Thursday, November 29, 2012

Witches, Black Panthers & Sufis

Interfaith at Samhaintide

Marin Interfaith Council has been offering monthly interfaith contemplative services for peace.  The October gathering, at Sausalito Presbyterian Church, was to feature Pagan religions (specifically "Wiccan") in honor of the season of Samhain.  I had committed to conducting this hour-long service; however, I was also selected to be a Deputy Inspector at the polls and the mandatory training for that job was scheduled for the same evening.  So I asked my friend Gwion Raven, who had helped me at the Thanksgiving Eve service for the homeless (and their supporters) last year, if he would do it.  I had planned on two readings, which I suggested he use.  He did use them, plus taught some chants that the group did together.  In reflecting on his experience, Gwion said, "It really affected me...I had never experienced being recognized as a Pagan and been so warmly welcomed in a Christian church.  [Attendees showed] genuine curiosity." I thank Gwion for his work.

The following day, when I attended MIC's clergy luncheon, three people, including Paul Mowry, the new pastor at Sausalito Presbyterian, who had been to the contemplative service told me how much they enjoyed it.  I was glad to hear that and glad to relay that feedback to Gwion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interfaith as Matrix for Social Justice

The topic of discussion at the luncheon, held in the new Hannah Project1 Gallery space at Marin City,2 where we sat amidst an exhibit of photographs and other ephemera called "Architects, Activists, and Avengers: The Black Panther Party 1968, and featuring photographs by Pirkle Jones and his wife and collaborator, Ruth-Marion Baruch, was "The Role of Religious Communities in Movement Making."

I shared a table with two friends from Green Gulch Zen Center and Chris Highland, while we listened to three speakers.  Sister Colleen McDermott, Ph.D., told us of her study of the Highlander Center in Tennessee.

Founded in 1932 during the Great Depression in Tennessee as the Highlander Folk School, it began with programs to help rural women and organized different groups working for social justice and workers' rights. Among its founders and prominent participants were Myles Horton and his wife, née Zilphia Mae Johnson, Jane Wilburn Sapp, and Septima Poinsette Clark.  In the '30s and '40s the institute helped organize miners and textile mill workers.

In the 1950s Highlander taught desegregation and citizenship workshops with such participants as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy, and organized voter registration efforts. The ubiquitous movement song "We Shall Overcome" comes from Highlander, which has always included music and the arts in its programming.  SNCC (Student Nonviolent Organizing Committee) has roots at Highlander.

During the 1960s and '70s Highlander refocussed on Appalachia, organized protests against toxic dumping, and more recently it has featured LGBT programs, multilingual programs for organizing immigrants (Pueblos de Latinoamerica Justice School), and post-Katrina relief.

Sister Colleen pointed out that religious organizations such as churches have the institutional structure that's an important underpinning of efforts at social change.  Institutions grant the authority to speak up and engage.  Myles Horton's early seminary studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York informed his dedication to organizing for social justice.

This is one of my arguments for having Pagans establish institutions such as Cherry Hill Seminary.

Pastor Johnathan Logan, Sr., from Cornerstone Church of God in Christ in Marin City, spoke of his church's mission, quoted in part below:

Glorifies God by its standards of holiness, righteousness, and obedience to His Word. Demonstrates Christ's command to love one another. ... Worship God in spirit and truth recognizing that Jesus is Head of the Church  Recognize its interdependence with other members within the body of Christ which [sic] may not be of the same denominational affiliation. ...  Fulfills Christ's command to evangelize the world.
Third to speak was Pastor Veronica Goines of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, a "historical multicultural congregation" also in Marin City.

I found the speakers demonstrated an inordinate underlying assumption of an Abrahamic religious viewpoint.  For instance, the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. was invoked frequently, yet no mention was made of such figures as Malcolm X and others in the Black Muslim movement that also arose from those fertile and changing times.  Neither was there acknowledgement of the African diaspora religions that also gained adherents since those transformative years of the '60s and early '70s.

Now I understand that Marin's population is predominantly white.  And I know that this program was not intended to reflect every change to have arisen from religious communities in the those times.  Further, local branches of the Black Muslim church have either dissipated or fallen into corruption.3

I wanted to mention this as I, a polytheist, sat there with my non-deist friends amidst the assumption of monotheism, but I couldn't come up with a constructive way to comment.  Having said all this, I will say I enjoyed the program; I learned a lot that I hadn't known before and may never have been exposed to otherwise.  The speakers provided insights and provoked further reflections.  It was worth every minute.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Visionary Marin

In a busy two weeks for MIC, we concluded with the annual Visionary Marin Awards Ceremony, this year honoring Dr. Nahid Angha.  Musicians played while people sampled delicious food prepared by the sisters of Brahma Kumaris and from Green Gulch Farm and elsewhere, and bid on an array of silent auction items as well as buying raffle tickets for several beautiful gift baskets.  A slide show of photos of religious activities by the member congregations of MIC demonstrated the rich variety of our membership.  I was pleased to see some photos of Pagans dancing round a Maypole that I had taken.

Among the many accomplishments that led MIC to give Nahid this year's Visionary Marin award is her  founding of the International Association of Sufism and Sufi Women Organization  , "an international humanitarian organization promoting universal human rights."

We learned more about Nahid from a Q&A session done with the Rev. Charles Gibbs, Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative.

Everyone left feeling that their culinary, intellectual, and community appetites had been satisfied.  Plus we met our fundraising goal for the year.  Kudos to the Rev. Carol Hovis and her assistant, Allison Kirk, and the many volunteers who worked with them to make this event a success.


1.  The Hannah Project assists African-American and other low-income students ages 8-22 and their families in efforts to boost academic performance and college graduation rates.

2. Marin City, begun with housing designed by the late Frank Lloyd Wright for the many workers who migrated here during World War II to work on the Liberty ships in the Sausalito shipyards. It is now home to the largest African-American community in the county.  Coincidentally, the famed architect's final commission was our Marin County Civic Center.

3.  See Your Black Muslim Bakery and murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bastardizing Expressions of the Sacred

Should there be some kind of censure or penalty for someone who massacres art?  Am I the only one who considers such an act sacrilegious?

When an artist puts heart and soul into creating a meaningful work of beauty, is that not a sacred act?

If someone went into a museum and painted mustaches over all of Vermeer's faces, Dégas' ballerinas, Rosa Bonheur's horses, what do you think would happen?  If someone tagged the Pietà, what do you think would happen?  

I ask because I have just witnessed this being done with some of what I consider to be our most beautiful Pagan songs.  The music director (using the term loosely) over-produced and “popified” these songs, altering the phrasing, and even presuming to change the melody in places, all done with off-key and weak solos, an out-of-sync chorus, and appalling synthetic keyboard masking as a piano.  To me, these changes were done in service of ego, not to enhance the listener’s experience.

Does this not disrespect the efforts of the artist?  Does it not disrespect the creative inspiration from the muses?  Does this serve to honor the memory of our ancestors and beloved dead?  Is such “reworking” worthy of our gods? 

I think not.  What say you?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Five Dandelion Gatherings

As part of the process of explaining my recent painful decision to leave my religious community of 30+ years, I offer my experiences of the five Dandelion Gatherings[1] I attended over the past ten years.  The first four are here; the most recent DG, held near Portland, OR, deserves a post of its own.

I don’t know who first proposed doing an all-Reclaiming convocation (perhaps too formal a term for a more casual event).  I suspect it arose from within the WitchCamp[2] or teacher discussion lists.  Dandelion Gathering[3] is an all-Reclaiming gathering especially for the far-flung folks who identify with Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft but open to all.  Regardless of whose idea it was, it was the intrepid Witches of Tejas Web who convened the first one in Texas hill country 2004.

Prior to the institution of Dandelion Gatherings, I had found a comfortable place for myself on the periphery of Reclaiming.  I actively worked in the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), the oldest and largest organization of Witches of many denominations in the U.S., founded in California in 1975, for many years.[4]  I had been involved, off and on (more on than off) with the Reclaiming Collective in San Francisco, from whence sprang the tradition, from its inception until its dissolution in 1997.  During those years I had taught classes and participated in the production of public sabbat rituals.  I didn’t make a career of it; I had a family and a job.  I taught only when teachers were needed.  After I moved from San Francisco to the other side of the Golden Gate in 1983, I continued to participate in most productions of the annual Spiral Dance Samhain ritual.  I remained connected with most of my old colleagues, and participated in all of the Collective retreats that resulted in the issuance of Reclaiming’s Principles of Unity[5] and subsequent dissolution of the Collective, per se.

I did, however, continue to work in some of the “cells,” as small working committees are called, such as the e-cell that maintains the traditions’ Web presence and lists.  I did not participate in regular face-to-face meetings on task-specific matters such as teaching or public rituals.  The most recent basic series of classes I taught (co-taught with another teacher, per Reclaiming tradition) took place in Marin County where I live in the early 1990s.  I also participated in the Marin Ritual Cell that presented local public sabbats; that cell dissolved sometime in the mid-90s.  Some of the students in those classes have grown to be local and WitchCamp teachers.

I also applied to teach at three WitchCamps at one point (to be detailed in a future blog), because that was the venue in which I observed the tradition evolving and it felt only right that if I were going to be seen as speaking on behalf of the tradition to other Pagans and the general public, it behooved me to learn how it was changing, and to participate in its shaping, as I had done since before Reclaiming had emerged as a distinctly recognizable tradition in its own right.  I did not teach at any WitchCamp.  I will explore this topic in a future blog.

So when the announcement about the first ever all-Reclaiming gathering arrived, my curiosity was piqued.  I contemplated whether to go.  I talked with friends.  Between their encouragement and my curiosity, I decided to register.

Dandelion Gathering, Texas Hill Country, 2004

When I arrived at the site, I found a bed in a cabin had been reserved for me.  As an older woman with severe lumbar arthritis, I was really glad to have a bed in a cabin, with accompanying bathroom and shower.  I shared the room with Ann Flowers and Ursula, two Reclaimers from England.  Since then, Ursula has passed through the veil.

Opening Ritual:  At least one of the planners of the opening ritual and I had been in dialogue about it.  They (ritual planners) wished to begin by having the three of us who had been in the original Reclaiming Collective recite together the Principles of Unity.  This seemed to me like a good place to start, so of course I agreed.  We three were Starhawk, Rose May Dance, and myself.

Now I have to say that one of the things that really bugs me about Reclaiming public rituals is the general casualness and slapped-togetherness of them.  Only very rarely are they rehearsed, regardless of whether they contain new and/or unfamiliar parts or personnel.  (More about ritual in a future blog.)  I think that the gods we honor deserve the best we can provide, and that rehearsing a ritual offers the most assurance that it will be smooth and clean and beautiful.  In any case, we were rushed at the last minute and had no time.  Besides, we all knew them, we had a script, there was no extemporaneousness.
Macha and Holley

I had assumed, mistakenly as it turned out, that we would be reading the words with some inflection, some conviction, some grace, some élan.  I was mistaken.  I tried to do this, while the other two just spoke the words flatly.  That meant that we were not speaking in unison.  I was way behind.  This should have been a clue to me about the disconnect that I couldn’t recognize at the point in time.

We concluded with a spiral dance, which I had agreed to help a newer person to lead.  I like to milk a spiral dance, to continue spiraling the line in and out a few times to build up the energy.  After a single coil in an out, some people began to drop hands and drum.  The spiral became fragmented and dissolved.  Both the leader and I were bewildered, and I think she was annoyed that I had urged her to continue beyond the first cycle.  In any case, I later figured out that in the WitchCamps, they evidently only do a single cycle.  I had just assumed we would dance as long as we could.  My mistake.  One that offers more evidence of disconnect on my part.

Macha and Andy
Pagan Cluster:  I don’t remember what particular street protests had been taking place around the country at that time.  I think they were around matters in the Middle East, and certainly the illegal war in Iraq was up.  In any case, among the attendees at Dandelion Gathering were several folks from what is known as the Pagan Cluster (“Earth-based Magical Activism”) 

I am not and have never been part of the Pagan Cluster.  According to its website, the Pagan Cluster is in some way affiliated with, or perhaps grew from or was inspired by, Reclaiming Tradition Craft.  Reclaiming does work to change things in the mundane world to make them more in accord with our values.  We do believe that we can help make the world a better place with our magic, and that religion and spirituality are not a refuge from “real life,” but rather an enhancement and enrichment of life.
Macha and Grove

That said, there is no requirement that one must work for change in any particular way.  I am not a street activist, except in some extreme situations like the massive demonstrations in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002.  I find my involvement in such things as the interfaith movement, advancing Pagan studies within academia, and working to establish the first Pagan seminary to be a more effective form of magical activism for me to be doing.  Others within the large, amorphous collective of Reclaiming communities are active in their many unique and different ways.
Mareena and Mac

I felt the general meetings went well.  I felt included.  I felt that everyone who wanted to be heard was heard.  I did feel that the presence of the Pagan Cluster sought to dominate, in the sense that they assumed that everyone should be doing the kind of activism they were doing.  I also found most of them, whom I had never encountered before, to be more focused on the political and less “witchy.”  For me, this was a gathering of Witches.  So again, I’m experiencing a bit of a disconnect, or perhaps an incompatibility.  I have no objection to the Pagan Cluster’s forms of activism; I just don’t share it.  I would hope for mutual respect for the efforts of those of us who do not choose that route.
Closing Circle on Overcast Day

Someone found a dead deer on the way there, so we had venison meatballs for those of us who eat game.  Someone built a compost toilet.  Someone created a bio-brew to remediate a place on the property where lots of oil had accumulated from vehicles and farm equipment.

Thistle and Macha
In the main, I did not attend the nightly rituals.  I was not alone in this.  I take great pleasure in one-to-one and small group conversations, and that’s what I indulged in at times when other things were happening.  Sometimes I took some down time.

The food was fine.  There were a few kids there.  I really liked having them there.  I got to visit with old friends like Thistle from Florida, and to meet with a CoG colleague who lived not to far from the campground and drove out for a visit.

One afternoon we danced a beautiful spiral in a meadow.

All in all, I had a pretty good time.  I left feeling a bit out of the mainstream of Reclaiming happenings, but overall retaining a sense of belonging. This was my trad and my community.

Dandelion Gathering, Western Massachusetts, 2006

The second DG was the one I liked best.  My old pal Penny Novack picked me up at the airport and drove me to the site, affording us the first of several opportunities to enjoy one another’s company.

People had created a beautiful altar in the center of the dining hall/main meeting room.  There were lots of kids, including some who mischievously got into the coffee and got jacked up one day.  We sang a blessing of the food and our work when we lined up for meals.  I visited many old East Coast friends.  I made some new friends like Jason.  Lisa Fithian and her partner gave us a report and showed a video about the work they’d been doing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  I gave a brief talk about the interfaith work I’d been doing.  For the most part, we had interesting mealtime table discussions, although, to make the most of the brief time we had together, we talked mainly about prescribed topic.  Some of us met together to write each morning.

Like a witch’s cauldron, the bioremediation brew mentioned here sat at one side of the dining hall where it was stirred off and on throughout the weekend; the tub sometimes served as a tool in ritual.

This was the DG at which BIRCH (Broad Intra-Reclaiming Council of Hubs – a forced, awkward acronym, I must say) was formed.  I volunteered to serve on the “Identity” cell and to coordinate “History & Lore-Keeping.”  I was so encouraged by Reclaiming’s arrival at this attempt at creation cohesion, expectations, and accountability that when I got home I sent out an announcement to all the reporters, religion journalists, and Pagan studies scholars I knew.

At this DG was my first exposure to a “healing ritual” that apparently is commonly performed at larger Reclaiming gatherings.  Confidentiality forbids me from describing it in any detail, but suffice it to say that my reactions were twofold and in opposition.  On the one paw, I found some of what I consider to be extreme gullibility, too much emoting on the part of both healers and healees for my sensibility, while on the other I found the chanting, drumming, and the amazing circle dance powerful and compelling.  I closely watched the ritual-- from the periphery, from a walkway above the main room, from among the dancers when I danced, and from within the center when I entered to attend to someone I felt called to give healing touch.

Dandelion Gathering, Northern California, 2008

Attending the third Dandelion Gathering was easy, since the venue was less than an hour’s drive from my home.  And since several of my pals were among the planners, of course I wanted to go, both to support them in their efforts and to see what was going on.

I enjoyed the opening ritual, for which I had been asked to do one of the invocations.  The sense I had from that ritual was one of warmth and camaraderie.  I had no big expectations for the rest of the weekend, since, as I’ve said, I’d been operating from the periphery.  I chose to remain open to whatever arose.

I attended a couple of workshops that I found worth my while.  I especially enjoyed singing kirtans with Evelie. I joined in most of the mealtime table discussions, although we didn’t stick closely to the agenda provided.  We celebrated a handfasting.  Towards the end there was another one of the healing rituals I’d first encountered at the Western Massachusetts Dandelion Gathering.  I shared a cabin and lots of good talks with my friend, and later initiate, Vajra, and made a special new friend, William.

It was fun to spend more time with my local friends, more than we do when we’re home and distracted by all the many things we do.  I left feeling pretty good, except for not quite understanding the pressure for changes.  I don’t remember gender identification being much of an issue, although there were folks that whose gender wasn’t entirely evident to me but who seemed comfortable with who they were and seemed welcome.  I do remember more talk about involving minorities.

Dandelion Gathering, Diana’s Grove, Missouri, 2010

Not such a good experience, see blog on hissing.  Even so, I got to hang out with some wonderful folks, two of whom are here: 
Jason, Macha and Matt
DragonWing and Macha

Macha and Grove

Dandelion Gathering, Molalla, Oregon, 2012

My experience at this DG borders on the surreal.  I will return to this topic in a future blog.

[1]             There are several links to Dandelion Gatherings on the Web; none appears to be current.  This is the most recent.  I took some notes at the times I attended these events, but I don’t know where they might be so I’m writing this from memory.  It will necessarily be more impressionistic than specific.
[2]             WitchCamps are week-long retreats for teaching and learning Reclaiming Tradition Craft held around the U.S. and in other countries.  They began with a Summer Apprenticeship Intensive held in San Francisco around 1981, followed by a camping retreat at Jughandle Farm in Mendocino County, and from there camps spread to Michigan, British Columbia, and many other locations.  I have not been a part of WitchCamp culture, fodder for a future blog.
[3]             Point of Information:  All of the organizers of every Dandelion Gathering – Morgana, et al. in Texas; Beth, et al. in Western Massachusetts; my local community in Northern California; Jason, Matt, and Kris in Missouri; and Craig, Misha, Serenity, Otter, Topaz, Rosemary, Panther, horizon and Satya in Portland – have been courteous, professional, warm, accommodating, and pleasant to deal with.  Nothing that I write here is meant to be critical of any organizer.  They’ve all been wonderful.

[4]             I am only minimally active in CoG currently, being one of five National Interfaith Representatives.
[5]             I am not providing a link to the Principles of Unity because they have been changed as of Dandelion 5 and I made my decision to withdraw from the tradition prior to the adoption of the revised Principles of Unity.  However, the original PoU are included in the entry on Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft on The Witches’ Voice.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Remembering the Homeless

 Photo  © Ron Greene*
Lest we get bogged down in my personal disappointments with Reclaiming, I remind myself and readers that there are bigger issues in our worlds.

In late July the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy memorializes the homeless of our county with a gathering, march, and brief program.  If I am not away from home, I participate.  This year was a bit different, in that there was much less diversity among the interfaith participants.  After we are called together with drumming, often a Buddhist will light incense and offer a prayer to bless the endeavor.  There was no Buddhist there this year, although there are several Buddhist congregations and at least two prominent Buddhist retreats in the county.  Nor were there any representatives from any of the local Jewish synagogues, as there have been in the past.  Nor was there a contingent of Dominican Sisters like I'm used to seeing.  I'm guessing this is because the date conflicted with other important matters these folks needed to attend rather than being due to disinterest.  In any case, I was surprised that the only speakers from the religious community were about four Protestant ministers, including my colleague on the Justice Advocacy Team at Marin Interfaith Council, the Rev. Liza Klein of San Rafael First United Methodist Church; one priest from St. Raphael's; and one Pagan, yours truly.

We gathered in the plaza in front of St. Raphael's, near where a tree was planted by this same group about ten years ago.  I took the two photos below a few years ago; the tree has grown larger now.

My contribution was a prayer to the Mother of Justice, followed by singing of a beautiful round called "When We Are Gone," written by Anne Hill and Starhawk and published in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (as is the prayer).  We have done this enough times now for some of the people to know the song, so the singing was fuller, richer, and sweeter than it's been in past years.

Sometimes people ask why I do this.  The answers are many, but the main one is that there are Pagans among our nation's homeless, and they have told me how much they appreciate seeing a Pagan face among the speakers.  They have also said they're glad to see acknowledgement of goddess worship.

 * * * * *

* Ron Greene has several entries on the homeless in Marin, accompanied by moving photos, on his blog site.  In this photo, I am in the left foreground wearing purple and a big pentacle.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Stirring the Cauldron

I think the stirrer of the cauldron performs an important, even vital, role.  Someone, preferably more than one, in every community should step up to the cauldron and stir it now and then, especially when the fire beneath the cauldron gets too hot.

Cauldron-stirring is different from shit-disturbing.  The latter aerates stinky stuff and releases noxious odors.  No one wants that.  The former, however, is a necessary part of the brewing process.  Ask any cook or brewer how things turn out if neglected and just left to simmer (or even boil) unstirred.  I am neither cook nor brewer, but I don't need to be to see that this is true. 

Without stirring, stuff gets stuck on the bottom of the pot, where it accumulates, blackens, and becomes solid and resistant to being cleaned up.  Not stirring the cauldron leaves this icky stuff that needs to be chipped out with a hard, sharp tool in order to have a clean cauldron from other brews.

At the second Dandelion Gathering1 in Western Massachusetts, a crew prepared a brew for bio-remediation of something on the property, if I recall correctly.  Or perhaps it was to be taken elsewhere to be used.  In any case, the brew needed regular stirring.  I loved stepping up to it and taking some turns at swirling it into something rich and different from its individual components.  I found it a wonderful addition to some of the ritual done there.  It was there in the big meeting room for most of the gathering.

That's what I see happening now.  I am a chief stirrer.  Some others are noticing the changes in aroma coming from the cauldron.  Others are stepping up to take a turn at stirring. Others are angry that anything is being disturbed.  It's been my hope that this stirring might loosen the gunk on the bottom of the cauldron.  Because, after all, if the brew isn't "healthy" and transforming the contents of the cauldron into something nourishing, then what's the point of making it?

1Biennial all-Reclaiming gathering, instituted in Texas in 2004.  Although I am no longer affiliated with Reclaiming as any kind of entity (a slippery one to pin down), I have been for more than 30 years and I did attend all Dandelion Gatherings.  I will not be attending any more of them.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Accountability, or Lack Thereof

I'm going to relate two concrete examples of issues of accountability, tangible issues, that have been brought to my attention by the people who were wronged.  These two examples concern financial matters.  The magico-spiritual and/or social issues may be articulated in a subsequent post.  For now...

* * * * *

A Reclaiming community on the East Coast decides to have a teachers' retreat.  (Hereinafter I'll refer to this particular community as "SH.")  The venue they choose is in a state where none of them lives.  This venue must be rented by a resident of that state.  They ask a prominent Pagan who lives there to reserve the venue for their retreat.  (Again, for clarity I'll assign this person the appellation of "PP.")  PP does as SH requests and reserves the venue.  He is required to pay a sizable deposit ($400, I seem to recall) which he does.

In the meantime there is a dust-up within SH.  Some members seem to think it's elitist to allow the teachers to go off by themselves to work on the things they think are important for them to work on.  (Please allow for some distortion of this story due to its second-hand nature.  I think the facts essentially boil down to the same thing.)  As a result, SH cancels the retreat.  Period.  That's it.  End of story.  Well, no, not really.

Other local Pagans who have loose affiliations with Reclaiming and this particular community decide to collect money from amongst themselves to repay PP.  PP, although he appreciates the effort, does not feel this is okay.  He declines their offer.  He insists, rightly in my opinion, that the repayment is owed by the people who asked for him to do this, not from others loosely connected with the trad or group.

How do I know about this if I live on the West Coast and am not involved with this local Reclaiming group in any way?  Well, I've made it my business over the past 30+ years to expose myself to different Witches and Pagans around the country whenever I'm given an opportunity.  PP, who is a good friend, told me.  Since I have formally withdrawn from Reclaiming, I have spoken with PP and learned, no surprise, that no effort has been made to repay him.

What can I do about it?  Not much, except to say it here.  There is no central authority.  I'm fine with that.  In fact, I think it's healthy.  Still, where is the personal or group (SH, not all of Reclaiming) accountability for having made this request of someone not a member of the group, caused them expense, and then changing their minds and leaving PP holding the bag?

* * * * *
Example Number Two:  A local SF Bay Area Reclaiming person moves to a city in the San Joaquin Valley.  I will refer to this person as "Mover."  I have friends there, have presented workshops there, and now have been invited to present at the first Pagan Pride event in this region.  I do so and I enjoy the day.  Mover is there and is cordial.

A month or so later I get a call from one of my Pagan pals who lives in the area.  I'll call her S.  S tells me that Mover had announced that she was teaching a Reclaiming class.  Several local folks, being excited at this prospect, paid deposits to be in this class.  Mover disappeared.  Simply disappeared. She left no word and no one seems to know where she's gone. 

S, on behalf of those who paid deposits, herself included, phones me in distress.  She understandably wants to know where Mover and the deposit money is.

I call two local Reclaiming people whom I know to be mentors of Mover.  They don't know where Mover has gone, either.  That's the end of it.  This happened maybe ten years ago.

Several years later I encounter Mover at a wedding, so obviously she is no longer "disappeared."

After my resignation, S contacted me to offer support and sympathy.  She recognizes similar patterns from groups she's been a part of.  Just to be sure I'm current on my facts, I ask her if she's ever heard from Mover and/or been refunded her deposit.  She has not.

Oddly, Mover shares a cabin with me at Dandelion 5.  We do talk briefly about Mover's short residence in this Valley city, but no mention is made, either by her or by me, of the missing money.  I decide, because so much time has elapsed and because of the reasons she gives for having left that city, not to bring up the matter of the money.

Now, however, the landscape has changed.  I have resigned, and one of the reasons I've given is lack of accountability.  I mean this accountability in many ways, not just financial.  I offer these two examples because, being cold facts, they can be assessed objectively rather than subjectively.  Other less objective lapses in accountability are more difficult to articulate -- and to judge.  Perhaps readers may have had similar experiences.  If so, I invite you to write of them here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Another Piece of Evidence

Among the many and complex reasons for my departure from Reclaiming is this one articulated by Anne Hill five years ago!

"How to Diss an Elder, the Dead, and Everyone Else"

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gods and Mysterious Ones: A Poet’s-Eye View

A guest post by Steven Posch.

* * * * *

As a poet, I’ve got strong feelings about language.  In my experience, good language is specific, denotative, and impacting.  Bad language, by contrast, is vague, connotative, and ‘squishy.’

What, Then, Should We Call the Gods?

Some contemporary pagans are loath to call the gods ‘gods,’ primarily because they see the term as too gender-specific and hence exclusionary.  ‘Deities’ and ‘divinities’ are, of course, non-gender-specific alternatives in English, but these are ‘upscale’ words that lack the intimacy and forcefulness of the good old Anglo-Saxon monosyllable.  Their connotations are all wrong: they sound academic, if not downright pretentious (especially, in my opinion, when ‘deities’ become ‘day-ities’).  Outside of a comedy sketch, no one would talk about a ‘Deity of Deities’ or ‘Divinity of Divinities.’  ‘Penis’ is a fine old English word of Latin origin, but it’s not the word I’m going to use when I'm in bed with my boyfriend.

Is ‘God’ Sexist?

Contemporary speakers of English generally think of the word ‘god’ as masculine; this is especially true of English-speaking pagans, who tend to have an implicit contrast with ‘goddess’ in their heads.  Historically speaking, though, this is incorrect. 1000 years ago, ‘god’ was a gender-neutral word.

Unlike Modern English, Old English was a gendered language: every noun and adjective had its own inherent gender.  (The loss of grammatical gender, incidentally, is one of the characteristics that marks the shift from Old into Middle English.)

Like Modern German, Old English god (‘god’) was, in fact, grammatically neuter, not masculine: it could denote a deity of either sex.  A word for ‘goddess,’ gyden, existed, if one wished to specify a female deity: so all gydene are gods, but not all gods are gydene.  In the same way, ‘witch’ is a gender-neutral term, but one may, if one wishes, specify ‘male witch.’  (‘Female witch,’ on the other hand, just sounds redundant.)

If the word gyden had survived into modern times, we would today call the Goddess ‘Gidden.’  (Some of us still do.)  But in fact the word died out after the Christianization of England, and the word ‘goddess’—an Anglo-Saxon root with a Norman French suffix—had to be coined in the 14th century.  This, of course, is pretty clear proof that there has been no ongoing tradition of goddess-worship among English-speakers, for those who might still care to make such a claim.

Gods, Elves, Ents, and Oses

The religious vocabulary of the ancestors included a number of very specific terms for very specific beings.  To say that a particular being was a ‘god’ (or a 'gidden') tells you a great deal about that being’s power, status, and nature, among other things.  To denominate something an ‘elf’ likewise tells you some very specific things about who and what that being is; likewise an etin (giant; the source of Tolkien’s ‘ent’) or an ōs, the Old English equivalent of the Old Norse word áss (singular of æsir).  Like gyden, ōs—perhaps because it specified a particular kind of pagan god—also did not survive into Modern English, except as a compound in names.  Osbert, Oswald, and Oscar are all named for æsir (their -brightness, -power, and -spear respectively)

Those Mysterious ‘Mysterious Ones

One term that has gained a certain currency in some circles as a non-gendered alternative to ‘gods’ is ‘mysterious ones.’  Alternative, yes, but is this a worthy alternative?

Let us look more closely at the ‘mysterious ones.’

First off, we should note that this is not a word, but a phrase.  This is a strike against it from the very start.  English-speakers—and especially American English-speakers—like terse.  Polysyllables have a tendency to become abbreviated in everyday use: ‘television’ becomes TV (or ‘telly’), ‘United States of America’ becomes ‘US.’  If the term ‘mysterious ones’ persists, my linguist's crystal ball foretells that it will devolve into something like ‘MOs’ toute suite.  Be warned.

To say that a being is a ‘god’ tells you specifics about that being in and of him (or her) self.  It is a denotative term.  ‘Mysterious one,’ on the other hand, denotes nothing; it is entirely connotative.  It tells you nothing whatsoever about the being itself, only what he, she, or it feels like to me.  In fact, the phrase tells you more about me than it does about the being I’m attempting to describe.  This may be all very well for egocentric neo-pagans, but in the long term it must be clear that the phrase is theologically, as well as poetically, empty.

‘Mysterious one’ is not only clunky, it is so vague as to be in effect meaningless.  It is useless as a synonym for ‘god,’ because it could denote virtually anything, so long as that something is unknown —and hence ‘mysterious’—to the speaker.

In the footrace of god-language, ‘mysterious ones’ comes in dead last.

What To Do?

The word ‘god’ has a lot going for it.  It’s short, sweet, and denotative; it’s got both the cachet of high antiquity and a continuous tradition of use.  Any speaker of English automatically understands its meaning.  It’s got grandeur, but there’s also an intimacy to it.  (It’s hard to imagine anyone shouting “Oh Mysterious Ones!” at the moment of orgasm.)  Yes, it’s come to have Christian and male connotations over the years, but by origin it’s as good a pagan word as any, and it’s gender-neutral to boot.

I propose that we set about reclaiming ‘god.’  Let’s redefine it in, and on, our own terms.  We moderns are still learning to ‘speak’ Pagan, and one of the ways in which we do this is by seizing our traditional vocabulary and redefining it in accordance with our own thought and experience.

Hey, it worked with ‘witch.’

Steven Posch is a poet and scholar. Fluent in numerous dialects of Pagan, he is widely acknowledged to be one of the foremost authorities on the history, vocabulary, and grammar of the language. He lives and speaks in Minneapolis.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Back Story, One of Several

Dandelion Gathering 4, in the forests of Missouri, 2010

I arrive to find a lower bunk in a cabin conveniently near an outhouse.  So far, so good.

There is an opening ritual to which we are asked to bring something.  I have nothing tangible with me so when the time comes for me to contribute, I step forward to the bonfire and declare, "I bring an open mind and an open heart."  I know this is a risky thing to do.

I don't feel especially safe, nor do I feel unsafe.  I simply feel something of a stranger, since there are very few people there I know.  I'm glad my old friend Grove Harris is sharing our cabin.  I know the big topic du jour is some kind of explicit mention of transgender people in the Principles of Unity.  I have no preconceived notions about how that would come about, but I am open to exploring the possibility.  I do not feel as well informed as I like to be when considering such changes.  I consider that one reason for my being there is to learn.  So -- I cast this spell by opening up my mind and heart at the opening ritual, hoping that my approach will serve me and everyone else well.

In the middle of my first night there I awake with a migraine.  I never in my life experienced migraines until I went through the change, and that was years ago.  I occasionally get one, maybe once or twice a year, for reasons I'm now beginning to consider being related to stress.  I know I'm going to heave so I stumble out of the cabin searching for the nearby privy.  It's wet and foggy and I cannot find my way.  My gorge is up and I can hold it no longer, so I hike up my nightgown to avoid soiling it and barf in the dewy meadow.  That affords some relief.  I stumble back into the cabin and flop on the bunk.

The next day those who are aware of my episode are kind to me.  A couple of people look in on me, offer me Reiki, and generally make me feel not neglected.  Besides, I'm in the First Aid cabin with two nurses.  Nevertheless, when these migraines happen I lose at least a day to recovery.  So I miss the first day of meetings, which isn't such a big deal because it's not the weekend yet, when more people are expected to arrive.

There are several people there who are obviously transgendered and reveling in their freedom to express their uniqueness in that setting.  They strut around in as little clothing as possible.  "Cool," says I to myself, even though I'm not exactly sure with each individual to which end of the gender spectrum they're headed and from which one they come.  I don't know which pronoun each prefers, since I can't really be certain which gender they wish to express.

We gather for a big meeting.  It turns out to be a six-hour marathon on gender.

About two-thirds of the way through, when I feel the discussion has grown very confusing, I ask a question:  "Can you tell me, is there anyone here who is not here as the result of the union of an ovum and a sperm?"  Impertinent of me, I guess, because I am initially met with silence.  Then one of the transgender activists says to me, in an overtly condescending tone, "You do know there's a difference between sex and gender, don't you?"  This person's remarks are met with loud hissing.  I answer that yes, I do.

The meeting drones on.  Towards the end, the facilitator says, "Now, let's all close our eyes and take a deep breath.  Look inside and see what you're feeling." Well, this is not my style.  It's kind newageish and over-sharing for my taste.  I'm fine with doing this kind of thing with trusted intimates, but not with a bunch of people I barely know.  Nonetheless, this seems the time to express my feelings, and I'm there with serious intent to being involved in my community and trad as well as I can, so I say, "I'm feeling a lot of hostility."  A collective gasp arises.  "Oh, no, Macha!  We love you!" followed by an explanation of the cultural meaning of hissing at someone's comments.  I am told they come from the Radical Faerie community -- I have been told that many times by many people, most of whom are not connected with Reclaiming -- and that they mean approval, we love what you're saying.  Well, the people eliciting the hissing are those who were talking down to me!  There was no hissing at anything I said.  This proves my point: I was being treated with hostility.

During all this, not one person calls any hissers on their overt disrespect.  No one!  I would not allow such behavior to be directed towards anyone!  This is not a question of disrespecting an elder; it's one of rudeness.  It doesn't matter who's being dissed.  It's simply nasty.  And for a community that stresses good process, it's counterproductive.

The next day's meeting is more of same.  I dread going, but I do.  A couple people comment to me during non-meeting times about how brave I am and how well I hold my center.  But the fact remains that no one in the meetings criticizes the hissers or calls for them to cease.

This is bullying, folks!  (More about bullish behavior in Reclaiming culture in a future blog. For now, this is one blatant example.)  A less stubborn person than I would probably run away in tears.  I do not.  Besides, I am here for the duration whether I like it or not.  I have no way to leave and nowhere to go.  I have a plane ticket home on Sunday.

Not soon enough for me, the weekend is over and I can go home.  When I get home and begin reflecting on my experiences, I feel battered.  I truly do.  I don't really know how to process it.  During the following months I do tell some of my Reclaiming colleagues who weren't there about my experience.  I vow never to go again.

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

I know other things happened in these meetings.  I know others will have experienced them differently.  This all happened two years ago, and in something of a haze.  And a trauma.  What I'm trying to relate is my own personal experience.

* Spider is supposedly Reclaiming teachers and organizers, although there seem to be others working in other capacities who are also subscribed.

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Co-Founder Withdraws from Reclaiming Tradition

I, M. Macha NightMare, Priestess & Witch, aka Aline O’Brien, withdraw from the organization known as Reclaiming Tradition Witchcraft and hereby dissociate myself from further involvement with the tradition.  I make this statement formally and publicly because I am a public figure known to be connected to Reclaiming.

I do not make this decision lightly or without forethought and considerations for potential consequences.  It has been a long time coming.  I no longer feel that its principles and practices accord with my own.  I intend to remain as true as I can to original Principles of Unity released in 1997, and of which I am a co-creator.  Many may assume that the adoption of a revised Principles of Unity soon to be published is my reason for retiring.  However, my unwillingness to accept them is not my only reason.  I have long felt alienated, estranged, and out of sync with how I've seen the tradition devolving.  

The incompatibilities between Reclaiming and me also trace to loose, undefined standards; lack of accountability; uncivil personal conduct and rude, disrespectful behavior without any restraint or consequences; lack of coherent theology; lack of intellectual rigor; and carelessness in ritual and other aspects of religious practice.  

I do this in order to maintain my own standards of honor and integrity.  I need to love and respect the person I see in the mirror.  

I remain a Witch.  I am not renouncing my oath to protect and defend my sisters and brothers of the art.  I intend to remain true to my vows.   I hope to continue to enjoy the many loving relationships engendered in the context of Reclaiming.

It will take me some time to unpack and explore these many concerns on this Broomstick Chronicles blog.  I hope others will join me in this exploration and will contribute their thoughts and feelings as I begin to articulate mine.

I am full of love and gratitude for having had the opportunity to help midwife the birth and growth of Reclaiming in its earlier incarnations, and to have trod the path alongside so many loved ones.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ritualizing Returning Home

What follows is the text of a five-minute presentation given at Beyond Memorial Day: Understanding the Hidden Wounds of War, sponsored by the Interfaith Center of the Presidio.  More about that event to follow shortly, but for now I post this piece on "Ritualizing Returning Home."  Bear in mind that this was presented to an overwhelmingly Abrahamic gathering, most of whom know nothing at all about Paganism.

Ritualizing Returning Home

Beyond Memorial Day: Understanding the Hidden Wounds of War
April 26, 2012
Orinda, California

            Pagans are much taken with ritual.  As with all, or at least most, religious practitioners, we perform rituals we’ve learned in our training.  We also create new rituals, or adapt familiar ones, for specific purposes.  We draw from many of the customs of our ancestors all over the world and we blend these with more contemporary techniques and themes to suit not only particular occasions but also to customize them for specific individuals and the work, often healing work, that we do.

            In addition, we recognize the importance of doing things with our bodies, not just in our heads, as a way of engaging with the world.  This is especially important when folks have been engaged in something as physical as combat.  Ritual is a physical way to engage with the spiritual and psychological realities of returning home

            We offer some suggestions here for support and inspiration in all of our work to reintegrate our military sisters and brothers into our communities.  Some may be obvious to you, things you may customarily do.  Others may be unfamiliar.  Perhaps articulating these ideas will inspire you in your work with your congregations.

            1.            Cleanse and Release:  Using one or more of several methods, we welcome the returning serviceperson by cleansing her or him.  We may use sage or another purifying incense.  We may use water, salt water, scented water, anointing oil.  We speak, chant or sing words while we do this, or we may perform these acts in silence, or with the rhythm of drumming or a droning sound.  Performing acts of ritual cleansing can help release the burdens of war both energetically and symbolically.

            Such acts may be preceded by the literal laying aside of arms (although the arms themselves may be symbolic.  For instance, one may cleanse, polish, and sheathe a sword, even though he or she didn’t use a sword in battle.

            The clothing of the returnee may be changed.  He or she may wish to remove the uniform and redress in civilian clothing.  Others may prefer to clean their uniforms, polish their brass, and re-don the uniform that has been rededicated to another use, such as keeping the peace.

            2.            Support and Welcome Home:  Next we welcome the veteran home.  One individual may speak words of welcome on behalf of the entire congregation or community.  But it’s better, more effective, more meaningful, if this welcoming is done by each person one by one, extending a personal face-to-face, eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart welcome to the returnee.  This series of acts can be done in the context of a circle or spiral dance, with music and/or chanting and/or drumming.  Flowers may be exchanged, or flower petals strewn around.

            3.            Expression of Thanks for Service:  It’s easy to say, “Welcome home.  Thanks for your service.”  These words bear repeating from time to time, and by different people.  Other ways to articulate our gratitude are the planting of a memorial tree, the engraving and installation of a plaque, bench, garden gate, or other lasting physical acknowledgement of the person’s service to the greater community.  A shared feast, or perhaps a specially decorated cake, always brings people together in camaraderie and fosters fellowship.

            Circle Sanctuary, a Pagan organization based in Wisconsin, bestows a Pagan service ribbon on all veterans of whatever military conflicts.  Your religious institution may have symbols – pins, ribbons, armbands, pendants or other jewelry – that can be presented to your returning veterans.

            We hope that hearing of some of the ways Pagans use ritual to restore returning veterans and their families, to heal them of their spiritual, psychic, and emotional wounds…

            We leave you with a brief guided meditation that anyone can use wherever they are to reconnect with the sense of the sacred.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Don Frew concluded with a Tree of Life meditation, something everyone can understand and use when they feel the need.

M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien)
© 2012