Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jai Ma Kali!

It's been way too long since I celebrated the New Moon by attending a Kali puja. Last night I did, and it was an exceptionally good one. There were eight musicians and three kirtan singers, taking turns. There were the man and woman who are always there, both of whom sing, while she plays harmonium and he plays tabla. Behind them a man played drone on tambura. Another harmonium player sang kirtans. The man who was with her played a long drone instrument that sounded kind of like a didjeridu but I don't think it was. It was about 5' long and painted with bright colors and sigils of some kind. I couldn't see close enough to figure out what they were. Then another man came and joined on his dumbek, while another woman played zils. The music was just great. The only other worshippers were the female pujari -- is that the proper term for a woman performing that role? -- and me. I clapped and chanted.

Ma drew me deep into Her image and we smiled. I just love her intense eyes and the cute way she sticks out Her tongue. (The primary image we use is a large color photograph of Kali from the Dakshineswar Temple in Kolkata/Calcutta/Kali's land.) She's made it clear that She wants me back as an active worshipper.

Jai Ma! Jai, jai Ma! Jai Kali Ma! Jai, jai Kali Ma!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

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This morning Corby and I drove to the Lafayette BART station to participate in a rite honoring Pagan service-people who've died in war.

The Lafayette War Memorial in itself is a deeply felt and important phenomenon. I guess you could call it conceptual art if you're on the highbrow side, or folk art in its spontaneity, simplicity and roughness. Erected in 2006 on private property by anti-war activist Jeff Heaton, the memorial evokes emotion for all sides of the political spectrum. See photos here of how it looked a few years ago. As we drove up in view of it today, we gasped at how much it's grown.

In 2007, when Pagans won the right to have a pentacle inscribed on the gravestones of military casualties, the Pagan Alliance performed a ritual there in which we placed pentacles in honor of individuals on the crosses. Today you can see crescents, Stars of David, Buddhist wheels, rainbows, tile and mirror work on the markers, and flower offerings.

Victoria spoke about the lives of each person newly honored this year, within a circle and in the presence of Mars, Athena, Freyja, and Hestia, who'd been summoned by Brighde Indigo.

Druid Jim Bianchi addressed the Quarters in closing.

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Note: Please forgive the inelegance of this layout. This blog program has its limitations.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Truckin' Along

Last week Thorn Coyle interviewed me for her podcast Elemental Castings. During the interview I was feeling clumsy and inarticulate, but when I listened to it I found it was better than I'd expected. I would add to my closing remarks the word "engagement." Listening is great, but you can't really do it if you don't remain engaged. I wish to see Pagans cultivate and foster an ethics of service. Thanks to Thorn for the opportunity reflect openly with her on these ideas of what we think can enrich Paganism and contribute to its viability, maturity and sustainability.

Along the lines of what we were discussing, community, I neglected to mention a phenomenon that was brought to my attention by religious scholar Dr. Nikki Bado-Fralick, a member of the Board of Directors of Cherry Hill Seminary. That phenomenon is what she called "the Protestantization of religion." As I understand it, that is the adoption, by religious communities that are new to the U.S., of the forms of organization that Protestant churches use. For instance, rabbis, who traditionally were commentators and interpreters of Torah and Jewish law, now also assume "clergy-ship," in the sense that they may be responsible for the administration of the temple, visiting the sick, crisis counseling, etc.

Yesterday I spent a few hours with my friend Luanne (Lulu), who has been overcoming leukemia. She's doing well. She and her partner, Urania, have a lush garden bursting with California poppies, deep purple irises, columbines, sweet peas, jasmine, grapes, and many different kinds of roses that look gorgeous and smell even better. The garden, often visited by their neighbor's cat Tigre, seems a restorative place for her to recover. (Too bad I didn't have my camera with me.)

At yesterday's Justice Advocacy Team of Marin Interfaith Council we continued our discussions about how to serve the wider community when we are strained for funds and the government and other social service organizations are not serving those affected by these issues either. The current California statewide election highlights this. Government officials seem reluctant to fund such efforts and/or do not have the necessary funds in their budgets. I resent the many thousands of dollars the state doesn't have being expended to conduct this election, when we already have elected a Senate, an Assembly and a Governor to run our state.

We are now seeing the predictable results of the passage about 30 years ago of the conservative Jarvis-Gann Initiative, Proposition 13. That law reduces and limits property taxes. So now we are faced with workforce reductions in every area of government: schools, hospitals and health care, social services, environmental conservation efforts, parks and recreation, law enforcement, fire protection, prison housing and administration, you name it. For a state that prides itself on its forward-thinking, this is a shameful state of affairs. As prosperous as the state has been, especially in the areas of agriculture, computer science, and entertainment, we have the awful distinction of sharing the lowest cost-per-student educational funding with several poor Southern states. We are 49 out of 50 in funding our schools!

Friday, May 15, 2009


I need to take the opportunity to use this forum to gripe about folks, especially Pagans, who use black or dark backgrounds. I cannot read them. Jason Pitzl-Waters turned me on to a little thingy that you can download with which you can eliminate the black ground. But I just have to say that when I encounter them, they are a big turnoff and unless I really, really, really want to know what the person is saying, I just navigate from that page straightaway. They are proven harder to read.

While I'm at it, what's with this itty bitty typeface I find on so many websites? It's friggin' microscopic. I have to click the "make text bigger" feature two, sometimes three, times before I can read them.

Now I know that my eyesight isn't as sharp as it was when I was younger. I wear specs to compensate for that.

An don't get me going on those MySpace pages that are so full of clutter and cutsy that they're basically unreadable. I've abandoned MySpace in favor of FaceBook for that kind of time-sucker. (I confess I do avoid work by messing around on FB.)

I know I speak for many of my friends and colleagues when I say that we aging Pagans would appreciate it if people who'd like us to visit their sites would kindly make them more easily readable.

There! Now I feel better.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

National Day of Prayer -- Interfaith

I know there's been lots of fuss this year about the National Day of Prayer. I know that Christians feel they own it. President Obama has chosen not to honor it in the White House this year, which I think is the correct response. Americans United in particular has campaigned against it.

That said, however, for the past several years I've had a most positive experience attending the Marin Interfaith Prayer Breakfast sponsored by Marin Interfaith Council. The only year I missed it was when the first Thursday of May was Beltane. I wouldn't miss it for any other reason.

Held in a large meeting room* at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael (reformed), this year we had three speakers from three different traditions offering prayers as they traditionally do them. Dominican Sister Marion Irving (whom I've frequently mentioned) opened the gathering, asking people to speak of what they prayed for: peace, shelter for the homeless, end to the troubles in Darfur, President Obama, food for the hungry, ease for those giving birth, ease for those passing from life, healing for the sick, the well-being and healing of inmates, pure drinking water, etc. Who could argue with those goals? Cantor David Margules sang the opening prayer in Hebrew.

I'm comfortable enough now with my colleagues at MIC that it didn't bother me as much that they spoke of God, the Creator and Jesus. They don't overdo it. Plus, the people at our table were very interested to learn from me more about Paganism. Several others who'd attended Carol** and Chris' wedding the previous Saturday told me how they enjoyed the spiral dance and song.

In my experience, when prayer gatherings are made in good faith by caring people in the context of inter-religious dialogue and understanding, with open hearts and minds aspiring towards a commonweal, only good can come from it. If prayers, spells, desires, wishes, goals, outcomes are reinforced by such activities, so much the better. If not, what harm can it do?

The food was healthy and plentiful. The room was nearly full, probably the largest attendance we've had. We dined at round tables, where we discussed two questions: "What role does meditation or prayer play in your faith tradition, or in your own spiritual practice?" and "How do you experience individual and communal prayers/meditation in your religious community?" I was a table captain this year, to keep the conversation on topic and to be sure that everyone had a chance to express her/himself. Among the others at our table was a Protestant (she defined herself that way loosely), two Friends, and a young woman who is seeking, and also taking a priestess training with the Fellowship of Isis at Isis Oasis. Fortuitously, she sat next to me.

We heard three speakers, beginning with Swami Vedandanda of the Vedanta Society (Hindu). Swami Vedandanda co-taught one of MIC's quarterly retreats, with a Buddhist practitioner, at their retreat in Olema, so I had some familiarity with his tradition's teachings.

Rabbi Chai Levy of Congregation Kol Shofar (conservative) seems to be a woman of accomplishment. In addition to promoting the inclusion of praise for the foremothers of Judaism, she espouses s form of consumption called "ecokosher," meaning that animals are raised humanely (free range chickens, for instance), slaughtered humanely, and not wrapped in toxic, non-biodegradable plastics.

Father Stephan Meholick of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (Christian) explained some of the history, belief and practices of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In addressing the need for community, Fr. Meholick quoted one of his church's elders when he stated, "Personal prayer is possible only in community."

This inherent need for community is something I've been giving a lot of thought in relation to our growing Pagan population. I've been comparing my own experiences with community, in my childhood churches, in my adult involvement in various communities, religious and otherwise, and in communities around me. Some seem healthy. Most experience disagreement, internal strife, breakdown, collapse, schism, renewal, restructuring and/or revival at various points in their existence. How can these lessons from other groups help nascent Pagan communities? Can they be avoided? What binds us? Well, I leave my pondering for another time. In the meantime, maybe we Pagans could learn something from the Eastern Orthodox traditions that seem to get along; talk about various orthodoxies -- Moscow Patriarchate, Carpatho Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Antiochan Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Jerusalem Patriarchate, Bulgarian Orthodox, Macedonian, Romanian, Indian, International, Non-Chalcedonian -- whew!

Father Meholick and a colleague of his from a related tradition sang polyphonic prayers. He said they're practices were similar and that their prayers were close enough that they could enhance the prayers by singing them together. They really sounded beautiful.

Fr. Meholick mentioned that in his tradition they use rosaries, but that the beads are made of wool or leather instead of wood, stone, glass, bone or plastic, so that when you go into one of their sanctuaries, you don't hear the clicking often heard in Roman Catholic churches. He told us that the (Serbian? Latvian?) word they use for rosary means "ladder." I know of liberal Protestant churches that say and use rosaries based on the Maiden-Mother-Crone concept found in much of Paganism. I know of at least two Pagan rosarian traditions, one being that of the Church of Asphodel, and another created by Donald L. Engstrom-Reese. I've seriously considered using a rosary, most likely with Bridget as my focus. I've gone so far as to acquire 39 beads in three colors for three aspects in sets of 13, but haven't settled on exact prayer(s) nor found the right separator/goddess beads.

When I went to greet and say goodbye to Sister Marion, she wanted me to refresh her memory of the song we sang at the wedding. She said she'd had it running through her head ever since. It's not a well known Pagan chant, but I'll offer it here in case you're curious. The author of the lyrics is that old prolific Anonymous; the music is by Bone Blossom. She wrote it back when we were Holy Terrors together.

There's a part of the Sun in an apple,
There's a part of the Moon in a rose,
A part of the flaming Pleiades in every leaf that grows.

Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has recorded it on one of their albums, if you want to hear it sung.

* It's worth mentioning that the room in which we met was offered as a shelter one night a week, and at other times for dining, to homeless men and women of Marin during the cold winter months. Governor Schwarzenegger opened the Armory for one month only this winter. Thereafter, various congregations, from the most fundamentalist Christian to the most liberal religious congregations, rotated opening their buildings until April 30. MIC has been urging the County Board of Supervisors for permanent shelter for the homeless.

** The Rev. Carol Hovis, M.Div., Director of Marin Interfaith Council

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

More May Day Merriment

On Saturday I led a spiral dance at the conclusion of the wedding of my friends Carol and Chris. Carol is the Executive Director of Marin Interfaith Council. Other officiants were a non-denominational Protestant/Buddhist (who also happens to be a doula), the abbess of Green Gulch Zen Center, a rabbi, and me. One of the ushers was my friend Sister Marion, a Dominican nun. (Her photo is about halfway down the page.) This article tells you what kind of woman she is, and also includes quote about her from Carol, Saturday’s bride.

Her groom, Chris Highland, is what I call post-Christian; he calls himself a freethinker. He used to be a minister to the poor and homeless in the streets of San Rafael and chaplain at the Marin County Jail. He had a crisis of faith and went off to surrender to Nature as his teacher.

The ceremony was supposed to take place in the rose garden at Green Gulch Farm, but since it was pouring rain, we held it in the zendo, an old hay barn.

Even though the dance didn’t really actually work (as a spiral in and out) due to the size and configuration of the space I had to work in and the number of people in that tight space, everyone loved the song and sang it well and smiled at each other and really loved doing it. Lots of people thanked me. One told me that it was way more fun than a receiving line. There were lots of folks there from MIC who’d only known me in meetings and knew nothing of Paganism. So this was a great opportunity to show us at our best and contribute to the interfaith movement. I’m grateful to Carol and Chris for the opportunity.

Anyway, the big surprise to me was that they were gonna pay me! It never occurred to me that they’d pay me to do something so cool. They asked me what name to put on the check, and I told them if they insisted on paying me, to please give the money to Cherry Hill Seminary — not that I couldn’t use it, mind you. They’re off to Kauai for their honeymoon. When they return, if not sooner, they’ll either be sending me a check or donating directly online (which you readers can do by clicking on the link to CHS in this paragraph).

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On Sunday Anne Hill hosted her twentieth annual Beltane party. The weather had been inclement all weekend, but the sun came out enough on Sunday for us to dance the Maypole -- the one Corby cut a few years ago, which gets shorter each year as the bottom decomposes in the soil.

Her yard was full of California poppies. There was no way to dance without tromping on them. It pained me. Some people consider them weeds because they grow all over -- they're our California state flower -- but I've noticed a diminishment* of them the last couple of years and that distresses me.

Victoria took these photos. That's Kore in the fedora, Anne in the flowered blouse, Corby in purple, and me in pink -- very unusual for me.

Below the last few folks who still have ribbons are winding it down.

* That's not a word in the dictionary, but it works so I'm using it. Consider it coined.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Merry May!

Corby and I are just back from singing up the Sun with the Berkeley Morris Dancers at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park, followed by breakfast at Vicki and Shelby' house. Not only did this lovely photo arrive in my email from my friend Victoria, but I also learned that our book, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, is now being published in Czech. Yay! Another international publication.

On another very important note, Cherry Hill Seminary's annual fund-raising is in full swing. We cannot fulfill our mission without the help of donors. One of our Board members, Jason Pitzl-Waters, owner of The Wild Hunt blog, has this to say. Please take his words to heart and open your purse.

Merry May and Blessed Beltane to all!