Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reflections from My Book of Shadows: Putting Belief into Action

Looking through my first Feri Book of Shadows, I came across an exercise that we did as a class with our teacher, T. Thorn Coyle. It is something I wanted to revisit, as it seems helpful to me right now. I often get caught up in my everyday life and its myriad projects and forget the bigger picture of being an alive, present, spiritual person. This exercise serves to remind us of the bigger picture and how we create the world we live in.

Take a piece of paper (or write this in your journal) and write across the top,

"If I believe ________________, then I will __________________."

Then create two columns under that statement.
One for beliefs and one for actions to back up those beliefs.

Here is one of the things I wrote back in my BOS then:

"If I believe that all people deserve and warrant love, then I will work to give love everyday to the people in my life (even when they piss me off)."
(Can you tell that I was working on my curmudgeon tendency? I still am!)

I can see how this exercise would help so many, not just parents (after all, I first did it and got something out of it before Rowan was born). But I see this as especially helpful exercise for parents to do as a way not to lose themselves while they raise their children:

"If I believe that painting makes me a happier more well-rounded person, then I will set aside 3 hours a week to paint." (Then go about hiring a babysitter, or whatever you need to do to make this happen.)

And I see it as helpful for parents to remember the whole picture in relation to their children:

"If I believe that my child deserves to grow up to be a free thinker, then I will allow her/him to make simple age-appropriate choices for him/herself each day." (And then set about to find places in their day to allow for choice (food, clothing, etc.)

If you find this tool helpful, I would love to read your set intentions in the comments below!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Building Web Community

So I am fairly new to this whole blogging thing, and am slowly discovering amazing blogs and writers as I go. I felt the need to share the wealth.

Often, I discover a great blog through someone else's blogroll, or I discover a new one because someone leaves a comment here and I go to their blog.  Some of my favorite blogs that I have discovered this way are (not in any particular order):

The Forest Witch:
I found this one from a comment left in my blog by its author. I was delighted to get inside the head of the blog's author, Miaerowyn, who writes on divination, herbalism and more. Solid stuff!

Reproductive Rites:
Strangely enough, it took a comment left here by the blog's author for me to know about this blog! You see, the author and I know one another share a spiritual teacher and were in the same class together for over two years! We also had children around the same time. The blog content is awesome: feminism, reproductive rights, paganism, and more are all covered.

Raising My Boychick:
What can I say? This blog is my favorite at the moment. Arwyn's essays on parenting a boy to grow up to be a respectful man, dealing with mainstream society, and relationships, are always insightful and thought provoking. Her book reviews are amazing (so much better than mine- I love the format!)and I always read RMB when it appears in my inbox.

Free Range Kids:
By far the biggest blog I subscribe to, this blog is a web phenomenon, for good reason. Her blog is all about how fear and paranoia (incited by mainstream media) keep us from allowing our kids to have normal childhoods and develop into autonomous adults. She's a hero of mine at the moment, as I try to build community to benefit my son and other pagan kids.

What blogs have you discovered? How did you find them? What are your favorites? Share share share! 

And bloggers- I have two pet peeves as I scour the web looking for great content, so here's some unsolicited advice:

1. Make subscribing easy. Don't coyly hide the link (or even worse, don't put one on at all! Not everyone has a blog reader built into their browser (or wants one))! Make it as easy as possible for people to sub, in a variety of ways.

You can tell that this is a pet peeve of mine, because I offer no less than 7 ways to follow this blog: Google Reader, a Facebook Fan page, Networked blogs (which feeds into a Facebook newsfeed for those who subscribe), Twitter, a traditional RSS reader link through Feedburner (which is compatible with virtually all readers out there), a subscribe by email option (also powered by Feedburner), and Blog Frog, for those members of that community of blogs. I firmly believe that the reader should be able to choose how to let Witch Mom into their lives.

I know that bloggers just want to be read- so allow people choices in how you come to them and more people will opt in!

2. Please, I am begging you, for the love of Mithras, no more embedded sound! It is distracting, not always appropriate to the reader who wants to read your blog (sleeping baby or work environment anyone?), and seriously adds nothing to the enjoyment of your work. At the very least, make the default option OFF, and allow people to add sounds if they choose it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"The Mosque" Bruhaha

Normally, I don't "do politics" in this blog (I save it for my personal blog- as I can be quite opinionated), but for this particular issue, which has ramifications for the greater pagan community and religious freedom in general, I will make an exception.

Recently, there has been quite the uproar (no doubt the flames are being fanned by Fox News and their ilk) about a specific Muslim community of worship "building a mosque" (sic) 2 blocks from "ground zero" (where thousands of people lost their lives when a handful of religious extremists hijacked planes and ran them into buildings). Because the extremists that killed all those people were Muslim and used their religion as an excuse to harm people, many US citizens now seem to think that all Muslims are evil and should not be allowed to practice their religion, especially in that part of Manhattan.

What gets me is the hypocricy: no one demanded that Christian churches not be built near the previous decade's "ground zero": the Oklahoma City Federal Building. And why would we? We know in the US that these assholes The Christian Identity Movement in no way represent the entire Christian faith. Because we grew up with Christianity and it is familiar to most Americans, the idea that Timothy McVeigh in some way stands for what all Christians stand for is absurd. Yet here we are, 20 years later, saying that some Muslims (who are in no way responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center; in fact they are doing the hard work of trying to reach out and improve Muslim-West relations in the face of overwhelming hostility and racism) cannot build a community center (not a mosque, by the way- a community center like a JCC or a YMCA) out of sight from ground zero.

Let's let the people involved speak for themselves:

NY Daily News Poll
Bereavement groups? Making sandwiches for the homeless? They don't exactly sound like extremists swayed by hate for America, do they? Were you surprised to the see a Rabbi helping to facilitate the process? Were you surprised to hear that the project actually sprung up as a result of 9/11, and that families of victims had been consulted all along? And that most reasonable New Yorkers are fine with the project?

If you have been listening to most of the mainstream and/or right wing media, I bet you were surprised. They love a story with fervor, don't they? They make it sound as if a gargantuan mosque with spinnerets tall enough to be seen at ground zero will be broadcasting people calls to prayer throughout Manhattan 5 times a day. But that's not what this project is.

And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that idea (a traditional mosque several blocks from ground zero), either. Conflating all Muslims with a group of extremists is not just Islamaphobia. It's racism. (Ever wonder why Muslims are always portrayed as dark skinned Middle Easterners instead of, oh say, the Eastern European family that lives downstairs from me? It's easier to "otherize" and hate people that you see as different from yourself. We have a long legacy of vilifying and oppressing dark skinned others in this country, and this is just the latest example. I think we often find it way too easy. )

From Facebook, identities hidden for privacy.
I guess what is really disappointing is that I've seen fellow pagans jumping on this racist anti-Muslim bandwagon. It pains me to see one religious minority condemn another in this country. Do you really think allies like this have your back, heathens, witches, and animists? You don't think that you are next when they get the chance?

John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri
I agree with Roger Ebert on this one (who knew a film critic wrote political op-eds?). We have a chance to show what the US is supposed to be about here: a land where all are free to live in peace and worship freely. Frankly, we look like jackasses to the rest of the world and like a big target for further extremism. If we do not allow religious tolerance and reconciliation to happen here, extremism will take over, plain and simple. Let the bridge builders do their jobs.  The community center idea is to build bridges after a painful event that affected us all in the United States. "Muslims" and/or "Islam" are not responsible as a whole for 9/11, and we Americans need to start acting like we know that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ask Me Anything: The Nature of the Gods

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

A reader asks, "Have you and your fellows ever wondered if the Gods & Goddesses are just handy constructs for dealing with supernatural forces?"

I have indeed wondered that, and have to come to the conclusion after several years of seeking that no, they are not.  To quote Cora Anderson, former Grandmaster of the Feri Tradition, "In our tradition the Gods are not mere concepts but real spirit beings, and are part of the same life-chain of which we and all other creatures are a part."

My background: I have identified as a witch and pagan since my seeking led me to this Path (and past monotheistic non-magickal ones) in 1989, when I read The Spiral Dance. Yes, I am one of those "Starhawk changed my life!" witches! Unlike where she ended up (starting Reclaiming), I found such deep Mysteries in where she started (the Feri Tradition), that I have not left since finding Feri for myself.

It wasn't until I had a rooted tradition that did work with the divine in a tangible way that I experienced the Gods in a real fashion. Until that point in time, while I believed that they were real, I could not fault anyone for doubting their existence. But then I met some of them. As Victor Anderson, former Grandmaster of Feri Tradition has said, "Perceive first, believe later."

Unlike in a Christian tradition, where I am supposed to "have faith" that God exists, I don't need to be reassured like that. It's like Joseph Campell said, "I don't need faith, I have experience." My Gods are not distant- they are accessible to me and come when I call. (Much like your friend comes when you call.) I have a direct line to the Gods that I work with. Why? Because we have an established relationship. In Feri, we believe that we witches are equals to the Gods, just with a different role to play. Unlike some religions that worship their God(s) by fawning over them and making themselves less than their God(s), Feri witches know that "Self is God and God is Self and God is a person like Myself." (Again, Victor Anderson.) If we Feris are said to worship our Gods, it would be in the way that you would worship the body of a lover during sex, not in separating ourselves from the Divine and putting them on a pedestal.

Whether you realize it or not, reader, the root of your question stems from the attack that psychology has made (and continues to make) on magica(k)al people. Unlike what Carl Jung was getting at, my Gods are NOT archetypes. To quote RJ Stewart:
Artist credit needed!
If you know who painted this,
please tell me!
Gods "should not be confused with or by the current trends, jargon, and theories of psychology." He goes on, "Jung, who was widely read in the works of the ancients, misappropriated and altered the meanings of many terms used regularly in magic and metaphysics, and this perverted vocabulary has crept insidiously into modern apologies for the ancient Arts. The classic example of this misuse, which has caused much confusion, is Jung's alteration of the meaning of the term 'Archetype' but the overall effect is achieved by an almost frivilous use of concepts derived from alchemy and mysticism, mangled together until their original and established meanings are thoroughly bludgeoned, and new and even contradictory meanings are arbitrarily assigned to them in therapeutic practice." He continues, "The Other Worlds of the magical conceptions are, like our human world, occupied by a multitude of different creatures...Psychology treats such beings as delusions, whereas magic regards both humans and Others as temporary aspects of one Life Power, all subject to change, metamorphosis or transformation."

How do I know the Gods are real and not just in my head? How does anyone know anything? I believe myself to be a competent, grounded, accomplished person that can care for myself, my family, hold down a job, go to school, and display other obvious markers of sanity. I know myself to be sane, and I know several Gods personally. What can I say? They are actual beings that exist outside of myself*, although I have invited them in from time to time. I will admit when the Gods started talking to me in a very real way, I was freaked out and feared that I was nuts. After all, isn't that the message we all get- if you hear voices, you are dangerous. At that time, I asked an elder of the Feri tradition, "Am I really hearing the Gods talk to me, or am I crazy?" To which she answered, "Yes." What she meant by that was multi-faceted: 1. Many people would indeed think that I am crazy for what I shared with her. 2. You have to come to a place where you are an outsider, queer, wyrd, before you can actually hear the Gods- and many people consider giving up that mainstream culture and acceptance as crazy. and 3. The Gods were indeed talking to me. It was as plain as the nose on my face.

It's easy to know in the marrow of your bones that the Gods are actual beings when you have met them, talked to them and circled with them. I know that they are not mental constructs, only in my head. Many religions place lots of distance between themselves and their God(s), saying that the divine is "unknowable". And to some extent, that is true. The gods are often huge and alien, especially at first. But they are as real as the iced tea I am drinking now.

I leave you with a video documenting Voudou in Brooklyn, NY. When you are in the room with a God (and see the horse that carries that God do things that they are not normally able to do), you know that they are real.

*I'll skip the simultaneous seemingly paradoxical belief that all things are part of a Divine whole for now. That's another blog post.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Teaching Children the Craft: Growing Up With A Magic(k)al Worldview (Part Two)

In the last installment of this blog, I talked in detail about how psychologists and atheists both think that "magical thinking" is a problem and how I do not.

I am raising my son with a magic(k)al worldview and to think magic(k)ally. I see nothing wrong with this- in fact, I believe it gives him an advantage, much like growing up multi-lingual. Just as learning more than one language helps a child navigate in more than one culture, holding a magic(k)al worldview helps a child navigate this world better (and communicate with all its inhabitants) and navigate in the other worlds as well. Not content to teach him only our religion (with its magic(k)al worldview), he will learn about what other people think and believe and when the time comes, he will choose what he thinks and believes*.

I may add to this definition later (and I will be expanding on these concepts in future blog posts), but as I think about what encompasses a magic(k)al worldview, I can think of several major lessons to transmit:

1. Magical cause and effect.
2. All living things have a consciousness and specific energetic properties.
3. There are many ways to communicate- human language is but one.
4. "The Invisibles" are real.
5. The borders between this world and the next are not very solid.
6. There is plenty of Mystery- and not everything can be explained or needs to be.
7. We are responsible for what happens as a result of our words and deeds, even if/when we cannot predict what the outcome will be.
8. History, myth, and story are Truth. There is no objective reality or truth.

Let's start in this post about item #1: Magical Cause and Effect:

I see magical thinking as a natural extension of thinking logically (what some people call "scientifically"). If we can demonstrate physical cause and effect to a child (When I knock over the glass, the milk spills.), we can also demonstrate magical cause and effect. The child should probably be at least 5 to do so, since attention span and memory need to be at levels where the child can recollect spellwork (with help, of course) done a week or two prior. Personally, I would start with spells/ experiments that only have a two week or so lapse in cause and effect, as spells with outcomes that are further out may confuse the child.

For example, here is a simple spell/experiment in magick for a child to do:
Grow two identical plants in identical pots, but treat them differently. Treat one as an inanimate object, giving it what it needs to survive, but no more. The other, treat the plant like a valued living thing with a consciousness and go beyond physical needs to emotional/spiritual ones. On one pot, you can help the child draw the Uruz rune (shown at left) which you can explain means strength, speed, potential, energy, health and tenacity. You can explain how these concepts will help a plant in this pot grow stronger and faster than the plant in the pot that does not have it. Then you can tell the child to blow the wish into the pot of a strong plant that grows fast.

Leave the other pot blank, but use the same soil and seeds in both pots. Put them in the same area so that they get the same amount of sun. Water them both every day at the same time, but with the Uruz rune plant, have your child chant or sing, "Uruz, Uruz, Uruz" (you may need to explain what the rune means each time to remind them) at the plant while the plant is being watered. Wanna bet which one grows faster? Scientists are finally coming to a shamanistic worldview about the plant kingdoms. Took them long enough!

I'm sure others can think of other exercises along these lines. Feel free to share in the comments.

I believe it is the ultimate of human hubris to think that we have to be able to "see everything" in order for it to exist, and physics has shown us that that narrow old school scientific worldview isn't really true, anyway! 

Stay tuned for posts on the other aspects of a magical worldview!

*Raising a child in our religion, Faery Witchcraft, does not automatically make him/her a Faery witch. One has to openly choose this path, study, and be initiated into this tradition. It remains to be seen whether Rowan chooses initiation (and it chooses him).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Teaching Children the Craft: Growing Up With A Magic(k)al Worldview (Part One)

"Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business." - Tom Robbins
Recently, I was having a conversation with my Faery teacher about "magical thinking". To me, it is a positive thing. Having a magical mindset means that you understand that your actions and words have a great impact on the world(s) and that you can affect change. It means cultivating the ability to make that change count- doing your Work in the world. But she reminded me gently that term is used by those that would use my religious worldview against me- to call me crazy and even use it to thwart my autonomy. (Crossing the line too often in public or challenging the status quo with my worldview could wind me up in an institution!)
There are others in this world who have defined this phrase, "Magical Thinking" for me- and it is not a flattering picture. As one can imagine from a definition used by Richard Dawkins (and the rest of the fundamentalist atheist movement) and the warped psychologists who created the DSM (the very same folks who demonize trans gender expression and gate-keep its treatment; the same folks who until very recently classified homosexuality and bisexuality as a mental disorder; and the same folks who classify perfectly consensual sexual behavior among adults that is unusual as a type of "paraphilia"), "Magical Thinking", in their view, means that I suffer from delusions:
Magical thinking: A conviction that thinking equates with doing. Occurs in dreams in children, in primitive peoples, and in patients under a variety of conditions. Characterized by lack of realistic relationship between cause and effect.
Yaqui Deer Dancer
Anyone else see huge gaping problems with this definition? Shall we start with the overt racist/xenophobic bias against every indigenous religion on the planet?

Or that this definition is so overly broad that it encompasses any religion that believes in prayer or god(s)? (Hear that, Abrahamic religions? It's not just the crazy witches that they are after!)

We should probably acknowledge the paternalism (gendered word selected intentionally here) of (outdated) science run amok as well.
When I say outdated, I mean it. The folks who write the DSM are like Isaac Newton in their scientific view of the world*, whereas my religious tradition, Faery Witchcraft, is more like Steven Hawking.  There is nothing so far in quantum mechanics/physics that has contradicted my religion’s theology. And it turns out that many shamanic cultures and worldviews are finally being vindicated by this science. If anything, Faery is just a more poetic expression of what these scientists are discovering for themselves (because they were not going to take my religion’s word for it!). 

When I read physicists like Neils Bohr, Nikola Tesla***, and Werner Heisenberg , they do not contradict my religious worldview, quite the contrary.** Not all of them are as poetic as Albert Einstein though:
"Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for insects as well as for the stars. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper."

A card given to me by Eldri Littlewolf, a Feri elder.
That is not to say that my religion has all the answers. But unlike the old Newtonian scientific worldview (that rejects what it cannot see in order to prove), the new scientific view  and one of Faery embraces paradox.

So... how does this all tie together into a coherent theology that I am transmitting to my son? For that, dear reader, you must stay tuned for part two!


*(Although I know many "hard scientists" (biologists and chemists) who complain that psychology is a "soft science" at best, non-science at worst. And don’t get them started on when those soft science psychology folks try and bolster their arguments with hard science without doing proper research! Man, do biologists HATE evolutionary psychologists! I was married to a biologist for 10 years; so I have been privy to these discussions, believe me!)

** In Newtonian physics, particles - like billiard balls - were seen as hard, individual objects, specific to a particular space and time. On the other hand, waves - such as ocean waves or sound waves - were spread through space and time, blending and interpenetrating with each other. The two, particles and waves, were seen as completely different concepts.

This common-sense notion got turned on it head by quantum physics, which developed at the beginning of this century to account for the behavior of atoms and light. What was found then - and has since been confirmed by almost a century's worth of experimentation - is that the basic building blocks of the physical world (such as atoms, electrons, protons, light) behave in some situations like waves and in other situations like particles. The inescapable result is that in some mysterious way, they are both.

*** Did you know that most of Tesla’s amazing discoveries and inventions came to him, verbatim, in dream? How very shamanic!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ask Me Anything!

Those of you who have been following the blog from the beginning may have noticed a new feature over there on the right column under "About Witch Mom". It's a box that says, "Ask me anything".

I mean it! This is your opportunity to ask me things about witchcraft, my personal practice, my parenting style, my opinions on things, grad school (UU seminary), Pagan Playdate, anything, really.

You can ask as your logged in personality, or anonymously. (Weirdos and would be harassers, take note- I can easily get your IP address with a simple request, so please don't waste your time or mine, okay?)
While I cannot promise to answer all in blog format or in personal email, I do promise to read everything. So go ahead... ask me anything!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: Strega Nona, Her Story

At last! Witch Mom is reviewing a children's book! I look forward to finding and reviewing more books suitable for pagan families (publishers- please note!) as time goes on.

Strega Nona, Her Story is a charming kid's book about how the author (Tomie dePaola) learns Stregheria (Italian Hereditary Witchcraft).

Historically, Stregheria is an oral tradition, passed down family lines through apprenticeships like the ones described in this book. However, authors like Raven Grimassi have published books on Stregheria in modern times, causing an oral tradition to go more public than ever before. Due to the publication of so many books, Stregheria as a term is now also conflated with its modern, non-hereditary offshoots).

But I digress: Let's talk about the book! In Strega Nona, Her Story, Nona is born, named, and immediately proclaimed a future Strega by Grandma Concetta- who is her blood relative, her midwife, and her future teacher. Soon after she can walk, Nona is learning wildcrafting, herbalism, cooking, and spellwork at Concetta's home. Tomie, the author, chronicles the tale of how his teacher (Strega Nona) becomes an old-school village Strega who ultimately, in turn, teaches him.

Part fantasy, part actual history, it is a charming tale that does not villianize witchcraft in the slightest nor does it exoticize it (the two crazy extremes I tend to see in children's books). And for that, Witch Mom is truly grateful!

The illustrations are charming and colorful and will easily hold a child's attention. To use this book effectively, I recommend reading it directly to kids at storytime, showing the pictures after finishing each page. Because of its use of Italian phrases here and there and larger vocabulary words in general, it is not a "learn to read" book.

I picked this up without knowing that this is one in a series of Strega Nona books. I look forward to reading some of the others:  


Formal Rating:
Title: Strega Nona, Her Story
Author: Tomie DePaola
Publisher: Puffin Books
Price: $6.99 USD, $9.99 CAN
ISBN: 0-698-11814-6

Topics Covered: Stregheria, witchcraft, midwifery, herbalism, permaculture, cooking, and Italian heritage.

Target Audience: Children ages 4-8
Witch Mom Rating: Two and a Half Hats
In all, a charming tale that pagan and/or other open-minded families can get behind.  The story wanders and rambles a bit, but is worth a read!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tangible Witchcraft: Beloved Dead Altar

I thought that I would share things now and again that are very real practices and places that I use in my religious life. Today, I share my beloved dead altar, which is out in our living room where our dead can commune with us. (Our mighty dead altar is in the temple room and is separate.)

As you can see, there is a LOT of stuff on our dead altar. We include not only people but animals that we've loved and lost.

On it, we have photos as well as mementos given to us by our loved one or their family. I also have other objects that remind me of the dead here- figurines and statues, feathers of lost rescue parrots, remembrance cards from funerals, jewelry of theirs, and more.

We also have lights set for them, spirit houses for them to live in, a place to burn offerings of incense, and offering plates and cups. There is always fresh water available, and we often share an especially good meal with them.

I have also made sugar skulls (I tend to do them annually around Samhain.) to represent specific people on the altar.

Additionally, many of the animals that I have lost have been cremated, and this is where their ashes reside.

I anticipate showing my son how to make offerings and talk to the dead when he's old enough. Does anyone else have their kids talk or work with the dead?

Below are some close ups so you can see some detail.


 So do you have a beloved dead altar? Please share it!  I would love to hear how you incorporate it into your regular life.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book Review: Parenting With Spirit by Jane Bartlett

This is a lovely book, written from a non-demoninational perspective (while the author uses the term "God", she also interchanges it with "Spirit" and "sacred"). She truly has managed to write a book about sharing the sacred with children that embraces so many faiths- regardless of whether they are part of an organized religion or not. She talks of how religion as an organized force is in decline in most western countries, although more and more people are identifying loosely as "spiritual":

We live in changing times, but so far this spiritual renaissance has largely failed to nurture families. It concerns itself only with the needs of grown-ups; it's individualistic and self-orientated. You will find a wealth of personal development opportunities for adults to discover their "inner child", but few where they can be with their outer child, too!

This gentle book has great practical tips on creating rituals and traditions in your family to anchor a shared spirituality with your children. There is plenty here for people of all faiths to latch onto, including pagans and polytheists. Prayers, rituals, mealtimes, family meetings, story time, playtime, animal care and more- all can reflect a deeper understanding of the sacred to share with children.

For example, on the section for storytime, she shares that she has created a specific weekly ritual on Friday evenings called "Hot Chocolate Night". She makes hot chocolate with her kids, then they all gather around with plenty of shawls, blankets, and pillows to get snuggly. She has picked out stories in advance that she wants to read- sacred stories that teach things she values to her kids. They don't have to be from religious texts- heck, The Lorax is a sacred text to me!

She has some other tips on making plain old story time sacred time:
  • Light a large candle to mark the beginning and blow it out to mark the end of story time. 
  • Similarly, you could instead use a chime or musical instrument to do the same.
  • Use puppets
  • Create a basket of props specific to the story, pulling them out one by one in sequence
  • Don't relegate story time to a "lull the child to sleep" time. Make it a ritual each week or around seasonal holidays
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on "Creating Sacred Space In Your Home" In it, this Christian author talks about building a family altar and suggests honoring the family's beloved dead (as well as nature) there!

If you are looking for some practical tips on ritualizing your family life and creating traditions, this book is quite handy!

Formal Rating:
Title: Parenting With Spirit
Author: Jane Bartlett
Publisher: Marlow and Company
Price: $14.95 USD 
ISBN: 1-56924-405-7

Topics Covered: Parenting, Religion, Spirituality, Ritual, Prayer

Target Audience: Families seeking to add a spiritual aspect into their daily family lives.
Witch Mom Rating: Two and a Half Hats
Great primer for people starting to create family rituals and traditions and looking for some tips.
Advanced ritualists may find this too basic for their needs.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Watching My Son Grow: 6 months

Rowan is growing like a weed right before our very eyes, and it astounds me. I know everybody and their mother warned me that "The time goes by so fast! Enjoy this time- it doesn't last forever!" But who would have thought a cliché could be so true? I am astounded that my "squidpickle" from the 19 week ultrasound is now a real live human being on the outside, exerting his will in the world and enjoying fruits and veggies!

Right now, he is experiencing his 6 month growth spurt, right on cue. It is characterized by more napping, lots more eating, and fits of pique from not being able to accomplish everything he wants to do (He's a lot like his mommy in that way- I think that I should be able to whatever I set my mind to!). He also fights his naps like nobody's business, even when he most assuredly needs them.

Tummy time has made way for floor time- most of the time, he is practicing to crawl and his tummy is not on the floor. We encourage him wildly at these times as he inches forward (only to inch back- the whole forward motion thing is a mystery to him still). He is learning that "Yay!" and clapping are good things, and he grins broadly when they happen. I would characterize these moments as the building of his Pride*. When he is able to reach out and grab something he wants successfully, a huge grin of triumph spreads across his face that is unmistakable.

He works so hard at crawling and trying to grasp small objects and manipulate them, but his body and mind and the connection between the two are not developed enough yet. And this leads to the inevitable meltdown. He gets so frustrated at wanting to do something but cannot that he starts yelling and crying in frustration. At times like this he is inconsolable for at least 5 minutes, even if we are holding him tight, wiping away the tears, and talking to him lovingly. He is learning about his Power* and how to make his body do his will.

I also love his exuberant enthusiasm, his easy laughter, and his flirting with people who smile at him. He is so connected to everyone- he trusts completely and has not experienced betrayal or violence yet. Babies are born with a perfect Sex* point, already present and unrepressed. Sex is the force that connects all living things to one another and to the Divine. The universe came into being because of Sex and it continues because of it, too. My son is connected to me and my partner, but he also sees himself connected to everything- I can see this when he plays in the grass or touches a flower. His Talker/Auric Body connects and merges with the object he touches in a way that adults no longer do as a rule.

I love that I can see my little witchlet change almost daily. He is truly coming into his Power!

*Pride, Power, and Sex are three of the five points on the Iron Pentacle, a tool for alchemy in the Feri Tradition. The points are Sex, Pride, Self, Power, and Passion. For more information on Feri terms such as Talker or the Iron Pentacle, I suggest these books:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review: My Mother Wears Combat Boots by Jessica Mills

This book is amazing. Really. I am a parent who never quite fit the image that most mainstream parenting books think I should have. And it is quite refreshing to read a parenting book that loses all that pretense. If your family is poor, working class, alternative or minority in any way- I think  that you are going to love this book.

Written by a touring musician and activist (and mother of two), this book helps parents navigate the often perplexing decisions and stages of your kid's first five years. Not just the basics covered by other books (basics,  life stages, and discipline), but also the "controversies" (the diaper, babywearing, and co-sleeping debates) and all from a unique perspective that you don't often hear in the published world of parenting guides.

I really appreciated the sections on being a thrifty mama. It is disheartening to see how much all that baby gear costs when you first start looking into it. It was great to hear (from a real mama who knows) what was really needed and what was fluff. There are some great resources in here on finding free and nearly free gear, too.  As someone on a grad student's budget (and qualifies for public assistance) any help I can get acquiring things I need for Rowan is much appreciated. With the help of friends who were getting rid of a bunch of baby stuff (thanks Niki and Adam!), a baby shower where community members and friends really came through with what we asked for, and freecycle- we've had to pay for very little. As our doula said, "Don't worry- you don't have to be rich to have a baby!" This book helps you raise your family on a limited income.

But what sets this guide apart are the sections on gender coding, fostering independent thinkers, and building community to support your family- be it an art center, a co-op daycare, or a co-op school. I admire this lady's movin' and shakin' and all while giving her children an excellent life. Jessica Mills is a powerhouse!

Real punk rock has always been about DIY- Do It Yourself. And honestly, what is more DIY than having and raising a baby? 

Formal Rating:
Title: My Mother Wears Combat Boots, A Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us
Author: Jessica Mills
Publisher: AK Press
Price: $16.95 USD, $20.95 CAN, 10.00 UK 
ISBN: 978-1904859727

Topics Covered: Parenting up to age 5, Pregnancy and Birth, Alternative Families, Co-op schooling, frugal living, much more

Target Audience: Alternative families of any stripe, but written by a punk rock mama.
Witch Mom Rating: Three Hats
Tackles serious issues such as gender-coding, co-sleeping, and temper tantrums with humor and grace. The section on building a co-op alone is worth getting the book. Very resourceful author, helping others to be as organized!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Lessons for My Son: Discernment and Integrity

This is the second installment of a regular feature called "Lessons For My Son". In it, I hope to express ideas and concepts that it has taken me 40 years and many mistakes to learn.

The lesson today, Rowan, is that there is no shortcut to becoming an good person. There is no one religion, one book, one guru, or one exercise that will assure that you will make the right decisions, respect others, and be compassionate. All that work must be done on your own. Obeying the law and being a (fill in the blank religion here) does not necessarily build character or make you ethical.

Integrity comes from a lot of hard self work. It does not come from a prescribed set of laws or morals from either government or religion. That is a shortcut for society at large that largely does not work or make for ethical people. (Church going child molesters and cops who murder are examples of this sentiment.) I intend on helping you build your own set of strong ethical convictions, and can help you along the way by modeling, exposing you to as much diversity of thought and experience as I can, and asking strategic questions along the way- but this is your life; your project.You must do the work to make you a good person.

In Feri, we believe that the human soul(s) need to be aligned with the Divine in order to follow what we call "Flow"- or Law- the natural order of things. (Law is a point on the Pearl Pentacle for good reason, coming immediately after the point Love- God Herself's Law is Love)*. When you are aligned with the Divine, you cannot possibly commit evil (like murder, rape, genocide), because evil is borne from the state of disconnection. Evil is disconnection itself.

In a scientific framework, we are all connected to each other. Feri and other religions takes that idea one step further- that we are connected to each other AND the Divine (or that the connection itself is Divine in nature). When we align our soul(s) and tap into that connection, we are "in the flow". When we disconnect ourselves (which in this culture can easily happen) from each other and nature, we lose the flow. That's when things are a struggle. That's when we wage war, cut people off on the freeway, and think of ourselves and not others. It is only in this state that we can commit evil.

Staying connected and compassionate is hard work and requires a regular practice and diligence, Rowan. Much like the Buddhists, I personally do some of this through a sitting practice. Our religious tradition also has amazing tools of alchemy that help transform and purify us (so that aligning with the Divine is easier to do). But don't think that you can do it once and check it off your to-do list. It is not a constant state; instead, we are constantly striving for it. And because we Feri witches deliberately strive for it daily, we are highly integrated, discerning, and ethical people. (That's not to say that we don't make mistakes and aren't mean sometimes. Some of the best people I know slip and fall from time to time.) Feri is a warrior tradition. Using the tools of this tradition makes you strong. But Victor Anderson reminded us that not only do we "not coddle weakness", we also "respect our frailties" as well.

Integrity comes being accountable for our actions. And while we cannot know all the consequences of our actions, I hope you understand that I am teaching you that we are responsible and accountable for what we say and do in the worlds. I hope that you can report years from now that I set a good example for you to follow.

Rowan, you should know that mommy and daddy are witches, but not all witches think the same. Our religious tradition may differ from other forms of religious witchcraft, so I am only speaking as a Feri witch here. Given that many traditions (mine included) are initiatory mystery traditions that you must study, experience, and be initiated into firsthand, I can only speak for me and mine. And given that I have not yet been initiated (commonly one studies for at least 7 years before that may happen), I do not hold ALL of the mysteries yet. Daddy is one step ahead of me on the path.

* The Pearl Pentacle is a tool of Feri alchemy. The five points on it are Love, Law, Knowledge, Power/Liberty, and Wisdom.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Witch Mom Raves! Fred Small

From time to time, I hope to share with you something that I have discovered that I love for me, my son, or my family. Something that fits in to our witchy worldview, helps us as parents, or is just generally awesome.

The first thing I have to share with you is a song. This song is a lullaby, but more than that- it expresses a worldview that I share and want to have my son exposed to. When I sang it for the parents at Pagan Playdate, they were moved to tears.

The song is called "Everything Possible" and it was written by folk singer Fred Small. (See also this link for him.) I was taught this song by my doula, who sang this song for her daughter (now in her 20's).

I am posting the lyrics below the embedded video (of another singer covering this tune with a lovely glockenspiel accompaniment). If you want to learn it, it's helpful to sing along to the video playing while reading the song lyrics as you go.

 Everything Possible

We've cleared off the table, leftovers saved
Washed the dishes and put them away
I've told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day

As the moon sets her sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company

Well, you can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know that I will love you still

You can live by yourself
You can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds 
Will be the love you leave behind when you're gone

There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some go in their own way and time

Some women love women
Some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the days never reaching the end of everything  possible for you.

Don't be rattled by names, by taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They'll give the same back to you

(chorus, repeating last two lines for the finish)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review: Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel

I can just hear the refrain now: "Oh my. Witch Mom is reviewing a Christian parenting book! And she HATES it. What a surprise!"

I've got nothing against Christians. At least, not the ones that have nothing against me or other religious, sexual, racial, gender, and other types of minorities. But the minute you start using your religion as an excuse for bigotry or intolerance, you and I will have words- pointy, spikey words.

The reason that I am not down with this book is not because the book talks about parenting from another religious perspective. I have no issue with that and feel that I have something to learn from all faiths. (I recently reviewed a Jewish parenting book favorably, and have several Buddhist and another Christian book in the review queue. All of them are scoring more hats than this one.)

So what's the problem? I dislike intensely when people write about Christianity like its a persecuted minority in this country. For the record, it's not. The culture wars that are evoked so often by evangelicals are just ways to get their followers (be they book buyers or parishoners) whipped into a frenzy so that they identify with a message, buy more stuff, and be easily manipulated. Those messages tend to be exclusive and bigoted and often exclude others (take for instance, the "happy holidays" crisis of 2005 onward).

At several times in the book, the author hearkens back to a time when the Ten Commandments were "etched in stone", as opposed to today (as a result of the culture wars) where they are "written in pencil, on a post-it note." Yes, he really does invoke the culture wars- several times in the book. It sets my teeth on edge and makes it hard to sift through the messages in the book to find things of value.

And there are some things of value, hidden among the hard-line bible thumping. (He appears to be a literalist when it comes to scripture, and I wonder what he thinks of say... witches and homosexuals. His book does not directly address these issues (it seems to me, as a minority reading the book, to be the elephant in the room). But he does explicitly state in the "Freedom To Be Different" chapter, "Since being misunderstood is an occupational hazard for Christian writers, I need to qualify what I don't mean here (in allowing your children to be "different"). I'm not saying that grace based homes should tolerate sin, evil, or anything that goes contrary to clearly held precepts in the Bible." So I'm left to infer that allowing his son to bleach his hair is fine (which was the illustrative example), but if his son were gay, it would not be fine.

To his credit, he does talk about how many parents get it wrong- he calls them Judgmental Parents or Legalistic Parents. These are the parents that think it is their role to judge others (including their children) or the ones that assure that everyone in their family is following the letter of the Bible (the Legalistic Parents). Instead of these tired models, he calls for Grace Based Parents: who believe in God's grace and gifts to us, humankind. I can get behind that message, even if we disagree on the nature of God Herself.

Grace Based Parenting is a premise I like, especially when he talks about relying on grace when our children are hardest to love. Or living with gratitude. All things that I like. If only he were that open and grace filled when it came to all the non-Christians and queers on the planet.

To figure out where this guy is really coming from, I visited his website (he has a ministry focused around families and heterosexual Christian couples and again, NOTHING was written about gays and lesbians, but evidentally so-called "cross-dressing" is bad:
"For instance, your daughter wants to wear her hair in a crew cut and dress like a man...You would find the Bible frowning on such a request. What about the issue of morality? What if your daughter wants to dress like Madonna or one of the Spice Girls? The Bible has a great deal to say about modesty, which would veto her request."- from the Family Matters Ministries website.
In the end, I can't really recommend this book to my readers. It is too closed minded and does not pass muster on some of the harder parenting questions of our age.

Formal Rating:
Title: Grace Based Parenting, Set Your Family Free
Author: Dr. Tim Kimmel
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Price: $14.99 USD 
ISBN: 978-0-8499-0548-3

Topics Covered: Parenting, Religion (Evangelical Christianity)

Target Audience: Heterosexual, Evangelical, Christian Parents and Families
Witch Mom Rating: Half a Hat
My readers (whom I believe to be like me, working on cultivating personal ethics and discernment in their children (as opposed to having their children adhere to a set of prescribed morals) will probably not get much out of this book.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Reflections From My Book of Shadows: The Witch as Edgewalker

As a Feri student for the last 5 years (and a witch for the last 21), I have several personal books of shadows, where I have diligently taken notes on what was being transmitted to me by my teachers, be they human or otherwise. I not only write down lore and techniques, but quotes that reveal Truth and images from dreams, trances, and much more. 

I have a similar book while studying at seminary, a book idea given to me by Dr. Rebecca Parker- what the Unitarian Universalists call a "commonplace book". It includes quotes, discussion notes, activities, references and more to help me develop liturgy, sermons, etc.

In this new series in the blog, I sift through several years of teachings and reflections and contemplate aloud about what they mean to me as a witch and as a parent. I hope you enjoy them!

I suppose it was inevitable that I become a Witch. I spent most of my childhood feeling like an outsider, even in my own family. It's not necessarily that I was deliberately excluded (although there was plenty of that at times- most kids experience that at one time or another), but there was something "not quite right" about me- that made me not fit in. It's like people could smell it on me, and it made them wary. I was more comfortable communing with animals and invisible friends (whom my mother called "imaginary", although they were anything but!) than with most humans, be they adult or child. I liked the slower and more visual, picture-based communication of non-humans much better and could relate to them more than the "strange human creatures" (as I called them then) I found myself among.

It's funny (yet predictable, in hindsight) to note that the people I did become close to during my childhood and teenage years all turned out to be either queer or some stripe of pagan or both. Not that we knew this at the time- at the time, we were just the freaks, the outsiders.

The role of the Witch is to be an edgewalker. (For those of you non-Witch readers, this is one of the reasons why many Witches identify as Hedge Witches- the hedge is the boundary between this world and the next.) Edgewalker, as a term, implies a few things to me: risk, danger, not having a home in either of the definitive camps of this or that- but rather being perpetually "between". (And isn't that where the magick happens?!)

Witches exist as a living bridge between this world and the next and can affect both places. To be a Witch is to be fully human, bridging the realms of our animal selves and our Divine natures- and at the same time- Witches are separate, odd, queer, uncanny. To be fully human makes a Witch a master in all realms- a co-creator of the worlds who is not controlled. Witches are not slaves- to culture, to others, to force. (Yet we are human, which also means we can fail, falter, and become subject to the whims of others and cultural power dynamics seeking to rule us.)

So, if I am separate, how does my role as religious leader (as my school likes to call each of us), priestess, and mother come into it all? That, dear reader, is the big enchilada of questions. The answers to which I am perpetually sorting out! My nature often makes me such a curmudgeon, a misanthrope (especially when I look and see all the harm that humans do to one another, the planet and its other inhabitants) and yet...

I am perpetually hopeful and intent on making this world a little better than how I found it. I am an organizer, a catalyst. I make stuff happen. This has lead to some amazing activism and art projects over the years, and my current projects in the greater pagan community are all being documented at my personal website. Here's the great paradox (Feri Witches love paradox!): as a Witch I am separate, but as a Witch, I know that there is no such thing. We are all connected and we all affect one another.

Being connected makes me want to teach my son the value of compassion, exercising a Witches' Will to manifest a better world, and staying connected to others, despite all of our collective failings. In short, Being a Witch and an edgewalker has helped me cultivate Power, but it took becoming a parent to make me feel more compassion for human frailty. I am still working on this- I find that it is easy with my son, but not so easy with others!

I tend to be a judgmental person who doesn't cut anyone (including myself) enough slack for mistakes and failings. That is my default tendency, and it is something that I am actively working on now- because as a parent, I want my son to thrive in a loving, compassionate environment that values his successes and failings equally. Through parenting my son, I am finding the patience to deal with the people "out there" who annoy the crap out of me. Being a mother is making me a better person, which in turn, makes me a better Witch and priestess.

Monday, August 2, 2010

World Breastfeeding Week!

Today marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week, and I wanted to salute all the breastfeeding moms and lactivists out there, making the world a better place for moms and babies. In commemoration, there are several resources that I wanted to share with you on the topic of breastfeeding and lactivism.

The big grandmommy of all organizations is, of course, is La Leche League. Founded at a time (1956) when the medically endorsed norm was formula feeding (backed of course by the formula companies), 7 women gathered in homes to create what would become an international powerhouse of an organization, with country chapters in 19 countries! Two years after they started, LLL published the classic, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and continues to update it for modern moms everywhere. LLL is now in its 54th year, still actively working to promote its mission: to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.

Since that time, women have been organizing and there are so many resources for women to tap into:

Mothering Magazine has embraced and supported breastfeeding and natural parenting for years. Their message boards (the most active mom board of its kind on the web!), books, and magazine rock. The message boards were of great help to me to me in my pregnancy on complicated issues like VBACs and placenta previa. Now I check in there for topics like baby led weaning, teething, and more!

Best for Babes Foundation is bringing breastfeeding into the media savvy 21st century.

The Leaky B@@b has some great resources on their site and is excellent  at answering questions from moms on their Facebook page.

Dr. Momma, aka Peaceful Parenting, gives excellent content on breastfeeding, circumcision, baby wearing, and much more.

Kellymom is a site so many turn to for breastfeeding information (as well as sleeping and parenting in general) started by a mother of three, who is also an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

NNIPL (The Normalizing Nursing In Public League) specifically reports on and works for laws that help mothers and children be able to nurse whenever and wherever they need.

And so many are writing from their own experience at the grassroots and about what's happening in their area on this issue: great blogs like Reproductive Rites address breastfeeding, childbirth, and parenting from a feminist mama perspective in Massachusetts. There's even a great post about taking this matter to the state house, nursing all the way!

And for those of you with a sewing/embroidery machine, this blogger has a WBW free pattern for you to download!

Get your "Twibbon" to use as a profile pic this week for all your social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Linked IN, etc!

Do you have any other great breastfeeding resources, stories, tips to share?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Book Review: Parenting as a Spiritual Journey

Parenting as a Spiritual Journey, subtitled, "Deepening Ordinary and Extraordinary Events into Sacred Occasions" seemed right up my alley. My fondest memories as a child were for some of the everyday routines that my mother established for me- be they daily (dinnertime as a family), weekly (collecting used newspapers and selling them at the recycling center to earn money for summer camp), or annually (Christmastime ornament making, tree decorating, cookie making).

I also craved ritual and routine at summer camp. I loved the regular dependable schedule: every day, we would have breakfast, sing, swim, go boating, eat lunch, sing again, then do a select craft or activity (I loved archery!), eat dinner, sing once again, and go back to our units to build a fire and tell stories and sing sing sing (Can you tell I liked the singing?).

Long story short, I believe that children, not just me, love ritual and routine and they thrive when they can depend on their surroundings having familiar elements. It gives them a safe place from which to start exploring and taking risks. That is why I picked up the book. Being able to ritualize everyday events and help my son learn the sacred in his everyday life- what could be more witchy?

Well, evidentally this activity is not only witchy, it is Jewish! This book was written by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer. I am happy to learn from teachers of other faiths, as I think everyone and every faith has something to teach.

To give you an idea of her perspective, here are some quotes from the introduction: "(Spiritual parenting books seem to be) written by people who know just what God is and what He (as they invariably call God) wants of them. ... I was in awe. I could envision planting my faith, like a seed, in my children, if only I knew what it was! But I am still discovering my faith as I go along." She also says later, "It is my job as a religious professional to help people deepen events into sacred occasions, and I know from experience that the structures of religion can often do that. But I also understand that religion can suppress spirituality as well as nurture it." So as far as Rabbis go, she is progressive and keenly aware of some folks' issues with religion. And she writes with that in mind, never once leaving her Jewish faith behind. It is a well written, thoughtful work.

The book is broken up into four parts, mirroring the parts of a day: Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Night. Each of these sections is further broken down into four parts- everyday activities and things that you encounter with your child at these times of day, and reflections on the sacredness of these moments.

For example, "Morning" has a subsection on "Getting Dressed" (which is about the sacredness of the human body). "Afternoon" has "Nap Time" (which is about being instead of doing.) "Evening" has "Dinnertime" (Thankfulness) and "Watching the News" (Justice). And "Night" has "Bedtime" (Trust) and "Sleep" (Separation). What great lessons for us to transmit to our children- in our everyday lives!

Reading the book, which is steeped in Jewish contemplation, it really hit me. Parenting is a spiritual practice, if you allow it to be. Just like with any embodied practice, you need to shift mental gears: stop thinking about the everyday mundane task at hand and seeing it for what it really is! A child is experiencing many things for the first time and even repeated tasks are fresh for them. The entire world is new and everything can have a lesson. We adults often forget what it is like to have what the Buddhists call "beginner's mind". But by raising a child, you get another chance to see the world in this way- if only you allow the time to do so.

I really enjoyed this book, despite not having background in some of the Old Testament and Torah references to which she alludes. For those turned off by or unfamiliar with Abrahamic religions, don't worry, the book is friendly and accessible. I found it very interesting and enlightening!

Formal Rating:
Title: Parenting as a Spiritual Journey
Author: Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
Publisher: Jewish Lights Publishing
Price: $16.95 USD
ISBN: 1-58023-016-4

Topics Covered: Parenting, Religion, Spirituality, Childhood Development, Exercises and Activities, Essays, Philosophy, Judaism, Christianity
Target Audience: Parents and Caregivers of Children and Teens, Jews, Christians, Spiritually minded people.

Witch Mom Rating: Two and a Half Hats:
 Great contemplative book for parents to read as a way of informing their everyday interactions wit their children. It does have some language that may be unfamiliar with people who are not Jewish, but hey- that's a learning opportunity, is it not?

Link to buy this book, if you so choose.