Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is Allowing Witch Hunters on Campus Higher Education?

These days, when something of significance happens in our community,word of it spreads like wildfire through out the community.Oberon Zell Ravenheart posted this story on his Facebook page last night from the Daily Kos, and what came to light was that a bigoted group of religious extremists calling themselves the International Coalition of Apostles had scheduled a 'Social Transformation Conference' in a science building at  the hallowed halls of Harvard University...let me say that again...a group who sponsors speakers who call for the deaths of members of the LBGT community and encourages the  literal hunting down of witches  is holding a conference at Harvard.
And as far as this witch is concerned, Harvard cannot squirm its way out of this hideous faux pas by lamely claiming that they are only renting the use of the building or that this group has First Amendment Rights, because the ICA is advertising that the conference is being held at Harvard, and inference is that Harvard supports it. They are using Harvard's reputation as a a world leader in education and an American icon of higher learning to validate their mission and legitimize their fuzzy religious rhetoric.
The powers that be at Harvard-that would be President Drew Faust and the University Board of Trustees- are fully responsible to the public for this travesty, because this is not just a witchcraft or gay issue, it's a human rights issue. ICA not only condemns all practitioners of alternative lifestyles and faith traditions (admittedly their right), but  its representatives disseminates  information that encourages committing  violent acts against "others". Did someone at Harvard not do their homework on this group before they committed their facilities for hire? Or is Harvard University so money hungry that they will rent to any bunch of loose canon weirdos under the guise of free speech and education? I find the latter hard to believe and the former incredulous. Wasn't it Harvard that just rejected a P2P conference on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" because they believed it would have limited appeal and was too controversial ?

Students at Harvard objected to and spoke out against bringing the International Coalition of Apostles on to their campus upon learning that their school was hosting the event...Do the President and Board not care about the opinion of the student body? Surely they must have considered how associating with such a group would result in massive negative PR and affect future enrollment and funding, and if they didn't, then they have underestimated the tolerance of the public...or they are arrogant enough to believe they can get away with anything because Harvard is an Ivy League Sacred Cow.

Saying that the Witchcraft/Pagan community is outraged is an understatement of epic proportion.Maybe those sitting int he ivory towers of Harvard don't believe we really exist. Maybe it's time we stopped our infighting, back-biting and whining about the Burning Times of Yore and do something proactive and constructive before the next major crisis is upon us. If you think that's a little over the top in thinking, then we'd all better check the history books and learn a lesson from the holocaust when the Third Reich nearly annihilated the Jews and their sympathizers, a number of Eastern Bloc countries, and seriously decimated the European gay community all in one fell swoop through infiltration of society. A lot of religious groups either turned their backs or didn't believe in what was happening..until each group was systematically eliminated and there was no one left to tell. While I'm not saying that's what's going to happen, I am saying there's a lesson to be learned about ignoring what's going on around you and thinking that it's only happening to the other guy.

If the ICA were having a private religious conference and it were billed as such, I wouldn't have a problem at all with Harvard giving them meeting space...and they could be as hateful as they wanted, because it's their perogative. But when they bring in speakers who advocate death and violence as a "solution" to " the problem" of other religious groups, I draw a line in the sand.
Social Transformation Conference, indeed.

( I was asked to write a petition in regard to this situation at Harvard. Here's the text of the petition and the link to it on
Those who sponsor modern day 'witchhunts' and related 'educational' conferences to disseminate this information are abusers of human rights in disguise. While we recognize that as every citizen of the United States they have First Amendment rights as to freedom of speech, we feel that the bigotry, hatred and suggested violence historically attributed to this group supersedes that right by the  featured speakers at the Social Transformation Conference sponsored by the International Coalition of Apostles  against Pagans and other non-Christian religious traditions, the GLBTQ community and "Others" This type of hate-mongering should not be tolerated in an enlightened age. It is a violation of common decency that such a conference by the  International Coalition of Apostles,is being hosted by Harvard University, which is putting its future enrollment and governmental/public funding at risk by doing so. The message of this group and this conference in particular reflects the type of worldwide discrimination against human rights and violence seen in the news daily against men,women and children accused of superstitious negativity associated with witchcraft.  We object to this intentionally malicious slandering of the religious traditions of those who  participate in non-Abrahamic practice and choose to identify with a modern and logical definition of witchcraft as an earth-centered faith tradition.
Harvard, long held as an institution of exceptional higher learning, is in effect sanctioning the abuse of human rights in providing this group meeting space.
As citizens and practitioners of alternative and  non- Abrahamic religions, we are outraged that Harvard has lent it's name to the sponsorship of the Social Transformation Conference held by International Coalition of Apostles on it's campus. In our opinion, Harvard University has accepted rental fee which amounts to blood money , and has sold out  the American idea of diversity and freedom of religion-which mean ALL religions.

 Jason  at The Wild Hunt has written an excellent article on this subject:

When One Is Killed, We All Die A Little

“There's an aspect of human nature in which we want to think we're better than somebody else. They're a different color. They speak a different language. They have a different name for the Creator. Whatever it is, that makes it okay for me to hate them, to try to get some of their land or some of their resources."

~John Denver

If you didn't already have a grasp of what transpires in the religious (specifically Pagan) community chances are you wouldn't be reading this blog right now. We all know there is a great deal of religious persecution going on in the world, from Muslim women being required to remove their burkas for post 911 'security' reasons, to the hysteria a couple of weeks ago over some orthodox Jewish men wearing tefillin (a set of small black boxes containing Biblical passages that are attached to leather straps),to the recent firing of a Transportation Security Administration agent whose termination letter made mention of her practice of Wicca.

Most notable in the media in the last few days, however, are the human rights abuses arising as a result of the the spread of superstitions and lies leading to accusations of perceived  'evil' and wrong doing in regard to witchcraft in Africa. Indigenous people-some children- practicing their spiritual heritage are being wantonly attacked by those driven by fear and ignorance. Cunning folk, root workers, herbalists, shamen,witches and other types of occult practitioners (and some with no affiliation to the occult at all) have been brutally murdered by their neighbors. In many cases the perpetrators are known to the victims and even include members of their families. Their crime is the misunderstanding of the practice of their religion.

A staggering number of those killed have been disenfranchised elderly women of the community-those living in  poverty and poor health, frail and unable to defend themselves against the judgment that seals their fate or those who take their lives.They are beaten, burned and hanged by hysterical, angry mobs- and those fearing the actions of someone they perceive as able to commit malicious acts  that are a threat to humans, animals or crops, much in the manner attributed to the witches and sorcerers in past times. The fear is fueled by some evangelical or fundamentalist Christians, those of opposing African occult traditions,political gain, or by those who are just out to take land and  what few possessions owned by them.Just because they can.

This injustice must not be tolerated. The attacks and murders are escalating daily, and more likely than not we are only hearing of the more sensational of them and not getting a true idea of the scope of this persecution until the authorities are held accountable. Please consider joining the Touchstone Advocacy of the Pagan Rights Alliance in it's campaign to make the South African Human Rights Commission aware that the world community aware of these travesties. A letter which you can download and send to the SAHRC will be available tomorrow, March 29th, on their website. In the meanwhile spread the news- be proactive. There are stories and information on the site to help you become educated and suggestions of what you can do  mundanely and magically as an individual.
Remember, these are our spiritual brothers and sisters and when one single witch is killed, we all die a little.

Go to the Touchstone Advocacy website:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Come To The Table: Beginning Interfaith Dialog

Talking about my faith is difficult; you'd think that with all the formal education, training and experience I have accumulated over the years in the field of ministry, and in the study of theology and comparative religions it would be a breeze. But it's not. At my very core I know what I believe and why: I feel it, it's ingrained in my soul and reflects my spirit. It's not easy defining something that doesn't stay static, that is ever evolving and shifting like a giant sand dune.

Our history as a movement and folklore have morphed into new paradigms over the last several decades as we literally and figuratively unearthed what has been buried and forgotten. There has been enough time lapse that our founders have lost their superhuman status through close personal scrutiny by the masses; they simply don't loom as large any more. Perhaps that is beneficial in establishing a healthy view of who they were then and are to us today. In other ways, demystifying them opens a space for the naysayers and doubters, and while at first that appears to be negative it can become the other side of the coin as well- we see in them more of ourselves. They become more human when we take them down off of crumbling pedestals and place them closer to us on newly poured foundations with more strength and accessibility. We reclaim them from the mountaintop and chip away the loftiness and romance encrusted by time to see them with new eyes.

This shifts the paradigm further, causing us to view ourselves differently. It forces us too take a good hard look at who we are in regard to the gods, and to each other. It is uncomfortable...but it is honest if done in the spirit of true self-discovery. The mask comes off-not because it has slipped-but because we have chosen to take it off. We loose our victim mentality when we choose to heal and move on, realizing that We, and not the ubiquitous They are the ones holding us back. When we recognize that infighting and petty nit-picking is the currency of failure and fools, we allow ourselves to rise to our birthright of co-creator with Immanent Divinity. We become, in a word, worthy.

Until we have an idea who we are and claim that without the smugness and superiority that has permeated our midst in the last few years,we will never be able to legitimately and credibly  able to explain the Craft to those out side it to dispel fear. And while I don't believe we need to strip away all the mystery from our religion that makes it sacred, I do believe we very much need to jettison the feeling of elitism around it in order to make ourselves understood.

We can begin by participating in rational dialog. Discussing religion is like everything else: it's a metaphorical pot luck dinner. Not everyone is going to like what is brought to the table, but if you take what you want from it, everyone gets fed. The human tendency to jump up and point a finger at the slightest provocation is neither Pagan, Christian, Jew or Muslim. It is a psychological characteristic of one who is angry and chooses to act and respond angrily. If we remember that type of anger is created by fear of the unknown in the other, we are able to temper ourselves when tempted to loose our cool. Pagans and Christians alike have been persecuted at the hands of the Other. It is not our providence alone to claim.

To dispel the myths and lies we and they have heard about one another, we must openly talk about what we have heard. We must be calm when discussing the Hollywood stereotypes. We must replace the misinformation with truth-ours and theirs- and accept that neither of us are right nor wrong. People have a tendency to accept, remember and assimilate new information by correlation to what they already think they know about any given subject, and religion is no different. What is going to be difficult in this is offering unbiased resources to back up our positions: sacred text may be taken by some to be the literal word of the gods, but is, in fact, made up of  myths and lore. That doesn't make them any less sacred, but it does beg to question who wrote it and their reasoning behind what they wrote. It may surprise you to know that many sacred texts have stories that echo one another. Use that commonality to your advantage when stating your beliefs. It fosters tolerance when we see a bit of someone else in our selves. It is perfectly right to compare your beliefs with theirs. Similarities give people something to connect to, and the shared values are an opportunity to bond.

You don't have to accept their views, and they don't have to accept yours. No one is trying to convert the other when engaged in authentic dialogue. Your truth is yours and theirs belongs to them. But everyone's truth is valid and equal, regardless. Every fine point will not be solved, but nothing will be accomplished if the conversation is never brought to the table. The best we can hope for is mutual tolerance-and peace.

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

Imagine you are seated in the gallery of one of our lofty Halls of Justice in the Great Northeast. The Judge hearing the case has probably heard his share of suspicious and ridiculous accusations, so he is now the type to brooch no nonsense. Imagine the testimony of one of the defendants co-workers sounding like this:" The heater in my car quit working because it was hexed by a witch who was following me home from work."

Imagine the uproarious laughter in the courtroom as the Judge hammers his gavel in an attempt to regain decorum. But it's no laughing matter- not to Carole A. Smith, a former Transportation Safety Administration agent-and self professed Wiccan- who lost her job last year after allegedly being bullied by co-workers about her religion. You've seen the video and read the news articles by now. We've all pretty much come to the same conclusion that the major problem here is that Smith  pointed out dangerous safety issues being ignored by superiors( with whom she has a personality conflict) at the TSA, which clearly makes them guilty of placing the public at risk...and that the issue is being spun into something entirely different by representatives of a government agency entrusted with the protection and well-being of the public.

"She was in the top 10 percent in Albany at catching weapons on the X-ray machine. She passed her skills test on the first try. She caught a woman on her way to Vietnam with $30,000 in cash. And she didn't mind working with the passengers -- her training as a massage therapist kept her from being squeamish, as some officers were, about patting down elderly and special-needs passengers."~ quoted from a  MSNBC report.

Although the TSA did have a large file on her prior to the trial, even the judge pointed out that officials kept changing their stories and confusing the details. While it seems the TSA might have had good enough reason to terminate her employment in the end, according to the Judge's decision, the complaints came with suspicious circumstances.Those circumstances included the fact that her superiors allowed their professional judgement to be clouded by personal religious bigotry, as evidenced by the inclusion of a prejudicial statement referring to her practice of witchcraft.

I'm not questioning whether or not Carole Smith was a good or bad employee, but I am questioning why the TSA felt it was necessary to mention her religious preference in her termination letter. What difference did it make to the performance of her duties as a TSA agent?

Absolutely none.

She wasn't unrolling a prayer rug in the security area and facing East to pray, or setting up an altar with icons and candles. She wasn't lighting incense or reading tarot cards. From what I can tell, she wasn't even wearing a pentagram pendant on the job (unless it was concealed beneath her uniform shirt). There was nothing apparent in her behavior regarding her mundane employment to indicate if she were Wiccan, Muslim, Christian or Jew, although she had shared with a co-worker that she was a witch.

As much as I'd like to believe in my heart that the word witch isn't still loaded with  all sorts of assumptions- and that it's a positive and  accepted appellation - it isn't. Not even in my own Beloved Community, it seems. There is as much unwarranted criticism from those in the Craft as there is from the outsiders who lack any true knowledge of the meaning of our beliefs at their most basic. And that derision stems not just from those having a difficult time defining the word, but from those with a false sense of  'witchier -than-thou' superiority.

"She's no witch. She's living proof of how far people have strayed from the way of nature. If she were following her intuition, she would not apply for such a job &also would recognise that she does not belong there due to the harassment. A tunedin person would be glad to go. Get a nicer job lady & stop giving witches a dubious& confusing profile." -You Tube user comment posted after MSNBC video

In the video in question, Smith- an eclectic solitary- was seen walking around her home pointing out some of her prized Craft-related possessions, including a crystal ball of a size most of us would kill for, a pentagram wind chime, and a broom she brings attention to in a humorous manner (Come on, admit it: We all have at least one 'witchy' item in our collection we joke about. Mine is a dinky little iron cauldron.) She has three felines, and yes, one of them is a black tuxedo cat that she is photographed playing with and petting. How this brief video that does not discuss the specifics of her personal practice in depth earns her the ire of  a member of the self-appointed Witch Police and Craft Tradition Approval Bureau with a declaration of " She's living proof of how far people have strayed from the way of nature." is beyond credulity, as is the rest of the rambling rant about her choice of employment. How any of the footage provided  gives witches in general " a dubious and confusing profile" is also a bit of a mystery.

The upsetting part of this to me is that someone in the larger Pagan community has once again taken it upon themselves to define how the rest of us should practice our Craft and connect with the Divine while injecting a great deal of negativity and vitriol into the commentary...and that, friends, gives witches "a dubious and confusing profile" with the public.(Nevermind my favorite personal pet peeve with the Pagan community: If you're going to make a post attempting to show your superiority, knowledge and enlightenment on a subject, kindly focus on commenting in a manner that doesn't make you look like a fucking doofus.)

Continuing to send the mixed message of how well we treat one another with respect and dignity while allowing freedom to choose one's own path- but only if you do as I do and say and I approve of it, is far more damaging and damning than anything other religions say about Paganism and Witchcraft.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why Wait Til Spring?

Lots of blogs about Spring cleaning this week, so I thought I might as well throw mine into the pot, too.
I am not a fan of housework ( raise your hand if you are so the men in the white coats with the nets can more readily identify you). Dust and my sinuses are not on friendly terms, but they do seem to get together to party every now and then, usually necessitating a trip to the doctor for something to take care of the resulting infection. If I were smarter at this cleaning thing, I would clean as I go-wiping off surfaces before they get dusty, vacuuming before there is an army of little bits of this and that on the carpet, giving the floor a swipe with a damp mop just because everyday.

But I'm not. I like to think that it's because I actually have credible activities in my life that prevent me from fussing-that I actually have a life- but the sad little fact is, nothing is preventing me from doing this bit of preventative maintenance.
It's been said that the clearing of physical spaces will ultimately affect the organization of your mind. Clutter is a terrible waste of space, especially if that space is supposed to be vacant. Staying in the mindset of the way I was raised however, space is there to put stuff in. That's why it's there. It's empty, you fill it. Simple, no?  I've tried to adopt the Japanese way of home decoration-creating empty space around specific items so they are more meaningfully showcased. The problem here  specifically is  that I wasn't raised in a Japanese household, I was raised by folks who went through the Great Depression and therefore saved everything.
The result of living through the Great Depression was that you kept everything that came your way because your literal survival might just depend on it one day. Everything that came through the door-particularly if it were free- was a real 'find', a gift from the gods of plenty. There was never enough of anything and everything was in short supply. Consequently, nothing was ever thrown away: it was wasteful and shameful and down right UnAmerican. Throwing away a perfectly good anything could get me an ass-whooping of epic proportion at my house. Even if you didn't need it now- you might in the future and you wouldn't have it- or someone else might have need of  it and therefore you could be a good neighbor by supplying whatever it was. It was actually prudent to think that way and has its merits...within reason.

My grandfather never turned anything down. Anything. And  he was damn proud to be able to produce whatever it was if someone else happened to be looking for 'it'. He was buddies with another elderly Sicillian man who owned the salvage yard, and on Sunday afternoons he'd go off and drink lemoncello, smoke rank stogies and bond over the fact that both their fathers " came over on the boat." And he would come home with some of the most remarkable things-old wooden doors, lengths of lead pipe, discarded two by fours, partial boxes of ten penny nails, rusty tools, odd packs of roofing shingles and homeless units of (formerly) built-in shelving....most of which were still taking up real estate in the basement when he died. Guess who got to sort through it to throw it all away after my Grandmother died and I inherited the house?
I realize that Pop was just trying to be a good provider and keep us from ever needing anything. Recalling the harrowing experience of shifting through his collection of basement treasures is not meant as criticism as much as issuing a warning: if  it's stored it, someday you will have to discard it. And it's easier to say "yes" than "no", so at some point you, too will be faced with the same task... and looking for an empty spot on the wall on which to bang your head as you try to figure out what to do with it.

No wonder that I always felt somewhat befuddled and confused when I was in my 20s and 30s. It took until my 40s to take to heart the lesson that if your world is cluttered, your consciousness is cluttered also. There was always a feeling of chaos in that house for me,and whenever I did a major cleaning I always felt as though I was throwing away a part of my childhood. And I was.There is a time and a place for everything, according to the wise council of Ecclesiastes:When no longer a child, it is time to put away the things of a child. I beg to differ with the council fully: Get ride of what you no longer need, but never surrender your wonder,curiosity or ability to be satisfied with something simple or revel in pure delight.
When you have created your own space, you feel much more comfortable with all the stuff you have to put up with from the rest of the world. Four years ago, when I was moving for the third time in seven years ( after having lived in the same house for 40 years) I became aware of how much stuff I had collected on my own and how much I had to weed out to go to the resale shop just prior to what my friends call The Great Southern Migration.

There was a lot. I had to give up a couple of the things  I truly wanted to keep- my great grandmother's book rack, an antique table from a church that I bought for $5 at a yard sale, three nearly new bookcases, the garden glider I was using as a couch in the living room. They were things that wouldn't fit into storage, and I was torn to loose them. The bright spot in this is that none of it is irreplaceable in the larger scheme of things, all could be replaced...someday...if I so choose. I am not a prisoner of my stuff and I realize that I couldn't keep it all. Besides, I still have the memories...I didn't give those away. I have more of an appreciation now for the few things I did keep.
Even more important than clearing out my material possessions is the fact that I have been able to develop a space for my personal awareness. I have begun to think about who I authentically am and the way I would like my life to be. There are subtle levels of being  that there was no room for before. There are things I know I will never have enough of-money and love being two in particular- but I'm working on it. I have faced the fact I will never be rich. Love is wherever it finds you. Right now there is enough for me to be comfortably satisfied, and it's all I need.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Funny, You Don't Look Pagan-Then Again, Maybe You Do

After my first blog by this title, I got a few emails from folks who were wondering just what I thought Pagan clergy should wear during ritual...evidently this is a bigger question than I knew about. I didn't consider it a concern, question or problem, but I guess everything is up for discussion in our community these days. Not that I object-it's' how we learn from one another. Dialogue produces an exceptional amount of good-will and teaching.

One thing I don't do is skyclad. I don't have anything against nudity in it's context and I celebrate the naked form as beautiful in all ages, shapes and sizes, both female and male. There occasions when it is ritually proper ( and perhaps necessary, depending on the nature of the ritual). Skyclad, although a bit on the dramatic and romantic side visually, is a ridiculous sounding word and smacks of foppery. I realize there needed to be a euphemism created for the time it was first used, but now it just seems silly to me. I slept naked under the covers last night-does that make me blanketclad? No, it made me naked...and  I don't like being cold, nor do I find it particularly conducive if participants are uncomfortable during ritual-for whatever reason. We can feign an air of progressive thinking all we want, but the fact is that most of the time people are still uneasy with public nudity. Moving right along...

Orthodox dalmatic and deacon stole
The Wheel of the Year is the Pagan  liturgical calendar for most of us, regardless of our tradition. The mainline Judeo-Christian Liturgical Calendar follows a set list of colors for the seasons. Modern use ( and those who produce and sell vestiture) has expanded the list a bit, but it's still pretty basic. Starting with Advent, which is the beginning of the Church Year, the colors are royal purple and pink, with the exception being blue if the Sarum Rite ( Old English/Anglican)is being observed; Christmastide is white and gold up until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th when the color changes to green until Lent. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, and the color is either black ( traditional) or violet  thereafter until the week between Palm Sunday and Easter ( known as Holy Week).  I have to stop to comment on the violet used: it's a purple that has more red in it than what's used for Advent, the reasoning being that it's still recognizing the royalty of Jesus, but reflects the blood sacrifice of that royalty. This isn't dogma, it's mythological lore, most likely stemming from the middle ages when much of this type of thing was created to hold the interest of the faithful. The Christian people weren't very far removed from their pagan roots, so they still had the concept of the blood sacrifice of a king very much in their minds, and this was a concession of the Church to community beliefs they knew they couldn't totally erase from the collective unconscious of the faithful.

Roman chasuble
During Holy Week the colors change  several times: red or maroon is used until Maundy Thursday, when the color is changed to black and the interior of the church-including the altar-is stripped of all vestiture and linens. The sanctuary light is taken out of the church, signifying that God has seemingly abandoned the faithful for what is about to take place during the crucifixion on Good Friday. Processing the sanctuary light out of the building is symbolic of the absence of the Presence of the Holy- and if you have ever  participated in a Maundy Thursday service,then you understand the feeling of utter desolation of being left alone by God when the sacred ceases to exist and the Church is just an empty shell of a building. It's difficult to process on many levels.The color usually changes back to red during the day on Saturday, but once again changes to white or gold on Saturday evening if an Easter Vigil is held; if not the color doesn't change until Easter morning, when it remains white for forty days until the Feast of Pentecost
(the Anglican Church calls this Whitsunday," White Sunday"), but most liturgical churches use red to symbolize the Spirit and Word  of God descending on the Apostles-most of whom will be martyred. The season of Pentecost- when the spirit of God dwells among the people, is celebrated by using the color green to symbolize growing in faith. It is temporarily supplanted  for the by either white for feasts relating to Mary or Jesus or red for the feast day of saints who were martyrs.The green is in continuous use until Advent rolls around again at the start of the next Church Year.

The vestiture of the clergy and the sanctuary reflect the colors of the Liturgical Calendar. There are variations to shades of the colors in modern usage from parish to parish. The dalmatic and chasuble pictured aren't exclusive to the Christian Church because they were the garments of the day. The dalmatic is a ornate tunic worn by deacons in the Roman, Anglican and Orthodox Churches. It is worn over a plain white tunic called an alb. Some albs are hooded, most of them are white or cream linen, and they resemble the monk's robe. A rope, called a cincture may be wrapped around the waist; they come in all liturgical colors as well as white.The deacon's stole is worn across the left shoulder and either left to hang as shown or fastened at the right hip. A chasuble is traditionally worn during communion services by priests, but it is actually an adapted outer garment like a poncho in the middle-ages.

As Pagans, we follow no such hard and fast rules other than gold for the God and silver for the Goddess, and even that is debatable. The colors we use are reflective of the seasons and the Sabbats we celebrate (at least in the Northern Hemisphere!): the reds, greens,and whites of evergreens and berries for the Winter Solstice and Yule; reds and yellows for the flames of Imbolc; grassy greens and all pastels related to colors related to Ostara; heady greens and rich shades for Beltane and Litha; muted yellow, brown and gold for Lugnassadh and Mabon, and blazing oranges, yellows and somber black for Autumn and Sanhain....and a million others in between, dictated by location, personal preference and custom. It's wonderful and dizzying and somewhat chaotic. I have my own personal selections, and I'm sure you do to...But to continue...

robe and cowled hood
What do we wear? Anything we want, really. Some folks like to dress to represent their particular pantheon or time period. Renaissance, ancient Greek  and medieval are popular. I know of a coven that wears Goth and Steampunk. To each their own. When I'm not leading a ritual, I settle on a dark outfit of pants and comfortable top or a long dress of appropriate weight for the weather. Like I said before, I don't like to be cold..or too hot for that matter! Many Pagans wear robes-black is the most popular color, followed by seasonal shades.Many are elaborately decorated. It really doesn't matter as long as you are comfortable and aren't fussing-a distraction to both you and others. Many of us wear jewelry specifically reserved for use in ritual. I know many Pagans who have certain pieces of jewelry that they never wear outside the circle. A headband, circlet or tiara are popular with both women or men, but in some circles they are only worn by the ritual leaders for distinction. I wear a wide two-tone copper Celtic bracelet as a part of my "witch jewels". Some folks wear absolutely no adornment whatsoever. All are correct, I my humble opinion.

interfaith stole
What I wear outside the circle in the mundane world when participating in interfaith worship is different: many times I wear a traditional stole ( plain or with Pagan symbols). It signifies the yoke ( burden or seriousness) of office of the clergy, and it's universally understood by all religions. Occasionally I will wear a prayer shawl, especially if I will be covering my head at some point during the service. ( Some Pagans wear a traditional hooded alb-a monk styled robe- for the same reason, so the hood may be drawn up during the ritual.) I nearly always wear a circlet, even when wearing a stole, to set myself apart a bit as a Pagan. The one I particularly am fond of is a plain silver band with an elemental cross in a circle of Celtic knot work. The cardinal directions are signified by small stones of the appropriate colors: it's understated and  tasteful.

Greek or Elemental Cross
I also wear traditional clericals-black shirt, pants, jacket with white collar. It's uniform and professional, and I wear an elemental cross or other Pagan symbol. I never, ever wear a Roman cross-the traditional "Christian" style. There are two styles of traditional Greek crosses.The first is an equal armed cross with four smaller crosses at the ends ( too Christian-looking for a Pagan). The second has four smaller crosses tucked in the angles, which in essence makes it an elemental cross.

While we're at it, lets talk size. Personally, I don't like anything too big and flashy. Not my personal taste or style. An elemental cross or a pentagram about two square inches is plenty enough for me. A man may want something a little bolder-or bigger-and that's fine. Hubcap size is over-doing it. Nobody needs to see you coming from that far away! This is not the time to make a fashion statement. You want to keep it low-key and understated to look professional.

No matter what you're wearing, it can be covered by a nice hooded cape or cloak. This garment is always neat and attractive, and you can layer clothing beneath it if necessary. You can even wear a coat under it without it becoming too bulky and still have a nice profile.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Yet another controversy in our Pagan community still raging: transsexual individuals being excluded from ritual due to gender bias. An incident at the recent PantheaCon is only the latest reported episode in a long battle where some members of the community question the legitimacy of another based on  birth genetics vs sexual reassignment.

Personally, I am aghast that our supposedly enlightened and  tolerant community is still having issues in this area. Having had transgendered men and women in my home circle has never affected the integrity of the ritual. Never. Several months ago the priestess chosen to Call Down the Moon was, in fact, a transsexual woman, who by all accounts pleased the Goddess and did an excellent job evoking  Her. This individual was chosen for her ability and skill at ritual expression; that she was born a man made absolutely no difference whatsoever because she had completed gender reassignment surgery and was now biologically and psychologically fully a woman

Heterosexual male and female, bisexual male and female, gay, lesbian, transsexual and any other variation of gender identification-we are first and foremost human. Recognition of the  inherent worth and  dignity from others of our kind is our human birthright. It should be the foundation we build  further acclaim upon; everything that comes after it in that regard is earned. We tend to forget that we all possess a bit of both sexes within us and it's only the difference of an X or Y chromosome that makes the final distinction of our gender. Jungian psychology recognizes the anima and animus:analytically speaking, the unconscious feminine in the masculine and masculine within the feminine.  Taking this into account, I often wonder why we don't know one another a bit better as men and women.

Sarah Thompson's letter to the organizers of PantheaCon expresses eloquently and passionately the emotion of being denied and excluded  from certain rituals; you may find the text here:

I cannot understand why some in our community feel justified in denying a transsexual individual the right to inclusion if that person meets all the other requirements deemed appropriate to participation in a ritual. A transsexual person feels they have been "born in the wrong body" and identifies as the opposite sex; therefore a trans woman is still a woman, even if she has not undergone surgical intervention. How much more simple could this be and why are we making it so difficult for everyone affected? 

The answer is just as plain and simple: prejudice.

I hope the answer has shocked you, because it certainly shocks me.I also hope you are as offended by the existence of this type of prejudice in our community as I am. Claiming to not have all the facts on the subject is inexcusable: if you don't feel you have all the facts, go educate yourself. The rant attributed to Z Budapest amounts to rationalizing this prejudice and is nothing more than self-righteous ignorance and male-bashing. It is time we dropped our ill and preconceived notions on the subject. There is no place for bigotry among us.  Have we not suffered enough at the hands of others without committing the same shameless act upon our own? 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Onus of Elderhood

When someone says the word Elder, does the image of a wise and sagely man or woman immediately pop into your mind's eye? Who in your immediate community does come to mind? In the wider public arena, does your association with the word immediately link to someone like Raymond Buckland or Laurie Cabot?

Any dictionary will include the following definitions for elder:" Someone who is wiser, or an influential member of the tribe or community; one with superior knowledge or wisdom."

 Notice that the definition does not include someone who has been awarded any degrees within a magickal group, a  lengthy biographical resume,scholarly pursuit, curriculum vitae or educational pedigree, nor is it defined by the number of years one has been alive.

Being older does not necessarily make one wiser, although there is a natural tendency to make the assumption  that with each passing  year some knowledge would be gained. Being long in the tooth doesn't equate with being smarter. Age and tenure have nothing to do with it.  Claiming mastery of a discipline does not guarantee ascension to elderhood as a done deal, either. 

Prefixing your name with a title or adding a string of academic abbreviations does not automatically  make an Elder. In fact, our community has too many members with titles running about like so many rabbits. Lord and Lady, are pronouns of distinction awarded to those who are peers of rank, in other words, you earn them.They are otherwise not a part of a given name. Like wise High Priest/ess, which is more realistically descriptive of a designated role or degree ( in some traditions the third degree members  are called High Priest/esses). I am the High Priestess in my home circle: it's my elected office. It does not mean I am a High Priestess anywhere else- and it certainly doesn't mean I am an Elder. Any esteem in which I may be held by the members of my circle is seperate from respect they hold for the office.It seems to me that we have so many members of 'royalty' out there that we could create our own little principality, and after awhile the affectation gets down right silly. Let's face it. It's hard to keep a straight face and your sense of credulity intact when someone introduces him or herself as Lord Kissmyhinnie or  Lady Lookatme. ( Magus is just as bad-sorry.)It is not something you claim as a part of your given name, magickal or otherwise. It is a title of office bestowed by the coven, circle or grove.

So what does it take to become an Elder? What particular qualities do we look for? My answer would be that the individual in question has authentic wisdom that stands the test of time both in the past and for the future. Their experience and proficiency in a variety of areas far exceeds the ordinary. They are capable of teaching multiple age groups in  an appropriate manner, and a legitimate resource to the community.( By the way, being a great teacher doesn't necessarily mean you are cut out to be an Elder.)Finally, they are humble, mindful and sensitive to the abilities of others-and they are always open to learning and the ever changing landscape of their community. All of which is an incredibly heavy burden and takes much patience and skill. Not many of us are up to the task.

The presumption of proclaiming ones self an Elder within the community for the entire community is galling to me at the least and heretical in the extreme. Elders are made by recognition within and by their immediate community. Being an Elder in one community does not make that particular  individual an elder in the next community down the road.  The fondness for the Elder of one community by another community is a courtesy, not a requirement.

There is a great onus in being a true Elder.

Elders have not only earned the respect and reverence of their peers but of their community. But that alone is not enough. Through proven leadership and ability to contribute true wisdom, they are the shining example of what has gone before and the voice of what is yet to come.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Blessed Community

 I left the mainstream Church in my teens and over the years developed a self-styled earth-centered path, one that was more attuned with the seasons and the feelings that came out of that. There was a Spirit, a being to Nature, and I wanted to wanted to learn everything I could about that because it was what authentically resonated within me. I didn't have a name for it; I didn't know it had any name, but I knew what I felt. Looking for information to broaden and expand the spiritual bonds that were developing within me lead me to go looking for ways of doing that. I began talking with like minded individuals- and reading. It was through reading that I found a name for what I was creating and experiencing through the everyday rituals I was doing: Witchcraft. No one was more surprised that I-wasn't Witchcraft something evil and wrong? I had a solid religious grounding from the Catholic Church-I rejected the dogma, but I kept the knowledge of how to perform rituals and apply them to my everyday life. I continued my earth-centered spiritual practices all through college, and after finding an appropriate group, joined a teaching coven: I was now officially a witch. It didn't sit well with my friends who were members of mainstream religions-and not just the Christians. My friend Phyllis- herself a student of the Cabala-nearly had a meltdown, " You aren't a witch!" she screamed, " Witches are malleficia. You are a student of the occult."  I was careful not to use the 'W' word in her presence again for years. To this day she still refuses to change her position on the matter, and so do I, yet our care and love for one another overcomes our differences on this fine point.

Just so you know, I love all things spiritual, so much so that I earned a post graduate degree from an Episcopal seminary and entered the ministry. If I could have just spent my days inside the walls of the first church I was assigned to-the diocesan cathedral, no less- I would have been blissfully happy to have spent my time communing with the Divine and saying the Daily Office. But that's not what ministers do; the job and the vocation extends far beyond Sunday morning, and it plops you down in places that  I never imagined. You get to share the joy of welcoming babies into the family and joining the lives of lovers and burying those you never knew you loved until they were gone. You are fully engaged in community if you are working your ministry anything like you should be. Being a cathedral chaplain was the same as being a priestess of the Goddess- there was no delineation. It was all the Mystery of the Spiritual and connection to the Divine- only the names changed. It was easy for me to adapt: I'd gone into the ministry with a background in Jungian psychology, and I understood the concept of archetypes. Same God/dess-many different names.

Over time I grew impatient and tired with the dogma of the Church: the rules and laws couldn't contain my understanding and connection with the Sacred Imminent. I wasn't a Christian: truthfully I doubt I ever truly had been in any sense of fullness of the meaning because I continued my personal form of devotions all through the time I was  an Episcopalian with no sense of conflict due to my existential concept of divinity... and I still called myself a witch.

I left the Church and the communion of like-minded believers of my own accord, knowing that there was still a place-a community- where I could practice my spirituality. The realization that there was a Pagan community ( yes, capital P, proper pronoun) was nothing short of awesome. There were people like me who had developed their own tradition of worship, some who followed the tradition of a specific teacher, others still who incorporated many forms of occult practice to varying degrees into their own form of worship. This is the way that the spiritual journey works, and I believe it's the way all religion should. Whatever you find meaningful, whatever fills you up and makes you feel whole and recognizes the divine within you is good and right. However you accomplish that- whatever brings you to that place, whatever tools you use or deities you work with will help you find your True Name.It's my belief that  being genuine in your desire and true to yourself  is the first lesson to learn before heading off down your personal Path. You have to be willing to take the journey alone because ultimately, it will just be you. There maybe others following a similar Path, but you are the only one taking that particular journey.Your stregnth comes from knowing what is right for you. You are not responsible for the spiritual formation of anyone else. That is the power of the Sacred Priesthood open to all of us in the Blessed Community.

It is not all fuzzy-wuzzy and feel good. Every now and then you trip over something and occasionally you run into a wall. Sometimes you bleed from your wounds. Eventually you learn how to navigate the path without stubbing your toe. You learn to go around any obstacles in your way because nothing is insurmountable. Having to rip that brand new metaphorical cloak you're so fond of into strips in order to bind your wounds, you limp onward, learning a valuable lesson in detachment in the process. There is a great resounding joy in following this Pagan are free to blaze your own trail because the Divine doesn't come with a user's manual. In theory, we are a community of Fools willing to step off the cliff into the unknown.

Most important in the formation of community is cohesion, which binds it together. In every community there is always something which is at its core, some thing that is shared.Undeniably  at the core of the Pagan community is individuality to explore, self and other worthiness, and the freedom of creativity. The connection to the gods is limitless in manner and method because the Divine is within each of us, and we are called to recognize the Sacred Mystery there. We have many names for this and many names for ourselves, but I believe we still share those core values as a community. Moving away from those core values takes us out of the authentic community into a pseudo sub-community of chaos where people freely display their 'shadow' selves in a negative manner outside the Divine.The process of deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people in this community is often sadly lost. The dictation of the ego rises up and consumes us: we lose the ability to listen and give respect.This how the Blessed Community becomes wounded and broken. The battle turns from inside us to one another, and it is a war we will loose in one way or another, because the Blessed Community comes apart at it's foundations because we have allowed it.

Why does it only take a trifling poor excuse like the recent flame fest over the declaration by Christian Day of Salem that he is attempting to rehabilitate the word 'warlock' out of the common vernacular, and as of now choosing to identify as such. There was a major uproar in the Pagan community over what a single individual asked to be called. Isn't this  the community where others have felt free to identify as werewolves, vampires,nightkind, a variety of daemons, reincarnated historical figures and to have Fae-blood- and we have all for the most part sat back and given them the right to do so because we felt we didn't have the right to tell them what to call themselves? There are all sorts of negative connotations connected with those words, too, and we are freaking out about one person wanting to identify as a warlock? Why is this any more controversial than any of the aforementioned, and more importantly,if we are walking our own Path authentically why should we really care? If Christian Day has intentionally chosen to select an identity for himself with more baggage than a passenger train he is free to do so because it is his right: it doesn't mean anyone has to agree or approve. This should have not caused a rift in the community and by now-weeks later-it should be a dead issue. I assure you that for the general public, this is a non-issue and has been forgotten...but our reaction to it has made the Pagan community look like a bunch of petty whiners to the outside world. Put away your Old English Dictionaries, intellectual treatises, and get down off your soapboxes, and take a look around at the damage we have caused ourselves.

For those of us who have thrown off the mantle of mainstream religion, this looks, sounds and feels too close to the stymieing pall of dogma. And I, for one, will have none of it. It's time to tuck away our egos and move on. I find it disheartening that there is a tragedy of epic proportions on the other side of the world that we should be focusing our energy on and instead we are willing to give over our personal power to this subject. There are much more serious issues at hand that should command our attention than what one person in the community chooses to call himself.

Building a community is easy, maintaining it is difficult. Healing it through concentrated effort is a simple action: develop that sense of tolerance you accuse your former faith community of lacking. If we of the Beloved Community are intolerant of those who's truth is different than our own chosen truth, then why do we expect others to do likewise for us?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saints Galore and Peppermint Patties, Too

 I'm Irish, Scot-Irish, Pennsylvania Dutch German and Italian; sorry but the Italians lost this one. I am fair-skinned, freckle-faced and red-haired, unlike my cousins who are Cajun French, Sicilian and olive skinned with dark wavy hair. I was raised by my Italian grandparents who took it upon themselves to get guardianship of baby me against their totally irresponsible daughter, and then systematically purge everything about the union of my parents out of my background...especially my father. Well, here I am, the spitting image of my father: chalk one up for Irish genes. The stubborn tenacity of the Irish is what has kept them from being eradicated from the face of the Earth for millennium. They have survived  nearly everything imaginable: soggy, cold weather and rocky barren soil; failed crops and resulting starvation,rotten potatoes, civil strife, immigration to less than desirable conditions,Sinead O' Connor, legendary myths of alcoholism...and the Church.Especially the Church: witness the new upsurge of Paganism in Ireland. No kidding. Irish Central has recently reported that despite it's best efforts and much to the chagrin of Christianity proper, approximately 60% of it's population adhering to any faith tradition is categorically identifying it's self as Pagan.

Meanwhile, it seems the whole world is gearing up to be Irish on March 17th,Saint Patrick's Day. Everyone loves a good party and prodigious amounts of flowing  alcohol. At least that's what they tell me. I wouldn't know-I'm of the occasional glass of wine variety. As much a blasphemy as I'm sure it will be considered, I'm not a beer drinker- can't stand the smell of it because it makes me nauseous. So don't even go there with me about green beer...

Or Saint Patrick. I have nothing against him personally, but I can't for the life of me understand why the one lousy day we get to hold our heads up and claim a bit of pride in our ancestry should be celebrated in the name of a Roman Catholic bishop who's aim it was to eradicate our history. There, I said it. Why can't we celebrate our historically diverse roots on Irish Heritage Day instead?

Saint Patrick is officially the  chief patron saint of Ireland. Although he's the most well known, he actually shares the honor  with Saints Columba and Brigid.

Surprisingly little is known about St. Patrick's history but these few facts: he was kidnapped from Britain around the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave,working during his captivity  as a shepherd. Spending much of his time cold and hungry, he turned to prayer, which lead to his escape from slavery after being called in a dream by God.  Upon returning to Britain he studied in monasteries to enter the priesthood, where he was elevated as a bishop. In another dream he was commanded by God to convert his captors.He is single handily credited with converting many to Christianity. There are literally hundreds of unsubstantiated tales of Patrick's clerical abilities.One memorable story about him is that he  used the shamrock's three leaves on one stem to explain the Holy Trinity. Historians have been unable to validate this tale, but the shamrock still remains a symbol associated with Saint Patrick and Ireland. The most famous tale of all-how he drove the snakes out of Ireland has been thoroughly debunked by anthropology and science-serpents were unable to make the leap-literally-during the separation of the landmass that became Ireland. It's been speculated that the 'snakes'  story stems from Patrick's successful ( though temporary, it seems) bid at squashing Druidism.Snakes are a popular icon in their tradition. The Other symbols associated with Ireland are the harp that mysteriously played through the halls of Tara  and the Fae, the fairy-folk, mostly know as leprechauns.

Leprechauns are often depicted as merry little people dancing around their burrows in pastures and leading humans to their pots of gold.They've also been portrayed as leading mortals to their own ruin; I suspect that like all relations of the Fae, they're not to be trifled with. Forget the Lucky Charms cereal thing. There has actually been a new law enacted recently protecting them in the British Isles.

Friends who lived near Waterford in the 70's have related how St.Patrick's Day seemed to be an invention of the Irish living in America. At the time the day was only celebrated as a religious holiday and not with the revelry that it is today. In a strange twist of fate, the holiday has gone in the other direction across the Atlantic-from America to Ireland. There were no greeting cards with charming Victorian Irish children, leprechauns, shamrocks or harps on them, no shiny  green plastic beads, glitter deelie boppers or green beer. The only parades celebrating St. Patrick were when his effigy was carried to the local Catholic Church for veneration during the mass. How times have changed!

My favorite Irish custom on March 17th is making the traditional corned beef and cabbage with roasted carrots and potatoes, accompanied by soda bread and strong tea. You can thank the Jews in New York for the addition of corned beef to the menu, because the original meat was a rasher of bacon-inexpensive in Ireland when it was made on the farm, but a luxury in New York City where corned beef was much more common.  It's a lovely, filling meal and creates a link with my ancestors. I'm sure it wasn't a lavish meal for them however: a tough, cut of beef that has been preserved with salt and spices( corning) that requires boiling until it's palatable. I'm certain that's why they threw in the cabbage, potatoes and carrots into the pot; it helped to preserve the flavor of the meat because it had to be cooked all day. Modern cuts of corned beef still require simmering on the stove for nearly an hour per pound. If you choose to cook a brisket yourself, don't wash off the meat before adding it to the pot of water and add the contents of the spice packet or what you will get is a flaccid, bland piece of meat. Keep it below the water line while boiling, and add the root vegetables and quartered cabbage in the last hour. Pull the whole thing out and save the brine for soup stock-it's delicious. I arrange the meat, carrots, potatoes and cabbage in a roaster, then paint the vegetables with melted butter and glaze the meat with a mixture of honey mustard. Leave it in until it's browned and then slice the meat. Transfer it all to a serving platter for a meal fit for an Irish King. I usually make an assortment of shortbread, mint-frosted sugar cookies and peppermint cream candies for desert. The recipe I use for the candies is not a traditional butter cream center, but it's one that holds up well for the addition of mint extract and rolling to be either dipped in melted chocolate, or left plain and dusted in cinnamon to make 'Irish potatoes',177,150186-252202,00.html And by the way, here's the recipe for real potato candy:,176,135181-254199,00.html.

Céad míle fáilte romhat!

In The Shadow of the Crone

Here I sit celebrating the evening of my 55th birthday drinking a homemade cappuccino,eating a so-so previously frozen crab cake and watching my Rock God muse Rick Springfield  live-streamed from the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville...and I'm happy. The concert is the frosting on the birthday cake I didn't buy or make myself, the link sent by a Facebook friend minutes before I was going to sign off  the computer out of boredom.Serendipity intervened once again, because I was going to finish my coffee and put the other half of the disappointing excuse for a crab cake into the fridge for later and go to bed.

I am happy- but have the gnawing feeling that I ought to be doing something other than stuffing my face and watching a video for my 55th birthday-what I don't know exactly. The world has become a very scary place in the last few days after a catastrophic earthquake in Japan and the resulting rupture of nuclear reactors. So many have died, and their confused spirits fill the air crying out, which is disconcerting  for this empath. What to do? Scaling Mount Everest is out of the picture. Spending time with my BFF Melinda would have been fun, but she's sidelined. Maybe I should have bought myself a bunch of flowers or something. I feel unsettled and I'm not sure why: 55 should be a milestone birthday.

When I am aware of my mortality, I know that the shadow of the Crone is stretching out over me. In a few years I will be old, provided the societal "they" don't move back the boundary of when we Baby Boomers cross out of middle age again. Right now I have the right to a free birthday  meal at Denny's and a membership in Elderhostel. Where are all those other senior discounts? I guess I need something to look forward to in the future.

My inner teenager is riveted to the computer screen as Rick Springfield jumps, spins and bounces his way through a litany of power pop/rock songs, stopping only to make self-depreciating remarks and raunchy jokes with the audience of women (and a few men) who are my age.Our age. We've grown up together, Rick and I; there is a vague feeling of recognition and sadness that I probably won't be spending my 60th birthday watching him in concert. The shadow of the Crone is lengthening over my girlhood hero, too,who is now in his 60's. Posting to his online blog the other day, his tone melancholy and  serious. Rick wrote:" I feel I will see my sweet Gomer( his canine companion of 14 years who died) soon...either he's coming back to me, or I'm going to him. Maybe I'm going to kick the bucket soon." That's not over-dramatic attention seeking on his part: it's the life long chronic depression Rick and I share talking. I have called mine The Darkness since my early twenties. It worsened when I was attacked a few years ago and had to start a long course of medication and therapy. Things level out for a period, then The Darkness finds a way back into my head and screws with me.And it enjoys every second of it, too. Compounding this is the fact that if I vocalize that I am feeling depressed to those around me, they instantly respond with some version of " Why? Look at what you have."

Oh, goody...depression and guilt. Yum...

By all accounts and my own admission, I've had an incredibly successful life. I've done nearly everything I set out to do and have had several careers in areas I am passionate about:teaching, healing and spirituality among them. I have not only met most all of the people I grew up admiring, I have been extraordinarily fortune to have nurtured deep relationships with several of them along the way. I in no way want to sound flip, but it was simply a matter of setting a goal and achieving it on my part. Those who I knew and loved-now gone- live on in me and through me as I continue the work we cherished together today. But the Darkness doesn't care about what I have achieved, it cares about the things that were passed over along the way, and it finds a crack in my armor, and sticks a bony finger in to probe the wound and make it bleed. Damn it!

The Darkness is poking at me tonight as I watch Rick and think about how a CD of his helped to break through the pall of hurt and anger after the assault  a few years ago.The songs on the album didn't relate, but the sonic vibe that was the undercurrent did. Rick and I bonded virtually in those evenings we were angry and pissed off together, driven by the atrocities of ourselves and others against us. It scared the hell out of my Darkness and  at the time it felt as if I'd sent the Darkness packing. At it least put a fair amount of distance between us so I could get around the corner out of sight. Momentarily giving the Darkness the slip was a major accomplishment on my part when all I really wanted to do was just curl up into a little ball until I disappeared, and I was pretty proud of myself for having the intestinal fortitude to pull it off. I was and am thankful that at least there was one other human being in the world who seemed to understood what I was feeling and who could articulate those emotions-and I had the opportunity to tell Rick in person face to face one day before a concert. I  know there are millions of others who suffer from the same feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness I do, but the intimacy of that connection through the music will always belong to RS, since coincidentally, he identifies his depression in the third person as Mr. D-the Darkness.

The concert is over and there are three of us sitting it  the room-the Crone, the Darkness and me.  They are on either side of me, and instinctively I want to reach out to the Crone for protection, but I am afraid the darkness will notice and poke me harder. Finally I decide to go to my altar and meditate. The Crone doesn't immediately follow but the Darkness does...Damn it again. It sits a few feet away picking at scabs and generally causing a disturbance as I battle what Buddhists call 'monkey mind', the inability to focus and release thoughts which inhibit the meditation process. My monkeys don't just create mind chatter, they swing from trees screaming. Finally I get up and go to the fridge in search of some wine for my ritual cup but end up filling it with milk, and I head back to the sacred space to meditate. The Darkness is curious and tries to come closer, but I have managed to focus on the scent of the milk and it's coolness, which allows the Crone to come in. The Darkness backs away and fades, and it's just the Dark Mother and me, and mortality.

" You're beyond the middle now, your life is more than halfway over," she whispers, "We don't know where the time goes, but it cannot be wasted." I try to think of something good and noble to plan, but nothing comes. The milk is good and comforting, and I can relax now that the Crone is standing between the Darkness and I.
I feel I should be doing something of some great importance that will make a difference to others but can't for the life of me fathom what that should be. I don't feel very heroic or existential at the moment. In fact, I feel like I did when I was 16 years old and was listening to Rick Springfield on my tiny AM radio, confused and unsure about what was to become of my life but awfully excited to be on the threshold non the less.

Maybe that's the right way to feel at 55, too...confused and unsure about what's next but eager and excited to open the door and step across the threshold to the rest of my life. The Crone nods and smiles; her shadow enfolds me and takes me in. I am now a part of her, a Crone myself. Instantly, I know what I need to spend the rest of my life doing...being me. That's all, just being authentically Kate and giving myself away to who and whatever has a need in the Universe. It is enough.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Funny, You Don't Look Pagan...

It's never occurred to me that I should have a 'look'. I'm pretty down to earth in terms of everyday dress- mostly I wear what's comfortable (or whatever is clean). I'm not a clotheshorse. I stopped changing the length of my hemline every season with the whim of fashionistas about 10 years ago. I've traded in my jeans for semi-fitted women's trousers, most of which have elastic waists because they allow some 'give' when my ruptured discs are inflamed and I need a bit of room to accommodate that. A tailored blouse and jacket usually complete the outfit. I wear low heeled,practical shoes out of necessity: the days of three inch heels that elongated my legs and added a wisp of sex appeal are long gone.

My professional wardrobe is a slight upgrade from what I wear everyday: tailored dresses and coordinated suits with slightly fancier blouses and some quality pieces of jewelry. On the days I have to look like a member of the clergy I wear the standard,unisex black suit and clerical shirt with white collar. 
Not the Vicar of Dibley
I resemble the lead character of the BBC series The Vicar of Dibley; I suppose I could do worse than look like Dawn French. It's still a head-turner in some parts of the neighborhood, although you'd think that after 30 years people would have gotten used to seeing women ministers out and about. In other parts of the community the collar adds a layer of protection. It gets me into homeless shelters and prisons easily and usually is an instant pass into hospitals after visiting hours- and occasionally gets me a discount in religious goods stores. I prefer the full Anglican collar to the Roman type ( the one with the little white tab in the front), but both are made of stiff plastic and pretty uncomfortable. Occasionally I wear an elemental cross or something that is obviously not Christian, such as a goddess pendant. No one seems to notice the difference except me; if I happen to pass one of my Pagan brethren I usually get an appreciative nod or smile of recognition.

I wear ritual garb when it's appropriate, that is, in the circle. You won't catch me leisurely flipping through the CDs in the music depart at Kmart wearing a long black robe with pointed sleeves, or a long Gothic dress and circlet, wand and ritual blade at my side. Oberon Zell Ravenheart can get away with looking like Dumbledore's twin at the grocery store, but I when I go  to Food Lion to squeeze the cantaloupes I'm usually wearing  sweats and a hoodie.Nothing against OZ, he's one of my heroes, but I'll wager you he goes out in civies most of the time, too.

Any way, there must be a Pagan look....and I most definitely don't have it, because one of my fellow ministers told me so at a ministerial coalition meeting. I was also informed that I didn't meet the Pagan dress code by an ER nurse and at the women's prison once when they checked my ID at the door. The guard actually used the paraphrased line of  "Funny, you don't look Jewish" with the P word inserted. I had no other response other than to smile wanly...I'd given it my best shot by wearing a small triple moon pendant. Was I supposed to wear a pentagram around my neck the size of a hubcap? One of those nifty name tags thoughtfully supplied by the ULC Seminary that has the crossed brooms emblazoned on it? A pointy hat and cape? I have, however, been verbally accosted by someone demanding to know why, as a Pagan, I was dressed," Like a Christian Minister." They were offended by my clericals, which I  earned the right to wear as an ordained Episcopalian, and continued to wear as an ordained,interfaith, specifically Pagan minister.

The backwards collar and black clothing are the uniform of the professional minister who chooses to wear them, and not all do. Many ministers of any number of faiths do not wear clericals out of personal preference, and there are a number of variations on the theme as younger ministers, specifically female, don clerical shirts of a variety of colors and styles....none of which indicate the denomination of the clergy person in question. Clerical clothes are not specific to any one particular religious tradition, and in fact have their origin in the stiff  detachable collar worn by all gentlemen in Western civilization a the turn of the previous century. Ministers started turning the collar around backwards to indicate their status in society: the first to do this was actually a Methodist-a Protestant denomination of Wesleyan influence who most definitely do not have any connection to the Roman Catholic Church. Because most ministers at that time were males, the backward collar became the style and many decades later when the mainstream denominations began ordaining females into their ranks, the collar was adopted by them.

The street clericals make a minister instantly recognizable, no matter what church their ministry is in, and even some Jewish Rabbis employed as Chaplains adopt the clerical suit when making prison and hospital visits as they are required by the institution. Police, fire department, EMS and military Chaplains have some form of similar uniform, each distinguished by a collar device or emblem representing their faith tradition. We as Pagans have not, to my knowledge, done so as of yet, and I suspect in the not too distant future that the military will be supplying tiny pentagrams to pin to the collars of the Pagan clergy ( A quick note here: It's not that there aren't any Pagan clergy in the military, it's just that they are mostly operating .professionally through  the Unitarian Universalist Association, and therefore are wearing the flaming chalice as their emblem.) As Pagan seminaries begin graduating professional members of the clergy and they become more common, I hope to see our own community  begin to wear their own symbols, and not something borrowed from an umbrella organization. Perhaps we will begin wearing green or blue clerical shirts of a shade that is identified specifically with our many traditions as a whole. For now a tasteful pentagram pin on the lapel will suffice for distinction.