Sunday, June 26, 2011

Spirit Cat

It was just a little puff of gray fur weighing about a pound. The feral kitten had been coming around the house for about a week before I spied it up in one of the yew trees in the front yard one day. Up until then, it had only been a little ghost that skittered every time I came close, but today, it was sitting on a branch at eye level, and when I came near, it meowed pitifully. I knew where it came from: the house at the end of the street had about 20 outdoor cats, mostly wild and always hungry. The owners of the 'cat house' were a hippie-dippy couple that didn't believe in spaying their animals, and so there was a colony of cats living there. They were invisible until feeding time, which was about sunset, when one of the couple came out with a big pot of table scraps and set it out in the yard- then cats came from everywhere-the nearby woods, from the crawlspace beneath the next door neighbor's house, from under bushes, cars and down trees until they became a swarming, yowling tapestry of undulating fur, all trying to get close to the pot for a mouthful or two of food. It was a nightly ritual, until the evening when the one gray kitten broke ranks and climbed the yew tree between the house and the street where I parked my car.

I tried to ignore it. I really did. We already had a beautiful black momma cat my Grandfather named Weenie-short for Halloween. Her feline BFF Kimmy, a Siamese, had died three years earlier, just after Weenie had her litter of five, from which I kept the one single male-a sleek little gray tiger I named Peitie. Pop refused to have him fixed, and he kept wondering off as tomcats do, until the time he never came home. I walked the neighborhood, hoping to see him or to at least find his body. I never did. We went from one cat to two,then to three-too many in our small house- so when Peitie vanished and Kimmy crossed the Rainbow Bridge at the grand old age of 20, I decreed that one cat was enough. Pop had died the year before and money was tight; we could barely feed ourselves and that one cat. We didn't need another pet, but this kitten seemed determined to hang around. I tried to pursued it to leave by giving it a good dousing with the garden hose, but it just clung to the branch, wet and miserable and meowing.

Several nights later in the week I drove my Grandmother and I to Denny's for a treat, and as I was making the turn into the parking lot, I looked up into the rear view mirror...and there was that damned gray kitten, squatted down on the backseat of the car! I drove all the way home and tossed it into the front yard, then Mom and I went back to Denny's. The kitten was sitting on the front porch, waiting patiently when we arrived home and greeted us with a loud, " Well, it's about time you got back!" cry. I knew I shouldn't have done it, but I let it in the house...and suddenly, we had another cat.

And not just another cat... my cat. I was adopted by this tiny puff of fur that couldn't have been more than a month or two old, by the size of it. The first night in the house the kitten clawed its way up the blankets and slept in the crook of my arm. Within the week I scheduled an appointment at the Vet to have it wormed and get it's shots. Much to my surprise, after examining the kitten, the Vet told me that she-we now new it's gender- was probably about  ten months old, according to the development of  her teeth. Because she had to fight off the other cats, she had failed to grow and thrive, and probably would have died if I hadn't taken her in. I felt like the Cat Savior. My new found little buddy cost  me $200, so I named her Tinker- an Irish term meaning one who was a nomadic or itinerant traveler...and more likely than not a thief, too. And a thief she proved to be-  because she stole my heart.

Tinker grew into a beautiful, fat, lazy feline with lush striped fur. She was the Supreme Mouser. The feral cat I identified as her mother was a calico; Tinker had apricot, black and gray markings. The stripes on the top of her tail were gray, but the flip side were pale orange with a tiny white tip. She had an intense gaze, her eyes were always alert. She was always inquisitive, always ready to participate in whatever I was doing and maybe earn a tidbit treat. When I was deep in solitary ritual, she sat by, just outside my circle, the ever vigilant guardian and embodiment of Bast. She would narrow her feline gaze and join the meditation, and when the circle was cut, she would come in to get her well-earned reward of a pat on the head and a tail scratching.

We moved into my first apartment since college together after I sold my Grandparents house.  I worried that she wouldn't adapt to her new surroundings-but she did. She went with me the summer I took an internship as a chaplain at a homeless facility in Maryland, during which she succumbed to old age and passed into the loving arms of Bast with the help of her doctor.  I held a  funeral ritual for her, and she was buried at the edge of a meadow, accompanied by things she loved in life- a catnip toy and a raw mushroom. After anointing her nose,ears and feet with blessed oil, I placed my pentacle bracelet around her thin neck, and she was wrapped in her favorite blanket and placed in a wooden box donated by a friend, who also dug her grave. Before I nailed the box closed, I placed some mugwort, a spring of rosemary, and lavender over the blanket. She was buried as a descendant of  Egyptian royalty- which she was and all cats are. (They know this...and they have ways of never letting humans forget it!) There is a chapter of my personal Book of Shadows which contain journal entries about what Tinker and I shared in life, and about her death. I painstakingly wrote about her burial preparation and the ritual I performed in long hand,including formulas and prayers- so I would never forget even a second of our last few moments before I said goodbye. You may be thinking she was just merely a cat, but I can tell you that a part of my soul lived in her and left with her last breath, and because of this sacred connection, she is my guide into the next world and beyond the Veil. When it's my time to cross the Veil between this life and the next, the first thing I want to see is my beloved familiar trotting toward me with her tail held high.

The anniversary of her death will be in a few days- eight long years without my beloved companion in this life.  There is not a week that goes by that I don't fondly recall some little thing she did that delighted me, or something we shared together. There is a Native American belief that a loved one is only truly dead when their name is spoken for the last time; if that is true, then Tinker has not died but lived on with me. I see her in every cat I come across on the street or as a friend's pet. There are days when I see that gray and orange stripped tail curl around a corner just at the edge of my peripheral vision and nights when there is a spot on the bed that feels like a warm depression made by a cat-sized body. I will be sitting at home alone, quietly writing as I am now, and I will hear a soft sound, much like that made by a small child...or a cat...and when I look up, there will a nothing in the room with me- that I can see. What is not seen with mortal eyes (and felt) is another matter. It's experienced on another level of consciousness, in far off realm of existence....and I know that Tinker is in that room, unseen to eyes which can only see what is in this life. It is not a ghost, but a spiritual presence, a prevailing love from beyond the veil that comes echoing back over the years. 

I believe that love...true, unconditional love, given just for the sake of nothing more than loving and being loved... even the love of a cat...never dies.

Friday, June 24, 2011

An Unfortunate Lesson

James Arthur Ray has been convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of three people attending a sweat lodge event he planned and executed nearly two years ago. The New Age motivational speaker mostly known for his featured appearance in the pseudo-psychobabble blockbuster The Secret has finally learned the real secret to the Law of Attraction: If you put bullshit into the Universe with the intent of  manipulating others and brain-washing them into cultist emotional immobility so you can keep stroking your own expansive ego, the Universe will select whatever means is appropriate to make sure you get what you deserve in an equally large measure. 

While it is true that Liz Neuman, James Shore, and Kirby Brown, and all those other people who were sickened and injured during the  Spiritual Warrior Weekend were all there of their own free will, the freedom to think on their own essentially ended when they plunked down the fee for the event. Their every move was orchestrated and monitored by Ray and his minions once they set foot on the site reserved at Angel Valley Ranch. The sweat lodge was built to specifics Ray conceived, designed and provided. Despite the hubris being touted by Ray, I some how doubt that you are in control of your surroundings when you are being deprived of food and water for more than a day, then shamed into staying in  what is essentially a  canvas pressure cooker until your brain becomes just so much addled mush. Ray, the very personification of megalomania, managed to convince three half-starved, electrolyte imbalanced individuals who were probably already on their way to a low blood sugar coma that the power of their mind was enough to over come the physical effects of the  super-charged thermal heat roiling inside the canvas enclosure. The thing about this type of delusional thinking is that in that type of setting and under those conditions, a false mindset of  deity- a hallucination, if you will-  develops among participants who forget they are mere mortals and subject to the Laws of Physics, Science and Nature. I suspect at that moment it was difficult to tell who was more insane -Neuman, Shore and Brown or James  Ray himself.

And before I go any further, I am going to tell you that  I am among those in the Pagan community who have a very huge problem with those who think that it's okay to bastardize Native American sacred rites, or the sacred rites of any living tradition, for that matter. Many of us have been taught that it's perfectly fine to create eclectic ritual from a variety of religious and cultural traditions- and it is, when it is done with thoughtfulness and  respect.But it is not okay to slap together a medicine wheel ceremony based on what you've gleaned off Wikipedia, or read in a book, any more than it is to perform Holy Eucharist with all the Christian trappings when you are not a Christian. It's fine to study and research living tradition, but it's not okay to 'play Indian' any more than it is to 'play Catholic'. I think that using the  model of  the Hebrew Seder to tell the story of a particular tradition of Paganism is an excellent resource, but using a Haggadah and just changing the words around is plagiarism and disrespectful;  it is never going to be a Pagan Seder. Using sweat techniques such as sauna as an adjunct to spirituality has been used for centuries in many cultures, but it  doesn't make it a sweat lodge...nor should it...ever.

Ray was raised in an evangelical Christian family; his father was an impassioned Church of God minister whose ministry and mission was so central in his personal life that the family had to live in the church office because they could not afford a proper home. Without actually knowing the situation, I can only guess at the level of dysfunction involved for this to be allowed by parishioners. I suspect this minister ruled the parish with an iron first and liberal doses of brimstone. That does not excuse Ray's eventual descent into narcissistic personality disorder, but it does explain where he got the influence for his leadership model. Like father, like son, I'd say.

I have weighed in with my opinion about The Secret in a prior post of this blog. The thing I like least about it and find most offensive is that it implies that  essentially every thing you've been doing  in your life is wrong, wrong, wrong and the only way to remedy that is by following the uber-intelligent advice of it's stable of 'experts'.  This isn't self-help or pop-psychology, it's mind control." Do it our way, it's the only way it works" is the message, and it's delivered with a smiling friendliness that I find suspicious from the first step out of the gate. The smile is frozen and forced, it's sincerity dented by the urgency for you to believe unquestioningly in the message...and I've seen that smile before...on the faces of Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh and Jim Jones. The most recent example of it has been on the face of Harold Camping,whose demand for unflinching devotion was later toned down after his predicted Rapture failed to occur. It's the same song, with a different tune and slightly re-written lyrics, but it's the same song none the less.  According to both The Secret, and Ray, you are the captain of your own ship and you get to sail any body of water you choose. Neither mentions the dangers of  becoming beached on an emotional or financial  shoal, or that you sometimes have to follow the channel markers for your own safety and benefit. Neither ever mentions what to do when your boat develops an unsuspected  leak and you begin to take on water and start to sink, something that is not always under the control of the best of skilled captains and is simply a part of sailing- much as unforeseen obstacles are a part of life in general. 

The Gospel According to James Arthur Ray is that you will have all the money you will need, all the happiness you can stand, all the glory and all the power, just through sheer mind over matter. You will be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and transcend the physical forces of nature when you are being roasted alive in an overheated, ill-supervised sweat lodge. You are in absolute control of your situation and surroundings so just keep thinking those good thoughts while another ladle of water is thrown on the rocks and the steam rises. You can pit your will against the elements, and win, and if you don't, you didn't believe enough, you were weak and are at fault. Sound familiar? Maybe Ray was confused and thought he was building a revival tent instead?

The courtroom testimony brought forth from several witnesses was that Ray sat outside the sweat lodge and shouted 'encouragement' to those who wanted to leave; it included chiding them to literally beat the heat and overcome their physical discomfort and symptoms by not wimping out and being a looser. I'm sure these words from their guru were comforting as their skin was blistering and they were foaming at the mouth as all the moisture from their bodies was evaporating from the heat. I wonder if the thought crossed their minds that the person they entrusted their physical, emotional and spiritual health and safety to was a sadistic psychopath.

The story about the incident which is provided  on Ray's website is a masterpiece of  shirking personal responsibility. Whomever wrote the PR should be awarded a PhD in Spin Doctoring. They also need congratulating on cleaning up a raft of bullshit misinformation about Ray's qualifications and certifications in several alternative specifically being trained by Native American elders in the proper use and presentation of a sweat lodge. His new curricula vitae is so vague and lacking in specifics that it seems the only thing he's qualified to do is fold napkins at a potluck supper.

"While numerous indicators from EMTs and emergency room doctors were present [they]  documented [  the presence of ] poisons,[and] the state followed up on none of them." It emphatically states. Anyone who followed the trial on TV can tell you this is not the truth.

This is not only untrue, it's an outrageous outright lie.  I can speak from professional experience as a health care provider that EMT's in the field have no way of identifying this type of poisoning. Identifying a case of poisoning without laboratory support is nearly impossible because usually the symptoms are vague enough to  match those of other physical problems. What was obvious to the EMTS- and Ray's own staff- was that all the victims were suffering from  heat prostration and other heat-related illness due to the extreme  temperature of the sweat lodge.I find it highly doubtful than any single member of the emergency response team were thinking about poisoning that day while they were trying to render aid to the victims of what was primarily a heat-related emergency. The possibility of poisoning was never entertained until the result of the post-mortem examinations of the victims, according to the expert witness giving medical-related testimony during the trial. His statements were recorded by both the court stenographer and CNN, so there is no wiggle room on this for Ray

Ultimately, the jury didn't think so, either.

Sometimes Justice prevails against the arrogance of those who believe they are above the here's "The Secret", Mr Ray...if you prey on the innocent and emotionally needy for monetary gain and ego stroking, eventually the Law of Attraction gives you what you deserve...and not what you want.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Litha, Summer Solstice,and "Chris'em"

Hard to believe we're already half way through the was just the New Year a few months ago, wasn't it? The weather has been milder than usual here in North Carolina-which believe me- is much appreciated in a house where air conditioners are verboten and the electric fans run double time.

I've needed a few private " me " days to take stock of things; I think we all do...Nothing major happening in my life. I just needed some time to sort and re-group. Six years ago I began to write a book just after Hallowe'en when we begin that slippery slide into the Christmas holidays when I always want to put on the breaks. I wish there was an extra month between Thanksgiving and Christmas because I think Thanksgiving and early winter get short-changed by all the HoHoHo and HumBug. It was a little book of devotionals written from a Pagan perspective: I posted the first part of it to this blog  just before Yule last year, you might's called Seeking Light in the Darkest of Days. Well, now that part of the little book is a chapter, and the whole thing  has expanded into a journal of devotions, rituals and eclectica  that covers A Year and A Day, which I hope to have finished by Samhain. Writing is a passion, and not quite a vocation- I make no money from it, and I don't expect to become a famous author with A Year and A Day because it's simply someplace to share all the cool stuff in my many volumes of grimiories ( silly me, I thought there would be only one...try 20 or more, in spiral bound  and loose leaf notebooks, the latter being the favorite format because of the ease of adding and shifting things around.) That's what's been happening with me...Meanwhile...back to your regularly scheduled blog...

While I love celebrating the seasons, I have to admit that Summer Solstice is probably my least favorite. I don't mean that in a negative way, it;s that I'm not a Summer person. The beach is something i enjoy in march when the tourists are all gone and the ocean is cold and no longer fishy smelling. There's a lot to be said about the someone else, not me...I'm an Autumn person. Yeah, I know every thing's in full bloom and the vegetable garden has begun to produce a wonderful, healthy abundance of fruits and vegetables and the trees are full and green and people are out having a hell of a good time cavorting in the sun, surf and sand...but that isn't me. I'm not in a place where I can plant and cultivate a garden, and I love the connection to the soil, my heart just simply overflows with joy watching all those little green things I've prayed over sprout and grow into beautiful things to look at and good things to eat. My last garden was 30 feet by 40 feet in the backyard of the house I later sold, and I was out there 3 hours a day hoeing, weeding and picking...and patrolling for garden pests. I planted everything I could think of from cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, zucchinis, three kinds of beans, peas, potatoes,onions, scallions, corn and yellow squash. My Grandmother and I ate very well from the garden that summer, the next to her last, when I had to give up agriculture for care-giving. That's my kind of summer vibe, and that's where I come from when the Solstice rolls's all about the potential for abundance in life for me at this time, because there is no guarantee those plants will make it in the heat with minimum water, that garden is going to either burst forth or be a dried up patch of weeds...Kind of like Life.

More appealing to me is Litha, which is officially on the 25th of June ( the Solstice being on the 21st). I love the mythology ( and reality) of faeries. There is something that appeals to the Irish part of me when the Fae are concerned...The lustfully heavy trees and bushes, rings of wild mushrooms, violets, hydrangeas, poppies and gardenias are all potential places of enchantment in Summer moonlight. Fireflies lazily blinking, crickets chirping and tiny peeping tree frogs that have crawled out of the ponds around the yard all lend their voices to the magickal place that is the back yard in the daylight. Personally leaning toward Nightkind, I can hear the ether thrumming in the wee hours of the morning when I am frequently writing these blogs. Most of the time it's when I meditate or conjure, but I am often distracted by things moving around in the darkness just beyond my bedroom window, and on many nights I sip tea and join the Watchers through the wee hours until dawn.

So more than likely, when you are out spiral dancing Summer in, I will be  placing little dishes of milk and honey at the base of the trees and leaving a shiny new penny to delight the fairies in the Other World of Fae.
To each their own, this is a wondrous Craft we create and celebrate to our own soul's contentment.

On to Chris'em...I'll bet you have no idea what that is, do you? Chris'em is the 25th of June, exactly six months prior to Christmas. I have no idea who first came up with the day, or why anyone felt we needed to celebrate, but I suspect it took place because it could. When I was running the Health Lodge ( uh, nearly 30 years ago..yikes) it was THE THING the camp staff looked forward to during the season because it was the Summertime version of Misrule and they could be insanely creative for a day or two before falling back into the weekly grind. Things like the tines of the huge institutional potato masher in the Mess Hall were converted into a candelabra, wreaths of honeysuckle and ivy appeared on doors as the Summer counterpart of Christmas wreaths, and everyone was just a bit jollier...if not more prone to practical jokes. Camp-made Chris'em presents were created and appeared anonymously. I think my favorite was a tiny bat complete with batty habitat all housed in a 2 liter Coke bottle- a gift from the Nature Lodge staff for treating all the cuts, bruises, poised ivy rashes and snakebites they produced during the course of the 3 and a half months I was the resident Healer/Hedgewitch/Mom substitute and coffee provider in the Health Lodge. I awoke one morning to find a beautiful, fragrant garland of woodland flowers carefully tacked around the front door to the Health Lodge and a pot of white pine needle that's how I like to celebrate Summer. ( The fact that I  had earned their respect by successfully treating the sick and injured in ways that were quite a departure from the Red Cross Advanced First Aid Manual and forever instilling an air of mystery and witchiness in the Health Lodge helped, I'm sure. They never knew the U of  D agriculture professor running the Nature Lodge and I were in cahoots when I was doing all these seeming magickal things that were actually homeopathic medicine in disguise and approved by the medical doctor I reported to as the licensed Medical Officer.) A few staples like baking soda, chocolate,vinegar and flat Coke became the stuff of witchery when doled out with mystery and psychology with a bit of psycho-pomp thrown in for good measure. It's good to be the Head Witch sometimes ( *cackle* *snort* *grin*) For every homesick, forlorn first-time  Boy Scout camper, there is a Scout Master ready to succumb to a case of cold feet and camping freak-out at a moments notice.

So go mix honey in the wine, weave a daisy chain circlet, and pick a ripe tomato for me...I'll be here whipping up the next installation of this blog.

 Solstice Blessings- and stay away from the fairy rings! They steal people, ya know!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Kitchen Witch Does Lentil Salad.

A little Mediterranean, or it can pass for Greek or Italian. Serve it with  grilled fish,baked poultry or a substantial pasta like ravioli with a nice tomato sauce ( leave the tomatoes out of the salad, or, if you really love them, leave them in!) Cooked Orzo or Rice can be added to lighten it up or make it go further.

1 lb. of cooked Brown Lentils
6 chopped Scallions
2 Garlic Cloves chopped
2-3 grinds Black Pepper
Sea Salt, to taste
Feta Cheese, to taste
3 Red Bell Roasted and chopped
1/4 Cup Fresh dill
4 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup diced Black Olives
1 Small chopped Tomato
1 Small chopped Avocado
1/3 Cup chopped Walnuts or Pecans
Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing to moisten

Combine all ingredients and let sit 15 minutes room temperature before serving in a lettuce cup or on a plate of field greens.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blessed Lunar Eclipse

The One Power that moves the Moon     
Moves through you.
The Power that lights the Sun
Lights your life.
It is female and it is male,
It is clouds and rain,
It lives in the damp earth,
In root and in bud.
It moves the wind.
It is all life, born and unborn,
On this plane and in the next,
Visible and Invisible,
In planet and star.
It is Infinite, it blesses and protects,
Heals and creates;
It moves forwards and backwards in Time,
Through all of Space -
In this life and in myriad others yet to come
And in the past as well.
This Power is yours,
As it is mine;
It is Goddess and it is God.
Use it for the good of all,
And according to the free will of all,
With ease and with joy -
To bless your life.
And so mote it be.
—excerpt from Positive Magic: Occult Self-Help by Marion Weinstein

I couldn't have said this better than Marion did. Brightest Blessings tonight, Dear Sprint,and rest in peace wherever you are...we'll see you in the moon. 


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From My Personal Grimorie: Some Thoughts on Healing

Every thing we do in our magickal work hinges on one single aspect: belief in yourself. Witches, shamanic practitioners, healers of every type must first have the knowledge, and then believe in their abilities.

Every good magickal practitioner knows that the will is a key feature in successful spell work. Lacking one or the other is often why spells, hexes or other types of conjuration fail. It takes more than simply assembling the tools and writing out the spell: it takes acknowledging unfailingly that what you are about to do is going to work
(hopefully in the way you planned, but the gods and the Universe sometimes have different ideas about it!).The four Precepts of the Magus are once again at play: To Know, To Will, To Dare and to keep Silent.

Allow me to add a couple of my own....purity and clarity of intention. Healing work is done by nearly every practitioner, no matter the path followed. It is most often  the first spell work those new to the Craft attempt ( next to the ever popular witchy no-no, the love spell.)

One would think it would  be rather simple-just ask for healing-but it's not. You need to be very clear on the purpose of the working- is this something the individual in question wants...or is it something you want? You may have all the good intentions in the world for someone you love, but if you do not have that person's permission to conjure on their behalf, the intention has lost just a bit of it's purity.Why? Because you've foisted your own will against the free will of the other person. Not every one wants to be healed, and not everyone should be healed. ( What did she just say?). Healing comes from a desire for wholeness and  to be restored to the highest level of function in which the human body may operate by the individual. It's not up to you to take any magickal action on the others behalf on your own.

Maybe he or she doesn't want (or need) your intervention-this happens in many 'mixed' faith families where witchcraft is still seen as something wrong or evil. When someone is in pain or otherwise preoccupied, when they are upset, etc., it is not a good time to try to educate them. In that instance, it's better to just wish the other well in your heart and leave it at that. They really don't want your help, and forcing a ritual on another is a serious  conflict of interest cosmically and it can lead to legal action if you continue to insist-so don't. Sometimes I may say a quiet prayer later that the individual receives whatever they choose to assist them with their situation. Technically you can send energy into the Universe ( privately) for the individual to use at will, when and if s/he is ready or willing. Insisting on 'helping' is not helping and may cause an avoidable crisis.

From my own experience, when those around you find out you are an occult practitioner, you will often be asked to intercede on behalf of another individual by them. This is always a bit flattering- we all have an ego that occasionally needs a bit of healthy stroking. But be certain to listen carefully to what they are requesting and ask questions to clarify this is something you want to be involved in? Sometimes it's not. There are times when the expectations of a person outside of the Craft is beyond reason. It may also be something above your level of expertise; and  in that case, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a practitioner with more advanced skills- and then ask  him or her if you can be present so as to learn ( always take the opportunity to learn from others in person when you can!)...Or it just may be something you are uncomfortable doing ( no matter the reason)- listen to that small voice inside you-that's why it's there!  I'm of the opinion that when something can be solved by more mundane methods, the use of  magick is inappropriate, so I urge you to think things through carefully before you get involved with someone else's healing.

It's my opinion that  a practitioner who performs healing spells on a regular basis should develop a solid relationship with a deity they can connect with and work through. Doing your homework and having as much background as possible will not only benefit you, it will will show a level of commitment to the deity whom you wish to approach. Witches do not make demands of the gods, but neither do they crawl on their knees to merely touch the hem of the god/dess in question's garment. If you feel you cannot call upon a  particular deity with confidence, then either you lack conviction in his/her ability-or lack confidence in your own ability. Perhaps you have chosen a deity inappropriate for the situation, or you need to accumulate more knowledge or experience. The old saying, " Don't call up what you can't put down", doesn't just apply to demons and spiritual entities, but to situations as well.

When I was  a paramedic, I developed a relationship with the Greek God Aesculapius, patron of the medical arts. The straight staff with a single snake coiled around it- the symbol of this particular god- can be found within the Star of Life, the blue and white emblem used by most Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics today. I can honestly say that calling on Aesculapius daily throughout my tour of duty made me more intuitive and skilled at my job when rendering medical care. The goddesses Hygieia ( Hygiene),Aceso ( Healing), Agelaea ( Health), Iaso ( Medicine) and Panacea ( Remedy) are his daughters and my be called upon for specific aspects of a spell.

The photographs that accompany this article were taken during a working done over several days that involved the release of the individual from multiple addictions and depression triggered by chronic physical illness. I prepared a healing altar by first washing the table top in spring water and rubbing in lemon oil for purification of the area; it was then covered with a deep red velvet cloth upon which were placed a likeness of Aesculapius, a small bowl for incense ( I used eucalyptus for it's cleansing properties) and a black candle dressed in the All Heal Oil that I prepared from the recipe listed in an earlier post. I rolled the dressed candle in sea salt and placed it in a holder, then surrounded  it with bracelets made of hematite, jet, silver and quartz. The choice of a black candle rather than a green one is strictly personal because I felt that the problem had been a long standing one  in which negativity needed  both drawing out of the individuals aura while simultaneously deflecting new negativity being attracted by the active addiction. The stones were specifically chose for their powerful ability to protect the individuals vital energy. Hematite has long been considered as a stone that promotes healing through the resolution of anger and emotional pain. Jet, which is not a true stone but was once a living organic wood, was often crushed and burned by the Egyptians to drive out negativity at the soul level. Silver is a healing metal representative of the moon, but also of water and balances the predominantly male energy of the other two black substances. It has magickal aspects not only of  loving and healing, but of energizing the psychic mind as well. Finally, clear quartz was used for it's ability to be programmed to imprint a positive vibration to fill the gaps left by the waning negativity until the actual healing took place. I especially love the ability of quartz to focus concentration and the way it enhances my focus during long or difficult workings. I find the balance and harmony it brings to any situation powerful because it tends to channel  in Universal energy for me which fine tunes my diagnostic ability. It has been my experience in using these stones in concert with one another that they have a stimulating affect on the immune system of the individual in question and brings the body into balance. The combination of oil, salt,candle, metal and minerals act as a deep soul cleanser and reset the disconnected physical dimension with the mind-something very much needed by an individual who's been drained of life force by an addiction.

The actual beginning of the text that accompanied this particular work was adapted from the rite of exorcism because I wanted to set the tone that the individual wanted the addiction and any lingering malefic energies cast out of his body and mind. I felt the best way of doing this was to command that the addiction to release him and leave, treating it as a living thought form ( which I believe addictions are, and therefore gain their power). Once the addiction was told to leave, I smudged the area with sage and sweet grass to seal the void left by the absenting desire and harmful behavior and turned it over to the God. As the Deity began the actual spiritual and physical healing, the lingering harmful energy was destroyed on the astral plane and manifested in a brilliant, yellow, orange, red, blue flame which grew more and more intense as the addiction was being consumed. The photograph of the candle which was taken during this phase of the ritual has not been edited in any way other than to be re-sized and framed. The colors are true, and if anything, a bit more dull than they actually were, which I attribute to the limitation of the digital format.

This ritual has had a positive affect on the individual for which it was performed, and I believe it has benefited him. He has ceased several of the addicting behaviors and is attempting to control others, and he also believes that the ritual was beneficial. He has markedly improved physically and mentally since the time this was performed a couple of months ago. There was a brief set back, but he is also working to heal himself through modification of behavior and spiritual practice. I am pleased that he has been seemingly proactive in his own healing and taken to heart the words of the Charge of the Goddess, " That which you seek you find within yourself.", because I feel that  addiction is a type of soul loss that requires various levels of intervention through alternative healing methods. My suggestion to him was to keep up with his own meditation and path-working, but to add a a form of external healing such as Reiki or Therapeutic Touch as he began to feel stronger and more in control of himself. I also urged him to continue study and spiritual direction, and to consider a 12-step program for moral support.


Monday, June 13, 2011

That 'Thing' You Do

My personal 'overcoming obstacles ' altar
A couple of weeks ago I posted one of those poll question thingies on Facebook asking what tools people used in their personal devotional practice.
I wanted to see how the paradigm of liturgical practice had or was shifting in the Pagan community, and I knew that since I have a widely varied readership I could get a pretty accurate picture. Twenty-five responded to most of the questions, with 115 responses in all. It was a mixed bag and pretty hit or miss. It told me very little about who we are in concrete terms, but it did help me to get a feel for the community in general.

Here's the breakdown:
  • Five said they practiced daily.
  • 25 used meditation in some form in their practice.
  • 23 of you meditate using Buddhist based principles.
  • 21 used a combination of meditation and visualization
  • 15 uses visualization alone at a different time.
  • 17 chant, using God/dess names;4 chanted the Om
  • 13 of you used drums while chanting,2 used other percussion instruments
  • 7 of you used brass singing bowls, I used finger symbols
  • 2 used an unspecified type of glossolalia.
  • 12 used some for of singing.
  • Candle magick was the most popular form of spell casting among all the respondents.
  • 3 used astral projection
  • 3 used reiki
  • 3 used scrying
  • 9 said they had formal Grimories.
  • 5 said they kept a journal which was not specifically considered a grimorie.
  • 17 had ritual blades
  • 22 had altars, dedicated altars or shrines in their homes. 
 Not surprising, although I do wonder if this means that tools aren't used in daily devotion, or if they were reserved for more formal occasions... or tools aren't being used at all. Difficult to tell and this might require another question/poll in depth specifically targeted to that subject.

Some surprises: No one checked the box for using incense, no one said they used tarot cards or other means of divination; no one used dance. Personally, I love incense because it helps set the mood for me, I realize many have allergies or live in places where the practice is forbidden. Truthfully, I can't imagine none of the above using tarot cards or some sort of symbol system for divination, because I happen to know at least three who specifically do use cards in their practice. Absolutely no one admitted that they used dance, and again, I know of a couple who have incorporated movement into their practice, so I think the subject needs exploration

No one admitted to using bi-location, which is not surprising. Only two said they drew upon Universal Energy ( Little  wonder we are tired and so many have been  sick!) Four said they got positive results from what they did well, but didn't specify if that was a specific act of worship or ritual. Four said they helped others, two said they did it for free, which I take to mean not accepting money or barter for services.

So out of this what I got was that the overview was of a group which was generally, yet non-specifically spiritual, who chanted and drummed and used  candle magick ( or folk magick) along with occasionally using specific methods.  We seem to be a group of hedge witches, witches or shaman. Some of us are initiated in at least one formal tradition, although we prefer not to label ourselves. Even thought none of us seem to believe in 'anything goes', I still suspect this means we like to keep our options open...I know I do.

I'm still interested in what we do and gravitate to,what or whom resonate within our souls, what touches us and inspires us; what we use as tools, how we dress, what we do in ritual- because all of that helps to define us as a faith tradition and as a community.

I'd like to see how diverse we are as a group: so far there are a few who practice Wicca, a Chaos magician,a Native American, a Hoodoo practitioner, a couple Buddhists and a Celtic re-constructionist or two, a Warlock, and at least two necromancers- and a dark faery.  I believe we're eclectic, but that our worship has form, and I'm interested in knowing more about if you're inclined, write a little something in the comments section...I'm not asking you to give away any secrets, just to make general comments.

Everyone can participate and no judgments will be made, I'm just collecting background material that will help me write better  blog articles...and yeah, I'm finally getting serious about working on the book I've been writing for the last few years.( Thank you, Christian, for the encouragement!) Knowing more about you will help me keep the manuscript in sync with readership.I actually have it about half finished, and it will include the two copyrighted sections I posted back in December as a section of the book The working title of the book is  A Year And A Day.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Intolerance flourishes wherever good people allow it. You can brush it aside and pretend it isn't there, but someday it will rear it's ugly head and show it's true nature...and it will affect you.

Damon Leff of Touchstone Advocacy forwarded a link to an FB group Burn The Witch. If you recall, Touchstone Advocacy recently sponsored an event to bring attention to the witch hunts in Africa, which I participated in...and yes, those things are still happening, and more than likely will continue to happen given the history of the area. That doesn't mean to give up and ignore it, it means to be aware and help when and where you can because indigenous people are being murdered for practicing their religious traditions which are reflected in our own. Do you practice Hoo Doo? Then you have a connection. How about Vooduon? You have a connection. If you revere any of the Orshias, if you have ever jumped a broom, if you are African American, there are a thousand other things which connect you to these people. Witches-all witches-by their very nature are shamanic practitioners. We are connected because we are human beings, the single outstanding thing in all of this is that it is a violation of human rights.

So before I passed the link, I went to the page and checked it out, and's offensive. Stupid, but offensive. I posted it to the local community Pagan groups FB page and the usual 'above it all' rhetoric began, " You know this is Monty Python, right?" was the first snark.Why, yes, I did happen to notice the photograph posted was from Monty Python an the Holy Grail. I'm 55 years old, and I was watching Monty Python on PBS during the original broadcasts more than likely before you were born- thanks for pointing that out since I'm obviously senile and you are so hip and clever at your age. Thinly veiling bigotry and hatred in humor so it can be called satire later when it's called it's proper name is still wrong none the less. Let's make it really funny...let's call it Kill the Jew or Kill the that's a riot, isn't it? And it's a send-up of Monty Python, it's a comedic reference, so that makes it okay, doesn't it? No? Well....then do something about it besides thinking up new snark retorts to make yourself feel all cool, hip and connected. I sincerely hope these two aren't representative of  the general membership of this group, because frankly, we don't need another bunch of posers in robes who use the power of the gods strictly for self-gain and not for the improved welfare of the world we live in.

"Let's not give them any publicity" is also a cop-out. Sabrina the Inkwitch and I are involved in a group that posts encouraging and peaceful ways of dealing with the antics of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Every so often there will be someone- whom I'm certain is well meaning-who thinks they're taking the high road above it all and makes a post about not giving them any publicity. If that's what you want to do, that's fine with me...but I subscribe to the statement that you're either part of the solution or part of the if you're doing nothing but ignoring someone who's spreading hatred, then guess which part of that you are. There's a point when nipping things in the bud matters because it stops an action cold before it spreads and causes extensive collateral damage. If a particular action is attended to early on and it's stopped cold...then isn't that ultimate lack of publicity?

The Pagan community has developed a NIMBY mentality just like every other group- Not In My Back Yard. If it's not in my back yard it doesn't touch me, I don't get involved, I can stick my head in the sand, all because I'm not affected by it. Oh, if someone else picks up the flag, I'm perfectly free to make snarky commentary that makes me look uber informed, linked-in and cool to my peers. Just let someone else dare to bring something that merits attention to the table, and I'll have a hundred good reasons to not get my hands soiled because it might just take a little effort.

You know, it really is okay not to get involved in every cause that comes down the pike. In fact, I think it's the smart thing to know when to not get involved because you're already over-extended, too busy or whatever. That's just how it is...but you don't get to piss in someone else's corn flakes because the subject at hand isn't to your liking or doesn't up your coolness factor among your group. Invalidating someone else's cause-and I'm not talking about anything specific here, just in generalities- is just a tad right of the mid-line toward arrogant. That's where discernment comes into play.

If you aren't interested, then don't pick up the flag and just move on...but don't expect anyone else to reciprocate when you have a personal project, because believe me, as much as getting a bunch of Pagans together is like herding cats, the thing to remember is that cats have long memories.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ultimate Healing

One of our Crone Grandmothers died earlier tonight. Barbara was the Matriarch of the UU Fellowship I belong to; her parents were among the founders. She wasn't a Pagan, but she was a beautiful beacon of light, an all encompassing and compassionate soul. Her moon glow white hair was always in place, and her make-up was immaculate. She wore understated, stylish clothing of quality and continued to carry herself regally into her 80th year.

She held forth with liberal politics and humanist spirituality in a no nonsense, but kind way. She was the very essence of what a Southern Lady ought to be, and she could be a Steel Magnolia when it was required. Barbara worried about everyone; she wanted to make sure everyone had enough to eat and a roof over their heads. She'd become the power of attorney of another elderly member of the Fellowship who is slipping toward the cliff that is Alzheimer's because she has no living relatives. We'd have lively conversations about everything, because Barbara was interested in everything.

As I write this, word of her passing is just beginning to trickle down through the many people whose lives she touched. Tonight is a night of personal grief, but not of sorrow. I know that where ever she has gone, that gorgeous inner light of hers is illuminating her passage, and I suspect that when the boat that came for her pulled up to the dock, she smiled graciously at the Ferryman with  those wonderful painted red lips and said enthusiastically, "Oh, I just adore boat rides!" I'm certain Cleopatra had nothing on Barbara when she crossed the River Styx tonight.

I don't know where she is tonight,because I don't know where we end up when we die... but I do know with every fiber of my being that Death is the Ultimate Healing, which is the greatest comfort anyone could ask for.

Death, as Life, is a Mystery to be experienced and savored. Fear of this Unknown is not justified, because where ever it happens to be, we simply go home. We just go home.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

But It's Only Cough Syrup...Right?

They're known as Syrup-Shooters.

Abusing cough and cold medications has been around for a few years, mostly among teenagers- but now it's becoming the most popular form of getting high for adults. In a way, it's fashionable-sort of like what smoking dope was to the 60's and 70's. Cough preparations are easily accessible-just stroll down the cold and flu remedy isle in the local pharmacy to check out the selections. It's cheap, too: you can get a bottle of generic anti-tussive preparation starting at a $1. And, most's perfectly legal.

It comes in liquid, gel caps, strips, pill form, and hard candy-like drops. It taste like cherries, grapes and lemons. And it comes in every color of the rainbow if you're not a fashionista/generic brand snob.The Dollar Tree carries a liquid form that's a fantastic teal blue green but smells like acetone and tastes like....well, I don't know what it tastes like because I've never had anything to compare it to, but I will guarantee you this- you have to really be hooked on the stuff to abuse it, because a single recommended dose makes me nauseous. I suspect they  leave it unflavored to cut down on abuse. Personally, it's a medication of last resort for me, but because of the tase and the way it makes me feel.

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is an over-the-counter  cough suppressant found in cold medications.  DXM is often abused in high doses to generate euphoria. It will also cause LSD-like visual and auditory hallucinations.  Illicit use of DXM is referred to on the street as “Robo-tripping”, "skittling", "trussing","Vitamin D",  and a host of others. These terms reflect the names of the most commonly abused products, Robitussin and Coricidin. The symptoms of abuse are the same as alcohol or opiate abuse: lethargy, ataxia, slurred speech, sweating, hypertension, and/or nystagmus (a  type of jerking motion of the eye which is being used by police departments as a measure of intoxication during field tests.) When the body reaches a certain level of toxicity, hyper-excitability mimics the manic phase of bipolar disorder. That's not all, there's a whole litany of possible symptoms:hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of the your face, lips, tongue, or throat. More serious side effects include severe dizziness, anxiety, restlessness, or nervousness; confusion, hallucinations; or slow, shallow breathing, liver damage and cardiac arrhythmia. Oh, yeah, and if that's not enough, eventually it can cause all sorts of interesting psychosis, too. It increases the psychological triggers for over-the-top anger, paranoia and anxiety.

Long-term cough syrup chugging presents with the same physical changes as addiction to heroin or opiates- a pale, sunken cheeked, dark eyed zombie look. A good way to off set that is by resorting to the now popular unshaven and disheveled look, which disguises it for awhile, until it becomes apparent something is very wrong with the person. The resulting anorexia is usually excused away by saying they're test driving the newest diet craze or nutritional system, which usually keeps  unsuspecting family and friends off their backs for a while.

Want scientific background information from the DEA?

Syrup Shooting has become frighteningly popular as of late among young adults and middle aged professionals, who are either unaware of the danger ( highly unlikely, in my opinion), or have deluded themselves concerning the safety of this behavior. I mean, it's just cough syrup, right? It  not only makes you stop coughing, it gives you a very welcome mellowness so you can relax and rest, which is not a bad thing when you've been coughing yourself into dry heaves for the past week.

But when you keep dosing up with  Robitussin DM after it's medically necessary, or sipping it straight out of the bottle without measuring a proper dose, or popping a few cough strips into your mouth just before that big presentation to calm have a drug addition problem. When you're feeling stressed and need a way to relax, it is not socially acceptable or chic to throw back a bottle of cherry-flavored cough syrup...actually, it falls in the category of pretty damn stupid. If meditation and relation techniques or a cup of chamomile tea or St.John's Wort no longer help-or take too much time in our life style of instant gratification-reaching for a bottle of cough syrup indicates you may have something going on that requires the help of others.It's not something you're able to handle on your own, no matter how large you think your ego-gonads are.

I was making  my rounds in the ER where I occasionally volunteer as a chaplain, and a nurse waved me over to meet with some very distraught family members. I was given a quick background to better the situation: Dad was the patient. He was found unconscious by his son. The prognosis wasn't good; he'd gone into respiratory failure, went into an unsustainable cardiac rhythm, and thrown an embolism. His kidneys and liver were failing, and the family was faced with the decision of life support or letting him go. His wife told me he was 55 years old-my age-and was a top-notch technical writer for one of the local pharmaceutical companies in the Triangle. He was also an an accomplished musician, played piano for their church, gave free lessons to kids in the neighborhood. From all accounts, he was a great guy and contributed in many ways to his community. He'd had a bout with depression a few years earlier, started drinking, but stopped and was going to AA with is sponsor.  The only thing that was going on out of the ordinary was that he'd developed an 'allergic' cough that his doctor thought was baffling because he couldn't exactly diagnose the problem. Tests had ruled out most of the usual reasons and the problem wasn't considered serious because there were no other presenting problems, and Dad took really good care of his health...and it showed. He looked like a guy who watched what he ate and worked out. After spending about an hour talking with these really, really nice folks about the man they loved who was about to taken his mortal leave, the wife finally blurted out," The doctors here said it was all the cough syrup. I didn't think it was anything, but he took it all the time. We used to joke about it, how it was his version of getting high. I didn't know he was serious. He used to bring home a couple of bottles daily after work, every day. I never understood why he needed to take so much, but he seemed so happy and relaxed and he slept I couldn't wake him up." What do you say to something like this? It's not the time to place blame or point the finger, but in the back of your mind you realize it's so pointless and such a terrible waste.

So when two regular members of the teaching circle I'm HPs for showed up for a ritual basically whacked out of their minds after spending the afternoon robotussing, I was not amused. How do I know what they were doing? They not only told me what they'd been doing-as if it were the most natural, normal thing in the world to be doing-they were happy to share the cough syrup they had in their travel mugs!

These are otherwise lovely, socially aware people who regularly contribute much to the spiritual life of the group, and I love being with them. Everyone in the circle loves them, they're wonderful, intelligent, knowledgeable folk...Except what they are doing to themselves by abusing DXM not only alters their behavior, it is destroying them emotionally (and  physically)...and it's affecting the group dynamic. People are beginning to avoid them. Other members have  called me to discuss why they don't want to be around when this couple is present. They've expressed concern about the use of DXM and the amount of NyQuil  being consumed. The husband has become loud and boastful and makes rude, inappropriate jokes continuously, oblivious to being disruptive during study time. His wife is now angry all the time and has developed a violent, explosive temper- very different from her usual bubbly self. These people need help and are clueless to what they have become. It saddens me that presently the elders of the group and myself are engaged in an emotionally torturous dialogue in which we are weighing the options of what we might do to assist in the situation. It is difficult, but we must discern the addiction of these two in consideration of the continued well being and health of the group.What happens will depend upon how they act when the council intervenes and whether they are willing to get help for this problem-or even to admit there is a problem at all. It makes me heart sore that it has come to this, but I don't see another solution.

Until we recognize the situation as one of addiction, until our society fully understands the scope of this problem as drug abuse, until we re-examine our misplaced 'live and let live' attitude that allows anything to stand-especially when what is in question is harmful to all involved and not a matter of personal freedom, this will continue to be something we will need to address time and time again...because it is, as of now our problem, one which ultimately affects everyone and the effects trickle down.

Conversation 'chat' about  "tussing":


Individual who's been there lends his thoughts:

Kitchen Witch: Herb Cookery

 I love the fragrance and texture of herbs! Grow your own if you can in a window box or basket garden, or a few pots on the window sill. Your local farmer's market is a another good source of fresh herbs!

All herbs are magickal and impart an additional vibration to the food you cook. With practice, you'll start using your favorites in everything and will instinctively know which herb goes into the cooking  pot! Fresh herbs are best, but if you use dried, double the amount. Herbs added to light oil will give you flavored oils to cook with and a head start on salad dressings!

**As always, check for interactions with medications or for contraindication with medical conditions.**

Basil, sweet- Use with mushrooms, in eggs,cheese and fish dishes.
Basil, perennial- For flavoring eggs, fish,game meats, pork,beef, chicken, shell fish and salads
Catnip ( catmint)- Leaves used in preparing herbal tea. Cat drug (!)
Chervil- Use young leaves, fresh or dried, in tomato sauce, light cream sauce
Chives- Use where mild onion flavor is desired. Good in eggs, sauces, salads and cheese spread/sauce.
Coriander- Ground seeds used in breads, cookies, cheese sauce and  vegetable soup like squash or pumpkin.

Dill- Use in soups, salads, cream cheese,eggs and fish.

Garlic- Used for bread, combined in butter for spread,salads, sauces,soups, in meats, poultry, fish. Roast whole  in 'paper' and peel off clove, squeeze out garlic paste on cracker or bread.

Hyssop- tender young leaves used in flavoring fruits,pies,salads, soups, stews, drinks.

Lavender- Flavoring for beverages and jellies; flowers used for perfume.

Sweet Marjoram- Flavoring of salads,meats, stuffing,fish and poultry.

Orange Bergamont Mint-use in meats,mint jelly and iced drinks.
Oregano- tomato sauce, Mexican dishes,Italian dishes, shellfish,salad and meats.
Parsley- Use as garnish in salads and soups, in cooked meats.
Pennyroyal- Makes a bland salad taste slightly bitter.Use sparingly.
Peppermint- Use sparingly as garnish on fruit cocktails, cold beverages,salads. Makes good herbal tea.
Pineapple Mint- Used in meats. Refreshing slightly fruity taste.

Sage- Use to season meats, sausage,stuffing.
Summer Savory- Use in beans,egg dishes,cream sauce,all poultry.
Sorrel- Use sparingly in green salads.

Tansy- Use in baked fish, meat pies,or egg dishes.
Tarragon- For salads and in dressings, fish, poultry,wild game (especially rabbit) shellfish. delicious in sauces.
Thyme- Use in meats,wild game, fish, as herbal tea ( sedative effect)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Need To Talk With Someone? I'll Call The Chaplain!

The US has the highest detention rate in the world. Prison inmates are wards of the State. The State is responsible not only for meting out punishment for crimes committed against society through detainment but for decent, humane housing, feeding and safe socialization within the institution . Freedom of religion is a civil right. It is a fundamental freedom that is not lost during prison time, and it is in fact sociologically proven that inmates who have a spiritual connection are better candidates for successful  rehabilitation.

Inmates with addiction issues who feel closer to the Divine and who are a part of a  religious group fare much better during their recovery period. Those who are incarcerated are often overwhelmed by feelings of shame and rejection due to their situation. Isolation, which is a part of prison life, leads to severe depression and  perverse personality changes, which in turn affects the individual's  future hopes and aspirations- affecting their ability to rejoin society as a contributing member after  detainment.

Psychologists, psycho-social therapists, and the so-called State 'experts' know this. A recent study suggests that the practice of religion significantly reduces the chance of prisoners engaging in verbal or physical altercations. Support from a religious group increases the likelihood of lasting inmate reform after completing the prison sentence time. In other words, it cuts down on the number of repeat offenders and ultimately reduces the State's expenses-and the taxpayer's- by housing less prisoners .

I know this first hand because when I was doing my CPUs as a seminarian, I was a prison chaplain- in both men's and women's prisons. The duty of the prison system is to isolate criminals to prevent them from committing more crimes, as punishment for committing those specific crimes, as a deterrent to others from committing similar crimes and rehabilitate criminals. The State has the responsibility to discourage and limit behavior that's harmful to others or infringes on their human rights, and to assist inmates to  repair the disorder created by their criminal activity...especially to themselves. The Judicial system fundamentally protects society and safeguards the common good. Having said that I realize that prisons cause as many problems as they solve, and I'm not debating that at all, I'm giving background as to why it's necessary for those incarcerated to have proper spiritual direction and guidance available in the form they so choose within reason.

It's my personal opinion that the Chaplain is an important member of the rehabilitation team. This has been echoed by the Supreme Court of the United States when it ruled in 1987 that prisoners retain their constitutional rights, including that of religious worship.

Those most likely imprisoned  are already on the fringes of society, generally speaking, a type  who doesn't quite fit with the rest of the population through nonconformity to the accepted norm. They are essentially outcasts, either in fact or by their own belief. Many are overwhelmed by feelings of rejection, guilt, shame or inadequacy. Chaplains and spiritual directors can help advocate for the inmate so he or she is guided in the right direction to achieve wellness and balance. They are often the single truly compassionate person in that individual's life. They can assist and guide  both the prisoner and civil authorities in developing a program of reform which will be successful in that individual achieving meaningful reintroduction into society post-prison. 

Many times it is the Chaplain providing pastoral care that is singular reason inmates are reunited with their families and friends. It is the Chaplain who is often the go-between initiating  a smooth transfer of the individual to the spiritual care of a minister, church or other spiritual group outside the prison walls. It is the Chaplain who assists case managers with housing and employment of prisoners after release, because they are able to be used as a character reference.

So I don't get why the Rev. Patrick McCollum, who is currently serving as a volunteer prison chaplain in California has been refused proper recognition because of the contents of his faith- which should be of no concern of the State at all due to the constitutional separation of church and state. McCollum is currently seeking standing among his colleagues of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Native American faiths, who are eligible for hire by the State for their ministry. The 9th District Court has danced around the legalities of this issue, denying employment to the Wiccan minister. Not because he doesn't meet the criteria as an ordained member of the clergy supported by his faith tradition, or that he lacks proper education or credentials, or he is unfit for the job. The reason is that he is not a member of one of the five faiths recognized by the state of California. In other words, because the Rev. Patrick McCollum is Wiccan, his faith-recognized by the US military, buy the way, is judged wanting by a civil court. So if you are Ba'hi, Buddhist, Hindu or a host of other legitimate religions with 501 status in the United States, don't think you will be gainfully employed by the State of California right now, because your services will not be dignified by a pay check.  Alex Luchenitser, Senior Litigation Counsel for the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State made  the statement: " The Constitution requires all persons to be treated equally regardless of what their religion is.California's practice of only paying chaplains of certain faiths, while requiring chaplains of other faiths to work for free, is religious discrimination that plainly violates the Constitution."

So what I get the State of California as saying is essentially this: That even though the Rev, Patrick McCollum has been a chaplain in the prison system for over a decade in a capacity that has been meaningful and  that he has contributed to the rehabilitation of perhaps hundreds of inmates through that service, which is in many ways identical to his ministerial colleagues, that service only has worth if it is free. Did I get that right?

1 Timothy 5:18 b, " The laborer is worthy of his wages." It seems to be applicable to others, so why not Patrick McCollum?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pagan Enough

I appreciate a good debate (that is kept civil) because it causes us to grow beyond ourselves, to explore otherwise unknown territory, and go places we might not otherwise go on our own. We in the Pagan community are particularly good at this: we analyze everything. Taking things apart to see how they work is one of the main ways children learn about their world. They take nothing at face value and want to see how the individual parts fit to make the motor run. That's an over-simplified example, but it pretty much says it for me. We deconstruct to understand the end product.  Mostly, that's a very good thing- until it turns nasty and elitist and we start ripping things (and each other) apart. This is our biggest down fall.

Every so often there are hot-button topics that go viral through the Pagan community, and when the initial upheaval dies down, then we can re-visit and discern what was at the center of all the excitement a little more calmly and with our wits about us. You can't say we aren't a passionate bunch, because most of the time whatever is being discussed reaches the volume of mating elephants with a lot of stomping and trumpeting. I usually either join in early and get my opinion in, or hang back and watch what happens. With this latest round of fireworks, I have done the latter. And frankly, I haven't been as engaged as I probably should be by other people's standards, because it's "the responsible thing to do", but the fact is, I've been around the neighborhood with this one a few times, and I feel it doesn't merit as much of my attention because it's not an issue for me. Personally...I have already made up my mind.

The current elephant mating-dance level discussion in our community is whether or not we should continue to call ourselves Pagan. It's an old favorite that seems to get trotted out every few years or so by someone in the community who is attempting to define themselves out of the vast inkiness of our language and thinks the rest of us should join in on chewing on the carcass like so many jackals. But instead of simply saying, "Hey, I'm trying to figure this out", they manage to start such a large fire under the cauldron that
it burns out of control. Instead of enjoying a taste of the soup, we are suddenly bringing in more wood to keep the flames licking at the pot, which keeps things so hot that no one can get close to the real issue without having to shield their eyes from the brightness of the fire. We don't enjoy the simplicity of the broth because we're too busy adding ingredients "to make it better", and what we end up with is a soup so thick it requires chewing rather than mere sipping just to digest it. That doesn't always make it better, it just makes it more complex.; and  while complex ingredients can be appreciated on many levels, it doesn't always make the final dish better or palatable to everyone.

At the risk of sounding like I crawled out of the primordial ooze at the dawn of time, it's been a long time since I made the first serious examination of the main points of my personal path.I pretty much stick with what I've got. The reason for this is because I laid a foundation and built my spiritual house on solid ground, instead of buying a prefab house. I added to it over time all the elements I found necessary to connect me to what I understood as imminent divinity and fed my spirit, the result of which is a rich broth I find tasty and nutritious. Occasionally I adjust the seasonings as my tastes change, but I think that's the beauty of having a good  basic recipe to start with.

What has come out of this is that I am satisfied by what I believe and I am comfortable with my worship today. I realize that not everyone is at that place yet, but frankly, that isn't my business because I am too busy tending to my own formation and growth. I practice as I choose, when I see fit, as I am lead by Spirit. I own no one an explanation, or justification, and frankly, I'm beyond needing validation from others.My Path. My Way. I don't mean that harshly, but I am very serious about it. I know what I like- and it is my choice and my right to do as I please without interference from others.You are free to believe anything you want and have your own opinion about your personal path. I'm open to discussion about what I like and why it works for me with anyone, but if you are here to argue and pick, then get out of my sandbox.

For the most part, I am satisfied with referring to myself as 'Pagan'. I don't dislike the word, even though I wish there were something that carried a little less baggage in mainstream society. Personally, I think that Pagan as an umbrella term pretty much covers all of us who are not adherents of the Abrahamic faiths, including Buddhists, Native Americans, Hindu, Wiccans, polytheists, pantheists and monotheists of many pantheons,   occultists, reconstructionists, and those of alternative religions little known in the mainstream. I am well aware that the Latin Paganus loosely means 'country dweller' or 'peasant', and that to more than a few people it is a pejorative term. Much like the word witch, I do think we need to continue to reclaim and redefine the meaning for the general public.

We are never going to do that, however, if we continue to get into heated arguments and flame fests thinly veiled as legitimate dialogue among ourselves. The general public only requires a few meaningful sentences to define Pagan, not a treatise, because due to human nature, anything else is TMI that will not be processed. If more information is asked for or required, then the conversation can certainly continue, but overwhelming the man on the street with a convoluted history in its entirety  is just going to have most wishing they never asked. I think we need to get it down to an elevator speech, the theoretical time of an elevator ride, or two minutes, tops.

Maybe it's less of an issue for me because I've been a Pagan for over a quarter of a century or because I am also a Unitarian Universalist. The UUs are governed by seven principles and a set of sources which are only meant as a guideline.Chief among the seven principles is the inherent worth and dignity of everyone, acceptance of one another and encouragement for spiritual growth, a free and responsible search for personal truth and acknowledge in the interconnected web of existence. Since I'm only using this as an example, and not trying to make converts, you can check here for more information if you choose

I find these things valid as I define what Pagan is for myself...because I can only define that for myself . I may have my own opinion of what that is, but it is my opinion and matters not one single wit in how another journeys their path even if they identify as Pagan.

Project Pagan Enough