Friday, March 6, 2015

Been a long time, been a long time, been a long...



WOW! What a very long lapse in my blog.  I don't expect that many will have noticed my absence but, if someone is reading this, I am not dead.

Since I last wrote, I have completed a cooperative multi-group outer court with some other covens of my trad, adopted a new dog, taken on three new folks who are guesting with my coven and we are now preparing to take on three (potentially four) more students.  The Gods have been giving me all kinds of new things to think about, adapt to, and do.  Lots of good stuff, with an inevitable measure of not so great. It's all there to create a balance between two poles.  Beginning and ending, yes and no, stop and go -- you get the idea.  I am reminded of the equal hours of light and day we will (theoretically) experience on the upcoming Vernal Equinox.  

Often called Ostara, the equinox was not always observed by the Wica.  Gardner mentions in his writings that the equinoxes and solstices were added after he began forming covens to create more occasions to get together to celebrate, and I for one am glad they were added.  Getting together with my coven is always a pleasure.  

For us, the equinoxes are liminal times.  Living in the desert, we don't get much in the way of Spring.  We mostly have Summer and not-Summer.  For us, Spring exists roughly from Imbolc (usually the end of Winter rains) to the Spring Equinox when things are fully leafed out.  Summer seems to assert itself sometime between the equinox and Beltane, with the first 100 degree temperature of the year usually close to Beltane. So, Ostara is that fleeting and mystical time when the weather is warm and beautiful, the sun is not overpowering, and the nights have a cool sweetness that we reminisce about through the hot months. The desert is full of wild flowers, pollen counts go through the roof, and outdoor festivals rule.

While much of the country is still wrestling free of Winter's grasp, we are enjoying highs in the 70s or 80s.  While they are praying for warmth, we are wishing we could stay in the comfort of this mild bliss like a dreamer reluctant to wake. 

Happy Spring!  I will endeavor to be a more faithful blogger.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When Spirit takes over

I have always had a strong connection to the god Hermes, or Mercury if you prefer his Roman name.  I have identified with him on a number of levels.  I have often had the role of messenger, whether the news I had to give as good or bad, and I have always felt an affinity with him as the psychopomp or go between.  As a gay man, I have often felt that I was liminal in that I neither fit the traditional role of the straight male, nor have I ever been the effeminate stereotype of the gay male.  I have often existed between worlds.  

Hermes has a strong association with communication and intellect, two traits I value highly. He is often equated with the finder of lost things and the spirit of liminal spaces such as crossroads.  This is likely due to his role of guiding souls between worlds, and a duty shared with only a few other deities in the Greek and Roman pantheons.  Hecate with one torch ahead and one behind is the only other deity I can think of with this ability to transverse through the veil of life and death.  

Today, my partner and I made the heart wrenching decision to schedule a home euthanasia vet to come over tomorrow and assist our beloved dog, Gavin, in passing through the veil and into the Summerland.  Gavin was diagnosed with a type of sarcoma (cancer) about 5 weeks ago.  Until last night he seemed to be putting up a good fight, or perhaps a front (?), and seemed to be handling his decline without too much problem.  He was losing control of his bladder due to incursion by the tumor, but his demeanor was as it always was.  He was lively in the mornings, happy to greet us and receive attention or come when we called him.  This morning, however, that changed.  

I managed to get through the phone call scheduling the vet to arrive between 10 and 11am, and made a few communications letting friends know that the time had come.  A little later, I received a phone call from the vet saying that there had been a scheduling error, and that time frame for arrival would have to be pushed back to between noon and 1pm.  At first I was annoyed, thinking that delaying the inevitable was cruel to both us and to Gavin.  Then I began to think that in times when we are in the presence of great mysteries, like death, that we are often being communicated with through the veil which separates spirit and matter.  

Thinking about the nature of death as a transition, I noted that the day which happened to be the scheduled day was Wednesday, the day assigned to the planet Mercury in astrology and the day I associate with Hermes as the liminal deity (Wednesday is the middle day of the week in our western calendar - hump day). I then began to wonder about the planetary hour assigned to the new appointment time, and discovered that, when calculated from the hour of sunrise, the new appointment would fall on the hour of - you guessed it - Mercury.  

What I am getting at, dear friends, is that sometimes our Deities and Spirits with which we traffic will step in to help us in imperceptible ways which, unless we pay close attention, may escape our notice.  These little adjustments can remind us that we are not alone and that the offerings and attention we give to Them are repaid in kindnesses such as these.  I am reminded that, for all my pain in this, Gavin is being assisted to transition from here to there by the best possible carrier.  On His day, and at His hour, Gavin will find safe and peaceful passage.  

He will be missed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Skyclad and the law

Everyone in the pagan blogosphere is talking about the recent arrest of pagan writer, musician and personality Kenny Klein.  For those who do not know, Klein was arrested in New Orleans for possession of sexually charged images of children under 13 years of age and admitted to sending and receiving such images via computer.  The story can be found in a number of locations, but the news story is available here:  http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/03/new_orleans_man_booked_on_chil.html

In the debate happening at patheos.com on the subject of Klein's arrest there was a difference of opinion about a side issue: the wisdom of minor children to be allowed at functions or public festivals where nudity may be present.  From a legal standpoint, I am in no position to make a definitive judgement.  I have read that if the function is private and it happens on private property that there is nothing illegal about children attending such events.  I would imagine that this would be the case for a family function or something like that where the participating family or families may be naturists. Defenders of people's right to raise their children in their spiritual traditions may argue that they have the right to raise their children around nudity as they see nudity as natural and in many cases even sacred.  Opponents of children's attendance at such events are uncomfortable with the idea because, while ritual nudity is one thing, they draw the line at the legal age of consent.  I happen to believe that children should not be made to feel ashamed of their bodies, and that parents have the right to raise their children with ethics and morals which are consistent with their own.  That said, I am not sure a public festival is the appropriate place to make that statement.  Let me elaborate....

One person posted in the comments section of the blog in question that if one opposed to nudity of adults around children, or children participating in that nudity, that they are not practicing a "nature religion" because children are born naked.  This is patently absurd in my opinion.  Nudity doesn't define a nature religion last I checked, and just as parents have the right to take their children to pagan festivals where nudity is present, pagan parents who prefer to keep their skyclad practice between adults have the right to decide such for their families without being seen as lesser.  In addition, are pagans who prefer not expose their children to nudity to be made to feel unwelcome at festivals?  Are we to assume that every pagan who attends a public festival practices ritual nudity?  Regardless of the rules in our individual traditions, families and communities, we MUST take into account that there are folks out there who will see sexual connotations where there are none, and the addition of minors to that can make for a very sticky situation.  Also, children are not able to offer legal consent.  When you are nude, all the rules change.  A simple hug can be seen as something else to a disapproving onlooker.

We have a duty to ourselves and to the pagan community at large to act with discernment when we are out in public situations.  Like it or not, we are representing one group or another.  As a traditional initiate, I cannot assume that my entire trad is not being judged based on my behavior or statements when I identify as an initiate of that trad.  Right or wrong, this is the way of our society.  Mr. Klein's arrest reflects poorly on the whole pagan community, just as pedophili priests reflect poorly on all Catholics.  While intellectually unfair, it is a simple fact.  It is the opinion of this witch that children and ritual nudity should only exist in private events (truly private, in a family home) if it exists at all.  If I knew that an event or rite would be skyclad and include minors I would decline to attend. 

Another issue here which has come up in private conversation is the subject of photos taken at pagan events.  This is a serious subject since pagan people often have varying levels of "out-ness" with different levels of society.  Maybe with family they are completely public about their religion or practice, with friends it might depend, and at work no one may know that they are pagan.  A photo can change all that with or without their permission.  The use of the internet and social media can make a pic spread like wildfire - especially when every modern cell phone is equipped with a camera.  Please be considerate with your camera usage when out at pagan events.  Now, add naked minors into equation and we have a potentially litigious situation.  

In other words, behave like someone is watching you because someone probably is.   

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wiccanate... what the hell is that?

I was alerted to a blog by Jason Mankey by a post from a friend on Facebook in which he talks about a new word that seems to have gained a bit of recognition.  That word is "Wiccanate".  If I understand correctly, it describes the sort of practice which is derived from Traditional Wica (ie. Gardnerian, Alexandrian etc) but is available in published works and does not include traditional initiatory practices.  I am aware that a debate over a moniker to describe such practice which is palatable to all concerned has been going on for rather a long time.  After reading the blog, I noticed that there was another subject which Mankey raises which also seems equally unwieldy; that of "Wiccan Privilege", the debate and conversations about which have apparently given rise to the use of the term Wiccanate.  I have a couple thoughts on both these topics.

I have to agree with Mankey that the term Wiccanate is ridiculous.  As he says, "Initiatory or Traditional are pretty good words for describing a particular branch of the Wiccan tree, terms like General, Eclectic, and perhaps even Non-Denominational also get the point across. I haven’t even gotten to the most descriptive terms yet; words like Gardnerian, Dianic, Alexandrian, and Odyssean. All of those terms say plenty. I don’t see why anyone needs to use the term “Wiccanate” as a descriptor."- See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2014/03/wiccanate-i-think-not/#sthash.FKPg6o4H.dpuf  

I am in agreement with Mankey that words like eclectic suit just fine, but those to whom the term would refer have often raised objection on the basis that "eclectic" seems to hint at inferiority.  I will simply say that there will never be a term which satisfies all involved.  Many of those in the Traditional Wiccan communities feel that the term Wicca has been co opted to describe any number of practices which were derived from Wicca but do not include coven initiation and teaching in covens run by lineaged leaders.  There are also a good number of "beliefs of one" who scream out for the right to call themselves Wiccan because they have read several books and have the right to make Wicca what they want it to be.  Mankey suggests that if we don't like the use of the term Wicca as it is used today that perhaps we should take it up with Llewellyn Publications who has applied the term to so many and various practices in their books.  While the point that Llewellyn has been somewhat responsible for the redefinition of Wicca while turning a profit is well taken, the co opting of the word Wicca began long ago before Llewellyn was the force that it is today.  Not only did the word get taken and used to mean something that it did not initially describe, many of the ritual forms went along for the ride and got integrated into many practices which don't even refer to themselves as Wicca.  Wiccanate just seems to be a somewhat derogatory word.  To those it describes it implies "not the real deal" and to Wicca it implies "the hydra which never had a definition and never will".

On the subject of Wiccan privilege, I have to say that this annoys me.  The idea is that much of public Pagan life seems to be Wicca-centric.  Pagan Pride Day events are often coordinated by nominally Wiccan groups, the venders and seminars seem to cater to Wiccan practice and much of the public seems to have conflated Pagan and Wicca as being synonymous.  Pagan is a term which should be able to encompass a large and diverse community of which Wicca is a small (but popularly identified) part. The blame for this "Wiccan privilege" seems to be being leveled at Wicca as a whole, as if it is some plot to keep out other practices.  Perhaps the Wicca-man is trying to keep someone down?  Let me just go on record and say that a large number of Traditional Wica that I know wish that Wica/Wicca had not been so popularized that it lost its original context.  Most of us were happy to not have shows like Charmed, and to have booths at craft faires slinging "Blessed Be" bumperstickers. My point is, if such privilege exists, it was circumstantially created and was not asked for or deliberately done by the Wiccan community at large.

I had a brief conversation with Macha Nightmare at Pantheacon and she told me about a panel in which she took part which centered around a similar beef relating to interfaith work.  The idea that groups felt deliberately excluded seems common to both.  To both of these conversations, if in fact they really are two conversations and not one, I say, "Get over it".  It takes tremendous amounts of work to be involved with things like PPD and interfaith oganizations.  Public presence of a large oganization which might deserve the word "privilege" is the effort of many.  The sort of time required to be a true public force is significant, and must be balanced with the rest of one's life.  It is not the job of event organizers to seek you out and cajole you into participation.  If you see an imbalance in perspective, for gods' sake get out there and get involved.  If they say you cannot participate I will then entertain your objections.  Until then, it's just whining.  

Further, just because the term Wicca has been hijacked and used widely, and maybe even by the large number of groups which seem to dominate the public Pagan scene, does not mean that Wicca derives much "priviledge" from it.  As a matter of fact, I would argue that being told that your practices are good enough to steal, but the lore and reasons for doing them are not, is a poor example of privilege.  Most of the Traditional Wiccan covens which I know personally have limited public presence for a couple of reasons.  First, many have retired from public life following the "witch wars" of the 80s and 90s and don't wish to be officially involved with a commuity which offers further potential for drama.  Second, they feel that their presence in the public pagan scene may align them with groups which are flighty, nutty or (worse) unethical.  Further, to be told that you do not have the right to define your own communities and filter out those who you do not find suitable is often at the center of discussion between traditionalists and eclectics and an argument is seen as helpful to no one.  To be told that you have something that we want and we are entitled to have it does not speak of privilege.  It sounds like what some Southwest Native Americans have described as the way that they feel about white people with turquoise jewelry and dreamcatchers in their car windows.  Would we call them privileged?

I would never suggest that there are not Wiccans, traditional or otherwise, which look down their crooked and warty noses at other Pagans.  I would argue that their numbers are no larger than those in other practices who do the same.  Ceremonial Magicians often look down their noses at Wicca as being a fad, some Traditional Initiatory Witches look down on Wicca as a New Age "white light" religion for masses of ethically over simplified non-risk-takers, and on and on and on.  People will always find a way to make themselves feel imporant by professing the enlightened nature of their beliefs even if  they betray their own prejudices by qualifying their statements with "except those people."  As Paganism moves toward a seat at the table of world religions, we will become more and more pressed to create clear definitions between this practice and that.  If this is undesirable, perhaps proponents of movement toward world religion status might wish to "slow their roll".  Looking at Christianity, we can see that one denomination is never satisfied with the doing, thinking and recognition received by another.  The infighting within world religions over belief, practice and doctrine are ours to inherit.  Lucky lucky us.  For those who feel that they are not as well represented in the Pagan community at large, I hope that you will come forward and join the conversation.  Without your participation, and maybe even your dissenting voice, nothing will change.  There are those who will be eager to listen.  


Monday, November 25, 2013

Dark of the Moon

The Dark of the Moon is often a misunderstood concept.  Many books about spell craft, and Wiccans I have heard discussing magic, refer incorrectly to the New Moon as the "Dark Moon". In reality, the Dark moon is really the final day of the 4th Quarter Waning Moon, when the moon is at its final decline before beginning to finally wax into the first day of the 1st Quarter Waxing moon, or New Moon.  This is a highly powerful and liminal space in lunar time.

The New Moon is rightly discussed as a time for beginnings.  Planting a garden, for example a magical one, is an excellent endeavor for a New Moon act of magic.  By contrast, the Dark of the Moon is the day to mark the finality of endings and the dark itself.  Traditionally the best day for hexing and cursing, the Dark Moon has been much maligned.  It is the time of the Death aspect of the Lady, the dark Crone and Washer at the Ford.  The spinner of Fate, the most unknowable aspect of the Lady, should be honored at this time.  The Dark Lord, too, should be honored at the Dark of the Moon for without destruction and endings new beginnings would often not be possible.   

Recognizing the dark parts of ourselves is appropriate at this phase of the moon as well.  Our "shadow", as Jung called it, is that restricting and destroying part of the self which can hold us back.  It fills us with fear and slows our progress toward success with whispers of "not good enough", doubt, and negativity.  The Dark Moon is the perfect time to meet our shadow on its own turf; to work to integrate it into being so that it can fuel, temper and complete the lighter half of the self.  We are a model of the macrocosm.  As such, we are properly composed of light and Dark halves. This is as it should be.  When we accept and embrace our darker aspects, we open ourselves to deep and powerful magic. 

Much if Wicca today has been whitewashed with fluffy self help junk.  The fluff aspires to normalize and make "safe" the practice of Witchcraft, making it palatable to popular culture, but the reality is that witches have never been afraid of taking responsibility for the muck in their own lives.  We make decisions and cast spells.  We know that we will ultimately have to take responsibility for how we alter the weave of the fabric of Fate with our magic.  With that in mind, aught we not see what motivations our darker selves might be hiding in the dark corners of our souls?  I think so...

So this December 1st, I encourage readers (if ther are any) to embrace the Dark Moon in Scorpio and plumb the depths of your own self.  Look for, name, and envision your darker self. Maybe give it a name and spend some time with it.  I promise you that you will not be asked to expose this tender spot, but knowing it intimately will make your powerful because you will understand your own motivations and intent.  No person will ever do this fully, but this is why we call our actions the "practice" of Witchcraft, right.  May we all find happiness in our balanced imperfection. So Mote It Be.

Monday, November 18, 2013

X is for eX-Xians and the Craft


                                          


Though there are more and more families raising Pagan children, there are still precious few folks that grew up in Craft families.  As a result, many of us (myself included) came from Christian families. 

When I first came to the Craft, I was seeking escape from a pontificating, overbearing father god. I had sought relief in other religions including those of the Eastern variety.  Those simply didn't fit my worldview. I was not seeking escape from my body and human existence any more than I was seeking eternity on a fluffy cloud with wings and a harp.  Once I discovered Paganism I learned that there we other concepts and images of deity which were far more in keeping with my internal image of God.  I was home. 

Unfortunately, as happens all too often with converts, the desire to demonize and degrade my previous religious upbringing overtook me for a period of a couple years. I was angry about the church's role in past wars, it's obfuscation of truth thoughout the centuries, its hatred of diversity, its obsession with the collection of wealth blah, blah, blah. I was confrontational, self righteous and quick to make assumptions about the way I assumed that Chrisitian people saw me.  These became self fulfilling prophesies. I would find every opportunity to prove my archetype of the "evil Christian" and, frankly, behaved like the bigot I was railing against clothed in a different spiritual uniform.  I was young and rebelling against the yoke of oppression. Or so I thought...

Eventually I realized that, if I put half as much energy into working on myself as I invested in railing against the religion of my childhood, I would be a good example of a non-Christian rather than holding myself up as superior to all Christianity - a far more powerful message, I have found. 

As I teach other newcomers in the Craft, I sometimes see my early anger and prejudice reflected back at me.  I hear objections to words like "worship", "deity" and "ritual" because of the use of these terms in Judeo Christian religions.  Perhaps it is a natural process, like the stages of grief, that one goes through when it is realized that the religion of one's youth no longer fits the bill.  Just like a kid changing peer groups, the old group is often held up for ridicule by the new group as if to prove where true allegiance lies.  In reality, this catharsis can be helpful and healthy so long as we don't dwell there.  Like sadness, remaining in a state of anger for an extended period of time begins to breed illusion in the mind.  These delusions inhibit forward spiritual, mental and magical growth. After all, "know thyself" is first and foremost in the most basic of spiritual practice, and it is impossible to do so if one is focused on the evils of the ubiquitous "they".    

One thing I have learned after being away from my childhood religion for over 20 years is this: real release and freedom from a repressive, dogmatic religious group comes from giving yourself permission to let go of ALL your connections to that past.  Yup, all of it.  The hurt, the anger, the feelings of being less than and the anger that festers as a result of all those past hurts.  Recognize that the religion itself is not the problem and you free yourself to choose.  Just as there are rotten people grasping for power in churches across the country, there are also rotten people grasping for power and control in covens and groves and, hell, even Cub Scout troops I'd wager.  Railing against Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, is an exercise in futility.  You can make sure that your voice is heard, point out and act on inequality when you find it etc. but to demonize an entire segment of the world's population as ignorant, intolerant and down right evil only serves to expose your own ignorance. Our real freedom comes when we choose to redefine our relationships with deity, our community and ourselves and act on that choice to be a good example of what a Pagan, Witch, or Druid looks like.  


Thursday, September 19, 2013

S is for Spells


        

With this week being about Spells, I thought that I would touch on something that I have noticed as a growing trend for quite some time.  I will limit my focus to Wicca and witchcraft and all the folks who identify with one or both of these terms.  I have heard, not a few times, that there are witches and Wiccans who do not cast spells.  This is absolutely baffling to me!  Why in the world not?  

The answer I often get is, "because it is unethical to cast spells or make magic for personal gain". This is utter horseshit.  Sorry to be so blunt, but I think that in this instance that is the only proper term for such foolishness.  What in the world is unethical about getting what we need and desire?  Is it the assumption that to get what we want we must take from another?  If so, then I challenge you to expand your definitions of the following:  

Magic:  if we accept that magic is creating change in accordance with Will, we should be able to accept that this change can be a manifestation of something which previously did not exist - that it was willed into being.  If this is so, our abundance received through magic is created by us, for us.  With this in mind, it is not necessary to take from others to have what we want.  There are, of course, types of magic which rely on domination and manipulation, but the choice to utilize such tactics is exactly that - a choice.

Fertility Religion - the very term suggests abundance. As deities of fertility, and by extension abundance, our gods wish us well and want us to be happy and prosperous.  They do, however, expect that we will work for what we want as well.  Magic will make the job available, but you, my dearest, will have to go out and get it yourself.  

Witch or Priest/Priestess - this is not the same as lackey of the goddess, slave or pitiful wretch.  We work with our gods in a symbiotic relationship.  We need Them, and They need us.  Magic is one way in which they give to us, and through worship and reverence we empower them in return.  Witches are makers of magic, and to suggest otherwise smacks of Christian guilt and an attitude of unworthiness.  Our gods are realists.  Without enough to eat and a roof over our heads, how will we be able to spare any energy for Them?  This isn't Jehovah or Yahweh we are talking about here, who demands the first of all flocks, who asks people to kill their kids as signs of devotion and sets plagues on people to test loyalty.  No, our gods are not THAT god, however They are as responsible for the dispensation of justice and hard lessons as they are for the lavish gifts of magic.  Do not truffle with them, but remember that Willing and Daring are as much at home in Wicca as in Ceremonial Magic.  Use your head, and accept responsibility for your actions and you will do fine 

They witchcraft ethics of Charmed might be fine for the teenie bopper witches, or the "white light" enthusiasts, but I will stick with the old school attitudes of my elders, thank you.