Tuesday, December 08, 2009
While visiting our friends Sophia and Casey over the Thanksgiving weekend, Corby and I met some of their friends who were pursuing their passion. And what a passion it is! Two young arborists, Brian and Will, were in pursuit of a 30-foot (diameter of trunk) madrone tree somewhere in the woods of Southern Oregon. Armed with two snapshots of this giant taken in 1991, they and two friends wandered the woods for some days seeking the old one and showing the photos to locals in hopes of finding and documenting this wonder.
You see, nowadays, we seldom see really large old trees. We cut them down before they can reach elderhood. So these men at Ascending the Giants, "dedicated to the documentation of champion trees," travel the world in search of these special beings. That's what these trees are called: champions, those who surpass all rivals. When searchers locate one of these trees, they do not publish its whereabouts out of respect for its age and concern for their survival. Brian claims -- and I believe him -- that there's much to be learned from mature trees. He traveled throughout Indonesia from January to August seeking big old trees native to that region.
Wherever you are in the world where there are trees, if you know of one that's exceptional in size and age, take a photo and note its whereabouts, then send the information to the folks at Ascending the Giants.
And where to they get their high-tech tree-climbing equipment, you might ask? They get them from New Tribe.
Monday, November 02, 2009
Last night we celebrated Samhain at Reclaiming's 30th Anniversary Spiral Dance. The stated intention of this year's ritual was: "With joy and courage, we join together across generations and differences to move forward on the good road." To that end, my young friend Rhiannon, age 13, and I co-invoked the Mighty Dead of the Craft to come to our circle and dance with us. She and I had worked hard on this small piece and our work paid off. I felt that we did right by those who watch us from beyond.
When I finally arose today, I indulged in my Sunday ritual of reading the paper. I regularly read the "Irish sporting green," meaning the obituaries and death notices. What do you know but that the very first person listed today is an old friend with whom I'd lost contact. Her name is Judith Kuster Ackerly.
I remember so clearly the night in June 1968 when she and I had gone to see Battle of Algiers. Afterward, when she dropped me off at my home in the Haight, she summoned me back to the car. She'd just heard on the radio that Robert Kennedy had been shot that night in Los Angeles. It's funny the things one remembers and forgets. I have fond memories of beautiful red-haired Judy in her days as a young lawyer. I'd always regretted that we'd lost touch with one another when she and her then-husband, Tony Serra, divorced. I know she went on to live a rich life with people who loved her. May memories of her live.
* Richard Man took a wonderful series of photos of setup and ritual yesterday. He's done this for several years and now has quite a fine archive. Bless our documentarians.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Well, folks, I had this very cool audio file I was gonna share here for our Samhain pleasure, but having just spent several hours on tons of sites, registering places to upload audio files, and then being unable to make it happen, I give up. At least for now. I'm tired. I got to the point where I had the choice to upload, but when I went to my computer to choose a file, it wouldn't permit me to upload an iTunes file. So, alas! no cool audio this Samhain.
That said, you can hear a Samhain Service on "Mama Fortuna Honoring Our Ancestors" and an interview on "Paradigms: Visions of a Viable Future, with Baruch and Guests." In addition, Cypress Fey produced these three little informal chats about Tradition of Altar Building, Interfaith Friends, and Invocation of the Mighty Dead.
Witches' work is turning the wheel,
And round the wheel doth turn.
~ Steven Posch
Friday, October 16, 2009
Well, Patrick and I made it to this event in spite of the fact that my car overheated in the BART parking lot where I was picking him up for the drive down to Santa Clara in evening rush hour. We managed to get the car several blocks to the home of Don Frew and Anna Korn, where Don gave us his keys and off we went.
We were guests at the 3rd Annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner sponsored by the Pacifica Institute, a Turkish-American organization whose mission is "to promote cross-cultural awareness, in order to attain peace and diversity with our neighbors, help establish a better society where individuals love, respect and accept each other as they are." Since this group is specifically Abrahamic in focus, I considered it extra special that we Pagans were invited. My sister Catherine has been participating in activities sponsored by this organization for some years and has spoken of me to them, saying that what they are promoting is right up my alley. They generously extended an invitation to me, and fortunately Patrick was available and interested to accompany me. Anyone who knows Patrick knows what a charmer he is, perfect in such situations.
For dinner we shared a table with three other couples: Ahmet and Latifa Kaya, a Turkish-American couple who are members of the sponsoring group; Jerry and Cathy Fox, a Methodist minister and his wife; and Denise and her husband whose name I didn't get and who I think may have been among the sponsors. These last two were across the table from me so I couldn't hear most of what they said. Most of my conversation was confined to the people on my immediate left (Latifa) and right (Cathy).
The meal was delicious, with fresh baby greens salad, a salmon entree and rich melt-in-your mouth chocolate cake for desert.
At times I had difficulty understanding some of the welcoming talks due to the speakers' accents and rapidity of speaking. I did pick up some tidbits of knowledge, one being that the population of Turkey in 98% Muslim, making it much less diverse than we here in the U.S. are used to. The Pacifica Institute will host a shared dessert called Ashura in January, and it sponsors the largest Turkish festival in the U.S. in Los Angeles in the Spring.
We screened two videos about the Institute before the main speaker. One was an overview of their work, including some social service work (earthquake relief, child abuse).
The main speaker, Juan Campo, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and the History of Religion at UC-Santa Barbara, spoke of things I have a fair knowledge of. His talk was informative, and yet I realized that I could probably craft a respectable talk on the exact same topic. That's no criticism of the speaker at all. Rather, it's a realization on my part that I know more than I credit myself with knowing and have more to share than I realized.
He began with a litany of the many problems facing us, the world, at this point in time, mentioning the writings of Thomas Friedman, disease, hunger, nuclear proliferation, political violence, religions and ethnic violence, the depersonalization of violence, global warming, nuclear proliferation, growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, and poverty. He claims that 1.4 billion people in the world today live in poverty, meaning on less than $1.25 a day.
He followed by mentioning reasons for hope. He specifically mentioned the election of Obama, calls for nuclear disarmament, Central and South American nations moving away from military dictatorships, rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia, and emissions reduction. He listed successful efforts at addressing these problems -- education, AIDS prevention, research, humanitarian efforts, and so forth. This was a prelude to the three things he emphasized.
He spoke of the emergence of a sense of need for a global ethic, beginning with the signing of Hans Küng-drafted Declaration of a Global Ethic at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago. The document speaks of universal human rights, peace and nonviolence, peace among living things, cultivation of a just economic order, seeking truth, speaking truth, promoting tolerance, women's rights, with love as the organizing principle. I'm definitely down with all that.
Professor Campo proceeded to talk of a book by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama wrote in 1999 that also addressed the need for a global ethic, one that goes beyond religions. The book espouses compassion as an organizing principle, in the pursuit of reducing suffering and fostering happiness. The Dalai Lama articulates what he terms "dependent organization," meaning cause and effect; we, each one of us, can promote a positive effect or a negative one.
The speaker concluded with reference to the teachings of Fetullah Gülen, the founder of the movement from which the Pacifica Institute springs. Imam Gülen**, a member of a Sufi mystical spiritual tradition who is committed to Turkish national pride, teaches about a global ethic of loving service (to God together with service to humanity).
Campo's final challenge was for us to think beyond ourselves.
After Juan's speech, Latifah asked me what I thought of it. Of course, I told her I liked it, which I did, but then mentioned how pleasing it was to hear him speak of a document about which I had some knowledge. I told her that I had a dear friend who had signed that original document. Deborah Ann Light signed the 1993 "Towards a Global Ethic" on behalf of three American Pagan organizations: Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit, and Circle.* I felt proud to be able to say this.
After the main speech, we were treated to a talk and power point presentation called Turkish Coffee 101, and a demonstration of how to make Turkish coffee, after which we were served same. Coffee reached Istanbul in the 16th century CE. brought from Yemen by Sulieman with the purpose of helping worshipers to stay awake and pray longer. The Turkish word for breakfast is kahvalti, meaning before, or under, coffee. The Turks have a saying, "A cup of coffee has a memory of 40 years," meaning that sharing one is the beginning of a long friendship. Sometimes people divine by means of viewing the residue.
Andrew Kille, with whom I spoke afterwards, made an announcement about his Interfaith Space organization. I learned when we got back to Berkeley that Andy is married to Don Frew's sister-in-law's sister. Small world!
A Presbyterian minister, who said he's Chinese born in Korea and brought up in San Francisco's Chinatown, delivered a greeting from Congressman Mike Honda before offering a closing blessing.
As we left, each of us was given a beautiful little flowered coffee cup, some finely ground coffee, and some Turkish Delight.
Afterward, Catherine introduced me to several of her friends who'd visited Turkey together this past May. Wow, were they enthusiastic! They were interested in the Spiral Dance, so I gave them some of the promo cards I had with me. Also gave one to Latifa.
By the time I got home hours later, after dropping Patrick at a BART station, phoning for a tow, getting my car to my local mechanic, waking Corby to pick me up from the mechanic's, and getting home in my house, I was really wired.
* Those of you who were active in Paganism back then know that choosing a single individual to sign on behalf of three different Pagan organizations was taking a huge step towards Pagan cooperation, collaboration and community-building. More about CoG's participation here.
** I believe this is the proper title for him, since he evidently acquired that title in 1959.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Usually I do a bit more research before attending an event that I understand to be interfaith in nature. This time I didn't. Imagine my surprise when I heard readings from the Bible and Christian prayers. Had I done my homework, I'd have known this was a Christian, although ecumenical, group.
I must admit I was impressed by the singer, Ken Medema, not that I liked his style so much as I admired his ability to be in the moment and to capture that moment right there as he sang extemporaneously. As a priestess, I have sought to cultivate this is a skill (not necessarily in song).
Jim Wallis, an "author, public theologian, speaker, and international commentator on ethics and public life," addressed the gathering with a talk entitled "Don't Hold on to Your Lunch." He works with a group out of Washington, D.C. called Sojourners, which claims to focus on faith, politics and culture. The best I can say for his talk is that he spoke in support of public health care as a moral issue, which to me it is. Most of what he had to say had little relevance to my life as a Pagan.
I'm not sure how comfortable Nafisa (Sufi) Chris (Nature chaplain), and Fu, (Zen Buddhist) were with the emphasis. At one point Carol thought I was going to get up and walk out, but I was only retrieving my purse from where it had fallen by my chair. If I've been invited somewhere and I've accepted the invitation, I'm not so rude as to leave before it's over. There would have to be some sort of personal attack for me to do that. Mom done brung me up better than that. I tried to blend in.
On the feedback forms, however, I commented that I found the event "uncomfortably Christian-centric." Cheeky of me, perhaps. Of course it would be Christian-centric if its mission is to be a Christian organization, but since this was billed as being interfaith I guess I expected a little more pluralism.
That evening at dinner I ran into Father Paul Rossi, another MIC colleague from St. Rafael's Church at Theresa & Johnny's Night Kitchen.** Paul laughed and said he'd been at the breakfast sponsored by the same group (MLF) -- evidently this was a day-long event -- and could have told me how strongly Christian-centered MLF is. Corby and I dined at T&J's because the proceeds of that evening's meals was earmarked for the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy.
Thursday night my friend Patrick McCollum and I will be driving to Santa Clara to attend The 3rd Annual Dialogue and Friendship Dinner sponsored by the Pacifica Institute. This group, although they claim to be interfaith, limits itself to the big three Abrahamic religious traditions. It promotes the work of the Gülen movement, founded by a Turkish-American Sunni/Hanafi Muslim named Mehmet Fethullah Gülen. Patrick and I may be the first two Pagans to have been invited. The invitation, quite formal in its extension, is the work of my UU sister, Catherine, who's known this group for a few years. This past May Catherine and her husband Anthony spent about two weeks touring Turkey under the sponsorship of the Pacifica Institute. All they had to pay was their airfare.
Will we stand out?
* Carol and Chris are the couple at whose wedding I led a dance.
** Theresa & Johnny's only serves breakfast and lunch, except for one night a month when the serve dinner and give the proceeds to a specified charity.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
From Oxford University Press' New & Noteworthy Titles in Religion:
- Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman World: A Sourcebook, edited by Daniel Ogden, Univ. of Exeter. In a culture where the supernatural possessed more immediacy than ours, magic was important. This book presents 300 texts (curse tablets, spells from ancient recipe books, inscriptions from magical amulets) in new translations, with brief commentaries. What fun!
- Fasti Sacerdotum: A Prosopography of Pagan, Jewish, and Christian Religious Officials in the City of Rome, 300 BC [sic] to AD [sic] 499, Jörge Rüpke, Univ. of Erfurt, and David Richardson, Institute of Linguists. Documentary sources for Greek, Roman, Oriental, Jewish and Christian cults, listing religious office-holders of various kinds, 4,000 bios of those who fulfilled ritual, organization or doctrinal roles. Discusses religion's relationship with the state, interplay of religions, etc. This seems useful to Pagans as our religions and movement unfold and develop, as well as to those active in interfaith communities. Whoo! A whopping $320!
- The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science, by Kevin Van Bladel, Univ. of Southern California. The first major study of the early Arabic reception and adaptation of Hermes Trismegistus. I know Don Frew and Sam Webster are gonna want this one. I'm tempted to buy it myself, but will probably end up borrowing it. $60.
- Traversing Eternity: Texts for the Afterlife from Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, by Mark Smith, Oxford Univ. The title says it all. Based on, and with translations of, 60 texts. Yikes! $200.
- What I Believe, by Tariq Ramadan, Oxford Univ. A controversial figure, Ramadan was refused entry into the U.S. by the Bush administration in 2004. With support from the AAR and the ACLU, the ban was lifted. He speaks from a pluralistic perspective, urging Western Muslims to escape the mental, social, cultural and religious ghettos they've created to become full partners in democratic societies, while urging non-Muslims to recognize them as having the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. Helpful to those of us working in the interfaith movement. Only 13 bucks.
- A Priest's Guide for the Great Festival: Aghorasiva's Mahotsavavidhi, by Richard H. Davis, Bard College. About nine-day "great festival" for the god Siva, based on 12th Century Sanskrit text. Contextualizes contemporary practices and South Indian temple festivals and processions. I'm sure it's full of ideas that can inform our development as a Pagan culture. Not bad -- $60.
- Debi Chaudhurani, or The Wife Who Came Home, by Bankimcandra Chatterji, translated and with a critical introduction by Julius J. Lipner. The second trilogy of works by the famed Bengali novelist Bankimcandra Chatterji (1838-94) features a protagonist who transforms from rejected wife to bandit queen to goddess figure to India herself, showing caste and gender politics. As a long-time feminist longing to visit Calcutta, home of Kali Ma's cult(s), I find this appealing. Only $32.
- The Final Word: The Caitanya Caritamrita and the Grammar of Religions Traditon, by Tony K. Stewart, North Carolina State Univ. Explains a Bengali cult devoted to a historical figure, Krishna Caitanya (1486-1533 CE), believed to be an incarnation of Krishna and Radha fused into a single androgynous form. The cult originated in Caitanya lifetime yet continues, with no named successor, no central leadership, no institutional authority, and no geographic center. Minus the avatar, how similar does this sound to many Pagan religions today? $60.
- Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion, by Brian K. Pennington, Marysville College, Tennessee. "Drawing on a large body of previously untapped literature, including documents from the Church Missionary Society and Bengali newspapers, ... a fascinating portrait of the process by which 'Hinduism' came into being." This would seem to offer insights into the current phenomena of Pagan cultures. Only $27.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Among Rob's opening remarks were that the sabbath is going into a space between time. To me, this is a sacred circle, beyond time and space, a place between the worlds. He quoted Wendell Berry, saying that "everything is ending and everything is beginning," and said that spiritual change is becoming more of the real you. He said if you're not wrestling, you're not growing. He stated definitively that "you can't control change." Later in the day I disagreed with this, saying that you cannot avoid change, but you can attempt to shape it. You may even be able to accelerate change or decelerate change. In my experience, magic is about shaping reality and shaping change.
The first morning meditation was what Rob called a "centering" meditation, using a word to bring one's wandering consciousness back to meditation. I love words, consider names have power, yet tend towards visualization when meditating. I considered using the name of a deity, then decided I wanted to be less definitive than that. I also considered spiral as an image. I ended up with "will-o'-the-wisp," a word which brings me an image of a spiraling smoky light emerging from earth and dissolving into air. Not that I've ever seen one, mind you.
Mary Grace said that change and impermanence "is that which wakes us up." I've done some vipassana in the past. She defined vipassana as "to see clearly." She claimed such a thing as "normal" suffering and suffering while you hold on. My favorite quote of those she offered is, "Theologians get together and argue. Mystics get together and laugh." In my experience, Pagans do a lot of laughing when they get together.
After a silent lunch, we moved outdoors for a walking meditation. Mary Grace advised us to go only about 25 feet, then turn, walking in a line back and forth while paying attention to our steps, our feet, ankles, legs. I wanted to be on the grass, found it full of gopher holes or something that made it uneven. I didn't like going in a straight line so I traced a lemniscape in the grass.
In between sittings, one or another teacher spoke or read. There was also some time for discussion, but never enough for me.
* * * * *
After the retreat, two of my interfaith colleagues, Corby and I went to St. Mary's College to hear Eboo Patel speak. My MIC friends are Judith Fleenor of the Golden Gate Center for Spiritual Living and Molly Arthur from St. Stephen's Episcopal Church * in Belvedere. Molly also serves as director of Sage Femme midwifery services.
All four of us had attended Barbara McGraw's talk entitled "The Founding Fathers' Religious Reasons for Separation of Church and State," about the religious foundations of the U.S. Constitution at MIC's Annual Meeting in June** (about which I had planned to blog but did not). This event was the first sponsored by the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism, a project founded by Barbara. Directed towards building an interfaith movement among the young, judging by the turnout and rapt listeners, I'd say the event succeeded. The Soda Center auditorium filled to the point where two adjoining side sections had to be opened up and every chair in the building put out to accommodate the enthusiastic crowd. (There were 30 LDS teens seated in front of us, plus many more from other religious groups.)
Dr. Patel, a charismatic and informative speaker, received a Roosevelt Freedom of Religion Medal and serves as one of the religious advisors to the Obama White House, among his many other accomplishments. His address was based on his book, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. He implied that he spent a period of drawing away from the religion of his family, but that working in the field of interfaith restored him and deepened his faith.
He spoke of finding principles in common among different religions. In order to be an interfaith leader, one must define how one sees the world. He defines reality as concerns religion as being between pluralism and extremism. Extremists consider that only they, the holders of whatever extremist beliefs, live and thrive. Others must perish, or convert. Eboo believes, as do I, that all are entitled to "equal dignity and mutual loyalty."
Secondly, one must challenge religious bigotry. And third, one must act. Dr. Patel takes inspiration from the actions of Ghandi, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela and others. He spoke of their respect for one another, their cooperation with others in striving to make their actions effective, and their adoption of each other's methods of protest and measures of success.
Following his talk, the floor opened for Q&A, which proved lively, provocative, and heartening. I didn't get a chance to ask my question, so posed it when he autographed the copy of his book I purchased. I asked him what older people in interfaith could do to promote the work of the younger. His response was vaguely on the order of "keep on truckin'."
We oldsters left the event feeling encouraged and glad we'd gone.
* This is the church where Jerry Garcia's funeral was conducted by Father Matthew Fox, who was removed from his position in the Catholic Church by then-Cardinal Ratzinger for having such folks as Starhawk and Luisa Teish teach in his creation spirituality courses at Holy Names College in Oakland.
** BeliefNet Pagan blogger Gus diZerega was there.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
I am very sad today to learn of the passing of my friend Beki Filipello. She was a lovely woman and a wonderful (NROOGD) Witch. She had found the love of her life in David. She had moved to a place she'd longed to live in, grown a splendid garden, joined in doing good deeds in her local community. Beki is gone too soon. Her memory will live within all of us, her friends.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Yesterday Corby and I drove out to Drake's Beach, so named because Sir Francis Drake is said to have landed there in the Golden Hind in 1579. Even thought it was on a holiday, I was a bit surprised to find it so populous. Not crowded. I don't think it's ever likely to be crowded. Usually we see maybe 20-50 people spread along a very, very long beach bordered by sandstone cliffs on one side and the glorious Pacific on the other.
I headed southeast towards the big outcropping beyond which we shot our Baring Witness peace photo. At that time, about two days before the New Year of 2003, we had to ford a stream and then climb over rocks to get to a pebbled beach where we arranged ourselves for the photo.
What I found there was a beach! Not the stream and the big cliff and the pebbles we posed on. A sandy beach! Filled with picnickers, sand castles, children running around, dogs, frisbees. In the intervening years, the entire cliff had crumbled into the sea, and where there were pebbles, as you can see in the photos, is now sand.
Later as we walked down the beach in the opposite direction, we heard and saw many pebbles and rocks falling from the cliffs in the strong wind. Erosion in action. Some cliffs had spills of rocks and pebbles at their bases, others just sand. I felt the need to keep my distance from the cliffs that were at that moment in the process of changing themselves. I enjoy walking at the very edge of the sea, sometimes in the water if a waves reaches farther ashore, even though the wind closer to the water is much fiercer than that in the minimal shelter of the crumbling sandstone cliffs.
The color photo of women spelling PEACE above by Sean Smuda. I am the last person in the upper arm of the second E -- and yes, it was cold. The water lapped at the edges of the letter, meaning on me.
The peace symbol of naked men, by Christopher Springmann, features Corby as the bottom man in the upright of the peace symbol.
VOTE was taken before the 2004 Presidential election by Eva Soltes. I am also in the upper arm of the E in that shot, and Prudence Priest and Victoria are in the V.
The 2004 election didn't have the results we'd wished for.
Efforts to secure world peace continue.
Ma shrugged and a sandstone cliff fell. She washed the pebbles in Her amniotic fluid and they became sand.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Today is also the day that I return to using my birth name, Aline O'Brien. From now on, I am either Aline or Macha, whichever is preferred by the person addressing me.
Aline has always been a perfectly fine name. I opted for using Macha when I first published because I was appealing to a Pagan readership and I figured no one in those communities would know who Aline was. I also tend to use Macha in interfaith, which is fine except when you get to the NightMare part. Some don't know what to make of it. Sometimes I myself don't know what to make of it. But I do know NightMare is I. It's not unusual for religious folk to have religious names; they get that. And at this point those in interfaith who know me are not discomfited by my name. Further, unlike some religious folks, I dress in street clothes except for rituals. I'm guessing that makes me a little more "normal"-seeming to others.
Aline and Macha both hope your Harvest Moon is an abundant one.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
I've been reading a book called Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe, by William Rosen. The author tells of some of the activities in sixth century Constantinople at the Hippodrome. Ostensibly a place for racing horses, the Hippodrome was the "main drag" of the city in its day. Actors, animal acts, music and such entertained people in between races. The teams of racers were identified by colors; everyone from charioteers and groomers to all that team's supporters wore the color of his or her team. Four teams wore red, green, blue or white. Eventually the Reds were absorbed into the Greens and the Whites into the Blues. The Emperor Justinian tended to favor the blues.
In 432 C.E. the city, beginning at the Hippodrome, broke into rioting, along color lines. Riots were not uncommon and always began at this gathering place. They were often about theological minutia. This particular riot, called the Nika (meaning "win" or "conquer") revolt, began as a result of a murder at the Hippodrome; it lasted an entire week and resulted in the destruction of buildings, including the Hagia Sophia*, and the deaths of thousands. Nearly half the city was destroyed.
How like this are the Crips and the Bloods; the Union Blue and the Confederate Gray; red and blue states; dark- and light-skinned people. In the case of the Blue and the Gray, we had the Civil War. Other colors are associated with fighting and assassination. We sometimes read of teens being shot down because they were wearing red (or another color of the despised "other").
Schools have their colors; my high school in New Jersey had maroon and white -- "Maroon and white, maroon and white, fight, team, fight!" In PE class we girls were teamed for drills; we wore pinnies of one color or another.
Teams have team colors -- to identify them on the field, one would suppose, although they sometimes have direr meanings. Fights and riots are not uncommon in competitive sports.
I've witnessed Pagans endlessly debating whether they should wear Roman collars (utterly stupid, IMO) and if so, whether those collars should be green for Nature or purple for "spiritually evolved" or some other color.
How helpful is this, I wonder.
When we celebrate the Feast of Brigit, we ask celebrants to wear white, gold or yellow, or red in her honor. At the Full of the Moon, I like to wear white, and at the Dark, black. I love to dress in the colors of the season or the deity I'm honoring. I think dressing in colors, using appropriately colored altar cloths and candles, along with incenses and foods and music, helps the resonance with what we are doing.
Overall, I like to think I live in a rainbow world.
* The Hagia Sophia was rebuilt by Justinian in only five years.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
It's been way too long since I celebrated the New Moon by attending a Kali puja. Last night I did, and it was an exceptionally good one. There were eight musicians and three kirtan singers, taking turns. There were the man and woman who are always there, both of whom sing, while she plays harmonium and he plays tabla. Behind them a man played drone on tambura. Another harmonium player sang kirtans. The man who was with her played a long drone instrument that sounded kind of like a didjeridu but I don't think it was. It was about 5' long and painted with bright colors and sigils of some kind. I couldn't see close enough to figure out what they were. Then another man came and joined on his dumbek, while another woman played zils. The music was just great. The only other worshippers were the female pujari -- is that the proper term for a woman performing that role? -- and me. I clapped and chanted.
Ma drew me deep into Her image and we smiled. I just love her intense eyes and the cute way she sticks out Her tongue. (The primary image we use is a large color photograph of Kali from the Dakshineswar Temple in Kolkata/Calcutta/Kali's land.) She's made it clear that She wants me back as an active worshipper.
Jai Ma! Jai, jai Ma! Jai Kali Ma! Jai, jai Kali Ma!
Monday, May 25, 2009
The Lafayette War Memorial in itself is a deeply felt and important phenomenon. I guess you could call it conceptual art if you're on the highbrow side, or folk art in its spontaneity, simplicity and roughness. Erected in 2006 on private property by anti-war activist Jeff Heaton, the memorial evokes emotion for all sides of the political spectrum. See photos here of how it looked a few years ago. As we drove up in view of it today, we gasped at how much it's grown.
In 2007, when Pagans won the right to have a pentacle inscribed on the gravestones of military casualties, the Pagan Alliance performed a ritual there in which we placed pentacles in honor of individuals on the crosses. Today you can see crescents, Stars of David, Buddhist wheels, rainbows, tile and mirror work on the markers, and flower offerings.
Victoria spoke about the lives of each person newly honored this year, within a circle and in the presence of Mars, Athena, Freyja, and Hestia, who'd been summoned by Brighde Indigo.
Druid Jim Bianchi addressed the Quarters in closing.
Note: Please forgive the inelegance of this layout. This blog program has its limitations.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Along the lines of what we were discussing, community, I neglected to mention a phenomenon that was brought to my attention by religious scholar Dr. Nikki Bado-Fralick, a member of the Board of Directors of Cherry Hill Seminary. That phenomenon is what she called "the Protestantization of religion." As I understand it, that is the adoption, by religious communities that are new to the U.S., of the forms of organization that Protestant churches use. For instance, rabbis, who traditionally were commentators and interpreters of Torah and Jewish law, now also assume "clergy-ship," in the sense that they may be responsible for the administration of the temple, visiting the sick, crisis counseling, etc.
Yesterday I spent a few hours with my friend Luanne (Lulu), who has been overcoming leukemia. She's doing well. She and her partner, Urania, have a lush garden bursting with California poppies, deep purple irises, columbines, sweet peas, jasmine, grapes, and many different kinds of roses that look gorgeous and smell even better. The garden, often visited by their neighbor's cat Tigre, seems a restorative place for her to recover. (Too bad I didn't have my camera with me.)
At yesterday's Justice Advocacy Team of Marin Interfaith Council we continued our discussions about how to serve the wider community when we are strained for funds and the government and other social service organizations are not serving those affected by these issues either. The current California statewide election highlights this. Government officials seem reluctant to fund such efforts and/or do not have the necessary funds in their budgets. I resent the many thousands of dollars the state doesn't have being expended to conduct this election, when we already have elected a Senate, an Assembly and a Governor to run our state.
We are now seeing the predictable results of the passage about 30 years ago of the conservative Jarvis-Gann Initiative, Proposition 13. That law reduces and limits property taxes. So now we are faced with workforce reductions in every area of government: schools, hospitals and health care, social services, environmental conservation efforts, parks and recreation, law enforcement, fire protection, prison housing and administration, you name it. For a state that prides itself on its forward-thinking, this is a shameful state of affairs. As prosperous as the state has been, especially in the areas of agriculture, computer science, and entertainment, we have the awful distinction of sharing the lowest cost-per-student educational funding with several poor Southern states. We are 49 out of 50 in funding our schools!
Friday, May 15, 2009
While I'm at it, what's with this itty bitty typeface I find on so many websites? It's friggin' microscopic. I have to click the "make text bigger" feature two, sometimes three, times before I can read them.
Now I know that my eyesight isn't as sharp as it was when I was younger. I wear specs to compensate for that.
An don't get me going on those MySpace pages that are so full of clutter and cutsy that they're basically unreadable. I've abandoned MySpace in favor of FaceBook for that kind of time-sucker. (I confess I do avoid work by messing around on FB.)
I know I speak for many of my friends and colleagues when I say that we aging Pagans would appreciate it if people who'd like us to visit their sites would kindly make them more easily readable.
There! Now I feel better.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
That said, however, for the past several years I've had a most positive experience attending the Marin Interfaith Prayer Breakfast sponsored by Marin Interfaith Council. The only year I missed it was when the first Thursday of May was Beltane. I wouldn't miss it for any other reason.
Held in a large meeting room* at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael (reformed), this year we had three speakers from three different traditions offering prayers as they traditionally do them. Dominican Sister Marion Irving (whom I've frequently mentioned) opened the gathering, asking people to speak of what they prayed for: peace, shelter for the homeless, end to the troubles in Darfur, President Obama, food for the hungry, ease for those giving birth, ease for those passing from life, healing for the sick, the well-being and healing of inmates, pure drinking water, etc. Who could argue with those goals? Cantor David Margules sang the opening prayer in Hebrew.
I'm comfortable enough now with my colleagues at MIC that it didn't bother me as much that they spoke of God, the Creator and Jesus. They don't overdo it. Plus, the people at our table were very interested to learn from me more about Paganism. Several others who'd attended Carol** and Chris' wedding the previous Saturday told me how they enjoyed the spiral dance and song.
In my experience, when prayer gatherings are made in good faith by caring people in the context of inter-religious dialogue and understanding, with open hearts and minds aspiring towards a commonweal, only good can come from it. If prayers, spells, desires, wishes, goals, outcomes are reinforced by such activities, so much the better. If not, what harm can it do?
The food was healthy and plentiful. The room was nearly full, probably the largest attendance we've had. We dined at round tables, where we discussed two questions: "What role does meditation or prayer play in your faith tradition, or in your own spiritual practice?" and "How do you experience individual and communal prayers/meditation in your religious community?" I was a table captain this year, to keep the conversation on topic and to be sure that everyone had a chance to express her/himself. Among the others at our table was a Protestant (she defined herself that way loosely), two Friends, and a young woman who is seeking, and also taking a priestess training with the Fellowship of Isis at Isis Oasis. Fortuitously, she sat next to me.
We heard three speakers, beginning with Swami Vedandanda of the Vedanta Society (Hindu). Swami Vedandanda co-taught one of MIC's quarterly retreats, with a Buddhist practitioner, at their retreat in Olema, so I had some familiarity with his tradition's teachings.
Rabbi Chai Levy of Congregation Kol Shofar (conservative) seems to be a woman of accomplishment. In addition to promoting the inclusion of praise for the foremothers of Judaism, she espouses s form of consumption called "ecokosher," meaning that animals are raised humanely (free range chickens, for instance), slaughtered humanely, and not wrapped in toxic, non-biodegradable plastics.
Father Stephan Meholick of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (Christian) explained some of the history, belief and practices of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In addressing the need for community, Fr. Meholick quoted one of his church's elders when he stated, "Personal prayer is possible only in community."
This inherent need for community is something I've been giving a lot of thought in relation to our growing Pagan population. I've been comparing my own experiences with community, in my childhood churches, in my adult involvement in various communities, religious and otherwise, and in communities around me. Some seem healthy. Most experience disagreement, internal strife, breakdown, collapse, schism, renewal, restructuring and/or revival at various points in their existence. How can these lessons from other groups help nascent Pagan communities? Can they be avoided? What binds us? Well, I leave my pondering for another time. In the meantime, maybe we Pagans could learn something from the Eastern Orthodox traditions that seem to get along; talk about various orthodoxies -- Moscow Patriarchate, Carpatho Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Antiochan Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Jerusalem Patriarchate, Bulgarian Orthodox, Macedonian, Romanian, Indian, International, Non-Chalcedonian -- whew!
Father Meholick and a colleague of his from a related tradition sang polyphonic prayers. He said they're practices were similar and that their prayers were close enough that they could enhance the prayers by singing them together. They really sounded beautiful.
Fr. Meholick mentioned that in his tradition they use rosaries, but that the beads are made of wool or leather instead of wood, stone, glass, bone or plastic, so that when you go into one of their sanctuaries, you don't hear the clicking often heard in Roman Catholic churches. He told us that the (Serbian? Latvian?) word they use for rosary means "ladder." I know of liberal Protestant churches that say and use rosaries based on the Maiden-Mother-Crone concept found in much of Paganism. I know of at least two Pagan rosarian traditions, one being that of the Church of Asphodel, and another created by Donald L. Engstrom-Reese. I've seriously considered using a rosary, most likely with Bridget as my focus. I've gone so far as to acquire 39 beads in three colors for three aspects in sets of 13, but haven't settled on exact prayer(s) nor found the right separator/goddess beads.
When I went to greet and say goodbye to Sister Marion, she wanted me to refresh her memory of the song we sang at the wedding. She said she'd had it running through her head ever since. It's not a well known Pagan chant, but I'll offer it here in case you're curious. The author of the lyrics is that old prolific Anonymous; the music is by Bone Blossom. She wrote it back when we were Holy Terrors together.
There's a part of the Sun in an apple,
There's a part of the Moon in a rose,
A part of the flaming Pleiades in every leaf that grows.
Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has recorded it on one of their albums, if you want to hear it sung.
* It's worth mentioning that the room in which we met was offered as a shelter one night a week, and at other times for dining, to homeless men and women of Marin during the cold winter months. Governor Schwarzenegger opened the Armory for one month only this winter. Thereafter, various congregations, from the most fundamentalist Christian to the most liberal religious congregations, rotated opening their buildings until April 30. MIC has been urging the County Board of Supervisors for permanent shelter for the homeless.
** The Rev. Carol Hovis, M.Div., Director of Marin Interfaith Council
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Her groom, Chris Highland, is what I call post-Christian; he calls himself a freethinker. He used to be a minister to the poor and homeless in the streets of San Rafael and chaplain at the Marin County Jail. He had a crisis of faith and went off to surrender to Nature as his teacher.
The ceremony was supposed to take place in the rose garden at Green Gulch Farm, but since it was pouring rain, we held it in the zendo, an old hay barn.
Even though the dance didn’t really actually work (as a spiral in and out) due to the size and configuration of the space I had to work in and the number of people in that tight space, everyone loved the song and sang it well and smiled at each other and really loved doing it. Lots of people thanked me. One told me that it was way more fun than a receiving line. There were lots of folks there from MIC who’d only known me in meetings and knew nothing of Paganism. So this was a great opportunity to show us at our best and contribute to the interfaith movement. I’m grateful to Carol and Chris for the opportunity.
Anyway, the big surprise to me was that they were gonna pay me! It never occurred to me that they’d pay me to do something so cool. They asked me what name to put on the check, and I told them if they insisted on paying me, to please give the money to Cherry Hill Seminary — not that I couldn’t use it, mind you. They’re off to Kauai for their honeymoon. When they return, if not sooner, they’ll either be sending me a check or donating directly online (which you readers can do by clicking on the link to CHS in this paragraph).
Her yard was full of California poppies. There was no way to dance without tromping on them. It pained me. Some people consider them weeds because they grow all over -- they're our California state flower -- but I've noticed a diminishment* of them the last couple of years and that distresses me.
Victoria took these photos. That's Kore in the fedora, Anne in the flowered blouse, Corby in purple, and me in pink -- very unusual for me.
Below the last few folks who still have ribbons are winding it down.
* That's not a word in the dictionary, but it works so I'm using it. Consider it coined.
Friday, May 01, 2009
On another very important note, Cherry Hill Seminary's annual fund-raising is in full swing. We cannot fulfill our mission without the help of donors. One of our Board members, Jason Pitzl-Waters, owner of The Wild Hunt blog, has this to say. Please take his words to heart and open your purse.
Merry May and Blessed Beltane to all!
Friday, April 10, 2009
Our neighbors across the street have a couple of hens in their yard for eggs. I hear them clucking now and then. For weeks I've been hearing the crazy, distinct gobble of a turkey and have wondered where it lives. This morning when Corby looked up from the kitchen window, he saw this fellow, so went outside to take a few photos. He was not more than 10 feet from our front door.
We live in a small city of about 50,000, the Marin County seat, about 11 miles North of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are many feral turkeys in rural West Marin. I've not known them to be nearby until now. Maybe he's not feral at all. Maybe he's someone's pet.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Winter/Rodney and Jack/Deedra of Trillium Reclaiming met me at the airport -- Detroit Metro is one of the nicest airports I've ever used -- with a big glittery sign with my name on it. That's a first, and a fun one, too! As soon as I entered the Troy Hilton Hotel, Con Chair Cindy Dugan handed me my registration package and escorted me to my room, where I met my companion, Susan Wilson from Hearth & Grove Fellowship in Kalamazoo, who'd just arrived.
Susan presented me with a sweeping cloak she'd made, matching one she'd made for herself. She's mailing it to me because I didn't have room in my luggage to take it home with me. I'm eager to get it. I know I'll have many occasions to put it into good witchy use.
After the opening ceremony that first evening evening, Susan and I joined Jack, Lea and other Trillium folks for a chant and song exchange. I learned a few new ones -- well, I didn't learn them all that well because my senior mind needs to sing them longer than we did in order to retain them. I also experienced chants and songs I've known for years that had been transformed by the folk process. The one I liked best, and which was really powerful, was a dark mother chant used by the folks in the Church of Asphodel from Massachusetts. I need to contact them to learn it better. I found it compellingly powerful.
Speaking of the Church of Asphodel, King Raven Kaldera came to my first workshop, "Intrafaith: Creating & Sustaining Pagan Community." As is my style, I engaged attendees in dialogue about the topic. I learned that the Church of Asphodel was created with a mission to include Pagans who have a harder time fitting in with other Pagan groups: transgendered folks, people with lots of tattoos and piercings, those who have limited social skills or Asperger's disorder, who have Tourette syndrome, who've been disinvited from other groups. I think this is such a righteous mission. I'm glad the Church of Asphodel is doing this work, even though I couldn't do it myself. They have my respect. My heart was gladdened to learn that a person I got to know a bit when I visited Gainesville some years ago, Zot Lynn Szurgot, is the former "Speaker of the House of Commons" of the Kingdom of Asphodel. Their Asphodel Choir performs ancient, modern, and original folk songs. And speaking of choirs, Susan's Hearth & Grove Fellowship also has a small Pagan choir. Reclaiming's Spiral Dance chorus also performs at Pagan events here and there, now and then.
During that session, I backtracked to fill in attendees on the whole concept of interfaith as well as intrafaith. It seems that interfaith activities are much more limited in other parts of the country than they are where I live. Too bad. We can fix that, though.
I didn't manage to get to any earlier workshops on Friday morning. Among those I'd have liked to attend were "Instant Drumming" with Alex Wedmedyk, whom I know a bit from Starwood. I'd love to learn more about drumming and to be able to do it better. The last drum workshop I took was a frame drum session with Kevin Roddy at PantheaCon a few years ago. How pathetic is that that I've done so little?
Another workshop I missed in that time slot was "Story Telling (Oral Wisdom" with Trillium Reclaiming. Their group emphasizes singing, chanting and storytelling, and I can tell you they're very, very accomplished in all those areas.
The Con staff had me heavily scheduled, however. Immediately after my first workshop I had a booksigning, followed by a rehearsal for our Brigit ritual. Even with a script, performing a ritual with people you don't know, whose skills, strengths and weaknesses you can only guess, presents a challenge. More about the Brigit ritual later.
I'd have liked to sit on on "Manifestations of Orisha" with Joy Wedmedyk, (Apetebii Osa Irosun), had I the opportunity. Joy is a lovely woman I know from Starwood, where I invited her to participate in a panel on thea/ology last year. She and everyone else on the panel and in the pavilion listening had a great time.*
I had expected to see some CoG folks there, but didn't. I did see some former CoG folks, like Puck who used to be in Seattle. There wasn't even a CoG info flyer on any of the tables.
Later on Friday I arrived for my Besom Brigade workshop, only to find very few folks there. Those who were were enthusiastic, but we needed at least five to make our pentacle. Con staff got the hotel staff to scrounge up some additional brooms. They beat the bushes for people to come. We managed to get a few teen and young adult Pagans there. Here we are learning the welcome song.
I suspect there were so few people because my workshop ran concurrently with one called "From the Ordeal Path to Sado-Shamanism: Pagan BDSM." Here's the description:
From the Lakota SunDance to monastic submission, the elements of BDSM have been part of people's spiritual lives for millenia. We will explore the ways one can incorporate these varied practices into you spiritual life from the perspective of authors and practioners Michelle Belanger and Raven Kaldera.
That's some competition! I'm sure twirling brooms seems tame compared to sado-shaminism, even though the besom is a shamanic form of transportation. I didn't meet Michelle, but I've seen her talking about vampires and vampirism on the History Channel.
I missed the FOCAS (Federation of Circles and Solitaries) meet and greet because I needed to get some food in my body. I met several of them a few years ago when CoG members Oberon Osiris and his wife Banshee took me to meet them after I'd presented at an AFSC LGBT Peace Conference at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, where I'd also met Raven for the first time. I like that their focus seems to be on public service. I especially like that they rescue black cats!
I'd also have liked to attend "As Green as the Goddess: Environmentalism for Magickal People,"with Nekita, although I'm unclear as to how our Pagan environmentalism would be different from just plain old enviromentalism. I know we bring a sense of wonder and magic, an awareness of our dependence on the Earth and the interconnectedness of all Life.
Trillium Reclaiming presented "Sacred Bondage Lecture and Discussion: The Sacred Art of Bondage as Magic Tool of Transformation." I missed that, too. I missed "Conversations with Crones" with Judith due to schedule conflict. Others I missed were "Salt, a Historical and Magical Perspective," with Soror Ananyelka, OTO, and "Don't Check Your Brain at the Door," presented by Andrich Vitimus. I'm known to say with some frequency, "You don't have to check your brain when you enter a sacred circle." The "Mojo Bag Class," The Feral Fool: Honoring the Trickster," "The Eightfold Path of Altered States," and "Take Back the Night: A Dark Goddess Ritual" all appealed to me but didn't work out for me to attend.
I'm ever so grateful to all the folks who helped make this ritual as good as it could be. This was the third time this particular scripted ritual to Brigit has been performed. A bit of its history: In 1999 I was contacted by a reporter, who'd been recommended to me by Oz Anderson of Albuquerque, to help her with a piece she was doing for the Fox TV station in Sacramento. (I know -- Fox, yikes!) For this story Michelle Hofland,** the reporter, needed some footage of a ritual. Well, you know how difficult that is to accomplish -- or at least was back in those days. Not to mention how hokey they seem on film when it's really the experience you have and carry in your heart and not the appearance of what's being done. I agreed to cooperate, but boy! did I take a lot of flak for it! That's a story for another day.
The then-Marin Ritual Planning Cell of Reclaiming collaborated with me. We began with the standard Reclaiming Brigit ritual, which involves a holy well and sacred flame. Urania and Luanne and I worked together to come up with a scripted triple Brigit invocation. The space had a fireplace at one end, concrete block walls painted white, and a light-colored linoleum floor. Joelle created four exquisite altars in the Quarters, each glowing with lots of candles. Urania set up the well and cauldron in the center, draped with white lace and surrounded by white flowers, with an anvil a bit to the side. The cameraman used a camera that required no lights. We directed him to shoot only towards specific sections of the room, to turn the camera off during most of the time when people were approaching the well/flame, and we offered people veils to wear if they were uncomfortable with having a camera there. What this meant was that we were able to perform the entire ritual entirely by candlelight and flame from the cauldron. This lighting resulted in a beautiful, nuanced video. I don't live in the area where it was broadcast, but a friend who does managed to tape that segment for me. It came off really well. I even heard compliments from a friend in Massachusetts who'd seen it on a Fox news broadcast in Florida.
The second time this ritual was performed was for the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. One of the program offerings involves giving students an experience of the rituals of different religions. Since I was asked to do this on behalf of Witchcraft and Paganism, I chose to recreate the Brigit ritual we'd done for filming because (1) She's a goddess, (2) She's more than just Craft; She's important to Druids and Celtic reconstructionists, among others, (3) She's triple-aspected, and (4) She's not a threatening or scary divine personage.
For the New York ritual I sought the aid of other Pagans, most of whom I'd had little to no experience working with ritually. One of my Minoan Sisterhood friends, Lynn Pacifico, and Reclaiming friend Vajra served as the other two Brigits. A few New York Gardnerians, a Minoan Brother, and several local Reclaiming folks gathered props, wrote the two guided meditations, and performed other ritual roles. By all accounts, we succeeded in honoring Brigit and affording an opportunity for others to know Her better as well.
For this most recent performance, I enlisted the help of MEC Board Members Cindy Dugan, Kathy Blizzard and Jane Pierce in casting, procuring props, and preparing the room. Kathy crafted a lovely Bridey dolly from straw and lace, as well as erecting all five beautiful altars.
Constantina/Galatea embodied Bridhe of the sacred flame of inspiration and red-haired PK embodied Brigantia of the healing waters.
In my experience, the guided meditations reviewing the year just past and looking forward to the upcoming year by Winter and Jack were the best I've ever seen. These are difficult meditations, more difficult than most. Add to that the fact that there are few people of my acquaintance who are really adept at this sort of thing, in spite of the fact that they're done all the time in Reclaiming circles, where they're called "trances." They were far better than I could have done, although I consider myself only competent, not particularly talented. I tip my pointy black hat to them!
Here's a photo of some of the Trillium Witches who helped.
Saturday night Trillium Reclaiming offered a Queer Mysteries ritual. This was interesting to me for two reasons. One is the matter of experiencing how current and far-flown Reclaiming groups do ritual, and the other in light of the queer performance ritual I attended the previous weekend at PantheaCon. Let us say that in general I have a more formal, "old school" ritual aesthetic than most Reclaiming groups. Having said that, however, I experienced a well-planned, focused, elegant ritual. The heart of the ritual consisted of a beautiful story-telling by Matt of the Greek myth of Ganymede, cup-bearer and lover of Zeus, followed by a co-creation of a brew. Again I will say that these folks know their stuff. I was very glad I'd gone.
It snowed quite a few inches on Friday night and Saturday. That was a real treat for this California gal, especially since I was in a cozy hotel with amenities. Trillium sent out for Chinese; we dined together and hung out later for gossip, clowning and general schmoozing.
Sunday morning did a lecture/discussion called "Serving Our Own & Others" about community service, counseling, working with established service agencie/charities, the value (or not) of creating our own service agencies/charities (elder hostels, hospitals, food banks, homeless services., etc.) This time Joshua and Elizabeth from Church of Asphodel came, in addition to Raven. I learned that they, and others, are already establishing Pagan service agencies. It's my hope that we can all keep in touch and share our experiences and learn from one another.
The Trillium folks took me to lunch at a Lebanese restaurant on the way to the airport Sunday afternoon. Wonderful lunch, in fact, the best meal I had all weekend -- the Con hotel was lame on decent dining establishments. To my delight, the folks from Trillium Reclaiming lavished me with their gracious hospitality and pleased me immensely with their competence, spirit and grace.
To me, ConVocation is one of the best-kept secrets in American Pagandom. This was their fifteenth year, and they attract nearly 1,000 attendees, yet I'd not heard of them until they invited me. Neither have many of my Pagan friends around the country. Had I known of it, Cherry Hill Seminary and myself personally would have placed an ad in the program. I'm glad I know now. The secret's out and you readers now know of it, too. If you get the opportunity, go.
Next year's ConVocation theme is XVI, The Tower, "Surviving the Storm." Check it out.
* I notice that back in July of 2008 I said I'd be writing more about this panel, and then I never got around to it. In a nutshell, panelists were Tony Mierzwicki, Greco-Egpytian Reconstructionist; Ian Corrigan, ADF Druid; Joy Wedmedyk, Ifa; myself, Reclaiming, Anderson Faery/Feri and Witch at Large; and origynal sinnerjee, Reclaiming Craft, Radical Satyr of Radical Faeries and who knows what all of his own uniqueness.
** Michelle now works for MSNBC. The last I heard from her was when she was covering Hurricane Katrina from New Orleans; she was horrified.
*** Besom photo by Susan Wilson; all Brigit photos by Caridwyn.
Friday, March 13, 2009
First out the gate, speaking on "Images of Individuation within the Feri Tradition," was my friend Jeffrey Albaugh; this was his first presentation. He was kept his cool while lots of technical adjustments were made in order to tape and broadcast the conference live.
Also early in the program William Blumberg, a student at Cherry Hill Seminary, read a paper on piety that resulted from his "Doing Thea/ology" course this fall. He also graciously suffered interruptions in his talk while technology had its way. He did a splendid job; I was so proud that he represented CHS.
Like all conferences, the papers were uneven, with more good and outstanding than weak.
One of the more scholarly papers was Galina Krasskova's "Performativity and the Development of Modern Heathen Culture."
I was delighted to get a short visit with Sabina Magliocco, who also presented a paper. I cannot imagine her ever doing a poor one; she always excels.
Saturday evening after the day's papers had been given I whipped up a simple ritual with the help of Jeff's grounding and drumming by Alfred Sureynam. Judging by the looks on people's faces, I think they left happy.
Among several fascinating papers, I found Misha Houser's talk about Pagans' political emergence, and her experiences as an "out" Pagan delegate from Southern California to the Democratic National Convention in Denver last Fall affirming of our maturity.
I was disappointed not to see Lauren Raine, who was scheduled to present "The Return of Spider Woman Community Ritual and Weaving a 'Webbed Aesthetic'." She had to cancel due to illness. Photo on right is one of Lauren's creations.
Sunday's keynote speaker, Wendy Griffin brought attendees up to date on the state of Pagan studies and scholarly books about Paganism. Wendy never disappoints.
Helen Hye-Sook Hwang spoke on "Historicizing the Voice of Seeking Mago, the Great Goddess." Mago is a great goddess of East Asia.
Other provocative talks were:
- "Re-Riting Woman: Lucy Irigaray and Dianic Wicca," by Kristy Coleman, Ph.D. Kristy's new book, entitled Re-Riting Woman: Dianic Wicca and the Feminine Divine, has just been published.
- "Lesbian Wraiths: Cosmological Themes in Filmic Representations," by Marie Cartier; and
- Not to be overlooked, "The Need for a Strong Goddess Vision in an Apocalyptic Society: What Kali, Demeter and Isis Can Teach Us To Survive," by conference organizer Dorothea Kahena Viale.
Evidently CHS is gaining a better reputation every day, because three Ph.D.'s at this conference approached me about the possibility of teaching for us. What a morale boost that is!
I am grateful to Kahena and CSU for this opportunity.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
The CHS Winter Intensive kept me busy all day Thursday, the day before PantheaCon itself began. We had a full room, and I'm relatively confident that Jim Bianchi, Patrick McCollum and I gave attendees some notions worth pondering, and then, hopefully, using.
Thursday evening CHS had a meet-and-greet at the bar area. Many people who'd come from the East Coast and Midwest arrived the evening before, so we had opportunities to catch up. Notably with Jerrie Hildebrand, Holly Tannen (a West Coast friend), Ruth Barrett and Falcon River, and several other fun Pagans.
For me, this was a year of rituals. Three strong rituals in three days (two back-to-back on the same evening) gave me plenty of stimulation.
Trying to choose just which event one will attend in each time slot -- assuming one even attempts to do something in each time slot, which is kinda nuts -- is difficult. I was definitely drawn towards Sam Webster's talk, "What Is Evil?" I figured Sam is local and he's my friend so we can chew over that perennial question more at leisure another time. Also competing for my attention in this time slot was Raven Grimassi's "The Evolution of the Witches' Sabbat"; I'm keen on Pagan history. Instead, with friends Holli and Freyja, I chose to attend "Egyptian Journey with Sekhmet & Hermes-Thoth," conducted by CHS teacher Michelle Mueller, M.Div., and Ivo Domínguez, Jr. I have a strange relationship with the goddess Sekhmet (see description in my book Witchcraft and the Web), plus the intellectual side of me has always been drawn to Hermes-Thoth. An oracular ritual, Sekhmet encouraged my work but said She wouldn't make my burden lighter.
Friday evening I was tempted by Luisa Teish's "Silk & Honey: Erotic Tales form the African Diaspora," since I know what a great story-teller Teish is, and also tempted by "Pagan Humor (Or Why Are the Gods So Fond of a Joke?," but I had a date with my friend Sabina Magliocco for our annual Friday night dinner at PCon. We always have fun together.
After dinner I was again conflicted about whether to go to the "A Fool's Journey" ritual put on by my local "Remaining" friends, or to try to make it to Orion Foxwood's "Journey to the Enchanted Tree." I seldom get a chance to hear Orion speak. I ran into Amadae, who said she was feeling a bit alienated, so I invited her to come to Orion's with me. She had never heard of him. In addition enjoying Orion's kooky personality and wisdom, I was fascinated watching the ASL interpreters trying to sign his puns. Puns aren't really translatable into ASL. Kevin Roddy, who was liaison between the Con and the signers, wore a look of distress. Regardless, Amadae loved Orion's talk and no longer felt out of place.
Clifford Hartleigh Low's Green Fairy party is one I don't like to miss. For some reason, this year it was on the second floor, a more public venue than its usual location on the ninth floor. Fun though it was, it didn't have quite the ambiance it's had in past years. Plus dress and Kala weren't there, at least not when I was. I chatted with Grant Potts, another CHS teacher, and Paul for a while, then returned to Orion and CHS Board member Tony Mierzwicki and the women who were hanging with them. One of these women, of Orion's line, had thought, from my name I guess, that I was a 20-something Goth woman. What a hoot! Another was originally from Santa Rosa, where she'd skated competitively. She planned to return to the sport, of which I am a huge fan, so I'll be looking to see her when I watch televised figure skating competitions.
Late that night I managed to get a half hour alone with Orion, affording us a much better opportunity to catch up with each other. Meaning that I ended up blowing off the "Pomba Gira Masked Fete!," even though I'd brought a red dress to wear to it.
Saturday morning I had a breakfast date with Kevin from Hawaii, only since he got deep into some processing with the deaf Pagans he'd helped get signing this year, he missed it. (Kudos to Glenn for seeing that our deaf colleagues got the opportunity to immerse themselves in this huge event!) Fortuitously, along came Ivo, ready for breakfast, giving us a chance for a good one-to-one visit. Kevin and I rescheduled for the next day, with Anne Hill too.
Breakfast made me too late for Michelle Jackson's "Create Your Own Tarot or Divination Deck Using Collage." At 11:00 rushed to Christopher Penczak's closed presentation called "The Seven Gates of the Goddess Ritual Pathworking" on Saturday morning, but alas arrived after the doors had been closed. Instead of trucking on over the the "Lost & Endangered Religions Project (LERP)" presentation by Don Frew, Dr. Layne Little, and Dr. Archana Venkatesan, I got to schmoozing and checking out the vendors' wares. Gus diZerega blogged about LERP on beliefnet. Again, since Don is local and is a friend, I know I can learn lots about LERP, already have, in fact, when not at PCon.
Corby came down for the day. Lots of folks wanted to hang with him as well. Despite other presentations calling me, I didn't manage to get to another one until Corby and I went to Dr. Little's "The Secret Masters Behind the American Superhero." He had assembled an amazing collection of pulp fiction and comic books from the early 19th Century to the mid-20th, mostly from Western Europe and the U.S., but with themes from the "exotic Orient" into a Power Point Presentation. This is an area about which I know next to nothing, so everything was new to me, and well worth my time.
Attending Layne's presentation meant that we didn't make it to Max Dashu's "Goddess, Snakes & Chimeric Beasts of Iran." If you check out this blog more or less regularly, you know I'm a big fan of Max, and attend as many of her local shows as I can. This was one I haven't seen, but I'll keep my eye open for a local showing.
We went to the Pagan Alliance suite for pizza night that evening.
We missed "Oracle of the Living Tarot" that evening, [photo on right is Origynal Sinnerjee as The Hermit card, the one pulled for the coming year] Prudence Priest's "Baltic Paganism," which Victoria said was excellent, and Holly Tannen and Ruth Barrett's concert. We hung around the bar and lobby playing with Oak, Judy, Denise, and others. This year also seemed to be the year of open secrets. Had some enjoyable heart-to-hearts with Ron Dickinson.
When time for "Kali Puja: Worship of Goddess Kali Ma," my matron, came around, I was too tired.
Sometime during the weekend I dropped by the CoG suite to view the video Greg and Rachael made about the People of the Earth event I participated in at the Interfaith Center of the Presidio last April. Rachael gave me a copy, but I need to get another one in a more universal format. Each participant will get one. They're doing a follow-up gathering this coming Saturday, but I and some other participants from last year have scheduling conflicts and won't be able to make it.
Since I'm not an earlybird, I entered Patrick's talk, "The Nature of Magic: Goddess Myths & Witch Thealogy" a bit late. Patrick and I talk about this sort of thing a lot. I sat with Kevin behind Ocean, a deaf Pagan for whom Patrick's talk was being signed, and watched the signers taking turns. They can only manage about 15 minutes at a time before they switch off. Kevin helped me read the ASL a little bit. Attending this meant I missed Don Frew's "Gobekli Tepe: The World's First Pagan Temple." I've seen his slides from this particular trip at his house, but without the formal commentary. I'm promised another chance to see it.
One of my bigger choices meant that I missed "Folklore as History? The View from Colleges & Cauldrons," with Raven Grimassi and Sabina. I knew it would be interesting and well done. But I just had to go to "Writing Pagan Songs & Chants" with Holly Tannen and Ruth Barrett. It was fun. We each wrote a new verse for "Old Time Religion." Mine was:
There are those who worship KaliAt 3:30 I had wanted to attend Steve Blamires' "The Faery Tradition of Fiona Macleod" -- I haven't seen him in years, since he moved from Sonoma County to Alaska -- or "The Non-Dual, Polytheism & Contemporary Magic(k)" panel, which I would have loved to be on. All reports indicate it was wonderful
She is fierce and She is poly.
She's a bloody, red-hot dolly,
And She's good enough for me.
Gimme that old time religion.....
Instead I ran into my old friend Brandy Williams autographing books. We haven't chatted in about eight years and had tons to share. Evidently her presentation "Seshat -- Ceremonial Magick for Women," scheduled the same time as Folklore and Writing Chants, was well received, and she's working on another book, an anthology. Also spent some fun time with her husband Alex, Kat Sanborn, and others.
Sunday night was my biggest challenge when it came to where to go. I was tempted by two presentations because they sounded fun: "Divining Your Deity" and "Those Who Have Gone Before," as well as "Druid Ritual with Danse Macabre" that Jim was part of. Alas, I had kin to support, and they were doing something really provocactive. Besides, Beau Caughlan was my date that evening and we both wanted to go to "Dearly Beloved... An Ol' Time Feri Tent Revival." With a rousing gospel choir at the far end of the room as you entered, the room was jumping before the ritual began. It was so strange to hear scores of people reciting Feri liturgy together as we began the ritual, called the quarters, and off and on throughout the ritual. Medusa and Jenya did great jobs. I don't know the man who 'preached,' but he was cookin' too. Veedub and Ron were part of the choir. Unfortunately, the ritual was so popular and the room so crowded that we didn't get a program. I have to get a pdf from veedub so I can review it in my mind. One thing I loved most about it was that it lacked the pretension one often encounters when groups of Feri folk get together. [ducking]
Afterward we dropped in on the Green Egg Omelette launch party, where I picked up my contributor's copy, autographed a few copies, got some autographs, posed for a few photos, etc. I'd have enjoyed staying longer, but Beau and I were headed for the Queer Gods ritual that Origynal Sinnerjee got me psyched to see. No disappointment there.
The ritual was entitled "Yes They Are! Meeting & Greeting the Queerest of the Gods." The quarters were saluted with singing by a beautiful basso who sings with the SF Opera. An array of gods from various cultures and times regalled us with stories and 'tude. Among the, Gwydion of the Cimry, Quan Yin from the Orient, and Pan from ancient Greece. Best, to me, were Aphrodite with Her laptop open to Craig's list personals; Gary Suto strutting a biker bear Apollo; JoHanna's Sedna; Amara personifying Erishkegal, complete with red patent leather bustier and meat hook. Over the top, as always, was Hapi, god of the flooding Nile portrayed by the one and only joi wolfwomyn covered in green glitter, with her green dreads spilling from a topknot, wearing something that looked like a hula skirt made of rubber tubes, and an enormous green glitter penis -- and nothing else.
My absolute favorite was Origynal Sinnerjee's Loki, hands roped together, head partially shaved, white painted face, and gag. Once the gag was removed, there was no stopping him. He even drummed for Aphrodite's unrobing of the beautiful ones and for Pan's mock copulation with his hands tied together. Man, that fellow knows how to shape the energy!
I'm trusting that he won't mind my posting here his notes about how he portrayed Loki [WARNING: The following may be offensive to some.]:
As Loki, I shaved off all my facial hair (including my eyebrows since Loki had warned me that he would burn off my facial hair if i didn't remove it) and wore only clown white makeup (Thanks Pi!) so my face would be a blank canvas except for a bindrune of the runes lagaz, othel, kenaz and isa drawn in red lipstick on my forehead. I wore a black fishnet shirt (made by Yahroe! from Bumble BE) with a black leather harness and boots (Thanks Marcus / Pan), Silver metallic tights (Thanks Rio), black go-go shorts with metal buckles (Thanks suppervision) a chain collar (Thanks Tigger Bouncer!) a blue ball gag and black and red flogger (Thanks Sheila!) My hands were bound together at the wrists in front of me with rope by Silverfang / Hapi. Extra special thanks to Piwaket / Quan Yin who helped me shave my mohawk and get undressed and dressed in between scenes. Here’s my Loki scene! Enjoy!
Kore-Erishkegal exits. Dionysus places a purse down next to altar and walks away. Loki, seated in audience, disguised in full length, hooded black cloak kicks the purse into the center of the circle. Dionysus glances over, turns away. Loki begins howling and stomping his feet, knocks his chair over and crawls over to altar crashing into the drums and basket of rattles. Dionysus rushes over and removes the hooded cloak to reveal Loki, seated with hands bound in front of him with rope, a ball gag in his mouth, and a furry set of ears on his head. Loki shifts to kneeling position, pulls out a business card and wiggles it. Dionysus takes the card and Loki beats out a drumroll to announce himself
: “Loki, Scar-lip, Sky-walker, Sly-One Laufeyson. Subversatile Wizard of Lies.”
“Aaaaah!!! “Thank you very much, you wonderful Womanly One! I gotta tell ya I just looove your work! All those brilliant ads for liquor you see everywhere at Pride Parades, ‘You’re here!! You’re queer!! Drink booze, wine and beer’!! May I?”
“If you’re lookin’ for Kore-Erishkegal, she went thata way!!”
Loki: “She reminds of my daughter Hel—rotten bitch hasn’t called or tried to visit me since she became Queen of the Underworld!"
"She’s ashamed of me—afraid that if she hangs out with her polymorphous perverse papa that she’ll become a target of violence—after all, we are far-too-frequently battered and banished, beaten and bound by the assumptions and expectations of others. And as soon as we get free, my kids and I are goin’ kamikaze on your asses! Hahahahahaha! Ragnarok’s gonna be da bomb, baby!! Look at this shitty-ass world we live in and tell me you really want a bunch of war gods running the show!! Those horny-helmet-wearin’ buttsuckers disembowled my son, tied me up with his fuckin’ guts, then abandoned me in a cave without a goddam safe word!"
Dionysus: “Hmm, sounds like something my Maenads would have done back in the day.”
: “My ‘nads indeed!” “Speakin’ of which. Well hello there.” “you havin’ fun tonight? Are you by chance circumcised?” “I know, how rude of me… We’ve only just met.” “And yet, folks who are transgender often experience people we barely know asking: ‘So, are you ‘pre-op’ or ‘post-op’? As if my package were any of your goddam business!!! Perhaps one of the best things about being a shapeshifter is that I can instantly change my sex without having to spend thousands of dollars and hours upon hours gettin’ judged by shrinks for my little ‘gender identity disorder’! What does it take to pass as a ‘real man’?" Loki: "And what makes me ‘feel like a natural woman’? Is it hormones? The clothes I wear, how I style my hair? How I walk or talk or rock around the clock? Gender is the great cosmic joke, a ruse I use to get whatever I want and sometimes more than I bargained for!! Loki: "Like that time we had a bet on a building project with this shitass giant, but his stallion was the one doin’ all the work. "So I turned myself into a mare to lure his horse away from the job! "That’s the last time I let a stud fuck ME without a condom!!" Loki: "Seventy-four hours . . . of gut-busting labor . . . with an eight-legged colt . . . bucking and kicking inside of me!!! I was sore for months!" Loki: "Those old stories they tell about me reveal more about your fears and anxieties—that transgender folks are tricking you, deceiving you, that we’ll seduce you with our little secret and you’ll find yourself in a scene out of ‘The Crying Game'." "After all, if I can change my gender whenever I want and you’re attracted to me, then what does that make you?" Loki: "Bisexual? Trysexual?? You name it, I’ve tried it. Hel! I invented all the fun shit!! Fishnets and fetishes! Bondage and discipline! Sado-masochism! Turnin’ tricks! Cheatin’ on your partner! Lewd jokes! I once played tug-of-war with a goat tied to my cock and balls!!!"
Loki: "Show of hands! How many people here tonight actually call yourselves ‘queers’??... And ya wonderwhy so many people out there think you’re too weeeeeird to get married?? Well I got me a wife and let me tell you Sigyn’s the most devoted partner—devoted to naaagging me every waking minute about all my extra-marital affairs, all my illegitimate children…. Come to think of it, the only good thing about getting’ hitched is the ginormous party you get to throw the day it happens. My favorite was when Thor’s hammer got stolen by this shitass giant who would only trade it back it for that brotherfucker Freja’s hand in marriage. Even though he’s built like a brick shithouse Thor still managed to squeeze his big ass into Freja’s wedding gown."
Loki: "I of course was the matron of honor! After Thor smashed that jismface giant's skull open, I figured hey—we got a professional wedding photographer, and Thor in drag totally hammered on gallons of mead"— Loki: "Well! Why not tie Thor’s drunk ass up and shoot a bondage scene for Gowned and Bagged magazine?? Thor puked and pissed all over the wedding dress! Hahaha! When he sobered up, Thor was really pissed!! Like that time he found out I’d been bangin’ his cum drunk slut of a wife Sif. Thor would have cracked MY skull open if it weren't for....”
Hapi: “That’s enough!”
Beau and I joined the rehearsed participants and other celebrants in the Pagan Alliance suite afterward. The last I saw of Beau, he was in a liplock with a handsome black fellow in a skin-tight Wonder Woman shirt.
I managed to squeeze in a brief interview with Don Lewis of MagickTV before he had to catch a plane out of there. It's now on YouTube here.
Talk with journalist Michael Night Sky, who's been conducting an ongoing interview with me for PanGaia magazine.
As you might imagine, by this time my mind was saturated with so much input and I craved some time to sort, assimilate and integrate. Nevertheless, I stayed to the end.
Again, I was conflicted about which workshop to choose. I know that Victoria's "Our Grandmothers as Goddess" would be great, as are all her offerings, but it was at 9:00 a.m. At 11:00 there was "Sacred Circle Dance" which I've gone to before with Kevin and really, really enjoy, there was Angela and William's "Intermediate Wheat Weaving," for which I don't know if I have the necessary skill level, and a panel called "Pagans, Interfaith & the International Scene." Since I do plenty of interfaith work and was not invited to be a panelist, I was free to attend Ivo's "Divine Embodiment: Assumption, Drawing Down, Aspecting, Possession." This was the first chance I'd had to hear one of Ivo's talks since we were both guests at Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota back in 2004. Based on his latest book, Spirit Speak, his talk was rich, informative and thought-provoking.
Beau and I had hooked up again Sunday morning. While he went off to another workshop after lunch, I went to Freyja's workshop "A Pilgrimage: Circling the San Francisco Bay." For being so late in the Con when lots of folks had already left for home, she had a fine turnout, mostly people from Northern California. Part talk and part experiential ritual, this workshop got everyone thinking about the many divine and magical places and forces in our unique bioregion. Freyja, who has traveled widely learning about our Earth and working with native shamans, has written an excellent book called Circling San Francisco Bay.
That's more than enough about my time at PantheaCon. Whew!