Wednesday, March 30, 2005

My occult library

These days, it's not hard to find books about Wicca, Witchcraft, magic, herbs, tarot, astrology, or the occult. However, it is difficult to find good books: smart, thoughtful, useful, rich, complicated, well-written books. What follows are highly idiosyncratic lists of the good, the bad, and the ugly in my personal occult library. (As I add books to my library, I'll add them to this page. My library is woefully incomplete. Recommendations are most welcome.)

The central library:
  • Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Pagans, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today Margot Adler
  • Etheric Anatomy: The Three Selves and Astral Travel Victor Anderson
  • Practicing the Presence of the Goddess Barbara Ardinger
  • In the Footsteps of the Goddess Cristina Biaggi
  • Goddesses in Everywoman Jean Shinoda Bolen
  • Crossing to Avalon Jean Shinoda Bolen
  • Close to the Bone Jean Shinoda Bolen
  • Urgent Message from Mother Jean Shinoda Bolen
  • Bonewits's Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca Isaac Bonewits
  • The Pagan Man Isaac Bonewits
  • The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia Rob Brezny
  • The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries Zsuzsanna Budapest
  • Grandmother Moon Zsuzsanna Budapest
  • She Who Dreams Wanda Easter Burch
  • Intuitive Astrology Elizabeth Rose Campbell
  • Wiccan Beliefs and Practices Gary Cantrell
  • Womanspirit Rising ed. Carol Christ & Judith Plaskow
  • Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality ed. Christ & Plaskow
  • The Laughter of Aphrodite Carol Christ
  • Odyssey with the Goddess: A Spiritual Quest in Crete Carol Christ
  • The Rebirth of the Goddess Carol Christ
  • She Who Changes: Re-Imagining the Divine in the World Carol Christ
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Susanna Clarke
  • Witchcraft Today, Book 1 ed. Chas Clifton
  • Witchcraft Today, Book 2 ed. Chas Clifton
  • Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America Chas Clifton
  • Evolutionary Witchcraft T. Thorn Coyle
  • Aegypt John Crowley
  • Little, Big John Crowley
  • Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner Scott Cunningham
  • The Truth About Witchcraft Today Scott Cunningham
  • Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, and Metal Magic Scott Cunningham
  • The Magical Household: Spells and Rituals for the Home Scott Cunningham & David Harrington
  • Book of Shadows Phyllis Curott
  • Witchcrafting Phyllis Curott
  • Love Spell Phyllis Curott
  • Beyond God the Father Mary Daly
  • Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism Mary Daly
  • Pure Lust Mary Daly
  • Wickedary Mary Daly
  • Witchcraft: Theory and Practice Ly de Angeles
  • Be A Goddess Francesca De Grandis
  • The Red Tent Anita Diamant
  • The Storyteller's Goddess: Tales of the Goddess and Her Wisdom from Around the World Carolyn McVickar Edwards
  • The Chalice and the Blade Riane Eisler
  • Living in the Lap of the Goddess Cynthia Eller
  • Women Who Run With the Wolves Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  • FutureRitual Philip H. Farber
  • The Solitary Wiccan's Bible Gavin & Yvonne Frost
  • Magical Meditations: Guided Imagery for the Pagan Path Yasmine Galenorm
  • The Meaning of Witchcraft Gerald Gardner
  • Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting Lynn Grabhorn
  • Deepening Witchcraft Grey Cat
  • Wild Witchcraft Marian Green
  • The Astrology of Fate Liz Greene
  • Orders of the Great Work: Alchemy Manly P. Hall
  • Paganism Today: Wiccans, Druids, the Goddess and Ancient Earth Traditions for the Twenty-First Century Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman
  • People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out ed. Ellen Evert Hopman & Lawrence Bond
  • The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft Ronald Hutton
  • Celebrating the Great Mother Cait Johnson & Maura D. Shaw
  • Wheels of Life: A User's Guide to the Chakra System Anodea Judith
  • True Magick Amber K
  • The Woman's Retreat Book Jennifer Louden
  • The Comfort Queen's Guide to Life Jennifer Louden
  • Bioenergetics Alexander Lowen
  • Before You Cast a Spell Carl McColman
  • The Goddess Companion Patricia Monaghan
  • The Planets Within: The Astrological Psychology of Marsillio Ficino Thomas Moore
  • The Family Wicca Book Ashleen O'Gaea
  • Honoring Menstruation Lara Owen
  • The Wiccan Wellness Book Laura Perry
  • Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community Sarah M. Pike
  • His Dark Materials Philip Pullman
  • The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth Monica Sjoo
  • The Politics of Women's Spirituality ed. Charlene Spretnak
  • Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics Starhawk
  • The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess Starhawk
  • The Earth Path Starhawk
  • Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery Starhawk
  • The Fifth Sacred Thing Starhawk
  • The Pagan Book of Living and Dying Starhawk, M. Macha Nightmare and the Reclaiming Collective
  • The Twelve Wild Swans: A Journey to the Realm of Magic, Healing, and Action Starhawk & Hilary Valentine
  • Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions Starhawk, Diane Baker, & Anne Hill
  • Ariadne's Thread Diane Stein
  • Guide to Goddess Craft Diane Stein
  • Mother Wit: A Guide to Healing and Psychic Development Diane Stein
  • The Women's Book of Healing Diane Stein
  • Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats Diane Stein
  • All Women are Psychics Diane Stein
  • The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition Dianne Sylvan
  • Advanced Wicca Patricia Telesco
  • Cakes and Ale for the Pagan Soul ed. Patricia Telesco
  • The Power of Now Eckhart Tolle
  • A New Earth Eckhart Tolle
  • Ritual Magic Donald Tyson
  • Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer
  • Rituals of the Dark Moon Gail Wood
  • We'Moon
  • The Witches' Almanac
  • SageWoman magazine
My Tarot library:
  • The Druid Craft Tarot Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm
  • Feminist Tarot Sally Gearhart & Susan Rennie
  • Tarot for Your Self Mary Greer
  • Tarot Mirrors Mary Greer
  • Discovering Yourself through the Tarot: A Jungian Guide to Archetypes and Personality Rose Gwain
  • Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess through Myth, Art, and Picture Vicki Noble
  • The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination Robert M. Place
  • Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom Rachel Pollack
  • The Complete Illustrated Guide to Tarot Rachel Pollack
  • The Secrets of the Tarot Barbara Walker
  • Healing Wise Susun Weed
  • Breast Cancer? Breast Health! Susun Weed
  • Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way Susun Weed
  • Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year Susun Weed
  • Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs Gail Faith Edwards
  • Herbal Healing for Women Rosemary Gladstar
  • The Complete Medicinal Herbal Penelope Ody
  • Growing 101 Herbs That Heal Tammi Hartung
  • The Green Witch Herbal Barbara Griggs
  • Bud, Blossom, & Leaf Dorothy Morrison
  • Green Witchcraft: Folk Magic, Fairy Lore, & Herb Craft Ann Moura
  • Holistic Women's Herbal Kitty Campion
  • Wise Concoctions Bonny Trust Dahan
  • Bringing a Garden to Life Carol Williams
  • The Herbal Home Remedy Book Joyce Wardwell
  • The Herbal Body Book Stephanie Tourles
  • The Wicca Herbal: Recipes, Magick, and Abundance Jamie Wood
  • Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest Christina Baldwin
  • The Artist's Way Julia Cameron
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life Julia Cameron
  • Writing Down the Bones Natalie Goldberg
  • Wild Mind Natalie Goldberg
  • Thunder and Lightening: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft Natalie Goldberg
  • Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work bell hooks
  • Bird by Bird Anne Lamott
  • Trust the Process: An Artist's Guide to Letting Go Shaun McNiff
  • Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds Deena Metzger
  • Making a Literary Life Carolyn See
  • If You Want to Write Brenda Ueland
Texts from other spiritual traditions:
  • The Woman's Book of Yoga and Health Linda Sparrowe & Patricia Waldman
  • Yoga: Mind, Body, & Spirit Donna Farhi
  • The Breathing Book Donna Farhi
  • Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness Eric Schiffmann
  • Yoga and the Quest for the True Self Stephen Cope
  • Living Your Yoga Judith Lasater
  • The Bhaghvad Gita tr. Eknath Easwaran
  • Discovering Kwan Yin, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion Sandy Boucher
  • Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism Sandy Boucher
  • Hidden Spring: A Buddhist Woman Confronts Cancer Sandy Boucher
  • Sweet Zen Cheri Huber
  • Buddhism After Patriarchy Rita Gross
  • Soaring and Settling: Buddhist Perspectives on Contemporary Social and Religious Issues Rita Gross
  • Religious Feminism and the Future of the Planet Rita Gross and Rosemary Radford Reuther
  • Sexism and God-Talk Rosemary Radford Reuther
  • Being Peace Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Peace Is Every Step Thich Nhat Hahn
  • The Places That Scare You Pema Chodron
  • When Things Fall Apart Pema Chodrom
  • A Path With Heart Jack Kornfield
  • After the Ecstacy, the Laundry Jack Kornfield
  • Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World Joanna Macy
  • World as Lover, World as Self Joanna Macy
  • The Long Quiet Highway Natalie Goldberg
  • Open Mind: Women's Daily Inspiration for Becoming Mindful Diane Mariechild
  • At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst Carol Lee Flinders
  • The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine Sue Monk Kidd
  • Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women's Altars Kay Turner
  • The Cloister Walk Kathleen Norris
  • Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith Kathleen Norris
  • With Roots in Heaven Tirzah Firestone

Anarchy and utopia

From Thorn Coyle (3/28/05):

I am a utopian realist. Though I am an anarchist, I believe we are not currently ready for anarchy, but that, through internal and social change, we can become ready. That is why my spiritual practice is so important to me. I need self-discipline and self-examination. I need to grow stronger and more compassionate and expand my capacity to both listen deeply and take action. I really do believe we can evolve, and that is the thrust of my work. Anarchy is one outcome of that. But we are not ready yet. The old ways are too entrenched. Most people have no desire to govern themselves, nor are they even close to ready. And you can't impose anarchy on anyone. If you do, it isn't anarchy, is it? I really believe that by learning to govern myself and bringing myself into a state of balanced power, I can help others who are trying to do the same. We can work toward economic and political decentralization of power, individual and local autonomy (and we can already see the value of worker's collectives). But we have to become totally responsible first, for ourselves, our actions and our creativity.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Thalia Took

I'm swooning over Thalia Took's gorgeous, witty paintings of goddesses and gods, which I found via Goddessing. How to choose?
A few of my favorites:
  • Anat ("I have killed God. It is just.")
  • Artemis ("Defend your boundaries!")
  • Benzaiten ("Know what you offer.")
  • Cerridwen ("You seek renewal? Into the pot with you then!")
  • Diana ("Transform yourself.")
  • Gaea ("Love this earth.")
  • Green Tara ("Do not weep.")
  • Ho Hsien-Ku ("Open the lotus of your heart.")
And, of course, Inanna ("I am the queen of heaven and earth.")

Monday, March 28, 2005

Anticipating retreat

I've registered to spend a week later this spring at Kripalu, one of my favorite spiritual retreats. I'll be taking a workshop called "Grail, Goddesses, Crones, and Circles" with Jean Shinoda Bolen, who's well-known for her books Goddesses in Everywoman, The Millionth Circle, and Crones Don't Whine. Kripalu rarely offers workshops with a pagan or Goddess focus (although they're always pagan-friendly), so I'm especially excited. Following my Goddess weekend, I'll participate in a five day workshop on "Joyful Weight Loss." The only reason I'm even willing to consider a "weight loss" workshop - since I'm a feminist and highly critical of dieting and standard norms of beauty - is because I trust Kripalu, and I know the focus will be on "love yourself, have fun, move more, eat well." I know that my friends and allies in the movement against fat oppression would still object to the name, and I agree. But in college and graduate school I developed disordered eating patterns and the attendent self-loathing, and I want out. I want a safe, structured environment for exploring the emotional issues that arise for me around food. I'm fighting the pull to go on a diet, because I know that, for me, that's a way to continue the cycle of self-loathing, not a way to challenge it. I can feel that the time has arisen for me to deal with my distress around food in a conscious, deliberate way. I've been binging, a sure sign of fear and resistance. Last week while grocery shopping I nearly had a panic attack in the middle of the supermarket. But instead of avoiding this shit, as I'm wont to do, I'm going in, baby. I'm going straight through.

Kripalu is time alone and in community, time out of time, slow time, delicious food, lots of yoga, lots of sleep, spa treatments, reading, nature. I can't wait.

Crazy Wisdom

I spent a few hours in Ann Arbor yesterday, where I got to visit the best esoteric bookstore I know, Crazy Wisdom. Their website isn't as elegant as their store, which is two stories of air- and light-filled space. The shop is packed with books from various spiritual traditions; it also has a wide selection of statuary and jewelry from pagan, Celtic, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, and mystical Judeo-Christian traditions. The second floor houses a comfortable tea room and classroom space. You can purchase art, tarot decks, CDs, crystals, magazines, greeting cards, fabrics, oils, incense, candles, and some magical supplies. Unlike many stores of its kind, it's elegant and thriving. The calendar is packed with book-signings, classes, talks, and readings.

What did I buy? you ask. I ordered the Tarot of Prague, which the store had available for browsing; it's being shipped to my home.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The belly of the beast

Tomorrow Adonis and I will drive nine hours west to meet my family for the weekend and celebrate my grandmother's 95th birthday. This is a big weekend for the Christians, and that's everyone in my family except for Adonis and me. My immediate family comprises very nice mainstream Protestants; I'm comfortable with them (except for that part about not mentioning that I'm not a Christian). However, many extended family members are fundamentalist Christians, and I think that's just nuts. Furthermore, the city we'll be visiting, where my parents live, is profoundly Christian. At one time it had more churches per capita than any other U.S. city; I don't know if that's still the case. But there are Bible colleges, and mega-churches, and Christian broadcasting, and those "God" billboards. I admit that traveling there gives this sweet pagan girl the creeps.

Adonis bought me a paste tiara to wear to the party - believe me, if I make it to 95, I want everyone wearing tiaras - and a button that says: "Where does a lesbian vegan Wiccan go for fun in this town?" That's the spirit. Of course, I'm queer but not a lesbian, and my flirtation with veganism was long ago and short-lived (and hungry). But I am, as you know, dear reader, a Witch.

I'm also the family freak, although they love me dearly. I'm the intellectual, the "commie," the unmarried one living in sin, the queer one, the one who doesn't want children, the fat one, the flake, the depressed one, the one who doesn't make money. The one they don't really understand. I've liked to think of myself as Auntie Mame - that is, until I saw "Auntie Mame" with Rosalind Russell and was appalled by what a strange movie it was. (I feel a digression coming on.) I adore Rosalind Russell, but in this movie she plays her role as if she were hitting the same piano key, loudly, over and over again. The first time we meet her, she's throwing a party in her gigantic Manhattan flat. She's dressed in chinoiserie and flourishing a cigarette holder. Her guests are an exotic, international bunch, including a famous conductor, a bishop from some central European state, and characters clearly coded as lesbian and gay - swishing men in dressing gowns and pairs of smart-looking women dressed like Teddy Roosevelt. The film is shockingly progressive about sexuality. But Mame's penchant for marrying rich men and her oddly maternal attitiude toward her orphaned nephew make her less than a feminist icon. And the character of her manservant, played by an Asian/Asian-American actor in squinchy-eyed, giggling, hopping, emasculated, pigin-Englished glory, smears the entire story with blaring racism. I found it nearly impossible to watch.

As I was saying with regard to my family, I've liked to think of myself as Auntie Mame, by which I mean flamboyant, avant-garde, undomesticated, and mysterious. Remember when Jan Brady finds an old photograph of a girl who looks exactly like her, and it turns out to be her aunt? Then she meets the aunt, a middle-aged woman, far from beautiful. Jan is crushed. But the aunt, a world traveler who dresses in caftans and wooden beads, is a fascinating woman. She tells stories of her adventures. She has the entire Brady clan eating dinner on the floor of their suburban living room and trying to use chopsticks. Jan learns what an exciting woman her aunt is, and how wonderful it is to have her as an eccentric role model. I want to be like that. To host the children while their parents are on holiday and teach them the Craft. To send them wonderful books and take them to art museums. To talk to them about sex and take them in when they come out. Because the family freak is beautiful, and brilliant, and eccentric, and in love with the whole world.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Permit me my death

Pagans have various views on death, but I think many agree that it's a great mystery and a natural part of life. Many pagans see death as a transition rather than an ending. While it's natural for our animal selves to fear death, and while it's important for us to mourn and remember our dead, death isn't something we need to fear for ourselves. We have been given the gifts of embodiment and consciousness for a span of years and, in the words of an older man at the mystery school I attend, "death is what's next."

What's next for Terry Schiavo? Her consciousness is long dead, and the brain and body continue to deteriorate, although the body is still alive in a minimal sense (the heart beats and nutrition sustains this). Since I believe death is an important transition, an exchange of energy, and a journey back to the Mother, I think it's possible that Terry Schiavo - whoever she was or will be - is being grievously harmed. She's not alive on the earth in any meaningful sense, but neither has she been set free. It's as if she's suspended between life and death - as if fortune's wheel has gotten stuck.

If the materialists are right, and I'm sympathetic to the view, then Terry Schiavo is simply dead. She cannot be harmed anymore by opportunistic bastard Republicans. If the Christians are right, then what is the state of Schiavo's soul: has it passed on to heaven, or is it still stuck in her body? And if it's passed on, what's the point of keeping her body alive?

But if it's true, instead, that death is a transition we need to honor along its way, and that the death of consciousness and the body may provide a gateway to something new - whatever's "next" - then it's breathtakingly cruel to bar that door. For myself, I want to die with enthusiasm and grace. Not anytime soon, mind you, but when it's time. I want to go singing into the next world. When I die, permit me my death.

Blessed Ostara

Today is the spring equinox, known to many pagans as the holiday of Ostara. Ostara gets its name from the Teutonic goddess of spring and the dawn, whose name is spelled Oestre or Eastre. This is the holiday where we observe life returning after the long winter: spring flowers and vegetable, eggs, rabbits, rebirth ... it'll sound familiar. Some pagans fast on the equinox in a symbolic cleansing. Others eat bitter herbs (Passover, anyone?) to help energize the liver, which has been processing heavy food and drink over the winter. Me? I did a big grocery shopping trip to bring the spirit of abundance into our house, and I cleaned out the pantry to stock it with the new foods. I also ate some chocolate, although that doesn't distinguish this day from any other day.

When I was a Christian, I never particularly like Easter, and those feelings have carried over to Ostara. I usually forget to celebrate it. Indeed, I didn't realize it was today - I think of it as falling on the 21st even though it can fall anywhere between the 19th and 22nd - until I looked up the date to write this entry. Tomorrow I'll take a few minutes to light some incense and think about new beginnings.

Happy spring!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Wisdom and healing

I use Patricia Monaghan's book, The Goddess Companion, as a guide for daily meditation. Yesterday's text was from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Here is an excerpt:

...why do we not praise ourselves?/ I not praise myself, my dignity,/ my special virtue? All excellence, Minerva thought,/demands respect and praise - even our own.

Monaghan adds commentary:

[Minerva] was [the Roman] goddess of wisdom and healing, for how can true healing not be tied to wisdom? Healing requires balance, which comes in turn from wisdom. Healing also requires self-knowledge and self-development, both forms of wisdom. There is no way to truly heal the body without also healing the mind and soul.

I think that's exactly right. I'm engaged in healing right now, from both physical ailments - recent back surgery and migraines - and the emotional trials of graduate school, which has left me disempowered to an extent I'm just beginning to understand. As part of my healing, I've joined a mystery school. I'm not entirely sure what that means yet, but we're learning how to seek physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and interpersonal health through practices of self-understanding and energy work. While the school isn't explicitly pagan - it's more ecumenically spiritual - the practices I'm learning fit perfectly with my spiritual exploration right now. And the emotional and spiritual work is deeply challenging.

Joining the Unitarians

Jason Pitzl-Waters, a pagan living in the Midwest, explains why he's joining his local Unitarian Universalist congregation:

Involvement with the UUs will allow me to work with a large religious institution without me having to compromise my own personal gnosis or theology. I can be a Pagan and be a UU. While I respect many other faiths with commitments to social justice and peace I never want to be asked to deny my gods or repent my dealings with them in order to join. This doesn't mean I don't have my criticisms of the church. I in fact have many. But I feel I can do good work here and I feel I can do that work without sublimating my spirit in the process.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Creativity as sacred intention

In her book, The Earth Path, Starhawk asks us to meditate on the question, What is sacred to you? The answer to that question is your sacred intention, a touchstone for making your way in the world. My answer is the freedom and creative energy of women.

Freedom is sacred because the psyche needs to be free to create. The great South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko said that "the greatest weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." Imagination born of psychic freedom is crucial for changing the world. Also, we must be free in a physical sense. Creativity relies on nourishing external circumstances. Thus my conception of freedom isn't just negative - e.g. keep your laws off my body - it's also robustly positive: give me the things I need to create. Support women's creative lives. Our salvation lies in our creativity - the free run of our creativity, unhindered by fear, lusciously supported. Thus my sacred intention is to foster and defend the freedom and creative energy of women. Is that too abstract? I see that intention in much that I do: creating my own life as a work of art, teaching, financially supporting women artists and collecting their art, encouraging and inspiring others, defending women's reproductive (creative) freedom.

What would the world be like if our social, political, and economic systems all cherished what is most sacred to you?

There would be programs in the schools to foster girls' creativity. There would be all kinds of social supports for people so they could follow a creative path. Information would be easy to obtain. Women's art would be valued. There would be money for art and other creative endeavors. There would be other standards for value. Women's reproductive needs would be met. We would see women as the powerful, wise, creative, and sacred people that we are. There would be gorgeous, well-funded, free lending libraries for books, but also for other materials used to make art. Skills would be openly shared. There would be ample time to dream. There would be vital connection with nature, community, and one another. We would all pursue work we love and the world we want; yet all our needs would be provided for, and there would be some luxuries, too. Women would be changing the world all the time, and there would be plenty of funding.

Children would be cherished. Life would begin, not end, at birth. (For right wingers, life begins at conception and ends at birth.) Work would be shared. Emotions would be valued, and we would be educated in emotions. For example, we would learn when our emotions are true guides for us and when they lead us astray. We would learn to be grounded in our bodies and our communities, because creativity requires self-knowledge and context. We would encourage each other in all kinds of creative expression. No one would learn perfectionism. Everyone would dress however they liked, to express themselves or not, as they chose. Vitality would be encouraged, in our bodies - food and exercise and rest, plus good health care; in our minds - activated or quiet (we would learn both); in our work. Health would never be sacrificed to other ends - well, except sometimes pleasure. We would value rest. We would value dreams. We would love and comfort one another. Women's sexual pleasure would be honored and protected as sacred. We wouldn't have to work for mere subsistence; we would have enough. We would applaud and encourage new ways of thinking, rather than fearing them. We would not live in fear. We would recognize our moral duty to care for the least among us and not to kill one another. Prisons, too, could foster creativity and groundedness. No one would have a child unless she wanted one, and she would never be left to raise her children alone. Girls wouldn't become pregnant unless they really wanted to be, unless they conceived of that pregnancy and child as an integral part of their lives.

Does any part of the world already value these things? There are pockets of resistance. There are people like Heather Corinna and Margaret Cho creating this world. There are creative anarchists. There are political movements. There are women defending the front lines and women dreaming new dreams.

1. There are librarians fighting for our rights to knowledge, information, art, and privacy.
2. There are women writing (including bloggers).
3. There are women practicing magic.
4. There are women leading political movements, like RAWA and Code Pink and Wangari Maathai's Green Belt Movement.
5. There are anarchist health collectives, like the Ithaca Health Alliance.
6. There is the women's sexuality movement.
7. There are women publishing magazines and on-line journals.
8. There are women seeking the Goddess.
9. There are women organizing in their own communities.
10. There are women making art and music on their own terms, industries be damned.
11. Women are developing new, democratic ways of gaining access to creativity: Deena Metzger, Natalie Goldberg, and Julia Cameron.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Knowing the land

For me, now, the Goddess is the name we put on the great processes of birth, growth, death, and regeneration that underlie the living world. The Goddess is the presence of consciousness in all living beings; the Goddess is the great creative force that spun the universe out of coiled strings of probability and set the stars spinning and dancing in spirals that our entwining DNA echoes as it coils, uncoils, and evolves. The names and faces we give the Goddess, the particular aspects she takes, arise originally from the qualities of different places, different climates and ecosystems and economies.

- Starhawk, from her most recent book, The Earth Path

I like this definition of the Goddess. It challenges me, not to anthropomorphize "her."

Knowing the land means knowing the gods of a place. I've lived here for nearly ten years, but would I recognize a god if I met one? What do I know of the indigenous people who lived here, and who live here still? What do they worship? How do they know the land? What happened to them? What is happening to them now? Here there are goddesses and gods of green valleys, of gorges and lakes and hidden swimming places, of forests taking back the land, of long winters. Of waterfalls and sunsets over the lake and moon rises. Of drumming circles and Tibetan Buddhists. Of organic farms, of idealistic peoples, of the women's rights movement and abolition and the Underground Railroad.

I met a witch from Iowa who said he has trouble sleeping anywhere he doesn't know the land. Yet how well do I know the land, here? I eat her food. I swim in her waters. I walk her tended paths. I ski in winter. I lie in the summer grass and bathe in waterfalls. A friend has tried to teach me the names of trees when we walk in nature, but I'm a careless student. I look for the weed-herbs I know wherever I walk: burdock, dandelion, red clover. I've picked weeds for wild salads and worked on the farms that grow my food. I tended an herb garden at my old apartment, where I had a yard, and I led rituals there. Now I grow herbs on my front stoop and dry them in my hallway.

Witches regularly invoke elementals: spirits of earth, air, fire, and water. When we work indoors we "visualize" the loamy scent of freshly turned earth, the sound of waves breaking, dry desert heat, wind cooling the face. But magic has its source not in my consciousness, but in the earth itself. Magic may involve the art of changing consciousness at will, as the saying has it, but it's not the art of changing the world at will, even if that's the way it's often portrayed in popular tales. Understanding the way the world works is crucial to working magic. And while third-person, scientific knowledge is a fine thing, I think the kind of knowledge intimately tied to magic is phenomenological or experiential. What is it like to be a human being in this world? What does the world feel like from within your skin? To work magic, I need to know what it's like to be me, this human animal, in this place.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

My tarot decks

Two years ago, my friend John gave me my first tarot deck, the Zerner-Farber deck. I tucked the deck away in my altar, which is a small chest that holds my magical tools. Six months later, for no good reason, I took the deck from the altar and started to play with it. To my surprise, I had powerful readings right from the start. Since that time, I've commenced a leisurely and haphazard study of the tarot. I bought myself a Universal Waite deck, a good teaching deck. Then I advance-ordered a special set of the majors from Joanna Powell Colbert's gorgeous Gaian Tarot. My fourth and final deck was a gift from my sister, who brought it back from her honeymoon in Italy.

I find that I don't use the Waite deck very often. I've developed a special bond with my Z-F deck, and I continue to use it for most of my readings. I adore the Gaian tarot; I think most of the art, the symbols, and the interpretations are first-rate. (For example, the Hierophant has become the Teacher, a wizened man learning from Coyote and the green allies: garlic, dandelion, nettle, yarrow, comfrey, and Western Red Cedar.) Mostly, I read for myself, and Adonis uses the cards, too. Occasionally I'll read for a friend, but I'm really a beginner.

I've also started collecting a tarot library; I find that library book sales and used book stores are good places to find older books. Tonight at St. Marks bookstore - they have an occult section; who knew? - I picked up a new book, The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination by Robert M. Place. It looks like a good, scholarly text on the tarot, and I look forward to delving further.

I'm pretty picky about the art and symbolism of my decks. I've had my eye on this deck for a while, because I've spent a fair bit of time in Prague and feel a strong spiritual and ancestral connection to that city. The Hermit haunts the street where Kafka lived. I also think the new Druid Craft Tarot is very handsome, and I look forward to getting a deck.

My favorite on-line interpretive site is the trinity doughnuts tarot - edgy, novel, and spot-on. I also rely heavily on Joan Bunning's site, where she offers an excellent free course in learning the tarot.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

New Tara

I'm spending a leisurely few days in New York City with friends. This morning I walked to the Strand; nearby is a comic book store called "forbidden planet." My partner ducked in and then met me at the bookstore to announce that forbidden planet sells Buffy action figures. I promptly went to buy a Tara. There were a few Taras to choose from, but I chose the figure from "Hush," the episode where Tara makes her first appearance (episode ten, season four*). It's not Tara's most empowered appearance, but the doll is handsome and strong, and she comes with a grimoire, a candle, and a potion bottle. How I wish there were a set with Tara and Willow in their dancing embrace (from "Family," episode five, season five*); I could suspend them from fishing line so they would be floating in bliss.

*I cannot claim this extensive, detailed, and - let's face it - obsessive knowledge of Buffy lore for myself. Rather, I turned to my partner for assistance. Let's call him ... Adonis.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Why Wicca?

Like a lot of witches and other pagans in the U.S., I was raised in a Christian tradition. I grew up active in a mainstream Protestant church, with a fair helping of fundamentalist Christianity on the side in the form of relatives, schoolmates, and summer camp. My path toward witchcraft has been a long one, but if I had to give one reason why I practice Wicca, it would be that I have long needed a spiritual practice that honors women, the body, and the erotic. I don't want mere tolerance of these things, or tortured attempts at reconciliation. (In the church of my youth, the current positions are: Ordained women, okay. Masturbation, okay, but only since the early 1990s. Sex, okay within specific limits. Homosexuality, maybe okay. Same-sex marriage, not yet okay. Queer clergy in committed relationships, not okay. Ad nauseum.)

Life is too short.

I'm a queer woman who loves sex. All kinds of sex. And my body. I love my body. The Charge of the Goddess says that "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." Sign me up.

I don't want a religion that suggests there might be something wrong with me. Christianity makes me struggle - with my humanity, with my femaleness, with sex and other pleasures of the flesh. No more. I need a tradition that honors women, that places women at the center. Where men are called priestesses and God is a She. A tradition that takes the erotic as a fundamental act of worship. That doesn't teach us to strive for transcendence of the human, but rather recognizes the human and the "mundane" as divine and magical.

A prayer upon waking

By Rob Brezny:

Oh Goddess, you wildly disciplined, radically curious, shockingly friendly, fanatically balanced, mysteriously truthful, teasingly healing, lyrically logical master of rowdy bliss:

I ask you to give your unconventionally unconditional love to all the budding messiahs who read this prayer; love them with all of your ocean and sky and fire and earth.

Cultivate in yourself a fervent yearning for their companionship. Play with them every day. Answer their questions. Listen to their stories.

Inspire them not just to nag you for what they want, but also to thank you for the uncanny gifts you flood them with.

And if there are any pockets of ignorance or hatred these insanely poised creators might be harboring, any inadvertent idiocies that keep them blind to your blessings, please flush them out as soon as possible.

On 'Wicca' and 'witchcraft'

I use the words Wicca and witchcraft synonymously. Many don't. Wicca, it is claimed, refers to a lineage popularized in England by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s. Some Gardnerian Wiccans claim that you have to belong to that lineage in order to call yourself Wiccan. More broadly, some Wiccans claim that to be Wiccan you have to be initiated into a standing coven. Others claim that Wiccans properly worship the Goddess and the God, often called the Lady and the Lord, and that a recognition of gendered duality in the godhead is characteristic of Wicca. By any of these definitions, I am not a Wiccan.

However, Starhawk calls Wicca the archaic name of her spiritual tradition, a tradition she also calls Witchcraft. The word Wicca may mean "craft of the wise," or it may be derivative of the old English for "bend" - thus, a witch is one who bends or shapes reality. Following Starhawk, I use Wicca in this broader sense. Wicca in this sense is a tradition only broadly speaking. There is no unbroken lineage, no practices passed down among families or clans. Rather, the Wicca we practice today refers to a (likely mythic) past; it is part of the mythos of Wicca that we image the practice as something very old. The viability of Wicca as a spiritual practice doesn't depend on its myths' being true in an historical sense. We tell creation stories, for example, to shift consciousness and to reach past the conscious, talking, reasoning self. The stories are suggestions of a worldview. Their power depends not on their veracity. We Wiccans, or witches, claim similarity and solidarity with other wisdom traditions, including other earth-based spiritual practices, such as those of native peoples; shamanism; gnostic Christianity; Voodou and other traditions arising from African peoples; Sufiism; Buddhism; Taoism; et. al.

Later I will discuss in detail which beliefs I think are characteristic of Wicca. For now, the important point is that I use the term Wicca broadly, although that usage is controversial, to mean the same thing as Witchcraft. I call myself Wiccan, pagan, and witch.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Cards on the table

I'm completing a Ph.D. in an analytic discipline whose members wouldn't take well to my occult spiritual beliefs. The tension between a materialist, reductionist professional worldview and a mystical, experiential spiritual practice informs my life profoundly and is part of the impetus for starting this weblog.

The beginning

Those of you familiar with earth-based spiritual practice, women's spirituality, Wicca, paganism, Witchcraft, et al., will recognize the name of this weblog from the last line of the Charge of the Goddess: "For behold, I have been with you from the beginning/and I am That which is attained at the end of desire." I suppose that by "the end of desire" the speaker means the end of human life - for desire, longing, is an inevitable part of human existence. Hey, I'm not a Buddhist here. Indeed, I think that desire is at the core of Witchcraft, which is what I call my spiritual practice. On this weblog I will record my way along the path. Welcome.