Thursday, April 24, 2014

Morning Glory’s “Wake”

Morning Glory, Morgan, Wynter, Baby Girl

My old friend Anna Korn and I drove up to the Zell compound in Cotati after I finished with the Wiccan circle at San Quentin, so we weren’t there from the very beginning.  When we arrived, there were cars parked up and down both sides of the country road outside their home and the place was packed.  There was a proverbial groaning board in the dining room that kept acquiring more and more dishes of food.  Platters of ham, beef, chicken for the carnivores.  All manner of salads and side dishes – beans, pasta, greens, tomatoes and pomegranate seeds, you name it.  Plus veggies, breads and many tasty chips for dipping in many tasty dips.  There were also food tables out on the various decks surrounding the house, with plenty of folks outside, too.  There was a seemingly endless supply of wines and other potables, including Pyrate Jenny with her lovely basket filled with about a dozen different flasks, each containing some kind of whiskey or rum.

People congregated in the two living rooms, the den, and in several seating clusters on the surrounding decks.  During this time Zack Darling, using a fancy video camera with a tripod and a handheld mic, recorded stories about Morning Glory from individual friends and lovers.

The stated plan was that small groups of people would be shuttled to the hospital for brief visits with MG.  Only two visitors were permitted in her room at a time. 

Anna is an old friend of the Zells and other Pagans at Greenfield Ranch, and in fact had lived there for a time in her younger years, so she was going up there to see MG. 

However, since I have never been involved with Church of All Worlds, although I’ve attended a weekend gathering now and then over the past 30+ years, I had planned to defer visiting to others who were either closer or who’d come from farther away. 

My former Holy Terrors coven sister Cerridwen Fallingstar had visited her only two days earlier, on Thursday, and said it was a really hard visit because MG was in such intense pain.  One of the first friends I spoke with when we got to the “wake” was Richard Ely, another old friend.  Richard told me that he too had visited MG a day or so before, and that seeing her in such extreme pain was difficult.  So hearing this news reinforced my plan to forego a face-to-face visit.  It seemed to me that, however much she appreciated a gathering in her honor, one in which people related loving, often hilarious tales about her, she had only so much energy in her weakening state.  There was only so much time, and there were so many people!

So I spent the time visiting with old friends, becoming better acquainted with others, and meeting a few new ones.

When Anna and I arrived, Cerridwen, who planned to drive back to Marin with us, was off at the hospital with Morning Glory.  She told us when she returned that MG seemed much, much, much better today.  Evidently the medical professionals found the right painkillers for her.  I was relieved to learn this.

But it’s the other observation Cerridwen related that upset me.  It turns out that some of the visitors to Morning Glory’s bedside had never met her before!  Why would someone who’s never met the patient choose to take up limited time, space, and the patient’s energy to get some grand introduction?  There’s a carrion-esque feel to this situation.  Not that I don’t love carrion eaters; I am one.  But carrion eaters wait till their meal is dead before diving in.

Now I didn’t ask Morning Glory if she welcomed people who didn’t know her.  Perhaps she did.  One might reasonably assume that someone took on the role of figurative gatekeeper of access to MG, in which case some boundaries might have been set up.  Again, perhaps someone did and everything was copacetic.  I wasn’t there.  But I can tell anyone reading this right now: if I’m in any kind of state wherein my health is compromised and I need others to care for my daily needs, whether in a hospital or at home, please do not bring strangers to my bedside!

Cerridwen, Avelynn(sp?), Willowoak, Raina, Julie (my hand in foreground)

Farida, driver for that particular shuttle, soon left for the hospital with Anna.  While they were gone I mostly hung in the living room where MG’s famous collection of goddess statues are displayed.  Personnel shifted, but most of the time Julie Epona more or less presided.  Others I got to catch up with a little bit were Anodea Judith, Willowoak (who was super unsteady on her feet, had fallen more than once that day, and seemed to want her wine cup refilled often), Raina Woolfolk.

During that period Zack recorded Cerridwen, a former lover of MG’s, reading a story she’d written about her early days with MG.  The scene was a park in a middle class neighborhood in the Los Angeles area.  I found it to be a magical piece, full of love and sensuality.  I was glad I happened to be there to listen to it told directly to MG via the camera lens.

Anyone who knows Morning Glory knows she’s a sensuous, sexual, loving being, so it’s not surprising that other lovers spoke, including MG’s “Filly from Philly,” Diane Nemea Laessig.

Hospital visiting hours having concluded, we loaded our car to leave when Oberon drove in the driveway with a car full of folks.

I hope that this tribute served to lighten the spirits of Morning Glory and all her loved ones and caregivers.

Photos by Diane Nemea Laessig.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Perspective on “Wiccanate Privilege”

There’s been a lot angst expressed over the notion of “Wiccanate privilege.”  Personally, I dislike the term.  I think that stating this dissatisfaction at the outset by the using the notion of “Wiccanate privilege,” or any other kind of privilege, sets up an oppositional stance when perhaps none was intended.  Or if it was intended to be derogatory or critical, I feel disappointed, even hurt.

I’ve read most, but surely not all, of the discussions of this topic in the Pagan blogosphere.  Between what I’ve read and attending the “Wiccanate privilege” discussion at PantheaCon, I feel reasonably well informed. 

I’ve participated in interfaith activities for several years now.  I publish reports of most of these activities on my Broomstick Chronicles blog, the CoG interfaith blog, and Wild Garden at Patheos.  I’ve been active member of Marin Interfaith Council where I live.  Most regular attendees at MIC events know me.  For some years I worked more specifically on MIC’s Justice Advocacy Team.  I’ve learned a lot about situations in my county: housing for the homeless; teen suicide; substance abuse; affordable housing; water and open space issues; increases – they’re nearly always increases – in the number of people relying upon food giveaways to feed their families rather than as a supplement; and many other local problems.

I’ve also participated in other, sometimes broader interfaith efforts: United Religions Initiative; Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County; MountainTop; People of the Earth; Auburn Theological Seminary’s Center for Multifaith Education are some. In addition, I’ve participated in co-created interfaith rituals (homeless memorials; celebrating light in winter; reaffirming peace efforts on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, re-integrating returning veterans, for example).  I provide this sample of my involvement so readers know I’m speaking from personal experience within the interfaith movement.

At most events everyone is asked to introduce herself[1].  When I first began this work, I used the name “Macha” and the term “Witch,” because that is who I am and because the organization I represent is the Covenant of the Goddess, a witchen organization. (I’m not getting into the Wicca/Witchcraft terminology discussion here.)  Before long, I began to introduce myself as a Pagan, because I am a Pagan.

No surprise, others asked me about what Witches do and what we believe.  One of my Roman Catholic friends in the JAT once asked me, very hesitantly, “You don’t worship Satan, do you?”  I said no, and spoke a bit about horned and antlered gods and their having been conflated with the Christian concept of the devil.

When I speak of being a Pagan, I make a point to mention that Witches (or Wiccans, for those for whom the term is more comfortable) are not the only kinds of Pagans out there.  I explain that we are the more visible and the more populous, so that’s what the public sees.  That is why the uninformed (both the general public and religious leadership) may be unaware of the diversity of spiritual expressions found in contemporary American Paganism. 

I explain that Paganism is an umbrella term for many contemporary, generally polytheistic, sometimes ethnic-based non-Abrahamic forms of religious expression.  I say that the term embraces Druids, Asatru, Kemetics, reconstructed religions, et al., and that some of them considered themselves to be Pagans while others chose not to identify with that label (thinking of Heathenry in particular, since some Heathens shun the association.)

I make no claim to be able to speak knowledgeably about minority Pagan religions.  I say nothing beyond the most basic description.  For instance, that Kemeticism is a reconstruction of the religion(s) of ancient Egyptian.  Further, I offer to find them resources, and then, if they’re really interested, to try to find a real life human practitioner with whom to put them in touch.

I make these points in my conversations with interfaith colleagues because I don’t want them to see us Pagans as being monolithic.  In my view, our diversity and our questioning and reevaluating, are among our greatest assets.  I believe we are richer and healthier when we share our perspectives.  This is true for me in terms of interfaith (or multifaith or interreligious) engagement as well as within the Pagan spectrum.

For those of us who find these explorations of who we are, what our sources are, where we find inspiration, what our ancestors were up to endlessly fascinating, great!  But for most of the population, at least that part I’m exposed to, this kind of talk just makes their eyes glaze over.

Unless they’re theologians (few are) or evangelicals (again, few are inclined to work beyond their own sects), they don’t want to know all that.  The people who participate in interfaith activities are those who already can see that there are lots of different ways of experiencing and expressing the sacred beyond their own. They see that we (or at least I) share common concerns about society and the environment.  We share life-affirming values.

I invite non-witchen Pagans to join us.  That way you can be assured of the accuracy of any assumptions about who you are and what you do.  If that’s not feasible, then I ask you to trust me to speak on your behalf in a way that is respectful and not misleading.

[1]     I’m using feminine pronouns herein because I’m speaking from my own experience as a double X-carrying person of the female persuasion.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

My Take on the Kenny Klein Affair

If you’re one of those Pagans who socialize on the Web, you’re no doubt aware of the current shitstorm in the wake of the arrest of prominent Pagan musician Kenny Klein for possession and distribution of child pornography.

The way I see it, this occurrence has brought out the best and the worst conduct on the part of Pagans.

Among the worst are (1) screaming for his head; (2) protesting in his defense because there’s been no adjudication yet, just an arrest; (3) dredging up all manner of rumor, founded and unfounded, from the past; and (4) untenable ad hominem attacks on other prominent Pagans.

Among the best:  Bringing up all manner of past questionable conduct on the part of individuals, groups, and festival organizers.  You’ll note that this “best” relates to the third “worst” mentioned above.  Many have pointed out that they were silenced when they tried to speak out about someone’s bad behavior (much of which went far beyond the fairly innocuous and relative term “bad behavior”).

Much of this stems from the Pagan, or at least Witchen, emphasis on secrecy.  My friend Holli Emore notes: 

“Wherever secrecy and opacity trump community values, whenever we think that it is more important to hide ourselves or our group from the rest of the world, dysfunction can then grow rampantly, like black mold in a damp basement.”

I want to point out something that I haven’t seen mentioned yet.  That is that the mainstream news reports of this incident never once mentioned any kind of religious affiliation or persuasion on the part of the perps.  No mention of the fact that Kenny is known in the wider Pagan community.  Not one word.  That is as it should be.  No news reports ever mention anyone’s religion unless the report is specifically about religion, like the recent passing of Fred Phelps, for instance.  That, in my opinion, is one the triumphs of this situations. 

So when I see folks griping about how unfairly maligned we Pagans are, it bothers me that they cannot also see that work has been done to dispel misunderstandings about Paganisms since at least the 1970s.  So many of our Pagan cultural efforts – festivals, publishing, music, art, blogs, conferences, symposia, seminaries, and the like – would not be experiencing the warm and enthusiastic reception they enjoy were it not for this groundwork having been done.

Some of us old-timers have been working on behalf of Pagan credibility in the overculture for years.  We have worked to educate journalists, reporters, and the media in general.  Some have worked with law enforcement, even in the investigation of crimes around which such things as Tarot cards, sigils, and home altars have been found.  Others have worked in academia, speaking to college classes and seminarians, and some have worked in the arena of local, national, and even international interfaith.

So I choose to see this discussion, with all its fractiousness, as a sign of the birthing of a new, more established Paganism.  Labor is messy and painful.  All this screaming and figurative bloodletting I see as part of that process.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

PantheaCon -- Part III

Jo-Ann Byers-Mierzwicki, Corby Lawton, me, Tony Mierzwicki
If readers are confused, PantheaCon – Part II, is about veils.

Saturday began with breakfast Jessie Olson, who explained her Cornerstone Pagan Fellowship being launched at PantheaCon in a welcoming hospitality suite I’d visited the previous night.  I’m down with their motto of “Making the Old Ways New,” but less enthusiastic about “Let’s make Paganism mainstream!”  I question whether that goal is either something to strive for or realistic.  Having said that, I do hope – and work for – Pagans achieving visibility and respect in the wider world.  I wish Cornerstone good luck.

Sometimes making it to a presentation at the appointed time is difficult.  Restaurant service can be slow; we can get deeply engaged in discussion with an individual or small group; and sometimes we just need a break.

I wasn’t able to make any of the 7 pm programs, although I was drawn to “Dancing with the Elements: A Magical Bellydance Show.”  Unfortunately that was one of the offerings that was closed once it began.  I guess it was big magic.

Remembering Our Forebears

I noted there was “A Wake for Hyperion,” put on by The Unnamed Path Brotherhood.  I didn’t know Hyperion in life, but I can see what a profound influence he had on many Pagans so I was heartened that they created a special memorial in this large venue.

Years ago after my friend John Patrick McClimans died, his photo graced the registration area over which he’d presided when he was alive.  I also missed seeing Barbara Glass.  We’re losing so many of our “founders” (by which I mean early Pagan presences, teachers, and activists).  I miss Sequoia and Bone Blossom, Judy Foster and Raven Moonshadow, Alison Harlow, Beki Fillipello, Tara Webster, Tyrell O’Neill, Moher Downing and Luanne Blaich, and so many others.  On the feedback form I suggested that PantheaCon have a room dedicated to our Beloved Dead so an altar containing photos of these departed loved ones can be erected and maintained throughout the Con, enabling mourners to honor them, as well as providing an ongoing link to our Pagan history.  I’m aware of two or three people who attended PantheaCon this year who are unlikely to be there next year.  Further, I hope to be remembered by my Pagan communities when I’m gone.  I’m in no hurry, but in only 29 years I’ll have reached 100, if I make it, so…..

* * * * *

I reluctantly passed on Tempest and Nathaniel’s “Dreaming the Raven: A Morrigan Dance Ritual” (belly dance), which appealed to me because of my personal affinity for the Phantom Queen and because I seldom see Tempest and enjoy her dancing.

That same evening I also missed “Sekhmet Empowerment Ritual: Claim Your Power,” intriguing because of a very powerful experience I had with Sekhmet at Her temple in Nevada.

Instead, I visited various suites and schmoozed.  Had a fun time in the ADF suite with Sean Harbaugh of the Sierra Madrone Grove, William Ashton from Denver, and others whose names elude me.  It was fun to tell them of Cherry Hill Seminary’s “Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes” symposium, co-sponsored the University of South Carolina and featuring noted British historian Ronald Hutton, last year, and the fact that the papers delivered there will appear in book form shortly, under the aegis of ADF Publishing.  Here’s an informative report from one Druid’s perspective.

Since I’m a part of two, and sometimes all, of the three sponsors in the Pagan Scholars Den, I hied myself to that suite for the Pagan History Project’s meet-and-greet.  Unfortunately, we had a lot of technical problems with the screening part; however, we made up for those problems with fun conversation.


Over (1) “Second Generation Paganism,” because I’m interested in the overall health of our communities, and their sustainability; (2) “Hypatia’s Ancient Spiritual Magic for Modern Times,” because Hypatia is our Guardian Ancestor at Cherry Hill Seminary, and a fascinating woman; and (3) “The Etruscan Discipline and the Oracle of Geomancy,” with Murtagh anDoile (the only one of those three presenters I had any familiarity with), I opted instead for “Pagans and Institution Building” with Amy Hale.  Judging by the good turnout on the first thing Sunday morning, and the discussion this presentation engendered, this topic is one whose time has come for Pagans.  Well, it’s obvious I’ve been on that bandwagon for many years now, since I’ve been active (and sometimes inactive) in CoG since 1981, active in various interfaith groups and activities for 10 or 15 years, and deeply committed to making CHS a sustainable institution for scholarly- and/or service-inclined Pagans since circa 2000.  Most recently I’ve joined in the work of the Pagan History Project.  I’m always interested to see how others set these things up.  As it turned out, this was mainly a launch for the Pantheon Foundation, as expected.

I’ve seen Pagans attempting to establish various kinds of institutions for decades.  Most are worthy dreams that don’t end up finding themselves grounded in the reality of nonprofit institution building.  We have tons of talent, lots of brainpower, plenty of enthusiasm, yet I feel that some of us end up working at cross-purposes.  Or stepping on each other’s toes.  Ideally, I’d like to see more collaboration and mutual support.  I wish the Pantheon Foundation good luck.  I wish the same for the newly established Cornerstone Pagan Fellowship (also launched at PCon this year), the Temple of Witchcraft, and all the other Pagan institutional endeavors.

Lots of reports, experiences, opinions, and deconstruction have already been posted on several blogs about the “Wiccanate privilege” discussion held in the CoG/NROOGD/NWC hospitality suite on Sunday afternoon.  As a Witch (technically not a Wiccan) who’s been active in interfaith efforts locally and nationally, of course it concerns me if other Pagans feel un- or misrepresented in those fora.  I went and listened attentively.  I’ll contribute my tuppence about the “Wiccanate privilege” discussion in a subsequent blog.