Thursday, November 15, 2007

Paganism and color

(Painting by Kazuya Akimoto)

Yvonne Aburrow has a fine article about the uses of color in Paganism. It's a nice primer on Pagan religions: their variety, mythology, symbolism, and holy days. I contributed some ideas for the article, about the importance of the color black for Wiccans. My own ideas about this were shaped by the work of Audre Lorde. Thanks, Yvonne!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Turkey feather

I started volunteering at the SPCA two weeks ago. I do it to honor Lugh. I go there once or twice a week and spend a couple of hours walking dogs, loving them up, and doing some basic training with them.

This afternoon I was traipsing around in the fields behind the building, walking with an Alaskan Husky. She stopped to sniff, I looked down at my feet, and there was a wild turkey feather. I never noticed before how they're brindle-colored.

Lugh's still looking out for me.

In the presence of Santa Muerte

(The painting is "La Ofrenda" by Patrick Murillo, found at Adorn)

I remember that when all is said and done...there remains the moss-covered, secret shining truth...of Samhain in the core of my heart, and within that truth is the fact that this season has
always held something precious, gorgeous and mysterious for me, since before I had a name for it. And I have always felt that the veneration of my ancestors is crucial to the practice of my spiritual being. And I am ever in awe of the power of Death. And I am ever grateful for the outstanding and overwhelming explosion of Life that comes through and between and in spite of and because of Death....

My people [have] a theology, books of rituals/practices/meditations, beautiful stories, a veneration and a deep abiding love, all centered around this gorgeous, delicious time of year.

~ Sara Sutterfield Winn

I've been feeling deep appreciation for my Wiccan faith in the weeks since Lugh died. It has provided me with sustenance and comfort. I know that death is but one phase in an ever-revolving cycle, that Lugh's soul is on a journey, that he chose to incarnate in that sweet body and to live as he did because he had his soul's work to do, and because incarnation provides its own teachings, as well as the delicious joys and pleasures of living in a body. When it was time for him to leave, he did. Adonis says that Lugh always knew exactly what he wanted and what he had to do. He lived wholeheartedly, always in the present, without fear or hesitation. He lived in joy.

My faith teaches that death is normal and not to be feared, though of course we grieve and mourn and remember our dead. These things, too, are part of the cycles. My faith teaches that every winter is followed by spring, every death by rebirth. I don't feign to understand that in any rational way, but I know it. My faith teaches that there is great beauty in death, that there are blessings and gifts, even here. The dark is a place of comfort, of gestation and regeneration. The earth and her creatures turn inward in this season, but we will emerge anew in the spring. We take heart in the turning of the wheel ever onward.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

For Lugh

(Samhain altar, 2007)

Two years ago this weekend, we held a Samhain ritual at our home, and when we invoked our dead, nearly everyone called upon a beloved dog who had passed beyond the veil. The next day, on an impulse visit to the SPCA, we met our beloved Lugh, a brindle pitt-mix puppy who we knew, immediately, was ours. He joined our family that weekend, and we began to learn the very special love that is dog-love. We came to believe that Lugh was a guardian spirit who had manifested in our lives at that time, in that doggy body, to see us both through the challenging months ahead, to teach us and love us.

One month ago, to our great shock and sadness, Lugh decided it was time to move on from this earthly life. He was only two years old. It was such a clear and decisive move on his part. The signs snapped into focus the moment he was gone.

On his morning walk with David, on his last day, there was a great blue heron in the creek outside our house. We live downtown, and that's an unusual sight. She caught Lugh's attention; he turned his head to stare after her as she flew away. Heron is a spirit messenger, a guardian who stands at the gateway of life and death.

That afternoon, the three of us hiked with a friend and another dog. We were startled by a flush of wild turkeys taking off into the air, so taken with surprise that we didn't see Lugh cross the path and dart after them, down a steep, brush-filled incline, into rush hour traffic. The other dog ran back and forth at the path's edge, as if there were a barrier stopping him from following. Wild turkeys, according to Indian lore in the southwestern United States, guide spirits between this world and the next.

We didn't see Lugh run after the turkeys, but when we heard the sickening sound of a truck striking him, David tore down the hill. I sent our friend back for the car, and I stumbled down after David. By the time I reached the side of the road, David was holding him. There was hardly a mark on his body, but one look in his eyes, and I knew he'd followed those damn turkeys right up into the sky. His heart beat perhaps a minute more, and his breath was warm. Then they both stopped. We held him and petted him. I sang to him as I always did to comfort him. We told him that it was okay to leave, that we wished him safe passage, that we loved him very, very much.

These are the blessings in the moment of death, that we could both be with him, that he didn't suffer.

He was my spiritual teacher and dear friend. I believe that he is with me still, here right next to me on the couch as he used to be, in the world of spirit that is so close we can almost touch it, especially at this time of year. But I miss his earthly form so very, very much.

Sweet Lugh, your powerful spirit touched so many people and dogs during your short time with us. We love you. We miss you. We know you still, and always.

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

(Raymond Carver, "Last Fragment")

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Perhaps not every Witch was once a child who loved Halloween the best among all holidays, but I bet I'm not the only one.

ETA: Indeed, I'm not.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Three of us sat
in the early summer, our instruments
cared for, our bodies dark

and one stirred the stones on
the earthen platter, till the salt
veins aligned, and she read the cast:

Whatever is past
and has come to an end
cannot be brought back by sorrow.

(From "Triple Muse" by Olga Broumas, Beginning with O)

Mugwort, sixes, and mothers

This morning one of my coworkers walked into my office bearing a bunch of mugwort perhaps a foot in diameter and taller than either of us - six feet, at least. I've got it propped up in the office now; the scent is wonderful. I may tincture some; I'll make smudge sticks and dry the rest for tea and, perhaps, dream pillows.

Mugwort, Artemesia vulgaris, promotes lucid and prophetic dreaming. You can take the tincture before bedtime, drink a tea made from the dried herb, or smoke or smudge the dried herb. Although it's called "common wormwood," it's not to be confused with Artemesia absinthium, which is the plant used in making absinthe.

Joanna Powell Colbert is working on the sixes of the Gaian Tarot. Yesterday she posted the six of water (cups). Last week was the six of fire (wands). (While you're there, you can read my fan-girl gushing.) Traditionally, the sixes are about finding new balance or equilibrium. Joanna is reinterpreting the sixes, however; in her deck, "the sixes are all about peak experiences in community, and each shows some kind of reciprocity." Given that the sixes correlate to the Lovers in the major arcana, Joanna's interpretation, while fresh, still seems to me to keep spirit with more traditional readings.

Finally, Lunaea Weatherstone has written a beautiful tribute to her teacher Shekhinah Mountainwater, who died on Saturday of cancer. I remember finding a copy of Shekhinah's book Ariadne's Thread in a used bookstore in Arcata, CA several years ago. That's when I was still a very cautious, not-sure-I-want-to-be-a-Pagan Pagan, but I was in love with the California coast and the beautiful trees of the Headwaters Forest, in love with Moonrise Herbs, and finding that book was just one of many signs that I was on my path.

Jason Pitzl-Waters has also posted a fine tribute. I particularly like this statement from Shekhinah's son, Frey Faust: "She was a creative mother, and she was very disciplined as an artist herself. Nature was important to her. Values were important to her. She was never interested in monetary wealth."

Safe passage, Shekhinah.

Monday, August 13, 2007

More on Venus in retrograde

The following is from the wonderful site, Mooncircles, from the most recent article by Dana Gerhardt.

Think twice before you buy the polka dotted rain boots. And I know the way your partner mispronounces certain words drives you crazy, but pause before ending the relationship just now. Recognize it's Venus talking - planet of love and all good things. Venus is in retrograde from July 27 to September 8. She's slowed way down and appears to be moving backward. This means she's been and will be traveling through the same sixteen degrees of the zodiac for approximately four months. Usually her transits are brief - bringing a gift of flowers, a smile from a stranger, a delicious meal, or a feeling of bliss for no reason. But now she's lingering in your life. Especially where the degrees between 2 Virgo and 16 Leo fall in your chart, you'll feel her influence for a while.

You may be inspired with unexpected joy or new creativity. But it may not be all sweetness and light. Venus retrograde periods can make you cranky, especially if you've been ignoring Venus in this area of your life. Her dissatisfactions must be listened to, although be cautious about acting on any sudden urges. A pent-up Venus can be a little crazy - spending money she doesn't have or saying yes when she should say no, issuing relationship ultimatums, or suddenly dying her hair bright green. Don't abandon all judgment, but pay attention to your desires. Problems with happiness, money, or relationships can emerge, but so can new solutions. This is a wonderful time to gain new perspective in the highlighted area of your life.

(The image of Venus is from the Hubble space telescope.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Everything about love is a mystery

(This photo was taken at my local farmers' market, but not by me.)

The earth spends herself with wild extravagance here at the height of Lammastide, and I thrill with gratitude.

I give thanks for the three friends with whom I've had intimate conversations over the last few days: for their love, insight, openness; for reflecting back to me my own beauty and worth; for shared meals and goddess art and a sunny afternoon dog-walk.

I give thanks for my sweet puppy, keeping me company all weekend while Adonis is away; the puppy who woke me this morning by snuggling right up to my body and who stayed to cuddle; the puppy who with little struggle submitted to the indignity of a bath this afternoon and now sleeps, a clean dog on a clean quilt on the bed.

I give thanks for my lover; for the photos he's sent from California via iPhone, because he wants me to see what he sees; for wonderful phone conversations; for his willingness to face his demons and mine; for our adventurous partnership and abiding love.

I give thanks for the abundance of the earth and for the local farmers who feed me, for their commitment to our community, for the sweet, generous land. Yesterday I came home from market with tomatoes and peaches and eggplant, sheep cheese and freshly baked bread, spinach and kale, raw milk, yogurt, and butter, freshly-prepared macrobiotic food, and an armful of flowers.

Everything has felt delicious this weekend: cleaning out the entryway to my home and scrubbing the stairs, laundering bedding, arranging flowers, rewatching Frida, wandering my favorite local art gallery, sitting on the grass outside the laundromat drinking an iced mocha from my neighborhood coffee shop, talking with friends, walking in the sunshine.

Aphrodite calls to me, she who guards the mysteries of love, passion, creativity, beauty, and pleasure. She calls to me, and I open.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Venus retrograde

In the comments to the last post, Oak reminded me that Venus is in retrograde. Here is Lynda Hill's take on what that could mean. Or, as another site sums it up, "Vibes can get really weird during this time, and a lot of people will be freaking out about relationships." Really.

I've got Venus on my mind a lot these days. She was the patroness of my journey to Turkey, and in my chart she plays a major role for the next nineteen years or so. I expect you'll be hearing more from me about that!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Late Lughnasadh

Late Lughnasadh greetings, dear readers. (As if it’s possible to be late among the Pagani.) It’s been an intense couple of weeks – not even two weeks – since touching down in New York. In addition to jewelry, tapestries, goddess statues, and coffee, I brought home a sea urchin spine from Turkey. Embedded in my right foot. I didn’t know it until I fell ill the Friday after my return and discovered that my foot was red, hot, and swollen, the infection trailing its way up my ankle. A doctor excised the spine and prescribed antibiotics. I hobbled around for a week, keeping my foot elevated as much as possible, soaking it every few hours in hot water and Epsom salts. Now I’m much better, nearly mended.

I’ve also witnessed much heartache in the past couple of weeks, from a friend who spent several days in cardiac intensive care, to several friends whose marriages are in crisis, to a guarded, hurting lover at home. I wonder if everyone’s heart is hurting. I wonder, too, at the ways I’ve guarded my own heart, and how much that guarding hurts and isolates me. It’s a normal response to contract in fear, yet that response so rarely serves us. I’m learning how guarding my heart blocks my generosity, both toward myself and toward others. I came home from Turkey with a heart more open and full, and the energy in my body has been tremendous. I can be more generous with myself and others, but it’s not about making anything happen; it’s about allowing the life force to flow and take its course. It’s an Oprahesque cliché to say that we can’t give to others without filling ourselves first. But I think I’m beginning to understand what it means to attend to my own needs and how, when I do so, I don’t have to make anything else happen. The rest just flows.

Lughnasadh is one of my favorite holidays, second perhaps only to Samhain. My sweet puppy was born around the sabbat (we adopted him in November two years ago), and so we named him for the solar god, Lugh. (He likes to hear me sing, and a favorite is "You Are My Sunshine," the appropriateness of which just struck me.) The abundance this time of year is staggering: the lush green, the still-long days, the gorgeous colors of the farmers' market. Indeed, going to market is one of my favorite ways to celebrate, along with eating as many tomatoes, peaches, and blueberries as I possibly can. I feel the blessings of the earth and the hint of fall in the air.

Perhaps the best things I've ever read about Lughnasadh can be found here.

Abundant blessings at the turning of the year.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


That's me, in the foreground, in front of the Tetrapylon gateway at Aphrodisias, Turkey.

This site has been sacred to the Mother Goddess since 5800 B.C.E. The city was named Aphrodisias, for Aphrodite, in the second century B.C.E., and it remained a pagan stronghold long after Christianity came to the region. The temple to Aphrodite was built in the first century C.E. and much later, during the Byzantine era, converted to a basilica. The ruins at Aphrodisias have been beautifully preserved and reconstructed; the museum there houses the goddess figure who likely stood in the temple. An imposing figure, only suggestively human or female - and thus a far cry from the Venus de Milo or Botticelli's goddess - the statue's gown bears images of the three Graces, winged human figures, Gaia and Uranos, Selene and Helios - the moon goddess and sun god - and Aphrodite herself depicted as a sea goddess, accompanied by a dolphin and triton.

[Come] here to me from Krete to this holy temple
where is your graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
with frankincense.

And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant-shaking leaves
sleep comes dropping.

And in it a horse meadow has come into bloom
with spring flowers and breezes
like honey are blowing

In this place you Kypris taking up
in gold cups delicately
nectar mingled with festivities:

(Sappho, Fragment 2, translated by Anne Carson)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Getting hot, cooling off

Blogging has been light because I've had an unusually busy social calendar for the last week and a half, and I'm getting ready for my trip to Turkey. I leave one week from tomorrow!

Last night was one of those sultry summer evenings where it's still in the 80s at dusk. I remember those nights when I was a kid and it was too hot to sleep; my parents would let my sister and me get out of bed to swim. For several years, we lived in a modest house in a semi-urban neighborhood, and we had a pool in our backyard. Swimming at night meant getting to swim naked, the only lights shining from under the water. After 15 minutes in the pool, our bodies cooled, we would go back to bed and sleep all night.

Swimming naked, and swimming at night - floating on my back looking up at the moon and stars - are still just about my favorite things to do. I prefer lakes, ponds, and hot springs to artificial pools. (I’ve been skinny dipping after dark in the Baltic Sea; this is both cold and dangerous. Much more peaceful was floating on my back in the large hot spring at Orr, in California.)

(Indeed, hot springs are one of the few things my town lacks. That, and Ethiopian food. Okay, and a thriving independent bookstore. We’re not perfect.)

Last night it was hot, so Adonis, Lugh, and I set out for the gorge down the street, where the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler. We hiked in, not very far, and found a flat stretch where we could all walk around in the water. (It’s been dry this year, so the water is low; normally we wouldn’t be able to walk where we did.)

There was a lot of litter, which makes me so angry, but since dog walkers always have plastic grocery bags in their pockets, I was able to clean up the space we were in. In addition to the beer and juice bottles and cigarette wrappers, there was a pair of socks, some Styrofoam peanuts, a bag of empty take-out containers, and a dirty diaper. This isn’t the first time I’ve found a wrapped, dirty diaper in a gorge! People make such a misanthrope of me. I don’t understand how anyone can go to such a beautiful place and leave trash there. It breaks my Pagan heart.

I once knew of some Quakers who would carry a bag and pick up litter wherever they went. When someone would ask them why, they would say, “we’re Quakers; we pick up litter.” I think that’s a mantra that can express our most basic Pagan values. I say it to myself to counter my angry reaction: “we’re Pagans; we pick up litter.”

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Midsummer Blessings

Liberation is not an achievement. Liberation is the degree to which you are able to savor the ecstasy you already are.

Find the world enchanted. Magic is everywhere. Blessings on this longest day.

(Art by Mara Friedman; poster by Syracuse Cultural Workers)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ritual, health, and changing self-stories

(Image: "Self-no Self" by Sandra Sunnyo Lee)

Fiacharrey at the Cypress Nemeton noted my recent post on the uses of life-narrative in changing the self, and my comment that ritual could be a powerful tool for retelling our life stories and reworking our sense of self. Fiacharrey discusses the idea of using ritual in these ways; s/he focuses on the role that externalizing a difficult problem can play in psychological health. According to the original NYT article, those who score highly on assessments of well-being describe their problems as something outside themselves, "villains to be defeated," rather than as persistent character traits. So, for example, someone who describes a period of depression as coming out of nowhere and external to the herself (e.g., referring to it as "the black dog"), scores higher on a well-being assessment that someone who describes herself as a "depressive." The study discussed in the article seems to suggest that it's healthier to externalize one's problems in this way. The way to externalize the problem is to tell a story about it, and presumably an individual has some measure of control over the kind of story she tells. So perhaps we can retell our way to a measure of psychological health.

Fiacharrey gives some practical tips on designing rituals that can help us retell our stories:
  1. “Externalize” the problem you are dealing with. Make it real and separate. Represent it with some tangible object that you can work with.
  2. Word spells in terms of overcoming obstacles. Word them with the problem first, then the resolution. Negative, then positive ending.
  3. Use third person instead of first person as much as possible.
And while Fiacharrey says s/he is "leery of reducing magic to simply a mind-trick we play on ourselves," I don't think that's what rituals of this sort actually do. If we accept Dion Fortune's oft-quoted definition of magic as "the art of bringing about change in consciousness in conformity with will," then taking intentional action to change the contents of our awareness and our underlying beliefs is magic.

But as Witches and other practitioners of magic (ought to) know, we can't think of the will in a common way. The idea of "willpower" - that I can make something happen by trying hard enough - is misleading. The will isn't about wishing something were so, or trying really, really hard; and it's not about forcing something to change. Indeed, it's an open question whether the will is terribly responsive to conscious, rational argument at all.

I'm not convinced that change happens best when we try to make it happen. While there can be a conscious decision to start telling one's life stories differently, after that decision is made, one may need to employ other means in the retelling. And that's where ritual can come in. Ritual is a form of communication with the unconscious, with the child-self, with Younger Self. The Feri tradition teaches that the only way to reach the Higher Self is by going through the Younger Self; that's why Wiccan rituals are often designed with Younger Self in mind - the pretty colors, the yummy smells, candles, nighttime, poetry, drumming, chant! We alter our everyday consciousness in order to reach something deeper. Ritual isn't about convincing the rational, everyday mind - the Talking Self - that something is so. Rather, ritual courts the child in us, and thereby connects us to the Divine.

To take it back to storytelling and psychological health: it's not enough to tell yourself a different story. You have to convince yourself of the new story. You have to learn to embody the new story. You take it into your cells, your bones. The new myth becomes alive for you. It's not a dramatic epiphany - at least, not usually. It's piecemeal. It's process. And it has to happen throughout your being, at every level, not just in the conscious mind. As is said: the mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Make love, not war

It sounds like it's from the Onion, but it's not:

A Berkeley watchdog organization that tracks military spending said it uncovered a strange U.S. military proposal to create a hormone bomb that could purportedly turn enemy soldiers into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex than fighting.

Pentagon officials on Friday confirmed to CBS 5 that military leaders had considered, and then subsquently rejected, building the so-called "Gay Bomb."

Edward Hammond, of Berkeley's Sunshine Project, had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.

The documents show the Air Force lab asked for $7.5 million to develop such a chemical weapon.

"The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soliders to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistably attractive to one another," Hammond said after reviwing the documents.

Absurd, but kind of sweet, too.

For Scriv

"Fear defeated me. And yet,
not in faith and not in madness
but with the courage I thought
my dream deserved,
I stepped outside. It was gone.
Then I whirled at the sound of some
shambling tonnage.
Did I see a black haunch slipping
back through the trees? Did I see
the moonlight shining on it? Did I actually reach out my arms
toward it, toward paradise falling, like
the fading of the dearest, wildest hope ---
the dark heart of the story that is all
the reason for its telling?"

—Mary Oliver, from The Chance to Love Everything

(With thanks to Kim, who has impeccable timing)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Graduation day

("Threshold" by the incomparable Joanna Powell Colbert)

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.


Friday, June 08, 2007

The Land, a sense of place, community, and home

Part of my spiritual practice is to pay attention to the patterns that arise as I move through my life. The idea of community has been “up” for me for several months. My third year of the mystery school has been about learning how I am in community: what roles do I play? Where do I show up or fail to show up? How important do I believe my presence in the lives of others is? What defenses do I use to keep myself out of relationship? What role does community play in my larger life story? (I’m thinking of all those planets in the 11th house in my natal chart.)

Lately Pagan bloggers have been writing about community and place, and a friend has been writing me long emails about the concept of home. This morning, Garrison Keillor devoted The Writer's Almanac to Emily Dickinson, that poet who famously left home but rarely. He spoke about a time in Dickinson’s life when her community was disintegrating and she reached out, by letter, to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, asking him to be her mentor and friend. (It was clear from the way Keillor told the story that this guy had little appreciation for the kind of person who was reaching out to him, though their letters continued for the rest of her life. He didn’t like her poetry; he found her exhausting.)

As I pulled into work after dropping off Lugh at doggy daycare, I heard a song on the radio, a song that took on meaning for me first when I was 16 and my family moved from Michigan – where I had friends and community and a sense of place, however flawed – to southern Ohio, which felt foreign and hostile to me: Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here.

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?

Hot ashes for trees?

Hot air for a cool breeze?

Cold comfort for change?

How I wish you were here.


I observe that Pagans as a people (the Pagani, as Sara Sutterfield Winn would say) attend to the question of community. Many of us practice as solitaries, and there’s the old joke that organizing Pagans is like herding cats. Many of us long for more, or better, community. We may chafe against the Pagan community we know. There are Witch Wars. Pagans get excluded from their communities. Our problems with building community – and I do think we have some serious problems with it – stem both from our novelty as a religious movement and our location within cultures like the U.S. where community is breaking down. We occupy a unique cultural moment in which community can’t be taken for granted as the place where you’re stuck and the people you’re stuck with. Community needs to be built intentionally – and I think that’s a good thing – but I also think that most of us don’t know how to do that.

When we talk about community-building in a general way, we’re probably talking about building relationships with people. But as Pagans, we also care about building relationships with the land and its inhabitants (material and immaterial). Feeling connected to the land is important to many of us, and many of our other values emerge from that feeling - or the desire for a feeling - of connection to the land.

Hecate writes about a connection between pacifism, the Land, and having a sense of place.

Kim Antieau writes about her longing for community and how freakin’ hard it is to build community. She expresses a bewilderment that I often feel.

Molly has made connection with her land and its inhabitants central to her life, and she seems to have a knack for building community.

Updates: Sara adds her giddy voice to the brew. Executive Pagan talks about choosing to be a local.

(The photo is of the entrance to the gorge four blocks from my house.)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Mi sobrino

A year ago, my nephew was born in Bogotá, Colombia. The young woman who gave birth to him, already the mother of a young son, had hidden the pregnancy from her family. He was born at her home, and the next day she dropped him off at the hospital. From the hospital he was moved to an orphanage, where he lived for the next three and a half months, until my sister and her husband traveled to Colombia to welcome him into our family. Now he is a laughing, thriving, astute, beautiful, and happy baby.

This weekend, over 50 people gathered in my sister's backyard to celebrate his first birthday. It was a huge affair, catered with delicious food, with games for the kids, bubbles and sidewalk chalk, and 100 cupcakes made by the auntie who can bake (not me). I heard that there had been grumbling from some quarters that it was a ridiculously extravagant party to throw for a child's first birthday. My sister - Aries sun, prosecuting attorney, cancer-survivor - replied, with fierce mama-love, "no one was there to celebrate his birth; that will never happen again."

We drove six hours each way, and now we're home again to start the work week. Adonis and Lugh are fast asleep in bed, and I'm about to join them.

cumpleaños, mi sobrino. Te quiero.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Immortal

"In an infinite period of time, all things happen to all men.... If we postulate an infinite period of time, with infinite circumstances and changes, the impossible thing is not to compose the Odyssey, at least once."

- Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

So many birthdays; and, ritual protocol

What a splendid, busy weekend I had. Adonis celebrates his birthday tomorrow, and in our family, since we’re Pagan, we live in alignment with a natural force called “happy birthday, it’s my birthday!” As one’s birthday draws nigh, one can express any whim and one’s partner must happily comply. Proximity to the birthday increases the force. For example, last Wednesday evening Adonis asked for something - I forget what - and said, “happy birthday, it’s my birthday?” Though I felt the pull of the birthday, it was still a week away, and the force wasn’t yet strong enough. I didn’t comply with his wish to see Spiderman 3, or eat fried food, or rub his feet, or whatever it was. (Generally, however, I’m more than happy to comply with the latter two requests, birthday or no.)

But on Friday, during an email exchange about which movies to see over the weekend, the force of the birthday had clearly grown, and I could no longer resist. Luckily for me, the movie he wanted to see on Friday was “Waitress,” which we both enjoyed. (Captain Malcolm Reynolds was adorable.) But on Sunday, the movie was “Pirates.” Adonis loves summer blockbusters, no matter how awful; I don’t. Still, it’s surprising how much you can enjoy a movie when you go willingly and for your beloved. That, combined with the mercy of low expectations and Johnny Depp, made for another happy movie outing.

We also spent lots of time with Lugh, slept in, went to the farmers' market, managed some house cleaning, read, blogged, and attended social events Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Finally, and to my relief, I finished a piece of art I’ve been working on for my nephew, in time for his first birthday this week. (We travel for his birthday party this weekend.)

Sunday’s social event was a birthday party for a friend, a Witch, and there was a somewhat impromptu ritual in her honor. She has a much higher tolerance for fluffernutters than I do; I sat in ritual going slightly mad (silently chanting “try to keep an open mind, try to keep an open mind”). The woman priestessing did a fine job. She’s an acquaintance and someone I see only on occasion. While relatively new to the Craft – within the last five years or so - she’s had excellent training at Diana’s Grove, and has become by all appearances a happy, grounded, and skillful Witch.

But despite her suggestion, as the circle began, that those who call the directions do so in the spirit of acknowledgment ("the elements are always present") rather than invitation or invocation ("welcome, spirits of the East," etc.), some of the volunteers used the same old potted language. It wasn’t quite “all hail the guardians of the watchtower of the East,” but it was close enough. Uninspired, in other words.

Then there was the guy who was all “merry meet and merry part,” but who put his plastic cup of wine of the hostess’s altar, and when gently informed that he’d done so, decided he’d wanted the wine to be blessed – all without the hostess’s permission! I have a hard time being in circle with people who won’t meet my gaze, or people who talk while the priestess is talking. But the main issue, really, is that I felt powerless to do anything but sit there and seethe. I’d love to hear from you about more empowered ways to deal with this kind of situation; I’m sure most of you have been there!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Heima (Othila) and Essais

Two of my favorite Pagan bloggers haven't been blogging nearly enough for my taste, but yesterday brings a post from each of them. Sonja writes about her spiritual growth and the year she's spent in Alberta; one line in particular resonates with me:

Perhaps willpower is the arrogance of the ego and now the natural strength of the soul takes over and provides a truer voice.

Jenavira explains that she's writing posts but not posting them to her blog (thus depriving her readers of her interesting ideas, I'd like to point out). She's been creating complicated symbols for magic:

I bought Christopher Penczak's City Magick and was inspired with the genius idea to create sigils out of the sudoku puzzles I do on the bus, via a complicated numerology system involving ogam and fractions.

Both young women, both interesting minds. I hope they don't stop blogging!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A balanced life

Found in an old Yoga Journal (Issue 189, August 2005), from an article by Sally Kempton called "Seeing is Believing":

In the Indian tradition, life is said to have four aims - wealth, pleasure, ethical conduct or goodness, and enlightenment - and they are meant to be held in balance. What would your life be like if you were to cultivate each of these areas equally?

Wealth: Resources that sustain your life: skills, education, job, money, housing, food, clothing

Pleasure: Every form of healthy enjoyment - sports, sex, theater, literature, music, art, and practicing your own form of creative expression

Ethical conduct: Earning a living honestly, taking care of responsibilities, acting morally and according to your highest values, helping others

Enlightenment: Realizing your deepest nature, recognizing the oneness of everything, pursuing practices such as yoga, meditation, and spiritual study to make this possible

Friday, May 25, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

I'm flattered and pleased as punch to be nominated for a Thinking Blogger Award by both Joanna Colbert of Gaian Tarot Artist's Journal and Sojourner of A Pagan Sojourn. I'm such a fangirl to both these women! And now I get to nominate five bloggers who make me think. I present to you, in no special order,

1. The Right Reverend Sara Sutterfield Winn, who can be found preaching the good news at Pagan Godspell,
2. Authoress Dianne Sylvan, who invokes the Mysteries at Dancing Down the Moon,
3. Green mystic Molly, who has me believing in angels and elementals, at Molly's Blog,
4. Angela-Eloise at Blogickal, sensible and full of wonder (her most recent bit of magic has been to inspire me to clean my apartment),
5. and Pagan journalist extraordinaire, Jason Pitzl-Waters of the Wild Hunt Blog.

If you've been tagged, here's how you play:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;
2. List to this post at The Thinking Blog so that people can find the exact origin of the meme;
3. Optional: Proudly diplay the 'Thinking Blogger Award'.

Cogitate away!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The stories we tell about ourselves

This interesting article from the New York Times notes a correlation between how people feel and behave and the stories they tell about themselves.

Those with mood problems have many good memories, but these scenes are usually tainted by some dark detail. The pride of college graduation is spoiled when a friend makes a cutting remark. The wedding party was wonderful until the best man collapsed from drink. A note of disappointment seems to close each narrative phrase.

By contrast, so-called generative adults — those who score highly on tests measuring civic-mindedness, and who are likely to be energetic and involved — tend to see many of the events in their life in the reverse order, as linked by themes of redemption. They flunked sixth grade but met a wonderful counselor and made honor roll in seventh. They were laid low by divorce, only to meet a wonderful new partner. Often, too, they say they felt singled out from very early in life — protected, even as others nearby suffered.

This makes me wonder if a positive form of cognitive therapy could be to "rewrite" the stories we tell ourselves, making ourselves the heroes instead of the victims. I can imagine a therapist, peer counselor, or friend gently pointing out the "notes of disappointment" in a story being told and suggesting ways to change the narrative.

The stories we tell about the kind of person we are - our character - matter, too.

Those former patients who scored highest on measures of well-being — who had recovered, by standard measures — told very similar tales about their experiences. They described their problem, whether depression or an eating disorder, as coming on suddenly, as if out of nowhere. They characterized their difficulty as if it were an outside enemy, often giving it a name (the black dog, the walk of shame). And eventually they conquered it.

“The story is one of victorious battle: ‘I ended therapy because I could overcome this on my own,’ ” Mr. Adler said. Those in the study who scored lower on measures of psychological well-being were more likely to see their moods and behavior problems as a part of their own character, rather than as a villain to be defeated. To them, therapy was part of a continuing adaptation, not a decisive battle.

Of course, it's not as simple as "thinking makes it so." (I don't really understand the Law of Attraction, but I know that that's not so simple either, The Secret notwithstanding.) If anything, the retelling works more like an affirmation; repeat it often enough, and you can cognitively "rewire," training the mind to move in a different groove. Retelling may also be a gradual process, where each iteration of the story alters slightly from the one before, taking on a more positive cast. Ritual and magick could also be powerful tools to aid in retelling.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New look

I'm having fun playing with the template upgrades - I was getting sick of all that green. But the "simplified" html coding (using widgets) is causing me headaches. I can't figure out how to put a link to my email in the sidebar, or how to restore the sidebar link to my occult library page. (The latter is just a link internal to the blog, to an older post.) It used to be as simple as pasting a line of code into the "edit html" box. Now I don't know what to do, and Blogger help is no help. Help?

Monday, May 21, 2007

It's a mystery

On June 9, I graduate from the mystery school. I spent this past weekend assisting the 1st-year class. In the fall, I begin a year that culminates in ordination; the central project for the year will be to apprentice as a healer. Even a year ago, I wouldn't have believed it was possible. But my sense of what's possible is now so much larger.

When I began the program 30 months ago, I could never have predicted the ways I'd change. I have so much more compassion for myself and others. I trust faculties in myself whose very existence I would've denied. I'm happier. I know myself better. I judge myself less. My spiritual and emotional intelligences have blossomed. I've embraced my spirituality and begun to share it freely with others. My connections with others have deepened. I take more responsibility for myself. I'm freer and more at peace.

Before when I've graduated - from high school, college, and graduate school - I felt like I earned my degrees through sheer hard work, endurance and/or perseverance. I felt like I'd battled my way to the end and was able to rest, weary but victorious. This graduation is different. There was hard work, commitment, tenacity, and perseverance, yes - but it was a commitment to myself in the truest sense, guided by teachers and colleagues who care deeply for my healing. Nothing about the work hurt me or required me to betray myself. Indeed, the only requirement was to show up and be as true to myself as I could manage.

I don't feel battleworn. I feel exuberant.

Between graduation and the beginning of my fourth year, there is one more initiation. In July, I'm traveling with my classmates and teacher for three weeks ... in Turkey!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Beltane blessings

Beltane blessings to you all this week, whether you celebrate on the traditional May 1 or the more solarly accurate (this year) May 5. Me, I've declared this week the week of Beltane. The May full moon (sun in Taurus, Moon in Scorpio) is also the Buddhist lunar holiday Wesak, the serendipitous date on which the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died.

This year, I feel strongly that Beltane is a holiday about the body. Of course it's a sex holiday. And it's the time of year, where I live, when we can finally remove a few layers of clothing and stretch our limbs to the sun. I find that I want to be outside more and move more. All of a sudden there are more dogs and people walking through the neighborhood. I'm seeing folks again on the streets whom I literally haven't seen since last fall.

But while we Wiccans pride ourselves in honoring our bodies, for me that's often a nice abstract principle rather than a real practice. Being present in the body means both being present in the now and accepting what we find here without judgment. I've been experiencing a lot of emotional turbulence lately, and while my mind can whip me into a frenzy of fear and loathing, it's my body that I can rely on to tell me the truth about how I'm feeling. Yet I strongly resist taking time to be still and listen.

I recently read Dancing in the Dharma, Sandy Boucher's lovely book about her teacher, Ruth Denison. Ruth teaches an innovative form of Buddhist practice that emphasizes awareness of and reverence for the body. (I picture her as the Martha Graham of Buddhism.) Ruth also has a gift for working with people who are seriously mentally ill. She brings them to her home and meditation center in the California desert and gives them manual work - literally, work to do with their hands. She has observed that coming back to the body is the first step in regaining mental health and a measure of equilibrium. When I'm struggling with depression, as I have been recently, the first things to attend to are getting enough sleep, eating enough nutritious food, and exercising every day. Also, getting outside, into nature, and being with my dog. In other words, getting out of my head and into my body.

The pleasures of embodiment are many. Of course, there is also suffering, but that is only part of life. Wicca, more than most other contemporary religions, teaches pleasure in our bodies for its own sake. This is what is holy: our animal bodies and their mother, the earth. Happy Beltane.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A pathwork of stars

"Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing."
(Helen Keller)

What you never learn from that sentimental, sanitized play, "The Miracle Worker," is that Helen Keller was a feminist, a socialist, a poet, and an activist on behalf of African-Americans, workers, and people with disabilities. Also, she had a pit bull as a companion. Ergo, she was righteous.

But I'm thinking of that famous quotation in the context of astrology. As I've said here before, I didn't take astrology seriously - nay, I scorned it, like any good humanist skeptic - until I met my teacher. In the astrology that Linda teaches and practices, each person's life becomes a mythic journey, replete with meaning and purpose. We might say that astrology provides a way of reading the text of a life, a method that reveals the sacred in each life. The natal chart is a mandala showing the patterns of the universe from a individual perspective, and providing a mythic template - a map only in the most impressionistic sense - for the life. As I study my chart, as I immerse myself in its symbols and patterns, I come to know myself better.

Right now, I'm experiencing a transition in my life where the modi operandi I've relied on for years are finally breaking down. I literally don't know how to think of myself anymore. When I'm not madly scrambling to hold onto my old patterns, habits, and ways of being, the sensation is like floating in space. I don't know what's next. I'm trying to discern the voice of my authentic being - a voice I've spend years trying to drown out with a chorus of demands. Studying my chart offers me comfort during this time, because as I see the patterns in the chart emerge in my life - however tentatively, like spring buds in the snow - I take heart. My life journey, like yours, has a mythic quality. It is a hero's journey. Even in the midst of all this muck, life has meaning. And our stories light up the night sky.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where you are planted

When I was in the 9th grade, my best friend was an aspiring actress who was a smash as Lady Bracknell in our school's production of The Importance of Being Earnest. That spring she attended auditions for our local summer stock theater; I agreed to go along to provide moral support. (That's my official story, anyway; secretly, I wanted to audition but was terrified.) We both auditioned; I was cast, but she wasn't. Many people, according to my memory at least, were surprised by this. Our English and drama teacher attempted to comfort my friend by telling her that, "when I was a blonde, I got all the parts, too." (Or so reported my friend, who was not my friend for much longer.) The thing was, I was cast in the chorus of Wiley and the Hairy Man; in order to play a shapeshifter in a swamp, I was swathed in green burlap and rags, and green makeup, covering my head. I wasn't cast for my yellow hair alone.

I've never forgiven that teacher for saying that, or for writing in my yearbook - rather pointedly, I thought - "bloom where you are planted." (I took "and not on stage where my star pupil belongs" to be implicit in that.)

"Bloom where you are planted and not somewhere else where you don't belong." In understanding her inscription thus, I accused my teacher of wanting to limit me. But might we understand the adage another way? "BLOOM where you are planted, rather than wither on the vine or perish in your seed-shell." For much like a flowering plant, we cannot with our wills control where we are planted.

In the astrological chart, the Sabian symbol at the chart's nadir has significance. It's the pile of shit we land in when we come to earth. It's the family matrix. It's our stuff, our shit - our compost, if you're feeling positive. It's what we have to work with. As an adult I've labored for many years under the impression that I can get rid of my shit by willing it away, ignoring it, trying to bury it, being good enough, doing enough therapy, getting enlightened ... somehow. I thought the point of growing up and becoming a mature human being was to get rid of my shit. To be free from it. To outgrow it.

Turns out I was wrong.

My shit is my shit. It's what I have to work with in this lifetime. There is no uprooting. So, now, what does it mean to bloom here? In this shithole?

(My nadir is at 1 degree Leo: "A fat and normally good-natured little man of affairs is bursting with determination to have his own way." Oy. If you only knew how apt this is.)

Accepting the person I am without judgment is enormously difficult. Now I get to watch my patterns as they arise again and again: denial, depression, feeling overwhelmed. These are the places I go to out of habit. The ruts in my ego. And fear. What is the dark swirl of fear that catches me up? Where is terra firma?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The gift of community

"We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free."


Joanna has done it again, releasing the Gaian Tarot threes into the world. One commenter, Cate, wrote that the three of earth reminds her of the above quotation from Starhawk. I'm just in awe that I get to share the earth and my faith and the blogosphere with such amazing women.

I haven't been here in a couple of weeks, but I've been immersed in community. Starhawk's words capture it perfectly. On February 24, I experienced an initiation at the mystery school, a twelve-hour "presentation" of my healee and friend, in which we were held by people who love us and have watched us grow over the past two and a half years - twelve hours of the two of us working in relationship, plumbing our depths and shadows, opening, showing ourselves, being witnessed. It was both the hardest thing I've ever done and one of the most profound experiences of my life. It took two full days to recover physically.

And then I had a birthday on March 1. I'm 37 now. Adonis and I spent five days celebrating with each other and friends. I had so much fun! (And I ate so much delicious food.) I received lots of love and appreciation from people near and far. I'm magnificently blessed.

I'm happy to be back in my cyberhome, too. I've missed you.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ducking in

It's been far too long since the last post and will be a few more days, I fear, before something substantive appears here again. Life has been hard lately. My spirits are flagging. I've entered an intense season at the mystery school, and this weekend may well be the most challenging so far.

Spring is coming.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The spiritual path isn't all ecstacy

What a week, and where has it gone? Much of this week has been devoted to staying warm in this bitter weather. Even my office, in a drafty old house, is cold! Lugh, my dog, has been less than enthusiastic to go for his daily hikes; twice he's even worn the dreaded coat - that's how cold it is. Bless Adonis for continuing to take him out each morning, even if Lugh won't go for more than 20 minutes. They drop me off at work and head to a trail. On Monday it snowed, and I took Lugh out for a walk after work; we ended up in an old cemetery on the hill where he ran with sheer glee in the fresh snow. I went traipsing after him and was considerably less agile.

This afternoon I left work with a migraine and spent the afternoon sleeping in the sun shining in on my bed. I rarely get migraines any more, thanks to the Chinese herbs I take, but this week my period is late and every possible symptom is expressing itself. I had an IUD removed in January, and I believe my body is trying to regulate itself. This could lead to a rant about how much I hate the birth control options available to women and general social attitudes about women's fertility more generally...but I think I'll leave it at that. Obviously, the migraine has receded, since I'm at the computer.

This weekend the first- and second-year classes are meeting at the mystery school, and I'm assisting. Adonis is in the first-year class. Assisting has been a real challenge for me, and I'm apprehensive. Mostly, it's exhausting. This year, my third year, has been the most difficult emotionally, and I can't yet see the fruits of this hard work, but I have to have faith. This is my path. I want to run away! I want things to be easy. Ha, how's that for spiritual maturity?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Thealogy: A set of beliefs you can take home to Mom

Over the past couple of years I've slowly revealed some of my spiritual beliefs to my Mom. My parents aren't Christian fundamentalists by any stretch, but they care about their nice, mainstream Protestant beliefs and would, I suspect, like it best if I shared those beliefs. Not being one to want to disappoint my folks, and having something of a "good girl" complex, I've been less than forthcoming where my religious beliefs deviate sharply from theirs. (I'm more outspoken about politics.) Over Christmas, after declining to go to the altar for communion after the minister invited "all Christian believers," I finally copped to my Mom that I'm not a Christian. Being my Mom and clairvoyant in the way many mothers are, she wasn't surprised.

Now, like most Pagans, I'm faced with the challenge of describing my beliefs to someone with no frame of reference whatsoever. (During the Christmas conversation, my Mom asked me who I pray to. "Do you just make up a goddess or something?") I've turned to Isaac Bonewits, in his handy Essential Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft, for a pithy summary of Pagan belief, one I can more or less take home to Mom.

Here are the first five ideas:

1. Neopagans believe that divinity is both immanent and transcendent. Isaac glosses "immanent" as internal and "transcendent" as external. I would define those terms somewhat differently. The Goddess is immanent; she is around and among us. She is concrete. She is the earth, trees, soil, animals, water, stars. And, yes, she is in all things and all beings. But the Goddess is at the same time transcendent; she is the Mystery at the heart of life. She is more than what we can see, touch, taste, smell, and hear. She is more than we can rationally understand.

2. Neopagans believe that children are born holy. We don't believe in original sin - that children come into this world needing to be cleansed. Nor do we believe that we need to be saved from sin. We don't need a Messiah. All children are sacred.

3. Neopagans believe that divinity is just as likely to manifest in a female form as it is in a male form and that the word "Goddess" makes just as much sense as the word "God." A lot of Christians would have a problem with this, but I chalk that up to sexism in the culture. More progressive Christians have sought feminine god-language in the bible. My Mom thinks that God is ultimately beyond male or female, so she has no problem with describing God as "She."

4. Neopagans believe in a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, as well as "lesser" beings, many of Whom are worthy of respect, love, and worship. OK, Mom is not going to buy this. She'll think it's weird. Isaac says that "Neopagans have a wide variety of nonexclusive concepts as to the nature of these entities. Among Wiccans, female deities are usually seen as aspect or faces of a single 'Triune' Goddess, most often described as a Maiden, a Mother, and a Crone. Male deities are likewise usually seen as aspects or faces of a single 'Biune' God, most often described as a vegetation/hunting and solar deity.... Thus, Wicca is predominately 'duotheistic'."

5. Neopagans believe that no one religion, philosophy, scripture, or other approach to understanding can explain the infinite complexities of the multiverse. There are many paths up the mountain. Again, I find that progressive Christians are hip to this and have no problem with different people having different faiths.

Next week, more Pagan thealogy for Mom.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A poem for Brigid

On the mountain we'd sleep in the heavy shade - green figs like
testicles and the leaf palms cracking with pungent milk - delib-
erately, having been told of the vaporous harm to the dreamer.
Donkeys shifting their fly-beseiged, sundazed gaze met and held
ours; the goats would stop because of the short hobble they bore,
their slitted eyes in suggestive seduction fixing us blackly every
few feet of film, those stills of them every few feet of hill an-
nointed now as if memory were a kind of solution. We pile rocks
on our bodies partly unearthed and sweat the weight wet. The air
is still and imagining it through the labyrinth of rock and
moisture against the skin in a breeze stiffens the nipple. Starfish,
colossal under mounds seen from above, the bleached soft-colored
rocks look too much like breasts, and the trouble you took for the
angle and height makes it obvious. We get up heavy with stone
shadow, each muscle rising like a sea-cow, and fall into the green
cove, afloat like the three tomatoes we cool and swim around,
lazily pushing one back if it should stray, too intimate now you
said to eat for lunch, so you sucked on the salty skin, you did,
even though you were posing. Then there are mermaids, and
other riffraff and dross.

(Olga Broumas and Jane Miller)

My poem for Brigid is inspired by an Old Mermaid Sanctuary. To see a list of those blogs offering poems for Brigid today, go here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Home sick

(Painting by Kate Merriman)

I've been home from work the last two days with a stomach virus. Yesterday I mostly slept; today I've done some web and book reading and am starting to feel restless, though without the energy to do much. Lugh stayed on the bed with me yesterday - guarding the weakest member of the pack, no doubt - but today he's snoozing on the couch in the living room. It's good to be home with him, even if we're both just lying about. He's snoring emphatically!

The Pagan web is preparing for Imbolc this Friday. If you'd like to participate in the Second Annual Brigid in Cyberspace silent poetry reading, you can sign up at Oak's blog. All you have to do is post a poem on Friday.

Hecate's gotten a head start with this gorgeous meditation on Imbolc as deep midwinter and a time to take a leap of faith. Read what she has to say and you might feel up to the challenge.

Chavala's sharing time home sick with me, but I'm inspired to read this description of her last week's activities. Her life sounds so full. She training for a half-marathon! She also describes a fine baby shower with none of that sentimental bullshit.

Joanna has posted a sketch of the three of earth (pentacles), and it's devastating! I adore it!

Both Jason and Sara have some good fun with, as well as show serious reservations about, witches on a daytime talk show. Oy! I just think of my relatives watching these shows and taking that crap seriously.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Healing: paying attention

Last week I wrote about my worry that a focus on wholeness in healing tacitly presumes that we’re broken. And brokenness – the idea that we fall short of some ideal, that we’re imperfect, that we’re separate from the godhead – is intrinsic to a Christian worldview. If we focus on wholeness in healing, are we challenging the idea that we’re broken, or are we reinstating the duality of brokenness and wholeness? Should healing and wholeness be part of an ethics of Wicca?

Other religions treat the body as sinful, dirty, animal (and hence farther from god), or an impediment to enlightenment. As feminists have taught us, degradation of the body goes hand in hand with degradation of women. Wiccans honor what has traditionally been associated with women and hence degraded: nature, the earth, goddesses, children, our bodies, animals, dirt, blood, birth, change, death. These things are sacred to us. They aren’t a sign of illness or failure or sin. They aren’t to be fixed. Rather, we tend, honor, watch, and participate. What we could strive for as Wiccans, I think, is to see things for what they are and to promote greater flourishing. Not to fix, but to tend. I like that word, tending, as if the earth is a great garden from which we’ve never been expelled. It also makes me think of paying attention. I’ve learned from my few years in the mystery school that great healing occurs when people are given loving attention without judgment. Perhaps a Wiccan ethics of healing could be based on tending, attending, and paying attention.

How different would the world be if we paid attention to the needs of people who are sick or have disabilities, rather than trying to fix them or blame them? If we attended to death rather than ignoring or hiding it. If we tended a pregnant woman or a woman in labor rather than asserted our own agenda for her. If we paid attention to our elders. If we attended to the messages of animals and trees. If we regarded our own bodies with loving attention. If we each tended our sweet corner of the earth.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Polythealogy 2

I like calling Paganism the "Old Religion," though I know that's a piece of romantic revisionism. And Diana Paxson nicely states some central tenets, if you will, of our religions: that "Divinity may be worshipped in many forms and by many names; that the physical world is as holy as the spiritual realm; that humankind should live in harmony with nature; and that magical or sacramental practices are effective." I don't know about you, but that sums up my beliefs quite well.

When I start to think about the differences between monotheism and polytheism, the distinction starts to break down. I mean, contemporary fundamentalist Christians believe there is only one God, though they also posit the existence of Satan, who seems like a demi-god to me - a god ultimately less powerful than the Big Guy, but still pretty damn powerful. And what about the Holy Trinity - three gods in one? three aspects of the same god? It's the stuff of theological debates. To Catholics, Mary is the mother of God; does that make her a god, or no? (Of course, we all know who Mary really is.) The ten commandments, important to both Christians and Jews, state that the people shall have no other gods before the God of Israel, which isn't the same as saying there are no other gods. As for traditional polytheists, do the Hindus believe their gods are many or ultimately one? Or both?

Among Pagans, we debate the value of sticking to one pantheon or choosing from among many. We call ourselves polytheists but are less clear about what that means. My own belief tends toward the Divine as both one and many, the great Mystery, known in many guises and by many names. Is that just a holdover from my Christian, monotheistic days, or from growing up in a culture where monotheism is the dominant model? Do I fail to make the necessary imaginative leap to true polytheism? When I think of polytheism, I picture first the squabbling Greeks I learned about in high school, and as much as I groove on the archetypes of Artemis, Demeter, and Hecate, I can't take Zeus and his ilk seriously. Like a lot of Goddess women, I mix my pantheons freely, being partial to the aformentioned Greek goddesses (but not Hera, please, never Hera, and I have some problems with Athena) plus Kwan Yin and Brigid. Since I like my gods to challenge dominant masculine norms, and it took me a long time to divest myself of the idea of big-white-bearded-male-God, I prefer to think of the god in even more abstract and less human terms, as the Green Man and the stag. But ultimately I believe these characterizations of the Divine are limited if useful tools for grasping parts of what cannot be fully understood.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Polythealogy 1

This is a lazy person's blog post to begin a discussion of polythea/ology. Not only will I quote a famous Pagan author, but I will quote a passage found on this website. Call it a notebook entry to inspire later conversation.

A useful term for the faith we practice is the "Old Religion," which includes both the uninterrupted tribal religions of native peoples all over the world, and contemporary attempts to recover native traditions interrupted by Christianity, and to combine religious elements from a variety of sources into a faith suitable for our pluralistic society. The various traditions of the Old Religion share a belief that Divinity may be worshipped in many forms and addressed by many names; that the physical world is as holy as the spiritual realm; that humankind should live in harmony with nature; and that magical or sacramental practices are effective. Most of these traditions also believe that both women and men have spiritual power, and that individual inspiration is as valid as inherited traditions.

An additional characteristic of the Old Religion is that its symbols are imprinted in the collective unconscious, and many of its practices come from the most instinctive levels of the mind. This gives us an advantage in recovering our traditions, since some material can be accessed by developing channels of communication between the conscious and unconscious minds. Our sacred book is Nature Herself. We are at a disadvantage when discussing with people whose sacred authority is the written word, for those are the people who have written most of the books by which people judge religion. Most religious writing assumes the inherent primacy of monotheism and masculinity, and the inherent inferiority of the physical world. Without allowing ourselves to fall in the opposite trap of assuming that everything monotheistic and male is bad and everything female or polytheisitic good, our study of the history of religion must be informed by intuition, and we must read as much, written from as many points of view, as we can.

- Diana Paxson

Blog for choice

Today I'm blogging for choice.

A woman's right to make her own decisions about her fertility is inalienable and non- negotiable.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Book review: A Mirror for Witches

Esther Forbes (1928). A Mirror for Witches. (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2006, 1985).

In a town near Salem, in the years before the famous witch trials, there lived a girl called Doll Bilby. She was born in Celtic Brittany, where her parents burned as witches before her eyes. Rescued by an English sea captain, whose wife could bear no children despite being a devout and Godly woman, the dark-haired, wild-eyed Doll - so called because she was small - came to settle with her foster parents in Massachusetts Bay Colony.

This is the setting for Esther Forbes's relentless, haunting novel of a young girl, a perpetual outsider, who falls victim to the hysteria of her times. The story is told in the authoritative voice of an "objective observer" after the fact, a Malleus Maleficarum for one girl. The unidentified narrator recalls events in Doll's life through the lense of her eventual accusation of witchcraft: the child was a demon from the start, and her every action proved this. The clever thing about Forbes's book is the way she affects the narrator's voice while at the same time slyly revealing the narrator's bias. The reader sees a young girl caught up in cruel circumstances and coming to believe herself that she is evil. Doll Bilby has her allies - her foster father, who dotes on her, a progressive divinity student, who advocates for her, and a poor herbalist, who teaches her. But even these allies cannot stem the tide of misogyny, puritanism, and sexual fear that is Doll's undoing.

A Mirror for Witches, recently reprinted by Academy Chicago Publishers in a facsimile edition of the 1928 original, complete with woodcuts by Robert Gibbings, is an exciting and creepy read. It's definitely not for children, despite the author's being best known for her award-winning children's book, Johnny Tremain. For anyone interested in the Salem witch trials, this book is a gem.

I have little interest in the Salem witch trials and surrounding hysteria, however, which means I wouldn't have picked up the book had a review copy not been sent to me by the publisher. Still, I had a good time reading it. The bit about the poor herbalist, a wise woman both scorned for her congress with Indians and sought after for her healing skills, is a nice if romanticized touch for the modern Witch. Doll is a lover of nature and animals, and in that way she may also resemble (or not) those of us who call ourselves witches today. But the connection between Witches today and the women and men accused at Salem, or those who fell victim to the Inquisition in Europe, is a connection that we moderns have forged. What they meant by witch and what we mean by Witch aren't the same. At least, I haven't consorted with demons of late. (Beware, however: demons can come disguised as clergymen or pirates.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Books I'm reading

As usual, I have my nose buried in several books. Here's what I'm reading these days.

Mercy, Unbound - I've got all of Kim Antieau's in-print books on order at my local indy bookstore. This is the first one that came in. Kim rocks.

Nourishing Traditions - I page through this regularly, reading bits here and there, trying recipes and planning to make my own yogurt.

Real Food - In defense of whole, local, organic foods, real fat, raw milk, and meat.

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety - Read about the social pressures put on mothers in this country, and the guilt and anxiety women take on themselves, and then plan your move to France (see the introduction).

A Language Older Than Words - My first Derrick Jensen book! (I know, I know.) I'm utterly captivated.

And with that, I'm off the computer and into bed with a book.