Saturday, October 24, 2009

Where Are You?

We're hurtling madly towards Samhein, which is both the end and the beginning of my magical year. One of the things that I do at Samhein is to set goals for myself to accomplish during the coming year, but I only do that after I've spent time looking at what I have, and have not, accomplished this year. Most of my goals are boringly practical; some are spiritual and magic.

Do you do this, too, this time of year?

If so, I offer a snippet of a podcast between T. Thorn Coyle and Sam Webster that, IMHO, makes a hugely important point for so many modern Pagans.

Thorn: The other thing that all that brings to mind, . . . in the teachings of Gurdjieff, he said, "To be successful in 'the work' you have to be successful in life. If you're not successful in life, you're not successful in 'the work.'" You know, the two have to go hand-in-hand and it ends up being a strange bootstrapping process. You know, we start out, some of us are a little more effective in life than others, some of us are a little more effective with our magic than others, but they have to start to balance each other out. And, I never trust people who pour all this time and energy into magic and spiritual work whose lives are a wreck. It's like, you know, we all go through bad patches, we all need help, you know, we all have, you know, tragedies, things like that. But, overall, I need consistency. You know, if I don't see your life consistency reflecting your magic and vice versa, I'm not that interested in talking to you.

Sam Webster: Quite justifiably. There's an old saying: A poor magician is a poor magician.

How's your health? How's your home? How are your financial plans? How are your relationships with the important people in your life?

It may be just me, with my Moon in Taurus, but I've always found it easier to engage in daily practice, as well as easier to just allow myself to fall into mystical experience, when I'm not surrounded by clutter and dirt, when my body is healthy, when I'm not terrified about incoming bills, etc.

Being able to work magic is supposed to make you more effective in the "real" world -- the world of wands and pentacles -- not less. No, you don't have to have a million dollars, or a McMansion, or a body so buff it hurts. But you do have to have a decent basis from which to work: the ability to live within your means, a clean, safe, attractive environment that meets your needs, a basic level of health.

Here, just as a starting point for your meditations, is a v simple checklist:

Do you have a daily practice?

Do you do it daily? :)

Do you have credit card debt? What's your plan to retire all of that this year?

Do you have at least six month's salary in the bank? How much will you save every month to get to that point?

Do you have a plan for your old age? If not, do you plan to die early?

When was your last physical?

Do you take a daily vitamin?

What's your plan for getting regular exercise? Enough sleep? Eating healthy meals?

Company's coming in 15 minutes. Can you make your place presentable? Serve them coffee/tea/drinks? Let them use your bathroom?

Do you know where your keys are? Your cell phone? Checkbook? Walking shoes?

Do your relationships make it easier or more difficult for you to become your better self? What are you going to do about that? If not now, when?

What's the last thing you did completely for fun? Got plans to repeat that or something similar?

What will you do differently starting November first?

Picture found here.

Update: Lyon does a better job than I did expressing my point. It's a question of balance. How happy are you with yours?

Just In Time For The War On Halloween

More here and here. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My New Name For A Blog

Did you read Phila's Hope Blogging???? WTF not?

Bonewits Hospitalized

A note from Spells for Democracy:

Isaac Bonewits is hospitalized in Rockland County, New York, running a fever, with two large cysts on his prostate that the surgeons intend to drain or remove soon.

We owe Isaac much.

Work for clarity and sklll for his doctors and healing for Isaac has been requested.

It would be just like Isaac to pass at Samhein, but it's still too soon to lose him. Maybe you can do some magic?

Update: Isaac's in-hospital treatment is going very well and he is much more comfortable, although very tired. Many thanks for all the healing energies. Tests and biopsies are meandering along, with no real results yet. We may know more later today (Friday) or perhaps not for another couple of days.

Additional Update: Surgery has been delayed until Isaac's white blood cell count is below 1100 - when he entered the hospital it was 1600, at last report of which I am aware it was 1300.

And People Wonder Why I Drink

Here's a fairly typical "local press" attempt to cover Halloween, this time from the Warwick [Rhode Island] Beacon. The comments, alone, make it worth reading.

First, the story does a pretty decent job of covering the xian War on Samhein, waged by the same folks who, in a few weeks, will be screaming bloody murder about what they perceive as the "War on Xmas":

What has been new, or at least become more noticeable about Halloween in the last few years, is the objection of religious fundamentalists who see it as wicked thing.

In a recent “special report,” Costa Mesa's conservative Citizens for Excellence in Education proclaims Halloween nothing less than anti-Christian, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

“When the roots of this holiday are traced,” the report contends, “nothing but deadly evil is unearthed.”

In places all over the country, schools are replacing their Halloween parties with “fall festivals” because of parental concerns about the holiday's religious roots.

“There is a kind of amazing concern for the demonic world among Christians these days," says Newton Malony, a psychology professor at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena who was quoted in the Times story. “A lot of people believe very strongly that there are demons, and to participate in Halloween is to encourage the demons.”

In Orange County, fundamentalist Christian groups are scaring the wits out of parents who thought the only danger Halloween posed to children was a wicked sugar high, according to the Times. In a popular video called
"Halloween: Trick or Treat," the leader of a 30,000-member congregation contends that Halloween is nothing less than a heyday for bloodthirsty Satanists and claims that when a class of 9-year-olds was asked how they wanted to celebrate, 80 percent said by killing someone.

As I've said before, I think what's going on here is that there's a secular holiday (Halloween) that involves dressing up like Luke Skywalker, or Lady Liberty, or Darth Cheney and going around asking your neighbors for candy. That secular holiday overlays, parallels, and has its roots in the Pagan tradition of celebrating the Beloved Dead, both in South America and Celtic lands, and in the modern Pagan Sabbat (holiday, holy day) of Samhein. Similarly, there's a secular holiday, let's call it xmas, that involves buying presents, giving parties, eating a feast, and sending cards. That secular holiday has its roots in the xian tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus, which, as we know, was overlaid centuries ago on the Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. Jews and others have elevated their seasonal holidays to fit in with this tradition.

I think we'd all do well to begin to distinguish between the secular and the religious holidays. I'm not going to get bent out of shape if the store clerk selling me candy and a Batman mask for G/Son doesn't say: "Blessed Samhein. May you always connect with your Beloved Dead." Xians can get over it if the person selling them a Gameboy doesn't say: "Merry Christmas."

And, to be clear, I don't want public schools celebrating the religious holiday of Samhein and, yeah, fine, call the secular celebration Autumn Festival or whatever. Similarly, I don't want public schools celebrating the religious holiday of Christmas. But the secular holiday? Knock yourselves out. Call it Winter Festival or whatever and let the kiddies make soap flake snow men, paper cut out snowflakes, candy cane decorations for their HomeEc projects. Let the chorus sing Let It Snow, Frosty the Snowman, and Jingle Bells until they drop. I'm capable of dealing with overlapping realities, unlike, I guess, most xians.

Where the article goes awry, IMHO, is in its attempt to explain the history of the holidays.

As is usually the case, the history of Halloween is benign and relatively bloodless. According to Random History’s Web site (, the ritual of Halloween was to put the demons away where they could do no harm.

The Celts, which included tribes from northern France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Brittany, believed that on Oct. 31 the Lord of Death, Samhain, would call together all the souls that died the previous year to travel to afterlife during the Vigil of Samhain. Ancestral ghosts and demons emerged from their graves and were free to roam, harm crops and cause trouble. The living disguised themselves in ghoulish costumes so the spirits would think they were one of their own and pass by without incident. Masked villagers would form parades and lead the spirits out of town limits. In addition to costumes and, arguably, as a precursor to modern-day trick-or-treating, the Celts would offer food to Samhain to persuade him to more be temperate as he judged their ancestors. They would also leave out food for their ancestors’ spiritual travels, or to appease spirits who were looking for trouble.

Halloween has not only survived, but it has thrived during epic cultural, religious, economic and industrial changes throughout its long history.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, just before the birth of Christ, they both assimilated and added to ancient Celtic symbols and rituals. The use of apples in a previous celebration was transposed into Christian practice of honoring saints on All Souls’ Day.

In many respects, these rituals remained the same as their pagan counterparts with a few important derivations. For example, like the ancient pagans, the Church encouraged their congregation to remember the dead – but with prayers instead of sacrifice. Instead of appeasing spirits through food and wine, members of the congregation would go house to house carrying a hollowed out turnip lantern whose candle “symbolized a soul trapped in purgatory and offering prayers for the dead in exchange for “Soul Cakes.” Poor churches could not afford genuine relics of the saints and instead held processions where parishioners dressed as saints, angels and devils to reflect Christian instead of the old religion, now held to be the ancient and honorable practice of “Wicca.” Men who practiced it were called druids and women were called “wiccans” or “witches.”

Modern feminists have appropriated the religion to honor the goddesses who were part if their earth-based faith and fertility rituals. They are attempting to change the stereotyped image of witches as evil.

“That’s all Hollywood,” said Nancy Iadeluca, the CEO of the Silver Dragon Company, a worldwide leader in the manufacture of “wiccan” symbols and jewelry. She has sold the seven stores she used to run and concentrates on marketing “runes, pentangles and pentagrams” made of sterling silver by local craftspeople.

“One of the first beliefs of Wiccans is ‘To harm no one.’ They don’t put curses on people, because they believe if they did, the curse would come right back to them,” she said.

But there are some people who will persist in seeing this old, earth-based system of faith as evil.

“When I had the store in the Rhode Island Mall, some people would come in with holy water and sprinkle it on our store to save us,” she said, with a smile. Iadeluca, who was brought up as a Catholic, said she has done very well selling talismans to people of a different faith.

“A lot of them are like me,” she said. “I take the best of both of them.”

As a "modern feminist appropriator," who does not believe that female druids were known as wiccans (I don't, I don't, I don't), I'm just going to sigh. There's too much wrong there to even begin to untangle the skein, but it's worth noting that this is the sort of nonsense most people read about us.

Meanwhile, blessings upon your Beloved Dead, and may your secular Halloween be full of green punch, candy corn, folks in sexy/funny/odd costumes, and multiple versions of this.

Picture found here. In the spirit of the season, my briliant friend, E, is reprising the Ghost of Amazing Pumpkins past.

Make Some Popcorn

Well, this could be either awful or fun:
DreamWorks gets 'Wicked' rights
Benay brothers to adapt young adult book series

DreamWorks has acquired the rights to the young adult book series
Brothers Aaron and Matthew Benay have signed on to write the adaptation based on their own pitch. The Gotham Group will produce.

Written by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie, the five-book series centers on a young woman who learns she is a descendant of a powerful coven of witches. Complications arise when she falls in love with a boy who turns out to be a member of a rival coven.

The first two books in the bestselling series, "Witch" and "Curse," were published in 2002, followed by "Legacy" and "Spellbound" in 2003. The fifth book, "Resurrection," was published in July.

The Benays wrote the screenplay "1906"; Pixar, Warner Bros. and director Brad Bird are working on the project for a 2012 release.

I'd like to say that there are no such things as rival covens, but, well, hell, we all live in the real world, don't we?

My New Name For A Blog

What el Gato Negro Said:

Wish You Were Here

Bereavement Notice

It is with deep regret that we announce the bereavement of the Gaian family, most especially the Chesapeake Bay Watershed branch of the family, which, in 1878, lost the beloved Labrador Duck. The Labrador Duck, Camptorhynchus labradorius, was a striking black and white eider-like sea duck that was never known to be common, and is believed to be the first bird to become extinct in North America after 1500. The last Labrador Duck is believed to have been seen at Elmira, New York on December 12, 1878; the last preserved specimen was shot in 1875 on Long Island. It was thought to breed in Labrador, although no nests were ever described, and it wintered from Nova Scotia to as far south as Chesapeake Bay. More here.

No services were held, but donations may be made to any organization that preserves watersheds.

At Samhein, we honor our beloved dead.

Picture found here

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My So-Called (Witch's) Life

The witches are out buying bras and having dinner. I am on a conference call at work.

I come home from a long, insane day at work. The whole way home, the gorgeous crescent Moon is to my right, to my left, ahead of me, behind me; wherever I go, there She is.

There are lights on, witches inside my house, dinner set out on my table, a conversation already in progress. I eat. We dance. We divide a box of organic produce from my CSA. We discuss meetings w the mayor, squabbles w/in federal agencies, legal research gone awry, local witch wars. We hug.

I tell the witches on Saturday about my old furnace; it dies on Tuesday; the new one will be installed by next Friday; I'll get the witches to bless it next Saturday. Here's the blessing: may you live a year longer than Hecate. Hah! I hope it's a really good furnace.

The witches gather on Saturday to do political magic. We are in the shadow of the Capitol, we are on a train to NY, we are literally between homes, we are on the other side of the Atlantic, on business. We use cell phones, computers, iCameras, and the love for each other that pours out of our hearts, the anger in our souls. When we feel goose bumps, we know that the magic is working.

I make a reference at a family dinner to turning someone into a newt. G/Son says, "No, Nonna! You're not a fairy or a witch! You can't do magic!" I say, "Yes, I am a witch." Son says, "Oh, trust me, G/Son. She's a witch." I take it as a compliment.

Furnace Guy shows up and says, "I love the Halloween decorations in your yard." While he's figuring out that my 34-year-old furnace is (no surprise) dead, I go out and feed the cardinals, mourning doves, sparrows, and finches. I check the blossoms on the fall camellias. I flip a tarot card. Do I need to replace this furnace? Trumps 13: Death. Yeah, fine, ok, at least I get a tax break.

I cut lavender and sage and bundle them into smudge sticks. When the pineapple sage is done blooming, I'll bundle it into logs to burn all winter long.

I ground, I breathe cleansing breaths into each of my chakras, I call the Elements, my animal guides, some Goddesses. I cast a circle and find myself between the worlds. I say the Ha prayer, I run the Iron Pentacle, I call to the universe for my material needs, I sit within my ruined temple of a place of power next to some heated springs and south of some mountains. I walk back over a high bridge and through a meadow of yarrow, over a field of parsley and thyme. I re-enter my body. I hang my magic cloak back on the hook. I go backwards through the Goddesses, the animal guides, the Elements, back into my own body.

I unload the dishwasher.

Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

I chop and carry w/in a world alive with magic, w/in a community of magical women. And that has made, as Frost noted, all the difference.

Picture found here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wish You Were Here

Phantom Shiner

Wiki says:

The phantom shiner (Notropis orca) is a species of fish. It was once endemic to the Rio Grande basin and ranged from central New Mexico to southernmost Texas and adjacent Tamaulipas. Once found in the warm water reaches of the Rio Grande (though never particularly abundant), no specimens have been collected in this range since 1949, and it is believed to be extinct in this area.
The native range of the phantom shiner was the Rio Grande from Espanola downstream to Brownsville, Texas. In New Mexico, it was documented only in the reach from Espanola to Socorro.
Specimens of the phantom shiner have been collected only irregularly (three times in 1939) in a 60 km reach of the middle Rio Grande between Isleta and Bernardo. A single specimen was taken from the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park in 1953 representing the only known example of the species in the river between El Paso and the mouth of the Pecos River. In 1959 Trevino-Robinson reported the phantom shiner as abundant in the lower Rio Grande in Texas, downstream from the Pecos River confluence. The last known specimen was recorded in Mexico in 1975.

Little fish, you vanished just two years after Son was born. We miss you. The algae that you ate miss you. The big fish and the big birds that ate you miss you. At Samhein, we remember you. What is remembered, does not die.

Photo found here

Wish You Were Here

A Passenger Pigeon Poem

One and Then Another
David Staley

One and then another
and then another just the same
Then dark and living clouds descend
with the thunder of a billion wings

A mighty mass of movement
The thick and musty stench
The unheard of sound surrounding
the breaking of the branch

"Here they come!"; the cry is heard
Then movement on the ground
A deadly storm is coming quick
with greed and violent sounds

With pole or net or gun
the targets are the same
Though a million are left for dead
the loss is seen as gain

Then away the clouds arise
A billion to their fate
Dashed to the ground from different skies
to pillow, plate, or crate

The living clouds descend
Each one marked with a numbered wing
Billions are millions are thousands
and then; one is left to sing

A short movie about Martha, the last carrier pigeon. How terrifyingly sad it must be to live out the life of "the last."

At Samhein, Martha, I will call you. What is remembered, does not die.

Picture found here.

And Blue antelope. Wish you were here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Over And Over And Over And Over Again

It's odd, isn't it, how it's so seldom that men need to be paraded naked around a field?

Five women, including three widows, were forcibly brought to a field Sunday in Patharghatia village in Deoghar, about 350 km from state capital Ranchi. They were stripped and paraded naked and two of them were forced to eat excreta, police said.

"Sushila Kumahrin, Sagiran Beebi, Hafijan Beebi, Sujan Beebi and Gulnar Beebi were tortured to accept that they were witches and practise black magic. The incident took place at the instruction of a witch doctor. The witch doctor said that these women were practising black magic and were causing problems in the village," a police officer said.

. . .

In Jharkhand, women are subjected to different forms of torture after being branded witches. There are instances when women have been paraded naked, forced to eat human excreta and even killed.

According to official data, more than 700 people, majority of them women, were killed after being branded witches. The witch doctors manage to escape as people fear black magic if they are named.
Yet they don't fear stripping and torturing women accused of practising black magic. That's odd, isn't it? It's almost as if there were some other explanation for what's going on.

Picture found here.

Come, Yet Again, Come, Come

T. Thorn Coyle is making good sense:

We are riddled with contradictions and opposing forces. We do things for myriad reasons, yet so often think we should be doing things out of some purity that very few attain. Why? Because we want to be noble and good. We want to do things for the very best reasons, rather than what seems petty or small.

But you know what? We just need to show up anyway. We need to make a commitment, however impure, however filled with coarse impulses mixing with the fine. Why? [Because, in the act of showing up, we can find] the path to integration, to wholeness, and to presence. This is how we connect our parts to each other and how we then connect out with the rest of the world. Besides, if we wait until some moment when we feel perfect, we shall never show up at all. All of our parts deserve to walk the pathways of commitment, each contributing however it may. Otherwise, no growth will come and we will miss opportunity after opportunity to see ourselves, to know ourselves, to test ourselves, and often, to just enjoy our lives.

I love the line about how if we wait until some moment when we feel perfect, we shall never show up at all. It's such an important reminder.

I'm a boringly big proponent of grounding as the first step in daily practice. And, yet, at this time of year, with tissue-thin veils, I find it more and more difficult to ground "enough." I've practiced long enough to recognize this; I know that, by Yule, I'll be back to grounding deeply and thoroughly. But right now, it's not easy and, if I let myself, I could just give up on the rest of my practice because I can't reach that moment that Coyle describes, that moment when I feel perfect enough to show up for the rest of my practice. Yet, as Coyle notes, "all of" my "parts deserve to walk the pathways of commitment," and, if I wait until I am perfectly, completely grounded, as grounded as I can feel from Yule through Imbolc, then I will miss opportunities to continue with the rest of my practice, with those other elements of my practice that come so easily at this time of year that it's amazing.

And I'm reminded of a bit of Rumi: Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving — it doesn't matter, Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times, Come, yet again, come, come. I don't know about you, but the only way that I've found to grow as a witch is do do daily practice. Even when I don't "feel witchy," even when I'm tired or sick or stressed out at work. And when I fall off the wagon, the only thing to do is to rejoin the caravan. Even if I have broken, as I have, my vow hundreds of times, the only thing to do is to return to my altar, relight the incense, ground as best as I can, call myself a witch, call the Elements, cast the circle, do the work.

Blessings to you in your practice.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The fun playlist over at the Cottage Witch sent me searching for this:

I have, oddly, never done nor heard of a spell that involved a bell, a book, and a candle. But it was a great movie.

The Only Worship There Is

Wherever you are is home
And the [E]arth is paradise
Wherever you set your feet is holy land
You don't live off it like a parasite
You live in it, and it in you,
Or you don't survive
And that is the only worship of God there is.

~Wilfred Pelletier and Ted Poole in Earth Prayers from Around the World edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon

Picture found here.


We've had almost a full week of rain, which has now stopped, although it's still grey and cold and there's a wild wind that is making impulsive and not-very-gentle love to the branches and leaves. They respond in kind: the sort of sex old lovers have when they don't know for sure when, if ever, they'll see each other again, don't terribly care, but figure, "Hey, this one deserves to be good because of all that went before." (I guess you have to be a certain age to get this.)

One of the things that I love a lot about Autumn is this glorious WRECKEDNESS. The garden that was so orderly this summer is covered by a thin scrim of soggy, blown-about leaves, the trees are going to ruin, although they're going there with a final burst of color. Seed pods are popping before I can collect the seeds in nice, neatly-labeled envelopes (Datura from Front Garden -- Dark Moon -- Oct. 2009) and seeding the damp ground beneath them will-they-nill-they. The acorns that I was going to collect and send to a group that grows young oaks to repopulate MD are too soggy, scattered everywhere. Ghosts of those I've known flit around in broad day, talk to me and demand food and baths in my dreams, call to me across fields of parsley and thyme when they know that my feet are bare. Everything is going to ruin and doing it with a bonny will.

That Mother Earth does this, and does it once a year, every year, is such a gift. It reminds me that even when, like Dorothy Parker, My land is bare of chattering folk; The clouds are low along the ridges, And sweet's the air with curly smoke From all my burning bridges, that's ok. In fact, it's necessary, this blessed dishabille, chaos, going to ruin. Everything we do in Autumn, raking the leaves into neat piles, making warm soup, laying ruby-red fires, knitting vests, and laying out next Spring's garden on grid paper with colored pencils, it's all in a way an attempt to deny what the Mother is teaching us: ruin is lovely, in and of itself. It's this love of ruin that sends me gladly dancing through graveyards, watching the decomposition in my compost bin, heading into dark places inside me that ought to terrify a nice lady. Someone once said that people fear witches because we aren't afraid of the dark places. That's not quite right. At our best, we witches love the dark places, seek them out, co-destroy with nature just as, in Spring, we co-create. Because they're the same, because the one requires the other.

Blessed dark October Moon to you.

Photos by the author, if you copy, please link back. (I tried like hell to kill this rosebush all summer. I ignored it, didn't water it, let the morning glories overtake it. It gently ignored me and then, all unexpected, presented me with these lovely-full-of-vitamins-rose-hips. If she survives the winter, I'm going to be forced to pull her up and throw her in the compost heap w/ full awareness of what I'm doing.)

Earth, Air, Water, Fire; In This Circle We Conspire

Step out onto the Planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.

Inside the circle are
300 things nobody understands, and maybe
nobody's ever really seen.

How many can you find?

~Lew Welch

Picture found here.