Thursday, December 27, 2007

Still in the Middle

We had a modest Christmas this year, and I have to say a lovely one. We bought very few gifts, since 2006 was a financially challenging year that saw some unanticipated, very large expenses. Corby baked cookies, as is his custom, not as many different kinds as usual -- yet. Deirdre baked cookies too. We received cookies from Corby's brother Blake and his partner Mary, too. Our house has been a Cookie Monster paradise of late.

What little shopping I did I didn't do until Christmas Eve. I took a short list and a credit card. I didn't encounter a fruitless search for a parking space at the mall nor boring waits at the cash register. I had to drive to another shopping center a bit farther down the freeway in order to purchase fresh pasta noodles at the only place in Marin that sells fresh pasta, and then to a corporate pet store for small treats for our family felines, Fernando and Oona.

We didn't even manage to get a tree. I decorated a small desk with a red-and-green plaid tablecloth with some gold thread shot through it, upon which I put a deer antler, several red-and-green tapers, some votive candles, and the few presents. Deirdre has a Christmas stocking with her name knit into it that was made for her very first Christmas by our friend Dee.

We considered having a more traditional Christmas meal, but in the end I decided to make lasagna because Deirdre loves my lasagna. Corby is the cook in the family, so he got a little break, although he did make his delicious, labor-intensive salads for us. Us being my daughter Deirdre, Corby and me -- and aforementioned kitties.

After dinner we watched a DVD of Practical Magic, which, surprisingly, I'd never seen before and neither had Deirdre. Corby enjoyed it enough to watch it again. We like several of the actors a lot, especially Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. We just snuggled on the couch under an afghan my mother made years ago.

I can't recall ever having a mellower Christmas day.

From the Middle of the Holiday Season

For the Solstice, I forewent Reclaiming's annual beach ritual with plunge in the ocean. As it happens, I haven't gone in years, although I find the Solstice plunge at Ocean Beach (at both Solstices) one of [the old] Reclaiming's most moving traditions. Besides, there was no plunge this year due to the recent oil spill in the Bay, which was swept up and down the coast beyond the Golden Gate. Instead, celebrants performed a cool bio-remediation spell using matted human hair. Even though I knew that would be a compelling thing to do, I opted to attend a smaller private circle in Berkeley with some Gardnerian friends in Coven Trismegiston.

Corby had wanted to sing Yule carols that night at Vicki's house. He loves choral singing and had missed Vicki's caroling group last year because he arrived after it was over. Vicki does not operate on Pagan Standard Time. I would have liked the ability to bi- or tri-locate so I could attend all the rituals I wanted to that night. I also had to decline an invitation to Bonny Doon, overlooking Monterey Bay from Ben Lomond Mountain. Corby and I regularly joined this Faery/Feri circle at the Winter Solstice for some years. Then it didn't happen for a few years, and this year we decided it was too far and we couldn't afford the travel time or gas, in consideration of everything else we were trying to pack in. I've missed this annual reconnection with Linnea, Leigh,, Geoff, et al. Missed viewing the Midwinter sky with Linnea's big telescope and sitting under the stars in her hot tub; missed caroling while the mulled wine stayed hot atop the iron fireplace.

As it happened, Corby hadn't finished a job he'd agreed complete that night and got home too late for any of the rituals. I went alone to Berkeley, where I enjoyed the ritual and the post-ritual socializing. I was unable to persuade any of those guests to cross the Bay to San Francisco to party and vigil with the gang at Oak's house. Finally, it was so late I just went home.

On Saturday, Corby and I joined six other people in a ceremony on San Bruno Mountain to celebrate the Solstice by preparing a despacho with our friend Freyja. We offered the despacho, containing bay leaves, sage, a eucalyptus button, flowers, some chocolate, brown sugar, wine, and other organic substances, in gratitude and prayer to the Spirits of Place on San Bruno Mountain.

Not only is San Bruno Mountain "the largest urban open space in the United States - 3,300 acres of undeveloped open space," but it also is "the last fragment of an entire ecosystem - the Franciscan Region - the rest of which is buried beneath the city of San Francisco." Freyja says that this mountain is "one of the Bay Area's major guardians of energy." She serves on the Board of Directors of the San Bruno Mountain Watch, which is working in opposition to the San Bruno Mountain Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), "the test case for the undermining and dismantling of the Endangered Species Act..."

Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson ranks San Bruno Mountain as one of the world’s 18 biodiversity hot spots. It is home to several endangered species, including three butterflies: the Mission Blue Butterfly, the San Bruno Elfin Butterfly, and the San Francisco Silverspot Butterfly (found only on San Bruno Mountain).

Shockingly, neither Corby nor I, both of whom have lived in the SF Bay Area for decades, had ever been on San Bruno Mountain. From Freyja we learned a chant that the band of Ohlone who once lived there used to sing. It was about jack rabbits and quail and dancing on the edge of the world. Ohlone people have left a record of approximately 13,000 years of human history in a large part of what is now California.

As we were concluding the ceremony, Freyja asked me if I had a song or chant we could sing. It just so happened that I was thinking exactly that when she asked. We sang a chant we in Reclaiming have used on Midwinter Morn for many, many years. The words are by e.e. cummings; I don't recall who wrote the tune. It goes "i who have died am alive again today, for this is the sun's birthday, this is the birthday of life and love and wings, and the gay, great happening illimitably earth." I joined our hands in a circle and led a brief spiral dance round the buried despacho.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Midwinter Musing

On December 10th I attended one of MIC's quarterly retreat days. They haven't been going on for long, and I've managed to make it to most of them. I've mentioned them in this blog.

December's retreat, at Santa Sabina Center, was on theme of light and dark. The teachers were Rabbi Stacy Friedman from Congregation Rodef Shalom and the Rev. Tim Mooney from the Lloyd Center at SF Theological Seminary (Presbyterian). Tim's primary pursuit is painting; his "Winter Solstice" appears above.

The better part of the day at these retreats is spent in silence. Unless one has a regular practice of meditation, retreats are the only time most of us manage to take the time to do it. I find it very restorative.

Stacy opened by speaking of the candles of the menorah and of Hanukkah in general, and how glad she was that this year it occurred at a different time than Christmas. She mentioned a medieval debate between two rabbis. One rabbi thought all eight candles, plus the extra shamash candle, should be lit at the beginning of Hanukkah, with one being extinguished each night until there was only one light left. This memorializes the story of having only enough oil for eight nights, and then the light rant out. The other rabbi, Hillel, argued for light one more candle each nights so that the light grew. Most of us know that Rabbi Hillel's practice was adopted.

In the morning, before we retreated into silence, we were each asked to think about what we might be looking for and what we might bring to the retreat. These were not spoken. I decided I was looking for models of eldership as they have manifested in other religions and religious communities. I considered that I brought to this forum a freshness due to the fact that our Pagan religions are 'new,' and an openness to learning.

We remained in silence until mid-afternoon. Art supplies were available for those who wished to explore with those media. We could roam the grounds, the courtyard, the chapel, the library, the 'pillow room,' the 'rose room' and all the other spaces at Santa Sabina that were neither administrative nor lodging.

During the feedback portion after we broke our silence, several participants spokes of profound revelations they'd experienced, from the time spent in silence, from the painting Tim brought out towards the end, and from the words spoken by the two instructors and other participants. This very dark painting portrayed a faceless naked woman holding a small bright candle just beneath her belly. The flame illuminated her belly and forearms, and radiated out to show her form and nothing more. She could have been standing anywhere.

I offered that we Pagans are concerned with honoring cycles: the cycles of life and the seasonal cycles, all kinds of cycles. That we assemble eight times a year to celebrate the turning of the Wheel together; that four of those sacred dates were at the points of the solar year, the Solstices and the Equinoxes. I said that at this time of year I considered that on Midwinter eve we began to sit vigil with the Great Mother -- Mary, if you will -- as she was going into the world of spirit on this longest night of the year to retrieve another soul, that of her divine son, to bring him safely to this plane of existence. I said we tell stories, sing, bake cookies, sit around the hearth fire, as we honor her during her hours of labor to give birth. Then before dawn we go outside onto the hills to sing and rejoice at the Sun's rebirth.

Later, after the retreat was over, several people told me how much they appreciated that perspective and loved the story. The director of MIC told me how glad they were to have a Pagan presence and that, when other interfaith groups learned of this, how 'cool' they thought that was. "Cool" is an exact quote.

What did I come away with, you might ask? I came to realize, yet again, that I really know more than I think I know, and that we Pagans have much to bring to a mutually respectful interfaith environment.

So I offer this story to readers. May all enjoy a splendid return of the Sun and a healthy, happy, prosperous and green New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stunning Midwinter Phenomenon

My friend Sabina sent me this photo of the simultaneous sunset and moonrise at the North Pole. I don't know where she got it, but I think it's much too splendid to keep to myself. If you know to whom credit belongs, please let me know so I can extend it.

CORRECTION: Thanks to Yarrow, here's the NASA's explanation of this image, created by Inga Nielsen, who, going by her URL, is in Denmark.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Masks of the Goddess

My friend Lauren Raine created a set of exquisite leather masks of many goddesses for the 20th anniversary of Reclaiming's Spiral Dance Samhain ritual in 1999. I think we used about twenty of them; I wore the Morrígan, the baddest-ass Morrígan you ever hope to encounter. Even my friend Urania who helped me put it on was afraid once it was in place. To add the effect, I reddened my palms and displayed them as the Washer at the Ford in the processions.

Bad-ass Morrígan

I was displeased with how this use of the masks for the goddess invocation was done. I thought they were given short shrift: a three-minute invocation sung by the chorus, as opposed to eight minutes for the god invocation. What's wrong with this picture in a goddess religion? My displeasure, however, inspired me to create a ritual that I felt was worthy of the glory of those masks.

For PantheaCon 2000 the following February I whipped up a ritual using 13 of the masks. I say whipped up because I had almost no time to fill the ritual time-slot I was asked to fill due to the withdrawal of a concert performer. In spite of our rush, it came off well. At least people said they really liked it. One liked it so well she asked me if I'd do it again. I said I could only pull something like that off if I had a sponsor. I'd love to produce more original Pagan-themed public rituals if I can. I think I have a flare for it. But alas! you just can't do projects of that scale without a good, solid sponsorship and trusting collaborators. Here's the program description:

Goddesses Alive! A processional and experiential ritual of masked, embodied goddesses to bring a re-awareness of the Goddess into current Pagan practices. We encounter the goddess embodied by 13 priestesses wearing stunning leather goddess masks created by Lauren Raine. ... Amadae, Urania, Deborah Grenn-Scott, Mary Kay Landon, Farida Fox, Tara Webster, Sabina Magliocco, Lee Henrikson, Juan Carlos, Corby Lawton, with help from others.

With the sponsorship of the Lilith Institute and the New College of California Women's Studies Department, I was able to recreate, even better this time. The script was written mostly by me; some pieces were written by Mary Kay Landon and one, Brigit, by Diane Darling. Because of a local goddess lecture series called The Goddess Is Alive, I had to give the ritual a new title to avoid confusion. I settled on "A Rainbow of Goddesses," even though I think "Goddesses Alive!" is perfect.

This time we had original music for each goddess by Amy Luna Manderino (koto music for Amaterasu, Mexican guitar for Guadalupe, chimes for White Tara). We also had a little chorus I called "Corby & the Arctoi," since the single male voice was Corby's and most of the other singers were young women and teens. Jan Dance flew from Portland, OR to drum.

"Corby & the Arctoi," showing Jan Dance
on left, Corby in hat, Luna on right.*

Hekate, Valley High.
This mask is the face of
our late friend Judy Foster.
Luna's jazzy-bluesy composition
was absolutely perfect -- for both Hekate and Judy.

Laura Janesdaughter flew up from Los Angeles to do Amaterasu.

Amaterasu, Laura Janesdaughter

Dawn Marlowe and friends drove from San Bernardino so she could do Oshun.

Oshun, Dawn Marlowe

And Willow Kelly and Crow came all the way from Virginia so Willow could wear the Isis mask. Tansy Brooks, a belly dancer and keeper of snakes, danced with her snakes as Inanna; one of them slithered up her neck and over the the queen's crown while she danced.

Susan Levin (Kala) as White Buffalo Woman
engaged the help of attendees.

Frejya Anderson's Sedna,
with deep, resonant music evoking
the underwater, solicited compassion.

Amie Miller danced Pele
swinging balls of fire.
Photo by Peter Hughes

There's so much more to tell about this ritual. Did I mention it was performed in the dark? And boy, was it low-tech! I loved it.

Other ritualists took off with the idea and created goddess masks rituals of their own. Some used newer goddess masks Lauren made in the years since Goddesses Alive! I had always hoped to recreate the one I did using the 13 (for the number of lunations in a solar year), but alas! they are now to be released into the universe of art lovers and Pagans everywhere.

This is your chance to bring one of these gorgeous images into your home. Go here, feast your eyes on all of them, and put in your bid

Visit Lauren at her Threads of Spider Woman blog. Tell I said hi.

* All mask photos by Tom Lux except that of Pele.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Whatever Happened to Macha?

I'm alive, folks. And overflowing with all manner of stuff I want to write about.

Samhain events have caused me to re-evaluate my connections with Reclaiming (whatever that is), to ponder upon dysfunction and roles and honor and honesty and scapegoating and straight-talking and too many other factors to itemize.

My time at Between the Worlds in Delaware was unbelievably affirming. I felt clear and strong and articulate. I felt that my voice was welcome and respected. I was able to hear support for who I am and the value of what I bring to Paganism, to my own communities, to friends and colleagues.

I came home sick and took to my bed with the flu for the entire week after I returned. I still have a lingering cough. Just as well, because I had no money to attend the Conference on Contemporary Pagan Studies (CCPS) and the AAR Annual Meeting in San Diego the following week. I was really disappointed. Here it was right in California; I could have driven. But going this year was not in the cards.

Talking, analyzing and planning with ICT (Independent Craft Teachers), a newish group, small and intimate, deciding on what we want to do now that we are beyond being a counter-influence in the WitchCamp scene (which I never was), has helped in this re-examination.

This period has inspired me to redo my website, with my friend Panthera Orbweaver doing the heavy lifting, as well as to update my résumé. Neither is quite finished yet. Readers of this blog will be among the first to know when they're ready.

On Sunday Richard Man took a series of photos of me in my friend Freyja's backyard in Atherton. Expect to be seeing them soon, too.

At Marin Interfaith Council's quarterly retreat this past Monday I achieved more clarity.

So I guess you could say I've been doing inner work. Obviously I've not been playing in the Pagan blogosphere. I'm back now, though, so please return in a few days if you've a mind.