Saturday, January 29, 2011

Indeed, My Sheep Are Lactating

I mentioned recently to some friends that, as a Pagan, I'm preparing to celebrate Imbolc. One of my friends replied, "Really? Your sheep are lactating?" My response is that "lactating sheep" is an old way of describing a complicated process that also means "return of the light," "beginning of the end of Winter," "an inspiring time when we begin to throw off the lethargy and hibernation of Winter and concern ourselves with Spring, and new growth, and our own commitments to new life."

I am an old woman with a broken-and-held-together-with-titanium-screws-and-plates ankle, and there are five inches of snow and ice on the ground. But I am going out tomorrow afternoon, yaktrax on my boots, cane in hand, deep grounding accomplished, and I am going to bring pots and potting soil in from the shed. I am going to do that because Wednesday is Imbolc and I will be damned if I will allow it to come and go without starting some seeds. I know, I know deep in my muscles, and joints, and broken bones, I know that, however bitter the weather may be just now, I know that, in a few weeks, the Sun will begin to warm the ground and to coax green shoots from inside their thick bulbs and hard-as-glass seed-shells. And, more than almost anything, I want to be a part of that process, to partake of that metamorphosis, to find myself enmeshed in what is going on in my tiny garden, in my landbase, in the Potomac watershed, inside Columbia's district. I want to be as wick as the land, to keep on dancing the dance of the seasons.

One of the delights, for me, of being a Witch is the opportunity that the 8 major Sabbats (not to mention the Dark Moons and the Full Moons) give me to orient myself within the Wheel of the Year. The events of my own life can be fortuitous or calamitous; I can be engaged and fulfilled by my work or terrified that the economy is about to come crashing down on my head. I can be proud of my accomplishments on the treadmill or concerned that I am aging too fast. (Like Whitman, I say, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes".)) I can be coasting or struggling, but, still, the Sabbats ARE. And each one calls to me, in the midst of my pleasure or my struggle, and reminds me to pay attention to the forces of the planet, to the Wheel of the Year, to what is always available to me as a With.

You come with me; we'll turn the Wheel together.

Picture found here.

Sixth Annual Brigid Poetry Festival

Here's some more David Whyte; the film is a bit jerky, but close your eyes and listen to him read his own poetry.

On Imbolc, may you see what you need to see, inscribed across the heavens or written in the ashes, but written inside you.

Sixth Annual Brigid Poetry Festival

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

-- David Whyte
from Everything is Waiting for You
©2003 Many Rivers Press

Reading Becoming Animal by David Abram has been reminding me of this great poem by David Whyte. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting between the two of them.

May your Imbolc be inspiring and bright.

Picture found here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What Chas Clifton Said

The trouble is, the model of “religion” available from the monotheists is just wrong. Every seven days, everyone lines up and listens to holy books or to a long sermon or bangs their heads on the floor. That just is not us. We are supposed to be about embodiment, ecstasy, performance, and ritual.

More here.


Now seems like a good time to go light a candle and send some Reiki/good vibes/positive energy to Egypt, Kemet, Ht-ka-Ptah, Misr, the Land of the Nile, home of Isis, the land guarded by Ma'at.

May there be peace. May there be food for the people. May the ancient temples be safe.

Picture found here.

Framing: How It's Done

I've complained before that Pagans tend to underuse and misuse YouTube. Go to YouTube and search, for example, "Wicca," and you get a lot of slide shows with pictures taken from the web and some music (often peppered with a number of misspellings), or a self-made video by a teenager discussing what Wicca means to hir. There's nothing wrong with either of those (well, except for the misspellings), but the medium itself provides the opportunity for some much more valuable sharing of information, both within the Pagan community and with the world at large.

A group of local, DC Pagans have made a YouTube that does, IMHO, a really good job of showing how YouTube can be used: in this case to explain Paganism to the world at large. Kudos to the people involved for getting the framing mostly right. You'll notice, for example, that the Pagans in the video discuss in positive tones what Paganism means, how they practice it, and how it relates to other religions. They talk about the seasons, service to others, mysticism, relationship to other religions, etc. They never (thank the Goddess!) get defensive and state that Pagans don't worship the Christian Satan or sacrifice babies, etc.

If I can offer two small suggestions, and these are things that I think come with practice: when you're talking to a camera, look into the camera. Practice really can make perfect; this is a learned skill. And please use "religious communities" or "religion," instead of "faith communities." "Faith" is a central tenant of the three large Abrahamic religions. Most Pagans view ours as a religion based upon experience (ie, I worship Hecate and include her in my religious practice because I have direct experience of her, not because I take her existence on faith) and none of our Goddesses/Gods requires faith from followers. Discussing all religions as "faith communities" frames religions as being more or less valid to the extent they involve faith, which only helps the three large Abrahamic religions, not ours.

However, those are, as noted, small suggestions. In general, I think these DC Pagans are showing how YouTube can be a great medium for teaching others about our religion.

Hat tip to Capital Witch.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Damage

Comcast is out here in my corner of the mighty MidAtlantic. Please check out some of the great blogs in my blog list.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Watching the Land Transform

It began to snow heavily here within the last couple of hours and I've been out on the porch every couple of minutes, simply watching and being with the rapid transformation of the land. A really major part of my spiritual practice, and one that's pretty difficult to discuss, not because I'm unwilling, but because we simply seem -- at least I simply seem -- to lack the words, is simply "being" with my own bit of Earth, listening to it, trying to grock it, experiencing it in all of its moods and moments, and relating outwards from my tiny space to the larger landbase/watershed of the Goddess Columbia. For me, it's this incredible privilege, an unearned honor, grace.

Two things struck me, and maybe neither of them makes a lot of sense to anyone except this batty old woman.

First, just as the snow was beginning to get heavy, I snuck out onto the inner edge of the deck and put out a bit more birdseed. The community of birds that hang out in my euonymus bush took immediate notice. As is often the case, the first bird or two brave enough to come that close to the porch were tiny birds. Once the larger mama cardinals watching from the euonymus saw that the tiny birds were safely scarfing up seeds, they braved it themselves. What's up with that? Are the tiny ones just braver, more driven by a desperate metabolism, stupider, what? And what is it that is so elementally satisfying about seeing birds in the snow? Is it simply reassuring to our mammal natures to know that they're still out there?

Second, there was, for just the shortest moment, a deep revelation to me about the relationship between this kind of Winter snowstorm and what goes on in the land all Summer. That's it. Just a moment, and not anything that I'm at all able to put into words, beyond that. But one thing that I have learned over the years is to pay attention to these momentary knowings. I've also learned that this kind of revelation will come back, happen several times, and grow a little bit each time. And, over time, they'll enrich me and my practice, become a part of what I just "know."

Does that ever happen to you?

Photo (from last year) by the author; if you copy, please link back.

Get Going!

There are several cool things coming up; a few local and one global.

First, if you live in, or near, DC, or if you can get here, mark your calendar now so you'll remember to attend the Red Dragon Feast on February 12th. The Feast is scheduled from 2:00 to 5:00 in the Renaissance Hall of Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I St., S.W., Washington, D.C. The donation is $13.00.
The Red Dragon Feast is an annual magical feast and fundraiser for healing blood-borne disease. Donations benefit community building and a local charity committed to healing blood borne disease.

The event takes place in three phases:
1. drumming, dancing and ritual
2. toasting and feasting
3. a silent and live auction

We focus our intent by
- wearing red clothes
- eating red food
- toasting with red drink


We honor the survivors of these diseases, the health care professionals and researchers who are fighting to help them, and the memory of those who have died from blood-borne diseases. This three hour ceremony is a festive, collective prayer for cures ... an event that is serious fun!


All Hail the Red Dragon!
All Hail the Life Giving Blood!

All content is public.

The event is sponsored and organized by the DC Radical Faeries.
The Radical Faeries is a community-based group, mostly of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender people, devoted to the panspiritual exploration of Queer spirituality. The DC Radical Faeries affirms the sacredness of Queer lives and promotes interfaith collaboration.

For over a decade, the DC Radical Faeries have hosted weekly potlucks, celebrated solar and lunar holidays, and coordinated events in the metropolitan area.

Second, if your practice involves gardening, you have two chances to participate in local seed exchanges, including one at which the DC Guerilla Gardeners will be present:

> Saturday, January 29, 2011 (Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD)
> Saturday, February 5, 2011 (Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria, VA)

[DC Guerilla Gardeners will] be at the February 5th event, swappin' seeds and telling everyone who will listen about the D.C. Guerilla Gardeners and our fabulousness!

Or, from anywhere, participate in this effort to study heirloom seeds.

Third, anyone with access to the web can participate in the Sixth Annual Brigid Poetry Festival.
It is that time of year again, when bloggers around the world post a favorite poem in honor of Brigid, the Irish goddess and patron saint of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. Brigid’s feast day is February 1st, so between now and then is the perfect time to publish a poem to celebrate.

Picture found here.

Finally a Feminist Historian's Take on Whitmore's Critique of Hutton

I'm still working my way through Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft. A Critique of Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, a recent book by New Zealand Pagan Ben Whitmore. And I may have more to say about it when I've finished it and gone back and re-read Hutton.

I'm no historian, but Hutton's approach to the history of Witchcraft always seemed to me to be (1) too based in a privileged, literary, male approach to what is largely women's (and therefore subjugated and more likely to be found hiding in oral traditions, crafts, family customs, etc.) history and (2) too willing to accept monotheism's either/or way of looking at the world, i.e, either Dorothy Clutterbuck or many of the people burned as Witches were Christian or they were Witches, but, obviously not both and, if we can find, for example, evidence that they attended the Christian church (even when not to do so was to invite burning or social ostracism) then they must not have been Witches. (I don't know about Hutton, but most women I know in mainstream religions are pretty used to accepting that a certain amount of it is bollocks (yeah, right, Eve tempted Adam; yeah, right priests have to be men because the Disciples were all men, well, at least once you define the Disciples to exclude Mary Magdalen because she wasn't, you know, a man) and simply adopting the parts they like and ignoring the bollocks.) It seems far more likely to me that lots of people, especially women, simply accepted a mixture of Christianity and their old beliefs, just as many modern, self-professed Christians say that they check their daily horoscope in the newspaper, do yoga, and believe in accept evolution. [Literata makes a good point in comments: "Believe in" is bad framing, as it implies that evolution is a matter of faith.]

Now, thanks to Medusa Coils' monthly round-up, here's a review of Whitmore's book from a real historian, Max Dashu. Dashu takes a chapter-by-chapter approach to Whitmore's book and notes that the footnotes in this book are as important as the text. Dashu's review is well worth reading in its entirety, whether you plan to read Whitmore, or not.

Obligatory statements for those who should know better: Yes, of course, some of the people burned as Witches were not Witches and did not engage in any form of Witchcraft, shamanism, or other Pagan practice. Once membership in a disfavored religion becomes cause for persecution (not to mention property approbation), lots of people get wrongly accused of belonging to that religion. Look at the current attempts to insist that President Obama is a Muslim. Yes, of course, some suggested numbers of those burned at the stake appear now to have been overstated. That doesn't change the fact that thousands of (mostly) women were (and in some parts of the world today, still are) executed as Witches. Yes, of course, some early practitioners of early Wicca made up stories about covens that extended back to mythological times. Yes, of course, modern Paganism has evolved and is in many ways different from the practices, of, say, the ancient Celts or Egyptians or Greeks. You know, so has Christianity evolved. Look at what goes on in modern mega-churches, compare that to the socialist practices of 1st Century Christians gathering in each other's homes, and get back to me about how closely my Dianic magics track those of my many-times-great Swedish grandmothers.

None of those facts mean that modern Witchcraft doesn't have ties to ancient practices, that women who would today be called (and likely self-identify as) Witches weren't burned at the stake, or that Pagans need to consider ourselves a completely modern invention.

Picture found here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Robert Burns Day

The poet Robert Burns was born 252 years ago. I love him.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cold as Ice

It's been brutally cold here in the magic-crammed MidAtlantic.

The beautiful Potomac River is almost entirely iced over and the Canada Geese and mallard ducks are hard-pressed to find even a few spots where they can swim and dive for food. The ground is as hard and cold as iron and I'm completely disabused of the notion that I entertain for many months each year that Mother Gaia loves to make love to the soles of my bare feet, tickling them with soft grass, heating them with hot sand, bathing them in cool rain puddles. No, just now, the ground is lethally cold and feels as if it has never been in love with me. My memories of sitting outside in the middle of a pouring Summer rainshower, refreshed and in love, feel as if I must have imagined them. Will it ever be that warm again?

I step out on the deck in the slant, low, early-morning Winter sunshine, weak as old tea, careful not to slip on the ice as I feed the birds and the squirrels who are so hungry that even their inbred caution can't keep them from crowding around as I spread out peanuts and sunflower seeds.

We huddle, if we can, inside warm homes, moving quickly from home, to car, to friend's home, and back, bundled inside sweaters, scarves, mittens, and hats. I climb into bed at night wearing socks, and shawls, and flannel and snuggle under half-a-dozen blankets, covers, and comforters (what a wonderful word). By 2:30 or 3:00 am, temperatures dip as low inside as they're going to go, and my old cottage creaks, and moans, and whinges like, well, like an old woman, settling into the icy ground.

I spend some time during each day's practice re-charging all the things that I've knitted for family and friends with the energies of warmth and protection. I prepare vegetables and garlic (lots of garlic) for soup and sprinkle immunity, succor, and heat into the broth. I warm some of it in the morning before I leave for work and hand a tupperware container of it over to the homeless Vet who stands each morning, even this 18 degree morning, at the on-ramp to the Roosevelt Bridge. When I say to him, "Can you stay warm today?" he says, "I'm going to try. Thank you." It's not enough, but it is what I can do.

Every conference call of the day begins with people comparing the cold in their part of the world; Europe's gotten hit pretty hard, too; clients in New England show how macha they are by bragging that this is nothing; people in San Diego feel happy in their choice of landbase. We may live in a technological wonderland, but our animal bodies are still almost overwhelmed by this deep Winter and we connect by talking about it.

And, still, Imbolc is coming. Inspiration is coming, that inner fire that results in an outward blossoming. Poetry is coming and the intense heat of a forging fire is coming. The ground will thaw and warm. The strengthening sun will coax tiny green seedlings out of their hard shells. We need to shake off our Winter weariness and wariness and prepare to dance on newly green grass, to look for snowdrops, hellebores, crocus, and daffodils.

What will you strip off first? What part will you first expose to the light? What will you keep covered as long as possible?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Ballet Blogging

Winter Fairy Rehearsal