Thursday, September 30, 2010

Happy Birthday Rumi!

In honor of the birthday of Rumi (today, Sept 30!) and his great love for Hu (the Sufi name of the Divine that transcends all genders and names), I post one of my favorite Rumi poems:

There are many guises for intelligence.
one part of you is gliding in a high windstream,
while your more ordinary notions
take little steps and peck at the ground.

Conventional knowledge is death to our souls, and it is not really ours.

It is laid on.  Yet we keep saying
that we find “rest” in these “beliefs.”

We must become ignorant of what we have been taught and instead be bewildered.

Run from what is profitable and comfortable.

If you drink those liqueurs, you will spill the springwater of your real life.

Distrust anyone who praises you.
Give your investments money, and the interest on the capital, to those who are actually destitute.

Forget safety.  Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Be notorious.

I have tired prudent planning long enough.
From now on, I'll be mad.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: Caretaking a New Soul by Anne Carson

"Spirituality is acknowledged as a vital force in American life- not just as the external practice of 'religion', but as the true ground of all relations between people and the world." - From the book's introduction
This book drew me in as a concept right away- religious leaders and spiritual people, all commenting about how parenting for them is a spiritual practice, at least as far as tending to the development of their child. Authors include practitioners of many religions, including pagans and Buddhists. This was also appealing to me!

Sections in the book include: Parents as Guides, The Spirituality of Motherhood, The Spirituality of Infants, Young Children: The Blossoming Soul, Older Children: Being in the World, Adolescence: A Time of Letting Go, and Sharing Your Spirituality With Your Family. So there is a bit of something for everyone on the parenting spectrum, no?

I loved that there were ritual ideas to make life passages such as conception, the return of menstrual blood of a new mother, getting a driver's license, and death of someone close in the book. Any way that we can make the ordinary events of our lives sacred- I am all for it.

One thing that disturbs me about the book is the glorification of circumcision in the Jewish faith. (I know that this exists, but I am still horrified at the practice, frankly.) While I know that this is culturally (not religiously required, I have learned) a part of Judaism, it would have been nice to see an essay from one of the many Jews who prefer the Brit Shalom over the Brit Milah to counter the propaganda.

I would have also liked to see more father's voices. There is plenty to say on the glories and spirituality of motherhood (especially from a Dianic witch), of course- but if we ever expect to move into a place where men are welcomed into nurturing roles and not automatically seen as pedophiles, we need to start somewhere. How about an essay or two on fatherhood?

That said, the book is pleasant and has some gems! Anne Carson, the editor, submitted much of the rituals for different times of life and passages, and I really enjoyed the interviews with teenagers about their spirituality (and how, if at all, it differs from their parents').

Formal Rating:
Title: Caretaking a New Soul: Writings on Parenting from Thich Nhat Hanh to Z Budapest
Author: Anne Carson
Publisher: The Crossing Press
Price: $14.95 USD 
ISBN: 1-58091-018-1

Topics Covered: Parenting, Religion, Spirituality, Buddhism, paganism, Christianity, Judaism, Oter religions.

Target Audience: People open to all religions, faiths, and spiritual practices who are raising children.
Witch Mom Rating: Two Hats
 A decent read with some great ideas. Wish it had been more balanced in gender representation, however.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Points on the Iron Pentacle: Sex

In my religious tradition, we have a tool for alchemy called the Iron Pentacle. It is a five pointed guidepost to helping you achieve personal balance. Each point on the pentacle is a human birthright:
Sex, Pride, Self, Power, and Passion.

The Iron Pentacle can be used in many ways as a tool.* "In reclaiming the energies (of this pentacle)...we reintegrate that which has been taken from us by the dominant culture or twisted beyond recognition.", says T. Thorn Coyle, Feri and Reclaiming Initiate. Doing this work is not for the faint of heart- going up against mainstream culture is a hard row to hoe!

When a witch is "on their points", they have successfully balanced all five elements (Please note that this state is not ever considered permanent, but a constant juggling act to remain in balance as we move through life. We constantly go in and out of balance as we strive for it.).

Hilary Valentine, Reclaiming Initiate says, "These five points are qualities (or abilities or states) that occur quite naturally in a human being (or any other animal) when it is healthy. However our culture, like many other cultures worldwide, trains its members to control or limit these qualities in order to reduce conflict (and create the ability to rule over others easily- ed.). Some cultures, for example, the New England Yankee Christian culture I come from, go so far as to label these qualities sins. The opposite qualities, such as virginity, humility, and selflessness are highly prized."

I should speak to the individual points a bit to explain what they mean, as the concepts have been distorted in our culture and the words are often misunderstood or feared. As I describe each point in a new blog post, I will relate not only what they mean to me, but how they have changed and morphed since becoming a parent and what they were like while pregnant.

So, from the top (of the pentacle)! Sex is the beginning and the end of this pentacle- the alpha and omega- just like in the creation of the universe! In Feri, we believe that Sex created the universe, as it continues to create the life that surrounds us. God Herself's orgasm (the big bang) created all matter and energy that is encompassed in the universe.

Sex is the creative power of the Universe: it is life force, connection. It is Divine energy. It encompasses not just genital sexuality, but most assuredly includes it as well. We should never eschew sexual pleasure for some "transcendent" ideal. The body is holy- your body is the body of the Mother- and Sex is the holiest of holies. You pay homage to the original creation and the original love and lust by having sex.

"It is that point of orgasm in which we open to the Universal dance and participate in its creation and in its destruction within each moment.", says Storm FaeryWolf, Feri Initiate. "In ordinary life, we either supress sex energy so deeply that we can barely feel it or we run it in such a way that it spills out of us and onto other people." ... (By running Sex energy properly) we become vital and full of life force and can use this energy to fuel all our endeavors..." says T. Thorn Coyle.

Sex was always a pleasure filled act for me. And luckily, I grew up with very little baggage around sex, masturbation, and my body. But Sex never meant so much to me spiritually until I found Feri and until I got pregnant.**

For me, sex only meant genital play and whatever led up to that before Feri. After Feri training, I could feel Sex walking down the street as I connected with plants, animals, rocks and everything around me. Everything in nature sings and thrums with its own energetic voice, and at times, I can hear it. It can be overwhelming, and not always harmonious (depending on the place, of course). A place that has native plants and wildlife and little disruptions sounds very harmonious. Being in Oakland most days, sometimes things are a little cacophonous.

As I worked with the Iron Pentacle to reclaim what is mine, Sex became a way to connect with others and know them as Divine. And to me, that is what Sex is for. If your sex is meaningless and devoid of Spirit, it is not Sex. And I would rather have Sex than sex any day.

Angela Raincatcher, Nine Ravens Studio
As I grew Rowan inside of me, I experienced Sex from the inside out. I had a little aquanaut connected to me in the most intimate way possible. I was literally a microcosm of God Herself. As he grew and stirred inside me, I was amazed at each turn. I was already connected to this little thing and felt such deep and profound love, and we hadn't even met yet! We didn't know what one another looked like, yet we were in love. I say "we" because it became obvious after Rowan was born that he loved me, too. It wasn't mere instinct, him clinging to me for warmth and nourishment. He knew my feel, my smell. We were intimates. He basked in my presence.

Sex is even more important now that I am a mom. I feel connected to all children, all animals, the planet in a way that makes how I felt before feel like a hollow caricature of caring. I care so profoundly, so deeply that it hurts often.

*Learning about the Iron Pentacle is an exercise best done in person under the tutelage of an initiate. Many Feri and Reclaiming teachers give workshops on this tool. For the purpose of understanding the content of this article, I am giving the barest information possible. It should not be taken as the definitive teaching on the subject. When using the Iron Pentacle, some people meditate on the points and their connections. Others "run" the energy of the pentacle though their body (the human body's design is that of an upright pentagram- the head at the top, arms outstretched, legs beneath. To run the pentacle, one assigns Sex in the head, Pride to the right leg/foot, Self to the left hand, Power to the right hand, and Passion to the left foot (running back into the head for Sex). There are many ways to use the tool to discover imbalances and re-balance the points to get you back "on your points".

**Rowan was intentionally conceived, in ritual. He was insanely planned and he visited us in dreams before he was born. We deliberately incorporated procreative sex into our lives for the sake of bringing Rowan into it, and can I just say? That's weird to me. Before Rowan, sex was always mostly a queer act, more for pleasure than anything else and making babies was someone else's thing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pagan Playdate's Mabon!

Rowan plays in grass
So today, Pagan Playdate met at Little Farm (a small working farm in one of the East Bay Regional Parks) where the kids got to feed cows, a pig, geese, chickens, ducks, goats and sheep celery and lettuce that we brought. The kids squealed with delight and dropped the celery into the dirt often, fearing that their hands would get bit (they are a bit city-fied, our kids). Rowan loved watching the cows' big lolling tongues extend and wrap around the celery stalks like a tentacle reaching for prey. It made him giggle.

Alden, Orin, Heather, Gavin, Bella

I was pleased that our group grew by one family this week and we had another pagan parent and her kids join us. Welcome, Blaze, Bella, and Willow!

Blaze, Willow, Ladybug
After hanging out for a while, we went to a grassy area to circle up and have a casual ritual with the kids. One of the other mothers and I had decided to plan this together, and had called each other the night before to confirm plans and get on the same page. Since most of the kids are too young to understand Mabon and its meanings, we decided that today's theme was animals (hence starting at the Little Farm).

Meg, Laurel, Avery, Heaven, Aida

Our oldest regular kid, Orin (who is 5) got to cast circle, with the help of his mom. (You may remember Orin from our Lughnasadh ritual- he was such a big kid that he got to hold a lit candle.) He loves taking part in ritual and has great input. When we discussed how we would call in the quarters/elements using corresponding animals (birds for air, fish for water, etc), he cracked me up when he disagreed with an adult's suggestion for fire (a lion). "No, I wouldn't do that.",  he said. Curious and wanting the kids as engaged as possible, I asked, "Well, what would you do?" He replied, "I'd use a fire elemental!" He is a little more advanced in his pagan training than the rest of our kids. So we suggested that each kid got to propose their own, and when it was his turn he could say "salamander" or whatever floated his boat. Rowan and I were in the west, so we invoked fish and made the ASL sign for fish and gave our selves gills and fish faces.

Avery, Aidan, Heaven
Once in circle, we told animal stories. I let everyone know why Flamingo stands on one leg. Blaze told how Turtle pulled up the earth from the sea. And Heaven told us about compassionate Hummingbird. Then we sang "Fur and Feathers" and pre-vocal kids got to use rattles, drums, tamborines, and shakers to join in:

Fur and feathers and scales and skin
Different without but the same within
Many the body but one the soul
By all creatures are the gods made whole!
Then we did a kid version of cakes and wine: cookies and juice!  I am hoping that Heaven and Meg share a couple things in the comments that I cannot remember: The circle devocation and a cakes and wine blessing that were kid appropriate, catchy and charming. Ladies?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New! Witch Mom Forums!

To the Forums!

I have received so many emails and comments from folks from all over and wanted to foster dialogue between all of you. It would be great if pagan parents and their allies could network and share information and resources- so let's make it happen!

I have created a forum for us to discuss pagan parenting, witchcraft, magick, and more- and I want to see you all there!

Eventually the blog, the forum, and a store will all be available at, but we are in the throes of remodeling right now. And eventually, the forums will be more attractive (and match the look of the blog) and have a live chat and such.

But in the meantime, I couldn't wait! So you can click here and go to the forums to register now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Learning the Craft: Astral Projection

So the latest skill that I am learning from my Feri teacher is astral projection (or traveling out of body). To prepare me, she had me read a book called Out of Body Adventures, which, while a tad dated, has some great practical how to information on overcoming fears and obstacles and the mechanics of making it happen. It's an easy read and makes a seemingly daunting subject accessible.

I have travelled out of body before, but the outings were never planned. Sometimes I would start while sleeping and realize that I was not actually dreaming. I've met people and been places this way that I could recount in full detail. Another time I was being led in a guided meditation in a high school class and just took off! I recouted my adventures to my teacher, who was stupefied but attentive as I recounted my journey. But traveling intentionally with a purpose is a new activity to me, and I hope to get good at it.

In Feri, we believe that your Fetch is the entity that travels out of body (and the very name we use for this part of the soul indicates one of its traditional witchcraft purposes), and so I am in essence learning to send one third of my soul out into the worlds to do my bidding. Fetch has its root in this word.

Astral projection is something that most religions agree upon (although not all scientists!), from the ancient Egyptians to the present day. Even Christians acknowledge its existence, even if they do not work with the tool religiously: "before the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be shattered at the fountain, or the wheel be broken at the cistern" refers to this practice and is from the book of Ecclesiastes. Paul also talks of astral projection in his second letter to the Corinthians as well. Surprised? So was I!

Many traditional witches use a "flying ointment" or (shamans also use plant allies for this practice) to help with the journey. I am not against such a method, but am learning unassisted this time around- so that I can learn what it is like without aids before I add those into a repertoire. I personally think a witch should be able to do both.

Have any of y'all had out of body experiences? I'd love to hear about them! Feel free to post them in the comments, or email them to me!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Classes That I Am Taking!

I just started my new semester at seminary, and am taking two classes this fall. I have a liturgy writing class on Mondays called "Writing the Rites" that will undoubtedly make an appearance here in the blog. And my other class, Sex and Spirit, is on Thursdays! I wanted to share a bit, after all, sex and religion is a powerful mix!
birth.gifIn Feri, Sex is considered the life force that connects all living things, and it is the origin of the universe (not just genital sex, but it includes that, too). Sex is not always about procreation, rather it is about creation of all kinds, be it of another human being, a work of art, a good orgasm, or an ecstatic experience. In Feri, there is no shame in sex- and there is no guilt, either. Sex is a good healthy thing, when consensual.

But I know that other religions have their issues with sex for whatever reason and often have prohibitions on what kind of sex one is allowed to have (if any), when you can have it, and with whom. That is why I am glad to be in a class with people from diverse religious and cultural perspectives. I am glad to see that future clergy of many denominations and traditions will be sex positive.

As a future priest and present parent, the messages that I transmit about sex to those around me matter. Sex is a normal bodily function and a part of creation. I want my son growing up embracing his human birthright to have sex and hold it as sacred, as a gift.  I want him to get pleasure from his body as is his right. I want him to know the names of all his body parts, and the names of other body parts he does not possess. As a young girl, I was not told the names of all my body parts, and had to learn about sex mostly on my own. I already have a great children's book for Rowan when he gets a little older called a Kid's First Book About Sex. He will learn anything he wants to know, and he will get information without having to ask. Teaching him about sex will be like teaching him about art, math, or insects. It is a commonplace thing, and happens to almost everyone in their life.

About the class (from the syllabus):

If we want to bring our whole selves into connection with Spirit, we can’t forget our sexual selves. In this class, we will explore the effects of erotophobia on sexuality and, by extension, spirituality in order to discover how we can integrate these foundational aspects of our humanity. Some topics we will discuss include: sexual well-being, the effects of shame on relationships, sexual diversity, how our sexual selves can inform our spiritual practices, and the dance between boundaries and connection with others. The class will include lecture, interactive exercises, group discussion, and personal reflection in order to offer a range of perspectives and experiences.

Course objectives: By the end of the course, you will be able to:
  • Discuss how sexual well-being, shame and interpersonal boundaries influence and are influenced by their relationships with the Divine.
  • Identify and commit to at least one step they can take to deepen their understanding of sexual diversity and overcome erotophobia.
  • Explore ways in which their personal sexualities can both inform and hinder their roles as ministers.

Sound good? So far, it is! My professor for the class is an old friend, actually- Charlie Glickman. We worked together at Good Vibrations, among other things, back in the day.

I'll be journaling for the class and posting some of those entries here. For homework for our first class, he asked us to write about this:
What messages have you received about sex and spirituality? How have those messages shaped your studies? Your spiritual journey? Your daily life?

Interesting questions for me to ponder. How about you?

If all goes according to plan, I should become a better, more creative writer in the next 14 weeks: "Writing the Rites" is my way of getting up to snuff in the writing department.

Technically, it is a liturgy writing class for wannabe Unitarian Universalist ministers. But what is liturgy if not creative writing for religious thinkers? And not just "the big 5" have liturgy. My religious tradition has gorgeous liturgy written by poets more talented in that arena than I. But I aspire, and in order to succeed, work is to be done! We will be writing as a daily practice, checking in with a writing partner weekly on top of class time, and checking in monthly with the professor about our journaling. I am looking forward to honing my skills!

We started the class by doing some automatic writing and (gulp) sharing it in front of the class - twice. I took a chance and made myself vulnerable, exposing personal details about my life. It's going to be an interesting semester, I think!

From the syllabus:
I. Description:
This course will provide religious leaders with tools to create meaningful, multi-vocal worship in the UU congregational setting. In class and in the community we will be creating and leading traditional and transformational worship for people at all ages and stages. Students will gain and understanding of the psychology and spirituality of ritual and liturgical forms within an historic context. In addition to the Sunday service, we’ll create a calendar and write ceremonial rites to prepare for the leadership of weddings, memorials and other special religious occasions.
II. Course Aims and Learning Objectives:
This course will include a lot of writing. In and between sessions students will be writing for the various elements that make up Sunday services, and traditional rites of the Unitarian Universalist community. Students will explore the necessary rhythms of writing for professional sustainability.
Students will share their writing with others and be expected to offer, and receive, affirmation and critique. We will create a community of hope expressed in written and spoken words.
Learning Objectives:
By the end of this course, students will: Have a portfolio of writing samples for various religious
occasions; Understand the history and intentions of various liturgical rites and
increase in their confidence and ability to lead congregations
through familiar and new rituals; Be able to adapt written material from a variety of sources with
attention to the integrity of the original and the issues of
appropriation and fair use; Find meaningful tools for incorporating writing into a public and
pastoral ministry.
I'm looking forward to creating some gorgeous litugy for Feri rituals in this class!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Interview with AOL's ParentDish!

Today, an interview with me appeared on the site, ParentDish. It's a large mainstream parenting site that gets readers of all kinds.

I was approached to do this interview after I critiqued their religion and spirituality section (after clicking on it, it contained only Christianity and Yoga!) and an editor contacted me about my comment. After some dialogue back and forth exposing my point of view, I was asked to do an interview and I agreed (as long as they promised not to make me look stupid, which I am glad to report that they did not).

While nothing scandalous or new necessarily comes out in the interview, I am glad for the exposure it gives to regular old witches like myself in this country. I laughed when the tags applied included "weird but true"- it's like a tag for my entire life!

The comments range from fundamentalist (mostly Christian) nut-jobs to normal everyday people who actually think before they speak. Feel free to leave your own comments and take their poll, too!

Watching My Son Grow: Jammy and Diaper Days

Today is a precious day: for me, it is a "jammy day" and for Rowan, it is a "diaper day". What do I mean?

We are an incredibly busy family. Always on the go and most of the time with Rowan in tow. He's been babysat all of twice so far and most of the time we just bring him along to whatever we do, unless it is inappropriate. If it is, either one of us goes (and the other stays home with Rowan) or we all do something else. We like it that way. He has learned to sleep where he is, play with what is around (we do bring toys for him, but often he prefers exploring his surroundings), and be adventurous with people and places.

But today is one of those rare days that neither Rowan nor I have to leave the house. On these days, mommy never gets out of her jammies and Rowan never puts on clothes- he just runs around in his diaper (the closest thing he gets for long term periods to being naked, which is what he'd prefer!). I love these days. So does he. He gets #1 priority on these days, even if I have chores, schoolwork, or other work to do.

I get to really study my son, learn all about his likes, dislikes, fears and joys in a way that you just cannot do when you multi-task. Today, Rowan and I played on the floor with his ball (his new favorite toy) wrestled and tickled, started learning a new sign (for "kiss"), and he watched me make soup from Mabon leftover chicken. We ate heirloom tomatoes, danced to some pirate metal  (did you know that it is International Talk Like a Pirate Day?), and laughed at the antics of my birds.

In the narrow window of time that daddy was home, we installed a new extra wide baby gate as part of our ever-expanding baby-proofing measures to contain our newly mobile son. (More to do, of course, but we are taking it one step at a time!)

One of the new things Rowan likes to do is tell me when my plants need watering. I used to have a green thumb, when I lived by myself in a cute little witch's cottage. Since living with other people, I have had bad luck with plants. Not sure if it's all the extra fauna energy trumping the plant communication or what. But lately, Rowan has been helping mommy remember our houseplants and herb garden. He will stop whatever he is doing, and stare at the plants that live above the house altar and beloved dead altar. Just stare, until I notice. Then he smiles broadly as if to say, "Yep, you got it!" Then I will go get the water pot and he watches me water all the plants, smiling all the while. I may have a hard time hearing my plants these days, but I am glad to say that Rowan hears that they are thirsty just fine!

I don't know if I would have caught this subtle, non-verbal communication if I didn't have these precious days with my son. I love the days we can both slow down and love one another, and revel in anothers' company.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Low Key Mabon

So normally, I "do up" the sabbats- lots of pomp and circumstance.

This time, I felt like being a "secular witch" for once and just have a good old fashioned feast, the way most Americans do for Thanksgiving (sans football). I wanted to invite my friends and kin to be with me and eat and talk and laugh. No circle casting, no agenda- just community and harvest and good company.

For those that don't know, Mabon is kinda like a witches' Thanksgiving. And what is Thanksgiving if not a huge feast where we feel kinship to one another by breaking bread and sharing our lives? So that's all I felt like doing this time around. I made a commitment to commorating the sabbats with Rowan, so we held a Mabon feast.

We invited folks of every theological stripe, from witches to agnostic folks to Jews (today was also Yom Kippur, so we lit candles and sang in the new year), very low key and those that showed up brought a potluck dish. Yum!

Rowan had several other kids to play with, adults had some lively conversation, and everyone had some yummy food. I felt grateful for my community and friends today, and at the end of the day, that's what it's all about, yes?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Some Amazing Things That I've Read Lately in the Blogosphere

Wanted to share with you some amazing posts that I have read lately (by amazing writers) in the blogosphere. Some are parenting blogs, others are witchy blogs, others are indefinable. All are stellar! Pagan parents, feminists, and witches, take note!

"Drive Away Now, Mommy" (Raising My Boychick): Arwyn places her kid in preschool, feelings ensue.

Magical Ink Making (The Witch of Forest Grove): Sarah and her apprentice make magical ink!

Remote Control Baby (Four Little Zwaagstras): Amazing innovations for children with disabilities!

Don't Offend Whitey (Womanist Musings): Musings on Whiteness.

Possession and Invocation (Kenaz Filan): Really great article about degrees and terminology around divine possession.

A Social Dilemma: What If We're the Only Ones Who Don't Send Our Kids to Preschool? (Daddy Dialectic): a father's musings on how preschool didn't work for his kid...

Friday, September 17, 2010

More on the Origins of the Universe

Regular readers will recall in this post when I said that the newest sciences (like quantum physics) are starting to catch up with what mystics of many religions have been saying all along about our creation and the relational (rather than object) nature of the universe. Just wanted to follow up on that idea a bit more, this time with a video!

A 10 minute video to watch (make yourself comfy and get some popcorn!): 

In Feri, we say that in the beginning was God Herself, complete in and of herself. She needed no consort. She then saw her reflection in the curved black mirror f space, found herself beautiful, and made love to herself. Her orgasm was the explosion that birthed all matter, energy, and substance in the universe (including all other Gods). To me, this is a more poetic way of talking about it than some of the scientists talking about the same thing. Great video, no?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Post Camp Wrap Up (Part Two, The Witchlet)!

Dirty fussy baby
So, many of you are probably wondering how well (or poorly) Rowan did being away from the comforts of home at camp. His mommy and daddy were very occupied this weekend, trying to balance his needs (being parents) with the needs of the camp and its attendees (being clergy). Did he suffer? Is he the worse for wear?

Attaching the high chair
in the barn
Hardly. We didn't bring a lot of "gear" to the camp to keep him contained and/or occupied- we sufficed with a Bumbo chair (highly portable), an attachable high chair (that attached to a table in the barn, the main common building), and an Ergo carrier for schlepping him around the land. He did have a couple toys that he loves as well, mostly for naptime. But for the most part, he was carried from place to place, being attended by mom, dad, or someone else who volunteered. The beauty of Rad Fae culture is that it is decidedly tribal, and there was no question that Rowan was getting great loving attention from many uncles and aunties- frankly, he was getting more "hands-on" time than what he gets at home! I felt comfortable with all campers there, and they obviously loved hamming it up for a juvenile audience.

Mary, trying desperately not to look
at the squealing baby.
Rowan was constantly touched, hugged, kissed and carried and he ate it up. I was so grateful that people not only tolerated my son, but made space for him and embraced him being there. Papa and I worked hard to balance the schedule and who had primary Rowan duty while the other had priestly duties (Leading a trance = no baby!), but there were times when it was nice to get a break and the fellow campers offered that to us. For that, I am very thankful. He charmed the pants off of everyone there, too. (Did I forget to mention that I have the world's cutest baby?)

Chasing Mary off.
An adorable thing that we knew about Rowan before was that he likes dogs. What we didn't know until the camp was just how freaking much he LOVES dogs! Mary, the land dog, was a constant source of fascination and amusement for Rowan- and it freaked Mary out. Rowan would squeal like a velociraptor on caffeine and giggle like a madman and Mary was like, "Aaagh! Keep away, crazy thing!" (The dog fixation continued after we were on our way home, too- we saw several dogs when we stopped at a pub to eat on the patio. He was so manic and happy. He got to hug a puppy and have it lick his face, and that made him laugh and smile. Sounds like the kid has a dog of his own in the future- a very patient and tolerant dog!)

Bribing Mary to come near.
What were the downsides? First and foremost, the sleeping arrangements. Rowan is used to getting two-three naps during the day and being in bed by 8:30 at night. Because he needs to be within earshot as he is now newly mobile (and therefore a danger to himself and property), we had to try and get him to nap near us, in an area with lots of activity. It was hard and he was cranky sometimes. He fought naps to stay awake and see what all the fun was. The Ergo carrier was a lifesaver in this regard- we were able to stuff him in it when he started to look tired and by the time we got to our destination, he was asleep. Mama and Daddy felt like pack mules, but it worked for the most part. In the evening, when we were gearing up for ritual, it was harder. It would have been great if we had some sort of transportable nest for him to burrow into, but we made due.

Rowan was carried everywhere.
And while it didn't bother me so much, if you are taking your kid(s) to an outdoor gathering, you need to be OK with them getting dirty filthy. Rowan was caked with dust, ate dirt, leaves, and probably more than his share of bugs. And you know what? I'm OK with that. Eating dirt builds the immune system, being outdoors is healthy, and being surrounded by people that love him is as it should be! Eating nasties is a small price to pay for him being immersed in nature, tribe and magick, just the way it should be. But I could see how some other parents might go, "Ick".

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. And we attend a totally different type of gathering (A pagan convention in a hotel) in February, so stay tuned for pagan parenting, convention style!

Monday, September 13, 2010

How Our Family Works

Regular readers: this blog post is a submission to the Blog Carnival of Feminist Parenting.

I was recently told by more than one person that it was "crazy" the amount of stuff that I take on and projects that I juggle. To someone outside our family, it probably seems that way. How could I have time for my son, as well as an active blog, and several not-for-profit organizations, and be in grad school, and, and, and?

First, I've always been a busy person. A do-er. I've always talked about myself as someone who "makes stuff happen". It's what I do, and I love doing it. Sometimes I get stressed, sure- but honestly, I get bored easily! I need to have projects pulling at my attention (and I don't a TV)! People should only worry about me if I have nothing going on. Then something is seriously wrong, people.

While I have a lot of projects, they have come up in the pursuit of doing what I love. For example, in her last living year, I met and visited Cora Anderson weekly. While many would think that I was purely in the giving situation there and Cora was receiving, that is only part of the reality. She told me many important things, some of which I am still sorting out. She gave me plenty to think about in terms of my relationship to the Craft and the people in it. Frankly, I have learned so much from so many- and for that, I am truly grateful. Out of that, PEARL was born, and I personally care for an elder (one that I am personally connected to) about once a week, and in the process, I set up the infrastructure for others to do the same, if they choose.

Another example: I wanted to have a baby. After Rowan got here, I realized there are too few real-life resources for me and those like me: Pagan parents who are community minded and want their children growing up in a tribal environment with close familial ties reinforced by our religion. Out of that, this blog and Pagan Playdate were born.

To assure those people that think that I take on "too much": I know how to say no and actually do that quite often- to projects that do not fit into the world that I am shaping for myself. I know how to pace myself in the work as well. Most of these projects are something that I, myself, initiated as I was uncovering my Work. When I follow the Flow, the Work is easy and things get done.

Second, (and this point is very important) my family structure allows me the time and energy to do all of these projects, go to school, make a living, and care for my son. "How the hell does that work?" I hear you asking yourself. Simple. I don't have to be exclusively responsible for any one project (except school- that one is all me!) all the time.

I was delighted to learn that I was following the principles of Equally Shared Parenting! I discovered this blog/book a month or so ago and the tune is so familiar! My partner and I share the burden of breadwinning, parenting, housework, and several projects in the Feri community. 

I know lots of parents (mostly women) who do most or all of the parenting alone. They are either single mamas or they have a "one breadwinner, one stay-at-homer" family. Both models are hard and frankly, I don't know how they manage.

I am a huge fan of Hip Mama and after reading the magazine, books, and blogs (all of whom give plenty of voice to single mamas (among other kinds)), I have to say: single mamas have my utmost respect for keeping it together on a daily basis. What you manage to do trumps my efforts any day! Single parents rule. If you are not a single parent but know any - do the world a favor and offer some free babysitting this week to her/him. Seriously. They deserve some free time.

And I feel for the split-duty families, too. The breadwinner often feels as they are missing out on important moments in their kids lives (and they are!) and the stay-at-homer tends to go crazy from a lack of adult contact. It's not really a win-win situation there, either. 

I love our family model; it really works for us. The most that I have gone without support with Rowan is 10 hours, and the same is true for my partner (and baby daddy), Oberyn. I was lucky to find such a like-minded co-parent. We saw eye-to-eye on this issue from the start. Both of us want to share the care for Rowan equally and be there for him as he grows and develops- we have committed to this whole parenting thing fully. We both tend to see parenthood as the most important job we will ever have, and it is a task that we relish.

As corny as it sounds, watching our son grow and develop is amazing and is time better spent than most anything else we could be doing. We often amuse ourselves these days by witnessing his milestones: how he is learning to crawl, bit by bit; each new food he tries and the funny faces he makes when he does; or how he is fast becoming a serious flirt. Naturally, it takes our breath away- it is an amazing thing we are doing and we have created an amazing being. Oberyn is a naturally giving and nurturing person, and takes amazing care of our son. Rowan, in turn, adores his daddy. I am so grateful.

As for equally shared parenting, we have even gone so far as to do a "split shift" at bedtime. First shift sleeps with Rowan until 4 AM (we do co-sleeping with our son). This is the time he normally wakes for a feeding. Then the first shifter changes his diaper and passes him off to the second shifter, who feeds him and takes him for the rest of the night. We actually sleep in separate rooms, as this allows each of us to get far more sleep with a baby in the house than any other way we tried. And sleep is a rare and precious commodity these days.

That is not to say that we don't have our disputes, mainly over housework. While I am not a slob, Oberyn is far more, let's say -meticulous- than I am (That's a much nicer word than "anal", isn't it? Just joking!). He gets fed up with clutter a lot quicker than I do, and so he ends up doing more around the house and that can sometimes lead to resentments. I am sure as he reads this blog he is grinning. I rarely admit to him that he does more chores, and now here I am, telling the whole world! (Often I am writing Witch Mom posts as he does the dishes.)

My partner is one of those rare specimens: a male feminist who likes to keep a neat house! When I asked him how he ended up that way, he wasn't sure. He certainly wasn't brought up to see work around the house as something a man should value or pursue. Personally, I think it had to do with his college studies in queer theory. He was exposed to feminism as well as queer politics in college, and it stuck. It also helps that his generation takes many feminist advances for granted (Oberyn is 11 years younger than me), and that has translated into our home life.

The fact that we both belong to a religion that embraces the Divine Feminine can't hurt, either. In our religion, women are strong and powerful. It's a natural state of being. As above so below- if God Herself can create the universe and everything in it, certainly this mama can post in her blog or organize a new event (while her son is happily played with by daddy).

A feminist model of parenting is personally benefiting me, yes. It allows me to pursue my interests and passions as well as have a successful family life. But I firmly believe that this is also the best for Rowan, my son, as well. He gets two fully engaged parents who love on him all the time. He gets two models of well-adjusted, balanced, thriving adults to model himself upon. He will never hear the guilt-inducing refrain that so many have about how their parents martyred themselves on the altar of parenthood to raise him, because it is not necessary or even true.

My son was planned and wanted every step of the way- from his conception to every little detail of his upbringing. My partner and I negotiate at each juncture and no assumptions are made about who is going to do what based on gender- it is based on ability, time available, and other practical matters. To me, this is what feminist parenting is all about.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tangible Witchcraft: Devotional Mask Making (Part Two)

Ishtar is coming together.
If you are just joining us, this is part two of this blog post. In part one, I go through most of the beginning steps on how to make a devotional mask and the hows and whys of my particular mask (of Lilith). I learned this craft so that I could then help others make theirs at the F(a)eri(e) Magic(k) Gathering, which I helped to organize this Labor Day weekend. (see related posts about that!)

Jared is making a jawless mask.
So after creating the outside of the mask and the wings, what was left? Well, for starters, I needed to attach the heavy wings somehow, and be sure that they created a veil that went all the way around my head (I wanted to be completely enclosed by Her energy in the mask). I also wanted to do some work on the inside of the mask- for the benefit of the wearer.

California Mugwort
So I started by taking some wildcrafted mugwort and steeping a strong infusion of it to paint on the inside of the mask. Mugwort is a strong plant ally in trance and dreaming work. Mugwort, also known as Motherwort, is sacred to moon goddesses (it is an emmenagogue, after all), and what is the moon but Lilith's Lantern?

Melisseus is painting his.
After that tea dried, I could embellish the inside of the mask as well. I blackened the inside so that I removed all distractions keeping me from engaging in the mask's purpose. Then I added the sigil that She gave me (it is on her sacred objects that I have made for Her before) to the forehead of the mask, on the inside, so that it covers my "third eye" when I wear the mask.

Three mask makers start the
embellishment process
Then I attached the wings with leather cord (I created 4 holes with an exacto knife in each wing, then laced them so make the stress point of attachment more diffuse, then attached each wing at two parts of the mask, tying the leather lace inside. I then reinforced the knot with some hot glue.

Then I needed to attach a cord to make the mask stay on, hands-free. I used a jacket cord (you know, the kind with a plastic slider on it?) instead of an elastic band. This is so my mask can get years of use without having to replace stretched out cord.

My mask is not yet complete in the pictures below, as the veil has not been attached and the wing edges were not covered - but this gives you an idea of the effect. Finally, after trying out the mask, Lilith told me that she wanted eye holes, as she wanted to move while talking and be able to approach people of her choosing. So I created some.

Just the right amount of fright
A profile look.
We used the masks in ritual that night, invoking who we worked with into the circle. I plan on using my mask in a more quiet way, as an aid in oracular work and to sit with Her in quiet moments, mainly.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Post Camp Wrap Up! (Part One)

Camp altar, left side
So my partner and I just returned from The F(a)eri(e) Magic(k) Gathering that we helped organize. It was a camp bringing together those interested in the intersection and cross-pollination of Feri Tradition and Radical Faerie culture and magick. He thought of the idea originally, and I jumped on board right away, as I also identify as Feri and Radical Faerie simultaneously and thought that the idea was juicy.

Camp altar, middle
We quickly assembled a team of like-minded people once we got the idea approved by the folks at Wolf Creek, where we wanted the camp to be held. Wolf Creek is a sanctuary for Radical Faeries in Wolf Creek, Oregon. They hold almost 80 acres of land and magick has been the land's primary use for decades. It is a sacred place.  We hit the ground running to make this camp happen, as by the time we got it approved, we had a mere month and a half to organize everything and promote the camp to get people interested in attending.

Camp altar, right
It was hellish, especially that last week before camp when several people had last minute problems (Mercury Retrograde, anyone?). We were in a car accident (minor, no one hurt, but the car went into the shop, causing the need for a rental); two others attending had repairs to their car costing serious cash; and the other two Feri initiates  (in addition to my partner) got so ill that they could not come. (This was stressful because as a mystery initiatory tradition, Feri must be transmitted and passed from a priest to seekers- leaving my partner alone in that part of the work.)

Ambar, our second in the kitchen!
But we persevered, got there, and in the end, it was wonderful. But it didn't start out that way. Our first day started late as people were just arriving and settling in. We did manage the meals, Feri teaching, and a ritual (starting with a ritual planning meeting after dinner). It was at that planning meeting that we all realized what we were up against: everyone on either side (and many of those spanning both sides) of the aisle had specific ideas of what ritual should be (and by extension the "meaning" of magick) and were firmly entrenched and invested in those ideas (and somewhat closed off to others).

Elfin, Kitchen Queen
It was probably premature to expect that we could design a ritual together before we got to know one another. Next year, I think the first night should be a social gathering, with dancing and revelry! So our first night's ritual was Rad Fae by default, leaving very little recognizable Feri in the mix. It left much to be desired on everyone's parts, and as an organizer I was left wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. Was it even possible to do this work? Many were mightily discouraged after day one. How to come together?

Jared and Rachel
Many strong personalities had issues that were brought to the surface with this camp. I suggested to one person that, while s/he did not want to embrace Feri as their personal thea/ology, coming to Feri class was worthwhile. It allowed us a common magic(k)al language and made sure that we all knew what one another were talking about. I suggested that s/he "play tourist" and not to take the student-teacher dynamic as an insult (which s/he was), but as a mutually agreed upon, consensual power dynamic. I told her how I also struggled: with the seemingly lackadaisical attitude of some of the other Rad Fae. How it felt like in Faespace, nothing ever happens on purpose, that they lacked discipline (in its original meaning it shares a root with "disciple"- it is a religious term) to manifest their will- rather they appear let their "woo" control them. We both had issues.

There were some interesting discussions about this topic throughout the weekend, and some of the language used on the exclusively Rad Fae side squicked me, to say the least.

First, there was the characterization of Feri as a "technology driven" practice. This term to me smacks of artificiality, machines, and soul-lessness and I was greatly bothered by it. I think what was meant that there is a thea/ology and specific tools of alchemy for the practitioner. Rad Fae does not have a unified theology, nor lots of tools (but some, which we included). To me, Feri is a religion, whereas Faerie is a culture. That statement does not make one trump the other, it just acknowledges their difference to me. But some Rad Fae think of it as a religious tradition, and felt like because there were no tools to present, that it was at a "disadvantage" in the schedule.

The next term that bothered me (HARD!) was the characterization of Rad Fae as an "indigenous" tradition (as opposed to Feri), which made no sense to me and smacked of cultural appropriation. (Perhaps they meant "pertaining to the self" when they used that term?) Whereas Feri has actual elements of indigenous traditions, Rad Fae is a culture that has no thea/ology to speak of, and just because one has a land to tie you to a place does not make you “indigenous” (especially since most Rad Fae are overwhelmingly white.)

Peacock and Tomkat
Days two and three had a regular, proposed schedule that included one Feri class, one Rad Fae tool (the Heart Circle) and choice of Paths that were both Feri and Faerie and simultaneously neither one. On paper, it looked balanced. Yet one Rad Fae person suggested that they felt it was too heavy on Feri, while still others thought that not enough time was available for diving in deeply to the Feri tools presented, and ended up taking that time for themselves, and not attending other things in the schedule. I am a firm believer in feelings and perceptions over paper, so both were true. In retrospect, we overscheduled the camp, not giving enough time for free time, sex, and land exploration. This needs to be built into next year's camp.

Stella Maris
We had some amazing discussions- both in Feri class (which was a facilitated open discussion about specific tools of Feri: blue fire breathing and manipulation, Iron and Pearl pentacles, grounding, the Kala rite, and soul alignment) and in Heart Circle, opening us up to one another and allowing trust to build.

Sunday was a near perfect day. Our Feri class was actually an open-ended discussion of what Gods people work with and how they do that work. It worked well, as even most Feri work with some Gods outside the Feri pantheon. We did body adornment and mask making in path work, and some amazing masks were made. The ritual that night FINALLY balanced Feri and Rad Fae in a way that we all hoped was possible but no one was sure if it would actually happen. Nimue made an appearance and possessed several people- including a Rad Fae who had never met Her before! The Peacock Angel also was there. We hooted and hollered and cackled and drummed and danced.

And how did Rowan do in this all adult gathering? Stay tuned for part two!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ask Me Anything: "Channeling"

In this new feature on Witch Mom, I answer select questions from readers. There is a box to the right of my blog posts, under the "About Witch Mom" description if you would also like to ask a question. It could be about The Craft, parenting, pop culture, multi-religious education, or whatever! I cannot promise to answer each one, but I will read them!

A reader asks,
"Is it truly possible for a person to be a non-consensual trance medium or channeler?"

At a Voudou Gede in Brooklyn

Those terms (channeling, trance medium) are more new-agey than I would personally use, but the short answer is YES.

In Feri, as in many religious trads that work with spirits directly by allowing them inside us, we call the practice what it is: possession. We allow spirits and Gods to take temporary possession of our physical bodies so that we can benefit from their presence here in this world for a number of reasons.

 In my religious tradition, we "do" possessions- sometimes in a ritual context. In such a case, it is a planned part of a ritual and the "horse" (or host, or whatever you would like to call the human allowing a spirit/ God/ or being to "ride" them) is a willing participant and has prepared for such a role. We carefully negotiate with the God beforehand, letting them know the limits of what we will and will not permit when they have control of our bodies. We also carefully chose a caretaker to tend "the horse" during and after the possession. They help enforce the agreements made with the God beforehand. I have been in that role many times- I was encouraged to master that role before attempting a possession myself. As a priest-in-training, I have done both roles now several times. Both have their challenges.  As the caretaker, you need to be able to say NO to a God and be able to back it up. (Ever say no to a God before? It's um... interesting.) Gods rarely understand the physical limitations of a human body, and a horse needs an advocate sometimes.

An appropriate (consentual) type of
possession: oracular work
But to answer your question- I have personally seen, in my tradition and in other places/contexts, people that cannot control what happens to their own bodies and spirits and/or Gods take their bodies unknowingly or without consent. Yes, it does happen. This is frowned upon in my tradition, as we see ourselves equal to everything that there is, including what we call "Gods". We do not allow anything to take our life force and an unconsenting and unknown possession does just that. As a priest-in-training,  I have been trained to control my (brain and energy) states so as to either enhance a possession or to also forbid access to my person if it is not the appropriate time or place for a possession. That is why my tradition really stresses the alchemical tools we have to its students (future priests)- it builds a string spiritual container to allow us to do work like this. And gives us the ability to truly say YES and NO, to anyone- be they God or human.