Sunday, September 27, 2015

My Home, My Harvest, My Community

Spiral dance led by Spirit of the Evergreens Coven
The Pagan Experience - Wk 3- September 21: Deity and the Divine – This will be the third week’s topic every month and an opportunity for you to share with everyone those who guide, inspire and inform you. Tell us about your favorite Deity of Hearth and Home.

I don't have a particular deity of hearth or home, but big Mother Goddess and big Father God watches over all. The bounty created by their love is shared by all, and this year, the harvest was rich indeed.

Last weekend, I revelled in my home community, my beloved Pagan confederation of luminous, wild and wacky souls at the Central North Carolina Pagan Pride Day festival (PPD). This event is always fun, educational and relaxing, as it is a chance to be who we truly are out in public...something we Pagans living in the southeast USA rarely get a chance to do.
Spiral dance led by Spirit of the Evergreens Coven

But this year, for me, the festival represented more than fun. More than learning a new skill. More than seeing old friends and colleagues. More than sharing knowledge with the community. This year, my harvest was so bountiful that I can scarcely speak of it for the fullness of my heart.

This year, I hosted a booth for my coven, the Clan of the Wildlings. I've never hosted a booth at the festival before, though I make ritual tools and other artistic creations that Pagans like. Though the Clan is doing well on this, our almost one-year anniversary, I felt ready to take the plunge. My intention was to get the word out to more people, and to draw more wildlings to us. And so it was. We got an incredibly positive response. 

Me at our booth
Sunday morning, I facilitated the second meeting of the NC Pagan Elders' Council. We had a great discussion, in which the group asked for face to face meetings during the year outside of PPD. Kay Soto of Truely Unique kindly volunteered to help with that effort. Supporters of healthy intergenerational community, leaders of traditions and older folks with wisdom to share stay tuned! If you would like to join our council, email me for an invitation. Currently the group stays in touch with a secret group on Facebook.

We were asked to lead a ritual for the festival on Sunday. I was happy to oblige, though I was a tiny bit nervous - this would be the biggest circle I had ever led. I planned a ritual of thanksgiving for the harvest in which we thanked all of the powers of the Earth. It went off swimmingly! I think my favorite part was the howling at the end of the ritual, which is a tradition of my Clan.

It took me a long time to write this post. Upon long reflection, I know why - the real harvest of this festival, and of this year, for my place within the community. After PPD, I made a big decision - to go public with my faith.

As I've been stepping into a leadership role these past two years, I created a separate Pagan identity on social media. I used my spiritual name on everything Pagan-related, including this blog. I had and have a lot of good reasons for this decision. I live in the southeastern US, which is a predominantly evangelical Christian area, and quite conservative. I'm a small business owner, and not only that, the type of business I'm in is already a bit fringe-y for this area. Massage therapy still is sometimes mistaken for prostitution here. Yoga is still sometimes mistaken for some sort of Devil worship/Hindu indoctrination here. It is unwise for business owners to be "too colorful" in this area.

Having two identities is a constant struggle: which name to use, which business card to hand out, which website to talk about, which account to post from and on and on. After PPD, I'd had enough. As a first step, I reintegrated my Facebook accounts and came out of the broom closet. I am a medical massage therapist, Yoga therapist & instructor...and I'm also a faith leader in a tradition of shamanistic witchcraft. Let the chips fall where they may - I'm done hiding.

Meanwhile, at home, the leaves are beginning to turn. The tomatoes have flowered again. Pears from our trees have turned into pear butter. Figs from our fig tree have been gobbled up by us, friends, neighbors and bees. The kitties are frolicking. The air conditioner is taking a well-deserved rest. Life is good, and the harvest is rich. I am grateful. Blessed be! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

More Favorite Books

Writing about books that influenced me was so much fun that I have more to say about the topic. Here is Part II of my favorite books. These are books that influenced my spirituality, my philosophy and my basic worldview.

Okakuro, Kakuzo: The Book of Tea
This is a pocket-sized book about tea and its importance in Japanese culture. I do like tea, but the important thing I gained from this books is the concept of shibumi. Shibumi is hard to translate into English, but basically it's a pure simplicity...the essence that is left when you pare away all that is superfluous and unnecessary. It's a guiding star of my mental processes and design ethos.

Melody: Love Is In the Earth 
This is the encyclopedia of crystals, gemstones and minerals. It contains practical information about them like physical characteristics and where they are found in addition to the metaphysical information. I like how she includes numerology and astrology as well. My go-to guide for working with the stone beings.

Chopra, Deepak: The Path to Love: Spiritual Strategies for Healing
I like Deepak Chopra's work because the spiritual teachings of Yoga are sometimes difficult to transmit in writing. The books written by many of the old masters from India tend to be a bit scrambled and hard to follow. Deepak does a great job with conveying Vedic philosophy to an international audience. This book is a great resource for healing one's own heart and participating in healthy relationships of all kinds, not just romantic ones.

Kerouac, Jack: Dharma Bums
Mountain climbing, freedom, non-conformism and the importance of self-discovery in nature...this book was right up my alley. It's hard for me to say that his books are teaching tools per se, but still...they mean something to me, especially this one.

Farb, Peter: The Face of North America
This is a classic of natural history. It gave me a much richer and more complex understanding of how North America was formed and why the land looks the way it does. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to deeply connect with nature in this part of the world. Farb does a pretty good job of being easy to understand while not sacrificing the integrity of the information.

Plato: The Republic
So, I ought to mention in one of these book posts that I majored in philosophy in college. Whether or not one is interested in the finer points of logic, understanding philosophy helps us to understand the evolution of thought. It was a big help to me in understanding the world of today and my place in it. The Republic is a must-read in the philosophy genre; it is a classic work that endures through the centuries.

Diamond, Jared: Guns, Germs and Steel AND The World Until Yesterday
In my humble opinion, Mr. Diamond is the Darwin of our time. Both of these books were epiphanies for me. Want to get past the mindless brainwashing of pop culture? Read these books and understand how societies evolved, how geography has influenced technology and the spread of culture and how modern culture is so very, very alienated from nature. Just go read them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Countdown to Pagan Pride Day: 3 days to go

Just three days to go until the Central North Carolina Pagan Pride Day festival! This is going to be the best year yet, and I couldn't be more excited. This year, I will host an informational booth for Clan of the Wildlings. Are you curious about our group? Want to meet us in person? Now's your chance. Look for our booth and stop in to take a meditation break, add your harvest gratitudes to the cauldron and say hello.

The gratitudes we all contribute to the cauldron in our booth will be burned as offerings at the event ritual on Sunday, September 20 at 2:00p. Clan of the Wildlings will be leading a fun Mabon ritual in which we honor all the powers of the Earth for the rich harvest we have reaped this turning of the Wheel.

We are also pleased to be offering the NC Pagan Elders Council once again. The NC Pagan Elder Council is a forum for Elders, Youngers and all those in between to connect, support and network with one another to support a healthy multi-generational Pagan (and related Earth-based faiths) community in North Carolina. Come one, come all and aid us in healing the generations to keep our Pagan community strong and vibrant as we move forward into the future! All voices will be heard - this is a moderated discussion with time for each participant to contribute.

The Pagan Pride Day festival is a wonderful time to gather with kindred spirits, support our community, shop, learn, and play. We support some great causes, including the Red CrossFood Bank of Central and Eastern NC, and several animal rescue groups. Grab some canned goods, put on your fancy clothes and sprinkle on some's almost time for Pagan Pride!!!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

My Teachers

Wk 2- September 14: A Special Teacher. Who has most inspired you in your craft? This may be an individual you have trained with or someone who you know only from the efforts and great works they have modeled. Tell us a bit about who this is and how they have made a mark in your own pursuit.

As we walk our path in life, the teachers we need appear when we need them. For some, a teacher stays for a lifetime, or for a long time. Sometimes, a teacher is with us for just one issue, one day, or one moment.

Other times, a teacher is not someone great; in fact, they might be terribly flawed. They may not appear to be teachers at all. These people teach us about what not to do, how not to be. They often mirror our darkest traits. I've had a few of these; out of respect for their privacy, I will not list them here.

As for me, I can’t say that any one teacher has inspired my craft the most. It would be convenient, but I don’t walk that sort of path. In some ways, I feel like my path is more akin to that of an oyster. The oyster is fed by the endless flowing of the waves, nutrients coming from points across the ocean, all integrated into its being. Day by day, year by year, the oyster slowly accretes more shell, millimeter by millimeter growing larger. Inside, hidden from view, a pearl grows the same way around a single grain of sand.

So instead, I’ll talk about a few of my teachers. I feel very blessed to have been given so much by so many gifted people. People of all nations, people with different skill sets; like me, my teachers are a diverse and eccentric group. I’ll try to keep this list to the spiritual teachers, but it’s all of a piece.

The Medicine Man at the Retreat Center

I don’t remember this man’s name, nor do I remember the name of the retreat center somewhere in the NC mountains. I think it *might* be Isis Cove, but it may have had a different name back then. At any rate, this man did a healing on me that changed my life. I had a transformative night of visions in a teepee by the river after he healed me. It was a turning point, and I am grateful to him.

The Dalai Llama

I’ve never met him in person, but I have read his writings and followed him through interviews. What I love most about the Dalai Llama is his acknowledgement and support of all spiritual paths. He is a teacher not stuck on dogma, but rather focused on the connection between all human beings. I have a great deal of respect for this teacher, and he certainly has influenced me.

Chong Bhakti

This woman is a hoot and a half. She’s a tiny Korean dynamo of many skills – massage therapist, acupuncturist, shaman, excellent healthy cook and more titles can she claim. Chong taught me to express my emotions and let them go. She shared a Korean folk teaching – don’t reuse your tissues; they hold your sadness. Maybe the most important thing she ever told me was not to marry her son. I was in love with his potential, not his actuality. I make her sleep tea blend to this day.

Randal the Malcontent

My mentor, my sensei, my guitar and singing teacher. He taught me so many things that I couldn’t begin to list them all. With him, I achieved things that I never dreamed. His teachings were instrumental in my growth, and though not spiritually focused, they helped me to heal as a human being, which is the same thing. I carry an on for him that will never be repaid.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

I bought an Apple computer many moons ago, and on it is the dashboard, which is a screen of little apps you can choose. I found Sri Sri's app and downloaded it. At the time, I'd never heard of him. The app is simple; it has a photo of him, and each time you view it, you get a different quote. This is a humble, high tech way of finding a guru, but these teachings have supported me for a decade now. I hope to meet him one day in India. I love the joy that shines out of his heart! You can see it in his eyes...and I bet he gives a dynamite hug.


A mighty, hearty Cherokee soul…Saunook is a teacher who teaches by existing. He counseled me during a difficult time in my life. One thing he said sticks out – “Get up early in the morning and talk to the spirits. More importantly, LISTEN to the spirits.”

Autumn Pulstar

Autumn is the High Priestess of the first real coven I ever joined. I learned so much from her during my time in the coven, and I continue to learn from her today. She has a beautiful way of leading a group without ego that allows everyone to shine. She is so generous with her time and expertise. She’s a mentor to so many people in our region – a true elder.

Gauri Johnson

Gauri was one of the facilitators of my Yoga teacher training program. She was the teacher that opened my eyes to the possibility of fun and laughter in Yoga. She really helped me in finding my own voice as a Yoga teacher. She gave me permission to make the practice my own.

Sangoma Oludoye

Sangoma is a priestess in the African village of Oyotunji. Not only is she a faith leader in this important work of cultural regeneration, Sangoma gives of her time and her teachings around the southeast region of the US. Her guidance in ancestor work has enriched my practice. Her example has inspired me to fully empower myself, without looking for outside validation.

To all of my teachers, whether you are listed here or not, I thank you. To my peers, who teach me all the time, I thank you. To my students, who teach me as I teach you, I thank you. To the teachers of my future, I thank you. To the Gods, who send me the help that I need, I thank you.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My Favorite Books

The Pagan Experience - WK 1- September 7: Books! Tell us about a favorite book. We come across many literary adventures as students of a spiritual path. Some become familiar companions; others reference sources. Some may have been what propelled you on your current spiritual journey, or took you in a completely different direction than what you had imagined. And, then there are those that speak to every level of your soul. What’s on your shelf?

Ah, books - gateways to the world, portals of infinite possibility, kettlebells for the imagination, dear friends. Books have played such a huge role in my life, my thinking and the formation of who I am today.

One of the things I'm enjoying about teaching spirituality is recommending my favorite books. Here are a few of the books that have shaped my worldview, with comments about what I've learned from each and in no particular order:
Hesse, Herman: Siddhartha

The story of Buddha. Need I say more? This idea of enlightenment through personal experience,
detachment from the world of the senses and rejection of the illusion of worldly life, it is a powerful thing. As a person who grew up practicing Yoga, it was instrument to my development.

Menen, Aubrey: The Space Within the Heart

Though the author never practices a pose, this is truly what Yoga is all about. The examination of the self to peel back the layers of self-deception and cultural conditioning...this is liberation. This is enlightenment. It goes along with Siddhartha; it's basically the same journey, but as told through the experience of a modern layperson.

Thoreau, Henry David: Walden

Living simply in close relationship with the land, and again, examining oneself outside of the dominant culture...this is the way to clarity. Plus his prose is beautiful.

Robbins, Tom: Jitterbug Perfume 

Pan, beets, living a juicy and magical life...this book is a touchstone of my childhood. I read it quite young, pre-puberty. Then I lost track of it for years. Couldn't remember the title or the author. Found it by chance through a conversation with an internet acquaintance. Have bought multiple copies. 

Valiente, Doreen: Witchcraft for Tomorrow

One of my first books about the Craft, and my favorite one in my early days. I'm not into that type of practice anymore, but it will always be a foundation of my work.

Living the Martial Way: Forrest Morgan

This was the guidebook of my warrior years. I'd highly recommend it for any martial artist. It gave me the clearest explanation I've heard, before or since, of what honor truly is and how to live honorably.

Morgan, Marlo: Mutant Message from Forever

Caveat: I have heard about this woman's lack of permission from the tribe to publish these books about their tribal wisdom and traditions. I heard about it long after I read it, and I was dismayed. I don't support this kind of cultural appropriation. But at the same time, this book really moved me. I absolutely love the idea of having a list of positive commandments, things we *should* do. I love the concept of "innertainment" and entertainment being intrinsic human abilities, rather than a gift that only some people
are given. 

Adams, Douglas: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Exploring the galaxy on only 30 Altarian Dollars a day, the meaning of life and a very tolerant view of different beings. This book, while a work of fantasy, has shaped my view of life. I re-read it regularly and always, always know where my towel is at.

Abbey, Edward: Desert Solitaire

The beauty of the desert, another journey into the self and a deep connection with nature. Are you sensing a theme yet? I hadn't really realized how many books I've read that touch on these themes. I'm an explorer. It's kind of my thing.

Pirsig, Robert: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

This book helped me articulate my commitment to quality (arete) as my highest philosophical ideal. It's a rich work from a modern day philosopher.

And so it goes. I could keep listing books and listing books. There are too many. Suffice it to say that I credit my good education to my personal studies far more than I do any formal education I've received. While I haven't so far been blessed with the resources to travel the world, I know a great deal about it and the people who live here. I like to think I know a little bit about the human condition, and how we developed as we did. Why? Books. 

I have few regrets in life. Divesting myself of my library when I moved out west is one of them. There are books that I still try to find on my shelves, that I sold 15 years ago. Some I know by sight, but can't remember the title or author. Even so, my collection has rebounded and expanded. And I admit, I look for bookshelves when entering the home of a new friend or lover. See you on the flip side...I've got to go do some reading in my hammock!

Call to Action: Separation of Church and State

In the US, the news has been full of stories about a Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She has cited her religious beliefs, which forbid homosexuality, and she has been jailed for failing to fulfill her legal oath of office. Here is that oath:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of ——————— according to law; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God."

All elected officials have to take similar oaths. Their job is to uphold the laws of our nation. That means that public officials must put aside their personal beliefs and opinions, and carry out their duties with impartiality. This being a free country, we all have a choice of profession. Those not willing to serve the entire public with impartiality are free to choose work other than public service.

Our government was designed to be secular, and it must be so. We are too big, and too diverse, for it to be otherwise. This nation, like it or not, is full of different religions. None want to live under the rules of another, not even within a "genre", so to speak. For example, Catholics differ from Baptists, who differ from Presbyterians. In the Pagan world, Heathens differ from Wiccans, who differ from Eclectics. How can we ensure that the religious freedom of all is preserved? By the rule of secular law.

But let's talk about religious freedom for a moment. What is it? The first amendment to the US Constitution says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1]"

What this means is that each citizen is free to practice the religion of their choice, or no religion. Notice what is NOT guaranteed? Your "right" to change the laws of the nation to suit your beliefs while acting as a representative of our government. Your "right" to force others to live by the rules of your religion. No one has those "rights". We must all live under the same secular laws.

As I've discussed in previous activism-themed posts, freedom is simple. Freedom means you can do whatever you like, so long as you do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others. So, religious freedom is the right to practice or not practice a faith or your choice. It does not include forcing others to practice that faith, or forcing them to live by its rules.

The reality is that the majority religion of the United States has enjoyed a position of unfair privilege for many years. The fact that this story from Kentucky is newsworthy shows that we are beginning to make progress, but still have much work to do. Take this very oath, for example. It ends with "so help me God". Which god? A secular government does not take oaths to a deity. I saw it suggested recently that we ought to swear our oaths on our Constitution. This makes a great deal of sense. It is the foundational document of this nation.

These references to God were inserted into our government in the 1950's. The country was going through a dark period. The Cold War was at its height, and people were paranoid about Communism. Neighbors were turning in neighbors for the slightest whiff of disloyalty or deviant behavior. It was, in short, a national witch hunt in which many innocent people were harmed by malicious gossip. Naturally, our fear was exploited to add "under God" to our Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" to our currency (and also our national motto). This law was not Constitutional. It clearly violates the First Amendment. It should be repealed.

But there's more - what about national holidays? Most of them are secular in nature - we honor our veterans, the labor rights movement, the civil rights movement, our birth as a nation and so on. But there is also Christmas. While it's true that many faiths celebrate a holiday at that time of year, only one religion has a national holiday. This should not be. I don't have the answer on this - what's the fair way to handle winter holidays? I suspect the answer is that religious holidays should not be federal or national holidays. 

While employers are not required to give employees national holidays off, many do, at least four of them. Usually, a company gives Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Christmas Day as holidays. Three are secular, which is great. One is not. What about all the non-Christians? Why should everyone else have to take personal time or go without pay to celebrate their personal religious holidays? Why should one religion enjoy a privileged position over the rest?

Personally, I'd love to have the Sabbats off from work. Generally, I do try to take them off. Paying for that, of course, is my own affair. In my industry, I don't get paid time off anyway. I wish I could take Full Moons off as well, but even a priestess has to pay bills. We also have a goodly number of holidays in our faith. If I took Sabbats and Full Moons off, that would be around 21 days a year. Of course, in any given year, at least a few of those would fall on a weekend. Still, it's a significant amount of time. Even if I had paid time off, it would likely be more than my allotted amount, and that's not counting any vacations! Balancing obligations with spiritual life...a topic for another post.

But back to the point. This nation was founded with a secular government. Influences of the majority religion have crept in. As part of our ongoing cultural war, extremists are trying to polarize public opinion in a bid to create some sort of theocracy. The idea of that is absurd - even if Christianity became our state religion, which would be terrible news for everyone else, it wouldn't lessen controversy among Christians. In this country, we have hundreds of Christian denominations. What version would be our state religion? How would it be chosen? Ironically, these same extremists decry their Islamic counterparts and their bid for sharia law. Same story, different characters.

As members of a tiny minority religion, Pagans need to advocate for our secular government, but really, it's the responsibility of all thinking persons in this country. A friend told me recently that "good secular fences make good religious neighbors". Blessed be to that. Everyone of every faith, as well as agnostics and atheists should be equally represented and served by our government and its representatives.  Until the day comes that people willingly tolerate and respect those different than themselves, we need laws to protect us. We need to do more than pray for peace and harmony. We need to lobby for it, petition for it, and vote for it with wallets and ballots.

Know any good organizations working toward this goal? Comment or email me!

Monday, September 7, 2015

World Goddess Day 2015

Yesterday, we co-facilitated a World Goddess Day event with our good friends at Gaia's Circle and Triangle Area Pagan Alliance. The World Goddess Day concept was created last year by Claudiney Prieto of Brazil. The idea is to set aside an entire day to celebrate the Divine Feminine all around the world. Pictures and stories are rolling in about events in New Zealand, Brazil, the US and the UK, and many more. What a beautiful sight!

From the World Goddess Day website:

"THE WORLD GODDESS DAY PROJECT emerged to unite the Mother Goddess' worshipers world wide through their many expressions and manifestations. The purpose of the Project is grant to the Goddess one day of visibility to share Her many myths, stories and worship diversity, so everyone will remember or will know that the first religion of humanity was the Worship of the Goddess."

Last year, I hosted an event with South Wake Spiritual Community. We gathered at a local park to meditate and feast. It was a beautiful day. This year, we joined forces to make something even grander with our friends at the Eno River State Park. We had between 25-30 participants, with beautiful, loving energy.

We began by creating sacred space. We called in many names and faces of the Goddess. We sang. We danced, we drummed. We also did my healing meditation from last year. We heal ourselves that we may heal our loved ones, our community, our nation, and the Earth. And of course, we feasted!

The time we spent socializing after the ritual was lovely and important. It turns out that we hosted two
students from Brazil, one of whom had interviewed the creator of World Goddess Day, Claudiney Prieto. What an amazing thing! These lovely people told us that in Brazil, people are very interested in creating a worldwide Pagan community. I was thrilled to hear it - the concept of Pagan unity is near and dear to my heart.

This is the meat of this day, in my mind - coming together. So many people honor the Divine Feminine in so many ways. But so many of us are still forced to live in the shadows. Even those that don't *need* to hide still sometimes do, out of habit or preference. I personally believe that there is strength in numbers. Strong community enriches everyone's path - we can learn so much from each other, even if we hold different beliefs. Perhaps more important even than that is the support we can lend one another.

I told one of the Brazilian students that so many of our groups are small - between 3 and 12 people, usually. Groups that small can't do the things that a large church can do. But if Pagans choose to come together, we too could provide disaster relief, support during illness, counseling services, shared childcare and so much more.

Prayer for Pagan Unity

Dear Eternal Father,
there is so much unrest and disunity
in the world. Help us to embrace
each other and life in peace and
harmony in the Pagan way.
Dear Eternal Mother,
we realize there are many different
traditions and paths of faith. Help
us to see past the differences and
unite as one family in total harmony
and love.
So Mote It Be.
I am so grateful for my Pagan community, and for my many allies within it. Together, we can do anything. Next year, let's make our World Goddess Day even bigger and better. Who's in for a Goddess-themed Yoga practice?

Love, healing and peace be upon you and all beings. May the love of the Goddess be ever in your heart. Blessed be the Goddess!