Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lakshmi, Dhumavati, and Lilith

Lakshmi in this aspect.
Today, my Tantric friend Ekabhumi gifted me with a statue of a form of Lakshmi he was given in India- carved by people that he met while there, studying devotional art. (The picture at left is not mine- but it is similar.) I was drawn to the statue because it reminded me of my patroness- this particular Lakshmi rides an owl and holds a vessel of blessings.
Though her devotees pray to Lakshmi for wealth, her gifts are also of spiritual truth and purity, achieved through continual effort. This idea is represented by the lotus which, although it grows from the mud, remains pure and perfect, suggesting that the aim of her worshippers should be a spiritual state which transcends the material world.
Bejeweled and riding a crow.
My patroness has asked me to place offerings of suffering into a very similar vessel- and she transforms them into blessings to me and the person that I am healing. So my friend gave the statue to me, carefully explaining her attributes and how the Tantrics work with her. He also told me of Lakshmi's shadow, a goddess called Dhumavati. As someone who works with a few dark goddesses, I was riveted by the descriptions and did some more research.

Note the crows.
I believe the statue called to me for a reason, drawing me in to both Lakshmi (who bestows wealth and blessings, which are always needed!) and her shadow, with whom I also have much in common. Ooh, I love this set of twins, and see them- functioning as a unit- as manifestations of Lilith in Tantric culture. (In a similar fashion, I did a research paper for school about Lilith being the shadow of the Shekhina in Jewish mysticism recently, and the idea of a further twinning of the aspects of my patroness is intriguing.)

Thinking about Lilith in this way helps me work with different aspects of Her and allows me to explore her in a way that I have not done before. Not that working with her is an intellectual exercise, because it is not. Nor is it just in my head. But appealing to a part of a goddess is similar to appealing to an aspect of a human's personality. And just as we are multi-facted, they are even more so. So I am excited to work with both Lakshmi and Dhumavati in some way.
Dhumavati is described as a giver of siddhis (supernatural powers), a rescuer from all troubles, and a granter of all desires and rewards, including ultimate knowledge and moksha (salvation). Her worship is also prescribed for those who wish to defeat their foes. Dhumavati's worship is considered ideal for unpaired members of society, such as bachelors, widows, and world renouncers as well as Tantrikas. In her Varanasi temple, however, she transcends her inauspiciousness and acquires the status of a local protective deity. There, even married couples worship her. Although she has very few dedicated temples, her worship by Tantric ritual continues in private in secluded places like cremation grounds and forests....She dwells in the "wounds of the world", deserts, ruined houses, poverty, tatters, hunger, thirst, quarrels, mourning of children, in wild and other uncivilized, dangerous places. Widows in general are considered inauspicious, dangerous, and susceptible to possession by evil spirits. As a divine widow, Dhumavati is to be feared.[21] Dhumavati is described as a hag or witch, crafty and quarrelsome...

You can see why I am drawn, right?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Birth is not a business!

Me, a year and a half before my first birth.
My readers may not know this (unless they have read way back to the beginning of this blog), but I have had two very different birth experiences. My first birth, back when I was a teen was a horrorshow. Because I was giving the child up for adoption and I was an inexperienced, awkward, young person; I did not know to advocate for myself and was taken advantage of.

Far too many women suffer pathologized births like my first one- I was brought into the hospital (I was not in labor) forced pitocin to induce (very painful, non-productive) contractions and when my cervix did not cooperate with the doctor's plans, I was given an unecessary c-section. No one listened to me or explained to me what was happening and it left me with some very serious PTSD. (Decades later, sometimes I would cry involuntarily during a pap smear, even when done by a caring professional.)

There is a better way.

Judi, my my midwife,
interacting with Rowan the day after his birth.
And when I decided to have a child of my own, I was hellbent on getting a better experience- on my own terms. I went to a midwife at a birth center. Not only did she spend hours with me explaining everything and my options, but she also gave me referrals that helped me. For example, I went to a therapist who specializes in folks with previous birth trauma and sex abuse and uses EMDR to repattern the feelings around what happened to make way for empowerment. I have no earthly idea how the EMDR worked, but I can tell you that it did. When I thought of having to give birth in a hospital again (which was a distinct possibility because of some complications that I was having), I would stress out and get gripped with panic- not exactly conducive to giving birth, ya know?

I know for a fact that my midwife saved me from a second c-section. Under her loving care, I was not only to have a healthy happy baby, but I was able to overcome years of trauma around birth, my uterus and vagina, and hospitals. I urge everyone to seek out a non-pathologized birth. It is healthier for mom and baby. As I mentioned, I had a birth team. This included my partner (the baby's father- who went with me to childbirth classes and has been a full co-parent every step of the way), a midwife (who did my prenatal visits and advocated for me when I was transferred to a hospital) and a doula (who did everything she could to take care of me during labor before heading to the birth center, in the hospital, and at home afterwards: dishes and cooking and fetching things for me- so I could just BE with my baby and sleep). This helped me feel secure and well cared for- which did not happen at my first birth.

One of a series of photos,
taken by my doula in the
hospital after Rowan came to me.
I urge women to listen to their feelings and determine their needs before engaging with the medical establishment. I knew that I needed to have lots of support and fierce advocates. We created a birth plan and everyone knew what we wanted and what their roles were before during and after the birth. Since the birth itself is a huge unknown, this helped put my mind at ease and allowed me to focus on giving birth, knowing everything else was covered.

What was/were your birth experience(s) like? Were they positive or negative? Did your experience affect other parts of your life? What would you change if there was a "next time"?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Prayer Request- Please Disseminate

Hello everybody - as you can see on the news, the Wallow fire in Northern Arizona is still uncontrollable and spreading. The fire has destroyed everything in its path, over 1/2 million acres so far, the largest fire in Arizona history.

Please join us in a tribal prayer to help the firefighters and all involved. Pray so the winds stop and the rains start (without lightning please) We want to pray for the safety of all. Ask for heavenly walls to protect our land and animals from fire. All the choppers, manpower, planes, and bulldozers are not enough, they need our help.

We are one Nation as Natives and our traditional prayers to the Creator as Natives can be pretty powerful; not only are our tribal lands at stake (White Mountain & San Carlos Apaches, possibly Zuni,
and some Navajo areas), but our non-native friends also need our help.

Please let us all connect our minds, hearts and our prayers across the miles and pray. Wherever you are and whatever you have plan please stop for a few minutes and raise your hands to the Creator to ask for help.

If all of you can forward this message across the Nations, we can reach many thru phone and internet. Please start forwarding ASAP to reach as many as we can. Please if your spiritual preference is not
traditional - pray with us in however way you talk to the Creator.

Thank you,
Dorothea Stevens, San Carlos Apache Nation

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Happy Queer Pride Everyone!

Today is Pride Day, which is a celebration/commemoration of the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. It is seen as one of the defining moments where this marginalized community banded together and took on one of their myriad oppressors- this time the police.

It is not the first riot of its kind. Actually, the same sort of event happened in San Francisco three years earlier at Compton's Cafeteria. The Stonewall event just got more media coverage and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people heard this "shot heard 'round the world" and took up figurative arms.

I find it alarming how many younger Queer folks do not really know their own history. Many are not aware of these riots, or that they were led by drag queens and transgender folks. Many only know this day as a reason to party (not that there is anything wrong with fun!).

Days like this, while now celebrated with vodka brand floats and other corporate underwriting (gag), are worth noting and celebrating in some way. I plan on teaching my son about the struggles of all marginalized peoples and how we need to work together to solve problems, including oppression. To revel in his queerness (regardless of who he loves) and be a good ally to the communities to which he does not belong.

Rowan and me at last year's Freedom Village.
In these days of political uncertaincy and backlash against women, Queers, religious minorities and the poor (among others)- we need to take heart in our past victories and move forward together towards a brighter future.

I look forward to spending Pride Day teaching Sunday School, then heading to the Radical Faerie Freedom Village, which is the only commercial-free space in all of the SF Pride celebration.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Handling Conflict with Our Children Compassionately

I am so fortunate to have a resource where I live like the East Bay Meditation Center. They are a completely volunteer run, donation sponsored, Buddhist Sangha that has group sitting time and dharma talks. I have attended the Alphabet Sangha on Wednesday evenings and it is such a beloved space to me. They also have special sitting times for people of color and differing physical abilities, as they are trying to meet the needs of my community. In addition to the usual fare, they also host great workshops, offered on myriad subjects. All workshops are free, although in the spirit of Dana, you are asked to give to the center and/or the teacher if you can.

The East Bay Meditation Center from East Bay Meditation Center on Vimeo.

Last week, I went to a great talk on "Handling Conflict With Our Children Compassionately". It was taught by Shahara Godfrey, a member of the sangha and someone who has worked with all ages of children professionally- from infancy to teen years. Given that Rowan is entering full-blown toddlerhood, I figured staying one step ahead of the game and entering this phase with my eyes open was probably a wise thing!

It was a great workshop for me, as more than anything else- I learned what I was in for! The teacher and I were both surprised that only two parents showed up with kids under 2 (me included-our small group has plenty of time for both of us to talk!). The rest had kids from 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, and teens. From the stories they told and the support they were seeking (and these are gentle parents who came to a Buddhist center for a parenting class), I could tell parenting is going to be the ride of my life, as well as an exercise in patience.

I have to say, having three sessions of meditation (a sit, a walking meditation and then Metta) in one day was positively luxurious for this Witch. Since Rowan was born, I am lucky if I get to sit for 30 minutes a couple times a week. I find that it makes a world of difference in how I interact with him, my partner, and the world- so I am hoping to cultivate a life where daily sitting is possible.

This was a workshop on mindful parenting firmly rooted in the 5 precepts of the Buddha (Here's the Thich Nhat Hanh version, for those so inclined). Our teacher identified more with the 5 precepts as reinterpreted by the Manzanita Village in southern California:

Sculpture using actual human bones.
1. Aware of the violence in the world and of the power of non-violent resistance
I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations
and vow to cultivate the compassion that seeks to protect each living being.

2. Aware of the poverty and greed in the world and of the intrinsic abundance of the earth,
I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations
and vow to cultivate the simplicity, gratitude, and generosity that have no limits.

3. Aware of the abuse and lovelessness in the world and of the healing that is made possible when we open to love
I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations
and vow to cultivate respect for the beauty and erotic power of our bodies.

4. Aware of the falsehood and deception in the world and of the power of living and speaking the truth
I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations
and vow to cultivate the ability to listen; and clarity and integrity in all I communicate—by my words and actions.

5. Aware of the contamination and desecration of the world and of my responsibility for life as it manifests through me
I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations
and vow to cultivate discernment and care in what I take into my body and mind.

I was blown away by each parent and what they had to say- they were hoping to use their practice and beliefs to cultivate engaged empathy when having conflict with their kids. To use it to be able to pause, reflect and engage their kids where they are at, rather than flying off the handle (which we all do sometimes).

Can you imagine if we all, as human beings, used these precepts to guide us through life and our interactions with each other? That is, of course, the work of a lifetime. It's much easier to start smaller- and what better place to start than at home, with our children?

What guidelines, quotes, or advice guide you as a parent?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blogging Manifesto

I just discovered this awesome manifesto for bloggers, writers, and artists and had to post it here for you all to see.
This grassroots movement towards respect and authenticity is something worth spreading. Pass it on!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interesting Religious News

So the world of religion has never been so busy or fascinating, to my mind. There is so much going on it is hard to report it all (so I don't try)!

The Catholic movement to ordain women continues in full swing, despite the new(ish) conservative backswing that came with Ratzinger becoming Pope Benedict.

(Mostly Christian) seminaries now realize their bad and are now rushing to add interfaith relations into the curriculum. (I can just imagine the old guard saying, "What, you mean we have to live in the world with all those 'other people'?")

The Supreme court of India decides marriages of Hindus to non-Hindus aren't legal. Sigh.

Rather than reaching out to Witches and African practitioners, social services in Britain reaches out to Christians as "more legitimate" in handling "witchcraft abuses". Another sigh. In similar news, another set of attacks on people "practicing witchcraft".

Psychics are real, science says! 

I came across this amazing open letter to transgender pagans. Not news, just awesome and should be spread.

A lovely essay on doing less spiritually, and opening up to simply Be-ing.

"In Chile they managed to have the 31st of October declared a public holiday "to devote it to prayer to the One True God and so preserve it from satanic practices". What they have done in effect is to give all neo-Pagans a free day from mundane work, to celebrate Samhain ;-) For which we duly thanked them in the national media, but not one letter was published." - Andrea Salgado Reyes, on FB

 Great new report is published on women of faith involved in peacemaking around the world.

 Witches of different traditions doing herbalism in NYC. Witchcraft trads from everywhere are being more mainstreamed with news outlets like the NY Times covering everyday witchcraft, like healing.

A great columnist here in SF hits the mark again. He talks of keeping the faith and hope alive in times like these.

Someone that I go to school with wrote a great article: 5 Myths Atheists believe about religion.

Pagan Coming Out Day of sorts, in Australia.

And now for the videos:

A Lakota woman talks about giants:

Hopi people send a love letter to the people of Japan:

Lakota woman talks about Bigfoot:

Two videos on Two Spirit people, one here, the other here:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Watching My Son Grow: Story and Narrative

A delightful thing has happened in the last few months: Rowan has both become a storyteller and also now appreciates a good story. He is only 17 months old and has a limited vocabulary (of words we understand, anyway!), so his stories consist of dogs, birds, balls, bubbles, houses, food, juice, water, going to sleep, and milk. But what an extraordinary thing! I am blown away by the intellectual connections he is making and the knowledge he is amassing.

Last month, when putting my son to bed, I decided to tell him a story of my own making. Little did I know then that the story would be asked for again and again and become his favorite, one that he also asks his daddy to tell. The story, which has several variations, is called "The House of Balls" and it is all about a special house, just for Rowan, that has unlimited balls of every color, pattern and size. (FYI, balls are Rowan's favorite toy- hands down.)

Each room has a different theme: one is a huge ball pit, another is a dance room with many many disco balls on the ceiling. The green room has green balls, the red room has red and so on. The roof outside has a bubble machine that blows bubbles into the yard 24/7, and has dogs that love to play fetch. He has a book room where someone is always available to tell him a story.

To amuse myself, I placed a bowling alley in the basement, croquet, petanque, and bocci ball courts in the yard.  (He has no idea what these things are- perhaps he will love them later.) His favorite part of the story is where he goes outside to the dog run and throws the ball for the dog, who fetches and drops the ball at his feet, so he can throw it again. At specific words he does sign: "dog", "ball", and he even points to his feet! It is freaking adorable. At bedtime, I'll tell him to lay his head on the pillow so he can have a story, which he does eagerly. Then he signs "please" and "ball"- meaning, "Please tell me about the House of Balls".

He also loves to tell stories, to himself and to us. He narrates what just happened to us. If he pulls out his scooter and it falls over, he comes over and babbles at us, interspersed with actual words and signs until we decipher out loud what he is telling us: "Yes, I saw that your scooter fell over. Can you pick it up? Do you want help?" But usually he is not requesting help at all- he is just sharing his experiences with us the best he can. He is more than pleased when we tell him in full sentences what happened and show him that we understand.

I have also caught him using his toys to act out scenarios (feeding his ball popper toy, making Puck his doll talk, or talking in babble to his worm or fox). He often will "read" books to himself, pointing at the pictures and narrating them with babble. His imagination is firing on all cylinders and I wish I knew what was going on in there!

I am looking forward to him learning new sounds and words and signs so we are better able to communicate and tell stories to one another. Magically, this is super important. I am teaching him that there is no objectivity, no Truth with a capital T. I am teaching that all of life is story, and he has his versions and others have theirs. All have value. No one's story is more important than his, and vice versa. He is a note in the amazing, multi-textured song of creation.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"I Am Looking for a Teacher- Can You Help?"

I have been asked many times by other seekers to help them find a Witchcraft teacher (or to teach them myself). While I do not feel qualified to teach adult others the totality of the Craft as I know it, I do teach children the basics (at their level). That is what I feel called to do at the moment.

When searching for a teacher, there are a few things that a student should know and ask. I have put together a checklist for folks who are seeking to find that special teacher.

1. The Witchcraft teacher-student relationship is one that is different from any other you have ever had (or should be). This kind of teacher is not like a public school teacher or a college professor- and the relationship should not feel this way. A Witchcraft teacher is giving of themselves to give you the most valuable thing that they have. The relationship is intimate and familial, like the teacher has adopted you in their family and is now personally responsible for your education and welfare as you do the work towards initiation into that tradition.

Cultivated (or actual distance) does not serve a student well in this case. So working with a teacher that has more than a handful of students is a very bad idea. How will your teacher get to know you, be able to see when you struggle, are failing, or lying to yourself if they have to keep track of the spiritual progress of dozens or more people? Often these kinds of teachers resort to the same activities over and over- for everyone under their tutelage. Trance journeys, week after week, in a carpeted room is not learning the Craft.

If you do not see your teacher regularly and frequently, you will not make progress. Seeing someone in person less than monthly is not going to cut it if you are serious about learning the Craft. Because you are asking a teacher to give you a lot of their time. Be respectful of that commitment that they are making to you. Do your work, show up on time and respect what they have to say, even when it may be hard to hear.

Getting back to the idea of distance learning (either by email list, web forum, or otherwise)- this does not teach the Craft. Exercises and periodic feedback does not give you customized instruction. Learning the Craft cannot be done in a classroom, one size fits most model. Heck, it hardly works for public education, why would it work for Witchcraft?

2. Ask around before deciding on the first teacher that appears. Often the ones that are the easiest to find are the ones you should be avoiding at all costs.

I ask you: if someone is advertising their classes like mad you have to wonder- who and what are they looking for? True apprentices who will carry on a sacred duty or simply paying customers? Are they seeking the select few who are destined to be Witches or just a mob of fawning people devoted to them and their foolishness? Witchcraft is not a commodity- so why are they using advertising- which is first and foremost a way to sell things as a way to find students?

Witchcraft and other pagan paths are trendy in some places. This gives rise to a lot of people stepping in to exploit that fact: by using people's seeking to either making money or devotees or both.

Further, the teacher that is loudly trumpeting themselves outside of their tradition where the public at large can find them are often precisely the ones who are not widely respected within their own community. They simply need to keep recruiting and advertising  for new people to surround themselves with because the people that are their peers want very little to do with them. Many people want to belong to a religious community after their training is over, and you are undermining your prospects of having that happen if you choose a teacher unwisely. Many who study with or initiated by oathbreakers (for example) are not recognized as kin. They are shunned. They are not respected and what you have learned will constantly be called into question if you choose a teacher like this.

Why not ask around about this particular teacher? Ask people in their tradition(s) about them and if they could recommend them as a teacher. And don't be sloppy about your homework- asking only their initiates or their friends is not really finding out what the tradition at large thinks of them. When I approached my current teacher, I already knew who liked her and who did not within the tradition (and for what reasons). The ones who did not like her were ones that I did not like myself, so I was totally going in with my eyes open.

3. Avoid those that make their living by the Craft. This includes those that make money off classes, even if it is not their full time gig. By this I do not mean that very fine Witches (who may also be very fine teachers) should not charge money for a tarot reading or remedies that they make for others and also teach. I mean those that charge for actual Craft teaching- be it in book form, in classes, or workshops.

These ways of conveying information are mass marketed ideas that may or may not apply to where you are in your spiritual development and will certainly not have an objective idea of what it is you REALLY need to work on to get you ready for Witchery. They are simply ones that resounded with the biggest audience- a publisher or the mass of seekers who may or may not be actual Witches. Remember- Witchcraft is a religion of a select few. It is not one for passive practitioners- it is for those that seek to be clergy, healers, and mad poets. Mass marketed ideas may feel really good, but they do not progress your spiritual advancement. I love reading Thich Nhat Hanh, for example. But reading those books does not get me anywhere closer to being a Buddhist Monk.

And they are just ideas and information- not actually the Craft. To get that passed to you, you need more than something easily bought. You need someone dedicated to your spiritual progress. You need a teacher, in the flesh- preferably one-on-one or in a very small intimate group (like a teaching coven).

Often these teachers-for-pay have dozens upon dozens of students, all hoping for special attention that never comes and they all want the initiation that will never happen with this particular teacher.

Here is what Free Feri Dot Org has to say about those that teach for money in that tradition:
"If you insist on taking online or distance classes on Feri, some teachers are better than others. Ask some hard any customer. Ask how many of their students they have ever initiated. Ask what their relationship with their initiator is, and with the rest of the initiate community. Be aware that the discussion from some quarters about how there IS no “Feri community” is a dodge to cover up the fact that there is a community, but those people do not have a good relationship with it. Ask to contact that person's initiator...that is not a rude question in an initiatory tradition when you are a prospective
student. Furthermore, ask, and consider from your own perspective, what that teacher's vetting process is. Teaching anyone who has the cash is a problem for the tradition, but it is also a problem for you as a student; it may place you in close proximity during an emotionally intense, vulnerable period with people who are unsavory or actually dangerous. Use your gut instincts but also use your head. Ask around. Caveat emptor."

4. Ask the teacher why they want to teach, and also why they want to teach YOU. Being a Craft teacher is a heavy commitment. Many traditions believe that you are karmically tied to your initiates for at least this lifetime, if not all others. So given that idea, what is it in this person that called them to do the work of a teacher? What is it that they feel they can give of themselves? What would they be doing if they were not teaching?

Further, what is it in you specifically that called to this teacher? Did you just show up and they said "OK, I'll teach you"? If so, step back and ask yourself why. They should have a very specific reason for wanting to take you on as a student. They should be able to articulate what those reason(s) are to you. If they cannot, I would seek elsewhere.

In my case, I wrote a very detailed letter to my current teacher about where I thought I was spiritually, where I wanted to go spiritually, and what I was looking for in a teacher. It was a numbered list of about 8 things and each item was followed by many many paragraphs. I spent hours on that letter. The letter had enough specifics that applied to her (not that I knew that at the time- we did not know one another all that well) that she was compelled enough to meet with me. But my teacher is one that does not take most people on. She prefers a one-on-one relationship with her students and does not charge for teaching. It is a commitment of her time and energy to have such a relationship and so she is choosy and says no a lot.

She met with me but her instinct was still to say no- as she has a busy life and she selects her commitments carefully. But she tells me that while she was very compelled by my letter and all, it was the gods that told her to teach me. She was literally in my bathroom on a visit to me when they reached out and told her to teach me. That they wanted me and claim me as theirs. And so my teacher-student relationship began with her. I was stunned frankly. I was hopeful but not sure that I would be selected.

Because I know how very precious the gift is that my teacher is giving me (not only Craft instruction towards initiation but her time, energy and focus), I try and return the gifts when I can. While she does not charge, when I see something that I think she will like (a bag of chantrelle mushrooms or some incense), I get it for her. These are small tokens, but that is the reality: how can I possibly "pay her back" or offer recompense for the enormity of what she is giving me? Because I recognize how sacred what she offers is, I know she could not possibly ask for money for teaching- it would reduce these gifts to crass commercialism.

Before having my current teacher, I was eclectic and solitary for many years (1989-2006), and decided upon my chosen tradition in 2006. I have had two other teachers in this tradition before my current teacher. One was a teacher that only met with her students quarterly. It was in a classroom model and we paid her, either in cash or in work trade. She makes her living this way. While I learned a lot (she is a gifted teacher), this model is only suited for the basics. If I wanted to progress towards initiation, I would need to seek elsewhere. My second teacher only taught up to 6 at a time, and all 6 students progress at the same pace with the same material. As a class, we did the sabbats together as well as a curriculum that my teacher helped design (along with a few people upline from her). She also took money for her classes- although not nearly as much as my first teacher. I progressed further, getting more individualized attention- but I also knew if I were to hone my specific skills and be a more kick-ass witch, I would need to seek elsewhere. You just know when the fits right or not, you know?

I mention my personal history because I know what I am saying flies in the face of what many seekers are experiencing today: the students that I talk to are only finding "rock star" teachers who want their money or adoration and cannot seem to find anything else- an actual teaching coven or apprenticeship. They know it isn't the real deal or the ideal for them, but they are at a loss to find what they actually seek. (Hint: you will most likely not find them on the internet- at least not advertising themselves as a teacher.) I urge you all to hold firm. If this path really is for you- you will find what you seek! And settling for cheap, tinsel-clad, second-best in the meantime is only going to be a hindrance, not a help. Many genuine Craft teachers will not make themselves known to you if they know you associate with the kind of teacher I describe above. I know it sounds awful, but be patient and open. Find the flow that takes you to a good teacher and do not settle for mass-marketed mediocre crap.

I leave you with a verse from Pink Floyd that seems appropriate to meditate upon:

And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

Father's Day!

So this is my partner's second Father's Day, and this year is really the first year that we started celebrating Mother's or Father's day. Last year, Mother's Day came and went with me left alone with a wee babe and no fanfare. So this year, as Mother's Day approached, I said pointedly, "Last year's Mother's Day kinda sucked. This year is going to be better, right?" To which my bewildered partner said, "Um, sure?" He was surprised by my insistence that we celebrate a "greeting card holiday".

I left it up to him to decide how Mother's Day would be celebrated, and we ended up going to a restaurant and having brunch (something we could hardly afford at the time, but I appreciated nevertheless).

The important thing was that we celebrated it as a family, which is what I wanted. After that build up around my special day, I couldn't very well ignore his, now could I?! No, I could not. That would be hypocritical and rude.

Plus, I really wanted to commemorate what a great dad he is. In the future, when Rowan is bigger, I think I am going to encourage Rowan to celebrate us on these days with artwork or song or whatever strikes his fancy.

So what is a broke family to do to celebrate the role of a key family member? Well, I sorted through our photos of the last year and a half and found some great ones of him and Rowan together. I created a special powerpoint presentation- kind of like an extended greeting card or a digital scrapbook!

This year's Father's Day is also the day that we are celebrating the Midsummer sabbat, so I gave my partner his Fathers Day gift early (so this is not a spoiler!).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Did You Know?

If you are a regular reader of my blog, did you know that you are missing half the conversation? My blog has numerous ways to get to you, but several times a week (often daily) I post articles, videos and links of interest on my Facebook fan page. Some of the resulting conversations are fascinating. I would love for you to join in the conversation there if you haven't already!

Click the Facebook icon to the right and "like" Witch Mom on Facebook to join the conversation!

This includes readers who get the blog delivered to them through Twitter, Google Reader, Networked Blogs, email delivery or RSS delivery through Feedburner, Blog Frog, Offbeat Mama, or Pagan Writers Community.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Things Worth Reading

Charlie Glickman writes about gender. (Everyone is writing about it these days, and for this I am glad!)

A great post on Patheos about how the Founding Fathers, as they truly were, would not get the Tea Party and evangelical vote. Similarly, great post from Crow, a new blog I discovered through the Circle of Moms bloggers of faith contest.

A fantastic blog post from Huffpost about the Top 10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases. Spread this one around, folks!

Teens, writing in their own words, about what healthy sexual development looks like (on one of the best websites for teens!)

Interesting culture in the Amazon that does not use linear time. Likewise, a father here in the US talks about the passage of time and how it changes when you are a parent.

Today I saw three cops harassing a homeless man in Berkeley. Just for existing and being where they did not want him to be seen. They talked about giving him a citation- for simply being there. I was there, as was Rowan and my partner. Why would we not be cited for being there? Because we do not look poor. Here is a recent article with yet another instance of the wealthy criminalizing poverty and associating it with decay.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

3rd Annual Pagan Values Month

I was delighted to find out that June is (in addition to Queer Pride month) Pagan Values month, a time when we bloggers and podcasters can hash out just what it is we stand for and help the world understand what we are all about. I will be joining the ranks of (hopefully) many other bloggers making a statement of what I believe.

I want to start here by saying that "Pagan" is not necessarily a term that I personally identify with- I identify as a Witch. But I use "Pagan" as a catch-all umbrella term to lump lots of people together who are natural allies. They are minority, non-Abrahamic religions that include many earth-centered (or not!), magick working (or not!), and polytheistic (or not!) folks. Some are animists, some are pantheists, and some (mysteriously) don't really work with gods at all. Not all categories apply to all folks falling under the umbrella- hence my ambivalence about the term as applied to me. But being a great lover of community, bridge-building, and organizing to make the world a better place, I embrace the term as one of political expedience, coalition-building, and cultural shorthand.

So given that caveat, let's get to the task at hand, shall we? What do I believe and how does that inform my values?

1. The gods are real. To quote Raven Kaldera in his fab essay, "On Being a Neo-Pagan Fundamentalist": "The first, and most important tenet, is that a Neo-Pagan fundamentalist actually believes in the existence of every single deity that s/he worships. Deities are not merely theoretical archetypes, nor vague energy forms that can be ordered about by the human mind, nor merely parts of our own deep selves. They do not depend on human attention and worship to exist, although the lack of it may weaken their connection to the world. They have their own lives and personalities when we are not interacting with them, and yes, they are more powerful than we are." I work with many god/desses and "believe" in them all. When Christians ask me if I believe in God, I usually say, "Yes- but which one are you talking about specifically?" I believe in the god that their Bible speaks of, I just don't like that one very much and do not work with him. Which leads me to #2:

2. I myself am a god and am equal to other gods. You heard me. I am divine in my own right and when I worship a god, it is not prostrating myself and submitting myself. I kneel before a god in reverence the same way I kneel before a lover. I worship them as I would a lover as well. The reason I don't much like the Christian god or want to work with him is he seems to demand submission of life force from his followers and monogamy (the whole "no other gods before me" jazz), two things I don't approve of for myself. I am a hard polytheist, don't submit my life force to any one or any thing, and not very monogamous. Your mileage may vary.

3. Magic(k) is real- so are other realms that we don't always see and so are other non-corporeal beings. The world is not a rational place, no matter how convenient a reality that would be for us. There is Mystery and Paradox and I am comfortable with that.

4. Many paths lead to the same place. I have gladly gone to Jewish Renewal Shabbat services, Sufi Zhikrs, and worship at Unitarian churches. I have chanted and broken bread with Hare Krishnas and tantrics. I have sat in Buddhist meditation centers and listened to dharma talks. As long as a religion is open to me and my beliefs, I am open and happy to explore them. They all hold truths. No one has a monopoly on ethical behavior and the "one true way" is a lie- which leads me to #5:

5. Diversity is good. Genderful, sexual, and racial diversity! Different ages, physical abilities, mental abilities, ethnicities, points of view, and religions! All these differences are fascinating, delightful, make the world interesting place and are virtues. The fact that there are political minorities left out of decision making or denied the same rights as others is unethical and anti-religious. Which leads me to #6:

6. Religion that divides us or inspires hate is not religion. It deserves no audience. As I said in an earlier post on this blog, "Simply put, a theology that preaches disconnection from others, regardless of the reason, is not a real religion- it is simply hate speech wrapped up in a corrupt theology. You heard me. Yes, I said that. I am calling recent statements by the pope and Mormon deacons unreligious.

Religion, at its core, is an idea of wholeness- from creation to destruction and everything in between. It encompasses all of humanity and indeed all of creation. A church that does not embrace all living things as equals, one that sees some people as more inherently virtuous than others is not a religious institution. When done properly, religion cannot be used as an instrument of hate. When it is, calling it religion is a misnomer."

7. Community is something we need, crave, and should be actively building, not ripping down. I am weary of "Witch wars" and pagan drama. I hate factions within my other communities, too. We have more in common than not, and we need one another, like it or not. I am curmudgeonly and misanthropic at times, but I value community and tribe and family and recognize its place. Anyone who works to divide us (through malicious speech, violence, covert actions, or otherwise) is acting against their on interests. I try and avoid people like that, all the while acting to ameliorate their damage to the greater good. which leads me to #8:

8. Compassion is at the center of religious thought. "Passion" literally means "to suffer" (think passion of the Christ for those unfamiliar with this definition), and "compassion" means to "suffer with others", in other words, to feel others' pain.

The Buddhists, when they talk of life as suffering, are correct. (That is not to say that life is misery and woe and that there is no beauty. Far from it- that particular take on the word "suffering" is incorrect and a modern spin for our comfort-driven society.) We all suffer to live- and we cause others' suffering while we live and to continue our own lives (at the expense of others). Does this fact mean we cannot be compassionate? No. It means it is our duty to feel the others' pain and offer it up as a sacred offering.

From a Kabbalistic standpoint, compassion is located at the Tiphareth sephirot- the very center of the Tree of Life. It is that way for a very specific reason. It is at the heart of not only everyday spiritual practice, but mystical practice as well. All paths leads to and from this place/state of being.

As a Witch, I believe that when you have compassion, you suffer with others, then you offer it up (I personally offer it to my patroness- it is her favorite flavor.).

Now, many times compassion is confused with pity or allowing others to continually make mistakes. Let me make this clear- compassion for others is not what Victor Anderson called "coddling weakness", rather- it often takes the form of a swift kick in the pants (what many Buddhists call ruthless compassion or fierce compassion). But Victor also wisely added that we need to "respect one another's frailties" as well. We cannot become indifferent to others, if we do- we risk becoming disconnected from one another and God Herself. Disconnection breaks the web of life.

These are a few of the things I believe as a Witch and will teach my son. What are your "pagan values"?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Inspiring Video

Saw this video on one of my Facebook friend's walls last week and thought I would share the inspiration!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Interesting Witch/Shaman from Peru.

He does not use either term: Witch or Shaman- but a term that is indigenous to Peru and means what Witch and Shaman mean in that place: Paco.

He has interesting things to say (that I agree with) on gender and the Craft. While he uses language that I would not use (English is not his first language) his message comes across.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer's (Kinda) Here!*

Creepy Teletubbies sun baby!
And with that magical season, comes some of my favorite activities to teach kids about the Craft! Being in the out-of-doors is quite simply the best way to get kids understanding what our way of life is all about.

So this summer, Rowan and I are doing lots of beach time (the ocean has lots to teach), lake time (watching how the animals interact and live with one another is fascinating), park time, and creek time. I got him fun buckets and shovels to build castles and whatever else strikes his fancy.

We will be visiting farmer's markets and learning about food and where it comes from (which is my preamble to one day having a sustainable plot of our own- sigh). We will be feeling the sun on our skin and seeing all the birds and learning their names. Rowan will be learning to ask before ripping off a leaf or flower (he sees something shiny or pretty and he grabs it- not exactly the most polite baby in the world!) and leaving an offering when the answer is yes. Yesterday, mama had to leave a spit offering when he violently and suddenly ripped off a flower that did not consent.

Temescal Farmer's Market is awesome and has live music
and a creek to play in!
Rowan has been collecting things in his travels for his seasonal altar- mostly rocks. That boy is drawn to rocks, I tell you! I would be interested in looking at his different astrology charts- because even though he is an air sign, he shows a keen pull towards the earthy stuff- dirt, rocks, trees. He always has. (Although he also loves the wind in his face, blowing his hair around and adores all water, too.) When we were at the marina the other day, he loved having mama or daddy kerplunk rocks into the water and then watch the ripples. I had to stop him from leaping into the bonfire at Wolf Creek- he is at one with all the elements!

What is your family doing this summer? Does it have a spiritual component?

*I said "kinda" because in our part of the world, as with so any others, the weather here has been unseasonable and weird. The other day, I heard a commercial on the radio complain, "The saying is supposed to be April showers bring May flowers, NOT June showers ruin your weekend!" I concur. I know that it is human malfeasance that has disrupted much of our weather, so complaining won't fix the actual problem...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Introducing Pagan Families! (Call for Contributions)

Pagan Families: A Resource for Pagan Pregnancy and Birth is a new site (and hopefully a subsequent book). I will be one of the contributors, and many pagan and witchy mamas I know are already involved! Click on over and check it out!

We are looking for folks to submit essays on conception, fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy complications, birth (all kinds), birth preparation, breastfeeding, and other parenting issues from a pagan viewpoint. Check out the submission guidelines.

Says founder Sarah, "I know lots of Pagan families have already performed baby welcoming rituals or written prayers to mother goddesses for a healthy pregnancy.  I want to pool this wisdom and also nurture the creative work of those who want to write on these topics."

She says further, "When I was pregnant with my daughter I searched for a guide to the spiritual aspects of my journey to motherhood, but never found what I was looking for. I’ve heard one too many times from other Pagan parents that they wish for such a guide, and so now Pagan Families is born.

Pagan moms and dads, midwives and friends have felt the energetic changes that a new being brings, crafted rituals to honor the life passages around birthing, and called on the gods to light the way.  Let’s pool this experience, knowledge, and lore in a single website.  Some of it you may already have written in a blog, a book of shadows, or a personal journal; other material is yet to be fully thought and written out.

Pagan Families seeks carefully written contributions on all aspects of Pagan pregnancy and childbirth.   Examples of the kind of writing we are seeking include: scripts for conception rituals; theological essays on the ethics of reproduction; prayers to mother goddesses; Pagan sensitivity guides for birth professionals; personal essays on the experience of spiritual practice during pregnancy; reviews of Pagan-friendly birth resources; and Pagan birth stories.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  Pagan Families will publish in a blog format, using tags to organize content into categories so frazzled parents can easily research a particular topic.

How to submit: Send submissions or proposals to Submissions such as ritual scripts, chants, and prayers should include a brief explanatory introduction.  All submissions should include a 50-100 word author bio (using a pseudonym is fine, but we still want to know a bit about you, like if you’re a parent or a priest or what).  Previously published works are welcome so long as you hold the copyright.  An editor will review your submission to determine whether it is right for Pagan Families and may request that you make changes before it is published.

We recognize that Pagan families are diverse families and we especially welcome contributions reflecting needs and experiences of families of color, single parents, blended families, queer parents, polyamorous parents, poor and working class families, parents with disabilities, and members of diverse Pagan traditions."

Isn't this exciting?!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Must Reads"

Old woodcut of Witches riding to the sabbat.
The other day, I got an email from a reader that asked what books on the Craft were ones that I would recommend. It's a common question, and in these days of publishing on demand, pagan publishers with hundreds upon hundreds of titles, and of course, the internet (and we all know everything on the internet is accurate and properly sourced and credited, right?)- it is becoming all too common a question.

Here is a disclaimer (and a detour) before I begin that list- I am in an initiatory mystery religious Witchcraft tradition. In my opinion, Witchcraft has never been, nor will it ever be, a "religion of the book" the way that Christianity, Islam or Judaism are. So if you are looking for a book that will "teach you Witchcraft" you are misled, most likely by authors trying to sell you a book fitting that bill.

Nor will Witchcraft ever be a religion of the masses- we are meant to be a small group of highly trained people, doing very specific work in the world. Just FYI: I have a very specific definition of what a Witch is, and it may not match yours. (That's okay by me- hope it is by you.)

unsure who to credit here, help me out!
To me, a Witch is a Shaman (the terms are interchangable- they just come from different geographical regions-"Witch" simply means a western European shaman)- they are highly trained in specific skills. They have done years of rigorous self work to get to be as strong as possible (magically, energetically, physically, emotionally, and mentally) to be a strong container for the Mysteries that will be revealed to them. This self work exists as preparation for the actual work of a Witch- affecting change in all the worlds. (This Great Work is not done for its own sake, or to become a "better person". Witches do it to become the best Witch possible.)

Witches can talk to and relay messages from the gods. They can act as a human vehicle to bring them here for others. They can divine people's possible futures and help weave destiny. They can do spellwork to manifest changes in the worlds. They are healers, artists, and activists. Witches are NOT dabblers- they are priests.

Yes, I know people who call themselves Witches but do not fit this definition. If they asked me to give a definition of what I thought they were, I would probably say "pagan" was more accurate*. Pagan is a commonly used term for a huge umbrella of people, including people who work magic- and is general enough to cover all kinds of non-Abrahamic thought and religion- be it polytheistic, pantheistic, Wiccan, heathen, or what have you. Pagans can be what Christians call "lay people" or "laity"- that is, not just clergy.

The Crystal Ball
by John Williams Waterhouse
Witches are always clergy, to my mind. Your mileage with my definition may vary- but I explain all of this because of what I am going to say next: You cannot get Witchcraft from a book, or any form of text really- be it an email, a website, a book, or a web forum. You can get information and opinion, but that is not Witchcraft. Witchcraft is one of those annoyingly authentic things that can only be transmitted from person-to-person. It is one of those stubborn religions that needs energetic information passed from initiate to student as well as words. It is not self-help disguised as the Craft and most importantly, it is NOT FOR SALE.

In my tradition, we must learn directly from an initiated teacher- and not all initiates of any tradition are qualified to teach, in my humble (but often loud) opinion. Some have only been initiated for a short while, yet think they should teach. Some were initiated by folks with lacking ethics and I would doubt the transmissions passed to them. Some lack ethics themselves- they are liars, thieves, and worse- oathbreakers. Not all self-professed Witches, even ones with lots of friends, are worthy- so beware as you seek a teacher. And if you are paying for your classes towards initiation, well, caveat emptor is all I have to say.

Hekate, by Johfra Bosschart
Some folks out there seem to have multiple revenue streams going, all stemming from the fact that they are "a powerful Witch". I've got news for you- Witch is one of those "never gonna be rich" professions- it is one that is done for the love of the Craft. Comfortable- sure! Wealthy- nope. But that sure doesn't stop some from trying. (You know the ones- jumping on whatever latest witchy fad there is and proclaiming themselves an expert with just the right solution for you (for a price, of course).)

OK- rant over. If you are looking for a teacher, I am writing a blog post about what to look for and questions to ask very soon. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, let's get back to answering that original question.

Given my caveat, there are books out there that I have read, own, and think are good resources for someone who is learning the Craft**. I am a book lover myself. While books cannot teach you what the Craft is- they can help you determine what it is NOT and whether it may be for you. They are not the be-all and end-all (obviously), but they shed insight into the path and help to illuminate who is ready to start learning from a teacher.

Warning: there are a lot of crappy books out there that claim to be about Witchcraft. If you have a questions about a specific book or author not mentioned below, email me directly. I would be happy to give you my opinion if I have read it (and I have read a lot, believe me!)

A list of a few recommended titles to get you started:

Orion Foxwood: The Faery Teachings, The Tree of Enchantment
R.J. Stewart: Earthlight, Underworld Initiation, The Living World of Faery, Advanced Magical Arts
Victor Anderson: Thorns of the BloodRose, Lilith's Garden (poetry), Etheric Anatomy
Cora Anderson: Fifty Years in the Feri Tradition
Paul Huson: Mastering Witchcraft
Charles Leland: Aradia
Peter Grey: The Red Goddess
T. Thorn Coyle: Evolutionary Witchcraft
Emma Wilby: Cunning-Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic; The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Shamanism and Witchcraft in Seventeenth-century Scotland
Claude Lecouteux: The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind; Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages
Carlo Ginsburg/Anne Tedeschi: The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries
Robin Artisson: The Horn of Evenwood, The Flaming Circle, The Resurrection of the Meadow
Carlo Ginzburg: Night Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath
Martin W. Ball: Mushroom Wisdom: How Shamans Cultivate Spiritual Consciousness
Eric De Vries: Hedge-Rider: Witches and the Underworld
Nigel Aldcroft Jackson: The Call of the Horned Piper
Patrick Dunn: Magic, Power, Language, Symbol: A Magician's Exploration of Linguistics
Mark Stavish: Between the Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism
W.Y. Evans-Wentz: Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries (gives some historical context to the Craft)
Randy Conner: Blossom of Bone
Arthur Evans: Witchcraft and the Gay Counter Culture
Nathaniel Harris: Witcha
Michael Howard and Nigel Jackson: The Pillars of Tubal Cain
A.D. Hope: Midsummer Eve’s Dream (out of print)
Starhawk: The Spiral Dance
David Abram: The Spell of the Sensuous
                                   John and Caitlin Matthews:
any title
Jan Fries: any title
Idries Shah: who is a writer on Sufism, but there is a deep connection to the Craft
The Foxfire Books (all of them are of value)

I would also encourage people to seek out books on:
  • Lilith and Hekate, as they are considered the patrons of Witches in particular,
  • Herbalism (medicinal and magical),
  • Energy bodies, energy healing, and using energy bodies,
  • Quantum physics & the universe (I am not kidding),
  • Animal and plant spirit work and communication
  • Other cultures' shamanic practices: take a world tour of shamanism!

*But I believe in the right of people to self-identify, so I do not do this unsolicited with people directly or argue with folks about their terminology when speaking of themselves. I refuse to define others- I can only make myself clear when I am speaking, which is what I am doing here. I do not do this to offend anyone, just to give you an idea of where I am coming from so my answer makes sense.

** This list is a combination of recommended reading from me and Oberyn Kunning, who is an initiate of the same tradition that I follow. He is what we affectionately call "a lore master" so he was the perfect person to ask for advice on books!