Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Just had a really fun gig tonight at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, thanks to Kate Wolf-Pizor. Spoke to 20 MA and PhD students about Craft and did a brief ritual featuring a spiral dance in honor of the lovely Inanna, the morning and the evening star, wearer of the shugurra crown, possessor of the 10,000 me. We agreed the Fertile Crescent, land of Inanna, needs Her influence now. We sang Barge of Heaven, such a beautiful song, with drum accompaniment.

It's so validating to talk to erudite people about something they're interested in that you know a lot about and love to talk about! I barely scratched the surface, could have gone on for hours. And I love it when I get intelligent, challenging questions during the discussion. One tonight was about the existence and purpose of sacred prostitutes.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pre-Gathering Workshops - 4

As someone brought up as a Christian (both Methodist by my mother and my maternal relatives and Roman Catholic by my father and my paternal relatives), I've often been put-off by what I see as extreme arrogance in terms of expressing opinions and facts and the final word on any given subject. So it was with delight that I heard the words of the the Very Rev. Alan Jones, dean of nearby Grace Cathedral, when he called for (on the part of religious leaders, I would assume, not necessarily onlyl Christians) "epistemological humility." How refreshing! He said that instead of pronouncing what's right or wrong about such things as stem cell research, what's ethical or unethical, "we" should admit that this is a matter we need to take some time to think about. He invoked the image of the madonna and child as showing an infant god who cannot speak, who is pre-verbal. I was pleased to hear him speak of this image, since it's so central to many Pagan paths -- only it's more the mother than the son who's revered. Jones said we need to "get away from crippling certainty."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Pre-Gathering Workshops - 3

Continuing to address the question "What Has Caused Abandonment of the Center in the Faith Traditions?" Professor Sherman Jackson , an African-American convert to Islam (as were other American-born presenters), asserted that ignorance is easy to fix if a person is sincere and willing to learn. He believes that insecurity breeds fundamentalism, that fundamentalism exists among those who won't accept knowledge. This leads to arrogance. If a religious tradition doesn't speak to the reality of people's lives, they will look elsewhere. I agree with him, and I also believe that this is among the reasons why some turn to NeoPagan religious paths -- because many find these adaptable paths to be more relevant to the lives we are actually living in this 21st century PoPoMo world.

Jack Kornfield , a Vipassana teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, near where I live, was unable to attend because he was attending a retreat but he kindly sent a brief statement addressing the question.

Speaker Rabbi Jane Litman is another local person from Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. I've chatted with her, her husband and family several times over the years at social functions at our mutual friend Irene's house. I was glad to see she was on the program.

Dr. Shabbir Mansuri from India, founding director of the Council on Islamic Education, also spoke.

Phil Cousineau claimed that the urge to proselytize comes from fear and that ignorance creates terrorism. You can see a theme developing here, one with which I've always agreed: fear, ignorance, "us-them" mindset. Phil also made a case for people making religious pilgrimages, or just traveling, getting to know other peoples, other customs, and other ways of living. He apprised us this startling fact -- to me at least: the travel industry is now the largest industry in the world, surpassing even the armaments industry. Great news, sez I.

More another night.

Not about the Dalai Lama

Just received word that my friend Judy Harrow, as a member of the Religious Leadership Council of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, has written a fine essay presenting a Pagan ethical approach to reproductive choice here. Congratulations to Judy!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Pre-Gathering Workshops - 2

To the question, "What Has Caused Abandonment of the Center in the Faith Traditions?" Dr. Alan Godlas asserted that Buddhists and Muslims share a common desire to see the goodness of human nature; that they share the qualities of patience, tolerance, compassion, wisdom, and taking refuge; compassionate awareness of the tragedies that befall the human race and a desire to transform them for the better; and that they use all available energies, including the negative, to bring about transformation for the better.

Co-chair Dr. Barbara von Schlegell spoke of the story of Hagar and how the sharing of water and the marriage of her son Ismael to an Arab brought the two worlds of Jews and Arabs together. She claimed that Islam was the religion of outsiders, demonized by the mainstream. (We Pagans could probably tell her a thing or two about being demonized.) She alluded to a sympathetic Muslim character on the television program "Lost," a referenced that puzzled most listeners there because they'd never seen the program. She claimed that personal relationships are the best way to demystify the "other" and change from us-and-them to simply us.

I have espoused this same idea for Witches for many years. We tend to fear the unknown, and when the unknown becomes familiar, fear disappears. This concept came up again and again in various ways over the course of the afternoon.

Dr. Maryam Sharief, dressed in black-and-white printed swaths of fabric round her head and body, is Sudan-born and reared and Oxford-educated. A mellifluent-voiced woman who'd traveled all the way from Cairo for this event, Dr. Sharief said that extremism reflects a state of the soul rather than religious thought. . She claimed that people have to earn their faith by raising their consciousness. Further, she said that extremism comes from modern consciousness, that modern educated people have lost their religous identity. I can agree with that only to a degree, not entirely.

Master Hang Truong, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and founder of the Compassionate Service Society, said that Buddhists shun extremism. He observed that exclusivity in daily life fosters extremism, and that change must occur deep within the individual and then love must be put out into the world. Sounds good to me.

Professor John Alden Williams, bearer of two distinguished American names, now retired, has traveled and studied throughout the world. He insisted that we need to make our principals live and real. I heartily agree.

Tekaroniamekan Jake Swamp, sub-chief of he Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, spoke of three important principles: first, teaching humans to allow peace to come into their bodies, to feel good about themselves; second, when inner peace is achieved it emits from each person to others; and third, the power of a good mind, of working with heart. This last, power of a good mind, seems similar to Starhawk's concept of power-from-within. Chief Swamp maintained that in whatever we do we must always be thinking of the children, of the following seven generations.

Well, that's about half of one session and it will have to do for now.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Three Pre-Gathering Workshops - 1

There were three workshops -- in reality they were panels -- preceding the main gathering. The first session addressed the question: "What Has Caused Abandonment of the Center in Faith Traditions?"

The format was to have two chairs and 12 speakers on each topic, each speaker being given three minutes. Need I say that this didn't turn out to be a very workable format? First of all, the questions each panelist was asked to address were too complex to even begin to answer in only three minutes. Second, academics are accustomed to loquaciousness. So, of course, some of the speakers had to be asked to conclude their remarks before they were done, while those who were succinct seemed to have to rush to say all they wanted to say. A shame, really, because most of them had lots of thought-provoking and inspiring things to say. Ah, well.

Don took copious notes so I know he'll be writing up a more detailed synopsis than I. We'll compare our notes and probably fill in some gaps before final publication in CoG's interfaith report -- Don is the official interfaith representative from the Covenant of the Goddess -- but in the meantime I'll be recreating some of what I took away from the presentations, some of the thoughts their words generated in my mind, but mostly impressions. This isn't intended to be a detailed report.

Most of the panelists were Buddhists and Muslims, and, as you might imagine, most were male. All were stunningly knowledgeable and accomplished. There were a few Jews and Christians, one Native American and one Hindu nun from the Vedanta Society. They came from all over the world, with a concentration drawn from California. The majority seemed to be on the Abrahamic religions, not surprising, since most Westerners follow one of the three big Abrahamic paths. I imagine there were fewer Christians because this was taking place on Good Friday.

Interestingly, and not surprisingly, the American-born or -reared speakers spoke in much louder voices than those from other countries. Two in particular wouldn't have needed a mike, except that the talks were being filmed and recorded, and one, the amazing Huston Smith, could have filled an auditorium with his voice.

Now that I've explained the general set-up and personnel, I'll return another time to speak in greater detail about what they had to say.


I lived in San Francisco for 20 years, the last 10 of which were in North Beach. Meaning I had plenty of occasion to take the Powell Street cable car to work and school. The main intersection of the three extant cable car lines is at Powell and California Street, just one block down from Number One Nob Hill, address of the Mark Hopkins Hotel (now likely conglomerated, it would seem by its new name, which adds the word Intercontinental to its title). In my 20's I'd occasionally go to the Top of the Mark (opened in 1939) for drinks and the spectacular view of the city it affords.

When I arrived around 11 am Friday morning for a 2 pm pre-gathering workshop, I entered the bustling lobby of the Mark to see a woman with long pale hair approaching from the area of the registration desk. She seemed to be looking at me, so I asked her if she was Nancy D. Nancy is the person my colleague Oak referred to me when the possibility of having a NeoPagan presence on the guest list. Thinking I should probably ask this greeter if she knew where I might find Nancy, instead I simply blurted out, "Are you Nancy D.?" She said, "Yes. Are you Macha?" What a relief!

In spite of appearances to the contrary, I'm a shy person. I'm comfortable conversing once I'm introduced to someone, and sometimes I try to strike up conversations with others sharing a common experience or common quarters (bus ride, plane seat, long line waiting to get in somewhere), but basically I find coming to mingle with people I'd assumed to be a distinguished crowd I find challenging. So when Nancy herself escorted me to the registration room and introduced me to her son, who was registering those whose last names began with N, O and P, I felt much more comfortable being there.

Nancy told me that the people who work on these international religious events are used to people having different names on their name tags or registration than on their passports and driver's licenses. That is the case with me.

The registration tag was printed with the logo of the event, a mingling of the Buddhist eternal knot and what I take to be some Arabic scripture. Very cool. We also received a red-and-gold tack-type button of the logo, which I intend to wear with pride.

Nancy suggested I go up to the hospitality room up on the mezzanine level for coffee while I waited. The room to which I was directed seemed abandoned. The tables contained the remains of some snacks and empty coffee carafes. A young couple from Southern California came into the room for the same reason I had. So we phoned housekeeping and asked for help. When the man from housekeeping arrived, he told us there was nothing scheduled in that room at that hour and that if there was a hospitality room for us, it was somewhere else and he didn't know where. Odd. The couple, Robert and Jojo, and I had been chatting while we'd been waiting. I'd told them a bit about Cherry Hill Seminary and NeoPaganism in general, and it happened that Jojo had never even heard of Wiccans. ???

The three of us returned to the lobby, where various people were having comestibles. We sat at a table and asked for someone to bring us coffee. Meanwhile, Don strolled into the lobby and I waved to him. After he registered, he came to sit and wait with us. Soon Patrick and Amadae arrived and joined us.

At about 1:30 we went up to the afternoon program in the Six Continents Room to be sure we had good seats.

His Holiness Enters

I came away from the afternoon session with HH yesterday feeling pretty blissed, I must say. I had no direct contact with His Holiness. He entered slowly, coming down the aisle from the rear of two rooms (the Peacock Court, a ballroom where the event was held, and an overflow room to the rear).

Patrick by some magic managed to talk his way into getting seats in the blue section many rows forward of Don and me. There were dignitaries on the stage, sponsors and honored guests in a red section up front, important people -- I guess they were considered important for some reason -- behind the reds in the blue section, and then unassigned general seating at the back. There were only three rows of general seating at the very back of the ballroom before the overflow room. Don and I sat in the second, making is in the next-to-last row in the room, meaning quite far from the focus of the day. The good part was that I sat on the aisle, so when HH came in he passed me at about two feet away.

He was surrounded by monks and Secret Service. In fact, we'd each been searched and had one of those wands passed over us by the SS as we entered. I was on the left; HH was facing right, extending his right hand to people on the opposite side of the aisle. Remembering what Michael York had told me about touching his foot, I tentatively reached out my hand just to see what would happen. I ended up gently brushing the hand of a SS bodyguard. I'm guessing he may have picked up some nice vibes from me in the interchange. LOL

Anyyway, it was a very low-key way for HH to have entered. Of course, the poor fellow who'd been addressing the audience when HH arrived had to stop talking and resume again after HH had been seated.

More anon.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Last Thursday I wrote this to a few friends. In response, my Quagan friend Wiccazoid Cat reminds me how neglected this blog is. So pretend this is from April 13. More to come when I've had more chance to digest the weekend's events

I met a woman in the Tibetan Culture House today when I went there to buy two white scarves (one for Patrick, who’s been traveling all over the state to prisons all week and probably won’t have a chance to get one) to present to His Holiness. We had a great conversation while Corby chatted with the precocious 13-year-old poet who’d been talking incessantly with her. The woman, Jo, who was maybe 70 and quite lively, had encountered HH at Spirit Rock in 2000. She also knows Arjia Rinpoche, the lama in Mill Valley on whose asylum papers I worked. There was a photo of him near the register. The store itself is owned by a short, tubby brown Tibetan former monk (Jo’s description) who left and married a much younger woman and now has a little baby. Apparently he knows the Dalai Lama well. He went to see him at some event a few years ago and kind of hid in the back of the crowded room. HH spotted him and walked through the crowd over to him and embraced him. He had thought he wouldn’t been in good graces because he’d left and married, but HH told him that he shouldn’t let all his teachings go to waste and that he should teach. Pretty cool, huh?

Jo gave me some barley seeds with some kind of orange pollen on them (maybe saffron?) that HH had given her back in 2K when she’d met him when he visited Spirit Rock and asked me to give some of them back to him, with this blessing:

“May peace and prosperity, love and compassion just pour into your life.
Don’t envy anyone.
If someone is critical of you, you don’t have to listen to that!
Just remember, you are a precious jewel.”

He said these exact words to her then and she’s passed them on to others since then, including me. So I have the seeds and a scarf. She said he’ll probably take my hand at the very least, but more likely will touch foreheads for a few seconds. She says his presence is amazing -- gentle, calm and shining.

She said she knew HH was here this weekend because her employer, the former monk store owner, told her. He’s always asked to participate when HH visits. He told her he couldn’t say anything about the event. I told her that was true. She asked me how I happened to be invited and I told her that religious leaders were invited and that I was a Pagan. She’s not Buddhist herself, as it happens. The topic of interviews somehow came up, and Corby piped up that I was a religious leader (LOL) and that I was often interviewed. A bit of an exaggeration, I must say. In any case, I said, well, yes, I was featured on the cover of the Pacific Sun the week of Halloween, and she said, “Oh, that was you? I read that.”

She says this little Tibetan store owner is a real “babe magnet,”and that in general HH and all the monks are fascinated by women. That’s cool, sez I. ;-)


P.S. Don’t worry, I’m always gonna be a Pagan.