Sunday, February 27, 2011

Does The End Justify The Means?

Westboro Baptist Church (which proudly proclaims itself as " the most controversial church in the world!") is the latest in a long line of untouchables taken down on their own knife by the cyber-revolutionaries of Anonymous.The hatemongers of Westboro wanted to play a mind game with the super hackers of Anonymous- and lost.  An ultimatum purportedly sent to WBC by the on-line vigilante group called for them to cease and desist their  homophobia, bigotry and other assorted mischief -they are known to send out teams to stage protests against mourners at military funerals- or their multiple websites would be rendered inoperable. There is some confusion as to who actually fired the first shot in this contest-Anonymous either actually sent the diatribe to Fred Phelps' minions, or WBC faked a letter from Anonymous to start the ball rolling-no one really knows and the story about contact between the two is unclear.  What is clear is that members of the loosely organized Anonymous eventually did made good on their ability and literally hacked into and jammed WBC's websites while  live in the air during an interview with  smarmy WBC spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper last week.(See the interview here:

The sites,, and several more overseen by Westboro Baptist Church have been inaccessible and remain so as of this writing. For all of WBC's carping about religious truths and the First Amendment, no one seems to be circling the wagons in their defense...absolutely no one. Not a single notable celebrity in the faith community has spoken up on their behalf. I doubt their personal, home-grown flavor of "God's Word" is missed by many.

Perhaps if WBC wasn't the persistent burr under the saddle for so many, someone would have exhibited a bit of sympathy for them, but they are relentless. When word started to spread throughout cyberspace that they had been rendered ineffectual, the public breathed a collective sigh for the momentary relief. They're still out there picketing ( in theory, although they've skipped the last few targets listed on their schedule before it went down.) I'm certain they're still waving their famous neon orange, yellow and green signs that say God Hates_______(fill in the blank), and encouraging their children to grind the American flag into the sidewalk. But at least for a time, we don't have to listen to their inane rhetoric online.

Which brings me to the next part of this little conversation: does the end justify the means? I think I can safely say that as much as the majority of us caught ourselves smiling when we heard the news that WBC had been given their comeuppance, just as many are now wondering if Anonymous went too far by crossing the Free Speech line this time. There are also some frightening aspects to Anonymous: no one actually knows who they are or how many members they have.We don't know if the WBC take down was a planned strike or the act of a single rogue hacker in their midst. What we do know is they are very, very tech savvy and capable of attacking at will-which their history has proven time and again. So I ask again:" Does the end justify the means?"

What exactly does that oft used (and over used) phase actually mean? It means that the morality of the action in question is based solely on the outcome of that action, and not on the action itself. It's psychological shorthand for doing anything you want to get the desired result...and not necessarily by way of legal means. It doesn't matter if the methods used are ethical, fair, or truthful. It can involve what to some would seem immoral methods, but is not based on that necessarily. It has nothing to do with being right, or fair or good.

I can point out that Westboro Baptist Church -which is actually a cult founded by Fred Phelps and has nothing to do with the  mainstream Baptist Church at large- has done some pretty reprehensible things at times. Picketing at military funerals because (in their twisted logic) the deceased was sacrificed by G-d because of a tolerance of homosexuals by the country is a pretty thin stretch, no matter how many brain cells you are lacking. Saying that G-d sent the shooter to Tuscon to kill a little girl, a federal judge and seriously wounding a member of congress 'because America is disobedient' is beyond credulity. But they have said these things, and more, and have done so legally, because of the First Amendment of the Constitution protects their right to free speech, no matter how stupid it sounds. Anonymous, in it's zeal for showing the world that the hatemongers of WBC are mere humans and not the Chosen they think they are and can be silenced, has inadvertently committed a crime and denied them their constitutional right.There is no way to reframe that statement to make it any more clear; what they did was wrong in the eyes of the law, even if in the arena of common sense it appeared to be the right thing to do.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Change, Morph, Form and Release

I had a dream last night: I was being chased by a dusty old've seen it- the one that sits on the bookshelf collecting mold until someone needs  to whip it out to  bludgeon someone else with it to make their point. It has big teeth and looks scary sitting there, the strings of it's tattered cover moving ever so subtly as you walk by, biding it's time...waiting. It's root words are written in exotic languages like Greek and...Latin. Beware the dreaded Latin! It comes to impress you to death with it's scientific names and terms like sic, and you shall bow down to whatever man yields it's power....or not.

Human beings developed language as a communication tool. They wrote the definitions and decided which words went into their dictionaries. Occasionally, they thumb through their marvels of wordiness and decide to remove a word or two and change the definitions of some because the words no longer fit in the modern world or the definition changes through the common lexicon.

Dictionaries are not sacred text. No God has commanded," Thou shall not change one jot or titter of Merriam-Webster."  When we retire them, defunct dictionaries find themselves keeping company with old dog-eared copies of National Geographic at the used bookstore.

The content of dictionaries change because Life changes. What was good in the past may not quite fit in the future, and so perhaps re-definition is in order. We form new words out of old ones all the time as we recreate our let's move on.
Until this past Tuesday, I had no idea who Christian Day was-my apologies, sir. I first saw his name mentioned in connection with a post by my Craft sister Sabrina the Ink Witch on her Facebook page. There was a smoldering controversy over what Mr.Day chooses to call himself in the Pagan community. It generated a great deal of  discussion because, evidently, it is now up to the larger community not only to determine how you identify your personal path, but what you choose to call yourself. It seems to be everybody's business but yours.

I expressed an objection to the contrary, and was suddenly cast as a 'minion' of someone I had just met by those self-appointed in the community to do so, which I find amusing. I find it amusing because I quickly saw that the whole thing is nothing more than high drama from the royal court: it's another witch war. It's Salem politics, old jealousies and someone with entirely too much time on their hands.Oh, yeah...they called me a 'fluffy bunny', too...Which for those of you not familiar with the term, it's a subtle insult which is the Pagan version of 'nominal Christian' (*shrug*).

Christian Day would like to reclaim and rehabilitate the word warlock, which he has a perfect right to do, despite objections to the contrary. Put away your Olde English Dictionaries, folks, because in the larger scheme of things, it doesn't matter if Christian Day calls himself a warlock, a hemlock or a canal lock. It's up to him, and not to you. End of discussion.

Oh, by the way, Little Bunny Foo Foo has a message for you witchier-than-thou "non-fluffy bunnies"...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Making Ancestors

Legacy: Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word legacy as meaning something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor.

I find it mysterious and amazing that who we are as spiritual beings live on through our good works, our artistic creations, and through those we touch and influence as we move along our lives. It is clear that each of us as a soul has a legacy that resides outside of time.

How you view your future creates it: the energy you put into living becomes the text of your life’s story. According to the ancient Celts, time is not just past or future, but is gathered in a circular rather than linear, so that  even your future time is waiting here for you now. This helps put into context the rest of what I have to say.

In our culture we place a great deal of credence in the importance of individual experience. What you think, believe, and feel remains a daydream if not woven into the tapestry of your experience. The late author and modern mystic John O’Donohue believed that there was a place where our vanished days gathered: the name of that place is memory.  

Memory has depth. It is selective in its feeling and sensitivity.  Since linear time vanishes, everything that is past depends on memory. Memory then transcends to legacy. Transcendence is the force of time that makes a ghost of every experience and in the ensuing period of passing time, legacy then becomes something sacred. 
So... How do you create your legacy in your own lifetime? How do you begin to become an ancestor before your time is through?  Become someone worthy of being remembered. Live life as abundantly as possible, (and I’m not talking about wealth or material gain)…I’m talking about authenticity. Live out your values. Be ethical in dealing with others. Be loyal to a cause. Live your truth and be truthful to yourself and others….That’s what I consider an authentic life.

The act of becoming an ancestor is a wonderful time to develop the art of the *inner harvest*. What does that mean? It means that you actually get to see the fruits of your lifetime experience right now. Frequently, in the life journey of an individual, the most precious moments are the mistakes. Learn from your mistakes- not by regretting them- but by bringing a compassionate mindfulness to the memory of them. Compassion for yourself, if practiced everyday, will allow a space to open for forgiveness. When you are able to forgive your self, the hurts of a lifetime begin to heal. When that happens, you are then  more compassionate toward others.

But that’s not all of it: draw upon your own ancestors. Think about all the people you come from, whose blood and genes are part of you. Some were great people -- some, not so much- but the point is, they all 'belong' to you. They all have helped shape and create you. Appreciate them for who they were, with no expectations or apologies, and know that a part of them is living through you.

So, whether it is going about your everyday mundane life, singing a child to sleep at night with a tender lullaby, artistic expression such as paintings,sculptures or literature, sharing kind words in a heartfelt conversation, or making a discovery that changes the course of history, I am continuously aware that it is the generosity, learning, and legacy of our ancestors that we draw upon each day. It is the heritage of their inspiration and labors that sustain us as we endeavor to open to our own unique presence, gifts and give purpose to  life’s expression.

Most of us worry how we will be remembered- if we've done enough, been kind enough. After all, we want  to be well spoken of when we are gone, don't we? What will be the one thing we need to do to be immortal in memory? Here’s a revolutionary thought- What if we lived our legacy right now? What if we lived our lives with such complete authenticity *that* alone was our legacy? Would we not truly have earned the title of Ancestor while living? Creation of the self with the intention of awesome!

And I know what you're thinking, “I don't have time to be worrying about this. I have fifty million things to do besides the laundry, the dishes and taking care of my family!" But what if THAT was your legacy? What if re-framing your mindset into living your life with the intention of creating legacy were your goal? Imagine the satisfaction of hearing our children say, “My mom took care of us. She made sure we were fed, that we had clean clothing and  that we went to bed on time. She cared about where we were and who we were with and what we were doing. I'm here because my Mom cared." That transcends the ordinary  into the realm of love supremely proven.

Living your legacy is such a simple thing: simply life lived everyday. It's comprised of all the little things which eventually add up. Its living as genuinely and as honestly as you can manage,by being true to who you really are.

In celebration of all our ancestors — and the sacred gift of life in which we’ve each been given the freedom to discover in our own unique potential- I urge you: live your legacy now.

The Common Makes Us Uncommon

As a community, what are our common beliefs? That there is a Divine Creator-female, male or both, or a combination of both in one, or many of both sexes; that we live our lives bringing harm to none, including ourselves. We worship at the full moon, and observe 8 holy days called Sabbats. Some, but not all, hold the Rede as a sacred code of ethics; some practice according to the Threefold Law (The Law of Returns). Some hold forth a Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone; others have specific names for Her with particular attributes; some simply settle for her divinity as a nebulous mantle of that which is holy.

Then it gets complicated. I can understand why the traditional purists begin to shudder at the word eclectic; I don’t negate anyone who creates their own faith because belief is specific to each individual. But on the other hand, I do believe there must be something that ties us together. The basics of casting a circle; saying the Charge of the Goddess; inviting the Elements…are things which are the glue to our faith. I love the Bible verse that goes, “My Father’s house has many rooms...”  There’s no better way to put it: ‘Under one faith, we are many traditions; undivided, we each are our own co-creators’. Every one of us brings something to the table, and all of us share in the feast. If we don’t care for a particular dish, we take only a bit to try it, or we politely decline and take only what we like. That way everyone at the table is spiritually fed.

I find myself growing impatient with those “traditionalists” who insist that everyone must be following Gardner or some ancient, obscoure tradition or what ever in the exact same way, rigidly following the prescribed formula each time: personally, I feel it lacks creativity. It feels too much like the forms of Christianity we have left or eschewed. There is a place for hierarchy, but only when we all agree upon and understand its proper placement. It’s true that someone must be responsible for keeping chaos at bay (even if that someone is the solitary in their own circle) but we have never needed a grand procession of the priesthood in our faith.

Is finding our own way what sets us apart? I think so. Each of us making the journey by following our own map is a hallmark of Paganism. Being solely responsible for our own spiritual development- even if we share membership in a form of corporate worship- is at once frightening and exhilarating. Maybe that’s exactly why we choose this form of worship; maybe it’s the challenge to examine ourselves and then find or create a bond with the Divine that makes it so attractive.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We Are Our Own Worst Enemy...Blame No One Else

Down through the ages,one religious group has pillaged and killed another in the name of their god.They have been killed for their ideas, and what they have chose to call themselves. That is a fact of our history. A shameful fact, to be sure, but a fact none the less. Humans have visited unspeakable atrocities upon each other in the name of religion, in the name of politics,for the sake of being right. The lowest common denominator,then is ego. No one wants to put down the sword first, nor do they want to be the first to forgive. There is too much ego-stroking at stake.

And frankly, we can sit in retrospect or judgment and finger point to our heart's content,flame one another in the name of our individual gods, blow each other to hell and back, and the fact still remains that humans have done this to each other. Because no one group is willing to budge an inch, get off their soapbox,or simply shut up and listen to what is being said by anyone else,the proverbial shit will continue to hit the fan. There is no danger of the drama ending soon, because our egos will keep stoking the fires of hatred. Besides, who is there to care about us if we give up our righteous indignation over our 'earned' victimization? What if we have to stop whining about what 'they' have done to 'us'. Why... we might just have to become responsible for ourselves and quit trying to intellectualize everything and trying to live in the Good Old Days (What ever century that was). We might just have to actually do something besides complain about the 'other' side. You know...the one made up of humans...just like us. Besides, it isn't like we haven't done the same sort of thing to someone else...or did we just conveniently forget what our clans and tribes used to do to each other in the 'good old days'? What we did to our fellow humans. None of us are innocent. The sooner we get that the sooner we can begin to aim for becoming better humans.

When we stop hiding behind our religious and political labels and begin to take responsibility for the madness we-all of us- have caused in the world, then we will have a starting place for genuine dialogue to take place authentically. When we take off our masks and throw away all the other stuff that further and further separates us as a single community of humans,then we might just be able to start the process of healing. Until then, we are our own worst enemy.

Why do we continue to fan the flames of hatred?

Like John Lennon said," All we are saying is... give peace a chance."

Why Does Connection Have To Be Instant?

I'm about to make a confession: I'm not a big fan of 'instant' connection. The invention of modern communication technology-as wonderful as I think it is-disturbs me. Don't get me wrong, telephones,computers, cell phones and answering machines are all an integral part of my home and  probably more important than I'd like to admit to my daily existence.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I find disturbing. What did we do before we could be instantly connected in the blink of an eye, the click of a mouse,or hit the 'send' button?

We waited, that's what we did. We exhibited patience. We learned that we didn't have to pick up instantly, answer, or even reply until we were good and ready. We still had command of our own lives and weren't at the whim of whatever we were electronically connected to that whirred, beeped or blinked.If Mom didn't drop everything immediately  and rush out to pick us up before the agreed upon time to keep us from  getting soaking wet because we forgot our galoshes and called (or text messaged) her in a panic from the mall, we simply got wet and developed a better plan for the next time it rained. We learned a lesson in survival from one of life's little gazillion experiences because there was nobody to ring up and demand attention from NOW. Juicy gossip between friends and neighbors was saved until later if the phone rang and no one answered, or we actually visited in person.

By the way, do you realize that we no longer make acquaintances, we network? We collect email addresses instead of business cards (or email addresses on business cards) so we can all jump on the world wide web like so many  information-hungry spiders and spin until we're dizzy. We instant message on chat instead of chatting with friends over coffee. We talk in real time on Skype instead of really talking face to face. We listen to dozens of recorded messages on answering machines because someone would rather be played back than call back later themselves. We have become just that lazy,complacent and dependent on the technology, for-fitting any inconvenience to ourselves...and we have become demanding and self-centered in the process. ( Don't believe it? Remember how frustrated or annoyed you felt the last time you made a phone call and there was no one home or no automated voice answering machine allowed you to leave a message?
I rest my case.)

I rather enjoy my freedom and not being at anyone else's beck and call 24/7. I will purposely turn off the answering machine some days just to allow the phone to ring: if whomever is calling really wants or needs to speak with me, they'll try again. I admit to liking Caller ID, but if no machine is available to record a message at the time, I don't care who's calling...They'll call back...or not.

If You Smell Something ...

After a long, drawn out rant by someone who fancied himself an expert by presenting his lofty Pagan pedigree on a friend's Facebook page about what someone else prefers to be called in the At-large Pagan Community, my inner philosopher spoke to me: "If you see a lone bull standing in a pasture and your smell something, it is probably bull shit."

As far as I am concerned, pedigrees are only important if you're buying a show dog.  Those who feel it necessary to attempt to impress the rest of us with their curriculum vitae are like a lone bull standing in a pasture: after awhile, you begin to notice the smell and make the connection between the subject and the byproduct. In this particular case, the self proclaimed 'expert' seized upon a single word  and amplified the resulting hullabaloo into a major case for argument due to his limited, unyielding, personal definition. The result of his making cow patties over what was essentially none of his business anyway not only speaks volumes more about his need to be superior, but unresolved issues with the word for him. When no one was buying into his proclamation about his singular expertise, he quickly took his toys and went home. He's more likely than not attempting to build himself a throne in someone else's sandbox as I speak.

So...Today's Passionate Pagan Problem was that  a popular occult figure in Salem  posted his preference to be referred to as a 'Warlock'. While this sets off bells and whistles for any number of people due to a supposed negative connotation, these same folks seem to forget that in a distant age and another world, the word witch created the same reaction. A decade later, we've not only reclaimed it, we've morphed it into something very nearly respectable in the mainstream- or at least less threatening ( My favorite bad pun regarding reclaiming that particular word  is that it's now less inflammatory to say you're a witch. Yes, I'm sure someone will be offended, but this is my blog, and if you do more than groan audibly at my tasteless jokes, I'll send my flying monkeys after you- cackle, cackle, snort.)

Back to my new friend Christian Day the Warlock...he knows about all negative stuff associated with the word and has set out to rehabilitate it. I applaud his effort in challenging stereotypes and courage in expressing his individuality, and just because there is so much confusion about the origin and use of the word, I hope he succeeds in his quest.I know many males who are uncomfortable calling themselves a witch, simply because it's so commonly identified by the well-meaning general public that a witch is  a female.The stereotypical Halloween witch, the witch who shoved Hansel and Gretel into the oven, the one who gave Snow White the poisoned apple, the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz-negative and positives-are all women. Men have enough to deal with identity-wise in some Pagan faith traditions because they have been assigned a role as  Consort to the Goddess, or viewed as somehow a less important figure.  Words certainly do have power, but only because we empower them; until then, they are like everything else we use in our practice-a tool. A word in and of itself does not have life or power until we connect it in someway with an emotion, and even emotions are limited to how we feel and not who we are. So if one of the gentry happens to come up with a comfortable descriptive term for themselves so they can stand apart from their sisters in the Craft, then I will support that. Even better if he manages to turn a negative into a positive, and even if it means going against tradition and better still if it is reclaimed from the realm of our collective unconscious- things need shaking up every now and then.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Perils of Potty-Mouth

I'll admit that I enjoy a good bit of 'blue' humor now and then...when the joke has a point and makes sense. The more ironic, the better. I'll also confess that what the younger crowd calls humor-and yes, I realize that I'm putting myself at risk of being called an old fart here- is absolutely lost on me. Maybe I'd understand if it were just a little bit funny and not so mean-spirited. Comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin made careers out of  being potty-mouthed, but the difference was they were funny, and the satire usually had a moral lesson to it.

Potty-mouth for the sake of itself just sends the message, " Look at me! I can use inappropriate language! I must be an adult!" Twenty and thirty-somethings that are still telling 7th grade level scatological or crude  jokes aren't amusing...but they are offensive, insulting and vulgar...and when we laugh along with the 'joke', the joke is really on us because either we're too squeamish to call them on their lack of common decency or showing our own deep level of ignorance. It's like when our Dad would tell an 'innocent' joke that included a racial or cultural slur: it's embarrassing, we'd rather forget it happened and wish we hadn't been in the room.
It probably wasn't told in 'mixed' company (so the delicate ladies didn't hear it), and there was certainly no one of the race or of that heritage in the room, so it didn't hurt anyone, did it? Guess what? Because everyone laughed at it once, Dad told it again, and again, and again...until someone of that group overheard the slur and the laughter...and it cut pretty deep.

The one I heard and objected to the other day was along slightly different lines and more of the' vulgar for the sake of getting away with being vulgar' variety. You know, the kind you'd probably recoil in horror at and ground your own kid for. It started out with someone dialing a wrong number, and the guy answering the phone getting annoyed and pissed off about it...(Not funny yet, right?)...The original caller saves the wrong number and decides it would be great sport to dial up the guy who got upset again, just to hear him rant and then....wait for tell him he was an asshole...(I'll bet you're waiting for the punch line now, huh?)...Well, the first guy now is congratulating himself on being so clever, that he continues to dial up the second guy occasionally to hear him rant and repeatedly tell him what an asshole he is....That was the punchline, you were supposed to be rolling on the floor about this by now because it was so hysterical. What? Did you fail to find the humor in this comedic masterpiece?

Me too.

Maybe it was good for a groan or a grimace the first time, but every time the featured act was committed, it began feeling more and more uncomfortably like an obscene, harassing phone call to me...which isn't funny. It's hateful, indecent, and illegal. Yet the Young One posted it for a laugh, and people did laugh...for what ever reason. I wasn't among them, so I guess I'm and old fudge. What was worse was that the background of this joke claimed it was from "the Forums", and if you're a Pagan, you know exactly what THAT means, don't you? Why it's that wild and crazy, unfettered, crude, indecent,vulgar, ignorant Pagan humor again...and if you're a Pagan, it's supposed to be at least funny because it's an inside joke among us...but what it actually does is circulate in the general public and shows everyone (and not just the fundamentalists who would be offended by anything we do) just how mean-spirited a group we can be as a whole. The sins of one visit many, and they not only visit, sometimes they move right in and we can't get rid of them, like most unwanted visitors. So it's just one more negative label on our community...and  we have no one else to blame, because we've earned it this time for not speaking out about the inappropriateness of it. Hey, we're Pagans, we don't answer to polite society, right? We can be just as crude as we want in public because we answer to no one...and then we stand around scratching our heads when others turn up their noses at us like they've smelled something bad.

I realize that the world is different than when I grew up: we're all different people. Hopefully we're better people. I don't live in a make believe world where everyone is nice to each other, but I don't see why we can't at least be as sensitive as we all think( and insist) we are and start with our language and how we express ourselves. Yes, I know this is a hot potato in Pagan forums and online networks, because hey, it's our heritage to be non-conformist...right? If we use proper grammar and good spelling, it will take away from our crude charm, won't it? We ain't got no stinkin' boundaries. Maybe we'll just fit right into the mainstream and be accepted...and we don't want THAT do we?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let's Shoot Cupid

Getting what he deserves

I say let's just shoot Cupid and give Valentine's Day back to the wolves...the annoying little bastard. He shows up every time this year with the expressed intent of  foisting " that loving feeling" on the general populace through the procurement of poor quality chocolates in tacky recycled cardboard boxes, plastic novelties ( most of which are down right embarrassing) and a peculiar awkwardness that takes most of us right back to that day in second grade at the moment when we realize that Bobbie Swartzenratt is the most beloved human in our immediate universe because he has all the punch out Valentine cards featuring Batman. I don't know about you, but I'm still recovering from all the emotional upheaval wrought by Santa Claus and his Merry band of Elves, and I am tired and want nothing more than to be left alone.  Valentine's Day has always been my least favorite holiday, even during the moments when there was a "special" someone in my life. I have nothing against Love and all it's feel good endorphins...Just Valentine's Day it's self, because it seems so contrived; in flies the midget with the bow and arrows, and we're all supposed to be instantly insane about someone, anyone...because no one is supposed to be alone on Valentine's Day. It's some sort of character flaw. I really find the whole forced " Show your love today" thing offensive...if you really care, then love me everyday. Be caring and faithful and accepting of my faults and take me warts and all...or go away, I don't need you or your extra baggage.( I know you're thinking, "What an attitude!"... I know.)

The first thing I don't like about Valentine's Day is how it's marketed. Sales start on December 26th, during the Yuletide season, which is 12 days, thank you very much. I want my Twelve Days of Christmas because it's traditional, the middle of the cold snowy season here in the Northern Hemisphere, and I'm freezing my butt off - I need something to make me happy because there are twelve more weeks of Winter. Never mind that the Christmas decorations go up in Macy's and Wal-Mart  two weeks before Halloween. Retailers are now determining the seasons of our lives, and I think we're getting what we deserve for letting the money changers into our Temple in the first place.The second thing is the gaudy red, neon pink and lavender decorations- cheesy heart and Cupid cutouts, lip prints, etc. which all seem to make the day into a holiday-themed French Whorehouse that has less to do with love than selling sex. Where did all those lace and ribbon trimmed boxes of candy go? The tasteful cards with rhyming verse? The roses? The sheer civility of it, for crying out loud...
Will you be my 'love puppy'?

February used to be the month of Lupercalia, the Wolf Festival to honor the she-wolf who mothered Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome.The festival replaced the even more ancient Februa, a time to prepare for the coming of Spring, from which we get the month's name. Lupercalia was observed for three days with the intention of purification from  evil spirits, to impart health and fertility and attended by Luperci, a priesthood known as the Brotherhood of the Wolf. Wolves are known to be very loyal to their partners, so I suspect this is where the 'love' element of the festival comes in ( You have to use a bit of imagination when you start researching these pre-Christian festivals because sometimes there is no more background than free association- " Hey, let's have it mean this, this and, oh, yeah, let's toss in this, too...").
I've heard an unsubstantiated story about the Lupercalia Lottery, where the town bachelors drew the names of eligible maidens into a hat and courted them for a year- but frankly, that's sounds more like a Beltaine story to me. In the years after the Christian occupation of Rome, the myth changed to a more chase version of the young men choosing the name of a saint to emulate for a year.

Who was Valentine, anyway? While he was trying to convince Rome's young nobleman to be more saintly, Pope Gelasis also declared the newly beautified saint  the patron of Lovers, and his day was to be held every year on February 14-you guessed it-right in the middle of  pagan Lupercalia. The official record on Valentine, as in the case of many of the lesser saints, has been spotty: he may have been a martyr during the reign of Claudius, but since he was a homeboy from Rome, he merited remembrance.The story about him marrying soldiers going off to war and pissing off Claudius enough to bring about his execution is a thing of legend-but it makes good press thousands of years later.On the other hand, he may not have existed at all and is another invention of the Vatican, who can always use positive PR. Valentine's Day lost it's steam for a few hundred years and fell off the public's radar during the Inquisition, which replaced lighting up one's life with the ever popular Burning Times.

Around the beginning of the Victorian era, Valentine's Day once again became the fashion, creating the recognizable cards and other fancy trinkets we associate with the subject.  The first Valentine's Day cards were actually small pamphlets printed with the intention of being sold to young men to give to the object of their affection. Coming right out as an admirer was considered uncultured, so one could tastefully slip a pamphlet to the young lady in question for her to read at her leisure. The pamphlets were soon shortened into cards, and printing houses learned that Victorian horniness could be a money making venture. In America, the first Valentine cards are attributed to etiquette consultant Ester Howland in the 1870's. Valentine's Day cards are second most mailed cards next to Christmas greetings.
Knows how to woo a gal, doesn't he?

When I was very young and not very sure of who I was, I was madly in love with much older man who was a graduate of an Ivy League school, and we had planned to marry soon after becoming engaged. I loved that he was seemingly never at a loss of what to do at the right time...until Valentine's Day rolled around. He made a reservation at a suave restaurant, ordered a fine wine with dinner,bought a pound box of handmade butter creams and a dozen of the most gorgeous red roses I've ever laid eyes on. The display of affection- in- overdrive was awkward for us both. We ate our fabulous dinner in silence, the only words spoken being when I thanked him for the candy and flowers. He talked to the waiter more than me...the smiles we exchanged were painfully stiff. This was a man whom I was enthralled with because at other times he was a wonderful conversationalist and storyteller, who was well read, well traveled and well bred. Because we were 'expected' by polite society to display  a particular contrived behavior for the occasion, not only did the spontaneity go out of the evening but the romance as well. We both went home alone. I ate half of the box of candy and spent over an hour phoning older friends about the care of the roses. I'd never given nor received roses in my life, but I knew there was a certain way of caring for them so they didn't just droop in the vase. The relationship survived two more Valentine's Days before we grew apart.

Enter February of 2006. I'd just come out of a rough period in my life and was scanning the newspaper because I needed a treat- maybe a play or a concert. Rick Springfield was in town,and I was momentarily seized by teenage lust for the guy who had been my virtual boyfriend substitute growing up. A quick call was made to the box office and a concert ticket purchased; the ticket agent told me that the florist shop in the lobby was providing discounted roses for all ticket holders for the show because Rick 'did something special with them'. I was just game enough to pony up the ten bucks for a few flowers for my old flame from the pages of Tiger Beat magazine.Besides, it was Valentine's Day weekend. I quickly found out what Rick did with the bouquets: he slammed them against the strings of his electric guitar in a frenetic, violent frenzy-causing them to 'explode' into the air, and rain down on the audience. The moment he got his hands on the bouquets of roses and had done his signature windmill move, I was covered in the petals of decapitated roses.The light filtering through them was amazing. They were in my hair and all around me ( and later I found some in my bra, although for the life of me I don't know how they ever got there!)...and in that moment, the absurdity of Valentine's Day vanished. I  learned a valuable lesson: don't save the roses to just admire, tear them apart and experience them. Let their color and fragrance rain down and enjoy their sacrifice. It's one of those frozen in time moments to enjoy. Don't be afraid to love somebody everyday ...and forget the neat little boxes we create for ourselves.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Fire in the Head

"A fire in the head": an ancient Gaelic saying that meant inspiration and passion. Art work shows many saints with a single flame above their heads, a singular sign of holiness that preceded the nimbus, or halo depicting one selected by God for greatness. Nowadays we say, " I'm fired up" and we link that to the spark that fires a combustion engine to start and run, that is, we get 'started' on something. The older saying has deeper meaning: a fire in the head relates to ancient Irish shamanic practice, where the fire comes from the gods and engulfs one in divine passion. Spiritual practice becomes ingrained with the soul, nothing interrupts the quest for knowledge and the love of the Divine, or the journey to the Place of Deep In-dwelling.

There I stood on a very cold Imbolc some 30 plus years ago on a beach, warmed by the fire in the head, during my Initiation to the Craft. I had dedicated myself at 17 after finding a copy of Earth Power by Scott Cunningham and hungrily devoured every word of every spell and ritual- my first experience with earth-centered spirituality in print. It validated what I had been doing as a child when I went off deep into the woods and sang to the nebulous Divine Other as I picked up stones and harvested a clip here and there of whatever was growing to take home. I collected all these things by instinct, not knowing what I'd do with them, but eventually I had a rather large collection of dried plants, stones, sand and other flora, and I trusted that the Universe would tell me what to do with all of it, and as it turns out, it did. I had a vague idea of what a spell was, that you wrote words of power and used the appropriate materials to make it so. The information in Earth Power, although wonderfully written, was limited. I wanted more; I needed to expand my practice because I knew that I wasn't at whatever destination I was headed for-yet. Finding what I needed to expand my practice took me through many occult books at the library ( mostly badly written and useless). Some of my friends were into an archaic form of pseudo Satanism, which I rejected out of hand, but the ceremonial magick of their ritual was of interest, so I read Crowley. The wordiness and obscure occult references confused me and I was bored by what I didn't understand because instinctively I knew it wasn't what I was looking for.In college I accidentally fell in with a couple of girls who were studying Minoan Witchcraft, and I joined them in open circles and rituals until I was eventually asked to become a member of their circle. That's how I ended up on the beach so many years ago, answering the questions of a Challenger during a very long, very cold Initiation ritual. I remember very little of it, frankly, other than it was damn cold and I was wearing a flimsy white granny dress and a cape made from a wool blanket; I nodded and responded in the appropriate places, they pricked my finger and took my measure and I was proclaimed a witch and given my name: "Ameth", Doreen Valiente's witch name-meaning "first"- and  "Jera", the Rune of Harvest and right actions, of peace on the land and in the heart. And I have been AmethJera ever since, the name chosen numerologically for me (which makes me a 9).

The euphoria didn't last very long, probably until I graduated and left New York City to return to my mundane life in suburban Delaware. There, miles away from my home coven and Craft sisters, I went back to my own personal way of doing things. Girl Scouts(and later, Boy Scouts) had been a great outlet for being close to Nature, and I became an adult leader in the Brownie and Junior troops I'd grown up in; I attended Edith Macy National Training Center and designed the original Be A Discoverer badge for nature exploration. Although I was a witch in my heart, I couldn't say it aloud, even though I knew I was being drawn toward something deeper and more spiritual. When the opportunity was presented to me to attend seminary through the Episcopal Church, I agreed, and the fire in my head grew luminous  through all the classes on ancient history, sacred texts, and liturgy...the Church's word for ritual. I loved the Liturgy and everything surrounding it; I reveled in the magick of the Eucharist and in incantations of the services for the Church Year. I was officially an ordained minister, but I felt more like a Priestess than a Rector and gravitated toward the Feminine Divine and away from the Father in Heaven. Jesus wasn't my Savior, but he was-and still is-an ascended master. I was learning about holy trinities that didn't include the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I discovered the Holy Ghost's name was Sophia...and I was called to my Irish roots by Brigid.

I don't remember a particular day when I decided to make the formal break with the Christian Church and  "take up the broom" for good, but I do remember going to my Bishop- a lovely, elderly black man - and telling him the whole story of how I felt about my spirituality and how I wasn't being honest with myself or the Church. Bishop Quentin sat silently weighing what I'd said, and instead of bringing the wraith of God down on me ( which I expected, along with expulsion from the Church) he said very quietly, " We all have a calling; yours is different because it transcends the limitation of our priesthood. You are no less a member of the priesthood, but it is a wider, more universal calling. You know that, and I think you should go what makes you happy and feeds your soul."

And...I did go, to follow the call of Brigid. The next few years were spent studying Irish history and Gaelic spiritual traditions and morphing it all into something that makes me feel whole and satisfied. I love the mystery of the Fae and the secret places, the power places and the connection to She With Many Names through Brigid. I can go to the Place of Deep In-Dwelling for my needs and concerns, and I learn patience and tolerance from the Fae and mystical creatures of the Other World which opens so many possibilities for me.

Here I sit at the keyboard in the company of the Goddess Brigid, she who exemplifies what is Irish in me; the patron of forges, poetry, and healing. It is once again Imbolc, and together we celebrate this fire festival in the lengthening days and returning warmth of the Sun, awaiting the birth of Spring, in anticipation of what the fire in the head may yet create in the nearing future.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

O Phil, Where For Art Thou..

That scion of seasonal divination, Puxatawney Phil, has decreed that we will have an early six weeks.

Our American Ground Hog Day is a variation of a ritual brought to this country by the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and North Carolina, and are known collectively as  Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, or 'Pennsylvania Dutch'( 'Deutsch' being an archaic English reference, not meaning the Dutch people of Holland) . Descendants of the 17th and 18th century immigrants are popularly associated with the Old Order Amish or Mennonites, but in actuality, only about a fifth of those settling in the verdant valleys of Pennsylvania were members of either religious sect.

With the Pennsylvania Dutch came their folk magick and superstitions, rendered most popularly in the painting of Hex Signs ( Hexen translates to 'Witch)on the sides and roofs of their barns to ward away malifica and faeries, in Pow Wow tradition witchcraft. Pow Wow, despite it's more familiar association with Native American culture, is a blended form of Christian and German shamanistic  folk magic, centering on healing and invocations and featured in John Holman's 1820's classic text  The Long-Lost Friend.  An endearing ritual practice in the Northern European countries where their ancestor's hailed was to watch for a groundhog leaving it's burrow during the mid-winter: no shadow meant an early Spring, seeing his shadow meant six weeks of continuing Winter.Some countries used other animals-bears, for instance. It was a time of returning light,warmth, and hope

The fact is, it's six weeks until the Vernal Equinox either way, and the official start of Spring.

Puxatawney Phil is by far the most famous of the weather prestidigitators; there are other who are pretenders to his throne, but they don't have the PR Phil has and have remained unknown. Puxatawney Phil is not only a tourist attraction, but a cottage industry as well. The members of the Puxatawney Groundhog Club are  Phil's guardians, and he is kept in style throughout the year, in his own very nice digs maintained by them. They have a website at , where you can find souvenirs, get travel plans and an idea of what there is to do in the town of Gobbler's Knob, PA where the most famous groundhog in the world lives.You can even send an ecard to your friends with his likeness and a verse on it. The locally owned Gardner Candy Company even has a chocolate version of Phil available for around $3.00 if you can't wait for the Easter Bunny. Every February 2nd the members of the PGC dress in formal top hat and tails,wax their mustaches, and  host a huge community breakfast... and then, in front of 40,000 fans and  local television crews, haul a kicking and squirming Phil out of his temperature controlled tree stump 'house' and hold him aloft to check for his shadow. It's a momentous occasion in the town of Gobbler's Knob, as one can imagine. I used to watch this live on Channel 6, the local ABC affiliate when I was a kid, and just like the Mummer's Parade, it is a Philadelphia area tradition, one I lost when I moved South and one I miss.