Friday, February 29, 2008

Follow the Leader

Three days ago Chas started this:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

Lucky me was tagged by Anne. My response is:

“…We turned off the highway on to the slip road, and then off it, past a jhopadpatti, into darkness. Our beams conjured up a dusty road, trees sliding into existence and out again, it was like falling into a tunnel. I went eagerly into it. Then we took a sharp left, and the road changed, we crunched over dirt. There was a car parked at the end of the lane, and the hard black of a building through the overhanging branches, and we got out and walked towards it, around a corner, and now there was a single bulb above the door….”
~ from Sacred Games, by Vikram Chandra (of a total of a whopping 900 pp.)

To spread things around, I tag Kevin in Honolulu, Cosette in Miami, Julie in State of Jefferson, California, Brendan in Elora, Ontario, Canada, and Christopher in Ann Arbor.

The trouble with coming in late on this is that some friends you’d be likely to tag have already been tagged.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interfaith Action for Worker Justice

Yesterday morning I joined others at the Marin County Civic Center to confront the Board of Supervisors about their neglect to fix Marin's Living Wage Ordinance, guaranteeing minimum wage and health care benefits for homecare workers. The ordinance was passed a year ago, yet through administrative sleight-of-hand excludes from its protection 1,000 homecare workers. Homecare workers allow elders to stay in their homes. Shamefully, Marin, one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country, has one of the lowest pay rates for unskilled laborers* in the nine Bay Area counties.

My colleague in Marin Interfaith Council, the Rev. Pamela Griffith Pond, a Lutheran minister who heads Marin Interfaith Worker Justice, solicited help with this effort from members of MIC, and on Monday asked me if I would do a reading as part of the program. I was rushing out the door when she phoned, and I really wanted to help and was honored that she had asked, so I said yes. Then when I got home after my birthday dinner with Patrick & Barbara, Corby, my daughter Deirdre and her boyfriend Matt, I started looking for a suitable reading. Well, ya know, we Pagans don't have readings. We have no holy scripture. We have the seasons and the tides, the Wheel of the Year, the counsel of the cowry.

It was late and I was tired and I wanted to be prepared. So I surfed around the Net for inspirational material of any kind on the subject of worker justice. I found lots of practical resources for people engaged in that effort. I found lectionaries. I'd never heard the word lectionary; it's "a list or book of portions of the Bible appointed to be read at a church service." No, lectionaries wouldn't do. I combed through books on my shelves, felt too weary for inspiration. Then I decided that the best of reading from a Pagan perspective is poetry. Yet finding something both relevant and beautiful left meager pickings.

Once again, I found myself turning to my friend Patricia Monaghan's poetry, from the same collection as the poem I selected for Brigit, Seasons of the Witch.

Standing in a group near the South entrance of the Civic Center, holding signs, with people coming in and out, riding up the escalator, with blasts and other truck and traffic noise just outside the open doors, I read:

You descend the stairs at midnight.
You walk through the sleeping hours.
Light surrounds you in the silent dark.

Was it a nightmare woke you?

You pour a glass of water.
You sit by the window, beside that
cobalt vase filled with blue flowers.
Into the dark blue center of sleep
you slip again, into the blue
blackness of true forms, into
the fragmented pool of meaning.

There, on the boundary of
boundlessness, you dream
and, dreaming, remember what
you have not utterly forgotten:
how your kitchen always has at least one
witch's broomstick, how clove and garlic
are domesticated on your spicerack,
how everything has power.

But you remember only how, not
why. And so your power finds
its limits: You can raise
the bread but you cannot
tame the nightmares that
pasture in the silent house.
You have forgotten the way
to the wildness within you,
to the instinct for order.

Now as you sleep you dream
of a half-remembered house: bedraggled
as old lace, its stairs rot into wooden
filigrees, its attic suffocates in private
dust. And in its flooded basement
the rivers, the sewers of the world
breed terrifying marvels. Because
the house grows wild, disorderly, all
the gardens in the world turn treacherous
and forests strangle on themselves.

But in this house all change is possible.
Some corners--left or right, dining room
or pantry--grow shiny with significance.
A ladder leans against a wall.
Sheer white curtains billow.
A floor creaks. A door closes.

When you wake in the blue hour
before dawn, you remember
am old house with stairways that
lead to attics that connect to trees.
You remember all the paths.

And remembering, you know how
to make the necessary changes
to pull the day towards night, to
let all things revel in meaning,
dreaming the world's secrets like
the favored habitat of blueberries,
like the seasoning of rosehips,
like the uses of lichen and moss.

On a bureau you collect
a chipped mirror with a
woman's face, a stem of bed-
straw that died aslant, your
sister's candlesticks,
an old pot with a mother's
belly, a box covered with
dusty embroideries.

Then, in another room:
rocks in a spiral pattern,
a branch that sang in a
mysterious and certain way,
a whitened bone.
A gray owl feather,
a small pile of seeds.
All in a certain order.

Now, when you sleep
you build a round tower,
you cut new windows,
you carve a pool in shade.
A candle burns beside you
as you dream. It flickers
sometimes in the cool breeze.
Outside your window, a single
leaf breaks against stone
as it falls from the gnarled oak.

And you dream of being in the power
of grasses, frail patched lace,
filigree seedheads, mist of renewal,
reckless with shedding. You dream
your hair full of seeds, your hair
a cushion for seeds to rest on,
you dream you were born to move
seed to new lands, you dream
purposes and reasons, you are
full of thoughtless utility.

And sleeping there, you feel
your dream and the world's
dream join. A path stretches
out before you, the path from
childhood: at its end, a new
trees is taking root, its taproot
drinking your heart's blood.

And, when you wake and move
through the dim silent room,
you know that the wind of your
daily dance brings a storm to
an old forest on another continent,
and that the fall of its giants
leaves room for new growth.

Midnight: You open the door.
A horse comes galloping.
There are no horses where
you live. But she is there,
wearing no saddle, no reins.

With blueblack eye she invites
you. She kneels as you mount.

This is where the dream would
end, if this were a dream.
But it is not, and so
the next thing
you feel is
the rush of wind
in your hair.

* * *
Following the program, we carried our signs up the escalator and around the escalator wells while singing "Oh, when we win a living wage...When every worker has a job...When healthcare's free for you and me..." to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Pamela carried a stack of letters written to the Board in support of their putting the health care for homecare workers back on their agenda and passing the resolution they'd promised. The letters were from individuals and groups. I had mailed one a earlier. It turned out that, in spite of the fact that a Board meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday morning and that was why were were there when we were, there were no Supervisors on the premises. Pamela gave the letters and her card to the receptionist with instructions to give the letters to Supervisor Hal Brown on the labor committee.

We left the Supes' offices and filed down though the building singing another filk, then dispersed. Some of us went to the cafeteria for coffee and feedback. The discussion yielded some interesting and useful information. I found I had a lot to offer from my Pagan and activist background, tame though it may be. I found that my sense of ritual informed my observations.

At one point, I said that 'we' (meaning Pagans in general) had a few more interesting chants than the usual filk, and that one that had come to me in this situation was a chant known as "Summer Solstice Power Chant," by Starhawk. Surely many readers know it. Grace, one of the other demonstrators did. It begins, "We are the power in everyone..." and ends, "...We are the turning of the tide." I said that I was reluctant to suggest it because to me is sounded maybe a bit more je ne c'est quois than they'd want. To my surprise, they liked it. Carol, one of the home care workers, said that she was a born-again Christian and she would be happy to sing that song.

A Supervisors' meeting is now set for the same time next Tuesday, and we will repeat our protest. Pamela has more letters of support to deliver and wishes to make a public statement to all the Supervisors. In the meantime, however, our message has resulted in a meeting next Monday between Pamela and Supervisor Brown.

* Coincidentally, Marin has the lowest salaries for legal secretaries in the Bay Area as well. Legal secretaries have special skills and knowledge, far more than just typing letters. I'm sensitive to this because I was a single mother trying to make ends meet as a legal secretary in the '80s and '90s. In order to reduce the constant stress of paying bills by triage method, to earn a decent salary, I ended up commuting back to San Francisco and leaving my latchkey child on her own more than I would have liked.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Birthday Brag

Today's my birthday, a significant on this year -- I got my Medicare card. Of all the people I share this birthday with, my favorite is the late George Harrison; we were born the same day and year.

What I'm going to brag about is the panel I put together for PantheaCon. Titled "When We Call, Who Comes?" we were scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, the first sessions, when most Con-goers hadn't arrived yet. Nevertheless, our room was full to overcrowding.

Nothing by way of set-up that I'd asked for on my application way back in October was in place. No two tables and five chairs for panelists, no two mikes, no pitchers of water and glasses. Just a room with rows of chairs facing one wall. Early arrivals helped set us up as best we could. It's just amazing to me that you are asked to list all requirements for your presentation (no one under 18; chairs or not; closed after session begins; projectors; screens; mikes; etc.) in October, when you get on site four whole months later in February, nothing has been done by of making those accommodations.

I had wanted the panel to be comprised of Pagans I knew to be bright and accomplished, to have depth and vision, and to have thought on matters thea/ological. Not necessarily to have resolved them to their own or anyone else's satisfaction; just to have a broad knowledge of theology, and Pagan approaches to theology.

My dear friend Michael York, having authored Pagan Theology, was an obvious choice for me. Plus it was his first time at PantheaCon, and he happens to teach at Cherry Hill Seminary. When Michael spoke at CoG's annual Leadership Institute (which was also CHS' Summer Intensive) last August, there were those who took issue with some of what Michael says in that book, so I chose someone I thought might offer a stimulating contrast, Gus diZerega, a prolific writer whose Pagans and Christians has proven a useful book for those engaged in interfaith dialogue. Dr. York is a sociologist retired from university teaching. Dr. diZerega's field of study is political science.

Since many Pagans, including myself, are goddess-oriented, I had planned on having two women. Anne Hill, D.Min. from University of Creation Spirituality (now Wisdom University), author, musician, poet and writer, agreed. I was unable to contact Brandy Williams, my other choice, and a pioneer in feminist Thelema,. (I knew she planned to be at the Con, but as it turned out she was only there for her own presentation on Sunday evening and not for any of the rest of the time.) So at the last minute my friend Tony Mierzwicki*, author of Graeco-Egyptian Magick: Everyday Empowerment, a Graeco-Egyptian reconstructionist whose academic background is in mathematics, gamely stepped in. I knew his perspective would be a welcome one among us mostly witchen-centric speakers.

Three of the four panelists teach or have taught -- and will again -- at Cherry Hill Seminary. In fact, I later heard people speaking of the panel as "the Cherry Hill Seminary panel." Nice, but it was mine. I did it for my own pleasure and enlightenment, and to get us thinking together about thea/ology. Not with the goal of reaching a mutually agreeable definition, not to make any kind of pronouncement, not to declare dogma. Instead, to explore, to process our thoughts, feelings and experiences as NeoPagans, of whatever stripe.

All my likely videographers fell through. I was lucky at the last minute to find Steve from the WitchSchool to record it. I'm eager to see what he got.

We were a bit slow catching fire, but catch fire we did. Not as in conflagration, rather more as warm enthusiasm. Once we got rolling, hands arose throughout the audience. I wasn't able to call on everyone whose hand was raised, but we did manage to hear from several people. Another friend, Sam Webster,** in particular challenged and encouraged us. I thank him here for some insights I gained from what he had to say.

I can't say much more and do justice to all the gems that were proffered. We'll have to wait for the video and/or a transcript. Time flew by and the room buzzed with excitement. We all had so much more to say, so much more to explore. I'm hoping to convene more panels when opportunities to do so present themselves. Perhaps at Starwood? Perhaps at Dandelion 3. Perhaps at PantheaCon '09.

All this success reinforces my desire to build the best Public Ministry programs for Pagans that I can at CHS. I do plan to include courses dealing with thea/ology. We already have a course called "World Religions from a Pagan Perspective" taught by Michael York.

My brag? I can put together a kick-ass panel, and I proved it again this time. I love hanging out with smart Pagans!

* Tony and his sweetie Jo were married on Valentine's Day. They exchanged rings made by Priest of Brigit, goldsmith Patrick McCollum, who also officiated. Their marriage was witnessed by Holli Emore and myself. It was a great way to start the long weekend.

** Sam and his wife Tara used to put on formal symposia called Pagani Soteria, where prepared speakers had a limited time to respond to the same question. They, too, were great fun. I was honored to speak at two of them.

Friday, February 22, 2008

More Photos

Here's another to which I was alerted by a Witch in South Carolina. We're doing our opening routine, "We represent the Besom Brigade...." to the tune of the Munchkin song from The Wizard of Oz. I expect more photos and will continue to post them as I learn of or receive them.*

Photo by Gary Mattingly. More here.

* I'm available to teach these routines in person.

Another One

Here's another short YouTube of our pentacle being formed and lifted. I don't know why they're two separate clips.

Here It Is!

WOW Besom Brigade performing at PantheaCon on Sunday, February 17, 2008, DoubleTree Hotel, San Jose, CA. This is only fewer than 30 seconds of a longer performance, but I feel lucky we got anything at all. I think the woman heard the commotion in the lobby and dashed towards it with her camera.

Here are two photos sent to me by Minnha, taken by her friend, Cynthia Larsen.

Here we are displaying our broom pentacle, except that
you can't see the star in this photo. Minnha flying towards
the viewer, followed by me in gray vest, then Toad.

Toad and Minnha marching in formation.

I'm hoping other photographers will post or send photos. I know there were lots. (Gary M?)

An odd thing about the besom brigade: I would think doing this would appeal to any able-bodied Witch with a sense of humor, one who doesn't take herself too seriously. Even so, we attract few, if any, younger folks, and seem to be comprised of grey-haired women and gay men. Minnha is an exception. Malendia, who practiced with us but couldn't be there for our performance, is also an exception. Michele Mueller and a few other younger women have marched with us occasionally. But overall, we tend to be hags and fags. And, boy, do we have fun!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Two Days Post-Con

I emailed the woman who said she was going to post her video of the Besom Brigade on YouTube, still no response. I'm so eager to see it! In a weekend full of highlights, performing in the WOW Besom Brigade with Victoria, Prudence Priest, Julie Epona, Minnha, Gary Suto, and Toad was one of the biggest. Malendia rehearsed with us, but couldn't stay until our Monday performance. Prudence, Victoria and I had all done it before and knew just how much fun it can be. Minha was new and loved it. I've know Gary and Toad for a long time, but this was the first time we were all in the same place at the same time and could do this together. Both have plenty of theatrical experience. Toad contributed some great new steps and gestures that really added to the polish or our routines.

When we marched through the hotel hallways and arrived at the big lobby area, this huge cheer erupted from the crowd. No one could have made her way through the lobby while we were performing because the social area in front of the fireplace, the various clusters of chairs for conversation, the open hotel bar area, and all the space around the central lobby was lined with people, sitting, standing, filling every square inch, and cheering riotously.

Cameras flashing everywhere, we made nary a mistake. Now if I could only get some photos to show you -- and to see myself.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Immediately Post-Con

Just back from PantheaCon today.  One of the best in my experience.  So much to tell.

We began with our (CHS') first pre-Con Winter Intensive, a day-long series of workshops on Growing a Pagan Nonprofit.  Daily posts about the WI and the first days of the Con are here.  

I'm impatient to get the video of our WOW Besom Brigade performance at midday Sunday.  Will post link the minute I get it.  I'll also have a few photos when I can find the cord to download them from my camera.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Yes, We Can!

I guess I'm not a typical Obama supporter: (a) I'm not young and starry-eyed; (2) I'm not a new voter; I have voted in every election since 1964 when I became eligible to vote (you had to be 21 back then); and (3) I've consider myself a dedicated feminist since Second Wave Feminism came on the scene in the late '60s and early '70s.

I would love to have a woman president. I cried when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for VP in 1984. I campaigned for the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in her 1972 bid for the presidency.

I've read both of Barack Obama's books. I find him intelligent, articulate, and reflective, qualities not common to all candidates. I've been working on his campaign here in Marin County since April.

I don't agree with him on every issue. For instance, I do not support the death penalty under any circumstances. I do not support nuclear power or ethanol fuel. I do not think his health care plan is the best. I do not think insurance companies should be involved at all. However, I do think he's approachable and educable when it comes to some of these issues.

I don't think that changing one's mind equates with being wishy-washy. I think open-minded people can change their minds when they're given additional information or persuasive arguments. I respect people who change their minds for good reasons, not just because the direction of prevailing political winds have changed.

While it's true that he may not know, as Hillary supposedly does, "where all the bodies are buried," as one of my Feri friends puts it, I still think he knows how to communicate with people with different points of view.

I consider him very liberal, yet he doesn't threaten more conservative folks. That's why so many centrists are comfortable voting for him.

His campaign has helped to mobilize so many young people and minorities to register and vote that I think that can only be a Good Thing.

On election day I stood at the freeway entrance waving signs for Obama with a 22-year-old woman and two musicians from the Freeway Philharmonic. The young woman, Emily, a Michigan native, had just moved here from North Carolina where she been graduated from college. Emily told me she felt this was the most important election in her lifetime. I've heard many other young people say the same. I feel this this may be the most important election in my lifetime as well.

I choose hope over fear and I support Barack Obama for President

Friday, February 08, 2008

Is Time Accelerating?

Does it feel to you as though the whole world is whizzing by while you're standing trying to keep your balance? It feels that way to me. Especially in the context of contemporary Paganism. What is it? Is it getting completely absorbed into the overculture? Is is selling out? Is it so trendy now that it's lost its edge? I have no answers, just lots of perplexity.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Poem for the Feast of Brigit

Much as poetry makes my heart sing, it's not my gift. So in honor of my friend Oak's call for poetry in honor of the Feast of Shining Brigit, I've chosen a poem by one of my favorite poets, one I'm happy to call a dear friend and mentor, Patricia Monaghan. This is from her collection, Seasons of the Witch.

Praisesong for Her

She is a tree in a circle of stones.
She is a crossroad at noon.
She is a breeze in the red mountain ash.

She is a hill on a night without stars.
She is a tear of the sun.
She is the moon on the ripening grass.

She is a hawk in the circling sky.
She is the eye of a hound.
She is a fish in the river of glass.

She is a berry of red mountain ash.
She is a seed of bright grasses.
She is a stone in the river of glass.

She is the sigh as time passes.

May the blessings of bright Brigit shower you with light!