Friday, December 29, 2006

Lilith Is Gone

Corby and I decided it was time to give our kitty Lilith the peace of passing. She'd lost her eye some time ago, and it only got worse, just a dead eye in her head. The vet could do nothing about it. She'd basically been well except for drinking a lot of water because her kidneys weren't working well.

When our friend Raven Moonshadow was ill and dying, he wanted his two cats, Lilith Nightmare (perhaps named for me?) and Shadowfax, to remain together. We adopted them and brought them to live with us and our grey-and-white longhair tuxedo cat, Buster. Raven, who had AIDS-related dementia by that time, had told us that Lilith was 10 and Shadow was 5; that was in 1996. We only know that they were adults when they came to us and both had 10 good years with us. Both were black, Lilith shorthaired and round; we called her our Sicilian cat for her robust swarthiness. Shadow was more elfin, fine-boned, fluffy and longhaired.

Lilith was always the more social of the two. She got out of the carrier first. She greeted people and explored fearlessly. She took longish, for a cat, neighborhood walks with us. She even followed us one night when we were walking to downtown San Rafael. That means she had to cross Second and Third Streets, both main arteries to and from Highway 101. She loved laps but never wanted to be picked up and carried. She protested when we insisted on carrying her across those two streets; we did it anyway. The walk was maybe a mile and a half, quite a hike for a little cat.

Another time she was sleeping in the sunlight on the roof of the cab of Corby's yellow truck when he ran an errand to the local 7-11. He didn't know she was there and just drove off. People were waving at him and pointing to the roof as he drove but he didn't realize that they were trying to tell him there was a cat on the [hot tin] roof. When he pulled into a parking space in front of the store, this terrified kitty came sliding down the windshield onto the hood. It's a wonder she didn't fall off on the bumpy ride. There was nothing for her claws to grip. Corby put her in the cab and brought her home with his purchases.

We live in a condo complex on Picnic Hill. Lilith spent most of her days wandering around, sleeping in the sunlight on the steep driveway, wandering in the gardens, snoozing amidst the flowers, greeting one and all with her little barely-audible croak and wreathing their legs in hopes of some petting. For some of the younger residents, Lilith was their first encounter with a feline. Lilith made friends with everyone.

She quit eating about two weeks ago and just stayed indoors sleeping, mostly on the couch. She sought affection most of that time and purred when she got it. She loved her lap time. She'd go out on the deck from about five minutes at a time. Neighbors noticed her absence out front; they missed her welcomes and inquired about her well-being.

Sometimes it's difficult to judge when a living being has ceased living and moved on to simply existing in a miserable and often painful state. I've never believed there's any value in unnecessary suffering. I've had to make the decision to euthanize my share of animal friends. I'm glad to say that every one of them lived a long, good life in our family. They'd just reached the point where their bodies had worn out. We took Lilith to the Marin Humane Society where we'd taken her sister Shadow this past June. Lilith went easy, very easy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Remembering the Homeless

Tonight, in a constant mist of rain, I participated in the 19th Annual Memorial Service for Homeless People Who Have Died in San Francisco This Year, an interfaith service sponsored by the Coalition on Homelessness and San Francisco Network Ministries.

I had no idea what to expect. I knew that the woman who organizes it, the Rev. Glenda Hope, is well regarded and considered quite a dynamo. She wanted to assure that this event was an inclusive as possible. One of her colleagues contacted me through a circuitous route, and lo! there I was. I'd have preferred to find a San Francisco Pagan, but didn't know of any who might be good at it and willing to do it on December 21. The actual moment of Solstice being late Thursday afternoon, the longest night was December 20th this year, Wednesday, so many Pagans had already celebrated.

Religions represented were Islam, Roman Catholic, the SF Zen Center, a Protestant (Presbyterian, I think), Judaism, someone from a group connected with Tom Waddell, perhaps the Gay Olympics, and Pagan. There was a news truck from KTVU there and someone else who was videotaping the ceremony. The Muslim man spoke quietly and didn't seem to know how to use a mike. The Zen folks -- there were several -- spoke and then chanted words that they'd handed out ahead of time. They chanted in a monotone.

Between speakers someone read names of people who'd died in the streets in 2006. After each name was read, one of the Zen folks struck a bowl. Glenda had gotten the names from the SF Coroner's Office. I loved the reading of the names. Everyone loves the reading of names. People of many religions know in their hearts and bodies that speaking aloud the names of the departed reaches us in a different way than just reading them. That's one of the things about Spiral Dance Samhain rituals in recent years that most disappoints me. People complain that the list is too long, the reading takes too long, it's boring. Well, I think it's only boring to those who aren't listening. I know that for those who've lost someone that year hearing that person called to dance with us is an important part of their mourning.

I read a prayer by Starhawk from our book, adapted for this situation.

"For One Who Has Died Violently or in Great Distress"

Mother of healing,
Help us to believe in the
Place where wounds can heal.

Mother of weaving,
Show us that what has been torn
Can there be mended.

This worst has happened.
How can we believe again
In hope, love, kindness?

Boatman, Ferryman,
They have had rough crossings.
Carry them gently.

Comfort them, Mother,
In your warm arms of
Night; rock them to sleep.

And by our rage,
Mother of Justice,
May justice be done.
I followed with a simple four-line chant by Anne Hill and Starhawk, a C&W-sounding lament called "When We Are Gone." I explained that because we never knew when we'd encounter death, it was good to have something to meet death with, anyone's death, and that this simple chant was good for that. Before we began, I suggested that people might want to take the hand to the person next to them, if they felt comfortable doing so. I asked them to look around at the faces of those around them. I suggested that if that didn't feel right, they might want to close their eyes and see the faces of those they'd lost. I asked those who liked to sing to add harmonies when they wanted, and said we'd break into a four-part round -- we stood in a rather clumpy circle, about three or four deep -- when we got going and everyone knew it well enough.

I taught the chant by speaking the words once. Then I sang one line at a time and asked those assembled to repeat it; then I did the whole chant again two lines at a time, with repeat. Then I sang all four lines and asked them to join it.

Well, I'm telling you, getting them to sing, even such a simple little chant, was like the proverbial pulling of teeth! The Zen folks, bless them, did sing. I looked all around the circle several times as we sang, seeking connection with my eyes to others. I'd guess that maybe 20% of those there actually sang. Needless to say, we never broke into a round. I brought it to a gentle end by drawing out the last word.

The ceremony didn't last long but it was satisfying. It was over in time for me to get to Berkeley to celebrate the Solstice with Coven Trismegiston.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Spiral Dance

The promised -- and anticipated (by some) -- critique of the 2006 Spiral Dance, in terms of its technical deficiencies, appears below on December 5, the day I started to write it. Other SD reviews here and here.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bewildering Invitation

Like most folks around this time of year, I receive my share of invitations to holiday parties, celetrations, and religious observances. One that I received this season especially caught my attention. Under a subsection of the e-mailed invitation is a topic called "What else should you remember?" It addresses two subjects:

Be sure you have showered before hand, trimmed your nails, freshened your breath, washed your hands and the like before coming. That's not only polite, but it's also important for ritual purity.

Please come sober and OFF drugs. Alcohol (such as mulled wine) will be served to non-minors who want it, but it's important for ritual to be powerful to start out in a normal, grounded state of mind. Otherwise, you're just partying all the time, rather than starting out grounded and ending grounded. Ritual is about improving mundane life rather than being an escape from it.
Well, I can see the drug and alcohol policy, particularly since such a celebration might be confused with a party where such things may be indulged. But the first one????? One wonders what types of folks the hostess usually invites to her events. Perhaps I'm overly bourgeois, but maintaining good personal hygeine is high on my list of priorities. I find this cautionary in an invitation extended to (presumably) adult Pagans to a private gathering appalling. Am I naïve?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Review of New Mel Gibson Movie

Friend and colleague Traci Ardren, an anthropologist, has written this review of Mel Gibson's new movie, Apocalypto, about the Maya for Archaeology magazine. On November 16, 2006, Traci was featured on Good Morning America in a report about newly designated Wonders of the World, talking about Chichén Itzá. What a gal!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

SD Postmorten -- Technical

I begin this entry with a quote that bears repeating:

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

~ Steven Posch and Sparky T. Rabbit

Technically, the 2006 Spiral Dance was a disaster. In this entry, I'm not speaking of artistic, theological, musical, choreographic, magical or any other aspect of the event, only of the technical.

Arriving on Site

Preceding technical, when Corby, who had volunteered to be a dragon as he's done many times, and I arrived in mid-afternoon, as requested. we were not asked who we were or to be checked in from a list of participants. Folks were trusting, I guess. Anyone could have come in. This made me a bit uncomfortable because we usually put our things (backpacks, costumes, makeup, implements, supplies, money, etc.) in a room that is not necessarily guarded at all times. Theoretically there's a dragon on duty in these places, but that was not something I felt I could count on. I suppose one could consider that a technical oversight. In any case, I left my stuff and it remained safe.

When we arrived, all bazillion masked goddess dancers were trying to rehearse outside under the trees. That seemed not such a good way for them to have to rehearse, without a proper floor, without music or lights.

First, there was no full rehearsal, always a mistake. I realize it costs lots of money to rent the space and equipment. I don't know if the technical people were hired or volunteers. I know how hard it is to get a large group of volunteers all together at the same time and focused on a single task, i.e., a full rehearsal. Evidently there was some kind of run-through.

The noise inside was deafening and any small groups, such as graces, who were meeting had to shout at one another. I was memorizing and since there was nothing else going on that involved me and I was getting a headache from the sound check, I wandered around outside working on my part. Apparently when my name was called to come in, no one knew where I was. In any case, I had no clue (1) when to come in, where I fit in the series of speakers/performers; (2) where or from whom to get a mike; (3) where to exit; and (4) any other technical or choreographic information I needed.

Doors Open

Before I knew it, the doors opened, and I still did not know where they wanted me to pick up my mike, when I was on (whom did I follow), from where I was expected to enter the circle, or from which direction to exit. I assumed lighting wouldn't be a big deal, since it was only me and the spots could follow me. I was mistaken in that assumption.

Even after the doors opened, there was a big triple screen in the center of the space (the space being a basketball court). It was comprised of three panels held rigid by PVC pipe with black fabric stretched across each, mounted in a triangle so that each square screen faced a different direction from the center. I couldn't imagine how I was supposed to navigate around it when I proclaimed the feast.

I asked Starhawk, "Is that going to be there when we speak?" "What is it supposed to be?" "Why is it there?" She responded that the intent was for it to be a screen upon which names of the Beloved Dead (in white, presumably) would be projected. This was yet another way to try to name the Beloved Dead at a major ritual honoring them without naming them. ::sigh:: She said it was an idea gone wrong and would be removed before the ritual started, which it was.

An idea gone wrong? What ever could be the aesthetic behind (a) using a black ground in a darkened room, (b) having it in the middle, blocking views, and (c) expecting that words would show up and be readable? I'm amazed that such an idea got as far as having screens erected.

Meanwhile, Suzanne Sterling had begun filling the space with her sweet singing, as the program indicated she'd be doing as people filled the space.

I asked Star when and how the Beloved Dead names would be spoken if they were not being read aloud during the ritual and not being projected. Oops! Turned out that a recording of their names was supposed to have been playing as people entered the space. Someone was immediately dispatched to ask Suzanne to stop her singing, while someone else was dispatched to the front of the house to tell them to put the recording of the names on. According to my friend Victoria who was taking tickets at the front of the house, no one had said a word to them about playing those names.

More Scrambling

In order to figure out when I was supposed to speak, I dashed out to the front of the house and grabbed a program. The program detailed three -- not one but three -- different welcomes/introductions. First a man I didn't know was to make announcements about where the restrooms were, who and what were Graces and Dragons, turning off of cellphones, bringing non-ambulatory folks, drummers, and toddlers and babies to the center of the circle when the spiral dance was forming, and how to begin the dance. Second, Starhawk spoke of the intent of the ritual; and third, I was to proclaim the feast. The Proclamation of the Feast is a standard spoken piece I think is beautiful and which has remained essentially the same for 27 years. It's "traditional."

As if having three different announcements by three different announcers weren't enough, the program also said that Evelie was going to teach the songs beforehand from the center of the circle. To further complicate things, I was uncertain whether the group that planned this particular spiral dance had an emcee or ringmistress or something of the sort. I hate that. Regardless of my feelings about it, I was not among the planners and had no say, so I was just trying to do the best job I could with the part they'd asked me to perform. Just as I have for the past two years -- last year with the triple invocation of the Ancestors, the Mighty Dead of the Craft, and the (unnamed) Beloved Dead, and the previous year of the Mighty Dead for the 25th anniversary. If they were having an emcee, we who were speaking would wait until we were announced.

My pal Urania found me and asked when I was going on. That was because she'd been told she, who was doing the grounding meditation, was told she was to follow me -- and probably have me hand her the mike when I walked out of the center of the circle, if I exited from the same place where I'd entered.

Ritual Starts

Jonathan entered with a mike and began making his announcements. The program said that after he spoke, Evelie would teach the songs, then Starhawk, then me, then Urania with the grounding. Well, after Jonathan spoke, Starhawk told the intent of the ritual. Not quite knowing what to do next, I went looking for Evelie, who was supposed to have preceded Starhawk. She didn't know that, but she did dash over to the south-facing aisle where others had entered and prepared to take the mike. This she did, while I waited and tried to compose myself -- I have a little centering routine I like to do before speaking a long memorized piece -- and Urania stood nearby awaiting her cue.

Evelie didn't teach any songs. She was out there for something like a whopping ten seconds! Before I knew it, she was walking towards me with the mike, which I was reaching out to take, when Jonathan dashed up the aisle to take it from Evelie and give it to me. Now what sense does that make? The entire sequence of mishaps. miscommunications and non-communications only served to unsettle me.

I took the mike and walked into the light. I began well. I know I should be better able to ride such confusion, and usually I am, but in the case of a memorized piece, I work better with a little more order. In any case, I'm one who becomes slightly disoriented when I get feedback of what I'm speaking. That's exactly what I got that night. I'd speak a line and then hear it come back to me. I tend to lose my concentration on exactly what words I'm saying. To add to my increasing disorientation, sometimes when I spoke I could hear my words clearly broadcast and other times I couldn't hear them at all. So I got to worrying about whether everyone else could hear me.

Not only that, but as I walked, the lights did not follow me. If I turned in the direction of the chorus, I experienced bright light in my eyes, and if I turned towards the entryway, I was in darkness. So among the inconsistent lighting, the inconsistent miking, and the repeating sounds, I lost my words. I didn't lose my message. I did manage to say more or less what I'd intended to say, only I don't think I said it as eloquently as it had been written. I suppose some who knew the piece may have noticed, but no one else seemed to. I was annoyed with myself, though, and disappointed. Even so, I think my contribution properly advanced the ritual in ways it was intended to have.

Lights and Sound in General

As I said above, the tech for this ritual was pathetic. I've no doubt much could have been remedied with a full rehearsal. I've described my own experience with lights and sound. Laura Wyrd. wearing a shiny sliver unitard, summoned the Element Air with her tissu work from the rafters, similar to what she does here from an oak. But for the facts that she was wearing reflective clothing and was above the crowd, she wouldn't have been very visible because no lights illuminated her, resulting in the bright light of dawn being obscured.

The chorus was never audible. They just sounded like muted mush. It's a shame that such a fine group of singers and musicians who'd rehearsed independently for months could not be heard.

In spite of technical incompetence and many other features I didn't feel advanced the magic or were even well executed -- and about which I won't be blogging -- the spiral dance itself was as wonderful as always. Better in many ways because it was more intimate and community-based instead of showy and exhibitionistic.

Friday, December 01, 2006

College Interfaith

Last night I spoke on an interfaith panel sponsored by by Beta Beta Sigma chapter of Phi Theta Kappa. the Honor Society at the Napa Valley College in Napa, California, part of a study called "Gods, Gold, Glory and The Global Dynamics of Power." This taste of world religions forum of seven panelists was comprised of Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, non-denominational Christianity (represented by a Presbyterian minister), "Goddesses-based Wicca"* [sic], contemporary Pagan, and Religious Science speakers.

I estimate there were 150-200 people in the cafeteria for this event, some of whom were attending for credit. All were attentive. Many were taking notes, and some of us provided handouts. I had prepared a two-page selected bibliography on Pagan studies specifically for this venue. I think it's a good one; let me know if you'd like a copy.

In two hours, including Q&A, we each had a whopping eight minutes to lay out our "beliefs and practices." How can you do that about any religion, much less such a diverse cluster of religions as contemporary Paganism? Aiyee! I was saved having to speak of beliefs because I believe, as Michael York (the scholar, not the actor) explains in his book Pagan Theology, that what unites us is more practice than actual belief. Within an individual coven or circle you can find differences in belief about what all are doing together. That wasn't much help, though, when you consider the complexity of Paganism, the very meaning of the word Pagan. Not to mention the various groups that fall under the large umbrella of Paganism: Witches & Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, reconstructionists, ethnic religions, the meaning of the very word Pagan, etc. As well as the need to address the meanings of such symbols as the pentacle; what magic is (or might be) and the ethics of spellcrafting; immanence; revealed vs. experiential; polytheism, pantheism, panentheism and all the other "isms." I was doing my best, talking fast, wandering far and wide, when the bell rang signaling that my time was up.

Henry Michalski from Congregation Beth Sholom spoke very well from a prepared speech. The Presbyterian minister spoke as though he were giving a sermon, not in the sense of trying to convert people but more in his style. An intense young Muslim named Basim Elkarra from the Sacramento Valley CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) spoke about Islam; Maxine Wright from Mahakaruna Buddhist Meditation Center spoke about Buddhism; Leilani Birely of Daughters of the Goddess Dianic coven spoke well about goddess spirituality and sang a Hawaiian devotional song. And finally Rev. Janet Garvey Stangvik representing the Napa Valley Center for Spiritual Living spoke authoritatively on religious science. Leilani's talk and mine complimented one another. It's strange, though, that there were two Pagans when we are such a minority of the population, yet no one from Roman Catholic, Native American, African diaspora religions, or Hindu religions, considering the presence of all those religions in Northern California's multicultural population.

A common concern spoken of by all speakers was for tolerance and a world of peace. This was especially true among the three Abrahamics presented; it was also the underlying concern of most of the audience questions. Leilani spoke of the fact that she considers animals and the wind and sea and Nature to be relatives and teachers. I was the only person who mentioned green awareness, our interdependence on all of life, the necessity of a sustainable future for our descendants.

Phi Theta Kappa did a great job producing this event. Judging from the turnout and questions, I'd say it was edifying and appreciated. I was glad for the opportunity to participate.

It makes me think, though, that I could teach a semester on Pagan religions if I could find the right sponsor for such a course. I have nothing formal beyond a B.A., but lots of life experience and independent scholarship of sorts. The authority by which I do such activities is my P&W. I take it seriously.

* This was how it was listed in the program, but the speaker actually said she was talking about goddess spirituality, which seemed much more accurate to me.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

High-Flying Witch

I'm constantly amazed at the talent in this world, and especially the talent among my Pagan friends. Laura Wyrd is an old colleague from my active days in Reclaiming Collective who now distinguishes herself as an aerialist, among other things. I don't know her well, but we always appreciated one another and we renewed our friendship at the Spiral Dance this past Samhain, where she invoked the element of Air from the high in the air. Here's a video of her recent work. Enjoy!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Statement re: Ethics & Boundaries

Some of my colleagues in Reclaiming and myself have come up with this statement which we now make public:

As a group of Witches who have all been active in Reclaiming for 10-25 years, we want to voice our concern at the new consensus reached which says that all Reclaiming Witch Camps are autonomous and can make their own decisions regarding drug and alcohol use, or sex between students and teachers.

We will not move to alter the consensus, but want to go on record as being against this new policy. We are not opposed to alcohol and drug use in private or non-ritual events, but we are against it in open rituals and Witch Camps. Reclaiming events often include transformative work in which people are already significantly altered, and it can be disruptive, even dangerous to add drugs and alcohol to the mix.

While we are certainly sex positive, we do not think it is wise for teachers and students to have sex at Witch Camps. Both parties have power, but there is also present a spiritual and psychological openness that can be easily manipulated by the person who has taken on the role of guide. We are against polices that allow for this possibility. Magic is not safe, but certain safeguards are still a good idea.

Anne Hill, Dawn Isidora, Deborah Oak Cooper, Fern Feto Spring, M. Macha NightMare, Medusa, T. Thorn Coyle
I signed this post not because I have any connection with Witch Camps, but rather because these stated policies are consistent with my feelings and belief. I choose not to involve myself in public Reclaiming activities, or in Reclaiming teaching, where these policies are not expressly agreed to ahead of time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


I cannot be the only person who's sick to death of defining and redefining and going over the same stuff over and over and over and over again. This comes up particularly in the environment of Reclaiming (and CoG as well, for that matter), when topics have been discussed to death and then beaten some more, something more or less suitable has been written to memorialize the discussions, and then, lo! six months later that same topic comes up again like it's brand new, like no one ever thought of if before. Aargh!

This bears, to some extent, on what my friend Katrina claims is a lack of respect for elders, in the sense that elders carry the history. It also arises from people not bothering to learn their history or to care about whence they sprung. If you don't respect your ancestors and your heritage, and pay them the courtesy of learning something of their experiences and what they know, then what kind of movment are you?

WTF is Reclaiming? I don't know what Reclaiming is but I do know who I am, and that I practice a form of Craft that I clearly see as Reclaiming tradition, at least the trad as I learned it, helped to create it, and continue to practice it. Which is not to say that trads, or any other living thing, don't evolve, and that Reclaiming hasn't evolved or isn't evolving. But one might think that a good working description (as opposed to definition) might work in a general way, at least for a few years. Sheesh!

I'm just running this off the top of my head right now because of recent posts in various communities that have been irritating me. Obviously this is not a considered essay of any sort.

Am I just a crotchety old fart, or do you, dear reader, appreciate similar experiences?

Second question: why would I care? Why would anyone care?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Love Blooms in Cyberspace

I can't help crowing about this lovely turn of events. These two fine Pagans found each other in a class called "Call of the Dark Mother: Working with the Dying, Death, and Grieving," originally created and taught by me at Cherry Hill Seminary. Among many other things, they went on to found the Washington-Baltimore Pagan Clergy Association. They recently married. Long live love!

Angela Roberts and Michael Reeder

FAWR Launch

The official launch of the Foundation for the Advancement of Women in Religion took place tonight at the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel. Lots of folks came and all appeared to enjoy themselves. The Pagan contingent was noticeably strong. It makes me happy to see Pagans supporting each other and supporting important projects. Please consider going to the website linked above and joining. It's not expensive and the potential for good work in the world is great.

Below is a photo of the Board members who were able to be there.

Ben Hamlin, Assoc. Exec. Dir.; Cyra Choudhury, Founder and Exec. Dir.; Jan Willis, and yours truly. Photo by Leslie M. Ortiz

AAR - Contemporary Pagan Studies Consultation

Note this is not the Conference on Contemporary Pagan Studies which precedes the AAR Annual Meeting. It the Contemporary Pagan Studies Consultation, an offical designation of the AAR, sponsored by the AAR and listed in the program.

More photos cuz it's 1:45 am and I plan to attend the New Religions Movements Group at 9 am. "Group" is the AAR's term for a more established area of study, while "section" is the big heavy.

Above, Murph Pizza reading her paper “The Fourfold Goddess and the Undying God: Anatomies of Minnesotan Bootstrap Witchcraft Traditions.” I might add that it was the folks of Paganistan (Minneapolis-St. Paul) who paid for Murph to get to the AAR so her papers could be heard. So huzzah for Paganistani Pagans for supporting their local anthopologist!!!!!

Laura Wildman-Hanlon on “Children of Converts: Generational Retention in the Neo-Pagan New Religions Movement.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

Conference on Contemporary Pagan Studies

I know I said I wasn't gonna post photos often, but I feeling proud and going by the old saw that a picture is worth 1000 words, so here's a photo taken today here in Washington, DC of our Cherry Hill Seminary presence at the second ever CCPS preceding the AAR Annual Meeting:

l-r, Michael York, Judy Harrow, Patrick McCollum, Macha NightMare, Laura Wildman, Murph Pizza, and Marion Mason. Photo by Sarah Whedon

Murph (Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) gave a paper called “Sharkey’s End: Paganism’s Public Challenge and the Limitations of Legitimacy in the Minnesota Twin Cities,” and Judy Harrow presented an utterly brilliant panel discussion with Amanda Wolfe of Georgia State Univ. on Paganism and the psychological establishment.

Reclaiming also had a strong presence, both among the attendees and within the context of papers read. Laura Zwissler, Univ. of Toronto, referenced Reclaiming in her paper, “Public Spirituality, Personal Religion: Pagan Activists and Political Community,” and SpiralHeart's Pam Turtle Detrixhe, Temple Univ., spoke on “Performing ‘Religion’ in Public: The Pagan Cluster at the Interfaith,” in which she spoke of Katrina Messenger.

Besides Macha (CA) and Pam (PA), other Reclaiming folks in attendance were Katrina (DC), Ishtar (NY), Endora (VT), Yarrow (VA), Grove (MA), Jone (Norway), Sarah Whedon (CA) and whoever else I may be missing.

My thanks to Cat McEachern for organizing the conference, and to everyone there for joining in this ground-breaking work.

I’m having so much fun!!!!!

Monday, November 13, 2006

How To Die

Friday night Patrick and I managed to meet to conduct some CHS business, socialize as friends are wont to do, and catch a theater piece together.

The theater piece was How To Die, by and with Keith Hennessey, Jules Beckman and Seth Eisen. How to Die is the second on a three-part series called MANIfesti-VAL, Dance Brigade's Festival for Social Change at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco's Mission District.

I've been a fan, and distant friend, of Keith for many years. He's frequently, sometimes with friends, invoked God at Reclaiming's Spiral Dances as well as taught workshops to folks in the wider community and at WitchCamps. I admire his Circo Zero, and especially loved a production called Spell, which really was a spell, a pre-election spell in 2004, in which he collaborated with Krissy Keefer and The Dance Brigade, the fabulous Copper Wimmin, and the goddess Hekate.

I warned Patrick this performance would be edgy, and indeed it was. Inspiration for the piece arose from the endemic phenomena in the cities of this country of homelessness, so shameful in a society of abundance; AIDS; suicide; and tweakers.* Among the unusual amalgam of media used were photos of homeless men in the immediate neighborhood passed among the audience; recorded statistics about suicide, suicide by train decapitation in particular; helium voices and condoms; digital self-photos taken and then slide-showed on an iBook; strings of shiny CDs; dance and costume.

The intimacy of the Mission Dance Theater performance space lessened the separation between performers and audience, which I assume was what the creators desired and which is something I prefer.

Perhaps three techniques were most unique. The first was a bathing in a galvanized tub, using tattered underwear as washcloth, followed by the character standing on head and hands in the washwater for a seemingly interminable amount of time. I can say that throughout this performance, as disturbing as it was at time -- as it was intended to be -- the performers held every audience member captive.

Second, and perhaps strongest, was having the primary character literally strung out with a string across the entire width of the performance space through his septum.

Keith is known for pushing boundaries, going beyond 'normal' limits. Tweakedness, dancing, glitzy over-the-top costumes and mock intercourse were not unexpected, but I must say that I could have done without the many spotlighted displays of Keith's asshole. That's the third.

I know to expect strong statements and kick-ass displays. Keith's tendency towards exhibitionism is one of his greatest strengths as well as one of his weaknesses. Yes, it certainly commands people's attention, but is also tends to undercut his message somehow. I haven't quite figured out why that is.

No surprise, I saw a few Reclaiming folks in the audience, and Patrick encountered some people he knows from St. Mary's College. I spied Erik Davis in an upper row as we were filing out of the bleachers and wanted to speak to him, perhaps remind him that we'd met before at the launch of Modern Pagans at the SF Art Institute when I bought his Techgnosis and asked him to autograph it, not that he'd have any reason to remember me. Anyway, for whatever reason, I passed on that. I eventually got around to reading Techgnosis and loved it, and at SheShamans this past June I bought his most recent book, Visionary State (with photographer Michael Rauner). I've browsed the photos and read bits and pieces of it, but have not yet gotten into it with both feet (or eyes, I guess).

If the reader finds oneself in San Francisco at a time when Keith is performing, one would find attending a performance stimulating, thought-provoking, perhaps disturbing, certainly promoting of reflection, and hopefully well worth the effort.

(More of the promised SD postmortem anon.)

* From the program: "The following drugs are somewhat or very tweakish, i.e., chemical assistants to speed and multi-tasking: caffeine, sugar, Ritalin, prednisone, crystal meth, ecstasy (mdma is almost always cut with meth), mda, OxyContin, Wellbutrin, Prozac, Ephedra, Sudafed and anything contgaining ephedrrin/pseudoephedrine, Vicoden, Lorcet, Sustiva, Red Bull, and the many herbal speeds that are so comon now including ginseng, maté."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Colored Poppies & Election Celebration

I don't intend for this blog to be a photo album, but sometimes you just can't help it if you have something visual you want to document or show off. Today it's the latter. My left arm is just about completed; it may only get some minor touch-ups.

This first photo shows both arms, one with only the outline, as shown in a previous entry.

The second one shows the color, except that my skin is still traumatized and a bit swollen because it was only completed hours ago. At it heals, the shadings will become more distinct.

For the next little while, I'll be posting mostly words.

On a different matter, I'm really happy about the election results. Most of the candidates and propositions I voted for won. That's a novel experience for me, since usually my vote is the kiss of death. The Dems have the House; the Dems have the Senate. Nancy Pelosi is the first woman Speaker of the House and third in line for the Presidency. (Does that give you any ideas?) Now if the Dems would only show some spine. We need more than the few like Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey to speak for constituents of my sentiments.

More, we have the first Socialist Senator in many, many years. Of course, you've read all this a zillion other places, but I wanted to join the rejoicing.

Now it's time for the Greens, my party of choice, to elect people to fill local and regional offices, and work their way up the way the religious right did. We cannot afford the luxury of not being organized and well-funded.

Here's to universal health care, living wages, good educational opportunities for all, improved public transportation and other infrastructure, fewer jails and inmates, a more equitable division of wealth, clean water, clean oceans, clean air, sacrosanct wilderness, alternative energy sources, nutritious food for all (preferably locally grown and organic), and peace, blessed peace.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Vote Clean Sweep

Michael Moore urges voters to bring a broom and sweep 'em out of office. I did my part.

Photo taken at San Rafael, California by Corby Lawton.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

From Peak to Pits

Honoring the Dead:

My day started out high from last night, when about 30 of us met on the hill to dance with the ancestors. It turned out to be a beautiful night, cold with a bright gibbous moon and wisps of clouds.

Starting with kEATH being an excellent gatekeeper, to Prudence’s witchy challenges and admonition to keep solemn silence, to the exquisite magic of those witchy voices (Corby, Pasha, Patti, Denise, Nicole, Maenam and whoever else I may be forgetting), the the purifications done so carefully by Juliana and Karen, to the partially lighted broken steps, courtesy of Kirk and Tansy -- no one had any accidents, thank the gods! -- to the welcoming and everything that came afterwards.

I loved the way people came together with salt and water in the absence of tools and supplies: plastic cup from someone, green tea, and flakes of salt and pretzel from a snack bag of pretzels.

I love the silent walk through the dark tunnel. I love the opportunity to sit in silence at the top of the hill while all, living and dead, gather.

This was the first time I heard every single name. I found myself leaning forward and listening intently to every soul Victoria called. The widdershins walk and chanting “what is remembered lives” fostered a trancelike state of mind.

I loved the silence while we communed with the dead before we danced the spiral beneath Moon and the swirling spiral of clouds.

The energy of that spiral dance Denise led, for me, was a sweet as they come. Utterly lovely, and loving.

I like seeing who actually turns up. If they don’t want to make the effort, they miss the magic.

This was the first year without Vibra; we missed her. I also missed due to last-minute crises in their prison ministries, Patrick and Barbara, for whom this is the only ritual of the year they have no responsibility for and can simply surrender to.

Surprise Package:

So when the doorbell rang today and the UPS man delivered a surprise package, I was in a good mood to receive whatever it was. It turned out to be a five-volume series of religious studies textbooks called Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, edited by Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcroft. British scholar and eco-Pagan Adrian Harris and I co-wrote a piece called "New and Alternative Religions in the United States: Ritual and Neopaganism" in the volume entitled Metaphysical, New Age, and Neopagan Movements." I note that several other colleagues from the Nature Religions Scholars Network have also contributed. I must say it's a heady feeling to be in a textbook. This is my first text contribution, other than encyclopedia entries. I'm working on another for a high school textbook now.

Perhaps I'll finally meet Professors Gallagher and Ashcroft at the upcoming American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting later this month. I know I'll finally meet Adrian face to face.

Ending in Sorrow:

Yesterday in my fit of Hallows posts, I scanned a photo of my paternal grandparents. I also emailed it to several family members, including my cousin Gerry Gregorio. Gerry and I had recently renewed our close childhood friendship -- there was never any falling out, just poor correspondents and life getting in the way. She still lives in the same town where our grandparents and fathers lived all their lives, Moorestown, NJ, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Last November her husband Joe brought her to Philadelphia for a brief visit at the hotel when I was there for the AAR. She had been suffering from colon cancer. She put on a brave face, but I could tell that the visit was taxing her. It was clear that Joe was devoted to her. We had fun catching up, we took some photos, and then I lost my camera later that night. That was the last time I saw her.

This evening I received an email from Gerry's daugher, Nicole, telling me that Geraldine Frances O'Brien Gregorio had passed away on September 17th. In the confusion of grieving and making arrangements, the family had forgotten to notify the few of us here on the West Coast. Here's a photo of her taken last May with daughter Nicole and grandson Chaz at the latter's confirmation.

I'm very, very sad she's gone. I didn't have her name to call last night. I'll dance with her next year.

What is remembered lives.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Summoning the Ancestors

Summoning the Ancestors

M. Macha NightMare
© Samhain 2005 C.E.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For your use, if you choose.

My Irish Grandparents

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

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

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

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

What is remembered lives!

That Quote I Mentioned

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

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

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

Spiral Dance and Other Samhain Press

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

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

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

Blessed Samhain!

Monday, October 30, 2006

SD Postmortem -- Altars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiral Dance '06 Postmortem, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Saturday, October 28, 2006

El Dia de Los Muertos Altar

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

Here's a darker one:

Triple Goddess

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

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

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Global Orgasm Spell

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2006

New Moon, New Tatts

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

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

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

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mighty Dead of the Craft

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

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

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

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Another Wonderful New Book about Our Earth

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Three Witches

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

Back from Paganistan

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Self-Made Man

About a year ago I happened to run into a friend when I attended a panel sponsored by Compassion in Dying (now Compassion & Choices). A primary speaker was Barbara Coombs Lee, Chief Petitioner for Oregon's Death with Dignity Act and a woman who has frequently testified before the U.S. Congress on end-of-life issues. I'd met this friend, Susan Stern, in some of the first circles to which I was invited back in the 1970s; we hadn't seen each other in years. When I inquired what brought her to this event, she told me of her father's death on July 5th of that year, just a few months earlier, and how he'd left a video for herself and her sister. She was there as part of her research for the film she was making with this material. The result of Bob Stern's gift to his daughters is The Self-Made Man. So even though I was unable to attend the film's debut screening, I was delighted to know that it had been completed. Not only done, but done so well it's up for an Emmy.

I finally had an opportunity to watch this film last night on our local PBS station, KQED. Susan has built the story the around her father's amazingly pragmatic decision to cut his losses and spare his family and himself the aftermath of cardiac surgery, and more perilously, advanced prostate cancer, by taking his own life. But, just as Susan had told me at our fortuitous meeting, before he did this, and as part of his process he discussed it with his wife Adele and son Mike, and, left a videotape for his daughters, Laura and Susan. Featuring interviews with family, old friends and eventually grandchildren, voiceover ruminations by the filmmaker, and a synopsis of Bob Stern's self-made, and financially bountiful, life, The Self-Made Man offers a personal insights into the timely issue of 'conscious self-deliverance.' Filmmaker Susan Stern , her family, and especially her dad, have given us a beautiful, thought-provoking and compassionate film.

Bob is all the more remarkable for having been a pioneer in the field of solar power in California's Central Valley. Thus, his life had great meaning on many scores, meanings that live beyond his mortality.

As an advocate for choice in matters of living and dying, I cannot recommend this film more highly. Here is a schedule of airings on PBS' Point of View.

Susan is also the producer of Barbie Nation: An Authorized Tour.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Nobel Peace Laureate Inspires

Last night my friend and colleague Malendia Maccree and I went to Angelico Hall at Dominican University here in my town to hear a talk by Shirin Ebadi. She spoke to a full house of 700 on the topic of "Human Rights, Islam and the West."

I was delighted to see that she was introduced, in Persian, by my colleague in the Marin Interfaith Council and on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for the Advancement of Women in Religion (NAWR), Dr. Nahid Angha, founder of the Sufi Women Organization. The enthusiastic crowd greeted Ms. Ebadi with a standing ovation when she first stepped onto the stage, once during her talk, and at the conclusion, with many bursts of applause throughout the evening.

During the Q&A afterwards, one question was what she'd tell George Bush about Iran if she were to meet with him. She answered, ""I would suggest to him that he not be president anymore." Full report in Sunday's edition of the Marin Independent Journal.

Afterwards, Malendia and I chatted in the lobby with a few of the folks I've met through MIC, before buying her book, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope, which Ms. Ebadi autographed.

Only Sunday morning did I realize I had blown another interfaith event I'd intended to experience. Tibetan monk Losang Samten created a sand mandala of the 2,500-year-old Wheel of Life design at the Marin Center Exhibition Hall. On Saturday he swept it away and disbursed it in the lagoon. I'm really disappointed I missed it. The only other one I've seen was in the late '90s when my friend Pitch and I went to see the Tibet exhibit at the old De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

Cool Online Lecture

About six months ago I got the idea that if we, meaning Cherry Hill Seminary where I chair the Public Ministry Program, were using educational software to create cyber classrooms, we might as well expand our virtual campus with the addition of a lecture hall. I'm delighted to say that our initial foray was a great success.

I think tonight’s lecture started the series off with a bang. Beginning with Mary Windrider Bowerman’s gracious introduction, followed by Chas Clifton's fascinating presentation, and ending with provocative Q&A, it went off without a hitch. Chas had posted some excellent resources which he referenced in his talk. We had no delay with Chas dial-up connection, nor did anyone get bumped from the chat even once.

I found Chas' three divisions of "Nature religion" -- cosmic (astrology, 15th century CE European "natural magic," observations and celebrations of the seasons in the Wheel of the Year); Gaian (Earth as sacred being or embodied goddess, ecological point of view); and erotic or embodied (knowledge of the sacred comes from experiences perceived through our bodies, the sacralization of sex) -- a clear, insightful way to view our movement.

I urge you, dear reader, to consider attending next month’s lecture by Patricia Monaghan, one of the foremost goddess scholars in the world. Drawing from her book, The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog, Patricia’s topic is "The Celtic Path: Spiritual Geography and the Irish Goddess."

The map of Ireland is also the map of the year's progression through the seasons and the related festivals. Each province is also connected with several important goddesses, with the island itself named for the goddess of the center, Eriu. Experiencing the spiritual geography of Ireland offers an opening to examining the spiritual geography of other lands as well.

My thanks to all who participated, especially Chas, for diving into these mysterious waters and playing together. May word of this offering spread around Pagandom and may we be joined by many others on October 8th.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Voices from the Other Side

It's obvious that the nights are lengthening and Autumn is approaching because I seem to be drawn to reflecting on old friends who've crossed over. Not necessarily friends who've left recently, either. Raven died in 1986 and came to mind -- well, he frequently comes to mind, mine and the minds of many others -- because his and our Shadowfax was dying. Ann Turner died in the '80s and Judy Foster in 2000. When Corby and I visited Ireland in 2004, our friend, linguist Jim Duran (Séamas Ó Direáin), now living in Galway, told us of the death of my old friend Padraigin McGillicuddy.

I have no photo of Padraigin. I can find nothing on the Web except references to her old radio show, "A Terrible Beauty," on KPFA. What I do have is fond memories.

Padraigin used to live in a huge old Victorian in Oakland, said to have been the childhood home of Gertrude Stein. She who is said to have said of Oakland, "There is no there there." I can't say what Oakland was like in the late 19th century when Gertrude lived there, but I find plenty there now.

Padraigin had a son named Sean Peter who died tragically some years ago, by his own hand. Our mutual friend, harper Sharon Devlin Folsom tells me that Padraigin's daughter, Kerry McGillicuddy, is an athlete, perhaps a phys ed teacher, a personal trainer or a coach. A Google search netted me the information that she used to be the recreation director of LYRIC and that she recently has been a women's basketball referee.

I'm mentioning all this detail because two people have contacted me about Padraigin. One has some family photos she'd like to give to Kerry. The other would like permission to reprint material from Padraigin's booklet, The Patriarch Revealed: A Feminist View of St. Patrick (1981). And speaking of the departed, another old Institute of Celtic Studies friend, Ken Ruffner, did the artwork on the cover and inside the book.

In the meantime, I've tried contacting another contributor to the book, Bob Callahan of Before Columbus Foundation and the New College Irish Studies Program to seek permission and to see if he can help me locate Kerry. If you have any information about Padraigin or Kerry, please contact me.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Music & Healing & Dying

Last week I attended a workshop given by Hospice of Marin for "Marin clergy and spiritual leaders," meaning I got the invitation by way of the Marin Interfaith Council. Hospice of Marin is the oldest hospice on the West Coast and second oldest in the country, to Connecticut. They must have a good source of funding because they recently moved into some mighty fancy digs. They outgrew their former building.

What a caring, dedicated group they are! I've met some of the hospice workers at MIC events. I've always considered people who do that work to be saints, or at least 'saintly,' even though we Pagans don't exactly have such a category of mortals. In any case, besides hospice care, MIC provides grief counseling and offers educational programs, like the one I'm writing about, to the communities they serve. They've expanded to serve Sonoma County, San Francisco County and part of San Mateo County.

The workshop included a presentation by Kathy Speas, a member of the Threshold Choir, a group of women who sing at the bedsides of dying people. (For some reason their website is down; I provide this link in case it's fixed by the time you read this. If it's not, you can read more here.) The Threshold Choir itself is about 15 women, but only two or three go to individuals; more could create too much commotion in a place where a peaceful atmosphere is best. They have some CDs available for purchase.

Another group that ministers to the dying through music is the Chalice of Repose: The Voice of Music-Thanatology.* Based in Missoula, Montana, but having centers in various cities around the world, Chalice of Repose offers harp music for the dying.

My friend Evergreen Erb, a Reclaiming Witch in Vermont, also does harp therapy to aid healing and to ease dying. She's a member of the International Harp Therapy Program; her magical harp can also be heard on some Reclaiming CDs.

The other speaker at the workshop was Maryliz Smith. (Her website does not appear to be working either.) Maryliz commutes from Marin County to Vancouver to work with cancer patients at the Callanish Healing Retreats Society; her bio is here. She played for us a triple ocarina. Ocarinas have been around for 12,000 years nearly everywhere humans have lived, but this was the first triple one I'd seen. One chamber plays a drone while the other two can be played by opening and closing the finger holes. At first I thought the sound was celestial, but as I listened I realized that it had the sound of wind in caves. I pictured Hekate leading Odysseus down into Hades, hearing the songs of shades in the darkness. The sound is engendered by the element Air resonating inside the clay of Earth. I want one! So far, the least expensive one I've found is $350, so if one comes into my possession, it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

During the socializing at lunch, several of the people (one man, maybe eight or nine women) expressed frustration with their choir directors, pastors and rabbis because they'd found them to be inflexible about what music was appropriate to play for funerals and memorials. These women felt that using music that was meaningful to the deceased and her or his loved ones was important, even if traditional liturgical music were part of the ritual. Too frequently they'd met with opposition to this from those they'd most expected to want to care and help.

I could only nod my head, thinking of how creative we Pagans are when it comes to any kind of rite of passage. We are free to use what works best for us, regardless of whether it's considered secular or sacred. In my opinion, using secular music in a sacred manner sanctifies it. Nearly every day I'm reminded how great it is to be Pagan.

* Thanatology is "the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it, including the study of the needs of the terminally ill and their families."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bringing Reclaiming Back into the Circle

Since I'm having trouble posting comments to The Wild Hunt, I've decided to just take the discussion over here.

Regarding Reclaiming's flaws, Andy sez:

There are too many sheep, too many shepherds for an organisation which (a) shouldn't be an organisation and (b) repeats ad nauseum that it is non-hierarchical when it clearly is and to anyone who falls outside the walls is visibly dependent on those who look up and those who are looked up to.

I don't quite get the "too many sheep, too many shepherds" analogy, since presumably we teach, among other things, self-empowerment, and sheep just follow. Further, I don't see any organization "which shouldn't be an organisation"; rather, I see us as a collective identity rather than a specific group. No one can ever accuse us, or most other Pagan groups, or being organized. >smile< is a hierarchy within Reclaiming, and there always has been. Unacknowledged hierarchy is toxic.

There seem a million and one issues to be looked at and hopefully addressed but for me the problem is that those doing the examination are those who fall within the walls and so all you'll get is a core group of people making changes which others will have to choose to either accept or move on. You will still have 'them and 'us' with some acknowledging that and others pretending otherwise.

Many, if not most, of those of us "within the walls," as Andy puts it - I'm assuming he's counting me among the insiders, although I'm not; I've just stuck around all along -- have always been open to the involvement and opinions of others. I've noticed changes having been made -- I could name a few -- but I've only accepted the ones I like and I've ignored the ones I don't like. I know I'm not alone in this attitude.

Again, I realize Andy is talking about British Reclaiming (and by extension presumably Avalon WitchCamp), about which I know next to nothing. I do know that the lovely Ann Flowers has also felt frozen out, so maybe there's something to look a there. I'm only speaking about the larger, and vaguer, Reclaiming identity, not about the health or dysfunction of any particular Reclaiming-identified entity.

For my own part, I now consider myself a solitary Reclaimer - not that I work in isolation, as I find I now work with a wonderfully eclectic group within which are people following different traditions but working together, what a shocker! - and I feel somewhat resentful, I must admit, towards the tight ball of beliefs which make up Reclaiming today, many of which are bolted onto its original values.

Again, differences in perception, I guess. I have always worked with Witches of different traditions. In fact, there have often been Witches of different trads, and even non-Witches >gasp!<, involved in the annual Spiral Dance Samhain ritual in San Francisco. In my observation, magical working groups form more around friendships and interpersonal compatability than around a given tradition.

British Reclaiming, certainly, is making little if any difference to wider society. I believe it makes no difference whatsoever and if it grows, it grows so slowly as to make demands for it to be reappraised worthy of being listened to and acted upon. But they aren't. There is no stomach for change. It's too cosy, too much of a club.

First, I don't see growth as an important goal. If the Craft grows, it does. If it doesn't, it doesn't. What I would like to see expand, however, is an attitude of respect towards the world and its inhabitants and workings, an awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence, honor and love for Earth. It doesn't matter to me whether people are Witches or not. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, anyone, as long as they can appreciate this interdependence.

It seems a natural human phenomenon to fear change. I don't think it's a healthy attitude, and I share it myself at times, but I do think it's part of the human condition. The only thing we can be sure of is change. I remind myself that, "She changes everthing She touches, and everything She touches changes."

Ask most British pagans and witches, do you know what Reclaiming is? The answer is invariably, what? And, who? After so long a history, it is telling that Reclaiming - with so much to offer on paper, as it were - remains practically invisible here. There are more people involved in strange cults centred around science-fiction novels. Why is that?

Does it matter? We Pagans are fringe religions. So what? There's something to be said for moving in the shadows and along the borders. We are, after all, edgewalkers, are we not? Treading the liminal realms. If there are more people involved in scifi cults, that's because scifi is an industry, a commercial venture to sell books, movies, cartoons and gear. They are powered by profit motive and underwritten by corporations with their marketing strategies.

M Macha Nightmare is quite right in that damning line about Reclaiming being 'great for ravers and other energy junkies' - and the question is, can a religious/spiritual collective so dense, so compacted, so self-deluded into thinking it is non-hierarchical when it clearly has become so if it wasn't always, ever stand a chance of renewing and refreshing itself?

As I've mentioned above, I admit that there is (unacknowledged) hierarchy within the larger complex of Reclaiming as well as within individual Reclaiming groups, and that that isn't good or healthy. But Reclaiming is anything but monolithic. Otherwise these discussions wouldn't be taking place.

Reclaiming has become a starched monolithic organisation closer to a corporation in its outworkings than a vibrant spiritual tradition.

I see no evidence of a corporate structure, in spite of some Reclaiming groups having incorporated and written bylaws, designated (not elected) officers, and acquired 501(c)(3) tax status with the Internal Revenue Service (in the US). I have to laugh because I see no evidence of starchiness anywhere. Maybe a bit of scorching here and there, but everything's pretty loosey-goosey from my perspective.

My own take is that Reclaiming values and principles are sound enough and work for me as an individual. They resonate with truth. It is (some) people I have been disillusioned by. I doubt in the UK whether Reclaiming will ever become anything other than a marginal, near-invisible tradition within the pagan community here. The flaws with its structure are too apparent and sadly detract from the core values when presented to those who might otherwise be drawn towards it but find themselves running in the opposite direction.

It seems as though Andy has taken the best of what Reclaiming has to offer and applied it in his life. That's what it's all about. Huzzah!

What's the solution? Well, can any one person say? What I do know is that dissenting, arguing voices are stamped upon more often than not, often treated appallingly unjustly and inexcusably maligned, and while that climate of repression and bullying is condoned and promoted, there seems little hope of seeing an end to the navel-gazing which goes no deeper than the surface.

Well, I certainly have observed, and even been victim of, this dismissal of unpopular or unwelcome opinions. That said, I don't agree that it has been universally condoned or promoted. I've spent many hours in meetings while such differences are worked out -- or not. But more often than not the effort is made. Sometimes the 'fit' just isn't right and one or more people come to realize that they might find a better fit elsewhere.

I've experienced some of the disillusion and hurt that Andy seems to be experiencing now. In defense, I can only say, from my longer-range vantage point, that we're human. I, for one, am sticking around.