Saturday, December 27, 2014

Reflections From A Winter's Night

Getty Images
Staying connected is difficult these days. I can't always sit down at the computer when I want or need to, and of the times when I do I'm often besieged by someone else talking to me or wanting my attention. Unless I write in the middle of the night ( which is, truthfully, when I write my best) I am distracted by a bazillion things and pulled in several directions at once. I had good intentions when I signed up for the Pagan Blog Project 2014, but it seems I was always falling behind. Currently I'm so far behind that I'll never catch up. If I participate again this year, I'll have to start writing ahead to keep up with the schedule. " IF" is a big question right now: I like staying connected, and there are people who read Broom With A View at PBP who wouldn't see it otherwise.
It's never been about readership numbers with me; it's about connecting with others. ( It's the same  with my Twitter account. I've been better at keeping up this year, not great, but better).

I write when I have something to share. I'm awful at keeping to a set schedule or anticipated target. I may not feel like writing a post about the letter "B" during the week reserved for the letter "B", because I usually want to write about something else. It's a conundrum, a postulation that evades resolution.

So this year, I resolve to do better, which will probably last as long as most New Year's resolutions last. (The last time I checked, this was about the length of a chicken fart...pffft-all gone!) Here I sit, Janus guarding the threshold, still looking back on what's left of this year and straining to see into the near future.

Staying connected has not been my forte as of late. I usually love the Fall and Winter holidays. This year I feel like I've been coasting along, and I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's left me feeling dissatisfied with myself. Things are ringing hollow. I'm aware that some of this is situational. I'm still very much feeling like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole where I live and I don't believe that will change any time soon- or that it necessarily needs to change at all. If the Buddhist quote is correct and everything really is impermanent, then getting too deeply entrenched really is a waste of time and energy anyway. While I'm not always happy with the direction the flow is taking, I am wise enough to know that you cannot easily go against the direction of  the tide. Right now I'm just glad to be in the water at all. Hooray for the little things.

I'm still building my life here, brick by brick. There are days when it feels like I'm carrying all those bricks uphill. There are days I feel like I'm building the Pyramids. There are days when the bricks will not stay in the wall or my carefully laid foundation develops a crack. I am constantly going around slapping mortar into the holes to hold it all together. And I am mindful that sometimes a crack in the foundation is just a place for the light to shine through.

Like most Pisces, I do not do well with sudden change, particularly when it's not my idea. But the Universe continually changes, and sometimes no matter how dutifully you keep at your devotions or how many offerings you make, the Goddess smiles and gives you another serving of bitter herbs,
" Here, I know this is hard to swallow now, but you'll be stronger in the end.", She coos in Her motherly tone. And then when something awful happens- like  three of my favorite people dying in the span of four months- and I don't fall totally apart, I'd gladly accept another distasteful portion in gratitude for the strength of my spiritual beliefs because I know this time would not be something I could have gotten through with any form of sanity if I'd remained steadfast in my former monotheistic belief system. As a Pagan, my understanding of death is one of acceptance that the relationships are not lost but changed. There is still a strong bond and a connection with these people across the Veil.

Staying connected also means being mindful and practicing gratitude, being thankful for everything, even the not-so-good things. They say we are taught by everything, and intrinsically I know that's true. Still, there are days I would like to skip school and sit out the lesson. I know I can't ( suddenly the infamous line from the Eagles' song Hotel California is playing in my head," You can check out any time you like but you can never leave"). Sometimes its difficult to figure out which things are the good and which are the not-so-good. That's when another Truth comes into play: " It's all about your perspective."

Ah, perspective. I am not always aware of how relative perspective is to connection. Or maybe I am and I just forget. It's in our human nature to forget abstracts. It's also in our nature to forget what we don't wish to remember. This is why we need the quiet of Winter, where we can go inside ourselves and find all those things we've forgotten about or that have been pushed aside by the business of our lives. While the branches of the trees are bare and stark, the snow coats and softens all the sharp edges; it is so too on cold Winter evenings when we go deep within where our personal spark warms our spirit. I use this time for self examination, to heal my hurts, and to dream.

What do you do during these cold days and long Winter nights? Do you huddle close and shiver, or do you gather your spirit and prepare for new growth? 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Giving Thanks

Although Yule and Winter Solstice is still over a month away, Winter has  arrived in my sleepy little mountain town. The first snow to have 'stuck' is firmly glued to the ground, and a snowplow is dutifully making the rounds. School is on a two hour delay tomorrow morning. The " I saw a snowflake!" panic has begun. You'd think that people living in this region would be unflappable about this, being that we are in so remote a place and ( in theory, at least) weather changes are a minute by minute occurrence.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. The feeling of hometown America has all but been wrung out of the holiday this year, if you listen to all the talk on social media. Over at the Patheos website, Jason Mankey has written an article for his Raise the Horns blog aptly named "Killing Thanksgiving" []...and I agree completely. Thanksgiving is the single most wholly American holiday we share in this country, and yet we are allowing huge corporate businesses like WalMart and their ilk to dictate how and when we celebrate our family traditions. We have given them our personal power for a few dollars' discount on possessions.

All the warm fuzziness of the Waltons and Hallmark movies aside, there actually was a time when families came together- some members traveling long distances just for the occasion- to actually share a home cooked meal. In my house- and I know we were by no means unique- that gathering was a somewhat strained and teeth-gritting affair. Looking back I suspect we did it more out tradition than a feeling of family unity, but my personal contribution to the day was attending some sort of interfaith community Thanksgiving service where gathered to actually give thanks for all the good things in our lives and to recognize in public ritual that it was possible for the variety of religious traditions in the neighborhood to assemble in the same room without having a holy war. It was a quiet, humbling hour or so, when the world stopped and we huddled under the mantle of our personal idea of the Divine. "Raise the Song of Harvest Home" was sung lustily, although most of us had no real experience of living in an agrarian culture.

When I was a kid Thanksgiving was the start of the Christmas shopping season and not a day earlier.
There was usually a parade on the morning of Black Friday, then people went shopping in earnest in downtown or drove out to one of the malls. But Thanksgiving was always reserved for getting together and catching up with one another, preparing and eating a huge meal and then falling asleep in front of a football game on TV in a turkey/L-triptophan induced coma. ( I have a theory that the oil that burned in the lamps at Hanukkah was actually turkey grease because nothing last as long as turkey grease. If you've ever hand-washed dishes from a turkey dinner, you'll know what I mean- it will be spread all over every glass, fork and dish you touch).

Maybe I'm just a nostalgic sap, but I think Normal Rockwell got it right when it came to Thanksgiving. I wonder if he'd be painting families trekking off to the mall instead of gathered around a lace draped table, beatific faces shining, as they gazed upon the visage of Turkey Incarnate.
Somehow, that same family huddled in the food court outside of Macy's doesn't have the same effect or feeling.

On Turkey Day I will break out what's left of my thrift store silver plate and lay out a spread of food worthy of a photo shoot in a magazine. I will put Martha Stewart to shame. And all the effort will be worth it just to have that momentary feeling of connection and tradition. There will be no trip to WalMart on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, because I refuse to give over my personal power. I will refuse to cave into the pressure of advertisers and I will not be tempted to over-spend on tawdry gifts.

What I will do-after I degrease the kitchen and company has gone home-will be to fix myself a cup of hot tea and reflect on the past year and the harvest of my life. I will give thanks to the gods and goddesses of the soil and remember those who labor to tend the land. I will give thanks for having enough- enough food and material possessions, enough to be safe and comfortable through the cold winter months. I will think of the time when I didn't have my own home, and be mindful of those who are in the situation I was in just a few short years ago. I will sit in the darkness lit with a single candle and savor the warmth and the flavor of the cup in my hands. And I will be thankful.

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A House Warming Potion

1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp allspice
zest of 1 orange orange or lemon
three drop orange oil
1 cup of water
1 sprig of pine, cedar or juniper

Place all of the above in an enamel pan and simmer on the stove to release the fragrance throughout the house. Adjust the spices to your liking. Simmer for as long as you like, and store the cooled contents of the pan in a glass jar to be used again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Signs and Omens

Pagan Blog Project post for letter S

"Unless you people see signs and wonders," Jesus told him," you will never believe." John 4:48, New International Version Bible

"I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below..."
Acts 2:19
a, Revised Standard Version Bible

In the biblical account of Thomas meeting Jesus on the road after his death and resurrection and asking for proof that it is really him, Jesus obliges by letting Thomas put his hand into his crucifixion wounds and replies ( seemingly in exasperation), " Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed." Thomas needed more than merely seeing an apparition, he needed tangible proof to back up his spiritual beliefs. In my little part of Appalachia, there are certain churches of Pentecostal linage-namely the The Church of God with Signs Following-that practice snake handling, handling fire and drinking poison based on an interpretation of the following biblical passage:
"And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." [Mark, verses 16:17-18, King James Version Bible.] The rattlesnakes and copperheads used during these ecstatic religious extravaganzas don't always yield to will of the faithful, and every now and then someone sustains a serious bite and dies or expires from drinking a kerosene cocktail. The Bible also states that God will not be tempted or tested-so much for cherry picking scripture.

We humans don't seem to be very good at believing without seeing. We are always asking for tangible proof that things exist, particularly if the thing in question is outside of our  personal experience or comfort zone. Citing the verses at the beginning of this post, it seems we've been demanding proof since ancient ages, and perhaps, since the beginning of time itself.

We need proof of the gods' higher nature and claims of omnipotence. We demand proof of those claims through gloriously impressive events. Show me that you're who you say you are, and I'll believe. Give me proof. Usually the gods oblige us and send a lightening bolt or some tamer bit of proof of their divinity. Humans are cheeky beings: for not only do we demand this proof once, we keep at it over and over. It's not that we forget, it is that we're all doubters at heart. It's not that we don't want to believe-we just need proof to satisfy ourselves.

Indigenous peoples have worked with and held the belief in signs and omens for millennia. Like many modern Pagans, they believed that this was the way Nature communicated with us. Those signs and omens may not be as dramatic as the lightening bolt but just as powerful: a song may come on the radio which is the answer to a question you asked about a relationship, conversation with a stranger may give you a new view point that leads to a breakthrough, a hawk suddenly swoops down out of no where and guides you along a road. It could be something as simple as the tiny white feather that always fell from the sky when Forrest Gump questioned the Universe. Albert Einstein reminds us that "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous";this was not the great scientist speaking religiously,but saying that reality is truly mysterious. Einstein had an abiding love of the mystery of Nature, and his way of framing that was to personalize Mystery in a way others could relate.[Religion as Art Form: Reclaiming Spirituality without Supernatural Beliefs,Carl L.Jech,
Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2013.]

Signs often make themselves known in dreams. If you've been having a dream where a theme specifically repeats, or if a particular item keeps showing up in different dreams, then that item can be taken as a sign. Some signs are actually created in the subconscious and appear in dreams as a message for the dreamer to pay attention to the meaning of such an item. The meanings in dreams are not set in stone; one dream dictionary may list a differing  description than another. Because the meanings of dreams are explicit to the individual, you may be left guessing as to the actual meaning of a dream sign.

Omens are a little looser in definition and their meaning may vary by culture. The appearance of a black animal portends an unlucky event in some European cultures, but the appearance of a white animal will mean the same thing in a few Asian cultures. ( The Chinese believe that a black bat is a sign of wealth.) A butterfly entering the house portends the visit of an important individual; in other cultures it represents rebirth. The place you are located contributes significantly to means.

Working with signs and omens means paying attention to your surroundings; they are to be found everywhere.

All Hallows Eve: The Blessing of Every Soul

The other day I came into a discussion posted by a friend whose daughter had come home from CCD class upset because her teacher told the class that animals had no souls and when they died that was it...Kitty wasn't going to be joining them in heaven. A pretty heartless thing to tell a little girl especially in light of the fact that the elderly family feline had to be euthanized a few weeks ago and the grief is still fairly fresh. While I'm sure this teacher was only trying to relay the scripted answers and not deviate from the dogma of the Church written by Old White Men centuries ago was teaching from the approved syllabus, I fail to fathom was actually gained by coldly telling a child who was still in the process of mourning that her soul-less pet no longer mattered. It's not that she actually said anything wrong, because that's the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on the nature of the soul. ( And they are not alone, many Protestant Christian Churches share the same dogma.) This belief is based on the principle that all living things have a soul, and when that thing dies, the soul is separated from the body. In the case of humans the soul continues to exist because it is immortal because it is the seat of reason and intelligence, and therefore responsible for their actions. Animals, it is believed, have a different kind of soul because they do not share the intelligence that humans-made in the image of God, according to the creation story in Genesis. They are not self aware, and they act without conscience. They are not responsible for their actions. They choose neither God's will, nor their own.

I will debate most of the above until the day I die, despite my holding degrees in both theology and psychology, because deep in the place where I hold reason I know from personal experience that this bit of religious teaching is untrue. To begin with, dogma is man made written by Old White Men in long robes in the  age of ignorance.

Dogma is a creation of humans and not Deity.
  It is a set of principles written by religious authority who hold it to be true. In other words,dogma is nothing more than the opinion of a particular set of individuals given authority by a specific religious body which is based upon the sacred text of their group. Therefore, depending upon my own religious beliefs, I can argue that this particular dogma is right or wrong...or, because I am not a member of a particular religious group I can totally ignore the dogma because I am in no way bound to that belief system.

Oh, but wait...does an animal's ability to relate and seemingly to communicate with humans mean that the animal possesses an immortal soul which will survive after death? Most theologians will say no, and I will still argue the point despite the Biblical pretense that humans are superior to animals and have dominion over them, and here is why: animals are mentioned by both the prophet Isaiah and The Apostle John in regard to the new heaven and earth, after the Rapture. Isaiah 65:25 says, "The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox,but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord." John goes on to mention Christ and the armies of heaven "riding on white horses" (Revelation 19:14) Clues from the Bible about what actually goes on in heaven or the afterlife are sketchy at best.

And while you are sitting there with your eyebrow raised, consider this little twist: according to the Messianic law, Jesus had to die to save the souls of humans alone. And why is that? Because animals, which still received the breath of God during the creation story, are true to their nature, act without malice, and are, in fact innocent of the sins of humans...they did not require redemption, because animals are without sin in the eyes of God. By this time I think it's a bit like going in and bayoneting the wounded after the war, but I'm going to also point out to all those learned folk who dare to suppose themselves to be experts on the nature of God (that's what theology means) that the only creatures that disobeyed God and were put out of the Garden of Eden were the humans. The Creator did not kick out any cows, chickens or goats. Even the serpent was allowed to stay. The Bible says plenty about which humans aren't going to heaven, but there is no mention of animals. To say that no animals will be in heaven is an assumption and the opinion of the humans who wrote it all down. There is no comment from God on the subject, and maybe for a good reason: it's a moot point.

It has been over a decade since I was the caretaker of an animal companion, but there are things I will never forget. I will never forget the look of understanding in my cat Tinker's eyes when I needed to vent or cry, and that she often reached out to comfort me with a paw on my hand or face. I will never forget the look of fear when I yelled at her over something, or the joy she shared when we played together, or how she rolled around at my feet or called out to me when I came home from work. There was a wise old soul in her, and maybe she didn't have the same reasoning as a human, but there was something there knowing and holy in those green feline eyes. She instinctively knew when things were good and when things weren't going well. I saw that. Those eyes told me when she became old and sick, and when the life we shared became too much. They were the same eyes that told me when it was time to let her go, and that she would be fine wherever her journey across the Veil took her. People who know me know that I'm logical and a rational thinker and that I'm not prone to flights of the imagination; I know this about myself as well. So on the nights I have felt four little feet gingerly walk across the blanket and that small form curl up in the band of my knees, I don't believe for one minute that it's my imagination playing tricks on me. I have been wide awake when a strand of my hair has been pulled across the pillow by an invisible paw. Theologians be damned. They will never convince me otherwise.

We don't know what actually happens in the afterlife and we don't know the true will or mind of the gods. Perhaps will never know until we ourselves cross the Veil. I believe there are things purposely left unsaid by the God of Our Understanding for us to experience, believe and have faith in. Mystery is supposed to be just that, despite what is written long ago by Old White Men in long robes.  I have more faith in what comes from the Place of Deep Indwelling than in books of sacred texts.

At that still hour during the darkness on Samhain that the Ancestors cross the Veil to come back to join the living, there will be photos of all my animal companions ( with Tinker front and center) on my altar right beside my friends and relatives. Right where they should be.

Blessings to all of us- animal and human- on All Hallows Eve. Let us share another supper that night  together on this night outside of time, at a table which knows only the boundary of love, with a bounty that comes from the heart.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


I want these and I don't even have a lawn!
At some point I'll get back to writing for the Pagan Blog Project. It's a project I believe in and like to contribute to, but there are times when I want to write about other things and those things may not fit into the after taking a hiatus, I'm easing myself into the discipline of writing specifically with the intention of  teaching.

Besides, it's THAT time of the year, and I'm feeling witchy.

Not that I'm a part time witch or anything, but as the nights lengthen and become cooler, the colors become vibrantly alive, my mood shifts're probably already familiar with the feeling yourself, or you wouldn't be reading this blog in the first place. ( Yeah, I'm looking at YOU. Yes, you know who you are. The one pretending not to like those Gummy Mummies candies. Or that nifty witch's hat that you know is only part of a costume, except the silly purple silk flowers and all that fluffy netting is strangely attractive.)

At the first sign of orange and black at WalMart, Andy Williams  singing " It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" echoes in my head. I go window shopping just to see the kitschy witchy stuff because it makes me feel good and makes me happy. Damned if I know why. Maybe it reminds me of my childhood or something. I've dragged out the storage totes and have begun to distribute my Halloween collection around the apartment with the precision of a curator mounting an exhibit. My Ancestor Altar will go up last-I'm still designing it in my head. I'm making a black satin altar cloth and would love to fringe the edges with beads, but finances being what they are presently, that will be a future project. The Ferryman has been busy this year: there are three new photos to add to the ones I normally use. While I'm sad these individuals are no longer in this life, I'm filled with hope that they have crossed the Veil and dwell in a place of wholeness and peace because I know they will be there to greet me when my time comes to stand on the edge of the precipice and take that first unsure step into the next life. Until then, I will continue to celebrate their crossing by honoring their memory.

Living in the mountains again is a wondrous adventure. I surprise myself sometimes at what I learned when I was living part-time out West in the Rockies. Being here in Appalachia in such a remote place is sometimes a trial when we are totally cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice. I begin to stock up on food and necessities well before the weather turns and the leaves fall because living here requires a certain amount of forethought and preparation. It's just a part of existing in this part of the country, and I'm still amazed and a little smug when some of my neighbors-who have lived here far longer than I-are taken by surprise by Nature's little forced time-outs and left without. Perhaps it's because I've acquired the needed skills from years of Scouting, or because my chosen spiritual path has put me in closer understand to the way nature works, but I view the required effort as nothing more than the change of the seasons-it's just what you do. Despite the economy being depressed, there is always plenty of food available. You may want for other things, but there is always something to put on the table: it may not be exactly what I want, but I will not starve. The roof I have over my head is once again my own (thank Hestia,Vesta and St. Jude!) For now, in this place it is bittersweetly enough. For Today, I'm content to watch the leaves fall and be grateful for another chance to see Autumn's splendor. Tomorrow, I will get serious and get back on track with writing for others...but Today...This day is mine.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Early One Almost Autumn Morning

This morning I got up before dawn. To be truthful, I am a night person and rarely get to bed at what genteel persons call a civil hour, so being up at dawn for me is notable. I had made a pot of coffee , took a shower, dressed and was sitting on the balcony listening to the gentle rain and bird calls well before the sun came up over the mountain our building backs up to.

The heavy silver mist hung over the buildings and trees like a gossamer veil this early post-Lughnasadh morning. On the way to town yesterday morning, I noticed some round bales of hay in the fields and a few browning leaves, but otherwise the summer isn't ready to let go here. It's been an unseasonably cool summer with a few truly cold nights-not that I mind. The tourism folks tout the " natural air-conditioning" of this part of the Appalachians, and  have christened the nearby town of Bluefield as "Virginia's Tallest Town". If and when it ever gets up around 90 degrees, all the local businesses give away free water and lemonade; they luck out because it seldom does.

The crows were rather active this morning. Their infernal cawing drowned out the songbirds(but not the damned locusts!) They wheeled and swooped over the trees and an abandoned house, sounding off every time one of them was lifted by a thermal; a companion would immediately answer in the distance. They disappeared quickly into the trees when the rain picked up.

I love the smell of rain and wet greenery, and I love to sleep by the sound of rain falling. Nothing kept me from laying down to indulge in this favorite pastime, so I did...and instead of dozing, my mind began to wander...I haven't planned anything special for Mabon, but today I will bake bread, I will strip the husks off the ears of corn I bought for dinner and make corn dollies out of them, I will clean through the apartment and dowse it for 'stuck energy, then smudge everything with sage and sweetgrass...and then, only then, will I feel ready to welcome the coming harvest season. One of my favorite things about living in this part of the country is that we actually do have four distinct seasons; so this will be a Summer Harvest of apples and garden vegetables. In just a few weeks, the whole community will become as much like Norman Rockwell's America as we can muster in a place where a duck walking across the street can cause a traffic jam. On Labor Day weekend, what few railroad workers and coal miners left among the living will celebrated their contribution to local heritage with a march down Center Street, and listened to old-fashioned political stump speeches and then shared a free ham and brown bean dinner. Only in small town America, folks.

Raise the song of Harvest Home! These words have always held special meaning for me, much more so after 20+ years as  Pagan. It's not just the seasonal shift, but the mental one- from urgency and growth to relaxing into who I am and have become. I do 'magickal' things now without the tools and often by second nature. If I'm making an incense or charm for a specific purpose, I will sort through my herbs and stones and mix them intuitively. Upon later examination, I find I have chosen ingredients with the correct correspondences without consulting one of the many books. Kitchen Witch. Hedge Witch. Labels for a reality I now claim without much fuss. I am so used to referring to myself as a Witch now that I will toss the word out in general conversation without much thought that I can shift into my elevator speech about what that means without the other person having enough time to bat an eyelash...and explain it in such a way that it is acceptable. That's one of the beauties of living in Appalachia...We're rather fond of our granny women, root workers, hedge witches and common parlance doctors.

Raise the song of Harvest Home! The leaves have begun to take on color in the cooler nights; right now most of them are a yellowish green, but in a few weeks they'll be orange and red. This afternoon, someone decorated all the telephone poles with corn stalks and big orange bows, and scarecrows are beginning to pop up around town. The grocery stores are stocking field pumpkins to be turned into jack-o-lanterns. Dollar Tree has the largest selection of Halloween merchandise that I've seen in years. Our Summer hasn't been overly hot or humid, but I think we all need the change and to move on. Where has the year gone? Here, to Autumn.

Mabon has always been an awkward holiday for me, sandwiched between Lughnasadh and Samhain as it is. What do we do? We celebrate. At Lughnasadh we celebrate the Harvest; at Mabon we celebrate the turning season and at Samhain we celebrate Life and Death. It is that simple. We celebrate where we are and the fact that we've gotten here at Mabon, sans the mythology. We celebrate change and newness. We know that the time is short and the year is dying around us, but the trees have changed their colors and the nights are crisper, and we feel a certain urgency to complete whatever it is we were doing during Summer so that we can embrace what is coming. The Veil is slowly opening, it's edges billowing toward this world. The wisp of cool air makes us shiver and draw our resolve around us, and we wait for....what we do not know. The beauty of Mabon is not knowing what will happen when the nights begin to lengthen and darkness gathers earlier and earlier.
The beauty of Mabon are the candles we light and the cups of warmth we share. The beauty of Mabon is being suspended between Summer and Winter, of being between the worlds. That is the magick of the season.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blessed Journey Margot Adler...

I often say that it was Scott Cunningham who gently lead me to formulating my individual template of spirituality, but it was Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon that made me proud to join the ranks of Paganism.

The granddaughter of famed psychotherapist Alfred Alder, was no doubt influenced by his views on metaphysics. Her version of what it was like to be a Pagan meshed with his understanding of the natural world and it's place  in personal individuation.

On NPR, Margot Adler was the voice of reason on All Things Considered; she often interviewed  on the 'man on the street', and was expert at presenting the plight of everyday people.

Jason Mankey over at Patheos wrote a wonderful blog about Margot Adler, which I'm sharing here:

Blessed Journey, Margot. Thank You is not enough.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Masks- Sacred Conduits To The Soul

In the movie "The Mask", Jim Carrey's character Stanley Ipkiss finds an ancient mask belonging to the god Loki and upon donning the face covering takes on the characteristics of a trickster. His true identity concealed, Ipkiss is free to do and say anything he wishes, no matter how outrageous. He is magically transported to a place of unbound reality by the mask he wears.

Wearing a mask transforms the wearer into something or someone other than himself. The individual is taken from the realm of the impossible to the realm of the impossibly real. Rather than concealing the individual's persona, it transcends convention and frees him.

Psychologists such as C.G. Jung believed that the mask connected the wearer spiritually to an archetype and the powers it represented. Masks are conduits between the mundane and the sacred. Ancient Greek actors were masters at this when they donned their theatrical masks. In doing so they instantly became something Other.

John Denver's mask 
The symbolism of masks culturally vary: it may represent a character in a story, an animal, a spirit, or a demon. Masks allow the wearer to psychically shapeshift. Masks are also canvasses to the soul. The mask pictured at left was created by singer John Denver a couple of weeks prior to his tragic death, for The Mask Project. The neutral background-a muted bronze-is a spectacular foil for the blossoming tree which appears to be split in two. The two halves of the tree sprout from the same trunk, but it appears to be gloriously full on the right (creative) side, and slightly less so on the left (logical) side. There appears to be a tear in the right eye, which is smaller. The larger left eye is partly in shadow. Below the lips, there is  a bouquet of blossoms and a heart, the combination of the internal and external personalities. At first glance, the bright colors and flowering branches of the tree denote a rich beauty; upon further examination, however, things aren't quite as they seem. The left side of the face is subdued and darker. The rich beauty still exists, but it is not as ebullient as it appears at first. John Denver's music was for the most part upbeat and positive, it spoke of hope for the future. Denver's off stage personality was essentially as he presented himself on stage, only a bit quieter and deeply introverted. His first wife, Annie, said he was a complex man, and he was...but no more so than others. Knowing him as I did, I believe this complexity was more apparent because he worked so diligently at internal self-realization that it showed on the outside.

I participated in a workshop on individuation where all the participants made masks of their own characteristics. (Most arts and crafts stores carry blank masks and all the materials to make one.) You can also use a white paper plate cut to fit. Another time we made a mask of someone else in the group portrayed as a god/goddess. I think you'll find the results surprising either way!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Unexpected Visit To Avalon...

This was not the blog I expected to write tonight. Honestly, I never dreamed I would be writing this at all. At least not today.

My friend Arthur died sometime during the past week. We aren't sure when it happened. When he didn't show up at work and his family lost contact with him, the police were called to check on him at his apartment, and he was found in his bed. We are still awaiting details and  a reasonable explanation for his death.

Arthur and I met during our first heady days on Pagan Space, when we were each trying to connect with real people in our area just for coffee,conversation and validation that neither of us were crazy to believe in the power of magick. We had chatted back and forth online for about a year and actually knew each other pretty well  before we finally met at Magic Mushroom late one afternoon for pizza. I senses we were both a little nervous about that first meeting, but once we were happily munching away, it was like we'd been old friends forever. Because of our online friendship we both were pretty certain the other wasn't an ax never know. Sitting outside near a busy street late on a Friday afternoon just as everyone was getting out of work seemed pretty safe. The conversation and coffee (later,when we'd adjourned next door to Starbucks) flowed freely. We hated to say goodnight, and in fact, we were back online chatting away later that evening. It wasn't that we were infatuated with one another, it was that each of us had finally found someone to connect with who shared similar backgrounds in our spiritual journey, and who had similar tastes in...well...just about everything. Books. Music. Theater. Art. We'd both come out of the Episcopal Church and found we had many mutual friends. Individually, we'd explored Buddhism and still kept Buddhist principles. And the best part was we had the male/female polarity thing going with no sexual baggage.

We spent a lot of time together the first couple of years after we met: we went to rituals and festivals, worship services, art shows and recitals.We haunted Barnes and Noble. We spent hours on the phone discussing philosophy and religion, the latest missive by (the former)Teo Bishop, and which occult books we thought were a waste of paper and ink. We wrote liturgy and rituals together. Arthur was in many ways more than a friend; he was my brother. We came to be close enough to be able to finish one anothers' sentences and thoughts...and I was heartbroken when I finally decided ( with Arthur's encouragement) that I had no other choice than to move out of the area to seek better health care and housing options. It was not a choice I made lightly; the majority of people I hold dear live in North Carolina. Arthur reluctantly gave me his blessing-and wrote my character reference/letter of introduction to the housing manager for my new digs.

I was now two and a half hours and two hundred twenty something miles away by car, but only a few minutes away by phone, but we kept up on our magickal and mundane lives. Arthur promised to visit when he had a few days to get away. Last year, the holidays had been difficult because I was still very much alone and missing him; we'd made it a habit to spend most holidays together. I was looking forward to welcoming him to my new home and sharing a meal at my table. We talked about making a trip to Asheville-a place I adore, and as it turns out, just happened to be his birthplace. At some point there was a Rick Springfield concert in our future because Arthur was a closet RS freak and wanted his copy of Tao autographed.

In the space of a breath, it was all gone.

My friend, priestess and sister Laurel, herself still in shock, private messaged me on Facebook last night with the news," I don't know a whole lot yet, but please hold Arthur in the light. He died in his sleep..." I immediately called Laurel because I needed to connect and hear her voice. We spoke briefly in quiet voices, two priestesses midwifing this death. Laurel's mother, our Elder and Crone Priestess, felt that Arthur was waiting for us because we didn't know he'd gone. And she's right: that would be like him, he wouldn't just leave us alone.He would make sure we were alright. If nothing else, as a consummate Southern gentleman, he would not take his leave without a proper farewell. I spent a little time grieving with other friends online, then made some coffee and headed out to one of the back balconies of my apartment complex to watch the full moon rise over the mountain and cry in private.
While there I wrote a few words to release Arthur's spirit and help guide him on his journey.

Step into the boat
The Ferryman has been paid
With the tears of those who love you.
Should you hear weeping
Do not turn back-
Sail on and do not stop.
The Ancestors await
Your arrival in Avalon.
The Veil between us closes for now...
Farewell, Arthur!
We who have loved you
Wish you a good journey home. 

Life is impermanent. Dying is inevitable. That is the truth that transcends every religious tradition and indeed is the only thing that is a given in our earthly existence. We are born and die: what happens in between is pretty much up to us. Arthur chose to be humble, gracious and loving. He lived a life of service faithfully to the Immanent Divine and his brethren as druid, priest, teacher and friend to all kindred. He will continue to live on in memory with us until we meet again.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Full Moon, Friday 13th...

It's a Full Moon on Friday the 13th and Mercury is retrograde...and if Nature plays a wild card, we may also get a solar shock wave. This is either a rare occurrence- or not- depending on the source; the next Friday the 13th in June will be 2049.

Of course, for witches, the Full Moon is always something to celebrate: the lunar cycle is at it's peak and the Moon (and all goddesses and a few gods) are at their full power. We look to the night sky, and that wondrous orb bursts through the clouds and shines down on earth, and instantly, everything illuminated by its light seems extraordinary and magickal. It's as if there's a crack in the heavens and the light of the Goddess can no longer be contained. As we draw Her down into ourselves, our union with her is its most complete; we are subject to oneness with Luna, Diana, Selene, Artemis, Hecate and many many more. The moment of communion with the Goddess of the Moon is all at once heady, exhilarating, spiritually expanding and humbling.

The Full Moon is considered by some to be the best day for magickal endeavor. Many Pagan traditions and solitaries perform rituals at the Full Moon for a wide range of results: increased prosperity, healing, peace and spiritual matters. For groups, it's a time to socialize and combine their personal power toward the common good. Historically, there are thousands of tales about the Full Moon which criss-cross as many cultures.

 Likewise, Friday the 13th is a day of power for a different reason: the date mostly has a negative association. While credible history about this negative association is sketchy, folklore abounds: the number 13 is unlucky because with the addition of Judas there were 13 guests at the Seder (aka the Last Supper) Jesus hosted just before his betrayal and crucifixion on the following Friday; the downfall of Adam and Eve, the day Abel slayed his brother Cain, and the day the Great Flood began all supposedly took place on a Friday; persecution of the Knights Templar began on a Friday the 13th; many beliefs from the Medieval period linked witches and their covens and the Devil with the number 13 and or Friday. An ancient Norse myth about 12 gods having a feast disrupted by the mischievous god Loki ( the 13th,uninvited guest) resulted in the death of Balder the god of joyfulness, which caused a pall of darkness to fall over the earth-hence the connection to the day being ominous. Many of the superstitions concerning the number 13 have their roots in the fact that the number 12 was supposed to be the 'perfect' or most sacred number-adding one more upset the balance. ( Taking this into consideration, you would think that a 'baker's dozen', which is 13 doughnuts instead of 12, would be a good thing,right? Wrong! That 'extra' doughnut might just be the way the baker gets rid of stale doughnuts!)

The truth is that we make Friday the 13th into a 'bad' day because of what we choose to believe about the day. It is the negativity we cast onto the day which makes it foreboding. In reality, it is no better or worse than any other day. Humans love to create stories to justify things we don't understand or when we want and explanation for our fears. It is habitually our nature to support and lend credence to our feelings in this way. We trip over the cat on a Tuesday, and suddenly Tuesday is a bad day to leave the house or the cat is out to get us.

Donald Dossey,PhD, a folklorist and author of "Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun" [Outcome Unlimited Press,1992], is the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina. He believes that the negative psychological associations of the number 13 and Friday were combined into one single superstition over the years.[]

The psychological term for a fear of Friday the 13th - 
friggatriskaidekaphobia-originating from a combination of the name of the goddess Frigga (for whom Friday was named) and the Greek term for fear of the number 13. In some individuals, this fear is so strong that it causes everything from avoidance measures to panic attacks. Dr. Dossey has also observed that more than 80 % of buildings lack a 13th floor, and that other building have no room numbered 13. As a practicing psychologist, Dossey observes that the fear associated with the day is irrational and avoidable...he also offers a couple others (new to me) from the annals of folk lore: climbing to a height and burning all the socks you own that have holes in them; or standing on your head and eating a piece of gristle. ( I guess the lucky part of the last one is not choking to death!) 
As Witches and Pagans we have no fear of these  tales: they are simply interesting old stories. and as much as it is fun to make light of these things, our true magickal power comes from within ourselves and the connection with the Divine source in Nature. We overcome external influences which truly are the things of superstition through the application of this power to change consciousness at will, and therefore change out outlook from a negative to a positive one. Doing this can make a Full Moon on a Friday the 13th-even one during which Mercury retrograde takes place-into one of the most beautiful and meaningful of the year.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kything-The Loving Presence

Madeleine L'Engle

Originally posted to the Pagan Blog Project 2014,Week K

"My heart is a kything place where we ever meet."

                                                                - Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional

Kything is commonly defined as an act of spiritual presence or contacting another through telepathic means. My first experience with kything came through reading Madeleine L'Engle's books A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. She explained that she found the word kythe in an ancient Scottish dictionary belonging to her grandfather, and that the word meant " to make visible". L'Engle was a stoic Episcopalian who promoted Universalism; in the liberal Anglican Communion, she is considered as a modern mystic.  The ultra conservative branch of the Church attempted to have her branded as a heretic.  I met Madeleine L'Engle on a red eye flight to Denver, Colorado in September of 1979; we were both on our way to volunteer at the Episcopal Church's General Convention. In the wee hours of a cold Wednesday morning,we had to change flights and found ourselves walking the entire length of the Kansas City airport concourse in search of an unlocked ladies room. By the time we'd used the facilities and found  a cup of hot coffee, we were engaged in an animated, thoroughly enjoyable conversation and had solved most of the world's ills. I was 23 and clueless that I'd just spent two hours in a private audience with one of the world's most famous authors. We had lunch a couple of times over the course of the convention ( by that time I realized who she was) and before we parted company she personalized a copy of A Wrinkle in Time for me and included her mailing address, so we could keep in touch.

One of those things we talked about was the communication of one person with another on the astral plane by kything. L'Engle believed it was possible to "know the mind and emotions of someone with whom you have an existing close bond", such as a sibling or a lover or a special friend...all you had to do was quite your mind and visualize that person in your third eye. It helped if you had something that you had received from the other to hold because it made the connection stronger. It was also easier if the person you were attempting communicating with was also thinking of you at the same time-the connection was quicker and more vivid. A few years later when I began to study the Craft, I realized that kything is a form of sympathetic magick.

Caitlin Matthews presents a lovely, simplified version of kything a loved one in her inspiring book Celtic Devotional. The method she uses is a visualization ritual sent out as a heart-level prayer. during the process you envision little things about your loved one: the crinkly smile lines around their eyes, the roundness of their lips and brightness of the eye. It is a wonderfully lyrical experience.

I learned another version of kything during a discussion of the book "Kything,the Art of Spiritual Presence" by Louis M. Savary and Patricia H. Berne [Paulist Press, 1989] at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, NC. Although Savary, a former Catholic pries,t and Berne, a clinical psychologist, use L'Engle's work as a foundation to teach  meditation and contemplative thought as a way to open the individuals insight through a conversation with the higher spiritual self, I found the writing and cumbersome language stereotypical to that of the 1980's New Age Movement. There are also several things that bother me about their approach, even though empirical information from various controlled experiments dot the pages of this book. Specifically, the wordy psychobabble and clinical feel- even though the book is presented under the genre of spirituality; contradictions concerning techniques (first the authors attempt to explain the technique of "grounding" as being "present to the self", then a paragraph or two away saying that grounding  prior to kything is not key to making successful contact. I think the thing that disturbs me most is the statement that if you don't know what the person looks like that you're kything you should visualize an image that represents them. It begs me to pose the question of why you would be kything someone you don't really know...and  feels slightly like an invasion of privacy- more of it being like remote viewing that connecting at a spiritual level.
[] Personally, I prefer the original concept by Madeleine 'LEngle and the technique suggested by Caitlin Matthews because they keep the feeling of kything being a sacred spiritual act in balance, making it more than just ESP/mental telepathy. The former is an invitation to spiritual union, the latter sounds more like generalized mind reading wrapped in New Age contrivance.

For further reading:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Low Magick

Image via Google Search
(Originally posted to the Pagan Blog Project 2014 as Week L)

>Because I have an ethical obligation by law, I'm including a disclaimer that any of the material in this post which alludes to folk magic/medicine should not be used as a substitute for medical care or in the treatment of any type of illness, and make no claims as to its effectiveness.The reader bares sole responsibility as to the use any material contained in this post at will.<

I was excited to make the move to Southwestern Virginia last year because I knew I would be living in Appalachia, and I grew up reading the Foxfire Series of books. Foxfire, if you're not familiar, originated as a project for English teacher Eliott Wiggington's high school English class in Raburn Gap, Georgia in the 1970s. The project sent students out into the community to interview their elders about life in Southern Appalachia, and what resulted was a wonderful collection of personal recollections about the culture,crafts, skills and lifestyle; the information also included narratives about religion, faith healing,planting by the signs (moon cycles), ghost stories, folk lore, folk medicine and subjects covering a wide variety of 'cunning folk' knowledge woven through the pages. While I can wax poetic about the beauty and natural wonder of these mountains, the hard reality is that there is a lot of poverty here, and has been for decades. For every verdant valley and rolling hill crest, there are dozens of dilapidated and decaying buildings leftover from the period when coal was king and the next boom town was just over the ridge. Around every curve of the two lane highway into the next largest town there are the bones of ancient houses and trailers, and some pretty creative architecture which include lean-tos, and old buildings nailed together with sheets of plywood. There is beauty where Nature has taken over the dying man made structures of a bygone era, but a lingering sadness, too.

In these places, the 'cunning folk' and 'granny women' still reside; they tend their gardens and guard their secrets with an admirable tenacity from outsiders like you and me. They don't trust us, and with good reason. For the most part, outsiders mean trouble: there is always someone from Social Services or the County Government on the doorstep telling these gentle folk that their way of life-the only one they've known for the most part-is unacceptable by today's standard. Either their yard is overgrown and unkempt or the house considered uninhabitable by current standards: conform or loose your land, your roots and your family history. There are instances where generations of a particular family has lived and died in the same place for generations, and the land has become saturated with their living essence, along with the spirit of those who came before. Appalachia may be financially poor, but it is historically rich beyond our wildest dreams for those who seek out "the old ways". The Craft is threaded through the fabric woven by the Scots, Irish, English, Italians, Hungarians, Polish and other Eastern Europeans who made their way her to work in the coal fields in the mid 1800's. If you look even deeper, you can glimpse a bit of  Native American and African influence. []

Low Magic is very practical. Unlike Ceremonial or High Magic ( The spelling of magick is rumored to be first used by Aliester Crowley to differentiate between slight of hand and occult ritual. It's a tradition that I occasionally use out of habit because it was used by my teachers. Auto correct hates it.  Popular author and Witch Elder Laurie Cabot spells it majick. I use both of the well-know spellings interchangeably because I think the intention is more important than the window dressing.) The specifically prescribed tools of Ceremonial Magick are not found in Low Magic: whatever is available is used by the practitioner. It is not uncommon for these people to be practicing Christians as they see their magic as a spiritual gift and to them "gifts of the spirit" are all the same. There are particular methods employed by these healers, such as "stopping blood"," blowing thrash", which are in effect forms of faith healing. These methods are not exclusive to Appalachia,and are often taught across generations to those who have the gift. (The first Foxfire book explored these phenomena  extensively, and you can read more about it here:[ ] The practitioner's gifts are used to benefit themselves and others to survive in the common life. Spells are cast for healing and prosperity, to put food on the table and as an expression of spirituality. Folk magic/ medicine is highly individualized and adaptable. Some practitioners work by invoking the name of Jesus or Christian saints such as St. Michael, and some do not. The single constant in their practice is that they are all herbalists who use whatever is available in their area. They have a deep connection and faith in the healing vibration of what is grown locally.

It has taken nearly a year for me to gain the trust of some of these workers, and I am not only honored to have earned that trust, but am humbled by their collective storehouse of knowledge. I now have several journals filled with what I have learned from them just through casual conversation. The majority of them are not prone to the affectations of the current Pagan/Witch community and do not claim any title for their Craft. Likewise, their wisdom is simply referred to as a spiritual gift, or " Just what I learned". I use the terms 'granny women' and 'cunning folk' for the sake of identification and folk magic/folk medicine for clarification of actions. The fact is that anyone who has lived for a period of time in these mountains has become privy to more than a few 'home remedies'. Some of them work because they are common sense or have a legitimate chemical application, some by the power of suggestion, or through trust and faith. And some...are just historically interesting in an off beat way.

*One of the most popular remedies is a bit of rock candy in whiskey or moonshine, which is used to tame a cough, body aches or anything else you can think of. Take a bit of the mixture several times a day. (My grandfather swore on the effectiveness of this one and drank it in hot tea. Personally, I think it's a great way to indulge in Rock and Rye.)

*Baking soda mixed with water is a well known (and medically proved) digestive aid. Mint or wintergreen tea, or blackberry juice are also used.

*Arcacia steeped in water or, marigold blossoms steeped in cider vinegar and applied to a compress are used to treat bruises. Cider vinegar alone can be massaged on sore muscles.

*Chapped lips can be treated by applying olive oil, or making an ointment of clarified lard and the strained water from white willow bark. Add a bit of mint for flavor.

*Rub a half a lemon over a clean face to help with oiliness or acne. Lemon juice or cider vinegar vinegar can be rubbed on the scalp to help with dandruff. Add a drop or two of olive oil for dryness.

* Soak a dozen clove buds in vegetable oil, or ground cloves in oil for several days and strain. Use the oil to rub on sore gums or for a toothache. A warm compress held against the face will speed the action of the oil by increasing circulation to the area.

*Soak a cup of steel cut oats in two cups of water and strain to make a soothing wash for sunburn or a rash. Using a cup of crushed almonds instead of the oatmeal and adding a few drops of olive oil will do the same. A poultice of baking soda applied liberally to a sunburn will
"cut the fire". Leave on until it dries, then rinse off and reapply if necessary.

*If you have arthritis, place a sharp knife under your bed to "cut the pain". You can also tie the pain up in a knot of sweetgrass (bury it afterward).

*During a thunderstorm, tie knots in twine to harness the energy. Tie nine knots in a row and store for use later to add strength to any spell. Snip off a knot to add to a liquid, or untie a knot to release the energy.

I'm also including this wonderful interview from Mother Earth News that I think you"ll enjoy:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Jung-A Mystic For Our Time

This post originally appeared in the Pagan Blog Project 2014, Week J

The teachings of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung ( pronounced "young") are one of my passions. So much so that when I finally decided to pick a psychological discipline with which to align myself while I was working on my counseling degree, I chose Jungian Psychology.

My first exposure to Jungian thought was through a self-help group sponsored by the Center+Point Foundation. We met as a coterie weekly to apply Jung's theory of self-integration and growth potential to areas of our lives. It was the 70's,what can I say? All my friends were going to est, and I certainly couldn't afford to spend that much money on developing my psyche at the time. ( Later I did got to both est I and II, but to be honest, Center+Point was the better investment, in my opinion. It's certainly the one that's benefited me the most in the long run. It's been over 35 years now, and all I can remember taking away from est was that they controlled when you got to go to the bathroom, the bastards.)

C.G.Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist, a friend and contemporary of Sigmund Freud. They shared a lively friendship, mostly through correspondence. That ended after many years when Freud asked Jung to give him his opinion on a particular dream he'd had. I take it the explanation Jung came up with was less than flattering to Freud's rather largely inflated opinion of himself; to make matters worse, it was later discovered that Freud withheld details of the dream that he thought would usurp his authority in the psychiatric community. Jung had deduced correctly what those details were and he and Freud parted company acrimoniously- but not before Freud publicly accused Jung of casting "death wishes" upon him during another encounter where he fainted ( Which I suspect was due more to Freud's own hysteria than to any malefica  from Jung.) [ Freud A-Z,pg 103 by Susan Heller,2005 ;published by John Wiley&Sons,Inc.] The suggestion so affected  Jung  that he plunged into a depression during which he had vividly lucid dreams about death. During this period, Jung became intensely interested in all things death-related, so much so that it influenced the writing of his Seven Sermons to the Dead (using the pseudonym of Basilides). He described the dead as "...the voices of the Unanswered, Unresolved,and the Unredeemed."[ ]

But wait a minute...weren't these two supposedly learned men of science? They were indeed, but I wonder if Freud's knowledge of Jung's numerous encounters with the mystical that began in his childhood (he'd experienced psychokinesis,precognition and clairvoyance at a very early age), hadn't lodged its self in a dusty corner of his mind, only to prey on the psychiatrist's own fear of the occult.
Both Jung's mother Emile and grandmother Augusta were known psychic mediums. It would follow that Carl would have a natural curiosity and a better understanding of this subject than most of his contemporaries, wouldn't it? As it turns out, it not only was, but when Jung learned that his 16 year old cousin was also a medium, he enlisted her assistance in helping with paranormal experiments that became the framework for his doctoral thesis," On the Psychology and Pathology if So-called Occult Phenomena", published in 1902. Four years later he published one of his most significant works,The Psychology of Dementia Preacox []After that, he received several impressive honorary degrees in succession from universities in his home country and Harvard,Oxford and Clark University in Massachusetts. He'd also been appointed as the President of the International Congress of Psycho-Analysis (1910), but resigned from that and an esteemed professorship at the University of Zurich. Desiring to distance himself from the mainstream, he began an almost obsessive preoccupation with mythology and dream work. [ The Portable Jung,edited by Joseph Campbell, published by Penguin Books,1976]

He began to work on the development of his general theories on psychological types and archetypes in earnest. Out of this period came his definitions of introvert and extrovert and the four basic functions of thinking, feeling,sensation and intuition; the collective unconscious, and anima (feminine) and animus (masculine) principles.

Jung's theories were powered by insight into the workings of his own psyche. He closely examined his dreams and applied his own unique understanding of spirituality to interpretation of religious symbols. He was a student of both Eastern (Taoism,Hinduism) and Western religions (Christianity and Gnosticism), and his spiritual leaning were best described as eclectic. He believed in occult phenomena and the paranormal because he'd experienced it first hand. As the line of demarcation between his dreams and visions began to blur, he penned the enormously popular and autobiographical Memories,Dreams and Reflections,which he continued to work on until his death on June 6,1961.

In 1944, Jung had had an out-of-body experience (OBE) after a heart attack where he saw himself high above the Earth, where he saw a temple made of stone. He felt called to go inside this temple to learn the meaning of life. But before he could do so, he was called back by an apparition of his attending physician, who'd taken the form of the Heal of the Temple of Asclepius (the Greek god of healing) who commanded him to return to Earth because he work was not done. Jung's near-death experience was confirmed by a nurse who witnessed him being surrounded in a white light.

After the death of his wife in the 1950's, he retired to Bollingen, Switzerland and began to build what amounted to being a castle on the property he owned. Into the stone walls he had mystical and alchemical symbols carved. During the building of this castle he updated many of his published works on the mandala, synchronicity and the I Ching. These re-workings became his opus, Aion [.]

Jung was an ardent believer in reincarnation; much of his feeling on the subject came from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He was quoted saying that his existence was based on " ...a passionate drive for understanding in order to piece together mythic conceptions from the slender hints of the unknowable."
[Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience,Rosemary Ellen Guiley, 1994] Like many of us today, he feared for the future of humankind and stated emphatically that our saving grace would be our becoming mindfully more conscious as a species.

Just prior to his death, Carl Jung had a dream in which he became whole ( a reoccurring subject in his writings about personal integration). I believe this meant that his individuation had become complete and he had reached the pinnacle of human growth. In this dream, he was himself symbolized as a tree whose roots were interlaced with gold-the metal associated with completeness in alchemy. On the night he died, a particularly violent storm arose on Lake Geneva in which lightning struck his favorite tree. Coincidence? Synchronicity? Stranger things have happened in this world.

Carl Gustav Jung left a legacy of thought that is applicable to all forms of occult and academic traditions; little wonder so many Pagans gravitate to this great mystic of our time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Funerals: Some Helpful Tips In Times of Sorrow

19th century children's graves in Frederick, Maryland
Posted to the Pagan Blog Project 2014,Week F

No one likes to think about making final arrangements for themselves or a loved one who has died. It's not an unpleasant task, and it is necessary...and if you don't do it yourself or at least put in your own two cents, someone else will make the decision of how your physical body will be disposed of, and quite possibly what transpires during your funeral/memorial service. Do you want that to happen? No? Then read on for a deeper discussion...

Nowadays the majority of people die in a hospital or hospice setting. In 2010 The National  Center for Health Statistics gathered stats from a sampling of U.S. hospitals and determined that 29% of all deaths took place in a hospital.[] Other reports by the National Institute of Health determined that 23-27 percent of recorded deaths happened at home, while deaths in nursing homes stayed at 21%. []

Just a century ago our families tended to the dead at home. Why has this changed? Culture, for one reason: our lives are industrial vs agrarian and much different than that of our ancestors,e.g., travel modes (auto accidents, etc.) And there is the fact that humans are dying much older than before (often after a lengthy decline). Modern healthcare has dramatically changed toward the use of technology. We have moved death out of the home and into institutional settings.
Death is inevitable, despite our best efforts. Death is merely a transition in the natural cycle of life. In most US states, it is perfectly legal for a family to handle the funeral and disposal of the body themselves as long as all the necessary certificates have been filed. There are rules which apply to this, but it can be done.[] Others are opting for a "green", more natural manner of burial; green cemeteries are gaining popularity across the country. "Green" burial is primarily direct burial within 24-48 hrs. into the ground, with the body clad only in a shroud,or in a biodegradable container. You may have to call the cemetery yourself because this is not yet a popular option in the funeral industry. But what do you do if you aren't prepared to handle the funeral or burial yourself? You will probably seek out a funeral home to take over the task.( Let me interject here that if you are a member of a coven or other group this is a splendid time to discuss the subject of funerals, because as a general rule, not many groups have experience in this area. Getting someone trained to assist members in this area, as a part of a Community or Pastoral Care Committee,would be a true service to your group.)
The larger question is how do you deal with a funeral home if you are Pagan? The truth is that most of these establishments deal 
largely with Christianity when the funeral is of a religious nature (Jews have a tendency to use a Jewish funeral director because there are strict religious laws governing interment.) It is also true that more and more funeral directors are serving those who are humanists, atheists or those of no specific faith; the majority of funeral directors will work with anyone and don't care about your religious preference or lack there of. Because few funeral directors are familiar with Pagan practice, you will need to express your needs and requirements to him/her fully, in writing. If you are a member of a group, it would be wise to ask your clergy/high priest(ess), or other member  to accompany you when you initially meet with the funeral director.

At the initial meeting you will discuss the arrangements to be made concerning the disposal of your loved ones body. While there are many options widely available, the services normally provided by a funeral home primarily focus on two: cremation and burial. Whatever you decide, the Federal Trade Commission mandates that you receive an itemized price list of goods and services provided by the funeral home/funeral director[] and []. Ask what is specifically included in 'package deals', or things such as 'preparation of the body'.(Embalming is rarely required by law. Special situations do exist, however[]. >Do not be ashamed to ask for the least expensive coffin or the bare necessities if you cannot afford what you are shown; nearly all funeral directors can provide a simple,economical alternative to the traditional casket. < (My own grandmother was buried in a simple casket made of pressboard which was lined in white 'satin' and covered in blue damask-like fabric,which was actually very attractive.) If you have concerns in any of the above areas, please be sure to read the next link provided which is a general guide to funeral home ethics and standards:

Also for that initial meeting you will want to bring along basic information about your loved one: full name, any other name under which the individual was know (nick name, magickal name, or title);date of birth; the name of his/her hometown and the town in which s/he currently lived; and age at death. You will also need to supply the names of parents and possibly grandparents; and siblings; and of course a spouse,partner or significant other, and children's names.(Some obits also include the name of a beloved pet or familiar.) If the decedent was a member of a group such as a temple or coven,and it is agreeable to the members, the name of the group may be included (e.g., The Temple of the Moonlight Rose).You may wish to include the names of schools,certificates or degrees awarded or earned; fraternal organizations, etc. A sentence or two about the decedent's favorite activities could be added as well,(e.g. "Jane was an avid knitter and loved making scarves for her friends","Amber studied herbs and made her own incense"). It is not necessary to mention the decedent's faith tradition or spiritual practices, but if you do, this is not the time to be snarky about any former religious affiliation (e.g., including a phrase such as "Jane became a Witch after being rejected by the Baptist Church" is not appropriate and just plain spiteful). However, if you'd like, something like, " Jane was a devotee of the goddess Diana for over thirty years" would be perfectly fine, as long as it is included without fanfare. The funeral director you choose will be able to assist you with the wording/editing of any obituary you may wish to place in the local newspaper. Remember, you may be paying by the word, letter or space, so keep it concise.If you would like to include a picture,take a clear black and white photo to accompany the obituary. ( Note: a death notice is automatically sent to local newspapers. It will include the decedent's name, date of death,place where s/he died, and who is handling the funeral arrangements.) The date and time for any funeral or memorial service will be included, too.The obituary may or may not include the name of the clergy or individual officiating at the funeral or memorial service, if there is one. Otherwise the closing statement of the obituary will be a statement of which funeral home is handling the arrangements.

If you are having any sort of religious ceremony for the decedent, and if you have not done so previously, a member of the clergy should be contacted ASAP. That means your High Priest/ess or Elders, or an ordained member of the mainstream church. This is where things may get a little awkward, particularly if the person is not Pagan or at least Pagan-friendly. If a member of the mainstream Christian clergy is asked to officiate, it is more likely than not that minister will expect to deliver a Christian-themed service complete with readings from the Bible and music from a hymnal approved by their denominational authority.This is to be expected because this is the normal way things are handled in mainstream religions, so don't be offended. You may come upon resistance to anything remotely Pagan being included in the funeral, either from the officiating clergy...or the decedent's family ( if you are a spouse or partner.) On the other hand, you may be delightfully surprised. More and more interfaith ministers,
especially from the Unitarian Universalist Association, are not only accepting of alternative religions, they have experience dealing with the special situations that can occur in planning and execution of such.[] And here's reality: Expect to pay this individual for his/her time. Even if it's small an honorarium. It is only right they be compensated for their time and effort, unless there are other arrangements made or they do it from the goodness of their heart.

If you are solely responsible for the planning of your loved ones last rites, you-and you alone-have the final say as to what takes place prior to and at the disposal of the body. Whom you consult to aid you in planning the funeral/memorial/graveside/scattering of cremains-in the funeral home or at another location-is your prerogative. How you plan the service-what components you wish to have-is also up to you. There are guidelines, but no hard and fast rules. A simple guideline is as follows:

  • Background music while attendees are assembling. If there is to be a formal processional, there may also be music for this purpose.
  • Opening words  of welcome. ( May be from the Funeral Director, Officiant,or a family member)
  • Thoughts on life and death. (Usually a brief homily or talk by the Officiant) 
  • Tribute (memories(eulogies) written and spoken by family, friends or the Officiant)
  • Music for Reflection (or silent reflection)
  • Prayers,readings,etc.( Readers selected from friends and family members,or by the Officiant,who have gone over the material well in advance.Don't just spring this on someone.)
  • Closing words or benediction.( Funeral Director,Officiant or a family member)
  • Music while the Officiant exits,followed by those assembled.

Using a traditional funeral form, those assembled then follow the hearse carrying the body and the Officiant in procession to the cemetery or place where cremains will be scattered. You man not desire to follow this form and have a private interment, or scatter the cremains on another occasion ( or privately). Many times there is a reception following the committal. This may be a catered or potluck affair at a location hired for the purpose, provided by a fraternal organization or religious group to which the decedent belonged(e.g,a volunteer fire department or a coven), or the home of a friend of the family. At the very least, especially for those who have traveled to attend the rite, a beverage or other type of hospitality should be offered.

A few words of warning on scattering cremains: it is not just 'ash' in the bag, there will be some bone fragments and some may be large enough to be identifiable as such. You will be getting 5-9 lbs.cremains, depending on the individual's size. Get permission from the property owner,or a permit from local authorities where required...and please,please,please stand up-wind when you pour the contents of the container out. I'm not trying to be funny here. Check the direction of the wind before you pour and preserve everyone's dignity.
This is by no means intended as an exhaustive examination of the subject of Pagan funerals, it is just a place to jump on, just an overview...there is so much more beyond the scope of this post. I hope it's been helpful.There are many resources available to help with planning a funeral or memorial service; I have found that the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Humanist Movement is a rich supply in particular.One of my favorite go-to books is Illuminata, by Marianne Williamson, because the language in which the prayers and meditations are written, is modern, while the intention and feeling of them are very old. I have included some valuable links from the Internet, and there are many more online. Be aware that some of the following resources do not originate in the US; they are provided here for reference:

Outlines for Rites or Services:

Readings,poetry, etc.:

And finally...This lovely funeral service by Dr. She DMontford: