Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Greg Bunker, Mensch

Gregory Bunker
September 3, 1948 - December 29, 2010

I was shocked to receive a call today from my sister Catherine telling me that our friend Greg had suffered a massive heart attack yesterday while vacationing with his wife, Stephanie, in Santa Barbara. She said Greg's two sons, one of his sisters, and Stephanie's sister were all on their way there, but that last rites were being performed, and the situation did not look good.

I immediately lit my Brigit candle and said an urgent prayer for Greg. By evening, Catherine called to say Greg had crossed over. What a sweet man he was, and what a great loss his death is to those who loved him, and to many he served.

Greg used to drink too much and eat too much, but in recent years he had been sober, dieting, and had gone back to college, where he'd been earning straight A's. His major, "Organizational Behavior & Leadership," could only enhance his work as Executive Director of Francis House, a counseling and resource center for poor individuals and families in Sacramento. Here's an article on Greg's passing from the Sacramento Bee.

Greg grew up in Ohio, one of eight children in a big Catholic family, then served in Vietnam in his young adult years. I'm so glad he was one of the fortunate soldiers who returned alive. I suspect his experiences in Vietnam influenced his choice of profession, since he undoubtedly had a lot of sympatico with the many homeless who are veterans of that war and whom Francis House serves.

Greg also served on the Board of Safe Ground Sacramento, "protecting the human rights of homeless people."

I remember when Stephanie met Greg and then fell in love. I remember their wedding on the banks of the Sacramento River when my Deirdre was a toddler. I remember once, when my late husband, Rod Wolfer, and I had a big party in our flat on the Mason Street cable car line in North Beach and someone had called the police about the noise. This was during the years when the TV show "All in the Family" was popular. I remember looking over the railing down into the stairwell where Greg was talking to the cops. They asked his name and he answered "Greg Bunker." For some reason his surname had never registered with me, although I undoubtedly knew it, so when he gave that name to the policeman, I laughed, thinking it was a fake name in homage to the character Archie Bunker.

This photo of Greg and Catherine was taken on Christmas Day, only four days before his passing.

Greg and Stephanie, although not technically blood relatives, were, and are, a part of our family. We have celebrated weddings and births and memorials together. He leaves to mourn him his wife Stephanie, sons Jesse and Simon, siblings, and a host of others whose lives were enriched by having known him.

Gregory wasn't Jewish and neither am I, but Greg was the kind of man the Yiddish word "mensch" was meant to describe: a stand-up guy who always made you feel good to be around, always smiling and caring. In love may he return again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Midwinter Reflections: Light in the Dark

My local interfaith group, Marin Interfaith Council, created a Winter Interfaith Service to share the celebrations of various member organizations that take place in the winter months. When the director asked me to share a ‘teaching’ from my religious tradition, I had to really think about what a teaching would be like from a Pagan perspective. It got me to thinking about light, which, after all, is what this season is all about – the waning and return of the light.

In our modern world, we tend to take light for granted. We’re used to living constantly amidst all manner of human-made lights. We seldom reflect on the fact that for most of human history our only sources of light came from the sky and from fire. We easily forget that there was a time when torches were a new invention, oil lamps were valued possessions, and chandlers toiled so people could see in the night by candlelight.

Our ancestors bedded down at nightfall, for the most part. Of necessity they lived their lives finely attuned to Nature’s cycles – of light and dark, then later the cycles of sowing and reaping. They knew that their lives depended upon the Sun, so they created rituals to ensure its annual return.

In fact, marking the return of the light was so important to them that at least 5,000 years ago some of our Western European ancestors built megaliths such as Brugh na Bóinne in Ireland and Maes Howe in Scotland. Brugh na Boinne, or Newgrange, is a mound near the Boinne River (named for Boann, a cow goddess) comprised of a passage leading to inner chambers carved with spiral designs. The builders constructed the mound so that the light of the rising Sun on Midwinter morning shines a shaft of sunlight deep inside to illuminate the innermost chambers. Although only a limited number of people can experience this remarkable occurrence from within the mound, today, in the cyber age, millions of viewers can see this phenomenon live on Solstice morn from anywhere in the world via webcams placed inside the mounds.*

Some ancestors decorated their dwellings with evergreens; they cut a tree and decorated its branches with twinkling little candles. Today, if we’re ecologically minded as we should be, we use strings of LED lights. This tree represented the World Tree that unites the Underworld, the Middle World, and the Upper World, and it never dies.

I think humans are hard-wired to gather around fires, especially during the long nights of Winter. Other ancestors gathered round a Yule log -- Yule is a Scandinavian word usually taken to mean “wheel” -- to keep warm through the cold longest night of the year as they sat together, while bards and elders told stories, musicians played and people sang and danced, ate and drank.

Somewhat like the Salvation Army and other charities do today for those with fewer means, the poorer folk trekked from household to household, singing wassail songs in exchange for hot wassail and bread or other food.

We Pagans, at least the majority of us, view the Winter Solstice as the night when our Great Mother labors to bring forth the reborn Sun God. We see in images of Mary and the baby Jesus something ancient and primal, an icon that speaks to us.

In my tradition, we gather on the beach at sunset on the longest night of the year, and as the Sun goes down over the waves, we all plunge into the ocean as a ritual purification; then return to warm up at the big waiting bonfire in the sand.

Later we return to homes, often lots of us in one home, where we sing Yule carols, light candles, drink hot brews. We feast and eat Sun cookies the children have baked. We gather near the fireplace telling and listening to stories, playing games, perhaps doing divination.

As dawn approaches, we go outside and gather in the high places around the Bay Area and sing and sing and sing up the Sun – often in the rain, but always we can see the lightening skies.

When we perform these acts – when we sing the carols, trim our trees, light candles – we reenact the things our ancestors did, we reconnect with them, and we honor our heritage. Celebrating Midwinter together allows us to reaffirm the continuance of life.

In the spirit of the season, I’d like to teach you a little chant as a Yule gift from Pagans to the interfaith community. The words are by American poet e.e. cummings. I don’t know who made a chant of those words, but we have been using them for the past 30-plus years and it seems to be working fine.

i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth**

* Webcams have been mounted in these megaliths in years past. People are chosen by lottery to have the privilege of being inside the mound at sunrise.
** Unfortunately, I don't have the expertise yet to record this chant to share it here.

I wish all a joyous Solstice, warmed by the loving hearts of friends and family and a toasty fire.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Gift from My CHS Class

I'm taking a course at Cherry Hill Seminary called "A Saunter with John Muir and Walt Whitman--The Poetry and Politics of Nature." The instructor, Chris Highland, asked us to choose a poem from Whitman's Leaves of Grass to reflect upon. I happened upon this one, written in 1856, and it blew my mind, so I want to share it here.

Unfolded Out of the Folds

Unfolded out of the folds of the woman man comes unfolded,

and is always to come unfolded,

Unfolded only out of the superbest woman of the earth is to

come the superbest man of the earth,

Unfolded out of the friendliest woman is to come the

friendliest man,

Unfolded only out of the perfect body of a woman can a man

be form'd of perfect body,

Unfolded only out of the inimitable poems of woman can

comes the poems of man, (only thence have my poems come;)

Unfolded out of the strong and arrogant woman I love, only

thence can appear the strong and arrogant man I love,

Unfolded by brawny embraces from the well-muscled woman

I love, only thence come the brawny embraces of the


Unfolded out of the folds of the woman's brain come all the

folds of the man's brain, duly obedient,

Unfolded out of the justice of the woman all justice is


Unfolded out of the sympathy of the woman is all sympathy;

A man is a great thing upon the earth and through eternity,

but every jot of the greatness of man is unfolded out of


First the man is shaped in the woman, he can then be shaped

in himself.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

International Day of Peace, and Then Some

Yesterday I set out to attend the re-dedication of the peace pole on the campus of Dominican University. Our local Dominican Sisters, colleagues in Marin Interfaith Council, do this each year. In the past, when my friend Sister Marion headed the order's Social Justice Committee, I have been an active participant. This year, when the event was announced at an MIC clergy luncheon, I spoke with Sister Marion, who's now retired, about participating; she said that whoever was in charge had already formulated all their plans and that I should just show up. Well, I did, but, I'm embarrassed to say, I had written the event in my calendar as taking place at noon when in fact it began at 11 am. So I arrived just as they were concluding.

In 1981, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution declaring an International Day of Peace, and in 2001, it adopted the resolution declaring September 21 of each year International Day of Peace. This year's theme is "Youth for Peace and Development."

Since its inception, Peace Day has marked our personal and planetary progress towards peace. It has grown to include millions of people in all parts of the world, and each year events are organized to commemorate and celebrate this day. Events range in scale from private gatherings to public concerts and forums [sic] where hundreds of thousands of people participate. Anyone, anywhere, can celebrate Peace Day.

International Day of Peace is also a Day of Ceasefire -- a day in which armed conflict is meant to be stilled; a day on which we appeal to combatants to observe a ceasefire; a day on which we reaffirm a commitment to non-violence and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Last night I missed most of the nightly news I usually watch, but I suspect there were hostile engagements taking place yesterday in spite of the best intentions of those of us who seek to promote peaceful resolutions to conflict.

What was extra special about this year's ceremony was that the words that roughly translate to "May peace prevail on Earth" in the local Coast Miwok** language were to be added. "Hiya aa puli suta weyyatto."* The pole was blessed by the Coast Miwok and all others who were there. Until yesterday, the pole bore those words in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic.***

The assembled people exchanged peace greetings in Arabic: As-salaam aleikhum, Wa-Leikhum As-salaam; Hebrew: Shalom aleichem, Alechem shalom; Serbo-Croatian: Mir nek bude tebi, Nek tebi bud emir; Chinese: Hun pink ban sway nee, Ban sway nee huh ping; Masai/African: Wenna kanta laf-fi, Laf-fi la Bumbu ("God gives peace. Peace is something special."); German: Frie de sei mit Dir, Und mit Dir sei Frie-de; and Coast Miwok: Puli sutammi mikkoni.

In addition to offering prayers for peace from different religious traditions, people sang several songs from song sheets provided by the Sisters. There were the usual, such as "Let There Be Peace on Earth,"to the Pagan-ish "Circle Round," by Linda Hirschhorn, to the utterly wonderful John Lennon song, "Imagine." This last included an additional verse written by fifth grade students at Cornell School in Albany, California.

Imagine that our leaders
Would listen to our voices
And instead of riches
They cared about our choices
Imagine all the people
Caring for the earth...
There is good news in that even though I was late arriving I did meet someone I had hoped to meet there. She is Joanne Campbell, a Tribal Council Elder with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Graton Rancheria is comprised of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo peoples. I invited her to participate in the third annual People of the Earth conference at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio of San Francisco in November.**** As soon as I have more concrete information to give her, I'll follow up on this invitation.

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael's report on this event, with lots of photos, is here.

* * * * * * * * * *

During the afternoon I attended Marin Interfaith Council's Annual Meeting, where we did a lot of thanking of various individuals for their work,reviewed the budget, and officially installed Fu Schroeder of Green Gulch Zen Center as MIC's representative to the Marin Community Foundation.

* The "s" in the word "suta" should be underlined, not an option in this blog program.

** Coast Miwok people greeted Francis Drake when he first landed on the shores of Marin County in 1579 and other Europeans who entered what it now San Francisco Bay. See "Big Time."

*** While we American Pagans all speak English, and most perform their rites in that language, given the spirit of the annual re-dedication, I would imagine the sisters might consider adding these words of peace in Gaelic, assuming some Druid group involved in interfaith activities were to propose it.

**** Unfortunately, there is no announcement on the ICP website nor any flier for this yet. Watch my FaceBook page for updates.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Ruminations on Pagan 'Clergy'

I was rooting around in some of my old writings and discovered this. Originally drafted in 2004 when I was functioning as the chair of the Public Ministry Department of Cherry Hill Seminary, this piece speaks to my ongoing concerns about the growth of the Pagan movement, as I call the entire phenomenon. Since 2004, CHS has undergone changes in emphases and goals, most significantly in its pursuit of accreditation from the DETC (Distance Education and Training Council). However, my essential concerns remain, and require frequent review and re-evaluation. I welcome your comments on this important topic.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

As a Pagan, I feel it's paramount that we define ourselves rather than leaving that to sociologists, journalists and others. I admit to a mistrust of what I call the 'overculture' - the mainstream, linear-thinking, rational, American consumer culture. We can take from the overculture that which suits our religions, but we don't have to parrot it in everything we do. So even though I'm helping to establish a public ministry program at a Pagan seminary, the goal of which is to offer ordination to Pagan 'clergy,' I don't feel comfortable with the terms ministry, seminary, and most especially, clergy.

What most Pagans do in our spiritual practices is (to make a verb of a noun) 'priest/ess.' In my tradition, the term “to priestess” describes what a priest/ess is doing when performing or conducting ritual. Priest/ess is a role one assumes in that context.

But the world changes, and Paganism, as a living religion, changes with it. Today we see more Pagans offering rituals and other religious practices to the public, although many of us traditionally have practiced in private and continue to do so. Moving from working with a close, intimate bonded group of friends to working with people we may not know at all changes what we do and how we do it. So we need to rethink how we present ritual to others -- to the public and to non-initiates of initiatory traditions. Performing these public celebrations is the work of clergy.

Pagans are assuming many other roles that in the overculture are customarily performed by clergy. We are serving as chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military. These roles require special knowledge and skills. We officiate at people's rites of passage -– naming ceremonies, coming-of-age rituals, weddings, elderings, funerals, and memorials. These are all 'clergy' roles; they may or may not be priest/ess roles as well. The rituals themselves are 'priest/essed' but they may or may not also include such things as premarital counseling or grief counseling.

We are called upon to speak, to give interviews to media, and to address college classes. We are better served if we have some skill in public speaking and if we know about media relations and journalism.

One significant area where Pagans are acting in some sense as 'clergy' is interfaith. From the largest international interfaith organizations such as the Council for the Parliament of World Religions and United Religions Initiative, to the regional, down to the local, Pagans are joining with leaders of other faith traditions in working on such issues as peace, affordable housing and homeless shelters, education, health care, meals for the hungry, facilities for the differently abled, habitat restoration, disaster relief, and other social concerns, as well as in the arts and music.

I believe it behooves us to prepare ourselves -- those of us who may be called to such public service -- to work effectively in these areas. That means ascertaining what knowledge and skills we feel it's necessary to acquire in order to do that work effectively. Then finding people within our Pagan culture who have specialized knowledge in those subjects so that we can learn from them. We can take what our society offers us and adapt it to our ideas of culture, our worldviews, our belief systems. But we do not have to take all of it. We do not have to take that which doesn't suit how we see and live in the world. We will create new forms and techniques that honor who we are. We can create our own 'clergy' and when we have done that, perhaps we'll have found just the right noun that denotes what we do and who we are.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Rich Kids, Poor Kids: Same Stress, Different Packages"

Today I attended an MIC clergy luncheon at which the speaker, Don Carney, addressed the problems of Marin County teens, rich and poor. (Contrary to the impression some readers may have that Marin, because it is one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., has no poor people, it does. And just like in other regions, the ranks of the less privileged are expanding while the middle class is shrinking.)

The speaker shows an obvious passion about the work he does with youth. He spoke mainly about youth courts in the U.S. today, and more specifically about the Marin County Youth Court, run by the YMCA and the Marin County Superior Court and the California Administrative Office of the Courts. Only a few years ago there were about 70 youth courts in the country and now there are 1,350.

Youth who have admitted guilt to a misdemeanor are eligible for this program, which focuses on the principle of restorative justice. In adversarial cases, the offender is prosecuted and defended by youth attorneys, before a youth jury. An adult judge presides and a youth bailiff supervises the process, with adult caseworker support for the youth and his or her family. If the offender completes the program within three months, he or she leaves with no juvenile record. The focus is on healing the harm done to the victim, the community, and the perpetrator.

Mandatory aspects include serving two to five times as a juror, providing 10 to 80 hours of community service, and taking a prevention class. Discretionary sentences imposed by the youth jury include restitution to the victim, letters of apology, reflective essays, anger management class, theft awareness class, drug education class, prevention class, additional counseling, and mentoring.

Seventy percent of the kids in youth court are from white, upper middle class families, and 90% of the offenses involve substance abuse. The pressures on kids to achieve often unrealistic goals contribute to their stress levels. Family dynamics add to the pressure and confusion. Marin has the high rate of binge drinking for both teens and adult, and pot smoking is twice the national average. The good news is that youth involvement in AA is enormous, some arising from sentences imposed in youth court.

Kids with what are known as "surplus assets" do not present like less privileged kids do. High achievers can be as drugged and drunk as lower achievers. Underneath are substance and family issues. He cited Madeline Levine's book, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. Dr. Levine is a clinical psychologist here in Marin.

Mr. Carney also showed a TV news feature about the Marin Youth Court and recommended a documentary film called "Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of American's Achievement Culture," made by Vicki Abeles.

A third resource he recommended was Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Maté, M.D.

The emphasis on cooperative education rather than competitive education that the youth court espouses can lead to lowered stress for teens. Mr. Carney said that we need alternatives to suspension for students who violate school rules. He said this leads to dropping out of school, when in fact the practice really pushes the kids out of the system. He believes the system should bear the onus, not the kid. As an example, he cited a good student found carrying a Swiss Army knife in his pack. With a zero tolerance policy in effect, this student was sent to a program with chronic offenders. He also said it's not helpful to mix middle school offenders with high school offenders. Whether an offender is put with peers or peers and older teens, the fact that he or she is in any kind of punitive environment leads to more alienation and the potential for greater offenses.

The irrefutable value of youth courts shows in the recidivism rate of kids who've gone through this process: 13% nationally and only 5% in Marin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Among the more compelling upcoming events announced at this luncheon:

  • International Day of Peace on September 21, 2010, celebrated at Peace Pole at Dominican University, sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. This year they will be adding a fifth plaque in the language of the Coast Miwok, the original human inhabitants of this area (see Big Time). I'm hoping to participate in this, as I did in 2007 when my friend Sister Marion chaired the Sisters' Social Justice Committee.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

MerryMeet 2010 - Return to the Heart of the Mother

Since I arrived on the muggy heat of the night, after 1 am, I figured I'd tiptoe in our room and quietly unpack and go to bed, but to my surprise, my mates, Don Frew, Anna Korn, and Anith, all of us from the Northern California Local Council of CoG. What do you do when you get four loquacious, involved, activist Witches in a room away from home? You talk and talk and talk.

Our very full weekend began on a sad note with the news of Isaac Bonewits' untimely passing. Although I didn't arrive in Indianapolis in time for the opening ritual, those who attended told me that he was honored.

It was great to enter the meeting room and immediately be greeted with enthusiasm by my friend Lord Cuchulain of Everglades Moon LC in Florida, who introduced me to his student, and my new special friend, George. I also enjoyed getting better acquainted with their EMLC colleagues, Lady Bridget of Witch & Famous Coven. (I love that name!)

National First Officer Sylvia Webb opened Grand Council with an invocation of Coventina, she who is special to the Covenant. With grace and focus, Sylvia presided over a refreshingly cordial meeting. I think the years of working by consensus process, or at least trying to do it as well as possible given that different groups and individuals have had a greater or lesser grasp of how it works, and not necessarily much experience, is finally paying off. I am one of those sticklers who frequently harps about process. That role seems less and less necessary, I'm happy to say.

Cherry Hill Seminary's new display debuted at MerryMeet. I neglected to take photos, but I think it looked great and I know several people took flyers and signed the mailing sheet for our newsletter and occasional announcements. Taking a cue from Amber K, who immediately preceded my CHS report with hers on Ardantane, I passed a tumbler -- Amber had a cool copper cauldron to pass -- for donations. I know I should be doing this whenever I'm together with a group of Pagans, but I tend to forget. I'm grateful to the many CoG members who contributed.

After dinner on Friday, Don Frew, Rachael Watcher and I gave a presentation on interfaith. I'm hopeful that the interest expressed by those in attendance will result in a greater Pagan presence in more interfaith organizations in different regions of the country. I remain available for consultation should anyone wish it. If it should happen that local groups are reluctant to admit Pagans, I know that our experiences and friendships with other interfaith activists can often smooth that process. As Swiss Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng said at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions:

There will be no peace among nations,
until there is peace among religions.
And there will be no peace among religions
until there is dialogue among religions.
Oberon and Banshee of Circle of Wondrous Stories designed the Friday evening main ritual. I really appreciated witnessing them working together, as it was obvious they shared a long magical working relationship. That's not something I see much of, and it's a pleasure.

After the ritual, I delighted in schmoozing with old friends Midwestern friends Gail, Ginny, and Magenta, Chamisa LC friends Amber & Azrael, local (to me) pal Prudence Priest, and the younger coveners of the Covenant of Gaia coven. I videoed Prudence doing her hilarious song about channeling in Enochian. Now I have to figure out how to upload it. I also requested that she be given the opportunity to do it at the end of the closing ritual, which she did.

Warrior Blessing Ritual

Various military Pagans, led by Dave Sassman of PEN (Pagan Educational Network), performed a Warrior Blessing ritual honoring all branches of the military and all first responders, both active and veteran. As soon as the flag-bearers entered the room bearing the colors, much to my surprise, I started to choke up. They marched briskly in a circle several times until instructed to present colors. There were at least five, maybe six, flag-bearers, all members of CoG and military vets

Now, the military is not something that plays any role in my life. I am not from a military family. Although I was born during WW-II, my father, working in the vital industry of agriculture, stayed stateside and civilian. I went because I appreciate those who serve on our behalf, and I wanted to give them my respect.

Further, I am not given to open displays of emotion. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been overcome to the point of tears by a ritual. I don't know where the tears came from, but I had plenty of company. Someone came around the circle with a box of tissues eventually. I was completely bewildered by my reaction.

There were several altars around the room, not just at the quarters. There was one for each branch of the military -- I confess I was not able to tell them apart unless I went up and read the badges -- one with a symbolic solitary meal. Several of the altars bore statuettes of Lady Liberty, which pleased me, since I consider her to be the goddess of the USA.

The quarter-calling featured military references and this was followed by a open call for deities, allowing several participants to name their own special protectors.

At one point we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, the pre-1954 one without the words "under God." Again, I'm not especially patriotic. I prefer to consider all of us citizens of the world, human inhabitants of Mother Earth.

Tears rolled down my cheeks throughout.

I am not a pacifist per se, although in general I am opposed to war as a solution and have put a lot of effort into either stopping or preventing the US from becoming militarily engaged. I have very mixed feelings when confronted with the reality of what happens to soldiers. I know one thing on my mind when I was weeping was the needless death and suffering, the sacrifice of the young and less privileged, the devastation of young lives.

The National First Officer of CoG presented the Order of the Pentacle medal to one of CoG's members who hadn't received it in earlier meetings.

At the end, we were invited to take ribbons -- enamel pins shaped like a map of the continental US painted with stars and stripes, with an image of Lady Liberty superimposed over all. The pins are attached to cammo-printed ribbons. I am happy to wear mine.

I tried to take some photos. Strange, there was a day when you would never even think of doing such a thing, and now there were plenty of cameras in action. It never even occurred to me to ask. There was a day when I'd never have made such a presumption. After the ritual, the priest asked those who'd taken photos and videos to provide him with copies, so evidently the practice was not only okay, but even encouraged in this particular situation.

I had begun taking photos, figuring that this particular ritual didn't hold a lot of meaning for me and that those involved would be glad to have them. The latter proved to be the case, but not the former.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks to CoG's interfaith fund, I am able to attend the AAR Annual Meeting in Atlanta, where I'll be performing a Samhain ritual on October 31 for the visiting Pagan scholars and friends. Eibhlean (Evelyn to you and me), Hawk, Lady Magdalena from Dogwood LC, along with Sapphire's coven, offered to help me with this ritual. They all agreed on a local Witch named Jason who's an accomplished ritual drummer whom they think would work with us, and have since provided us with a cyber-introduction. More about this when the times comes.

Dave Sassman of PEN showed me an album of photos that were taken at the Pagan Summit sponsored by PEN that took place in Bloomington, Indiana in 2001. What a treat! All of us who were there look so much younger, and only nine years have elapsed. Patrick McCollum's hair was dark brown and is now white; mine was (dyed) red, now grey. Among those assembled is the late Isaac Bonewits. I look forward to receiving scans of these photos.

Kathy Blizzard, one of the organizers of ConVocation in Michigan and a woman active in the Tempest Smith Foundation, supervised the tie-dying of squares that will be assembled into a quilt. The Tye Dye for Tolerance [sic]. She told me that my presentations at ConVocation two years ago garnered laudatory feedback. The organizers evaluate the feedback forms and then forward them to the presenter. Mine were good, but according to Kathy, the oral feedback she's heard since then has been outstanding. So I may be invited again. I hope so. I have lots of ideas of things I'd like to do.

Keynote Speech: Pagans and the New Media

By far the highlight for me of this recent gathering was Jason Pitzl-Waters' talk about Pagans and the New Media. Most readers probably know of Jason's superior blog, The Wild Hunt. He really fired up his audience, and I am ever so grateful. I hope that now we'll begin to see more evidence of the good works of CoG and other Pagan organizations in news media.

I know this sounds like sour grapes, but the fact is that I have been harping and griping and griping and harping about CoG telling the public what it's doing for at least 15 years. After a while the complaints of someone within the organization don't seem to be able to be heard. It takes a fresh, politically un-allied voice. Jason provided this in spades -- and much, much more. I doff my pointy black hat and offer a sweeping curtsey to the man of the hour!

After Jason's inspiring talk, some members approached me asking about Cherry Hill Seminary's Media & PR course. This has not been offered for the past couple of years because our excellent teacher, Victoria Slind-Flor, now works for Bloomberg News and her employer forbids her from teaching outside the company, and we have not found a suitable replacement. Now, however, we have renewed our search for the perfect teacher. And we've found one! Jason Pitzl-Waters will be offering a four-week online course exclusively through CHS. Watch your CHS Newsletter for further developments.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I want to take the opportunity to salute the dedication of Stachia and Jack, both of whom have held more than one national office and show no signs of flagging in their dedication to Coventina. I also tip my pointy black hat to Zenah, who as Pursewarden had to put in way more time than the job normally would entail in order to fix problems that arose from mistakes of some previous office-holders. All three live in Southern California. Zenah is proprietor of the Enchanted Crystal in Running Springs, bordering the San Bernardino National Forest.

I commend Co-Second Officers Ronda Dufour and Tony Branam of CoG's newest local council, Midwest Regional LC. and their staff for a job well done. Not only that, but the food was abundant and delicious!

Overall, I left this most recent Grand Council with the feeling that things have come unstuck. Obstacles have been cleared. The drain is clean and now flowing freely. The Covenant has overcome its constipation. I attribute this to several factors. One is the improved skill of members in the use of consensus process. Another is a lack of contention within the ranks over the past few years. A third is the realization on the part of more, if not all, members of the importance of interaction with the public, i.e., friendlier, fresher website; frequent press releases and reports on our activities and accomplishments.

I wish incoming National First Officer Peter Dybing the best. I pledge to support him in whatever ways I can. You will also begin seeing my interfaith reports on the CoG interfaith blog as well as here at the Broomstick Chronicles.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Big Time

Earlier this month, Corby and I attended the 30th Annual Big Time, a midsummer festival of the Coast Miwok and Pomo people of California. The College of Marin, in partnership with the Miwok Archaeological Preserve of Marin (MAPOM) and the Point Reyes National Seashore, offered a special event in conjunction with Big Time.

The first speaker, Betty Goerke, author of Chief Marin: Leader, Reble, and Legend, a biography of the Native (1781-1839) for whom the county was named -- his name was Huicmuse, he was christened at Mission Dolores as Marino, shortened to Marin -- gave a brief history of the Marin's indigenous Coast Miwok people who were living here when English ship captain Francis Drake (prior to being knighted) and his crew, sailing on the Golden Hind, landed at what is now called Drake's Beach in 1579. They were the first Europeans to encounter Coast Miwoks.

She showed the former coastline of what is now California, which extended maybe another 20 miles into the Pacific; this was before the formation of San Francisco Bay. She claims there is evidence of Miwok villages under the sea where the coastline had been, dating back 20,000 years.

She also showed illustrations of Coast Miwoks, in their tule boats, paddling to meet European ships entering the Bay.

Ralph Shanks, an authority on basketry, told us that many of the most exquisite examples of regional basketry are in the collections of European museums -- in Germany, in London, and at the Hermitage in Russia. Russian traders settled along the Russian River and the towns of Fort Ross and Sebastopol in Sonoma County (one county north of Marin) around 1812. Evidently those traders recognized the value and uniqueness of this indigenous art form. Dr. Shanks and his wife, Lisa Woo Shanks, have written books about California Indian basketry.

He showed photos of many kinds of baskets, some of which were decorated with shells and feathers. The red feathers on the heads of the acorn woodpecker were highly prized, both for basketry and for personal adornment.

In addition to their everyday uses, for cooking, gathering and other domestic applications, baskets had ceremonial uses. They held water, but were not suspended over fire or they'd burn. Instead, hot rocks were placed into the acorn mush or whatever they were cooking in the basket, and that cooked the contents as well as any other cooking method could.

Because the coastal hills of California and the sea and waterways contain abundant and diverse edible vegetation, the Coast Miwok had no need to develop agriculture. They did hunt. Due to the mild climate and their semi-itinerant lifestyles living in small villages, they had no reason to erect large structures or to develop sophisticated architecture. Nature provided all they needed for a healthy life of comfort. So their artistry went into basketry. California Indian basketry is known worldwide for its beauty and complexity.

I possess two beautiful baskets that belonged to my former mother-in-law, Eulalie Braden Wolfer, that I think are Pomo. Now that I'm acquainted with Dr. Shanks, I plan to show them to him and get his advice as to their origin, value, and the best ways to preserve them. One is a very tightly woven bowl shape, with triangular designs; I'm sure it can hold water. The other is larger, also bowl-shaped, but of a coarser grass with the design created by the weaving and texture rather than with colors. I hold them as family heirlooms to be passed to my daughter, from her paternal grandmother, at the proper time.

Gene Buvelot, who is on the Board of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, gave a fascinating update on how several local tribes, not all Coast Miwok, organized and petitioned the federal government in 1970 to recognize them as Native people and restore their tribal status. This was necessary because the government had been informed (by whom I don't know) that there were no more Coast Miwok or other local Indians.
Since 1983, thirty of the thirty-eight California tribes that were terminated under the policy have been restored to federal recognition through litigation and legislation. In 2000, following a lengthy process, the Tribe became the most recent of these tribes to have its federally recognized status restored through enactment of the Graton Rancheria Restoration Act (“Restoration Act”).
Interesting lessons in current federal bureaucracy.*

Following the talks, we ate box lunches of broiled salmon with blackberry ketchup, grains of the Americas (red, white and black quinoa, amaranth, and wild rice), citrus seaweed salad tossed with field greens with agave nectar vinagrette, acorn brownies, and mint tea sweetened with maple syrup, prepared by Chef John Farais of Indigenous Edibles .

After lunch we went to Kule Loklo (bear valley), a native village on the grounds of the Bear Valley Visitor Center, Point Reyes National Park, where we watched Native dancers. We also wandered the village, entering the roundhouse, kotchas (family dwellings), and other structures, and viewing Native crafts and jewelry. Others, mostly children, drilled shells to make beads (like those used to decorate baskets), flaked flint arrowheads, and spun bull-roarers.

Even though it was a very hot, sunny day, the dancers performed around a small fire pit. Several of the dancers were related -- father, son, grandson, nieces, cousins -- as well as being from different local tribes and blends of different tribes. Accompanied by two drummers and a singer, the dancers did group dances, dances for women and girls, dances for men and boys. The men's costumes consisted of feather skirts that they sometimes flounced up in the rear. Of course, these dancers, performing as it were before a mixed general audience, wore shorts, jeans, sometimes T-shirts, under their costumes, when I'm sure that originally these dances were performed wearing only the feather and leather costumes, with no Western clothing underneath. (The Coast Miwok who greeted Drake wore no clothes most of the year because our weather here is temperate.)

I found it interesting that the males dressed in native ritual garb, mostly made of what appeared to be either hawk or turkey feathers -- there are lots of turkeys roaming the hills hereabout -- and shell beads, while the women's clothing, which was also no doubt traditional among these peoples, being made of cotton cloth, showed the clear influence of European fashion -- and modesty.

The men's dancing consisted mostly of a double tap with each foot, sometimes crouching and seeming to imitate animals, and often flouncing the tail feathers. The women, on the other hand, carried pieces of cloth draped between their two hands, and they rocked these cloths up and down from side to side as they danced. At certain points in the singing, all the dancers twirled around. The ribbons streaming from the women's dresses and their long glossy hair lifted spread out beautifully as they spun.

I learned from this experience something of how I imagine my European ancestors might have expressed their Pagan lifestyles: Accepting the gifts of the land, sky and sea; celebrating together; making art; expressing their joy in living. This, to me, is the best contemporary Paganism has to reawaken.

* I spoke with Gene after his talk because I want to invite local spiritual leaders to the upcoming Third Annual People of the Earth gathering at the Interfaith Center of the Presidio.

All photos, except that of the basket, by Aline O'Brien (Macha). Basket photo from the collection of The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interfaith Memorial

I've had a busy, eventful Summer, so where to start? Starting with the most recent, last Sunday afternoon, at the invitation of my friend the Rev. Paul Gaffney, I participated in the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy 13th Annual Memorial Procession here in San Rafael. We gathered to the sounds of drums at Albert Park, where we were given flowers* and programs. A Buddhist colleague had set up a small altar there. We circled while he lit some incense and asked us to bow three times, once towards each other.

Following this blessing, we proceeded in silence up A Street to St. Raphael's Catholic Church, built on the site of the old Mission San Rafael Arcángel, the second northernmost mission established by Fra Junipero Serra in the early 1800s. There, right by the sidewalk, grows a Japanese maple planted in honor of those who've died homeless in Marin County. We placed our flowers around the base of the tree.

My friend Chris Highland, who preceded Paul Gaffney as the local chaplain to the homeless (and who now teaches at Cherry Hill Seminary), told me the story behind the planting. The folks at Green Gulch Farm (Zen Center) donated the tree to the homeless chaplaincy in 1999. Before the tree was planted, the homeless chaplaincy and their supporters pushed the tree in a wheelbarrow up and down all the streets of downtown San Rafael to awaken the more fortunate to the presence of their often unseen neighbors who had no homes. A plaque tells passers-by the meaning of the tree.

Father Paul Rossi welcomed us to St. Raphael's, after which all the names of those who died homeless in San Rafael were read and repeated. This list, which grows each year, only includes names of those whose names are known. It was printed on the back of the program. Following this reading, I offered a prayer "For One Who Has Died Violently or in Great Distress."**

While volunteers passed a collection plate around for donations to the homeless chaplaincy, I lead a round called "When We Are Gone," written by Anne Hill and Starhawk and printed in the program.

Paul then invited those assembled to share refreshments, conversation and music in the Kennedy Room of St. Raphael's. Food was donated by Trader Joe's.

I'm pleased that my contributions -- and this is the third time I've participated in this annual event -- are welcomed and valued. This shows us Pagans in a good light, as involved, caring citizens.

Here is a report from the local Marin Independent Journal newspaper on the event. Although it contains minor errors, it's view is positive.***

* Flowers generously donated by Burns Florist in San Rafael. Unfortunately, Burns will not be donating flowers again because, after having served the community for 100 years, they have become victims of the economic downturn and are closing.

** This prayer can be found in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying.

*** You can see me in one of the photos, about five or six rows back.

**** Photo of Paul Gaffney and me by Chris Highland. Photo of March from Marin IJ.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Titles of Interest to Pagans

As a member of the AAR, I am on the mailing list of lots of academic and religious publishing houses so I get their catalogs. I enjoy perusing them and sometimes come up with some intriguing titles. Here are few from the latest from Ashgate's Religious Studies and Theology:

Invented Religions: Faith, Fiction, Imagination, Carol M. Cusack, University of Sydney, Australia. "...investigates four religious movements founded in the West which are intentionally fictional: Discordianism ["Chaos is a goddess"], the Church of All Worlds ["science fiction, environmentalism and a holistic pagan vision"], the Church of the SubGenius ["science fiction mythos, culture jamming, and the sacredness of slack"] and Jedism ["Third millennium invented religions"]. ... explores these groups as reactions against the religious marketplace of the 1950s and 1960s. Their continued appeal and success, principally in America but gaining wider audience through the 1980s and 1999s, is chiefly as a result of underground publishing and the internet." [my emphasis] Fewer than 100 pages for a hundred bucks!* I would imagine that an Aussie's perspective on these American phenomena would be enlightening.

From a series on Sexuality and Religion:

Indigenous Religions, edited by Stephen Hunt. This British scholar "...gives full scope to the multitude of attitudes towards human sexuality found in expressions of religiosity outside of the so-called 'World Faiths,' with examples taken from cultures as far afield as Africa, Australasia, South American and the Pacific Islands" A whopping 800 pages for a whopping $250! I'm assuming by "World Faiths" they mean the Big Three Abrahamics, plus maybe Buddhism and Hinduism.

New Religions and Spiritualities, edited by Stephen Hunt. "...reveal the range of contentious attitudes towards human sexuality from the so-called 'new spiritualities,' quasi-religions and the more 'hidden' forms of religiosity, which are now evident on a global scale." [My emphasis.] Contentious, eh? I'm guessing that we Pagans may be among those referred to as "new spiritualities" or "quasi-religions." Five hundred pages for $250!

From series on Vitality of Indigenous Religions: Blackfoot Religion and the Consequences of Cultural Commoditization, Kenneth Hayes Lokensgard, ("Commoditization" is a longer way of saying "commodify.") "...explores the exchange of Blackfoot 'medicine bundles' within contemporary Blackfoot culture and between the Blackfoot Peoples and Euro-Americans. ... deals with the attempts of some Blackfeet to repatriate ceremonial materials from Euro-American hands." There's that old cultural appropriation bugaboo again. For this hundred bucks you get not only 192 pages, but also four b&w illustrations and a map.

Crafting Contemporary Pagan Identities in a Catholic Society, Kathryn Rountree, Massey University, New Zealand. "Contemporary western Paganism is now a global religious phenomenon with Pagans in many parts of the world sharing much in common -- from a nature-revering worldview and lifestyle to a host of chants, invocations, ritual tools and magical practices.

"Taking the Mediterranean society of Malta as a case study, ... [shows] what it is like being Pagan in a society where the vast majority of the population is Roman Catholic ... reveals that Paganism here is a unique brew of indigenous and global influences." [My emphasis.] Well, this book has a few more than 200 pages, plus 21 b&w illustrations, for another hundred bucks. I would love to hear those chants; bet we know many, if not most of them.

Another Southern Hemisphere perspective. I'm glad to see that our English-speaking neighbors below the Equator are getting funded to do this kind of research. Also, note that the word Pagan is capitalized in this book, but not in some of the others.

* Many of these books are available in hardback or as eBooks for the same price.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Interfaith Retreat Day

Last Monday I attended Marin Interfaith Council's only retreat of this year, at Green Gulch Farm, shown in this photo and scene of other retreats I've mentioned here. The day was sunny and gorgeous. Proceeding without a specific theme, the two teachers offered a variety of commentary.

Sheikh Jamal Granick, raised Roman Catholic in the Bronx, now practices Sufi Muslim and is associated with the International Association of Sufism, founded by one of his teachers and one of my colleagues in MIC, Dr. Nahid Angha. He works as a psychotherapist.[1]

Sheikh Jamal's co-teacher was the Rev. Arlene Lueck of the host Zen center. She, too, was brought up in a Roman Catholic family. After a life as a wife, mother, and high-powered businesswoman, she visited a monastery around the time she was divorcing, and stayed. She had entered with no intention of seeking a religious life. She is now tanto, or practice leader and mentor, of Green Gulch Retreat Center.

Jamal began by saying that "practice is implementation of faith, otherwise it is just belief." As someone for whom faith is minor to non-existent, and who relies upon experience over belief, this statement doesn't quite apply. That said, I guess you could consider it to be walking one's talk, a practice I admire and try to do.

Arlene said that Zen is about breath. It is above and beyond any "ism." It is about not attaching, letting it be, but not a free-for-all. She says nothing is an absolute, that meditation leads the voice, and that "not knowing" is most intimate. "Buddha" means awakened mind.

They compared the concept known in Sufi as "primordial nature" with that known in Zen as "original mind."[2]

We sat in silence for maybe a hour, after which the teachers opened the floor to questions. Jamal explained that there are many orders of Sufi and many kinds of dancing. The dervishes originated with Rumi, a Persian in Turkey. Rumi was in mourning, so he began to move, and out of that movement came dance and then poetry.

Arlene claims that sacred sound, sacred dancing, and sacred silence are all the same, forms of "deep listening." She said that all of us were there because we had "ecumenical minds."

Jamal compares the teacher to a mirror. The word sheikh means "teacher." He says if you need the teacher too much, you're not taking responsibility for yourself. If the teacher needs you too much, you're caught.

Because he is a psychotherapist, Jamal was asked to speak of the difference between religious practice and psychotherapy. He said our acquired personality is what we learn from the senses, and that ours sense of self is derived from reflections from our environments. On the matter of transference/projection, he claims that a good teacher will not accept transference, it won't "take." Again the teacher is the mirror of the student. This was a timely thing for me to hear.

In Pagan circles, I sometimes encounter those who use their time working together as a form of therapy, and I don't think this is the purpose of circle work. I know that ritual work can be very therapeutic, and I think it's great to use it that way. Gods know I've used ritual and magic as a form of personal therapy. But to use the circle mainly for the deep down and dirty work of therapy does not, in my opinion, honor our gods. If we need therapy, we can seek out a competent therapist or group. Then we can fortify the work we do in therapy with our magic. But I am uncomfortable using circle work as a primary method of therapy. Of course, I know there are plenty of covens who don't do this.

We shared a scrumptious vegetarian lunch lovingly prepared with fresh vegetables grown right there by people staying, learning, and serving at the retreat. Some of us ate in silence, while those who wished to converse ate in another section of the dining room.

Both teachers spoke a bit about how their organizations were structured. Both of their religious organizations are relatively young groups within much older religious traditions, and both were founded in the U.S. Women play a prominent role in both. Arlene said that she's observed in older Japanese Zen orders an openness to the active participation of women that they didn't have before their interactions with American orders. I think you can say this about Craft, to some extent. Women are more prominent in Witchcraft in America than in Europe, and I'm hoping that the "backcrossing"[3] has a similar effect in Craft in Europe to the effect it's had in Zen in Japan. In most other American Pagan religions women seem to have parity with men.

The Zen group was founded by Americans coming out of the counter-culture of the 1960s and '70s, as has American Paganism. Most of those who created the Zen center came from middle-class backgrounds, relatively privileged and well educated, just like much of the Pagan population. They had no experience with organizing a religious group, much less a Utopian community where they all had to live together in harmony. They have their internal disputes, things they have to confront and work out. They are human.

As these two teachers described the structure of their respective organizations, I couldn't help but reflect upon my experiences with Pagan organizations. There are a few Pagan groups in the U.S. who own property communally and live on it together, often gaining their livelihoods from some kind of shared business or farming endeavor. I have never been drawn to be a part of them. However, I've involved myself in other efforts at Pagan organizing (Reclaiming, CoG), and currently work at making an accredited Pagan seminary. (Cherry Hill Seminary: Distance Education for Professional Pagan Ministry; please consider making a donation to support our work.)

Jamal claims that no group has authority in Sufi, that authority comes from within. This notion comports with my own position as a Pagan. As an example, he said that if when you're thirsty and someone offers you water to quench your thirst, you're more likely to follow that person to the source of more water. But if someone just tells you about a source of water, well, so what? Perhaps this is the difference between care and kind acts on the one hand and preaching on the other. We Pagans tend to dislike being preached to (although I personally really appreciate a good orator like our President).

Arlene says that Zen has no greeters; you find your own way in. This is how I've always understood Craft. One of its appeals to me was the fact that you had to do a little searching to find it. This made the finding all the more precious. That is not the case anymore. We have become much more visible in the past 15 years or so. I don't mind the visibility so much, although I know plenty of Witches who prefer to stay deep within the broom closet. What I do mind, though, is what sometimes seems almost like commodification of Craft. Sometimes I see streaks of proselytization that make me very uncomfortable.

Arlene told of how each person makes his or her own rakasu (rakusu), stitching it as I would a quilt, as a meditative act. A rakusu is a bib, the color of which indicates the wearer's position in the order. Teachers wear brown or gold rakasu. One must have achieved a certain level of teaching in order to wear a rakasu. They are worn for a ceremony of receiving Bodhisattva Precepts.

Arlene, in her early 60s, reflected on the fact that she realizes that she has reached the last part of her life. Me, too, only I'm a bit older. She said it's a time of life when you don't take life too seriously, but you do treat it seriously. I like that.

She claims that boddhisattvas equate to Catholic saints, something that I, and probably other Pagans, have been noting for years, particularly when discussing theology, a monotheistic concept in the first place.

We concluded the day with a walking meditation. Arlene showed a specific way of holding the hands if we wanted to. We were to walk with our gaze down, looking at nothing and being aware of everything.

I have attended nearly all of the retreat days MIC has offered. Some turn out to be nice days in nice company, being quiet. Others give evidence of attitudes that annoy me. I nearly always gain some insights, usually unexpected.

Note on photos: The bed of bright orange California poppies grows just to the left of the entrance to the zendo. The foxglove grows near the restrooms.

[1] Interestingly, one of the co-leaders of MIC's retreat last Winter was a Philadelphia-born, Catholic-raised Sufi Muslim college professor.

[2] I realize that many Pagans are knowledgeable about Zen and Sufi beliefs and practices. I think that, in general, contemporary Pagans are more familiar with other religions than the practitioners of those other religions are about each other, let alone Paganism. One of the fun things about doing interfaith work is finding your commonalities.

[3] "Backcrossing" is a term used in animal breeding when a domestic animal is bred with a wild animal of the same species. (Not being a breeder myself, I'm no doubt oversimplifying.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Three Pagan Elders Gone

Just last month I mentioned reading the "Irish Sporting Green," which is what this blog seems to be becoming.

On Beltane, after having danced two Maypoles in Berkeley, longtime NROOGD Witch Robin Goodfellow died of complications of diabetes. Robin was a familiar figure riding his bike around town. In the past he'd worked as an artist's model. He took the Pagan notion of skyclad seriously by doffing his clothes the minute he crossed a boundary into clothing-optional space, such as at Harbin Hot Springs. Widely read and loquacious, Robin never met an invocation, or even a notion, he could not expand upon indefinitely.

In 1981 when I first joined CoG, CoG was a member of the young Berkeley Area Interfaith Council. Several of us local CoG members attended a meeting where it fell upon me to lead a guided tree of life meditation. You may think this is no big deal, but the Pagan movement was really young then, most practitioners were firmly "in the broom closet," and I was a brand new Witch. Robin and his longtime partner, Gaia Wildwood, as experienced members, encouraged my participation and assured me I could do it. I did. I will always be grateful to them for that kindness when I was a baby Witch. Gaia survives Robin.

I think it's fair to say he went in style, though, since he attended a "Pictish Feri"* Beltane in one park and a NROOGD Beltane in another that afternoon, dancing two Maypoles. This photo was taken by Mick Roche at one of those rituals.

When I informed my friend Cerridwen Fallingstar of Robin's passing, she told me of the untimely passing of another Pagan friend back on March 24, 2010. I have circled with Susan Leigh Star's coven since I first set foot on the path back in the '70s. Leigh led her life in academia, where she explored "the broad roles of the library and of information in modern society." She chose to remain in the broom closet, but I always felt assured of her support of my being such a public Pagan. I am trusting that blowing her cover now that she's on the other side of the veil won't upset anyone. Although I did not know her well or see her frequently, we shared one of those friendships where you feel like old friends who'd just talked yesterday whenever we got together. Leigh's husband, Geoff Bowker, survives her. I plan to attend her memorial in August.

The following week I received from my friend Jo Carson the following announcement of the death of one of the founders of Feraferia, the long-time partner of the late Fred Adams, Lady Svetlana. Jo is Fred's literary executor. There will be a memorial in Los Angeles this coming weekend.
Svetlana Butyrin, or Lady Svetlana of Feraferia, as she liked to be called, passed into the realm of the beloved dead on Thursday, May 6, 2010. Born Svetlana Golubeff on November 2, 1934, she was 75 years old. ....

Svetlana, along with her long time mate Fred Adams, founded Feraferia, Inc. as an official church in the state of California on August 2, 1967. Feraferia means "celebration of wildness" in Latin, and on and off for many years Svetlana and Fred created rituals and parties to celebrate Nature and the divine feminine, especially in the form of "Kore", the daughter or young girl - with all the playfulness and spontaneity that implies. Svetlana wrote a complete set of Feraferian seasonal rituals which were published in Amsterdam, Holland by Feraferia initiate Peter Tromp.

Feraferia was designed to be a religion based on the bliss between lovers and earth, with both the Goddess and the God. "Feraferia is a Pagan fellowship for the erotic celebration of Wilderness Mysteries with Faerie style and grace, and for the lyrical unification of ecology, mythology, and sacrament. In such play-love-work may women and men be reunited with Great Nature, each other, and their own beings..."

While it was most active, Feraferia members spent time in wilderness singing, dancing, communing with nature and nature spirits, and having a rambunctious good time. Feraferia flourished in Southern California during the 60's and the 70's, and then reemerged in Nevada City, California in the 90's, when Svetlana moved there to be near her children.

[Photo at left] ... (photo credit Don Harrison, Church of the Eternal Source) of Svetlana joyfully leading a ritual in her later years. Plagued by occasional panic attacks since a frightening dream in her teens, Svetlana was increasingly fearful during her last eight years. However after Fred died in 2008, she gradually lost her fear of death, partly due to dreams wherein she saw Fred sitting by the gates of a Feraferian Paradise, urging her to come on over. She would answer him "I'm not ready". But finally, she was ready. May the Maiden Goddess bless her on her way.
I never met Lady Svetlana, but I heard lots of stories about her, and when Starhawk and I published The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, Svetlana wrote us a long handwritten letter scolding us for what she considered an erroneous description of what happens to people after they die. She insisted that they descended to Hades where they were greeted by Persephone. I suspect Svetlana was received by the Queen of the Underworld in style.

I cannot over-stress the importance I give to documenting those who've been on the front end of what I now see as the Pagan movement. I am grateful that Jo Carson has accepted the job of keeping alive the ideas and works of Fred Adams and Lady Svetlana. I hope younger Pagans have an interest in interviewing those who spearheaded this movement while they live. I believe it's important, for so many reasons, for us to learn our history.

* Forgive me, Tony, if this term is inaccurate.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

11th Annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast

Today my local interfaith group celebrated National Day of Prayer in a more ideal form than many have come to expect. By more ideal, I mean in a truly diverse and tolerant way, respecting all religions. With over 200 in attendance, many for the first time, we had 21 tables, each with a table captain to facilitate discussion. I was one such table captain. The question for discussion was in what ways you use prayer in your life. Due to the size of the crowd and the noise of people getting their breakfasts from the buffet tables, our conversations were limited to those few sitting on either side of us instead of involving all seated at a table.

After a welcoming by our director, the Rev. Carol Hovis, and an opening prayer, the Marin Interfaith Singers sang "Dona Nobis Pacem," a song I really love.

The Rev. Linda Ruth Cutts, a Zen Buddhist priest from Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, said that although prayer is not a term used in Buddhism, "everything we do is prayer." She said Zen practitioners do have words/language similar to what others might consider to be prayer, such as the words they say when offering gratitude for a meal and all the life forms, sunlight, soil, cultivation, preparation, and such that went into the meal. She said that monasteries and in some private homes altars are erected outside the restrooms for the users to take a moment to acknowledge their interdependence on all things. She differentiated between seated meditation and active meditation (out in the world), followed by a brief seated meditation for all of us.

David Stevens, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, although he is an accomplished speaker, articulated his Christianity with a degree of certainty that I found less appealing. His prayers were understandably limited to appeals to a single god, with the assumption that all his listeners shared this perspective. He reminded us that prayer is unconfined, it's portable, and it's natural. He claims that prayer "replaces fear with confidence" and "confusion with clarity." I agree it can.

He concluded with a reading of the Christian Lord's Prayer. He had a colleague reach each line in the familiar language from the King James Bible, followed by his reading the interpretation of the same line as found in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Personally, I did not resonate with these words.

The final speaker was Sister Mary Neil of the Dominican Sisters. Sister Mary holds a Ph.D. and taught religious studies and theology at the University of San Francisco for many years. Now retired, she is a very young-looking 77 years old. (That's Sister Mary on the left in the photo. The woman in the center is my friend Sister Colleen McDermott, a member of MIC's Board of Directors.)

One of the first things Sister Mary did was apologize to anyone who may have been hurt by her church, and then to ask whom of those present was ever hit by a nun. One woman raised her hand. Sister Mary asked her to come up, and then asked her to hit her and with that hit, to let go of the hurt. The woman's slap was weak, so Sister Mary asked her for a stronger one.

She said that prayer isn't something you really think about very much; rather, when you are in crisis, you cry help! Prayer is "remembering who I am." She claims prayer is difficult because it demands intimacy and it demands truth.

She says she feels a strong pull towards Buddhism, particularly for its development of meditative techniques. She explained a chakra meditation she does in which she applies scriptural words and phrases to each chakra as she meditates upon it. For instance, at the throat chakra she speaks of the hunger and thirst for God, and at the crown chakra, she says Jesus' final words, "into thy hands I commit my spirit."

I think it's really interesting to recall that it was due to the participation of the Hindu Swami Vivekananda at the first Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair that opened the world of Eastern religion to the West, and here we are today, more than a century later, listening to a Roman Catholic nun speak of applying the chakra system to her Christian meditation and prayer.

Before I even got this, this article about the event appeared in the Contra Costa County Times. (Contra Costa is across the SF Bay from Marin County.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Irish Sporting Green

Lately this blog looks like the Irish Sporting Green. One of the bigger local newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle, publishes its sports page on green-tinted paper. I don't know if other papers do this or not. This section is called the sporting green. Many Irish-Americans regularly read the obituary column, so it's fondly called the Irish Sporting Green. I keep posting about dead relatives and friends; hence, this appears to be the Irish Sporting Green of the Broomstick Chronicles. Obviously I'm feeling especially vulnerable to the loss death brings. I mourn.

And speaking of the departed, my sister sent me this wonderful photo, lifted from a very large group shot, of my parents. It was taken in 1946, so my mom would have been 35 and Daddy 37. Such a fine-looking couple!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I don't feel like it

I don't feel like blogging. I don't feel like doing anything. I've been done in for too long.

Christy's family held her memorial at the Lovejoy's Tea Room, her favorite place. It had been so long since I'd shared tea with Christy there that the tea room was in a new location down the street. They had displayed lots of Christy's hats on the Victorian hat rack, and had lots of wonderful photos of Christy throughout her life playing on a video screen. It was great to see her at so many ages and in so many circumstances, loving life and brightening the lives of others. I had brought a tube of extra posters that she and I had printed for the book we did in case some of her loved ones wanted a copy. They seemed glad to have them.

When we were invited, I spoke about my relationship with Christy. I brought condolences from some of our other Goddard friends. (Some of us are planning a picnic on Ring Mountain later this month in memory of Christy.) Others had mentioned how she was always giving little gifts. I told of a Waterford crystal shot glass she gave me that I intended to fill with Jameson's when I got home and lift a toast to Christy.

After the ceremony, Richard shared with me some of the details of Christy's crossing. I don't want to share them here because I don't know if that might feel too revealing to her family, but I can tell you they moved me deeply. They underscored my feelings and knowledge of the dying process as well as what a special person Christy was.

Richard asked me to close the ceremony with this poem that Christy loved, written by a mutual friend of ours from the San Francisco Writers Workshop we used to attend at the library named Mary TallMountain. Mary, now also sadly gone, was an Athabascan from a remote village in Alaska.*

There Is No Word for Goodbye**

Mary TallMountain

Sokoya, I said, looking through

the net of wrinkles into

wise black pools

of her eyes.

What do you say in Athabaskan

when you leave each other?

What is the word

for goodbye?

A shade of feeling rippled

the wind-tanned skin.

Ah, nothing, she said,

watching the river flash.

She looked at me close.

We just say, Tlaa. That means,

See you.

We never leave each other.

When does your mouth

say goodbye to your heart?

She touched me light

as a bluebell,

You forget when you leave us;

you’re so small then.

We don’t use that word.

We always think you’re coming back,

but if you don’t,

we’ll see you some place else.

You understand.

There is no word for goodbye.

* Bill Moyers featured an interview with Mary on a show he did about Native American poets. He found her enchanting.

** Unfortunately, this blog will not accept the proper formatting (indents) even if I don't put the poem in quotes. Apologies to Mary and all poets.