Monday, November 20, 2017

A Few Words On Thanksgiving

I always say that after Halloween, it's a slippery slide into Christmas. Thanksgiving  as an individual holiday with its own characteristics, is pushed aside, or has been relegated to being the opening salvo of the Christmas season.

As a society, we've allowed the merchandisers of the big big stores to determine when and how we celebrate our holidays. We have given the power of those days set aside to celebrate our lives and the seasons over to them. ( Note to the Religious Right: If you still think there is a 'War on Christmas', this is the one to fight.Have the courage to fight this battle and leave the rest of us in peace.)

Sadly, it's become rather fashionable to disparage the Thanksgiving holiday. The exploitation of Native Americans by European settlers was and forever will remain a heinous act and a crime against humanity. But that is not the whole Thanksgiving story; it's also a day set aside in this nation for recognition of those who have tended the harvest, and the prosperity each of us have enjoyed during the year. Personally, I believe it's time to take back Thanksgiving and restore it as a day for giving thanks together, as a nation. It's a time to look back at the year and count all the little things we've survived as a society together, and to look beyond to the blessings we've received.

For me, this is a time of the year when the mind quiets. I pray more simply because taking stock of the blessings I've received during the year allows me to focus on what has mattered more sharply. It is a time of reflection as we leave the days of bounty and face the cold winter.

My best prayers are always the ones where words are not spoken and I observe the stillness. It is then when my own mind entwines with the gods and goddesses of the Divine and I simply am.

With our modern hectic lifestyle, it is difficult to set aside time to pray or meditate. May I make a suggestion? Do your prayer. Allow your intentions come out in your actions. It is an ancient concept we need to revive. If you are praying for goodness in your life, then do good. Pick up a piece of  litter or give a few coins to someone homeless ( better still, buy them coffee). If you are seeking peace in the world, then work for peace and justice. There are many things that can be done to put prayer into action.

Be grateful, and give thanks.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Safety First

Earlier this month, a man walked into a church in Sutherland, Texas with a semi-automatic rifle and killed nearly half the congregation-including children. We all saw what happened being played out over and over on TV and social media.

As Pagans, the majority of us are peace-loving and mindful. Something like that could never happen in one of our covensteads or circles, right? We ward our places of worship against evil and for the most part, we keep our whereabouts from prying public eyes. But not always. With public ritual becoming more frequent as we seek to have our traditions accepted in the religious mainstream we have become vulnerable.

But if you think something could never happen to us, you are very wrong. It can, and at some point in the future, the gods forbid, it eventually will. I say that with trepidation. I'm not trying to trying to frighten anyone or being paranoid...but I am cautious. Because during our rituals we share many of the same areas of vulnerability as any mainstream church service. Even if we keep our location a secret, if a gunman really wanted to bring havoc upon us, we would be found. Shields, wards, white light and thoughts and prayers will not keep us safe from a madman with a weapon.

So what are we to do? We begin by being alert to what is going on in our surrounding environment.
If you are setting up for a circle in a new venue, explore the area and know where all roads surrounding it lead. If ritual is to take place in a public area or park, let those in charge of  overseeing the area know when you will be there and for approximately how long ( be sure you have all the necessary permits and bring them with you). Notify park rangers or security and remind them you are there. Yes, it's a drag and I understand that it somewhat dampens spontaneity...but better to be safe.

When planning for ritual, appoint one or more persons to be an observer outside the circle so participants are not distracted. ( In some traditions, these persons are  known as a challenger and may symbolically carry a sword. The sword isn't for physical protection, because our ritual blades are not intended to taste blood. You may have to explain this to an unknowing park ranger or police officer who would (rightfully so) be freaked out by the sight of what they perceive to be a weapon.) There should also be worship assistants inside the circle who are monitoring what is taking place in regard to participants, not only to help those who may be emotionally overcome and need assistance , but to be observant of any unusual or threatening  behavior and be ready to intercede along with those watching from outside. If indoors, lock any doors not actively being used, or post greeters by them. Also, if feasible, plan an escape route ( a good point for fire safety as well). It's not just invasion to be precautionary of- there are also bomb threats and just plain harassment. The  cult of Dominionism, radical Evangelicals, and unfortunately, those in some Pagan traditions who have ties to the ideology of neo-natizism are a very real threat to 'outsider' spiritual groups. Much of their worldview supports unbridled violence against others. Keep an eye on those espousing these beliefs in your area.

Part of the responsibility of your council is for the health and safety of individual members and planning for emergencies.  As much as we don't want to think about an attack on our sacred space, we live in troubling times and should take pains to be informed and cautious. It is to our benefit to at least touch on the subject and perhaps make a plan. There are links below which are informative and adaptable to any religious tradition.

Be Well and Be Blessed.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Once More...With Feeling

This country has an undeniable infatuation with guns, powerful assault weapons in particular. As much as we'd like to buy into the romantic notion of the Old West being as American as apple pie, a reality check is seriously needed. Not everyone needs to own a gun, and there are more than a handful among us who should never, under any circumstance, have access to a weapon.

The NRA pours millions of dollars into the pockets of Congress to influence laws concerning gun control, and this needs to stop- but it won't- because money talks louder than common sense and reason most of the time. That's a sad reflection of who we are in America today.There are too many individuals with reckless bravado hiding behind the 2nd Amendment to define their personal power. Firepower doesn't make you a man, however, in certain circumstances lack of reason and control does make a killer.

'Thoughts and prayers' are what we send when we are at a loss for what to do; as a minister I am a big supporter of holding space with those who grieve, but in cases such as this horrific event, something in addition to thoughts and prayers is required...We need to pressure our elected officials into taking a legal and moral stance legislating gun control: increased vetting for permits and properly regulated training for ownership and use. In my opinion, our elected officials taking funds from the NRA and similarly related lobbyists while doing nothing to protect the public are literally taking blood money.

And while we're at it, folks, lets throw a little more funding toward mental health care, since our POTUS has now admittedly confirmed what those in the field already know: help is woefully inadequate and inaccessible. A good way to begin would be for our elected officials to stop sabotaging the ACA and extend Medicaid, because the first contact point for treatment and recovery is a primary health care provider. Mental illness is a disease and should be treated as seriously as all other diseases. Thoughts and prayers may help, but realistically they are not a cure. In fact, as I see it, if anyone needs the grace and mercy of a Higher Power, it's our elected officials and the people who elected them.

But the gods will not save us, no matter how much we plead. Humans have free will, according to the religious beliefs of some. The gods will not do the work we have to do- that is squarely on us. We can ask for discernment, for ours eyes to be opened to reality and truth, but it is up to the individual to act and put change into action. It is up to us to seriously get down to the matter and not just send, "thoughts and prayer" every time a crisis arises. Thoughts and prayers are a temporary warm fuzzy, fleeting in their comfort. Condolences  are a panacea which is only short term.

I believe in the power of magick; yet without action in the physical world, magick is reduced to 'thoughts and prayers'.

We need a long term solution to stopping the violence that has permeated our society and seeped into our culture; that is where citizen advocacy comes in. The gods do not allow violence to flourish in our country, we do. We allow it by doing nothing, by allowing apathy to over take us and take away our power. Engaging with elected officials as constituents is making a conscious choice to act. Elected officials -who represent 'we the people'-are put in place to do the will of the people, not the will of Washington lobbyists who represent special interests. They occasionally need forceful reminding of why they hold office. Doing so is the right of every registered constituent. Do it, as often as necessary. The gods support action, not reaction. Remember that the next time you are tempted to send thoughts and prayers.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Mists of Memories

We leave the light of Summer months to enter the long,dark days of Winter. It is the time to gather what we cherish close, casting away what we no longer need and what no longer serves.

The Veil is now at it's thinnest, and we stand at the end of the bridge. We reach out to greet and touch our Beloved Dead. Those who have already made the journey to the great Unknown return in vast numbers , seeking out the warmth and love of their friends and families this night. If you are so inclined, put out a bit of food for them, so they may feast on the the things they enjoyed in this life. No, they will not be able to physically eat it, but they will absorb the essence of it and be satisfied all the same.

Welcoming the Dead into our homes this night, we  remember and honor them. Their memory remains strong in us this way. Ancestors will only linger with us for awhile, and then depart across the bridge and through the Veil the way they came. Pray for their safe return and comfort through the next year, for surely they will be joined by others known to them. The clock winds down through the years until we, too, are dust and memories.

The coming months will be cold and dark as the days have lost their light. The last harvest is in, and the season of plenty wanes.We will draw ourselves up close to that we care about most against the lengthening darkness and cold as Winter approaches. We go to that place of Deep In-dwelling. Some things and people will surely fall away during this time, but we ourselves will survive until the first green bud of Spring returns. The holy spark of life will burn within to keep our spirits warm.

Let us keep the sacredness of Samhain, and raise the song of Harvest Home!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Goodbye, Uncle Ray

Much has been written on the recent passing of Raymond Buckland. Love him or hate him, he did introduce an organized tradition of Witchcraft in the United States at a time when things like that just simply wasn't done. He never tried to hide the Craft by dressing it up like something else, and he was the closest thing to Gerald Gardner we had in this country.

To say he was a prolific writer is, understatement. He held a vast knowledge of varying subjects, from the Craft to Spiritualism, divination,liturgy and ritual...and magick. He wrote a wide array of fiction novels, and played jazz music professionally.

I chuckled along with everyone else at his ritual micro-management, " Stand here...Do this....Say these words...". Give him props for being so serious about is spiritual path that he wanted to get it right- his way, of course- just like the rest of us. While others found his continual reference to another of his books in the middle of a passage annoying, I would dutifully jot down the title of that book and look it up after finishing the one I was currently reading.

It's not that I was 100% sold on doing things his way, because I'm not...but I have the utmost respect for his place in the history of the Craft.  I found him most approachable; over the years I would shoot him a personal message on Facebook about something, and within a day I'd have an answer. His tone was always that of the gentle teacher. He was most gracious with his answers, and always humble.

Yes, in the early days after the Craft went public, he did come off a tad bit homophobic sounding about male/ female polarity in magickal work, but I think this was because he was so adamant about keeping things balanced. His opinion softened and changed, as he admitted,when he realized it had less to do with actual gender than sacred sexuality.

He was vibrant and active until the end, and I like to think that a gentle breeze stirred the Veil and he simply stepped through to the other side when it was his time. Just a little diversion from his routine, and he went off to explore the Great Unknown, with the full knowledge that he'd be back someday.
I believe he will- not that he ever really left. I think he's going to live on for decades to come. In fact we'll hardly realize he's gone unless we stop to remember his quiet crossing.

Goodbye for now, Uncle Ray. See you around.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Was That A Banshee I Saw You With Last Night ?

One of the things I love most about Celtic/Irish mythology is its deliciously endless array of maleficent creatures. Culturally, the traditional Celtic lands are the main contributor to our Halloween lore and traditions.

Many of our iconic monsters sprung from the mind of Irish authors such as Bram Stoker (Dracula) and Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (Mr.Hyde).
Others came directly out of the stories of the common people, such as the wailing Banshee,  the Kelpie , Balor the Demon God of Death, and varieties of Sidhe (fairy folk).

Some legendary creatures specific to Celtic lore have their American counterparts, such as the Dullahan (dark man), the Irish headless horseman whose equivalent in the US is the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. While the motif of headless horsemen is pretty universal, owing to the numbers of stories world wide, it is the character created by Washington Irving that stands out.

The most readily recognizable creature owing to Celtic lore is the Banshee. Always a female spirit, hearing her wail turns the blood cold because it forewarns of a death. Sometimes she arrives in a ghostly death coach ( or the coach rides by alone without her-another legend). Her appearance varies from beautiful and youthful to being a terrifying old hag depending on the source. She is sometimes accompanied by a black dog. Her screams are particularly piercing in the lonesome countryside.

Equally famous as the Banshee is the Kelpie, a shapshifting monster most often seen as a horse. The Kelpie inhabits the area around bodies of water and the sea, where it entices unsuspecting victims to hop on it's back for an innocent ride that always ends with the creature running into the water, where they are drowned. Kelpie have also been seen to shapeshift into the form of a handsome man, identified as the monster in disguise because of the wet seaweed in his hair.

Descriptions of Balor, King of Demons, also vary by source. His most infamous personification  is that of a giant with one leg and one eye. Balor is able to kill by fixing his victims with his 'evil eye'. By legend, Balor is King of the Formorians, a race of supernaturals. Balor is eventually killed by Lugh of the Long Spear after Lugh becomes King of the Tuatha de Danann. It is thought that Balor is the inspiration of Lord Samhain, a fictitious character in Ray Bradberry's classic children's book The Halloween Tree.Not all faries are friendly toward humans. There are a multitude in Celtic mythology that are not, too many for discussion here other than in general terms. Scottish folklore divides them into The Seelie Court (good) and Unseelie Court (maleficent). A well known method of honoring faries or quelling their wrath is to leave them a bit of milk and honey. In his widely known classic Irish Fairy and Folk Tales, W.B. Yeats further divides them into Trooping Fairies, groups which travel in elaborate processions, and Solitary Faries, which appear spontaneously alone with mischievous intentions. The latter are the creatures which often lure unsuspecting humans to the Underworld through invitations to dance and share a meal. Those who partake of fairy food , it is said, never leave. A third type, familiar to anyone who has been a member of the Girl Scout movement in the United States, are Brownies-household spirits who favor children and perform domestic duties.

If you have seen the outstanding 1990 movie Ghost (starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopie Goldberg) then you are familiar with the Sluagh-the malicious spirits that  about like flocks of birds, seeking out the dying and dead. In the scene where Demi Moore's character is attacked, her ghost lover causes a window to shatter and kill the attacker with shards of glass. As he is seen dying, an eager group of screeching shadowy figures suddenly swoop down and carry him screaming away with them to Hell. These figures, which many who have seen the movie  believe are demons, are more accurately a group of  Sluagh, who are the spirits of unrepentant sinners. Folklore belief is they come from the West ( the traditional place of the Dead), and in many Irish households, the western facing windows of a house were kept closed at all times to keep the Sluagh from carrying away the dead.

If you enjoyed reading about these mythical Celtic creatures, you may want to explore more on your own. There are many books on the subject, but I suggest you start with A Treasury of Irish Fairies and Folk Tales (an anthology by various authors) and W.B Yeats' Irish Fairy and Folk Tales.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Still Standing

cartoon by Alex Gregory
Well, hello... I see we're still here, seeing how the latest Big Rapture was-as predicted by nearly everyone with a brain- a big, fat, nothing burger.

But wait! The statement that the world would end on September 23,2017 was a...misunderstanding. According to David Meade, the self proclaimed Doomsday prophet," Saturday will only mark the beginning of a series of catastrophic events to occur over several weeks." Which sounds suspiciously like so much 80s New Age psychobabble. “The world is not ending, but the world as we know it is ending. A major part of the world will not be the same the beginning of October.”


This sort of sounds like the vague prediction that next week at this very moment, there is a likelihood that the weekend will occur and that Sunday will follow Saturday in 24 hours. Only that prediction will come to fruition in our lifetime, barring an accident or other fatal event in the meantime. The actual end of the world may or may not. If Mr. Meade wants to use Biblical platitudes to prove is theory, he should specifically check out the one found in the book of Matthew, chapter 24, verse 36,"However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."

Notice that according to the spiritual text of Mr. Meade's faith tradition, the time when the world ends is even hidden from Jesus himself. This should be enough to not only humble folks like David Meade, but silence them....yet it doesn't. It doesn't shut them up because these people- most of them hailing from the evangelical Christian Dominionist cult-are so incredibly self- important  they even eclipse the importance of the very god they claim to serve. Let that sink in a minute, and you'll come to the realization, as I have, that these types are insufferably, narcissistic. The God of the priests of Yahweh, the god of the ancient favored Jews, the father of  the Christian Savior Jesus is not their god. Despite their loud bellowing to the contrary, the god they worship is the one created in their own grandiose image.

In this way they join with the inflated, egotistical Big Name New Age Teachers; there is little difference between them. Want examples? Go watch The Secret .

The world as we know it is constantly changing. I suspect every sentient being on the planet knows this to some degree. It doesn't take a Christian numerologist/talking head to give us the message. Any creature with even a thin shred of self awareness intrinsically knows the world-their world-changes second by second in an assortment of diverse ways. In my opinion, this is the greatest lesson of Nature. I don't need some annoying 
folie de grandeur to tell me what Nature whispered in my ear decades ago.