Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alighting from Starwood '07

Honor and praise for Aphrodite is perennial.

Starwood is a phenomenon unto itself, a wonderful one!

This year Corby came with me. That made the entire experience so much more fun. (Not to mention the ease of traveling with a companion so you can buy coffee without dragging all your carry-on with you, and use the restroom without having to struggle getting the carry-on into the stall with you. Whew!)

The weather is difficult to adjust to for us soft, spoiled Californians. Stickiness is the operative word when it comes to Starwood weather. We had rains off and on, plus a brief but intense, and close, thunderstorm just as I was concluding my "Earth Religion & the City" workshop. That workshop, I think, went well. There were people from inner-city Detroit, Phoenix, Shreveport, LA, and several closer Northeast locations.

This year I managed to get to a few workshops other than my own. One was Ian Corrigan's "Building a Personal Paganism," which was excellent and informative and provided a good lead-in to my two-part "Buffing & Polishing for Self-Taught Witches & Covens."

My thanks to Liafal & Ian, Steph, AC, Maddox & Sydney, Bruce & Linda, Gnorm the charioteer, Jeff Rosenbaum, Lisa the registrar, and all the other hardworking Chameleons who made our participation possible.

And no thanks to whatever it was that bit me and whatever it is that has made my feet, ankles, lower legs, hands and fingers so marred, weepy and itchy! Hopefully it will be gone by the time I reach Amherst, Massachusetts for CHS' biannual intensive/CoG's Leadership Institute, followed by Grand Council amidst MerryMeet.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Remembering Marin's Homeless

Memorial Tree and Plaque

This wicked hot Sunday afternoon the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy held a procession and memorial ceremony for the homeless in Marin who've died in the past year. Through Carol Hovis, Director of the Marin Interfaith Council, I volunteered to participate on behalf of Pagans.

I had done this last December in San Francisco. I offered the same short prayer and longer chant. This time I had sent it to the Rev. Paul Gaffney, the organizer, beforehand. He expressed delight in its appropriateness.

About 50-60 people gathered at Albert Park and, carrying signs, swinging a censor, and chiming Tibetan bowls periodically, walked in silence to the courtyard of St. Raphael's Church. Just in front of the church grounds the interfaith community planted a Japanese red leaf maple, marked by a plaque, in memory of the homeless of Marin who've died in the streets. Prior to the ceremony, marchers placed photographs and flowers in this space. When I returned afterwards to shoot these pictures, the photos were understandably gone; the flowers remained.

Standing in the hot sun across from the reconstructed Mission San Rafael Arcángel, we were welcomed by Father Rossi. Unfortunately, I never got a program so I was not primed for who was doing what when. The 125 names of the dead printed in the program were read by individuals and repeated by all. One was a baby. Some were only first names or nicknames. After the list had been completed, Paul invited the assembly to add others names. About seven more names were added to the memorial. A man read a Buddhist poem.

Then it was time for me to speak Starhawk's prayer "For One Who Has Died Violently or in Great Distress." I could barely see the words on the page for the salty sweat that was stinging my eyes. I taught Anne Hill's and Starhawk's chant, "When We Are Gone," line by line, then two lines at a time, then all four. I was pleased that nearly everyone sang, including the Dominican nuns -- you can always count on the local Dominican sisters to walk their talk when it comes to issues of social justice. When I did this in San Francisco last December, getting everyone to sing was all uphill. The most willing were the Buddhists and the Quakers. Today, we continued the chant for five full repetitions. A man with a deep, strong voice spoke each line after we sang it. I loved it. It enhanced what we were doing. I'd have tried to break us into a three-part round if I'd had a couple of shills in the courtyard to help carry it. I find that when I try to do that myself, people get confused when I sing the first line a second and third time, even when I've told them at the outset that we'll be breaking into a round and I'm looking at and signaling a different segment of the group with each repetition.

Paul concluded with a reading from Isaiah.

As soon as the crowd began to disband to make its way to the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Marin a few blocks away, a young man wearing a pentacle came up to me and thanked me for remembering to honor Pagans. He said there are other Pagans among Marin's homeless. He lives in a local shelter and attends Mass at St. Raphael's because he was brought up Catholic in Salem, Massachusetts and finds comfort in group worship. He directs his attentions to Mary, Mother of God.

This man, Jon, asked me where he could do ritual with Pagans. I told him about the public sabbats Reclaiming puts on in San Francisco, and reminded him they'd be doing a Lammas ritual this coming weekend. He'd forgotten Lammas was so close. He has internet access so he's going to check Reclaiming's website and go to San Francisco for the rite.

There was press present. I was aware of photographers along the route, and I noticed someone interviewing Father Rossi at the conclusion of the service.

I walked with Paul and his wife Anne and some others to the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. I've been by this place countless times, never expected I'd be in it. There, I chatted with some of the people who'd approached me to tell me they liked what I'd contributed. I felt good about being so welcomed and evidently useful. The event concluded with refreshments, music and socializing in this blessedly air-conditioned space.

Here you can read the words on the plaque.

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

Some of the questions this experience generates are: What is interfaith all about? How can people of so many belief systems work together on a common cause? Why do this? When we do this sort of work with people of other religions, are we not doing a form of magic? My answer is yes.

How can emerging Pagan culture address the overculture assumption of the availability and desirability of regularly offered group worship? How much of what we do is worship? How much is magic? How much is 'other'?

I want to learn more about the phenomenon I recently found out about called the "protestantization" of religions practiced in America. This is a term used in the field of religious studies. It refers to the tendency of non-Christian religions to adapt a template of the organization of Protestant churches for their own use, even though these religions in their native locations aren't organized that way. For instance, rabbis, originally those who studied Jewish sacred texts and commented on them, now assume additional roles associated with Christian clergy, such as the administration of the synagogue. The Buddhist woman who heads Green Gulch Zen Center isn't a "reverend," but uses that term in the context of relating to the public. Some Pagans use this title, too. I think it's inaccurate and can lead to a separation between practitioners and priest/esses.

Fodder for lively discussion and many more blog posts.

Friday, July 20, 2007

What's in a Name?

For the past few years I've been considering "coming out" with what we Witches call our mundane names.

I have a perfectly good mundane name, Aline O'Brien, given me at birth by my parents. It has served me well for over 60 years. Except for the fact that many people, in my experience, have some kind of "name bank" in their heads, so if you give a name that's unfamiliar to them, they try to fine a file folder for it in their minds and they tend to put you in one they already know. For instance, my given name, Aline, is uncommon in this country. Upon hearing it, people file it under Eileen, Elaine, Helene, Arlene. When they see it in print, they transform it into Alice, Alien and even Olive. ??? When hearing or reading Macha, they call me Martha, Monica, Mocha, and Macha with a "ch" sound as in cha-cha. It's a breathy "k" sound made in the back of throat, or even a hard "h."

How I came by the name M. Macha NightMare is a convoluted tale dating back to around 1980, nine years after I first encountered NROOGD Witchcraft. I arrived on a Pagan path via four routes: Second Wave Feminism; lifelong love of mythology and folklore; concern for the environment; and inchoate awareness of the value of intuition.

I grew up the child of what was considered in those days to be a "mixed marriage." My mother is from a long line of Methodist ministers and my father was Irish Catholic, both of them hardcore. I had a bunch of Catholic cousins and a bunch of Protestant cousins. My social environment was primarily Christian, with a token Jew here and there. That is all I was exposed to, and believe me I was totally immersed. My mother took my sister and me to church all the time -- two to three services on Sundays (church service, Sunday School, and sometimes an evening service); I went to Vacation Bible School and some church camps in Summertime; weekly choir rehearsals; and Methodist Youth Fellowship when I was older.

If I were annoyed with my mother, I'd simply go to Mass with my dad and that got me by on attendance. When I stayed with my paternal relatives, I went to Mass with them. I managed to genuflect on my left knee one time and incurred a reprimand from the nun who was corralling my Catholic school cousins into a pew at the O'Brien family parish, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Moorestown, NJ. (Isn't that a great name for a church? I still revere Our Lady in all Her aspects.)

Christians had no feminine image of the divine. Well, Catholics had Mary and some female saints, but they remained secondary to the father god. Protestants had an empty cross. As a lover of iconography, an idolator* even, I've always found Protestant iconography rather plain and institutional.

So that's where Second Wave Feminism intersects with a goddess-centered spiritual life. A polytheistic goddess spirituality, not Yahweh-in-drag.

Another cultural phenomenon American society experienced around that time was Alex Haley's Roots, and all the heritage-searching it inspired in hyphenated Americans of various ethnicities. Until then, America was a society that encouraged assimilation whose immigrants were more than happy to comply. Now I have some understanding of why my Irish grandmother from County Galway, in Connaught, the Irish-speaking area in the West, never taught me Gaelic, her native tongue, though I often asked her to -- mainly because of my interest in languages.

Feminist Witches often took goddess names as their magical names. Sometimes because we admired a particular goddess, or if we wanted to grow stronger in some of her attributes. Or because a particular goddess came from our ethnic heritage. Or because our personalities resembled them in some way.

In my case, I have always been drawn to the Dark Mother. I'm of Irish (and other European) descent. Macha is often, but not solely, a war goddess. Taking the form of a hooded crow (Corvus cornix), she incites warriors in battle frenzy. I identify strongly with crows, ravens and other corvids. Both crows and I talk a lot. We hang around the edges and keep an alert eye on things. We move our vantage point from place to place. We're common, we're found everywhere.

Irish warriors had a custom of taking the heads of their slain enemies and hanging them from the ridgepole of their lodges. This act showed respect and admiration for the qualities of the opponent. These heads were called "Macha's acorn crop."**

Macha is swift of foot and also takes the form of a mare. The Ulster Saga, The Cattle-Raid of Cooley (Táin Bó Cúalnge), speaks of her famous race on Emain Macha, now called Navan Fort, where she was forced to race King Conchobar's mounted men when she was about to give birth. She won, and immediately gave birth to twins. Then she cursed the men of Ulster that they may be struck with pains as a woman in childbirth in the hour of Ulster's greatest need.

The NightMare part ties in with the darkness and horses. The horse is one of the forms Macha takes. When I was young, I often felt like a horse as I ran through meadows with my long hair streaming behind me like a mane. The NightMare is the mare who rides through your dreams.

Macha is also midwife to the dying, easing their passage through the veil. (This last tidbit I only learned after the death of my friend Raven Moonshadow.)

There's much more to the story of how I came to be called Macha. This I can say for certain: it was not done with any marketing in mind. It was intended to be used solely within the context of my religion.

However, as I became more active in both Reclaiming and CoG, I became known among my co-religionists by that name. So when Starhawk and I were signing the contract for the publication of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, I had the opportunity to choose which name to use. Because Pagans would have been unlikely to know who Aline O'Brien was, I chose Macha NightMare.

Pagans are known for taking some outrageous names. Obviously, with a name like mine, I cannot throw stones. It's not been easy to wear in public. Still, it's who I am.

There was also a time when prudence dictated discretion in terms of public identity as a Witch. Further, my family would never have understood. All of my living relatives I'm still in contact with know who I am. Whether it bothers them or not, I don't know. I do think it bothers my conservative born-again Protestant cousins. That's their problem. My father is gone and my mother's mind is gone, so there's no chance of misunderstandings or hurt feelings in my immediate family. My daughter grew up in a Pagan household, with two Pagan parents and a host of Pagan friends.

During the past several years I've been doing more and more work in the field of interfaith relations. This is where my funny name can be off-putting to some folks. Plenty of other religious folks take religious names. Catholic nuns do. But people are not threatened or amused by their names. They are of the name NightMare. One thing, though, is that people never forget the name NightMare. In my own interfaith counsel I'm known as Macha.

I'm not ashamed of either Aline or Macha, and at this point in my life I don't feel the need to have a separate identify in the Pagan world. We've seen tremendous changes in the past 30 years in terms of how Pagans and Witches are perceived. In fact, the whole Pagan identity thing has become something of a pop phenomenon as much as a spiritual path.

So this public name change, particularly in light of the fact that I'd like to do more writing about other things besides Pagan topics, is something that's been simmering on the back burner of my mind for some time now. I haven't quite decided yet. I guess this very public rumination is something of a test run.

If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, would Macha?

* More about idols and idolatry another time.
** Considering the fact that my matron goddess is Kali Ma, who is often depicted wearing a necklace of skulls, I find this attribution in Macha startlingly appropriate.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

International Forgiveness Day

To my surprise, one of the guests at the Marin Interfaith Council Annual Meeting last month was an old friend of mine I haven't seen since 1965 (no, that date is not a typo), an attorney named Bob Plath. Bob has founded the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance. WFA sponsors International Forgiveness Day on the first Sunday of August each year.

I asked Bob what was behind his founding this group. He said it was a lot of things, but much concerned his relationship with his father, his anger at his father after father's death. He says forgiveness can be hard. I can attest to the truth of that.

Forgiveness doesn't mean we forget. It doesn't mean that we expose ourselves again to sources of potential hurt or harm. Without working towards forgiveness, we drag along all kinds of old, cumbersome, unnecessary emotional baggage that impedes our forward momentum. Our growth. Forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven.

Between now and August 5th, think of someone or something you are willing to forgive, including yourself. Write a message of forgiveness -- a letter, prayer, or a simple statement -- and send it to the Temple of Forgiveness at templeofforgiveness@gmail.com. These messages will be taken to Nevada's Black Rock Desert where a magnificent "Temple of Forgiveness" is being built this summer as part of the Burning Man Festival. The messages will be placed in the Temple and consecrated for individual and planetary healing. As is the custom, on the last night of the Festival, the Temple and all of its contents will be ceremonially burned.

Please consider joining others around the globe on Sunday, August 8, 2007, in a ceremony of your own creation or by simply gathering and talking about the value of forgiveness. I know I will -- in Amherst, Massachusetts at MerryMeet.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Disappearing Spell

I haven't posted much of a magical bent lately. Writer Barbara Ardinger reminded me of an ancient disappearing spell. I offer it here:


My friend Susan in Kalamazoo wonders where he might reappear should this work. Does disappearing assume reappearing?

Then there is the matter of ethics re: interfering with another's free will. Well, maybe he'd like to disappear. Besides, we're talking about a mass murderer here.

Here's another one:


Come to think of it, this would open a door for Nancy Pelosi. What an improvement that would be!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Love Abloom Everywhere

On June 30th, Corby and I celebrated Max and Nava's 25th anniversary with them. Someone with a camera promised to send me a photo of the two of them for this blog, but since it hasn't arrived yet, this will 'go to press' sans photo. Max Dashu is a truly amazing independent scholars and founder of the Suppressed Histories Archives. I've mentioned Max and her work before on this blog. I would love it if more people knew of and supported her work. Check her website if you or your group or one you know of might be interested in sponsoring one or more of her awesome slide presentations.

What came to mind during their brief ritual when we were invited to offer blessings was a poem by one of my all-time favorite poets, the imagist Amy Lowell. Called "A Decade," this poem was written by a woman to a woman. To me, it's from a lover to a lover, and suits any committed relationship that's lasted, for a decade or for a quarter century, or more.

A Decade

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
But I am completely nourished.
Then again on 7/7/07 at 7:07 p.m. Corby and I celebrated my sister Catherine's wedding to painter Anthony Montanino. They exchanged vows at 7:07. The reception was held out on the Palo Alto Baylands Preserve. They had a drawing at the reception for two tiles painted by Anthony, as well as a painting of a scene of the cable car line at Mason and Union Streets in North Beach, San Francisco, directly across the street from the Mason Street flat where Deirdre was born. We didn't win the drawing, though.

Anthony's possessed of a remarkably even disposition, in contrast to his wife's more high-strung one. And Gods know he's more than proven himself as he's supported Catherine, and us, through some challenging domestic crises! I'm glad to have him in the family.

Photo taken immediately after Catherine and Anthony's wedding ceremony.

Very front row: Bride Catherine, with groom Anthony behind her; their UU minister.
Front row only: Corby in kilt, me, Vincent Porthé, husband of Catherine's daughter Rainbow in green strapless; Catherine's daughter Allie in yellow print sun dress; Anthony's daughter Gina; Anthony (mentioned above); Anthony's nephew Ray; his brother Lewis' girlfriend in pink and brother Lewis with arm around her; seated in pink is Victoria, an old college friend of Catherine. Two people behind me is my daughter Deirdre in dress with dark bodice and white sweater on shoulders.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Summer Fun -- Quilts & Needlework

I spent much of the Independence Day week/weekend staffing a booth at the Marin County Fair for Obama for President. I've been tabling at the Downtown San Rafael Farmers Market on Thursday evenings.

This county fair is just like a real old-time country county fair, with Ferris wheel and cotton candy, pig races and 4-H, judging of chickens, pies, orchids, jams, roses, bonsai, theme-related school projects, dressage, bee-keeping, sheep, and all manner of other things. The painting, photography and sculpture is always top notch, but of all the categories I think I enjoy the quilts and needlework the best.

When we first walked into the needlework section of the
exhibit hall, I was struck by this splendid baby block quilt.

I love the colors in this Tibetan Buddhist eternal knot.

This looks like a psychedelic fan dance.

This green geometric quilt took a blue ribbon.
I wish it didn't have that apron obscuring the center.

This magical Cretan labyrinth quilt reminds me of my friend Vibra.

This was one of Corby's favorites. It reminds me of a healing quilt Victoria* created for a sick friend. She gave friends the opportunity to cut out and assemble individual squares (these particular squares had little houses and trees, with skies and sometimes people in the windows or doors). I loved both process and result of the one I did. That quilt had colorful squares, but not quite as bright as this one, which has a lot of little Japanese images that might not be visible in this photograph.

* Victoria is currently Driving Audhumla to a family reunion in Seattle.