Friday, November 28, 2008

Send Elly Simmons to the White House

My friend, artist Elly Simmons, needs help to get to a reception at the White House on December 2, at the invitation of Laura Bush. The reason is that our Congresswoman, Lynn Woolsey, invited Elly to design an ornament for the Xmas tree in the Blue Room. Her design is one of those chosen. She says it's "full of appropriate symbolism!!"

For the past two years Elly has been traveling at her own expense to document Tents of Hope: A journey of compassion and peace with the refugees of Darfur, Sudan, for an art book she's doing for Pomegranate Artbooks. As a result, funds are depleted and she needs help in order to follow through on this fantastic opportunity. To that end, she seeks small donations towards plane tickets for herself and her daughter, Maralisa. If you can help, please send your check payable to Elly Simmons at P.O. Box 463, Lagunitas, CA 94938. E-mail her at to let her know so she can book her flight.

Elly describes the overriding image as being "that of a phoenix bird rising from the ashes, with a number of other symbols thrown in." I'm sure it's beautiful, as is all her art. I'm mailing a modest check tomorrow. Won't you join me?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Finding Spiritual Kin

I want to mention Chris Highland, the fiancé of Carol Hovis, Director of Marin Interfaith Council. I like him a lot. We’ve chatted, and I told both him and Corby that I’d like them to meet, I think they have a lot in common. He was at the Visionary Marin event honoring Isabel Allende I attended.

I recently discovered that he was once chaplain of the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy here in San Rafael. This group co-sponsors, with MIC, "Shelter from the Storm," an interfaith service for the homeless in San Rafael on the eve of Thanksgiving. That’s the event in preparation for which I’ve been bugging some of you about singing “Demeter’s Song.” Corby and I have readied ourselves to sing it tonight at this service. We’ll also offer is as a grace at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner at my sister Catherine’s house -- the first since our mother's death this past May.

Evidently, Chris also has experience as a prison chaplain, and since I'm prepared to accept a long-standing invitation -- nay, plea -- to visit some inmates at nearby San Quentin the minute I learn that pending litigation has been settled, this is another area I'd enjoy discussing with him.

Chris sent this. I think you'll resonate with his sentiments, as do I.

I am ever so thankful that we have a new administration going into The White House.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Fart in the Punchbowl

Throughout the first meeting of the Pagan Studies Group at the AAR, presenters mentioned the words "culture" and "cultural" and "religion" and "religious" as though religion were not a cultural construct. I had the temerity to question this. The response was a nonplussed silence.

I realize that in state supported institutions such as Cal State-Long Beach and Colorado State-Pueblo, the line between state and religion is fuzzy. I realize they have to watch their steps carefully in order to avoid jeopardizing their state funding. But, really, religion is a part of culture. I felt that I said, "The emperor has no clothes." I felt really awkward when my comment elicited such a blank response.

Later, some of the presenters told me that the subject was just too complicated and frought with opportunities for misunderstandings that they didn't feel they could take it up in the limited time they had. Some solace, I guess, for my feeling like a boob.

Friday, November 14, 2008

AAR in Chicago

My friend and colleague, Jason Pitzl-Waters, has posted about the recent AAR Annual Meeting in Chicago. There's so much to say, so much juicy thinking crammed into a few days a year. For the most part, I had a great time. The air was charged with excitement about the then-upcoming election. I was as excited as anyone, wore my big Obama button at all times. The streets were being blocked off in preparation for the big celebration in Grant Park, directly across the street from the hotel where the main action of the AAR was taking place.

(Photo of me, Graham Harvey and Doug Ezzy, taken on my camera by someone. ?)

It's challenging for a night owl to make it to morning presentations. Sharon and I stayed at The Palmer House, not at the Hilton Towers where most meetings took place. That first morning we hustled to the first session of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Graup and Religions and Popular Culture Group. Chaired by Doug Ezzy from the University of Tasmania, its them was Talking with the Dead.

Sonja Spear of Indiana University gave the first paper, entitled "Haunted Irvington: Civil Pride, Memory, and the Klan." We came in during that presentation so missed much of it. She had photos and talked of an old house said to be haunted that was now owned by a Lesbian couple -- let's hear it for legalizing same-sex marriage!

Anne R. Key* of CIIS illustrated her talk, "Los Muertos Tienen Sed, los Vivos Culpas (The Dead Are Thirsty, and the Living Are Culpable): The Use of Image in Rituals Honoring the Ancestors in Pre-Conquest and Modern Mexico," with wonderful photos of many kinds of El Dia de Los Muertos altars from throughout Mexico. She explained the meanings of such things as marigolds, arches, marigold-petal paths, Katrinas, and cut paper designs on the altars, as well as the differences among the several days of the celebration. For instance, one day is for children who died, another for the unnamed, etc.

Following on the theme, Chas Clifton of Colorado and Wendy Griffin of Southern California presented on "Campus Pagans and the Day of the Dead: Civil Religions and Cultural Boundaries." Speaking from the perspectives of a small, state-supported university in Pueblo and a large, state-supported urban university in Long Beach, they too had photographs of El Dia de los Muertos altars, albeit less traditional ones. Their talk underscored how much more visible Paganism is and questioned the boundaries between "traditional" Pagan practices and Neo-Pagan syncretism.

Jason Winslade of DePaul University walked in the liminal realm between speaking about and doing by using a few props: hats and candles. His paper was called "'When the Veils Are Thin': An Occult Performance Theory." I'm eager to learn more and hope he will be able to join us at Cherry Hill Seminary soon.

Most exciting of all was Adrian Harris' paper called "The Halloween of Cross Bones," about a modern urban shaman named John Crow (aka John Constable) in London and the last resting place of a class of medieval streetwalkers known as the Winchester geese, with whom Crow had been in psychic contact. Here's some history and images, including shrines to the geese, of the Southwark area south of the Thâmes

And that was only the first session, folks!

* Anne R. Key is also the name of one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Freedom To Marry

In light of the disappointing results of recent elections, I publish the following press release from September. I am proud to be a member of a Pagan organization that's finally taken a public stand on this issue.

Fri Sep 12, 2008 2:59 pm (PDT)


Covenant of the Goddess
P.O. Box 1226
Berkeley, CA 94701 U.S.A

Contact: Lisa Morgenstern,
National Public Information Officer

BERKELEY, CA-September 2008 ; Covenant of the Goddess, a National Organization of Wiccan Congregations, offered a statement in support of Gay and Lesbian Marriage in California and Massachusetts.

“Covenant of the Goddess has, since its inception in 1975, had clergy willing to celebrate the religious if not the legal joining of two members of the same gender. While we respect the right of the individual clergy within COG who may choose not to perform such a ceremony, we are in support of marriage between two committed adults of any gender, and a majority of our celebrants are willing to perform such ceremonies.”

Covenant of the Goddess is supportive of stable family environments between spouses who are becoming family and views same gender marriages as a civil right. “As Pagans who are Witches or Wiccan, we remember our history and know that marriage is a civil contract, and historically, such was done to determine what property and belongings and livestock would be paid or received by the father of the bride or groom when the two families made an alliance. Same gender marriages date back to Ancient Greek and Roman times, when the majority of citizens were pagan. Marriage today is one way that two people can immediately become next of kin, and in today’s society with national privacy act issues, it is even more important for everyone in a loving committed relationship to have this right.” States Elder Priestess Lisa Morgenstern, National Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess.

Covenant of the Goddess was founded in 1975 to increase cooperation among Witches and to secure for Witches and covens the legal protection enjoyed by members of other religions. The Covenant publishes a newsletter; issues ministerial credentials on request to qualified persons; sponsors a national festival each summer; and encourages networking nationally, as well as regionally through local councils.

The Covenant is incorporated as a nonprofit religious organization in California, though it has grown to be an international organization. It is a confederation of covens and solitary members of various traditions, who share in the worship of the Goddess and the Old Gods and subscribe to a common code of ethics. The Covenant holds a Grand Council annually to decide matters which require deliberation by the full membership. Decisions are usually made by consensus.

In recent years, the Covenant has taken part in spiritual and educational conferences, interfaith outreach, large public rituals, environmental activism, community projects and social action, as well as efforts to correct negative stereotypes and promote accurate media portrayals. Its clergy perform legal marriages (handfastings), preside at funerals and other rituals of life-transition, and provide counseling to Witches includingthose in the military and in prisons. The Covenant also provides youth awards, sponsorship of college and university student groups, and legal assistance in instances of discrimination.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Celebrating Isabel Allende

Last night the Marin Interfaith Council honored author Isabel Allende with the Visionary Marin award. While a band played, we wandered around bidding on auction items, dropping raffle tickets in buckets for prizes, and noshing on lovely little tidbits of food at high, small round candlelit tables -- in other words, no sitting down to eat.

I chatted with several of my MIC friends and acquaintances, and recognized a few luminaries of sort: The Rev. Janie Spahr (I nearly introduced myself to her), Jean Shinoda Bolen (a close friend of Isabel's and BFF of one of the attorneys for whom I occasionally).

Leili First, one of our Sufi members, had assembled a slide show showing events of members of MIC. This played throughout the evening until the ceremony began. I was happy to see among them a photo of people dancing the Maypole that I took in Anne Hill's yard some years ago.

When the time came for introducing Isabel and bestowing the award, all the seats were filled except up front, so I caught the eye of Fu Schroeder, abbess of Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, who was in the front row, and she indicated I should sit in one of the empty seats next to her. After the ceremony, I realized I was in the section reserved for members of what Isabel calls her "tribe." (That's Green Gulch Farm in the photo, the way it looks driving by on Highway 1; that's the Pacific Ocean in the distance.)

Without exception, from Buddhist to Roman Catholic, from to Sufi to Presbyterian, from Hindu to Pagan, every single person I spoke with was elated about the election of Barack Obama. Most were also disappointed at the passage of Proposition 8, which changes the Califorinia Constitution to ban same-sex marriages, and which, I am confident, will not stand the test of the courts.

When the Rev. Carol Hovis, Director of MIC, first took the mike, her mention of the election outcome elicited cheers. The election results were obviously on everyone's mind because they were referenced frequently and each mention drew unrestrained applause.

Isabel is a tiny woman with a big spirit. In an inspiring acceptance speech from atop a plastic milk carton so she could look over the lectern and reach the microphone, she spoke of her life and the changes and challenges she'd met along the way. She spoke of her work and of the death of her daughter Paula. She spoke of her relatives in Chile and of her American husband. Several times she referred to the "plums" on her chest. Her beloved maternal grandfather had hoped she'd been a grandson rather than a granddaughter, and only finally accepted the fact that she was a girl when she grew small plums on her chest.

She spoke later of the joys of lovemaking and how both she and her husbands appreciated her somewhat bigger plums. She said that she admired the Dalai Lama, but that he was celibate and she much preferred carnal pleasure in her life. She said when she writes love scenes in her books, she is fantasizing about Antonio Banderas. Towards the end of her speech, she revealed that her husband, attorney Willie Gordon, does not seem to notice that the plums have turned to prunes.

Isabel is about five months older than I. She looks fabulous. At one point she asked the audience if they did not agree that she looked great for a 66-year-old, to applause. She said with a laugh, it's very expensive and takes a lot of hard work.

She spoke of fear and risk, and that being paralyzed by fear was a waste, how life was worth taking risks, that it was not without pain but was well worth it. In this regard, she mentioned her soul mate, Grace, who, with her daughter Sabrina, been in a head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge this past May. Grace broke many bones, displaced all the organs in her body except her heart, and lay comatose for many weeks. When she finally regained consciousness, she proclaimed how happy she was to be alive. She said the episodes of pain pass, and when they're gone, she doesn't remember them so she is happy. Grace had been a long-time Zen practitioner who gained enlightenment from a close brush with death. While Isabel spoke of this, I sat next to Fu Schroeder, who happens to be Grace's partner.

Isabel ended her speech with yet another reference to Tuesday's election, saying she is now so proud to be an American. Her last words were, "Yes, we can!" Of course, we repeated this heartening phrase.

When Fu had left her seat to go on the dais to present Isabel with her award, and Isabel returned, Isabel set next to me for the rest of the evening. She loved the California poppies tattooed on my forearms. At the end of the ceremony, I introduced myself to her as the "token Pagan" in MIC, and she said she herself is a pagan. (I use the lower case because she is pagan by nature and in outlook but not by affiliation and practice.) She had already identified herself using that term earlier in her speech. I am not "outing" Isabel Allende on this blog; I am merely stating a similarity in outlook that she shares with Neo-Pagans.

All in all, I felt welcomed with genuine warmth by my colleagues in MIC and comfortable representing a Pagan presence at this significant event.