Friday, December 26, 2008


I recently read a thought-provoking book called Boom! Voices of the Sixties, Personal Reflections on the '60s and Today, by Tom Brokaw. With such a high-profile author, a former TV network newscaster, it's not surprising that it got a lot of attention. It's well-deserved.

My most active and engaged adult years were spent from that time until now. Obviously I have reason to have an interest in the period. It's one thing to have lived those times from the inside and another to reflect upon them in hindsight. And yet another to have those personal reflections reflected in the thoughts of someone who was up-close-and-personal with prominent figures of the time and present at many significant events. In addition, the book fills in ancillary facts of which we might not have been aware at the time.

Reading history has always been a pleasure to me. Reading revised history has, too. Reading history one has lived provides even more insights as one approaches eldership.

I was going to comment on this book anyway, but in conversation with my daughter and her boyfriend yesterday at our intimate Xmas dinner, they mentioned how interested they were to see the movie Milk. Although a native of San Francisco, Deirdre was a toddler at the time of the Jonestown catastrophe, followed nine days later by the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. She wants to know more. I'm keen to fill in the curious. Boom! is a good start.

I recommend this book, especially to those who were not alive at the time but, along with everyone else older or younger, reap the benefits of social progress made during that era.

* Some day I'll relate a fun anecdote about George Moscone and me. And maybe another tidbit about Dan White. SF is not so big that you don't come into contact with people of note when you live there.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Change Is Coming -- Phoenix Rising

Sunday afternoon I attended a Change Is Coming meeting in a Gerstle Park Victorian. One of three in the County on Sunday and others on Saturday, it was attended by about 50 people on a rainy day. In introducing ourselves, we got to hear some heartening stories not only of experiences people had working on the Obama campaign -- flying to other states to walk the precincts, phone-banking -- but also of driving to Mississippi and getting arrested during the efforts to register voters during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Our initial task was to come up with about four key issues important to us, with the idea of doing something to move those issues forward on a national day of service on January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the eve of the inauguration -- and the first birthday of my mother since her passing; she would have been 98. All of our small groups identified health care as one of the most critical and immediate. Not surprisingly, most of us are not enthusiastic about the plan President-elect Obama has been proposing; we want universal health care, like the rest of the developed nations.

Saturday Corby and I went to the annual KPFA Crafts Fair after having missed it last year. Supporting independent media is a high priority for both of us. Although we did spend a fair amount of money, we found the turnout disappointing. We're used to its being crowded. But perhaps because of the thinner crowd, we encountered friends and had longish talks with them.

One was Elly Simmons, whose Blue Room Christmas tree ornament I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. She didn't manage to get enough money to make it to the ceremony at the White House, but she did get a write-up in the West Marin Citizen. Elly's ornament is above. You can see all the ornaments here.

I feel optimistic about our country. I'm dazzled by Barack Obama.

If anyone is thinking about giving me a Yule gift, my preference is a donation to Cherry Hill Seminary. Even if you aren't among those who'd be inclined to give me a present, we welcome your contributions. We desperately need funds to grow and to achieve our goal of accreditation. And your gift today will be matched by an anonymous donor, up to $5,000. Thanks for your consideration.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Send Elly Simmons to the White House

My friend, artist Elly Simmons, needs help to get to a reception at the White House on December 2, at the invitation of Laura Bush. The reason is that our Congresswoman, Lynn Woolsey, invited Elly to design an ornament for the Xmas tree in the Blue Room. Her design is one of those chosen. She says it's "full of appropriate symbolism!!"

For the past two years Elly has been traveling at her own expense to document Tents of Hope: A journey of compassion and peace with the refugees of Darfur, Sudan, for an art book she's doing for Pomegranate Artbooks. As a result, funds are depleted and she needs help in order to follow through on this fantastic opportunity. To that end, she seeks small donations towards plane tickets for herself and her daughter, Maralisa. If you can help, please send your check payable to Elly Simmons at P.O. Box 463, Lagunitas, CA 94938. E-mail her at to let her know so she can book her flight.

Elly describes the overriding image as being "that of a phoenix bird rising from the ashes, with a number of other symbols thrown in." I'm sure it's beautiful, as is all her art. I'm mailing a modest check tomorrow. Won't you join me?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Finding Spiritual Kin

I want to mention Chris Highland, the fiancé of Carol Hovis, Director of Marin Interfaith Council. I like him a lot. We’ve chatted, and I told both him and Corby that I’d like them to meet, I think they have a lot in common. He was at the Visionary Marin event honoring Isabel Allende I attended.

I recently discovered that he was once chaplain of the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy here in San Rafael. This group co-sponsors, with MIC, "Shelter from the Storm," an interfaith service for the homeless in San Rafael on the eve of Thanksgiving. That’s the event in preparation for which I’ve been bugging some of you about singing “Demeter’s Song.” Corby and I have readied ourselves to sing it tonight at this service. We’ll also offer is as a grace at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner at my sister Catherine’s house -- the first since our mother's death this past May.

Evidently, Chris also has experience as a prison chaplain, and since I'm prepared to accept a long-standing invitation -- nay, plea -- to visit some inmates at nearby San Quentin the minute I learn that pending litigation has been settled, this is another area I'd enjoy discussing with him.

Chris sent this. I think you'll resonate with his sentiments, as do I.

I am ever so thankful that we have a new administration going into The White House.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Fart in the Punchbowl

Throughout the first meeting of the Pagan Studies Group at the AAR, presenters mentioned the words "culture" and "cultural" and "religion" and "religious" as though religion were not a cultural construct. I had the temerity to question this. The response was a nonplussed silence.

I realize that in state supported institutions such as Cal State-Long Beach and Colorado State-Pueblo, the line between state and religion is fuzzy. I realize they have to watch their steps carefully in order to avoid jeopardizing their state funding. But, really, religion is a part of culture. I felt that I said, "The emperor has no clothes." I felt really awkward when my comment elicited such a blank response.

Later, some of the presenters told me that the subject was just too complicated and frought with opportunities for misunderstandings that they didn't feel they could take it up in the limited time they had. Some solace, I guess, for my feeling like a boob.

Friday, November 14, 2008

AAR in Chicago

My friend and colleague, Jason Pitzl-Waters, has posted about the recent AAR Annual Meeting in Chicago. There's so much to say, so much juicy thinking crammed into a few days a year. For the most part, I had a great time. The air was charged with excitement about the then-upcoming election. I was as excited as anyone, wore my big Obama button at all times. The streets were being blocked off in preparation for the big celebration in Grant Park, directly across the street from the hotel where the main action of the AAR was taking place.

(Photo of me, Graham Harvey and Doug Ezzy, taken on my camera by someone. ?)

It's challenging for a night owl to make it to morning presentations. Sharon and I stayed at The Palmer House, not at the Hilton Towers where most meetings took place. That first morning we hustled to the first session of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Graup and Religions and Popular Culture Group. Chaired by Doug Ezzy from the University of Tasmania, its them was Talking with the Dead.

Sonja Spear of Indiana University gave the first paper, entitled "Haunted Irvington: Civil Pride, Memory, and the Klan." We came in during that presentation so missed much of it. She had photos and talked of an old house said to be haunted that was now owned by a Lesbian couple -- let's hear it for legalizing same-sex marriage!

Anne R. Key* of CIIS illustrated her talk, "Los Muertos Tienen Sed, los Vivos Culpas (The Dead Are Thirsty, and the Living Are Culpable): The Use of Image in Rituals Honoring the Ancestors in Pre-Conquest and Modern Mexico," with wonderful photos of many kinds of El Dia de Los Muertos altars from throughout Mexico. She explained the meanings of such things as marigolds, arches, marigold-petal paths, Katrinas, and cut paper designs on the altars, as well as the differences among the several days of the celebration. For instance, one day is for children who died, another for the unnamed, etc.

Following on the theme, Chas Clifton of Colorado and Wendy Griffin of Southern California presented on "Campus Pagans and the Day of the Dead: Civil Religions and Cultural Boundaries." Speaking from the perspectives of a small, state-supported university in Pueblo and a large, state-supported urban university in Long Beach, they too had photographs of El Dia de los Muertos altars, albeit less traditional ones. Their talk underscored how much more visible Paganism is and questioned the boundaries between "traditional" Pagan practices and Neo-Pagan syncretism.

Jason Winslade of DePaul University walked in the liminal realm between speaking about and doing by using a few props: hats and candles. His paper was called "'When the Veils Are Thin': An Occult Performance Theory." I'm eager to learn more and hope he will be able to join us at Cherry Hill Seminary soon.

Most exciting of all was Adrian Harris' paper called "The Halloween of Cross Bones," about a modern urban shaman named John Crow (aka John Constable) in London and the last resting place of a class of medieval streetwalkers known as the Winchester geese, with whom Crow had been in psychic contact. Here's some history and images, including shrines to the geese, of the Southwark area south of the Thâmes

And that was only the first session, folks!

* Anne R. Key is also the name of one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Freedom To Marry

In light of the disappointing results of recent elections, I publish the following press release from September. I am proud to be a member of a Pagan organization that's finally taken a public stand on this issue.

Fri Sep 12, 2008 2:59 pm (PDT)


Covenant of the Goddess
P.O. Box 1226
Berkeley, CA 94701 U.S.A

Contact: Lisa Morgenstern,
National Public Information Officer

BERKELEY, CA-September 2008 ; Covenant of the Goddess, a National Organization of Wiccan Congregations, offered a statement in support of Gay and Lesbian Marriage in California and Massachusetts.

“Covenant of the Goddess has, since its inception in 1975, had clergy willing to celebrate the religious if not the legal joining of two members of the same gender. While we respect the right of the individual clergy within COG who may choose not to perform such a ceremony, we are in support of marriage between two committed adults of any gender, and a majority of our celebrants are willing to perform such ceremonies.”

Covenant of the Goddess is supportive of stable family environments between spouses who are becoming family and views same gender marriages as a civil right. “As Pagans who are Witches or Wiccan, we remember our history and know that marriage is a civil contract, and historically, such was done to determine what property and belongings and livestock would be paid or received by the father of the bride or groom when the two families made an alliance. Same gender marriages date back to Ancient Greek and Roman times, when the majority of citizens were pagan. Marriage today is one way that two people can immediately become next of kin, and in today’s society with national privacy act issues, it is even more important for everyone in a loving committed relationship to have this right.” States Elder Priestess Lisa Morgenstern, National Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess.

Covenant of the Goddess was founded in 1975 to increase cooperation among Witches and to secure for Witches and covens the legal protection enjoyed by members of other religions. The Covenant publishes a newsletter; issues ministerial credentials on request to qualified persons; sponsors a national festival each summer; and encourages networking nationally, as well as regionally through local councils.

The Covenant is incorporated as a nonprofit religious organization in California, though it has grown to be an international organization. It is a confederation of covens and solitary members of various traditions, who share in the worship of the Goddess and the Old Gods and subscribe to a common code of ethics. The Covenant holds a Grand Council annually to decide matters which require deliberation by the full membership. Decisions are usually made by consensus.

In recent years, the Covenant has taken part in spiritual and educational conferences, interfaith outreach, large public rituals, environmental activism, community projects and social action, as well as efforts to correct negative stereotypes and promote accurate media portrayals. Its clergy perform legal marriages (handfastings), preside at funerals and other rituals of life-transition, and provide counseling to Witches includingthose in the military and in prisons. The Covenant also provides youth awards, sponsorship of college and university student groups, and legal assistance in instances of discrimination.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Celebrating Isabel Allende

Last night the Marin Interfaith Council honored author Isabel Allende with the Visionary Marin award. While a band played, we wandered around bidding on auction items, dropping raffle tickets in buckets for prizes, and noshing on lovely little tidbits of food at high, small round candlelit tables -- in other words, no sitting down to eat.

I chatted with several of my MIC friends and acquaintances, and recognized a few luminaries of sort: The Rev. Janie Spahr (I nearly introduced myself to her), Jean Shinoda Bolen (a close friend of Isabel's and BFF of one of the attorneys for whom I occasionally).

Leili First, one of our Sufi members, had assembled a slide show showing events of members of MIC. This played throughout the evening until the ceremony began. I was happy to see among them a photo of people dancing the Maypole that I took in Anne Hill's yard some years ago.

When the time came for introducing Isabel and bestowing the award, all the seats were filled except up front, so I caught the eye of Fu Schroeder, abbess of Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, who was in the front row, and she indicated I should sit in one of the empty seats next to her. After the ceremony, I realized I was in the section reserved for members of what Isabel calls her "tribe." (That's Green Gulch Farm in the photo, the way it looks driving by on Highway 1; that's the Pacific Ocean in the distance.)

Without exception, from Buddhist to Roman Catholic, from to Sufi to Presbyterian, from Hindu to Pagan, every single person I spoke with was elated about the election of Barack Obama. Most were also disappointed at the passage of Proposition 8, which changes the Califorinia Constitution to ban same-sex marriages, and which, I am confident, will not stand the test of the courts.

When the Rev. Carol Hovis, Director of MIC, first took the mike, her mention of the election outcome elicited cheers. The election results were obviously on everyone's mind because they were referenced frequently and each mention drew unrestrained applause.

Isabel is a tiny woman with a big spirit. In an inspiring acceptance speech from atop a plastic milk carton so she could look over the lectern and reach the microphone, she spoke of her life and the changes and challenges she'd met along the way. She spoke of her work and of the death of her daughter Paula. She spoke of her relatives in Chile and of her American husband. Several times she referred to the "plums" on her chest. Her beloved maternal grandfather had hoped she'd been a grandson rather than a granddaughter, and only finally accepted the fact that she was a girl when she grew small plums on her chest.

She spoke later of the joys of lovemaking and how both she and her husbands appreciated her somewhat bigger plums. She said that she admired the Dalai Lama, but that he was celibate and she much preferred carnal pleasure in her life. She said when she writes love scenes in her books, she is fantasizing about Antonio Banderas. Towards the end of her speech, she revealed that her husband, attorney Willie Gordon, does not seem to notice that the plums have turned to prunes.

Isabel is about five months older than I. She looks fabulous. At one point she asked the audience if they did not agree that she looked great for a 66-year-old, to applause. She said with a laugh, it's very expensive and takes a lot of hard work.

She spoke of fear and risk, and that being paralyzed by fear was a waste, how life was worth taking risks, that it was not without pain but was well worth it. In this regard, she mentioned her soul mate, Grace, who, with her daughter Sabrina, been in a head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge this past May. Grace broke many bones, displaced all the organs in her body except her heart, and lay comatose for many weeks. When she finally regained consciousness, she proclaimed how happy she was to be alive. She said the episodes of pain pass, and when they're gone, she doesn't remember them so she is happy. Grace had been a long-time Zen practitioner who gained enlightenment from a close brush with death. While Isabel spoke of this, I sat next to Fu Schroeder, who happens to be Grace's partner.

Isabel ended her speech with yet another reference to Tuesday's election, saying she is now so proud to be an American. Her last words were, "Yes, we can!" Of course, we repeated this heartening phrase.

When Fu had left her seat to go on the dais to present Isabel with her award, and Isabel returned, Isabel set next to me for the rest of the evening. She loved the California poppies tattooed on my forearms. At the end of the ceremony, I introduced myself to her as the "token Pagan" in MIC, and she said she herself is a pagan. (I use the lower case because she is pagan by nature and in outlook but not by affiliation and practice.) She had already identified herself using that term earlier in her speech. I am not "outing" Isabel Allende on this blog; I am merely stating a similarity in outlook that she shares with Neo-Pagans.

All in all, I felt welcomed with genuine warmth by my colleagues in MIC and comfortable representing a Pagan presence at this significant event.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Peter Hughes Passes, Samhain Approaches

What would a blog by me be like if it didn't contain notice of someone's passing? I'm so ready to be free to write other things. However, since this is the next-to-last day of our year, I want to remember Peter Hughes.*

Peter had put together a beautiful art photography book of B&W photos of Witches, which was/is the title of the book. Most of the models, myself among them, were local to Northern California. His wife, Denise Sallee, wrote the text. They asked me to write the introduction, which I did some years ago. The book hadn't found a publisher until Sam Webster decided to publish it. Sam's wife, Tara, became ill, and that situation consumed Sam for the last two years. So I don't know the fate of the book, but I do know that, according to someone close to Denise and Sam, that the project is not dead. Apparently there are those who still want to see it in print. When that occurs, you, my readers, will be the first to know.

In the meantime, I toast Peter with espresso that he loved and wish him peace.

I'm off to the AAR Annual Meeting in Chicago in the morning, to circle with Gaia's Womb in Samhain with dear friends and visiting Pagan scholars. My companion for the weekend will be Sharon Devlin Folsom.** Sharon lives in Illinois now and we haven't seen each other in several years. My pal Sparky T. Rabbit will also be there, hopefully with a CD of his wonderful albums, Lunacy and Hand of Desire.

For updates of what's going on with Pagans at the AAR, check the Cherry Hill News, The Wild Hunt, and here.

Today I gave the concluding blessing to the Marin Interfaith Council monthly lunch meeting, this time about teen suicide. They loved it. Several people came up afterward to thank me. This was the first thing I've ever been asked to do at a meeting. The director asked me because of the season. I was happy to oblige and I left feeling really good. I leave you with the piece I offered there, with wishes for a very Blessed Samhain.

This is the Feast of Samhain, when the veil is thin that divides the worlds, the seen from the unseen, the day-to-day from the Mysteries.

And now we pause on the threshold, and prepare to journey beyond the boundaries of the world, leaving behind the fading husk of the passing year, going down into the darkness of Winter, and through to the joy and the boundless dance that is the bright heart of the promise of Spring.

For Samhain is our New Year, the New Year of the Witches.

And when we say Witches, we mean those with a certain wit—even wisdom—who follow the Old Religion of the Goddess.

And when we speak of the Goddess, Who is Moon, stone, star, and of the Horned God, the Sun, the life of animals, we recognize our kinship with all of life, the interwoven chain of connection that sustains all, and that this tapestry of life is our common trust and treasure; we are committed to its service.

When we call the Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone, we see Her in all women, all shapes and colors and ages, and we honor women for strength as well as beauty, for knowledge and experience and the power that comes from within, for She is the Mother of inspiration.

When we call the Horned One as Lover and Consort, we see Him in men, and we honor men for tenderness and kindness as well as courage. And He wears the horns because we honor the animal self in each of us, forever untamed and free, the heat of desire, our miracle bodies, the drumming of our hearts.

And when we invoke the Elements of life--Air and Fire, Water and Earth--we know what is needed to sustain life, and we know what is needed to sustain hope, and we know, with breath and nerve and blood and bone, what is needed to sustain the balance of our lives.

And we pledge ourselves to care for this Earth, and to preserve It, even through these times of fear and sadness, when our culture has gone so far in the direction of death and destruction.

And so we will come to the Ocean of Tears, to look in that glistening mirror, and to hear the voice of low and ceaseless thunder, wrapped in the taste and smell of the spray, and to remember what has passed, what has passed beyond boundaries, gone beyond change.

And we too will cross, and renew ourselves, and reclaim the future.

For when we dance the Spiral of Joy, together we vow to release that brilliant hope for all life...
Starhawk, Robin Weaver,
M. Macha NightMare,
Samhain ‘79, ‘88, ‘90, 91, ’92. ‘06

* I had planned to include his photo and a brief published obituary, but this program does not seem to want to upload it.

** See the chapter called "Interview with a Modern Witch" in Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon.

Sequoia Costumed

In the spirit of the season, I present some photos of Sequoia all tricked out for actions. Virgo that she was, she archived plenty of wonderful photos of herself. Thanks to Terri Compost for forwarding them. The photo above shows an incarnation of Kali.

You may remember I mentioned Sequoia as Sequoia; that tree holding the sign is Sequoia. Beneath that is Sequoia as leopard.

Sequoia and I shared a love of cats. Well I remember the drama surrounding her as she crafted this outfit.

The frog Sequoia. The mug in the frog's hand cracks me up. Rev. Jim is the man on the right.

Although she's not costumed in this photo, this is a great shot showing her tossing her head back, hair aflowing, mouth open in a guffaw. This is exactly how I remember her at her best. You can almost hear her howl of laughter. And, as you can see, that's a sheriff upon whose shoulders she rides.

There are two great photos of Sequoia in full Witch regalia, but I'll have to save them for next Samhain since I don't have them yet.

On a parting note, see Samhain article here.

[Drat! I wish I could make this text wrap around the photos.]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More on Sequoia

Altar at Sequoia's Wake

There will be a memorial for Sequoia at Greenfield Ranch on November 16. Terri sent me a wonderful collage showing many faces of Sequoia at her best, but evidently they're in a form that this blog does not want to upload. As soon as I get them as individual photos, I'll try again. In the meantime, here is one of her at her wake:

I love it when people take these last photos. One of my friends who didn't know her who saw this whole series of photos said it made her cry to see the evidence of love it showed. She wondered how something like this might look to archaeologists in the future. Moot, of course, since she chose cremation.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Mighty Redwood Has Fallen

I write today of the death of a mighty priestess. Sequoia Greenfield died in her sleep early this morning of leukemia and other blood disorders. She was in the loft of the house at Greenfield Ranch in Mendocino County that she built with her own hands -- with the help of friends for wall-raisings and such.

Sequoia was one of the first members of Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1, founded by Z Budapest, in Los Angeles in 1971. Born and reared in Cleveland and escaped to California in her teens, Sequoia was a force to be reckoned with. In an early incarnation as a biker chick, Sequoia was known as Super Pat. She changed her name for good after LA bikers put a price on her head. Soon thereafter, she headed north, where she ended up at Greenfield Ranch.

I met Sequoia in the early days of Reclaiming Collective, and when my then-coven, Holy Terrors, first joined CoG in 1981. I found her overbearing and intimidating at first, until I learned that when you stood up to her, she wasn't such a bully. From then on we did lots of things together, most notably (to others) a ritual called "Kali, the Terrible Mother, and Other Dark Goddesses" at CoG's MerryMeet in 1987 at Saratoga, California.*

The one thing Sequoia was most vain about was her long "naturally red" hair. She never considered chemo because she intended to go out with that head of hair of which she was so proud. She even mentioned it again yesterday when Corby and I were visiting with her, that when she was laid out, it was going to be with her hair unbound and spread around her head and shoulders.

This is a woman who traveled the world, mostly alone. I remember when, on her first trip to India, she wrote wonderful travelogues to her friends describing her experiences. (This was before the Internet.) She once described how she was in an unfamiliar small village in India, when there was a celebration to a Hindu goddess (name lost in the recesses of my senior mind), the villagers grabbed her and put her at the head of their procession. Evidently, that particular goddess had red hair and here came this stranger with red hair just on the goddess' feast day, so I guess they considered Sequoia to be the goddess incarnate.

A licensed pilot herself, Sequoia's heroine was Amelia Earhart.

Many years ago Sequoia, who took many classes in town (Ukiah), was working with a saw in some sort of woodworking class, when she looked up. They tell you, "Never look up." She had sawed off her left thumb and forefinger. After the wound had healed, Sequoia spent the Fall and early Winter of that year learning to reuse her hand by stringing bead necklaces as Yule gifts for her friends.

At Earth First! events, she often dressed as either a mountain lion or a redwood tree. She had a full mountain lion outfit she road her bike with, with fur and ears on her helmet and a fake fur tail streaming behind her. So if you see published photos of a redwood tree standing next to the Secretary of the Interior at Yosemite National Park, that's our Sequoia. She wants to be cremated with wearing that tail and holding a Susan B. Anthony dollar in each hand.

Her devoted partner of recent years, Rev. Jim, also an activist, cared for her tenderly during her dying days, and before then. He and the Greenfield community will be doing a spiral dance on the Tor on Samhain. They are waking her in the farmhouse for the next day or so, painting her casket, drinking tequila, telling Sequoia stories. At a later date I will be coordinating a memorial for Sequoia in the SF Bay Area.

Yesterday Corby and I sang "Weaver, Weaver" to her. She loved it. We observed her face soften as we sang. Corby and she had grown a warm friendship over the last 15 years or so. He worked on her neck yesterday, relieving her of much of her pain. She told him he was the best thing that ever happened to her friend Macha; I agree. Rev. Jim was one of the best things that ever happened to Sequoia, as our late mutual friend Judy Foster used to attest.

Here is Sequoia ready to dance the Crone in Reclaiming's annual Spiral Dance ritual in 1982:

I feel fortunate to have been Sequoia's friend and honored to memorialize her at a future date. "In love may she return again."

* This ritual was originally created by Sharon Devlin, Beth Bone Blossom and I for Ancient Ways/MerryMeet at Harbin Hot Springs in 1984.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Death of a Priestess

Last night my friend Tara Webster passed through the veil. My friend Thorn was among those in attendance at her crossing. Here's the first announcement:

With great sorrow I must report that early on the evening of October 8th, Tara Webster - Ishtara, Soror Adessa of the Order of the Golden Dawn, Witch, Mage, Dancer and Healer - has succumbed to brain cancer and passed peacefully beyond the Veil into the next world.

Her husband Sam, along with many witches and magickal folk were with her, surrounding her with love and singing hymns of Hecate to her as she departed. Sam asks for whatever thoughts, prayers, and energy work you can bring to this transition, with focus on the highest chakras, from now until three days after, or up to 49 days.

Prayers and offerings to Hermes, Psychopomp and Lord of Thresholds, and to Tara's matron goddess Hekate, Keeper of the Keys of all the Universe, are particularly appropriate.

E-mails of condolences may be sent to and will be forwarded to the family.

- 555

"Term of all that liveth, whose name is Death and inscrutable, be thou favorable to us in thine hour. And unto her, from whose mortal eyes the veil of life hath fallen, grant that there may be the accomplishment of her true Will, should she will absorption in the Infinite, or to be united with her chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be at peace, or to achieve the labor and heroism of incarnation on this planet, or another, of any star, or aught else, unto her may there be the accomplishment of her true Will, yea, the accomplishment of her true Will. AUGMEN."

I knew Tara as a Priestess of Hekate. For many months Corby and attended small New Moon rituals to Hermes and Hekate with Sam and and Tara in their chapel. A graceful bellydancer, Tara wore the mask of Isis* as she danced Her into manifestation at the first incarnation of my goddess masks ritual, part of the Goddess 2000 celebration, at PantheaCon in San Francisco.

Although I knew Sam better than Tara, when Tara and I first met, we discovered we had a lot in common in terms of both approach and praxis. My experiences with my first coven, the Holy Terrors*, paralleled hers in many ways. I spoke of a cartoon published in an East Coast Pagan rag, Harvest (defunct), in the '80s that we Holy Terrors couldn't believe was so like we were. When we HTs first discovered this cartoon, we rolled around laughing. No one we knew subscribed to Harvest (if it even had subscriptions). We treasured our photocopies of the few episodes we'd found; later I found an opportunity to mail away for better copies of a full set. The cartoon was the Death Crones, and Tara was part of the Flaming Crones, the circle from which this cartoon arose!

When I heard she was weakening, I planned to go see her this weekend. I regret I didn't make it in time. I will visit her viewing and offer prayers for her easy transition. My life was enriched by my having known Tara. I will dance with her in Samhain circle. In love may she return again.

* A coven of nine women, Holy Terrors was the first coven to form from classes taught by Witches in what later evolved into Reclaiming Collective, and still later, Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft. Some day I'll write more about the HTs, maybe even scan the only extant photo of us together.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The First Spiral Dance

After seeing the video clip of Spiral Dances on YouTube and being told by Chas that he couldn't identify me in clips of the first one in 1979, I found this still from the same event. I don't know who shot it: I suspect it may have been Kevyn Lutton. Here you can see me on the right (second person in, about a third of the way down from top of the photo), wearing a velvet and brocade robe and leaning back a bit because Deirdre's on my hip, but you can't really see her, or her bald father, the late Rod Wolfer. I think the woman in the right foreground is Glenn Turner.

The dancer in the big white Maiden mask in the video is Diane Baker, co-author of Circle Round. The three goddess masks were made by Medea Maquis and weighed a ton. They are now in a private collection. The Elements masks, which you can't see but are also big heavy suckers, were made by Eleanor Myers.* They were clay and I think that over the years all of them have broken.

I remember Selene Kumin Vega dancing one of the goddesses. Forgive my senior mind for not recalling exactly which one -- Mother, I think. It was a long time ago. Selene is slender and graceful. She choreographed the Goddess dance at one Spiral Dance (at the SF Women's Building) in which I dance one of three crones (the late Judy Foster being another). Selene has the ability to bring out the best in people. She never made me, who's not much of a dancer, feel clumsy or awkward, just magical. Or "priestessly," if you will.

* If anyone knows Eleanor's current whereabouts, I would dearly love to know too. Please contact me at if you have any information.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Veil Grows Thin

It's that time of year again, my favorite, when the shadows lengthen and the sunlight produces a magical quality of light. Here's a video clip of several Spiral Dances. If you know what I look like, you can see me clearly in some of them. This past year, when filmmaker Susan Stern shot the ritual, I'm wearing red. In the one from 1979, I'm slim, with long brown hair and a toddler on my hip. In 2007 I'm round and grey-maned.

The sweet soprano you can hear on this video is the late Susan North, of whose death I wrote last January. You can also see photos of two other significant Reclaiming Witches in this video: Raven Moonshadow and Judy Foster.

I think this video gives you an idea of how intoxicating dancing a spiral with hundreds of others can be.

Alas, I won't be there this year. I'll be dancing with the Dead in Chicago with other visiting Pagan scholars who are there for the AAR Annual Meeting. I surely do hope we dance a spiral.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

On Trees, Aging, Community & Cottage Mates

Three friends, Lord Verderius, Macha & Canu, 'neath ancient oak

I recently returned from MerryMeet, CoG's annual Grand Council (business meeting) and festival. This year two Local Councils, Touchstone and Orange County, hosted MerryMeet at Highland Springs Resort , a former stop on the Butterfield State Coach Line through the San Gorgonio Pass on the Bradshaw Trail from Los Angeles to Yuma, Arizona.

I can just imagine what an oasis Highland Springs would be to stage drivers and passengers on a hot August day's journey. They changed horses and rested, sometimes under an oak that's several hundred years old. They say it's seen hangings in its day. Here are some photos that show its age and massiveness.

I shared a wee cottage with two charming mates, Canu and Lord Verderius from Everglades Moon Local Council in Florida. The place had the look of one of those LA courtyard apartments from a Raymond Chandler novel, with cacti, flowers, butterflies, tiled roofs and plenty of dust, dry air and hot sun.

I spent a lot of my time there with the two of them and my friend Cary the Fairie from Santa Cruz. They're all male friends much younger than I, men I have great fondness for. I felt looked after. We stood together for the main ritual. Verderius fetched me a chair when my back started aching from standing too long. I felt supported, appreciated, enjoyed. Like I found more Witch kin.* And Cary? Well, Cary and I don't see enough of each other, but we always know each other is there.

May our friendships endure and grow strong like the mighty oak.

* One could stretch a point and consider Canu and me kin via Coven Ouroborous Isis Gnosis in New England.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Good News!

Patrick was released from hospital this evening, with brace and cane and orders not to leave the house for two days minimum. He will have a long recovery. He remains heavily medicated to relieve intense pain. In spite of these difficulties, Patrick's recovery has been amazing, no doubt helped in great part by the workings and prayers of many Pagans. Many of us appreciate his work on our behalf and many others simply love his Irish charm. If ever there was a man with the gift of Blarney, that man is Patrick.

Patrick will be recovering at home for at least two months. To those who've asked about sending flowers, yes, he'd love flowers. He's heartened by your cards. He's looking forward to reading email that's been sent to He welcomes cards and letters, prayers and workings, all good wishes. For obvious reasons, he will be unable to accommodate every request from those many who are accustomed to seeking Patrick's help. He needs to focus on his own healing. This restriction in his activities is probably the most frustrating part of this whole situation, as far as Patrick is concerned.

Barbara has been with him every day for the last two weeks, through scary times. Care came from Ohio last Sunday to help. They could use some caring attention as well.

Patrick's home and on the road to full recovery. Praise be, Lady, praise be!

Women's Suffrage Day

Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Let us not forget that today is the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. We've come a long way since Victoria Woodhull ran for President in the election of 1872, before we women could even vote.

Today we have the likes of Rep. Barbara Lee of Alameda County, California, the only Congressperson who did not support Bush's war-mongering. We have our own Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a former welfare mom. We have Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barbara Mikulski, Claire McCaskill, Barbara Boxer, and so many other remarkable women in Congress.

Progress is being made.

Patrick Update, and More

I spent about four hours with Patrick on Saturday. He's much improved. He can walk a little bit (to the bathroom) and was fitted for a brace for whenever he sits or stands. He's heavily medicated for the intense pain he continues to suffer. I plan to see him again tomorrow afternoon. He's very grateful for all the work friends have been doing for him. He welcomes more. You can contact him with your good wishes at Then he can read your greetings when he's up to it, and probably when he'd be most cheered by them, since he'll be home recovering for a time.

* * * * *

On another matter, there is a fascinating Democratic National Convention going on, for anyone who may be living under a rock and doesn't know that. For the first time in history there are three 'out' Pagan delegates! Plus an active Pagan support group. We don't want to make too big a deal and cost him the votes ignorant and/or intolerant voters, but we're there. Here is the blog of two of those delegates.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Patrick McCollum, a Witch Hero in Need


Many of you know or have heard of Patrick McCollum. A man of many accomplishments and a devoted Priest of Brigit and goldsmith, Patrick has done as much, if not more, than anyone to ensure Pagan rights. For years he has served with the Lady Liberty League, in which he was an active participant in the Pentacle Quest*, has been consulted by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

In the area of prison ministries alone, Patrick has been the Wiccan/Pagan Chaplain for the California State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for many years, serving about 900 Pagan inmates in the enormous California prison system (a major growth industry, I'm sorry to say). This service requires him to travel up and down the state to remote areas where prisons are located, all at his own expense -- and we all know what's happened to the price of gas.

He has consulted on religious accommodation in prisons with the governors, attorneys general and/or prison authorities in at least 14 states plus the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He serves as liaison between the American Academy of Religion and the state chaplains of all 50 states. Furthermore, this past February he testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on religious accommodation; his testimony appears in the Congressional Record.

A sober-looking Patrick testifying before the
U.S. Civil Rights Commission in Washington, DC

Not only is Patrick a dear personal friend, but also he serves as the Director of the Chaplaincy Program at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan chaplaincy course ever.

Patrick fiddling at a Cherry Hill
Seminary retreat at Camp Salamander
in the Santa Cruz Mountains

The reason I'm writing all this about Patrick -- and I am only scratching the surface -- is to tell you that he is dealing with a medical condition for which I'm asking your help. On August 15, Patrick underwent surgery for a long-standing problem with his spine. The surgery itself went well, but two days later Patrick suffered a complication that necessitated further surgery on August 18. He has been in ICU at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, California since then, and remains there, although much improved.

Patrick welcomes healing. Given what I've told you about him, and that you have a photo and know where is is, I ask that you remember him in your prayers and rituals, light candles, appeal to his Lady Brigit, and do whatever else you can to hasten Patrick's relief from extreme pain and his ultimate recovery.

Patrick welcomes cards, but, please, no phone calls or visitors yet. His wife, Barbara, could also use some energy.

* Dr. Todd Berntson's film about the quest, "A Hero Denied," will have its first public screening at the Cherry Hill Seminary Winter Intensive in San Jose (the day before PantheaCon begins) in San Jose, California in February. The screening will be followed by a talk by Todd about the making of the film, and by both Todd and Patrick about the quest.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Starwood - Magical Tree

Lauren lives much of her life at Brushwood, where she's sometimes been artist-in-residence. She has lots of favorite places. She showed Corby and me her "Ent," her magical tree back in the woods where she's made a shrine to the tree and created a moss garden at its base.

Here you can see where the lightning split the venerable old tree.

Lauren at her tree.

Moss garden.

Corby and me in front of the tree.

Later when I spoke of the tree, some others said they'd visited it and recognized that someone had been honoring it, but hadn't known the back story. They'd just enjoyed the presence of this life that's esperienced so many passing seasons.

A Little More on Starwood

I found the photos! They were in my camera all along. I remember taking out the camera at the airport to download the photos into my computer, then realized I didn't have the proper cord with me.


Here's a photo taken at dusk of Kala, Lauren peaking from the rear, Corby in the purple shirt, and, front and center, dress in his brand new dress (one of several) scored from a Starwood vendor. Behind them is a big god's-eye-like sculpture. In left background is the pool house.

We all love the easy clothing-optional at Starwood, although some folks forget about sunscreen and get burned in tender parts.

More photos and chat anon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Starwood '08 Re-Entry

Corby and I are back home, after 10 hours in the Cleveland airport due to thunderstorms. We had the same problem on the way to Starwood, but not as long and with Oberon to share our wait.

We arrived during a huge thunderstorm. Lightning flashed all around our little puddle-jumper plane when we were airborne, and continued on the ride to Brushwood with charioteer par excellence, Gnorm. The highways had hydroplaning conditions. We hadn't eaten because the vendors were closed at the airport. Gnorm, as always, had a nutritious soup at his campsite that he only needed to reheat. That may sound good - and the soup was good -- but the conditions under which we had to eat it were less than comfortable. The tarp above the picnic table holding his Coleman stove sagged with water, which you could either poke at and get it to overflow the tarp, or wait for it to start dripping from directly overhead. Getting the water out of the tarp meant flooding the ground beneath, making the already-soaked ground under our feet into deeper mud and water. The benches and chairs were also too wet to sit on without getting a cold tush. We persevered and ended with hot food in our tummies, welcome warmth after the ordeal of traveling and sloshing through the site.

We found a dry place to sleep in the big long guest trailer, the one with blue tarps for walls. The next morning we found the wee trailer our friend, artist Lauren Raine, had prepared for us. She'd put some swoops of light ropes out the front door, and equipped it with a novena candle and some other candles, lighter (something we couldn't carry on the plane), incense (to mitigate the slight moldy odor of the trailer), wine, water, plastic glasses, and crackers.

Our friends Kala and Dress from the Bay Area Reclaiming community shared our camping area in a tent Lauren had prepared for them. I got some photos of all of us together, and some great ones of Dress' spiral-glittered pate that I downloaded to my computer while waiting all day Monday in the airport, but they seem to have vanished. Bummer!

Starwood was not as well-organized this year as it usually is, so there were some glitches. One was that I was scheduled for a workshop entitled "Brewing Spicy Multi-Traditional Ritual" on the day we spent getting there. I was told there were 15 disappointed people waiting. What can I say? They knew when they'd booked our flights. Sue rescheduled it for Thursday, but only Corby, Lauren and Larry Cornett (publisher of Pagan calendar of events long before anyone was out of the broom closet) were able to come at that time. I was disappointed, too.

My talk on Pagans in interfaith work went well. But best of all was another panel called: "When We Call, Who Comes? A Panel on Pagan Thea/ology." Watch this space for more on that, since it deserves an entry of its own.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What Happened?

I don't know what happened to the past two months. Yesterday we took Fernando and Oona to the vet for more shots and to see why Fernando is listless and losing weight (an infection, being treated with antibiotics), when the vet found a flea on Oona. He asked if we treated them, and we said sure, we'd just treated both of them with Advantage only three weeks ago. Well, as it turns out, it was two whole months ago. I swear I just bought the Advantage a few weeks ago. Sheesh, what happened to that time?

Well, for one my mother died. So did the parents of two of my friends. This week I have three Board of Directors meetings and one annual meeting. (Boards of FAWR, CHS and my homeowners association and annual meeting of MIC) Plus we managed to hold the CHS Summer Intensive, courtesy of the folks at AzureGreen and Silver Cauldron Coven in Maine. That was followed by a concentrated meeting of the Executive Director and the department chairs wherein we accomplished an amazing amount of work, news of which will be forthcoming from CHS in due time.

About that talk I gave via Skype in São Paulo, here's a photo and there are more here.

The bottom line is I'm too tired and confused to post anything particularly interesting or relevant to any readers I might have. Instead, I'll direct you to two other blogs.

First is today's Wild Hunt blog, which features news about my friend, Don Frew, and my candidate, Barack Obama.

Second is Threads of the Spiderwoman blog of my friend Lauren Raine, an amazingly talented Pagan artist. I'm looking forward to seeing her at Starwood next month.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Reuniting with Family

I spent five days back in Western Massachusetts for the Cherry Hill Seminary Summer Intensive, followed by a meeting of most of the Administrative Committee. Upon my mother's recent death, I had phoned several relatives who don't have email. One was my cousin Blake S. I knew he lived in Maine and found a phone number for a Blake S. in Maine, so I called it. Blake himself answered. We talked for a long time, and when he learned I'd be coming to New England the weekend following Mother's memorial, he said he wanted to drive down to visit me if I could carve out a few hours.

I did the carving and he the driving. I left New Jersey in June of 1959, when he was only 8 years old. It had been nearly half a century since we'd seen each other. I'm not even sure we saw each other before my family left the area, so it may have been a full half century. In any case, both of us are orphans now. Further, he has no siblings nor paternal cousins. His mother Catherine was my mother Elizabeth's younger sister. He and I are both Van Tines. Here we are together in middle age in Marin and Adair's kitchen at AzureGreen:

Photo by Holli Emore

Monday, June 09, 2008

Talking to São Paulo

On Saturday morning I gave a talk to 50 Pagans sitting in a hotel meeting room in São Paulo, Brazil while I sat is my cluttered studio in California. I was honored to have been invited by my friend Claudiney Prieto, Brazil's best-selling author on Wicca. Claudiney encouraged his publisher to publish a Portuguese edition of my book, Witchcraft and the Web, so that now I can say I'm "internationally published." He's also a primary organizer of Pagan Pride Day in São Paulo, which, with a population of nearly 11 million, is the largest city in South American and one of the largest in the world. And it's wildly multicultural.

This talk was done through the miracle of Skype. They showed me on a big screen in Brazil, but they had no camera for me to see them. I talked through an interpreter, Rose Hirasike.

The topic was "NeoPaganism Rising," about the phenomenal rise of Paganism worldwide, and things we can do to fortify and sustain this movement. Since American and Brazilian culture are so different when it comes to religion -- we American are by far the most obsessed with what others believe in terms of faith traditions, in my opinion -- I wasn't quite sure which developments and expressions of Pagan culture would be most useful to expand upon. I can only hope my talk wasn't boring or discombobulated, or worse, irrelevant.

Talking in smaller chunks to enable an interpreter to tell Portuguese-speaking listeners what you're trying to say is a bit of a challenge. The technology was fabulous, though, so I'm interested in exploring it further. Hopefully my Brazilian colleagues will invite me, and others, in the future.

Friday, June 06, 2008

More on Mom

This is the obituary announcement we put in the local papers:

Elizabeth Van Tine O’Brien
January 19, 1911- May 23, 2008

Second of five children of John Raub Van Tine and Elizabeth Hardy Kynett, born in Lansdowne, PA (Philadelphia), Elizabeth, also called Betty, came to Lodi, CA from New Jersey with her husband, James T. O’Brien and children in 1959.

A strong advocate for women’s rights, in 1958 Betty was the first woman elected to school board of Evesham Township, NJ, on a write-in vote. She and Jim traveled widely in connection with his work with Lions Club Int’l. An accomplished seamstress and knitter, she worked at The Fabric Store in Lodi for years. Longtime member of Lodi’s First United Methodist Church, Daughters of the American Revolution, Pi Beta Phi, Daughters of Founders and Patriots, and Dickinson College Alumni.

Predeceased by siblings Karldon K. Van Tine; John Raub Van Tine, Jr.; and Catherine B. Styles; husband Jim O’Brien and stepson James T. O’Brien, Jr. Survived by sister Eleanor V. Slim, Doylestown, PA; daughter Aline O’Brien and Corby Lawton, San Rafael; daughter Catherine O’Brien and Anthony Montanino, Palo Alto; grandchildren James T. O’Brien, III, Idaho; Rainbow Aline and Vincent Porthé, Chicago; Deirdre Blessing Wolfer, San Rafael; and Alexandra Amelia Foster, San Diego; great-grandchild Brandon O’Brien; and many other friends and relations.

Friends are invited to a memorial at 2:00 pm on Saturday, May 31, 2008, at First United Methodist Church, 200 W. Oak St., Lodi. Donations in her memory may be made to Hospice of San Joaquin County.

My, how the Internet has changed the ways we deal with someone's passing -- or any other life transition, for that matter. This is our mother's online guest book.

I encourage everyone to check out her or his local hospice group, and to support it. The people who do hospice work are saints, as far as I'm concerned. We were so reassured about how an what our mother and we were experiencing by Mother's nurse, Edee Singer, aide Kim Martinsdiaz, and social worker Diane Medina.

Our local hospice, formerly Marin Hospice, and now combined with San Francisco and Sonoma Counties, is now called Hospice by the Bay. Not only do hospice workers help with dying, but they also offer ongoing grief counseling (including some for children and teens) as well as maintaining a comprehensive library of death and dying resources. I might add that many include The Pagan Book of Living and Dying among these resources.

Paula Gunn Allen

Sheesh, what a year for deaths! Paula Gunn Allen died six days after my mother did. Thanks to Jason's Wild Hunt blog that I know about this, since I haven't exactly been tuned in to the world for the last few weeks. Paula was close friends with my late dear friend Mary TallMountain. Although I never met Paula, I heard a lot about her from Mary. I note from some of the writings about Paula that she had similar inner conflicts from having been brought up Roman Catholic. Hearing that Paula passed has reawakened my sense of loss from Mary's death.

I find grief to be a cumulative thing. Fresh grief, or fresh cause for grief, dips into that deep well of grief we all carry and brings it to the surface, sort of like priming a pump. Grief takes as long as it takes.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Guest Blogging

My Mother, Elizabeth (Betty)

My latest blog is over at The Wild Hunt. Jason honored me by asking me to be among his guest bloggers while he took a vacation. Other guest bloggers this week are Cat Chapin-Bishop, Anne Hill, T. Thorn Coyle, Chas S. Clifton, and Deborah Oak Cooper. Such awesome company!

I've posted today more about dying and death, inspired by the recent passing of my mother, pictured above. Come back later because I know this won't be the last of it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More about Our Mother

Elizabeth Van Tine O'Brien
January 19, 1911, Lansdowne, PA - May 23, 2008, Lodi, CA

The announcement that went in the local papers, because it's a published obituary with space limitations, can only tell you very little. No doubt I'll have more to say as the process of losing one's mother, after 65 years of having one, unfolds.

Thanks to all who've expressed condolences.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Love & Death

My mother, Elizabeth V. O'Brien, crossed over at the age of 97 in the early morning of May 23, 2008. Her daughters and granddaughters were with her most of her last weeks.

During the entire process of her dying, I have felt cradled in love and light coming from far and near, from many directions . This love has helped me to undergo this rite of sitting vigil, letting go, and mourning (just begun) as well as possible. For this I am deeply grateful.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hippy Days Reunion

Peggy & Aline, April 2008
(We asked a waiter to snap this, told him just head
and shoulders. Twice he got shots like this, then
another waiter did a head-and-shoulders shot
that wasn't as nice. Now when I learn to crop
photos, this will probably be fine.)

Like most of us, I have a busy life. I have at lots of draft blog entries going back to last October. I'll spare you the list of activities and reasons and cut to the chase: I had dinner about two weeks ago with a friend from our Haight-Ashbury days.

Peggy and I lived at 516 Ashbury, one door from the corner of Ashbury and Page, with Haight at other end of our block. This was in the late '60s. I remember that when we lived in that house was when I learned of RFK's assassination, after I'd returned from seeing Battle of Algiers. We had lots of parties in that flat. The back room where the parties were was lit with Christmas lights. We also bought a little 12" B&W TV to watch the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on Sunday nights. We thought it was the coolest thing going -- and it was revolutionary. My favorite regular was "Share a Little Tea with Goldie" with Leigh French as Goldie O'Keefe.

Peggy left for graduate school in Illinois in 1970, and that's the last time we saw each other, 38 years ago. We both have grown children and published books. We found each other on the Web, natch.

As we chatted it up at Chow in the Castro, it was as though there had been no intervening 38 years. After dinner, we drove around and reoriented ourselves, especially Peggy, who hadn't been in San Francisco in all that time. Peggy's a retired college professor and writer of mystery novels. I'm eager to read her latest, Sweet Man Is Gone.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Vampyre Mike

Vampyre Mike Kassel

Maybe it's because I read the "Irish sporting green" on Sundays, but it seems to me at least once a month I read of someone I knew or know who passed away. More likely it's because I'm aging and so are my colleagues. In any case, this death is not one I learned of from the obituaries. Prudence told me. My friend Pasha and her daughter Della are grieving a lot for Vampyre Mike. This is what his friend, fellow poet, and coven mate Whitman McGowan wrote about Mike:

Michael Alan “Vampyre Mike” Kassel – writer and musician

Born December 3, 1953 in Boston to Milton ”Quinn” Kassel and Beatrice Kassel, brilliant underground poet and talented musician Vampyre Mike passed away after a long battle with hepatitis March 22, 2008 in his room at San Francisco’s Marina district Bridge Motel (one of the few San Francisco SRO Hotels not located south of Market). He resided at The Bridge for over twenty years. In high school in Boston his first band was Self Winding Onion and in 1973-1974 he was in Automatic Slim with Fred Pineau (who later gained success with The Atlantics). He moved to San Francisco in 1974 and earned his sobriquet when punk fans at the Mabuhay Gardens started calling for “Vampire Mike!” when he appeared there with his band The Hellhounds. In 1980 Mike sharpened his teeth on musical theater in San Francisco, putting on Bat Soup which ran for 86 performances at Hotel Utah and combined Dracula and the Marx Brothers. In 1982 he released the 45 single “Fortune Teller/Guru Massage” under the name Mike Kassel.

Holding down a day job as a market researcher, he was loveable curmudgeon and merciless tease who on occasion could be extremely kind and generous and he always told it like it was, with outlandish humor and an uncompromising stylishness. An adherent of the Norse pagan traditions and widely read and knowledgeable on many topics, he was made thyle, or bard, of the heathen group Freya’s Folk, and he partnered with one of their priestesses Pasha De Saix for many years. Together they were the folk rock duo The Familiars, a fixture at pagan gatherings in the greater Bay Area, recording original and traditional songs as “Pasha and the Pagans,” a collection engineered by Lemon De George of Genghis Blues fame. Other musical groups led by Vampyre Mike included The Fabulous Dumonts, The Bones of Kryptos, blues band The Welfare Cheats and an homage to 60’s garage bands, The Mysterious Ice Wyrms, which at one time featured drummer Donovan Bauer of 20 Mile.

A regular at many poetry open mics over the years, he was also known as Thor Bernstein and Elston Gunn, but it was as Vampyre Mike at Café Babar and Above Paradise in the late 80s and early 90’s that he really established himself as a poetic voice and a force to be reckoned with. His take on current events was eagerly awaited by the poets and his other fans. It seemed he always had something incisive to say about a big news item and it was usually a lot of fun to hear, as his poetry owed more to W.C. Fields than to W.H. Auden. Though he performed mostly in Northern California his career also included one wild European tour with David Lerner, Dominique Lowell and other San Francisco poets. “Vamps,” as he was affectionately known to some, was also a frequent collaborator, playing piano, percussion and guitar on other people’s projects and joining Joie Cook, Kathleen Wood and myself to perform the one-off show Naked Language Revue one unforgettable night in 1990 at the old Kafe Komotion in San Francisco. He also helped me cast the dancers for a video, putting me in touch with a bunch of pagans he said would like to get naked if I ever made a video of my piece “White Folks Was Wild Once, Too.”

Local publishers put out his books Going for the Low Blow (poems, Zeitgeist Press, 1989), I Want to Kill Everything (poems, Zeitgeist Press,1990), Just Say No to Despair (poems, Cyborg Productions, 1991), Graveyard Golf (stories, Manic D Press, 1991), Wild Kingdom (poetry and prose, Zeitgeist Press, 1992), the latter two featuring covers by renowned comic artist S. Clay Wilson, and The Worlds According to Loki (mythological novel, Valknot Publishing, 2001). His work was translated into German, Czech and Russian. He wrote numerous prose pieces for the Western Edition newspaper, the quarterly Yggdrasil and the Sunday magazine of the San Francisco Chronicle/Examiner, and was published in many poetry magazines and anthologies.

Vampyre’s satire was a finely tuned attack delivered in broad strokes. Witness well loved poem “Your Love Is Like a Red, Red Nose,” his Woody Guthrie parody; “This land is my land, that land is my land / That land over there, that’s my land too / This land belongs to me, not you...” or his poem “SHIT”: I was walking home from the bars the other night/And realized/I had to piss Now!/Before my bladder blew up/Across the street/At a construction site/I spotted a Port-O-San/I hobbled over/And yanked on the door/It was locked/I was dumbfounded/What did they think I was going to steal?/Welcome to America/Where they lock up the shit (from Just Say No To Despair! (A Cyborg Minibook, San Francisco 1991)

Here’s one of his typical “rants.”


I wanted to write something serious,
a page that would ignite when exposed to air.
I wanted to dive deep into my soul
and swim back to the surface
with some big bloody truth clenched between my teeth.
I wanted something that would burn in the mind
like a malarial fever
you could never quite put out.
Something that would inspire
lust and revulsion simultaneously.
Something so dangerous
that Bush would have to send an invasion force
deep into my head.
Something that would replace the Gideon Bible
in the hotel drawers of the world.
Something so big, so beautiful and so true
that the sun would immediately eclipse himself
because he knew we were onto him.
I wanted to write something more addictive than crack,
more debilitating that love,
and more destructive than religion.
I wanted to make the moon weep.
I wanted to build a mirror so cruelly true
that it would send all the yuppie lawyers
and investment bankers
howling into the bush to make honest livings
as highwaymen, headhunters and horse thieves.
I wanted to write something that Ringo would understand,
something God would not forgive,
something the Weekly World News would refuse to print
because it was in bad taste.
I wanted to write something that would make
Rimbaud and Baudelaire
grind their teeth in envy
and throw their pens at the moon.
I wanted to give Poe the willies.
I wanted to make nuns wet their pants.
I wanted to make dogs howl, highways tremble,
and hair grow on grandma’s bald head.
I wanted to write something
that would make everyone illiterate.
I wanted to write something so beautiful
that it would make every woman in the world
fall in love with me
so I could break their hearts simultaneously.
I wanted to write something that would make money chuckle.
I wanted to write something that would cure cancer
and then kill you anyways.
I wanted a poem
A real poem.
A Robert Graves spit in the eye
this is the way the Iliad goes
so early in the morning dance round the campfire
roses are red barnburner of a walloping good God
did he really say that
motherfucking mouthful of meat
bad ass bitch of a poem
Know what I mean?
just as I got the paper in the machine
Della switched on “The Flintstones”
And all that came out of the typewriter
Yabba dabba doo.
from Wild Kingdom

Vampyre Mike is survived by his sister Dr. Jane Kassel and his twin nephews (born on Halloween, his favorite holiday!) Bryce and Alexander Haver of Media, Pennsylvania. Interment was in Pennsylvania and memorial services were held there and April 13th in Sutro Park, San Francisco.

His new book just published by Ajax Press is being celebrated with a posthumous book party on Saturday, May 3 at Café International, 508 Haight Street (near Haight & Fillmore) in SF, from 7-10 p.m. (415) 552-7390. Many poets will be there to commemorate his life and work and Copies of Toxic Vaudeville will be available at the event. For more info about the book see Ajax Press website .

---Whitman McGowan

What I most enjoyed about Mike was his irreverent songs. In love may he return again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

puff, puff

Yes, I'm still here. It seems that the turning of the Wheel this Spring was an especially earth-shaking one. Things are calmer now.

It helps me understand life when I view it through a lens of encounters with deity. This season I experienced two goddesses. One was Sekhmet, a healer. My friend Marilee, Her priestess, claims that Sekhmet is not the gentle, soothing kind of healer, but rather one of extreme measures. She is goddess of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, amputation. The healing I see Her having a hand in this season was one of amputation -- unfortunately, not without some collateral damage.

The other goddess who's been swirling around is Oya. She swept in like a whirlwind, blew things all around, and left them in disarray.

At this point, I'm trying to restore some semblance of order and repair the collateral damage as much as I can.

I knew when I was standing with Sekhmet that this amputation might not be a clean one, done with one mighty swing of a strong, sharpened blade. That was what I feared most about it. But I had to take the position I did, even while I remained acutely aware of, and dreading, that risk. I had not expected Oya to come swooping in Sekhmet's wake. I suppose if I'd been more prescient, I'd have anticipated it, but I didn't.

Now I appeal to bright Brigid, Whose flame tempers and Whose waters sooth.

I'm off to Dandelion, the third biennial all-Reclaiming gathering, in my home territory. Tonight we'll circle in Valley of the Moon, California, where I'll declare our intent and seal it. I love the theme: "All the Infinite Possibilities."

I'll leave early so I can participate in a day-long event organized by Don Frew. Called People of the Earth in America: Preserving Our Cultures, Building Our Community, it will take place at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio

Puffin' on down the road.....