hospitality, fed us, and treated us like visiting royalty. I even won two prizes in the raffle drawing!

Dorothea and I joined fellow presenters Oberon Zell and Michael Gorman, and others for dinner to fortify ourselves before the long drive home. I enjoyed our lively conversation tremendously.

I'm glad to have been invited and I wish this community continued healthy growth.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Holy Convergence


Yesterday Patrick and I attended an event at Peace Lutheran Church in Danville, CA called "Holy Convergence: An Interfaith Festival for Families." Billed as "a celebration of Ramadhan (Islam), the Feast of St. Francis (Christian [at least those brands of Christianity that have saints]), High Holy Days (Jewish), Divali and Gandhi's Birthday (Hindu) [is Gandhi's birthday a religious holiday or a national holiday?], Indigenous People's Day [fka "Columbus Day" and now known in PC San Francisco as Italian Heritage Day], Sikh Guru Gadhee, In Love with Life Season (Buddhist, Sufi and Bahai), and World Communion Sunday (Protestant Christian). Note there is no mention of Autumn Equinox, which is called by different names but celebrated by nearly all Pagans.

At the opening ceremony in the sanctuary, I met Bob Stranathan, a Christian Science practitioner, who seemed bewildered by my presence, and said he thought that Pagans were godless. I told him we had lots of gods and goddesses. Bob asked me if I were 'black or white'? We conversed in a spirit of openness and friendship. He did ask me if my poppy-tattooed arms were part of my religion. I said, no, they weren't a required accoutrement of Paganism, but, yes, they express, for me, my connection with and dependence upon the land where I live, a land covered with these flowers from early Spring until late Summer.

Right after we concluded the opening with self-introduction of religious representatives in attendance, a lovely young woman approached me and said how glad she was to see a Pagan presence there. She introduced me to her female partner and their daughter of about 9. We only had a few minutes to chat because Patrick and I were off to the first of two panels.

The first panel addressed the questions: "What are the 'end goals' of your faith? And how are they achieved in practice?" Each panelist had five minutes to speak, with the rest of the time taken up with Q&A. I didn't get all their names. A Sikh man said that Sikhs live in the world, and must leave themselves as Allah made them -- meaning no shorn head or facial hair, no embelleshments of the body (while seeming to be looking directly at my colorful arms).

The Rev. Carole Anderson from the Church of Religious Science in Concord said that there is only one god but that god can be complimented and integrated into other religions.

Rabbi Dan Goldblatt of Beth Chaim Congregation in San Ramon, said the world is borken and needs repair. He seeks to find a balance between justice and compassion, to seek peace. He said there is little in Judaism by way of theology, but that we should listen with our whole hearts.

The abbess of Buddha Gate Monastery in Lafayette, Master Jian-Sheng, claims that all sentient beings have the potential to attain Buddhahood, or enlightenment, by (1) observing the precepts -- she spoke of five precepts and eight precepts, but only itemized the six I'm mentioning here -- (2) practicing tolerance; (3) practicing charity, with no attachment and without greed; (4) practicing meditation; (5) being diligent; (6) attaining wisdom, beyond knowledge. She cautions to avoid extreme views and keep to the middle way.

The final panelist, a Sufi woman from the Rahima Foundation, said that the goal of Sufis is to attain divine pleasure and divine love, to serve 'the lord' (I don't know what lord, exactly; Allah, I assume) by serving his creation.

During the Q&A, I wanted to bring up the topic of the feminine divine. I said I felt at a disadvantage because there had been no expression of anything other than monotheism and that in NeoPaganism -- yes, I used that term in this rather conservative context -- and my question was about acknowledgment of the feminine divine. I said that many women left the religions in which they were brought up because they saw no image of the feminine divine in those religions, and instead they found a more personally meaningful spiritual path in Paganism.

Having been specifically invited to this event, you can imagine my surprise when several people, both panelists and particularly two men in the audience (one a Muslim, one Euro-American, presumably Abrahamic) spoke rudely and condescendingly. The Muslim man told me how Allah revered women. That, my friend, is not the feminine divine. The Euro-American man gave me a lecture about all the deities of both sexes in Hinduism (he neglected Ardhanarishvara and other androgynous or two-sexed deities); how highly esteemed women are in Christianity and Judaism. Again, so narrow and limited were their world views that they couldn't seem to grasp the meaning of my question. They were nasty and I was upset.

I told myself that encountering Pagans was a new experience to this community and that I should cool it and speak to individuals afterwards. I leaned over to Patrick, all nice and proper in a suit, with a CHS pin in the lapel, and tie, and whispered, "Am I being too contentious?" He said definitely not, but wait till later to address my discomfort. I said, "These guys are gettin' my Irish up. Am I being too thin-skinned?" I experienced these men (and even the abbess) as patronizing us. And if you wanna piss me off, just talk down to me.

I could have told this fellow that I attend Kali pujas on the New Moons. I could have told him lots, but alas, there was no time.

I felt that the moderator, who was at the rear of the room rather than on the dais with speakers, should have interrupted and made it clear that this was an interfaith gathering, and at interfaith gatherings we come together in respect. At that point in the day, I was ready to just leave and go home; instead, I walked around and cooled off between sessions.

While the interfaith discourses were taking place, there were other activities going on at the gathering. The various local churches and other religious organizations had tables in the courtyard where they handed out literature and had some refreshments. The Buddhists, bless them, had free bottles of water on this hot dry day. Meanwhile, some people took their pets the Children's Garden for a blessing of the animals; the Sikhs led people in chanting and dancing in the sanctuary, others walked the church labyrinth (a medieval circuit labyrinth), while children got henna tattoos or made balloon animals, worked on a large mosaic. The design of the mosaic, by Richard Caemmerer, is pictured above. Whether Pagans paths were intended to have been interwoven into this design, when I see the multicolored spiral uniting all the images, I know we're there.

After a short break, we reconvened for an "interfaith discourse" on the questions: "What are the views within your faith about other faiths? What are the relevant scriptures? What is the status of interfaith relations within your faith?" I'm happy to say that Patrick was the first to speak, and he stopped immediately when the moderator, still from the back of the room, signaled time. He was followed by a Baha'i gentleman, then Father Tom Bonacci, a Roman Catholic priest from St. Ignatius of Antioch.

Bob, the Christian Scientist I met earlier, said Jesus' job was to express the divine, not to tell about it. The goal of Christian Science is to heal "sin," and its teachings are Bible-based. He said we are to "be merciful, just and pure." From the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Danville, Bob also maintains a healing practice from his office in Walnut Creek. He prays and performs healings by telephone or e-mail, but prefers working face-to-face.

The last to speak was the Sufi woman from the Rahima Foundation.

A woman went up to Patrick right after the discussion, so I left the room to look around at what I had missed in my hurry to get to the opening ceremony in time. People, but for a few stragglers like me, were packing their instruments and literature, folding tables and chairs, and cleaning up. I went back into the room after a bit, but I could see Patrick and the woman were deep in conversation. After another little while, I returned to the room and sat quietly waiting for them to finish. Evidently the conversation had gotten very heated on both sides; I don't think it would be constructive for me to detail it here. Suffice to say that the woman, who happened to be a Protestant convert to LDS, was apologizing profusely to Patrick, saying how ignorant she had been. What a guy he is! One of the smoothest talkers -- he surely kissed the Blarney Stone, he has such Irish charm -- one of the most diplomatic people I know, Pagan or not.

I'm glad we made this connection with the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County. Patrick was wanting to connect with a local interfaith group close near his home.

I'm a little confused: our invitation came from ICCCC, the sponsor, yet the program indicates the event was sponsored by Interfaith - San Ramon Valley. For a completely different perspective on this event from mine, see this article from The Argus, a local paper. It also seems to have caught the attention of the Huffington Post.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Gathering of Spirits Harvest Festival

Yesterday I drove to Fair Oaks (Sacramento area) for the annual A Gathering of Spirits Harvest Festival honoring Pagan Pride Day. I picked up Dorothea, the PSR student who's doing field work by working with CHS, at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station and headed northeast early in the morning so we could have our tables set up by the time the gates opened. Weather was iffy.

When we pulled the car up to unload, we were greeted by Krom, one of the few Sacramento Pagans I know, who used to be active in the late CCVLC-CoG. It's always nice to encounter someone you already know when you go someplace unfamiliar, which is not to say that everyone wasn't friendly and gracious. They were. Tracy showed us our tables (two, one for CHS and one for me as an author). Brighde had already left her chair and knitting there. In spite of wind and occasional rain, we set up a nice display, pulled back from the edge to avoid drips and splashes, that included not only flyers for CHS, but also for Reclaiming Cauldron of the Valley and Serpentine Music. We arranged several chairs next to, instead of behind, the tables for people to chat about CHS out of the rain.

Our booth, with the CHS banner and the tripart display Brighde made and our fancy new flyers, looked great. I neglected to take photos, even though I remembered to bring my camera. Oh, well, it does me no good sitting in my market basket all day.

Festival organizer WinterSky, wearing a gorgeous golden gown, lead the opening procession, followed by four people holding Elemental masks on sticks, drummers and chanters.

Not a lot of people came to my talk, but then again not a lot of people came to anybody's talk. I think that most of the people there were busy with booths and rituals and other jobs and that the general public hadn't arrived yet because of the weather. This was the first day of a two-day festival, and it rained in the late morning. I think that kept attendance down, even though we enjoyed a glorious sunny afternoon.

We chatted with lots of folks, which was fine with me since one of my favorite things to do is talk with other Pagans -- about what they do, how they do it, what their experiences have been, what training they've had and/or synthesized, how they experience deity, how they are accepted by their neighbors, how public they can comfortably be, and that sort of thing.

The Association of United Pagans, sponsors of the Stanislaus Pagan Pride Day (Modesto) on October 6, had a booth. It was fun to be able to chat with them without the distractions of their having to be running a festival.

I went to most of a talk Michael Gorman gave. Michael's part of Grove of the Oak, a Sacramento OBOD (Druid) group, whom I had on the panel I produced at PSR in '06. Later we attempted to chat, but he was in great demand and being dragged around, and I won't compete for someone's attention. Another time, one would hope.

On a coffee quest shortly after we arrived, I met a lovely woman named Heather. Later I spent a lot of time chatting at her booth. Turns out we have a lot in common; she brought her children up in Marin County. An artist who works in many media, one of Heather's websites is here. I hope to see her again, most likely at the Dickens Faire.

Miria now sells healing stones exclusively, lots and lots of beautiful stones. I learned more about them hanging at her booth. She's a Reclaiming person I like and don't see often because we don't live near each other.

I only had two brief opportunities to check out the vendors and other offerings. Dorothea, Brighde and I took turns, plus Brighde wanted to spend some time with her friends in the Sierra Madrone Grove ADF booth.

I had fun getting to know Dorothea better on the long car rides, and look forward to our drive to Modesto in October.

We left around the time the ADF ritual was beginning. I was exhausted and we had a long drive back to the Bay Area. On the way home we stopped by the Trismegiston covenstead, Book Haven, in Berkeley, where Corby had gone to join in their Equinox ritual, for some post-ritual conversation and comestibles.

International Day of Peace Observance


Sister Marion censing the peace pole.

The activist Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, under the direction of Sister Marion Irvine, previously mentioned in this blog, observed International Day of Peace. The UN General Assembly, by Resolution 36/67 in 2001, declared September 21 to be an international day of peace.

We gathered near the Dominican peace pole on the amidst tall old trees and sunny patches of flowers on beautiful grounds of Dominican University on an utterly exquisite early Autumn day. The peace pole has the words "May peace prevail upon the earth [sic]" on each of its four sides in four languages: English, because we are an English-speaking society; French in honor of the birthplace of the Dominican order; Spanish for our neighbors to the South and many in our community; and Arabic because so much war is taking place in Arabic-speaking parts of the world. (These are the reasons Sister Marion gave.)

We opened with a call-and-response prayer that was printed in the program, as were all the prayers and songs. I wasn't comfortable saying some of the words -- it began, "We believe in God...We believe in Jesus Christ, who came to heal us, and to free us from...oppression..." -- so I didn't say them. The rest of the opening prayer was about human rights, solidarity of all peoples, justice, freedom from hunger and violence; I was down with that.

There was also a time for community sharing when we were asked to say what thought or feeling had brought us to the gathering. I said I was aggrieved at the needless and senseless deaths of our American children and Iraqis of all kinds that was taking place in Iraq. Sister Marion repeated each reason given, reinforcing it.

A procession around the university grounds preceded the re-dedication of the peace pole. Since Sister Marion had announced as an interfaith ceremony and invited MIC members to participate, I asked her if I could contribute a chant. It was that chant we used for the procession. I learned it from the EarthSpirit Community in Massachusetts, specifically from MotherTongue's new album, "Weaving the Web of Life." My understanding of the chant's genesis is that the woman who wrote it did so right after 9/11. Her heart was roiling, so the chant begins, "Peace in my heart," and extends to "peace between our hearts," ending with the all-embracing "peace in the heart of the world." (You can hear a bit of the chant here.)


The procession.

I remained at the mike singing the chant while others walked, but I was told by several people after the conclusion of the ceremony that they kept the chant going the whole time and loved it.

After the re-dedication, the kindergarten and first grade students of St. Raphael School sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," with gestures. They were adorable.

Although the ceremony was designed to honor all faiths in peace, and included three prayers in the program, all the prayers were from the Abrahamic traditions. They included "A Christian Prayer for Peace," "A Muslim Prayer for Peace," and "A Jewish Prayer for Peace." All were recited in unison by everyone there. I wonder if the sisters sought the prayers from those folks or if they chose them themselves. I was puzzled that they didn't have a Jew and a Muslim read the Jewish and Muslim prayers. In any event, I know they tried to be inclusive. I did introduce myself and say that the offering of a chant I had brought was from the NeoPagan community. Several people, including some of the nuns, came up to me afterwards and thanked me for bringing it. That felt good. It also felt good seeing and hearing all those people, especially the little children, chanting a Pagan chant. Not that there's anything that would peg it as having been written by a Pagan from a Pagan perspective, since in my view has universal appeal and applicability. That's exactly why I chose it and why I offered it. I want to see our face, or taste our flavor, in interfaith situations.

We concluded by offering personal blessings of peace upon those standing near us. I felt good about the whole affair.


Note: Photos are from Dominican Sisters website; more here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Retreat Day with Two Nuns

Yesterday I spent a restorative day with others in the Marin Interfaith Council at one of our quarterly retreats. The theme was balancing the inner and outer life, taught by Dominican Sister Marion Irvine and Brahma Kumaris ("daughters of Brahma")* Sister Chandru.

Sister Chandru, who speaks very quietly with a melodic Hindi accent, told us about the founding of Brahma Kumaris by Brahma Baba (Lekhraj Kripilani) in 1936 in an area that was then in India but is now part of Pakistan. At that time Hinduism was dominated by males, and Baba thought there would be benefit in giving women charge of a group dedicated to peace. The movement began with 300-400 young women aged 16-21 years, and has now grown to 8,500 centers in 100 countries.

Brahma Baba
The Brahma Kumaris sisters at Anubhuti Meditation and Retreat Center**, the location of the retreat, were in mourning for their late leader, Dadi Prakashmani, who had died only a few days earlier. (Dadi means respected elder sister.) Dadi Prakashmani was one of the original sisters to whom Brahma Baba entrusted his entire worldly estate and the administration of the order; she joined when she was 14.

Born in Mumbai, Sister Chandru uses the masculine form of her given name, Chandra, because in her youth when she joined Brahma Kumaris, Brahma Baba told her she was like a son to him.

The Brahma Kumaris practice a form of meditation called Raja Yoga. It is a method of relaxing, refreshing and clearing the mind and heart. It helps you look inside to rediscover and reconnect with your original, spiritual essence. Meditation enables an integration of your spiritual identity with the social and physical realities around you, restoring a functional and healthy balance between your inner and outer worlds.

We spent the latter part of the morning, through lunch (delicious fresh vegetarian lovingly prepared and served by residents of the retreat) in silent meditation. We sat, and later walked the grounds or the labyrinth.

Sister Marion is a hoot. Really unshakable. When she was 47, overweight and smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, she took up running to relax after her workdays as principal of a grade school. Soon she became the oldest to ever qualify for the Olympic Trials. She even made it into Time magazine. Here's a photo (about halfway down the page) of her in her running days. She's now 77, with the spirit of a youngster and the sass of a woman who knows who she is and enjoys life.

She told us a bit about the founders of her order, the 12th Century CE Spaniard, St. Dominic de Guzman, and St. Catherine of Sienna (the youngest of 25 children!). In general, Dominicans seek to purify themselves from 'evil' by asceticism. The sisters established places of retreat for itinerant friars during the Late Middle Ages.

Dominicans have three orders. Sister Marion is in the third, or active, order. The second is contemplative, and the third is completely cloistered.

Dominican sisters, also known as the Order of Preachers, live their lives supported by four common values, often referred to as the Four Pillars of Dominican Life, they are: community life, common prayer [both liturgical and contemplative, according to Sister Marion], study and service.

Of course, we Witches know the Dominicans as the propagators of the Inquisition, the authors of the Malleus Malifacarum (published in 1487), torturers and burners of heretics, and she did mention the Dominicans' persecution of the Albigensians. I actually considered mentioning Kramer and Sprenger, but just didn't think it was a good time to get into that particular discussion.

Sister Marion is a native San Franciscan and product of Dominican schools. In high school, she observed that her teachers, all Dominican sisters, seemed happy in their lives and work, and since she considered herself to be a rather upbeat person, she was attracted to that life. She claims she never had a mystical experience that lead her to join, and she's never had one in the sixty years she's been in the order.

I did manage to jump on a potential teaching moment when we were talking about the power of collective prayer, chant and meditation focusing on a common goal. I pointed out that this is another name for what we might call 'spellwork.'

Sister Marion showed us a teaching method used in her order wherein a short passage of the Bible is read aloud slowly, and really listened to. After a brief period of silence, they are read a second time. I volunteered and found myself in the odd position of reading just a few verses of the Gospel of Luke.

We Pagans don't have a sacred text, per se; however, I intend to try this practice with a few lines of poetry, lyrical words about Nature, or maybe part of The Charge of the Goddess. I think it could enhance our understanding. As I get older, I find I enjoy contemplative spiritual practices at least as much as more active practices, if not more.

There were some things said that were mistaken assumptions on the part of the teachers, particularly assumptions about monotheism from Sister Marion.

Although we usually think of Hindus as being polytheists, the Brahma Kumaris seem to pay little heed to individual deities. Instead, their focus is on world peace. The artwork at the retreat was comprised of a surprising number of white sculpted angels -- a large angel stood at the edge of the labyrinth -- plus photographs of temples and assemblies of people, and mystical paintings of colors and images drawing the eye into "the one."

I find enrichment in every retreat I've attended. This is the fourth. I missed the one at the Vedanta Society in West Marin, but attended two at Santa Sabina Center and one at Green Gulch Zen Center, plus several International Day of Prayer breakfasts at Congregation Rodef Shalom.

Our director, the Rev. Carol Hovis, has a real talent for putting together interesting spiritual leaders to present on topics relevant to all of us. She's someone other interfaith folks might consider looking to for creative ideas leading to greater religious tolerance and understanding.


*Brahma Kumaris means ‘daughters of Brahma.’ Seminal to the vision of world renewal was the revelation of the important and prominent role of women as spiritual teachers. Brahma Baba correctly foresaw that core values based on traditionally feminine qualities – patience, tolerance, sacrifice, kindness and love – would increasingly become the foundation of progress in personal growth, human relations, and the development of caring communities. To maintain the emphasis on this vital core of leadership, he named the organisation the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.

** Anubhuti means 'to experience."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sing a Song of Summer

Summer & Macha at the Summer of Love

My friend Summer and I spent last Sunday afternoon in Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park enjoying a glorious day with thousands of others at the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love. We didn't know each other in 1967, although we were both in San Francisco. We met through the home birth movement in the '70s when Summer was a birth coach and we were both young mothers (well, not so young). Summer had a daughter and identical twin sons; I had Deirdre. Deirdre and her boys were both Geminis born in 1976.

Since then, we've tickled each other's funny bones, tipped a shot of Jameson's, celebrated birthdays and other good times. Summer inspires me to be a better person. It's not that she does or says anything in particular. It's just that when we have long talks, she gets me thinking about things in a more loving and compassionate way. Having Summer as a friend has enriched my life.



We arrived around 11:15 a.m. with folding chairs and table, rainbow umbrella and food. Every time we looked around the crowd was denser, with people streaming through the gaps in the trees on the paths down into the meadow. There were vendors and lots of good food to buy, but the lines were endless; we were glad we'd brought our own picnic. Here are a few more photos:


Peace & Flowers and Flower Children


All Ages

Believe it or not, that's Grace Slick and
the Jefferson Airplane up there on the stage.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Working with the Elderly

On Thursday I attended another luncheon meeting of the Marin Interfaith Council, the topic of which was "Serving Your Senior Community." Our speakers, Jenefer Duane, CEO/Executive Director of Elder Financial Protection Network, and Lee Pullen, Program Manager for Adult Protective Services, spoke about elder needs and care. Since these events are mainly directed towards clergy of the mainstream persuasions, they sought to educate about issues such folks encounter in their ministries.

They came well prepared, with a power point presentation, statistics, and handouts containing written information, resources and contacts. Elder financial abuse is a growing problem. Most perpetrators have a close relationship to the victim. Besides financial abuse, lonely, often dependent and confused, elders suffer physical assault, constraint or deprivation, neglect, over and under medication, and abandonment.

Elders may become neglectful of personal hygiene, malnourished or dehydrated. Memory loss, fear of loss of independence, feelings of shame and embarrassment, and dependence on the perpetrator(s) lead to underreporting of these crimes.

Our discussion included the argument for not isolating populations by age. Contemporary American lifestyles tend to group small children with each other, youth with youth, and elders with elders. We are better served when communities are age-integrated.

For Pagan readers of this blog, I quote the definition of clergy for mandated reporting:

"Clergy member" means priest, minister, rabbi, religious practitioner, or similar functionary of a church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or recognized religious denomination or organization.

"Clergy member" does not include unpaid volunteers who periodically visit elder or dependent adults, unless their main occupation or vocation involves active or ordained ministry.
I leave it to the individual Pagan to decide in what capacity she or he is functioning. Local and regional resources and more detailed information, by state, about elder abuse and reporting at the National Center on Elder Abuse.

If there is one thing I want Pagans to take away from this is the knowledge that if we encounter anything resembling elder abuse, we are mandated reporters. Most of you probably know we are mandated reporters for suspected child abuse, but the law requiring 'clergy' to report suspected elder abuse is recent. So now you know. May you never have to do it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Friends Old & New

One of the most compelling reasons for me to belong to CoG is the friends I've made through it. I hadn't attended CoG's annual meeting for several years, for reasons I won't go into here, until this year when Laura asked me to present at the Leadership Institute.

Some of the dear friends I was able to visit with this year are: Cat Chapin-Bishop and Peter Bishop, creators of QuakerPagan Reflections blog. Go there to read Cat's remarkable seven-part spiritual journey.

It's always a treat to see Penny and Mike Novack. Penny is fey if anyone ever was. I had last seen her at Dandelion 2 in May of '06. I was pleased that so many other CoG members who'd only known Penny online got to experience the full impact of her.

For the first time I met in person some co-conspirators who helped me write Witchcraft and the Web, in particular Jehana Silverwing, who did the MerryMeet07 website, and Carol Maltby, whose observations over the years, both in the business of writing that book and beyond, I've always found to be wise and compassionate. Plus she has beautiful gray braids.


My friend Jennifer Bennett, another CHS teacher, generously shared her dorm room with me. She embodied CoG's matron Coventina at the main ritual. She wore a beautiful shade of blue and carried a cornucopia. At the end of the ritual, participants were given an image of Coventina on a ribbon, handmade by the Witches of Evergreen Coven. I'm not terribly familiar with Coventina. I learned more about her from a slide show by Don Frew and Anna Korn of their trip to Coventina's well a couple of years ago, but I'd not previously known Her to be conceived as a tripartite goddess.

Our EarthSpirit colleagues produced the main ritual. I had a small part paired at opposite sides of the with Eric. Moira choreographed, Deirdre taught us a couple of new chants from MotherTongue's new album, "Weaving the Web," that I guarantee I'll be spreading around.

MotherTongue performed for us after dinner on Saturday night. In addition to chants from their new album, Andras entertained us with a raunchy contemporary version of "Gently Johnny" from The Wicker Man. This is the first time I've seen MotherTongue with their new director, Christopher LaFond.

Other non-members lives in Western Massachusetts and are my witchy pals: Mark Roblee, known in magical circles as Mark Moth. Mark and I go way back from when he lived in San Francisco. He and his wife Jacky (Wacky Jac) live in a Kahlo-esque house in the woods with their two young sons. They don't socialize much. I left MerryMeet one afternoon to have a cappuccino and schmooze with Mark, to the envy of some of his local friends who rarely see him. He's delving into learning Greek, with a goal of learning more about Greek magic. I told him about Tony's work and will recommend Tony's writings.

Most times when I'm in the area, Orion Stormcrow shows up. This time was no different; along he came, all dressed for the masquerade and looking great. I was glad for his company at the ball, glad to do some booty dancing with him.

I only got to wave at Charles Boyce, former Tech Dean of CHS, and his wife Kaitlin in passing. Kaitlin starred in a playlette called "The PerfectTear," by Silkie O-Ishi, about Cuchulain's encounter with Fand of the sidhe in the New York subway and his marital conversations with Emer.

Then there are Pagan friends who are neither members of CoG nor do they live in Western Mass: Michael York and Richard Switzer. Met for the first time in person Thea Collins and our new PIO, Jane Raeburn, both from Maine and both working with CHS. Spent a fair amount of time with CHS Board members Holli Emore from South Carolina and Debbie Fields-Berry from Boston.

I met several folks for the first time whom I know I will carry a fondness for from now on: Ludmilla, Coral, Cosette, Cuchulain, Coyote, and some whose names escape my senior mind at the moment.

Margot Adler gave a great talk about her new edition of DDTM, which opened up into a panel of long-time Witches. I was reluctant to go up to the table, but Cosette and Cuchulain urged me to. We had a fascinating discussion going on, with the likes of Glenn Turner, Penny, Andras Arthen, Anna Korn and others, but, as usual, not nearly enough time. Just like the panel at Starwood the week before. Oh, well, leave 'em wanting more, I say.