Sunday, October 21, 2012

Warmth in the Phoenix Flames

I was really tempted to make this blog entry all ZOMG NEKKID FIRESPINNING!!!1! Technically, it's true--that spectacular display was just one beautiful surprise I encountered at Phoenix Phamily's Autumn Meet--but there's more to this festival than entertainment. You can go anywhere to party. For me, this weekend was more about finding community: sharing our gifts with friends, learning from Pagan elders, and above all, listening. I did a lot of listening.

While the rum and dirty limericks flowed freely, so too did the original songs, the art, the music. Everyone had something to share. People learned to make mead, play Native American flute, do Reiki, and breathe fire. We danced, drummed, exchanged homemade crafts. I discovered a whole family of precious people of all ages and walks of life.

You see, although the hands-on activities certainly held my attention and made my world a little sweeter, I spent much more time just sitting and talking. All ages mingled throughout the day, children included, but mostly I spent time with elders. I got to know Omi, a sort of Pagan pioneer of our time who doesn't seem to realize what a big deal she is or at least hasn't let it go to her head. I also got to meet Ardy, a kind old woman with a sharp wit and a sharp tongue; she welcomed me on the very first day and I only later found out that she hosted the very first Phoenix festival in her backyard.

The conversations went deep, both in and out of the workshops. What is the historical basis for our spiritual practices today? How do we interpret the words 'harm none' or other moral codes held by Pagans? When is force justified, in physical and magical context?

And yet--it wasn't all scholarly. A big highlight of the weekend was a daytime ritual involving children and adults, weaving the web of community. The young and not-so-young each told one another a portion of a happy story. Everyone tossed different colored balls of yarn over a structure that would become a gigantic rainbow web around a lovely old oak tree. The little ones were completely absorbed in the moment and surrounded by loving family of all kinds. Together, we did weave community.

That was also the intention of main ritual. While there were some glitches and unintended humor, the goal was achieved. I pointed out afterward that we already had what we were looking for, before the circle was even cast. What we were looking for was there all the time.

That brings me to what some would call the tiniest footnote ever, but I find it strangely symbolic. I'd bought a solar lantern months ago, looking forward to a lovely flickering candle 'flame' to light my way back to my tent. It never worked before this weekend. This is because--and I swear I looked there before--this is because I just had to pull out a tab inside to let the lantern draw power from the sun and illuminate my path in the darkness. It had this ability a long time ago; I just had to take a very small but important step to let it do what it was able to do anyway.

Despite the waning of the sun this time of year, my flame is burning as brightly as it ever has. My heart is full of old and new kindred. I feel safe and welcome at this hearth. Nothing comes between us: not our egos, not our differences. We are family.

This, I tell you, is community. This is what I was hungering for, what so many of us are hungering for.

It's worth braving the porta-potties.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Do ALL the things?

I am toddling curiously toward the dying of the year, still feeling young and flowerish inside. I am holding onto summer, green leaves, the mystery of swimming. I never want it to end or even change. I may trade out frozen drinks for pumpkin beers, but they're still cold so I tell myself that doesn't count.

You see, this time of year I catch myself thinking Phineas and Ferb had the right idea. I feel like doing it all. Summer is like that. Even after you're done with your formal education, summer is packed with things you don't have to do but NEED to do. I haven't quite figured out my version of climbing the Eiffel Tower, creating nanobots, or finding a dodo bird, but here in the sunny South, it feels like there's still time. I know the kids went back to school already and we just had a Mabon ritual, but in my heart (and my armpits) it's still summer.

Oh, the seasons change here, but you have to be very observant to notice. The sandspurs don't grow so feverishly anymore. The leaves are still alive and clinging to the trees for a little longer. Their colors will change soon, but they will be muted pastel yellows and oranges. Autumn here is as gentle and subtle as the summer was not.

Just the same, I'd like it to stay summer all the time, and it just doesn't. I want all of the flow and none of that ebb that makes us appreciate it more.

I don't want to slow the pace, but I need to. I need to be reminded that we will not all be living this present life forever. I will not always have my parents here on this plane with me, for instance, nor will I always be here. Sometimes I forget this.

Even my own nature demands a change. My body's cycles tell me when it is time to slow down and look inward. This is that time. There is so much birthing and dying going on at once, right this second every second, that I sometimes want to go someplace where the earth doesn't keep turning so fast. There is so much that I wonder how any of us can take it even for a day, let alone a lifetime.

So for a day or even a few days, I will slow down when I can manage it. I'm pretty sure the meaning of life is not Do ALL The Things! or even Save or Feed or Heal All The Things. I thought it was when I was younger and scoffed at those non-religious or not-my-kind-of-religious types who did good things just because, well, it was good. I feel different now.

And if I discover that the meaning is BE all the things? That's a matter for another lifetime. Or more.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Advice to a New Pagan

First, see what is. Feel it, notice it, observe it in your mind's eye. Know what is true, whether or not you understand it. You will observe many things without understanding them, or before understanding them. Know them anyway.

Some in this world will call you a liar for daring to declare that two and two make four. Maybe they were raised to believe otherwise. Maybe they never thought about it before, or someone they love insists the answer is five. Pity them, recognize whether your feelings are hurt, but go on knowing what is. They may hold the keys to lock you out, but they are only locking themselves in.

Trust your gut. Do not confuse it with another area just below. This mistake is common but avoidable.

If you have a problem, see whether it can be solved on a physical, non-magical level first. It's usually the easiest and most convenient way by far. Magic works, but it could be a Rube Goldberg machine when a Phillips head screwdriver was all you needed.

Your magic has the potential to be as good as anyone else's, in or out of any book, published or handwritten. Learn from others when appropriate, in person or in print, but create something original. In time, you will learn what to create and how to create it. For now, just be specific. Make sure it's something you want, exactly what you want. Don't include a meaningless extra in your spell just because it rhymes or the cat wants to participate. Go for the essentials.

Remember your morals, whatever they are. If you do magic, you believe that your actions have results. If you believe 'Do what thou wilt' and interpret it to mean 'Do whatever,' you won't be very powerful in any sense, spiritual or otherwise. Focus. Care.

Your kitchen might look like you're quite the cook if you have food splattered all over the pots. Really, it just means you did a lot of cooking and made a mess. The proof is in the results, not in the resemblance to some sappy 'art' about a cook's kitchen. The same goes for your magical workings. You don't have to put on a big show (unless you want to). Clean up your mess, or don't make one in the first place. It's not about the splatters.

You are probably not a fluffy bunny, so don't worry about it. Just learn stuff and get stuff done.

And whatever else you may do, keep knowing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What's In Your Sandwich?

If I could give just one bit of advice to the world, it would be this: look carefully at your sandwich before you eat it.

Let me begin by saying I love sandwiches. Peanut butter and banana, roast beef and cheese, cranberry Tofurkey. I don't care. They're great.

And then there's the bread. The texture and maltiness of a pretzel roll. Some nice crunchy multigrain on a tangy tomato sandwich. Even plain old squeezy white bread will do in a pinch. But my latest favorite, thanks to local culture, is the crusty Cuban bread on a hot pressed Cuban sandwich. Preferably eaten on the beach and guarded carefully from seagulls.

And before anyone asks, I'm not even talking about the kind of 'sandwiches' discussed on How I Met Your Mother. I mean the kind you EAT (although of course I will be speaking metaphorically as well).

My point is, I have had so many wonderful sandwiches over the years that I have come to expect that every sandwich will be good. So it's tempting not to bother investigating a little and just assume.

Assuming is what I did one day years ago, when I had an appointment I was very enthusiastic to make on time. I had just my own strong legs to carry me from the bus to the building and very little time. I stopped into a gas station and bought a croissant sandwich with ham in it, or some kind of related meat. Actually, to this day I am not sure what was in it, and therein lies the problem.

I paid for it and started munching briskly as I walked just as briskly down the road to my destination. It wasn't the best sandwich I'd ever had. I wondered if they just used cheap meat or something. Whatever. I was hungry, and it was food--right?

By the time I'd eaten half of the sandwich, I looked at it closely in the sun and saw something that does not belong in any variety of sandwich. The croissant was shot full of blue streaks of mold.

Naturally, I stopped right then. The mold did not end up making me sick in the slightest, and I got to my event on time. And yet: I ate mold!

Now, you could theoretically say that it's not so bad. Perhaps I should be grateful for the hands who prepared the sandwich and sold it to me. Perhaps I should remember that under certain controlled circumstances, penicillin can save your life.

I don't buy it. I draw the line here.

There is a difference between seeing the best in a situation and seeing little bits of goodness left in the middle of corruption. I have heard the latter called silver mining. I don't believe in silver mining. I believe in looking at life in the sunshine instead of the dim fluorescent lights of the store and seeing what I can see. If it is good, great! If not, I don't have to eat it.

What a freeing thought: you don't have to eat it. As a charter member of the Clean Plate Club, I am amazed at what this revelation has done for my life. I don't have to stay with abusive 'friends' like I did when I was a kid. I don't have to participate in activities that do nothing for me just because they're popular. I don't have to date someone who does me wrong just because some of what the person does is right. That sandwich I don't want is not the only sandwich in the world.

Where's the Pagan connection? It's right there in your tarot deck.

My friend Byron, who has probably been reading tarot since she was in diapers, says we are living in Tower Time.  In other words, what has been previously taken for granted as The Way Things Are is coming down, sooner than later. However, it's not time to panic. It's time to see what you can see and do what you need to do. Her neverending refrain is to ground, center, and shield. Good advice.

When someone points out to you that the Tower you live in is crumbling--or when you discover this for yourself--don't take it personally and don't be afraid. It's the alarm going off, and it's there for a purpose.

It's okay to get out, whether this is a drill or not.

It's okay to put down the sandwich.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hurrying to the Harvest

First harvest?  This time of year in zone 10, only a few things can still grow. If you have something to harvest, you'd best grab it while you can, before the overwhelming rays of the sun scorch it.

So it's a good time to reap what you've sown. Yes, justice is on my mind once again.

A little over a year ago, I was shining the light on an outrageous situation and letting someone in power know it was not acceptable to ignore what was going on. Despite the person's best efforts to do just that, it didn't stay ignored--it came right back out with a vengeance and finally sealed the man's fate.

That was in the Pagan community. Now I've become aware of something or someone even more outrageous in the Christian community. It's too graphic to go into here, but let's just say the world is now safe from him and his puppets. (Go look if you want. I'm not even going to link it here.) I am relieved that whatever he did, it can't happen again.

Days after his personal day of reckoning, the television network that made him semi-famous had nothing to say and was still broadcasting the reruns, perhaps hoping it would all go away. I had to tell them it wouldn't.

Throughout the heartfelt and heated exchange, I thought of childhood memories, the kind that wouldn't interest the news. Being a child of 8 or 9, I was so excited to be on the set of a real TV show. The deputy badge was the best thing I ever got in the mail.

The actors--some of them, anyway--remained in my life well into my teens, when we performed skits and such locally. The 'sheriff' host was a sweet old man, just full of sunshine. I'm sure they're all mortified that this show they worked on for years, however long it's been out of production, is now associated with crimes.

I cried and felt very close to my sometime stage buddies, if only for a moment. I suppose it could be called an interfaith effort with some stretch of the imagination, but right now it's more about being inter-human. It's about doing what we need to do to feel grounded, purified, safe, more like ourselves.

We all do this differently, but we all have ways of making ourselves safe. Sometimes we need to come together to do this.

So let us harvest what we have sown: compassion, community, and come-uppance. Let's get together and bring in the harvest. There's so much left to gather, we need to help each other.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ripples, Wunderbar!

I went to the library for something else, but this darn book jumped out at me. Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs. So beautiful, so useful, and perhaps they are in my blood.

Full disclosure: my ancestors tended toward the Plain people in that area (Brethren, Dunkers, perhaps Mennonites), not the Fancy ones who made hex signs. However, I gather the difference there is one of belief, not of bloodlines.

It's hard to say, because despite my reading everything about it I can get my hands on, I am just beginning to learn. Anyone can make something up and put it on the internet.  As with anything else I read or otherwise try to learn about, I accept the meaning that makes sense to me and let the remaining chaff (as I see it) blow away in the wind.

Case in point: those pretty little scallops around the edge of a lot of hex signs. Smooth sailing in life? Really?

I found one or two sources which didn't look like the same old copypasta and which mentioned a meaning that seems, well, far more meaningful.


Someone else called them 'water wheels',  which seems to reinforce the theme of motion and flow. I like that.

A few of my earliest workings, last millennium, involved sending energy out in every direction at once. I still do that--not every time, but for some intentions it's just the thing. If you want to branch out and aren't sure where the branches should be, you could simply radiate.

Lately I've been wanting to radiate. Make some new friends, keep some old friends. Make my world bigger. I'm meeting lots of local Pagans I never knew were out there. We're beautifying the green earth. We're raising funds to help women escape violent relationships and move toward stronger, more peaceful lives.

We're looking outside of ourselves and our own little boxes. We're creating the world we want to live in, instead of waiting for permission to do it. More than anything else, we are (at least *I* am) realizing that that world was there all the time.

It's a good start.

But hey, one more boost helps.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Florida Pagan Gathering, Beltane 2012; or Trial by Fire

The dragons are breathing. The scales of balance and justice are righting. The Beltane vibe this year at Florida Pagan Gathering was so unexpected: still fiery as always, natch, but without so much urge to party.

I talked to the sweet Orion Foxwood after his workshop on Southern Conjure and got a more solid idea of what has to happen in my life. It was nice to be able to confirm to him the right way to say Appalachian, at least in Southern Appalachia.

The sweetest time of all was with my friends. We had the types of conversations that usually only happen in college dorms at 2 a.m. I asked questions easily about supernatural experiences I've puzzled over for years, and the answers are coming. My path is strengthened and renewed. My soul and spirit have been nourished and loved on. Goddess has taken me home and fed me mashed potatoes.

There was just one thing. I had a beautiful time despite that one thing. It was as if someone asked 'Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?' and she said 'Oh, it was one of the best plays I've ever seen. I still enjoyed it.'

That one thing, not a small thing, concerns the safety of the Pagan community. We talk a lot about love and trust, about compassion. Sometimes we need to be reminded that compassion should first be directed to the oppressed, not to the oppressor. There is a time to be a sweet soft marshmallow, but there is also a time to roast that sucker into oblivion.

Love and compassion--and I can't believe I even have to say this--are not about always making nice. That's how you harm nice people. Instead, find your voice, as I am. Breathe your fire! There is no excuse to accept inappropriate and downright predatory behavior in our community.

If someone has pressured you into sex or done it when you were unable to consent, please speak up! We need your fire.  Even one predator can be a cold, cold buzzkill, to put it mildly.

Again, I say, it's about the safety of the community. Can we all agree to let the safety and wellbeing of our community become more important than who you are or who you know?

I say we can. So mote it be!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Little Tenderness

Today it's all about tenderness. And it's not just because I'm eating what amounts to baby food.

It's a rough-and-tumble world, and lots of other folks seem to be feeling delicate too. Blame it on planets, politics, dental procedures. We're all a little sore and sensitive in lots of places we didn't know we had. Or we just have new places to feel it. Big raw sockets, left after an Ostara purge of what no longer serves us.

I've kept to myself after finally getting my wisdom teeth out. It's a time to sit quietly and do what you thought you always wanted to do: eat too much ice cream and watch too many movies.

Even then, there will be detractors. Some will say you're not relaxing right, you're not eating the right kind of baby food. You're not being the right kind of baby.  You know you will manage just fine and they are wrong, but it still hurts.

And then you go in for more suffering because you were scared of it, you waited too long. You open your mouth and get 15-20 years of yellow concrete chiseled out with what you can only assume is a tiny jackhammer.

You feel very clean and a little bit queasy. But mostly you lust after the crunchy things you know will just hurt you more.

But you treat yourself gently. You know that even if you're not getting it perfect, you're getting it.

If you had to please everyone, you'd eat things that are only raw, paleo, gluten-free, casein-free, macrobiotic, low-carb, and vegan: in other words, very little. Instead, you eat absolutely anything mushy that will sit well and make you feel stronger. You reassure a friend that it's not so bad to eat cake after chemo because, hey, you just had chemo.

Most importantly, you try to deflect the crunch of the world and return only tenderness, because you remember what it was like so long ago when you felt like a missionary and just knew that whatever your mission was, it was A Matter of Life and Death Literally. What a burden it was. You remember the heaviness and the pain. Your heart aches for the person who is preaching at you now about one cause or another. And it makes you answer more softly, more gently, even if you want to scream.

And then, you scream.

You are not Jesus, Kwan Yin, or St. Anything. You have your limits. There are moments for sacrifice, just not every moment. You love yourself, breath, body, and blood. The world is littered with sad, broken people who gave more than you did, with the dearest of intentions. You are not required to be like them. You are required to be you. And anyway, you know that quite a few of the gods appreciate it when you possess a spine. It's good and good for you.

To be one face of the Divine is not just a responsibility but also a right. And if being you means being imperfect--and it does--then do so. You are your lopsided smile, your ridiculous inside jokes, your scars, your opulent dreamtimes, your highs and lows, even your blahs. You are not just one color, not just one dimension, but the whole shebang.

You step back again, regretting passing on any hurt. You'll probably do it again, but you will also try to fix it up again, because that preacher is a part of you too, and you feel it when you hurt him.

You continue to send tenderness whenever you can, even if he never sees things your way, even if he does not maintain a steady slope toward the ideals you hope he will achieve.

And maybe, just maybe, he does the same for you, because he too is a face of the Divine.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Feast of Almost

I love to hear the many stories about Brighid, although I am not particularly drawn to her. I almost could be, maybe if I were a polytheist, maybe if I had more than a few drops of Scots or Irish in me. Almost.

She is all about transformation, renewal. She is the fire that bakes your bread and burns you as you warm your chilled bones. She is art that shatters you and puts you back together in a different shape. She is Woody Guthrie's guitar. This machine kills Fascists.

I almost get it.

What I am closer to understanding is Imbolc. Call it any number of names from any part of the world. With or without the name of Brighid, the idea is the same. Winter is leaving. Spring is almost here. Can't you feel it frozen in the snow? (Much later, the writer of that song heard Peter, Paul, and Mary perform it; they told him those first seemingly tragic flowers of spring were perennials.)

In any case, even in a land without snow I can feel the expectation. Today my Pagan sisters and brothers think about pregnant ewes (Imbolg 'in the belly') and their milk (Oimelc) that is just about to come in.

We are all expecting. And like the sheep, we don't know exactly what we are going to get, but we have the general idea. We are pregnant with potential.

And that is what is most heartbreaking. Will it, could it, ever be born?

Imbolc says yes.

I cried when my parents bought me a musical keyboard a few years ago, partly out of happiness, partly because I remembered my mother often musing over my spidery fingers when I was a child. These are the fingers, she said, of an artist or a musician. Even then I knew my skills hadn't kept up with my potential.

I also cry sometimes when I hear songs like The Wall (by Kansas, not Pink Floyd!) and Sing, Sing a Song. The promised land is waiting like a maiden that is soon to be a bride. Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear.

Silliness helps. Karaoke, the ukulele. Blogging instead of doing 'real' writing. And what is real anyway?

Someday, the freeze comes to an end, slowly, interspersed with more bitter weather. Yet it always comes to an end. That is the message. We're halfway there. Even winter has its hump day.

I'm frozen now, but I won't be frozen long.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Have a Dream ... And a Ukulele

I believe in living actively, not reactively. That especially applies to my spiritual path. The hardest time to do this is during conflict, which is all the more reason for me to ground, deepen my roots, and grow. The time to shield, I am learning after all these years, is before you need it. And hey, even when something's eating you a bit, it really can make you grow stronger.

Now, none of this is a reference to my personal life at the moment, which is stable and peaceful. I'm referring to the nature of my spiritual community. There are fewer of us Pagans than there are Christians, by a long shot, I'm sure, yet over the years I've found  one faith minority or another doing their thing only to have someone oppress them in the name of Jesus and then cry persecution.

Those in the majority culture blurt out things from the crowd that they would never say as one individual to the other. They even make threats. They forget their own Beatitudes, for that moment, let alone the Golden Rule, and they forget that Pagans and other faith minorities are their own family, their coworkers, maybe even their friends.

This subject is not purely an intellectual exercise for me. I have attended ritual in a park (with a permit) and had angry neighbors come out and harass us to make us stop our practice; the police had to intervene. I wouldn't dream of doing something like that to my friends and family in their churches, nor would any Pagan I know.

I have known a Pagan child in my own community who was harassed by an entire public school. The harassment and the threats did not, surprisingly, make her want to conform; in fact, she began home schooling shortly afterward. She is a brilliant and articulate adult now and every bit as Pagan these days, possibly more so. Unfortunately, over ten years later, folks still haven't learned any lessons in that neck of the woods.

I have recently come to realize that Christians will not often come to the defense of the outsider (although I am happy and grateful when they do). More often, they resort to the 'No True Scotsman' defense and leave it at that. It is up to us, the minority (and who and what we believe in), to make our own lives better.

While I'll refrain from putting words in Martin Luther King's mouth, consider a few of his own and think on this: 'We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.'

As for me, I intend to do what I should have done years ago: learn some more Pagan music.

That's not a tangent. Here's why: we are not the opposite of anything. We are not a void. We have our own music. A friend was recently kind enough to post a huge list of modern Pagan musicians, and ancient choices are also available online (to be linked later). What's more, I have a new ukulele.

This matters because my little friend in Asheville, those many years ago, might have had an easier time if she'd been able to present more Pagan musical choices. It's a small thing but not so small. It is something we do, part of our religious heritage, whether the songs were written 10,000 years ago or last week. We do our thing. We keep on truckin'. We are strongest when we simply do what we do.

That is my answer. That is how I deepen my roots and continue to grow.