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.