Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rowan is 11 months today!

Silly Devil Cowlick
At this writing, I find it hard to believe that I have been a mother for almost a year. I am actually started to plan my son's first birthday party! It has been an incredible journey that is only just beginning. I am amazed at my son and myself daily for everyday miracles, and personal developments in both of us.

My son has been good for me. He has made me more patient, more present, and more giving. I have never been a patient person, and motherhood tests your limits. But love for Rowan supercedes any personal agenda I may have in the short-term and I gladly set aside my laptop, my reading, or my craft project to cuddle when he desires it or to console him when he is feeling sad, scared, or frightened. And I am delighted to do so. It has surprised me, actually. In those moments when I am lying next to him, cuddling instead of doing schoolwork, I look into his eyes and feel absolutely no resentment for the late night I will have in order to get my assignment done in time.

He loves sparkly things.
Must be the Rad Fae influence.
Lately he has tried my patience for sure- teething leads to inconsolable crying for prolonged periods. He is going through several phases of fighting naptime and sleeping (and more crankiness). He has entered the phase of separation anxiety from both me and his daddy- which means anytime one of us has somewhere to be, he cries for 10 minutes to an hour, missing us. I am no saint- it is at those times when I gladly pass him off to daddy (when he gets home) after those trying times in order to recharge my battery (and be a better parent ultimately). Daddy does the same thing, it's an unspoken ritual when he's been especially trying that day.

I am so happy that I get to stay home with him for over a month! My semester ended last week, and I do not have new classes until the beginning of February! While I have some personal plans (reading for pleasure! taking up embroidery again! starting the Bay Area Bureau of the Pagan Newswire Collective!), the main plan is to revel in these deadline free times with Rowan -to celebrate the time we have as a family and make new traditions.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Kwanzaa, everyone!

Today is the second day of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a modern African American festival that runs December 26th-January 1st each year.

While I am not African American and the holiday was not designed for me, I love the seven principles of Kwanzaa and feel that they should be celebrated and venerated to bring out the best in individuals and their respective communities (be they of race, religion, or some other community).

What are the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa
(and what do they mean to a Witch who is "white", you ask)?

1. Umoja: Unity (To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.)

Without others to with which to collaborate, we create very little. While the prevailing myth in this country is that a lone hero saves the day or creates something new, that is simply not true. Leaders and inventors have the ability to create because of others in their lives and the people that did the work before them. Unity is all about us as social creatures- we are pack or flock animals (all intelligent beings on this planet are). Without the pack, we are less than what we can be.

2. Kujicagulia: Self-Determination (To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.)

I feel that in the United States especially, the overculture perverts this value into what we call "rugged individualism". The cult of the individual reins supreme in the US- but it is telling that, in Kwanzaa, Umoja was placed FIRST as a principle. It is only in relation to others that we are human- only when we can see our reflection in others' eyes that we can determine what is Self and what is not. And only after that can we determine what our Will is. We cannot do the Great Work of alchemy alone. And it is only after we embark on the Great Work that we can define, name, and create ourselves.

That said, all people, and this is especially important for marginalized people-  be they of color, of size, queer, a religious minority, or something else- have a right to define themselves for themselves (and others).

3. Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility (To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.)

We humans have so much problem with this one- building stable organizations, religions, workplaces that allow us to share and shine. So few of us really trust one another- and for good reason. We are all taught that we, as individuals, are better and more important than the group. So much so that we make horrible decisions, betray one another, and structures come crumbling down. Any organization, if it is to function in a healthy way, needs a structure- all living things (cells, for example) have a structure. The healthy anarchist organizations that I have been a part of also had a structure. Only after we achieve a stable foundation of how we communicate and make decisions is there room to do joint work- together.

4. Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics (To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.)

This lesson from Black Nationalism is one that so few political minorities have been able to do for any sustained period under capitalism. It's one that I have craved and worked toward most of my adult life: I have worked in non-profits, anarchist bookstores, worker-owned cooperatives, and more- all looking for community, mixed with maintaining a just livelihood. It's one I continue to look for and will teach Rowan to look for as well. Working together towards a common good and goal helps us all.
5. Nia: Purpose (To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.)

This Nia is from a Black Nationalist perspective, and is one that is sorely needed in many communities. For me, I would say my Nia is also building and developing community so that it can serve as many as possible. No one should want for clothing, shelter, food and a sense of purpose.

6. Kuumba: Creativity (To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.)

I am so glad that this principle is included- beauty and aesthetics are truly important- most people that I know who are passionate about sustainable communities are also sensualists and artists themselves. It makes sense- they seek to create a world that sustains not just survival, but a place to thrive. Not just bread for all- but roses, too.

7. Imani: Faith (To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.)

It is this kind of faith that I can believe in. My religion does not require faith in the Christian sense (the definition most people are familiar with) from me- I get to speak to my gods and they interact with me- they are not aloof or coy as in other traditions that invoke this word (which usually means "believe when you have no proof"). But faith, when applied to humankind finally waking up and getting it? That's a faith I will gladly have. I have seen it work- I know that it is possible, when we agree to do the work of building together.

I see raising Rowan to understand these principles and live by them as well. Do you celebrate Kwanzaa? Which principle speaks to you the most this year?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lessons for My Son: Surrender, Honor, and Trust

"Let go, or be dragged."   -Zen Proverb

Rowan, the lesson of surrender has been a hard one for your mama. We are often told in this culture that surrender is equated with defeat. But that is not the meaning of surrender that I am talking about here. The term has been linked to defeat for myriad reasons, not the least of which is sexism, plain and simple. Many religious traditions have practices that involve complete surrender, such as divine possession or oracular work- and in many of them, that is a traditional role for women or gay men. (Read: passive in that culture's eyes.)

So what do I, specifically, mean by surrender, exactly? I do not mean "giving up", squashing your Will, or submitting your life force to anyone. What I mean is allowing events to take their course and putting trust in your own GodSoul and trust in bigger forces that you are but a part of to do the right thing. It is something mama is still working out, Rowan- but it's one of those things that you know it when you see it. And it is HARD TO DO. I am a do-er kind of person, and simply be-ing and trusting others and other forces is not something that comes naturally. I have to work at it.

Frankly, my caution about setting up a situation and then surrendering to it is because many, many people in this world are huge disappointments and are cowards. You simply cannot trust them to do the right thing, or do anything at all. This is a related lesson- surround yourself with people that strive for impeccability and honor.*

I am not talking about the Jehovah Witness take on the world (the belief that action to create a world (through politics or activism) is wrong and shows that you do not believe that God is omnipotent and benevolent and looks out for His people). That take pisses me off- as it marginalizes people from their own Power. As a Witch, I believe in free will and just action in the world and working your Will.

As a Witch, knowing when to act and when to allow events to take their course is what we call discernment. And it is a skill. Mama will help you cultivate your own discernment as you grow.

*As a sidenote, many people think impeccability is not getting into the fray- this is simply not true. Being afraid to get your hands messy is a sign of cowardice, not impeccability.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sacred Space

As a religious Witch, I am lucky enough to have a room set aside in my home as a temple. It is a permanent place to do ritual, spellwork, and sacred craft. I share the temple with my partner, who is also a Witch. So it is not completely "me" that way that sacred space used to be. But then again, I never had a while room to devote to religious practice before, either!

See the old soda crate to the right?
Back in the day, I was lucky to have one altar that would not be touched or messed with by roommates or lovers. For this purpose, I had an old wood soda crate (that used to cart around glass bottles) that would serve, upended, as my altar. Usually it would be on top of my dresser- as when you live with roommates, your bedroom is the only room that is "yours".

It would be draped in fabric, have hanging items suspended from it, and still other items would be nestled inside one of the cubbies (that used to house bottles of soda, but instead served as shelves for sacred statuary, items from nature, candles, and more.) I still use one of these in a larger altar to the beloved dead so that I can "go vertical" and cram more things into my altar space. (What can I say? I am a Taurus and also part magpie!)

But having a larger room has meant being able to have not just basic working tools out on the altar, but having a room of altars that all work together. Each divine being we work with has a special place- and in front of our "working altar" (that houses tools and things in process), I have a zafu and zabuton for my sitting practice.

I have a space for sacred crafts that I am working on- such as wands and masks. And I can always go in there, shut the door and know that my privacy and space will be respected by my partner.

Having a sacred space, set aside is a luxury that I enjoy. Do you have a sacred space? What makes it special to you?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Let's Talk Traditions!

Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let's Talk Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

This is my son's first year, and he just celebrated his first (secular) Thanksgiving. It was not a "typical one" for us (we visited two different Thanksgiving feasts, not hosting our own), and it started me thinking- what traditions do I want to have for my newly formed family? Now is the time to start, so we can establish these rituals for a lifetime.

My partner and I have already made a commitment to celebrate and mark the wheel of the year with our son, as we both feel that turning the wheel, as a community, ties us to one another, the land and its natural cycles, and the Gods. That is what being a Witch is all about, yes? But each sabbat has its own mythos and associated traditions. (Many of these rituals will seem familiar to people raised as or practicing Christianity, as most of the rituals around Christmas, Halloween, and Easter come from pagan origins.)

For Yule, the sabbat on the horizon, we celebrate the birth of the sun/son. We burn a Yule log, stay up all night (sound like midnight mass, anyone?) and celebrate the longest night of the year. We have a tree that we decorate, and we string lights and place candles everywhere to celebrate the return of the light. We exchange gifts. We sing songs. We bake and cook and feast. We decorate with evergreen, holly, and mistletoe. This year, Yule falls on a lunar eclipse, so we will be incorporating that into our ritual, to be sure!

I loved my family of origin's traditions at this time of year (under the guise of Christmas, as I was raised what I call "secular christian") and hope to start some of these traditions as my own. My mother was great at establishing honored traditions that I hope to continue with my family.

My most beloved thing this time of year was decorating the tree: my mother made it a point to buy or make each of us children ornaments that commemorated something that happened to us that particular year: piano lessons, getting pet birds, breaking my leg sledding, etc. Then she would write our names and the year on the bottom. Each year, we would pull the ornaments out, one at a time, and remember and tell stories about that year: "Remember when we thought my girl finch was a boy and my boy finch was a girl- until he laid an egg!" and laugh and have a good time slowly decorating the tree. Included in our ornament melange were also ornaments that we had made in scouts and at school. I still have a snowman ornament that I painted that has a big bite taken out of it. My littlest sister thought it was a cookie!

I want Rowan to have this tradition, and when he is older, he will have a box of ornaments to remember with, just like his mom! I also want to bake cookies with him, have people over, have a fire with hot cocoa and mulled cider, tell stories, sing songs, and stay up all night. Perhaps he can host a Yule sleepover when he gets older- and stay up all night with his friends.

Ostara, by Helena Nelson Reed
As for other traditions, Ostara has bunnies and eggs as symbols of budding fertility- so egg hunts and chocolate bunnies are in order! We head up to Wolf Creek sanctuary each Beltaine to dance around the Maypole with kin. Mabon is the witches' Thanksgiving feast. And we plan on creating all sorts of special traditions around Midsummer and Imbolg as well. Birthdays always deserve a party and I hope to get Rowan's help with themes and ideas each year- it IS a celebration of him, after all!

Tell me how you celebrate! What traditions do you have in your family- whether around holidays or not?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Friday, December 10, 2010

December is Heilagmanoth

Heilagmanoth means holy month; and with virtually every world religion celebrating this month- the old Norman name is accurate! I cannot possibly list them all here, so here is another link. If you needed a reason to party, December is the month for you. Let's start with the obvious ones (to us in the United States or Europe, where most of my readers are):

Pagan/Witch/European-based Shaman/Druid: Yule/Alban Arthuan is on the solstice itself. At its core it is a festival of lights and the return of the sun in a time of darkness. It is commemorated in a number of ways, depending on which pagan country/religious denomination you ask: the decoration of trees, lighting of dandles and stringing of lights, feasting, exchange of gifts, and singing up the sun. Ine theme is the return of the sun/son. There is usually a god that gets born or reborn this day. These are all powerful ideas, so much so, that later religions incorporated these themes into their holidays (see below).

Christian/Catholic: Christmas, held on the 25th, which is the celebration of the birth of the Christian messiah.

Judaism: Hannukah is also a festival of lights. It is a celebration of a miracle that saved Jews, an improbable military victory that saved them as a people.


Some lesser known and/or historical holidays include:

Misrule! A World Turned Upside-Down.
Zoroastrian: Zartusht-No-Diso is a celebration of the prophet Zarathrustra.
Voudou: Agou-Arroyo (12th) and Ganga-Bois (10th)
Roman pagan: Saturnalia

English pagan: Day of Misrule (17th) (This is hostorically the first day of the Roman festival Saturnalia.) It was a period of great feasting and festivity, with a lot of drinking and eating. Slaves would become masters for the festival, and everything was turned upside down. This part of the Roman festival survived into the 17th century.
Mithraic mysteries: A festival when a savior was born on December 25. The resemblances between the life of Mithras and Jesus are astounding.

In the Netherlands, SinterKlaas is celebrated on the 5th. In Catholic circles, St. Nicholas Day is on the 6th and a day commemorating the Immaculate conception is on the 8th. In Mexico, Las Posadas, dedicated to the Virgen de Guadalupe, is celebrated for 9 days. Silly people who like holidays (any holiday) have Festivus on the 23rd.

And of course, for those of us that use the Gregorian calendar, there is New Year's Eve. In Japan, is is called
Omisoka, which is a remnant of the country's polytheist (Shinto) past

December has also been designated Universal Human Rights Month by the United Nations, and I can think of no better month for it. Since most of the world are lifting up their voices in song to commune with each other and the divine- what a better month to remember that we are connected to everyone.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Natural Parenting Update

"If there is anything that we wish to change in our children, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could be better changed in ourselves." - Carl Jung

Being a Witch means natural parenting ideas are the ones that come naturally to me, but sometimes it means more work and challenges in life! Rowan is growing so fast, sometimes I just want to document what he's up to so I will remember what the day-to-day was like!

Mmmm. Black Beans!
Baby Led Weaning (BLW): This is a very messy experiment, and if you hate cleaning up messes... well, it would be a hard project for you! Baby led weaning is where you allow your child to experiment with chunks of food, rather than only feeding purees and mashes. This allows your child to develop a healthy gag reflex and distinguish between gagging and actual choking much faster. It also means as a family, you are sharing healthy meals together, and I have noticed that Rowan would much rather eat what we are eating than a separate "baby only" food. BLW should only be done with a parent present, of course. Rowan LOVES his food. He seems to love everything we give him and in myriad ways: to eat it, smear it, squish it, and let juices gush down his chin onto his chest (we strip him to only his diaper these days when he eats- to lessen the clean up!). He is reveling in being a big boy that eats solids- just like mama and papa. And while yes- he has gagged a few times, he has never choked. He's a master!

Speaking and Signing: He has spoken his first word, "ball" which is easily his favorite toy. He pronounces it "bla" (I guess those end L sounds are hard!). As of this week, he has finally mastered the "m" sound and can finally say mama, which he uses to mean ME! (That makes mama smile!) He also knows sign, although he does not do any yet. He most assuredly knows "milk", "food", "sleep", "mama" and "daddy". We are teaching him "ball", "all done", "diaper", and "kiss" now- we are unsure of he understands those yet.

Barrettes and a "girly" stroller. Whatever.
Gender-Free Agenda: Rowan lives in a gender-free world and wears clothes and accessories assigned to any gender. He also has gear that is typically "girly" in most people's eyes and sometimes he even gets called a little girl in public. Whatever.

He also has some new toys that I think are important: a doll and a play purse. The doll I had made for him because I wanted a boy doll that was anatomically correct AND intact, like he is. In my quest, I found boy dolls with no genitalia and boy dolls with circumcised genitalia, but not exactly what I wanted. So I had it made. It is adorable and he loves it, especially biting its cute button nose. The purse is a toy that I found in a toy store after having Rowan carry around my purse and play with it. He obviously wanted one of his own. It's a cute colorful one that comes with a fabric cell phone, fabric play money and wallet, and a little mirror compact (fabric as well). In my opinion, children need toys that help them sort out the world- toys that mimic what adults do (brooms and dustpan, costumes, play food to prepare, and yes- purses) and dolls to help them learn how to relate emotionally to others and have confidantes. I want my son to be an empathetic compassionate person, and he may be a father one day. A doll is a perfect way to help him get started on both roles.

Developing Autonomy: He wants to do most things for himself these days- if we are eating a meal, he wants us to hand him the food piece or put it on his tray. How dare we put it in his mouth for him! And he hates when he is not in control of his body (like when we dress him, wipe a runny nose, or change his diaper) and fights us every step of the way, LOUDLY. He is his own person with his own ideas of how his world should be. It's adorable and we apologize when we must fuss over him in this way.

Co-Sleeping: Rowan has only ever slept in his crib for 10 minutes (we had a co-sleeper bassinette attached to the bed). He was so upset from that experience (I believe that it reminded him of being in the NICU, alone) in his first few hours home that I put him into bed next to me where he snuggled and was able to smell me and he has slept with us ever since. It has worked out quite well, although soon, he will need his own short bed. He is almost a toddler! So we plan on shopping soon for a convertible crib/toddler bed/twin bed/full bed combo to get in the new year.

Vaccinations: Rowan still does not have any vaccinations, and won't until at least a year of age, if then. I know this issue brings up a lot of intense feelings on both sides of the debate and I am doing my best to remain impartial and objective and read as much as I can about it. Needless to say, there are so many problems that I have read about (and yes, I know the autism research was faked- I am talking about other health problems), that I am wary. So I continue to educate myself about it. No decisions need to be made now.

Punkin Patch!
Being Gentle: Rowan is an enthusiastic child, and we encourage that wildness. However, we have done a couple things that I think are confusing to him now that he is stronger and capable of hurting someone. We would, in play, nibble him- which he tries to do now when being playful and loving- but he does it hard sometimes- we are talking all-out biting- WITH TEETH. Ouch.

The other thing that is confusing him is we taught him that good enthusiasm is equated with clapping ("yay!") and now he "claps" ON things he likes and is having fun with- which is to say- he hits them repeatedly, over and over. I am fine when it is a toy, not so fine with it when it is a person or animal. So we are trying to explain the nuance and teach him what gentle touches are like. It is slow going. I think I am going to have to channel my inner thespian and cry to get his attention or something- cuz when we say "no", he laughs. While I am glad that he does not understand to fear someone if they are stern, it does make for a conundrum getting your point across. When we say "gentle" and use his hand to stroke what he just hit, he'll do that for a while, then it's back to hitting. Sigh.

Getting Around: He is a mobile baby- and boy can he move fast! He can crawl so fast we have to jog to catch up and it will no doubt be soon that he is walking. He already crawls to furniture, only to pull himself up and stand there (and sometimes dance). He has taken one step already, but usually he falls to his butt and starts to crawl if you ask him to come over. We hope that soon he'll be walking- after all, he's getting heavy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tangible Witchcraft/Craft for Kids: Seasonal Altar (for Winter)

Helping kids understand the meanings of the sabbats can be assisted by building a seasonal altar (that you can keep and decorate year round!). At the core of all pagan traditions is a reverence for the earth and its cycles. Having a seasonal altar that reflects those cycles and the turning of the wheel can help kids understand in a tangible way how they are connected to this planet and to everything on it.

Rowan will be having an altar like this of his own very soon (when he is old enough to handle things without gleefully smashing them). I imagine that when he is out and about and finds an object that he is drawn to, it will be placed there. Flowers in the spring, shells and rocks from the beach in summer, fallen leaves in the fall, and dead twigs in the winter- all can take their place on his special altar.

Using this tool to teach kids the Craft can be gloriously easy, yet profound: when it is time for the wheel to turn to a new sabbat and season, we can talk about things that would be good for placement on the altar. As we talk about different concepts, we place a tangible anchor to that idea or symbol on the altar. We can have things on this altar that explain both the season and the sabbat that falls in it.

Seasonally, we can have things on the altar the symbolize darkness and its sacredness, life going on in spite of cold and dark, hibernation, the coming back of the light (starting at Yule) and plants and other things that symbolize this time of year (pinecones and other evergreen things). Sabbat-wise, at Yule we celebrate the return of the son/sun and the coming of the light after the longest night of the year (fairy lights or candles (if your child isn't old enough- there are great LED candles to use at most craft shops). The Holly King (this would be on your altar from earlier in the year) makes way for the Oak King (day after Yule). Perhaps a gorgeous gold sphere could be covered in a black cloth, and the day after Yule it is unveiled. The ideas are only limited by your imagination.

How do you teach your kids about the Wheel and its sabbats?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Parenting Philosophies

I was a hard to raise child- just ask my parents. Yes, I was the oldest, so they did not have experience under their belts to realize that my phases were pretty normal, but I gave my parents a run for their money, to be sure.

I experienced the world in a different way, and I knew that I was different (and so did everyone else). Kids treated me differently, bullied me, or thought I was "weird" and shunned me. Parents assumed that I was a "bad influence", even before I rebelled in any way and was trying really hard to fit in. I've always stuck out like a sore thumb, and now I've made my peace with that. I know why I was different (several reasons, not just one!) and that people were afraid of strange little me in my small town.

This makes me very sensitive to how I raise Rowan and the choices that I make that affect him. I want him to feel included in family decisions- I will take the time to explain things to him and listen to him when he has questions or concerns. I remember very distinctly remembering that my voice did not matter as child- I was "just a kid" and therefore my opinion did not count. I will avoid that with Rowan.

He is a member of this family and his opinions matter. I want him to learn to be articulate and form ideas and be able to express them well. That starts at home.

I will also avoid another thing that caused me anguish a kid- deciding what activities he gets to do for him. I clearly remember that the things that I wanted to do (more girl scout camp, playing the drums) were not as important as what my parents wanted me to do (softball, playing guitar and piano and flute). I knew that I was disappointing them in some way when I did not want to do what they wanted me to do. Their agenda for me did not allow full exploration of my interests and set me up for being a constant disappointment to them. Of course, I have preferences for my son (I'm not really into sports, and would love a creative child- either musically or visually), but I have decided to let his interests be the thing that guide us to his activities. This is his life, not mine.

I also remember my grandmother (who lived with us during my childhood and was often my caretaker while my parents were at work) was not a very patient person. If we interrupted her "stories" on television or were too loud or boisterous, we were exiled outside or whipped. My grandma believed in having us pick out our own "switch" from the pussy willow tree behind the garage. She would then whip our legs with the switch we brought to her until they were red and welt-y. We learned very quickly that her threats were not idle and avoided her whenever we could.

I do not believe in using violence to discipline a child, but more than that- I do not want to be someone that my son fears. I want him to feel like he can come to me for advice, for solace, for help, and with questions. I want him to approach me to play while he is at an age that he would like that. Playing with my son is a delight- and if that means setting aside adult work for a little while, so be it.

I will not let my adult agenda determine my son's childhood.

The pictures on the left have always struck me- they are a comic I saw years ago, and cut out and mounted on cardboard and have been on my fridge ever since. My son will not experience the robbing of his childhood like the poor boy on the left.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Witch Mom Forums: Religion and Spirituality

We are having a fascinating conversation over in the Witch Mom forums. We are attempting to define for ourselves what is religion, what is spirituality, and how we identify. Since we are a diverse bunch, we have discussed so many perspectives!

We have talked about the religions that we grew up with, our current ones, science, the nature of the universe, Stephen Colbert, Catholicism, Heathenism, Witchcraft, what Gods are, monotheism vs. polytheism and pantheism, the Orisha, Loyal Rue, and so much more! It is a juicy topic- one I hope you will join!

While I have your attention, remember also to Ask Me Anything- but remember that there is a character limit to your questions- sometimes if you don't edit yourself, the last part of your questions get cut off.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reflections from my Book of Shadows: Right Action (And Words)

"Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny."    

Lately, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my words and deeds in the world- how they affect me, my family, my tribe, and outsiders. I have been spending lots of time in reflection- during sitting practice, after listening to others, and at random points during the day on my role in this world. What is my part to play in my family? My school? My religious community? My relationships? And is this my role because I default to it, or am I actively defining my roles, each and every day with a renewed commitment to them?

I have decided that I will pause before each word or deed and reflect upon them before issuing them forth. This is a way of being conscious and fully present while being with others. It also means that you are actively being the person that you truly wish to be. I define my words and deeds- not vice versa.

A friend of mine, Holly, says that she uses a three fold criteria to evaluate what she says before she says something to another:
Is it truthful? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
A good measure of whether the statement is worthwhile is that the statement must be two of the three in order to be worth putting out there into the world. All else is ego, vanity. I have found this exercise very helpful. Lately, I've had situations where I have had to say things that are truthful and necessary, but not kind. And I struggle with that. But the warrior's path (and being a Witch in the Feri tradition is just that) is not an easy one. And sometimes we have to be fierce and that is more compassionate in the long run than being "kind". To paraphrase Victor Anderson, "Do not coddle your (or another's) weaknesses- but do respect your frailties."

I know that I have hurt people in my life, as they have hurt me. I do try and make that happen less and less and also practice forgiveness, for my own sake if not theirs. I try and apologize when that is required, just, and the timing is right.

I went to a training for a model of group conflict resolution called Restorative Circles last week. I trained in the model and learned how to work on getting any group- be it a family, religious community, non-profit workplace, or any other group- to set up the model. I am looking forward on honing my skills as a facilitator in this model and teaching others as well. I think the world needs more of this. There is far too much strife, woe and infighting. Actively listening to one another, face-to-face, and understanding where another is coming from makes a huge difference. We may not always agree, but we can still be in right relation to one another when this happens. If you are interested in RC in the Bay Area, ask me! I will be actively involved.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Things That Make Me Go Hmmm...

In this new semi-feature, I share with you things that I have read online lately that are thought provoking and worth a share. Some of these items I link to on my FB pages (either witch Mom or my personal one), some I have not.

Womanist Musings on how the Christian right gets it all wrong when it comes to trans folks.

Thalia Took, one of my favorite pagan illustrators, shows us The Cailleach. (This is not recent, but I recently stumbled across it looking for depictions of winter Gods.)

Anne over at The Gods Are Bored gets pissed, with good reason.

Awesome Stephen Hawking quote on You, Me, and Religion (a blog that you should know about, in case you didn't).

There are some amazing opinions at The Witch Mom forums, particularly on this thread. Join us and join in the chit chat!

Why is Cthulhu depicted on this 300 year old gravestone? (Fun to think about!)

There is no shortcut to spiritual development. (hear that, New Agers? You can't buy it or take an immersion workshop that will advance you to the next level!)

How birds navigate the globe (I love birds, this list wouldn't really be complete without me geeking out on birds).

What have you read lately? Feel free to post links in the comments, or make a new thread at the Witch Mom forums!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lessons for My Son: Fear and Doing the Right Thing

It is not power that corrupts but fear.  Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. 

Most Burmese are familiar with the four a-gati, the four kinds of corruption. Chanda-gati, corruption induced by desire, is deviation from the right path in pursuit of bribes or for the sake of those one loves. Dosa-gati is taking the wrong path to spite those against whom one bears ill will, and moga-gati is aberration due to ignorance. But perhaps the worst of the four is bhaya-gati, for not only does bhaya, fear, stifle and slowly destroy all sense of right and wrong, it so often lies at the root of the other three kinds of corruption. Just as chanda-gati, when not the result of sheer avarice, can be caused by fear of want or fear of losing the goodwill of those one loves, so fear of being surpassed, humiliated or injured in some way can provide the impetus for ill will. 

And it would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear. With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched. - Aung San Suu Kyi
The lesson today, Rowan, is that you must not let fear stop you from doing what you need to do or know to be the right course of action. Sometimes you will faced with choices- and none of them seem all that great. All of them may well stink, even. But everything you do in response to your pending decision- act directly, wait, stay silent, or act covertly- should be a deliberate willful act. You should not let fear dictate what your actions should be. You may lose (so-called) friends by acting. You may be seen in a bad light, at least for a while. But if you act out of your truth, with the greater good in mind (not just your ego gratification or self-interest), you will gain something greater than the company of fair-weather friends. You will gain power- and that is priceless.

Will Varner, Surveillance
Power comes from exercising the will despite any obstacles, be they tangible ("I don't have enough money to do that") or intangible ("If I do this, people will see me as foolish."). Power comes from living with integrity and acting with the same. Power is the witches' reward, but also hir awesome responsibility. What you do with that power defines who you are as a person. Are you a person who acts only in hir self-interest? Or are you someone who values tribe, community, and family? Are you a generous person, sharing your gifts with the world? Or are you a miser, clamping down so hard on what you have you crush its value yourself? It is up to you, Rowan.

For those times when you are afraid and aren't sure how to handle it, I leave you with this little gem from the mind of Frank Herbert, science fiction writer:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
-The Litany Against Fear, from the Dune Series.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Let Us Give Thanks

"Nothing on earth is more beautifully, wildly extravagant than a sunset. Gold, silver, all the jewels of the rainbow are broadcast for the world to enjoy for a moment before they are lost forever in an ocean of night. Sunsets are just one phase of Nature's extravagant habits. She thinks nothing of planting a million seeds in order that one may germinate and grow. She buries riches deep in our mountains where they may or may not be found. Always she is wasteful. And yet we humans are taught that it is sinful to be extravagant. We decide to be prudently thrifty when a bit of whole-hearted extravagance would do worlds for ourselves and others. The offering of whatever gifts are within our power- hospitality, service, sacrifice, love or material- is to be encouraged. Generous giving begets real gratitude, and gratitude goes hand in hand with joy. For a thrill this Thanksgiving season, try Natire's way. Be extravagant! Give gratitude! Give yourself!" - Genevieve Callahan

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


This Thanksgiving week I am pondering gratitude, naturally. So I thought that as an exercise I would post here about many of the things for which I am grateful. I invite you to do so in the comments, as well. For it is only when we are grateful for what we have that we are truly connected and present!

 This is something that I try and do frequently, but as I get caught up in my every day life and its challenges, sometimes the idea of gratitude escapes me. It is then that I complain or forget how much I actually have.

I am grateful for the presence and health of my son. He has changed my life in myriad ways, all of which are for the better. He is the reason that I do so many of the things that I do these days, with joy.

I am grateful that, in these times of economic uncertainty, that I have a roof over my head, food on my table, and my bills (mostly) paid on time. I am grateful that the government assists families like mine with food, money, and medical care and I pray that this will continue for all of us.

I am grateful for a partner that shares so many things in common with me. Oberyn is an excellent father, a thoughtful partner, and one helluva priest.

I am grateful that I found Starr King School for the Ministry when I did- it has been an integral part of my spiritual growth at a time when I needed exactly what it could offer me. The faculty, staff, and students there are all amazing people that I am glad to have in my life.

I am grateful for my Feri teacher, who has been there for me, time and again. She is awfully patient with me as I struggle with challenges and has been a wellspring of support and empathy. She is also an amazing teacher and I am lucky to have her.

I am grateful for friends to with whom I can laugh, break bread, and have meaningful conversations. I have found several meaningful new relationships this year as well as continuing older ones. I am building my tribe, person by person- step by step.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November and Its Full Moon

"O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being.
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing."
-  Percy Bysshe Shelley
November is a witchy month. The month and its full moon go by many different names that fit into this time on the Wheel of the Year (with its global cultural themes of harvest and communing with the dead). It's known as the Apple Moon (Appalachian), the Larder Moon (Stregheria), the Blotmonath (Sacrifice Month), the Herbistmonoth (Harvest Month), the Ancestor Moon, the Moon of the Dead, and the Mourning Moon.

Even in non-European cultures, November is associated with the dead and darkness: In Tibet, they celebrate the Feast of Lanterns, which is a winter festival of the shortest days of the Sun. Among the Incas, it was a time of the Ayamarca, or Festival of the Dead.

November is considered a month of beginnings and endings- because it follows Samhain (well, in the northern hemisphere, anyway), which is the Witches' new year (many, but not all, Witch calendars follow the Celtic calendar). 

The Witches' patron goddess, Hekate, has a night on November 16. On this night, Hekate devotion is performed in a three way crossroad at night. Food is left there as an offering to her. It is apt that her day is in November- she is known to rule the passages of life and transformation, birth and death- very appropriate for this time of year.

Full moon rituals, or esbats, can actually be held on any of the three days that the moon is most full. Full moons are a time for action, for harvesting the fruits of our labors, for realizing that which we began at the last cycle, and of giving thanks. So, US folks- if you are celebrating Thanksgiving why not do it at this month's full moon?

What do you do for full moons? I invite you to the Witch Mom Forums to talk about it!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: Pagan Degrees for Children

This book is an interesting find: a book that teaches precepts of Wicca and earth-centered spirituality to children in a merit badge style, similar to that of the girl and boy scouts/guides. It is best suited for kids of five-twelve, although you can start some of the activities as early as three.

The kids are earning badges within a system of three degrees (just like the adults in Gardnerianism!): Neophyte, Apprentice and Mage. Each degree is started with a dedication ritual, so that the child is fully engaged and eager for the process (something I particularly liked- as a kid I was forced to do things that my parents wanted for me- so offering this as an option that they freely choose and dedicate themselves to- well that rocks!).

I also liked that halfway through the youngest degree is a celebration and a new stage- keeping the kids' interest and excitement up. In the Neophyte degree there are nine levels. After the first four levels, then they enter "The Fellowship of the Dragons", which should be made into a big deal! Pomp and Circumstance! Awards and Music! Then they can continue on the path for five more levels. This degree is designed for children five to eight and does not focus on the badges and awards- kids this young are a little unfocused for that. Instead, there are activities and they complete a set number of them per level to advance. Activities for this age level include: cleaning up litter, feeding the birds, collecting leaves, going to a museum, creating a personal practice, making a personal altar, or writing a poem. (There are tens of dozens of suggestions, actually!)

The Apprentice degree and work start at age 12, and the Mage level starts at 14 and begins with a coming of age ceremony. I love how these are tied to what is happening in a child's life. This is probably because this book was written after the curricula as developed and tested in a real life pagan community with actual kids (The Sacred Order of Living Paganism, in North Carolina).

My only real criticism of this book is that it is decidedly Wiccan, but does not state so implicitly. It talks of the rede and The Goddess and God, as if there are only one of each. People who are polytheistic or do not use the rede will have to make adaptations to some of the exercises, discussions, or activities. But I really like this system and think it makes a great starting place to teach kids about paganism in general and earth centered religions in particular.

Formal Rating:
Title: Pagan Degrees for Children
Author: Shanddaramon
Publisher: Astor Press
Price: $17.99 USD 
ISBN: 978-0-557-09867-5

Topics Covered: pagan themes and activities (specifically Wiccan), lessons, curricula.

Target Audience: Pagan (specifically Wiccan) kids and their parents.
Witch Mom Rating: Two and a Half Hats
 A good asset for pagan families, particularly homeschoolers and those educating their children in a pagan religion.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lessons for my Son: Cooperation and Choices

The lesson for today, Rowan, is that (despite what the media tells us) there is far more cooperation in the world than strife. While woe and conflict make for dramatic stories to tell on TV and in newspapers, the everyday reality is nicer and a little more boring.

Take a typical Wednesday in our lives for example:
1. We get up after sleeping on a bed made by a group of people in Mexico. Another group of people brought it to Oakland, where we bought it, and took it home. A similar story exists for all our furniture, sheets, and towels. Anything you see that we use and did not make ourselves exists for us through the cooperation of many hands.

2. We make breakfast: organic fair trade coffee (this is coffee we pick especially because it protects songbirds, the people who do the work to bring it to us, and the environment), organic free range eggs (from a local North Bay farm where the chickens are not kept in cages and they can see the sunlight and scratch for their food), and natural nitrate free sausages (made locally San Leandro!).

All these items came to us from various places- cooperation is in every bite. In order to get them to our kitchen for breakfast, we got into our car (which was created by people working together in a factory in Tennessee), obey laws of traffic (which are all about cooperation to ensure safety), and park in a designated space like all the other cars, and enter the store- the very existence of which is a whole other set of cooperation and negotiation between hundreds if not thousands of people. But going to the market to buy items for breakfast is just not newsworthy, according to some.

You'll notice that the items that I listed for breakfast were very particular. That is because choices matter (even consumer ones). While I am not one to jump on a capitalist bandwagon, I do recognize that the system we live under affords me some degree of choice. Do I want eggs from chickens that suffered, never seeing the light of day and having their feet growing into mesh cages? No- of course I do not. Do I want a known carcinogen in my sausage? Again, no. Do I want to protect the environment by getting certain kinds of coffee, even if it means paying an extra dollar per pound? Yes- that is worth it to me. Having principles that apply how we interact with others, who we interact with and even what we buy and where we buy it affects our choices. We never shop at Wal Mart, for example- this is because they are destroying small businesses, taxing money away form the communities they exist in, and treating their employees quite badly.

3. After some play time at home and getting clean, we head out to Pagan Playdate. This is also an exercise in cooperation. The other parents and I talk throughout the week about where to meet, what to plan, and what would be fun for you to do.

4. After we get home, Daddy usually takes over your care, so that Mommy can get some schoolwork done. This is an example of family cooperation and negotiation that took place.

5. Then we put you in your highchair and wheel you into the kitchen so we can feed you and you can watch us cook. We do this instead of letting you play in the living room, because you have told us that you prefer to have us all together, even if it means that you are in the high chair. So we are cooperating with you, too.

Don't let the media fool you when you are older, son*. People are mostly good, and generally we want the same things: food, water, shelter, ease, and love.

*Rowan does not watch TV right now, as we are following recommendations to keep him from doing so until at least age 2.

Monday, November 15, 2010


In my Sex and Spirit class at seminary, we've been reading about and discussing the topic of love. A huge subject, certainly one with theological as well as every day implications. One of the dilemmas that we grappled with is coming up with a standard definition for love. There really aren't any. One of readings that we were given (by bell hooks) really resonated with me. In it, she quotes M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled:
(Love is) "... the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."
I like this definition, because it cuts through all the crap that people experience in relationships that they assume is connected to love but isn't very loving at all. In this essay, bell hooks postulates that love and abuse can never coexist and that people mistake a feeling of connection (cathexis) for love.

I think about these things so much more now that I am a parent and have such sway over another person's life. I strive to be loving in my interactions with my son. I find this fairly easy- I am a force of nature in this kind of love it comes automatically and forcefully. It's also easy because he is at a stage where he doesn't challenge me (yet!), and I have never felt this connected to anyone in my life. It is easy to love a baby- I look forward to the challenges of loving a willful toddler, child, adolescent!

But here's the work: I also want him to see models of relationships that are loving. And for that, I need to be able to demonstrate what a loving friendship, a loving partnership, a loving pet relationship looks like. I find that latter task harder. I know that I am not unlike most people- I get caught up in my everyday life and tasks and forget to stop and be present with others. I don't listen as often as I should. I get caught up in what I want, that I forget I am not the only person to consider. Modeling loving relationships to my son is hard, but it is the work that needs to be done.
... "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will- namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love, we choose to." - M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Saturday, November 13, 2010

World Kindness Day

I discovered that today is World Kindness Day, and I am astonished that this is not a well known holiday in the United States. From the above website:
The idea behind the World Kindness Movement (WKM) crystallised at a conference in Tokyo in 1997 when the Small Kindness Movement of Japan brought together like-minded kindness movements from around the world. The WKM was officially launched in Singapore on 18 November 2000 at the 3rd WKM Conference. The mission of the WKM is to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world.
This is something we should all be celebrating! The world needs more kindness these days. It seems that more and more countries are officially adding this day to their national holidays and planning official activities that foster a culture of kindness. I can think of no better use of government, frankly. It seems all government in the United States wants to do domestically these days is increase polarity and contention among people, only emphasizing differences and exploiting those differences to invoke fear. And don't get me started on our foreign policy! We need more kindness.

Here's an official commercial from Singapore for this special day: