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.)