Saturday, April 30, 2005

Tarot readings: send JPC to Avalon!

Joanna Powell Colbert is once again doing tarot readings, now to raise money for her fall pilgrimage to England. If you're familiar with her work on the Gaian Tarot, you can imagine how creative and insightful her readings must be.

A merry Beltane?

I'd be feeling more merry about Beltane if it weren't so cold and rainy.... (The holiday begins tonight at sundown.)

Friday, April 29, 2005

A question about incarnation

Many mystical traditions believe that before birth, and after death, we are seamlessly connected with the Divine. Our consciousness loses its individuality and merges with the great consciousness. We become one with the One, with All. Each of us is a wave that arises from, and dissolves back into, the ocean. (These are metaphors, of course, trying to describe an experience beyond words.)

Life on earth is marked by separation from the Divine; we are cast out of Eden. Even on earth, however, we can recover ourselves and reconnect with divinity: in ecstasy, in experiences of enlightenment, in visions that allow us to glimpse behind the veil. We feel intimations of something more, and spiritual practice can help us connect to it. When Witches cast a circle, we're consciously creating a space where we can dissolve back into Divinity. Thus we're truly "between the worlds."

Our human lives are inevitably marked by suffering, as the Buddhists teach us - by brokenness. Perhaps this is the best interpretation of the Christian concept of sin: not that we're bad, but that we're separated from god. (Goddess forbid I should be talking about sin; I eschew my Christian heritage with good reason.) Before and after our human lives, Love abides. Love abides with us in life, too, but for some reason, She is harder to discern. We forget her easily. We feel hurt and alone.

Mystical traditions also teach us that we choose to incarnate in this life, to move from the bliss of the heavenly womb to the icy air outside. So here is my question: Why would anyone choose to do this? Why choose to come to earth and to embody a life of suffering?

In the first chapter of his book, After the Ecstacy, the Laundry, Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield tells the story of a Sufi master who sufffered a motorcycle accident in his youth. The young man had a "near death" experience: he saw his body as from a distance after the impact:

I knew that I had the option to return to my body or to let go into this wonderful peaceful darkness. But when I looked at the scene below, what arose was an intense feeling of love for this body and for life. Love and joy made me come back.... I love this reality. I have followed its call.

I'm a pagan and a Witch because I, too, love this body and this life. I love the earth. For all its suffering, this life also permits its own kinds of joy, pleasure, love, and solace. Perhaps that's one reason why we choose human incarnation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Creative longing

Joanna Powell Colbert has posted pages from her "illuminated journal" of her train ride to Portland. The pages are lovely and inspiring; she has wonderful artist's handwriting. I've often dreamt of keeping a sketchbook like this, filled with words and color. I've no artistic training. I can't draw. But I have creative longing in spades. I want to write poetry, to paint, to make artists' books, to create ritual, and maybe to teach (although I'm burnt on teaching right now). I get stuck. When I imagine what I'd like to do, voices immediately chime in to say, "first finish your dissertation, lose weight, become an athlete, find a way to make a living, you have to save the world...." That's where I'm getting stuck right now.

In the spirit of admiring others' work and hoping some of the magic will rub off on me, I've finally purchased one of Lunaea Weatherstone's gorgeous Goddess rosaries: this one. I'm anxiously awaiting its arrival by post.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Sundry spiritual riches:

1. I took a walk with my "healer," assigned to me by the mystery school. She gave me a wide-brimmed hat to wear; the day was sunny and warm, and I'm pale. We walked and talked, then stopped, closed eyes, and breathed. She brought my awareness to my sacrum and occiput, to the length and fluidity of my spine. Gentle touch, lifting the skull, here. I picked up a stone shaped like the crescent moon. After the walk, water. Then I lay down on her massage table, and she took the measure of my heart.

2. I dreamt that my sister aimed a gun at me, but I shot her before she could shoot me. (Two thoughts about the dream: My sister, four years younger than me, has had breast cancer, and sometimes I feel I'm just waiting my turn; or, I will hurt myself before someone else can hurt me.)

3. The tarot deck my sister brought me from Italy sits on my altar. Incense smoke swirls around it. I'm preparing the deck to take with me this weekend, to visit my sister and her friends, to offer readings. I asked the deck to introduce itself to me. I drew a card: the Tower.

4. I dreamt that I had sex with my oldest cousin (a woman three years older than me, someone whose life choices I disdain). In the dream, I let her make love to me. Later she told her sister how selfish I am, how I take but never give. They discussed me and agreed. I woke feeling like my subconscious was trying to choke me: "don't change!"

5. Things are changing. The energy around me shifts. I open. I dive deep and breach the surface, sheets of water sliding off my skin.

6. On Sunday, the full moon rises in Scorpio. I'll be dancing at the reggae seder.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Buddha's Five Remembrances

This morning I've been thinking about how much energy I spend in denying and avoiding reality, and in wishing that things were otherwise than they are. I credit my mystery practice with revealing the pervasiveness of my denial to me. And I don't feel bad about this discovery. (I'm very good at feeling bad.) Rather, it feels like a step on my path to self-understanding, self-acceptance, and freedom.

Food, the internet, sleep, depression, lying around the house, overwork, and worrying about doing things right: I use all of these things to hold reality at bay. No wonder I'm often exhausted.

In the June 2005 issue of Yoga Journal, which despite the date arrived yesterday in my mailbox, Frank Jude Boccio writes about the Buddhist practice of the Five Remembrances. Meditating on the remembrances - memorizing them, saying them to yourself daily, and noticing your reactions - can help remind us of what's real: impermanence and change.

Boccio recommends the version of the Five Remembrances offered by Thich Naht Hahn:

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Job description

I'm rereading parts of Dreaming the Dark for my class this morning. Imagine if our communities today had Witches playing the public, social roles they did "then":

Long after city dwellers had converted to Christianity, the Witches were the wise women and cunning men of the country villages. They were the herbalists, the healers, the counselors in times of trouble. Their seasonal celebrations established the bond between individuals, the community as a whole, and the land and its resources. That bond, that deep connection, was the source of life - human, plant, animal, and spiritual. Without it, nothing could grow. From the power within that relationship came the ability to heal, to divine the future, to build, to create, to make songs, to birth children, to build culture. The bond was erotic, sensual, carnal, because the activities of the flesh were not separate from the spirit immanent in life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A tribute to Andrea Dworkin

The pioneering radical feminist died over the weekend at the age of 58. She was a Kali for our time, she who destroys and purifies in fire. Here is one tribute. Here are links to many more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Goddess in the classroom

Today was the first time I've taught material on feminist/women's/Goddess spirituality while comfortably situating myself within that tradition and practice. (I'm teaching an introductory course in Women's Studies.) I didn't come out to my students - I don't think it's appropriate for them to know my religious affiliation or lack thereof - but I was able to lecture without subtly distancing myself from Goddess traditions. That was an internal victory for me. Student response to the lecture was underwhelming. I teach on a fairly conservative campus to a fairly sheltered group of students. Whereas some students might be electrified by the new ideas I'm presenting, I think this group is largely freaked out. They're game, but freaked out. I thought it was sweet when a couple of students commented on knowing people who were "into" Wicca and corrected themselves when they referred to their friends' activities as "strange."

For reading, I assigned Carol Christ's paper, "Why Women Need the Goddess," which has a fine explanation of how culturally prominent symbols work on us psychologically (thanks to Judge Roy Moore, the damn fool, for a salient current example); an essay on feminist spirituality from bell hooks' excellent primer, Feminism is for Everybody; and Margot Adler's concise and gorgeous paper, "Inner Space," from Sisterhood is Forever (ed. Robin Morgan). For Thursday, students are reading excerpts from Dreaming the Dark.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Mystery weekend

Today the new moon, like the sun, is in Aries, a sign for fresh beginnings. There was also a solar eclipse a couple of hours ago - not visible from my part of the globe. The signs point to passion, desire, and a certain recklessness.

The day is cool, sunny, cloudless. The forsythia bushes are budding, and the crocuses are getting serious about blooming on the bright sides of houses. I walked along the gorge today, quite happily, listening to Jane Siberry on my iPod.

I'm coming back in five hundred years,
and the first thing I'm gonna do
when I get back here
is to see these things I love.
And they'd better be here.

First I'm going to find a forest
and stand there in the trees
and kiss the fragrant forest floor
and lie down in the leaves.

Everything the verdant green.

I'm bound by the beauty.
I'm bound by desire.
I'm bound to keep returning.
I'm bound by the beauty of the light.

A fine Witches' anthem, no?

This evening I begin my third weekend-long session at the mystery school. I approach with apprehension. The lesson is on the pain of idealized self-image. I don't understand yet what that means, but I'll be in touch.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Gaian Tarot Aces

Joanna Powell Colbert has just posted the Aces for her Gaian Tarot. These are the first cards she's released for the minor arcana. (View the major arcana here.) You can purchase a limited addition archival print of any of these. The art is gorgeous, and her vision for the Tarot is profound. I'm a big fan.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Let pleasure by thy guide

I've found my guru.

Blogger weirdness

I have no idea why that last posting is so BIG.

Reason #396 for why I love Starhawk's ideas

Abortion is, as we all know, one of the most painful and controversial spiritual issues of our day. The Goddess religion has no hard-and-fast ruling on when a clump of fetal cells becomes a being. In fact I was taught that the moment varies greatly with individual pregnancies. Some women have a sense of new life even before conception. Others may not feel that the fetus in their womb has taken on a soul until the time of quickening. This is one of the mysteries. Is is in our encounter with the mysteries of birth and death, growth and suffering, pleasure and sorrow, that we meet the Goddess. So to take away our right to have that encounter, to face that often painful and difficult choice, is to deny a woman's deepest spiritual self. For that reason, Pagans on the whole are strongly in favor of choice - although, of course (as with everything), individuals will differ widely in their opinions.

Starhawk, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying

(Lifted shamelessly in toto from the Wildhunt Blog, from a longer entry on pagan views on abortion politics)

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Empress

According to Mary Greer, in Tarot for Yourself, your soul card "shows your purpose through all your lifetimes" and "indicates your soul qualities and the qualities that will assist you." Setting aside the issue of a soul's having multiple lifetimes, it's still a vague explanation of what the soul card is. Compare the purpose of the soul card with that of the personality card; the latter "indicates what you have come into this particular lifetime to learn." The soul card, then, represents something fundamental to the individual in question - something deep, persistent, and revealing.

My soul card is the Empress. Yuck. I'm not a big fan of the Empress, she who represents nature, motherhood, fertility, abundance. She's so ... feminine. Stereotypically feminine. The gendering of archetypes in the tarot and elsewhere is a topic for another time, but suffice it to say that this feminist and social constructivist isn't happy with the idea of essentialized gender, even if the gendered qualities exist in both men and women.

It has made no sense to me that my soul card is the Empress. But now I'm reading Rachel Pollack's 78 Degrees of Wisdom, and some of what Pollack says about the Empress resonates with me.

The Empress, along with such mythological counterparts as Aphrodite or Ishtar or Erzulie, represent something very grand. They signify the passionate approach to life. They give and take experience with uncontrolled feeling.

Until we learn to experience the outer world completely we cannot hope to transcend it. Therefore the first step to enlightenment is sensuality. Only through passion can we sense, from deep inside rather than through intellectual argument, the spirit that fills all existence.

Many people see religion as an alternative to the natural world, which they view as somehow impure or dirty. Though our cultural tradition fosters this duality, it is really an illusion, and the person who approaches spirituality with this motivation to escape will likely never achieve a very developed understanding. The body, and the natural world, are realities that must be integrated rather than denied.

Note that Pollack speaks of transcending the outer world, not the world itself. I don't like the concept of transcendence - I'm a big fan of immanence - but I understand her to be saying that "enlightenment" involves seeing beyond appearances.

Thus the Empress symbolizes or embodies a passionate approach to life - passion, creativity, nature, abundance, the body, the earth - and wisdom gained in these ways. As the third card in the major arcana, she also symbolizes "synthesis and harmony," according to Pollack. "The natural world combines the Magician and the High Priestess in an indivisible unity of life and death, darkness and light."
Not duality, but the riot of living things.

A dream

Last night I had a vivid dream, the kind where I'm shocked to wake and discover I'm dreaming.

As part of the mystery school I attend, I was participating in a game. The game took place in a large, multi-storied building with labyrinthine corridors and many rooms. The rooms and corridors were marked for navigation using a system I couldn't understand. I was assigned to a team with three others: a brown-haired woman, a fat man, and a thin man - all young. We were competing against other teams. We were each given a plastic spiral-bound notebook to explain the rules of the game, to write exercises as we moved through the game, and to record the results of our problem solving.

The game began. I tried to read the notebook to learn how to begin, but my team raced on without me. I was having trouble understanding the notebook, so I went in search of my team. When I found them, they were seated around a table, engaged in an exercise that had to do with a map of the U.S. They had filled in large portions of the map already, and the brown-haired woman was figuring the puzzle out loud, explaining her work to the men as they all filled in their notebooks. I looked at the blank map in my notebook and tried to follow what she was saying, tried to understand the exercise. But they were too far ahead of me, and although I wanted to copy their answers, that seemed like cheating, since I hadn't been there since the beginning, so I didn't write anything. I moved on, or they did, and I realized that I was going to have to move through the game by myself and catch up with the team later.

I didn't understand how to move through the game, so I just wandered the corridors and passed windows looking into the rooms where others were working puzzles. There were a lot of brightly-colored lights. I felt the pressure of time. It occurred to me that the point of the game, with regard to the mystery school, was to move us into the present moment, so we couldn't think about anything but the task at hand.

I came to a large room where there was a slide of sorts; it wound back on itself like an intestine, and it was inflated so that when I sat down in the slide, I was nearly concealed by the blue, pneumatic rubber sides of the slide pressing in on me. I was being chased, and I needed to get through the slide before I was caught. The key to moving quickly was to catch hold of ropes while rounding corners and pull myself up and over the slide's walls, thus taking a short cut through the air and landing around the bend from where I'd lifted myself out. This proved to be easy and fun; the momentum of sliding allowed me to lift myself and swoop back down. The game would have been fun if no one was chasing me. Still, I made it to the end of the slide before I was caught.

Next I sat in a moving car, like a ride at Disneyworld, through a series of rooms where I being made over in the image of the "real me." I flashed through rooms, and my appearance was changed. I could feel fabric working around me and creams being applied to my face. When my "make-over" was complete, I was asked if I wanted to see my friend Jenna. I said yes, with some relief, and I met her in a snack bar, where she was talking with a man. She didn't have much to say to me.

Then it was time for a break, so I went home for lunch to show Adonis how I looked and felt. I was floating along rather than walking. The air was cool on my face. I had set up a figure on our porch - a cloth wizard body topped with a carved jack o'lantern face - but when I got to our house, the figure was gone. I went next door and saw a cat gnawing on the jack o'lantern. Then I saw the cloth body in the yard, discarded by the cat. I went inside our house - which was a ranch-style house, very different from our actual house - and floated down the long corridors. I came to Adonis, who was working at a desk with his back to me. He said he'd look at me in a moment. I looked into a long mirror and saw myself with a pale green face, short light hair, and wearing a diaphanous blue dress. I tried not to float because I didn't want Adonis to be too shocked by all the changes. There was a TV playing somewhere.

End of dream.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Thirteenth outside

According to Waverly Fitzgerald, today is the Persian holiday, Sizdeh Bedar, or "Thirteenth outside." The Persian New Year falls on the spring equinox, and 13 days after that, on or around April 2, families leave their homes for the day to allow the spirits free run of the house in return for the spirits' leaving the family alone the rest of the year.

Fitzgerald writes:

The mandated day spent outdoors is similar to other spring holidays when people are encouraged to spend the day in the open air: Easter Monday and Maimuna. [Elizabeth] Luard [author of Sacred Food] describes people packing tables, chairs, carpets, cushions, silverware, plates, glasses, portable stoves and richly woven carpets and heading out to the hills. They take along a pot of golden rice pilaf, eggs for making omelets, yogurt which is cooled in the streams, freshly baked bread wrapped in cloth, sherbets, pastries and ices, plus coffee and tea to be made in the open air, using the fire and the samovar.

When dusk falls, the carpets are rolled out and people relax under the stars. Candles are lit, each one representing a death or a birth in the previous year. Luard writes: "Newlyweds look for portents—the call of a night-bird seven times repeated, seven white flowers shining under the moon, a piece of bread torn into seven pieces—that speak of a new candle to be lit, a new infant to be born, and doubly blessed if conceived under the dome of heaven."

I've been lazy about getting outside these days. It'd be good to have a spring ritual for just that. Maybe when the rains end....

Friday, April 01, 2005

A day for fools

Today is the day we honor fools in the U.S. No, not the fools allegedly running the country. The Fool. The Trickster. In a tarot deck, the Zero: the egg, the beginning, nothingness - everywhere and nowhere at once. The Fool is a powerful archetype: the one who can speak truth to power. She is the court jester. The juggler. The clown of God. The fool embodies boundless enthusiasm and the joy and excitement of new beginnings. He is also naive and may have his head in the clouds (watch out for the cliff's edge!). The fool carries her magic wand slung casually over one shoulder; her familiar - a dog or a cat - bounds at her heels. He surveys the territory before setting out. He travels light; his worldly possessions fit in a small bag. The fool can appear crazy or idealistic. But she reminds us to look at things afresh. He models what Buddhists call beginner's mind: approach each task as if it were new to you, as if you were only beginning to learn it. Life's journey is long and difficult; the Buddhists also teach us that life is suffering, and damn, if they aren't right. But the fool appears and reappears, weaving her way among life's stations, and she teaches us that this life is too important to be taken seriously.

Whose "life" is it anyway?

How is it that
  • those who would comandeer women's bodies for childbearing
  • those who refuse a social safety net to said children after they're born
  • those who deny a woman's end-of-life wishes
  • those who kept her "alive" for their own ends: political, economic, emotional
  • those who sign death warrants with nary a second glance
  • those who start a war for their own ends: political, economic, emotional
  • those who occupy other nations
  • those who believe that ephemeral ends justify the means they employ
  • those who aggressively attack the natural environment: earth, air, and water
  • those who think that profit is more important than public health
  • those who speak seriously of the "Prince of Darkness"
  • those who believe that most of us will perish in eternal torment
can claim that they are on the side of the good and the just, that they support a "culture of life"?

Call them all hypocrites, again and again and again. Loudly, and in public. And again.