Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Scholarly Books of Interest to Pagans - I

As a member of the AAR, I get lots of catalogs from academic publishers. While most titles are not especially relevant or interesting to Pagans, I do come across a few now and then. I pass on the latest several titles for the benefit of Pagan readers, to suggest the breadth, depth and scope of contemporary Pagan studies and areas of related interest. I've included some commentary of my own, particularly as I see these works relating to who we are as Pagans religions and how we might evolve and unfold in this post-almost everything world.

From Oxford University Press' New & Noteworthy Titles in Religion:

Ancient Religions:
  • 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.
Eastern Religions:
  • 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.
I know this is a bit obscure, but hope some of you find food for thought. Check back soon. I have more.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Interfaith Double Whammy

Last Tuesday I attended MIC's quarterly retreat. Teachers Mary Grace Orr from Vipassana Santa Cruz and the Rev. Rob Geiselmann from Christ Episcopal Church, Sausalito, spoke on the theme was "Holding Change" at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre. As always, we spent a lot of time in silent meditation.

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

Another Priestess Gone

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

Changes Big & Small

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

Remembering, Reclaiming, Renaming

Today is the natal day of my firstborn, a son, 47 years ago. He is no longer on this plane, but I always remember him, especially on his birthday. His name, given to him by his adoptive parents, was Nicholas, who is the patron saint of children. (They were a childless couple before Nicholas came into their lives.)

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.