Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rowan is One Year Old Today!

This was taken minutes after
I got to hold him for the first time.
Last year on this day at 3:41 PM, I became a mother. The story of me doing so is long and complicated, but entirely worth it. It was a complicated pregnancy but a delightful and joyous one, and the birth itself helped me process past medical and birth trauma. For that, I am forever indebted to my child and my midwife.

Daddy, doing important skin-to-skin contact, too.
Rowan came out like a rocket, being born after only three contractions of pushing. His birth was not what I planned for or expected (I ended up in a hospital, with a baby in the NICU for 14 hours). I had wanted a spiritual birth, with ritual and altar and intention. Instead, Rowan needed medical assistance and we were rushed to a hospital. It is only because the actions of my midwife that I was spared a dreaded C Section. When he was born, I did not get to see him right away. I had planned to having him placed on me and breastfeeding and bonding immediately afterwards, but instead, he was taken to a small room, glassed off from me to be cleaned up (he was covered in meconium) and evaluated (he was breathing funny). My partner went to be with him and supervise the medical team while I was tended- as I had ripped quite a bit from the birth.

Judi, my midwife, with Rowan.
I was brought upstairs to my room to recover and was assured that once I was stable, I could visit my baby in the NICU. I was impatient and upset and insisted on being wheeled down there at first opportunity. What I saw choked me up- my little baby, under a plastic dome, hooked up to machines. No human contact or touch. I cried and talked to him and tried to reassure him energetically of my presence. I talked to a NICU nurse who explained what all the machines were for and what they were doing. She promised me that as soon as he could breathe non-oxygen enhanced air he would be brought to me. True to her word, he was wheeled down the hall to my room around 5:30 AM.

My favorite picture of us.
Once he was in my arms, it didn't matter that my birth plan was derailed and that it was not what I wanted. I now had what I wanted- a small feral beastie rooting around for milk. After breastfeeding for the first time and making that all-important skin-to-skin contact, we fell asleep, exhausted from our experience. The picture on the left was taken by my doula on her mobile phone. I have always loved it.

My journey into motherhood began in earnest then- and I have not looked back since. When I describe myself now, the word "mama" is always one of the first words that I use. I am forever changed- for the better- because of Rowan's presence in my life. He has made me better (more patient, more present, more attentive to others)- and I continually strive to be better and improve the world for him as well. All this I do for him.

Our little wolf cub.

Rowan came to us in dreams before he was conceived, asking to be made and born to us. Because of when he was born, we know that this is the child who came to us: we decided on his name before we knew when he would be born. He was born under the Celtic sign of Rowan. He was conceived at Beltaine and born on the Wolf Moon. Wolves featured prominently at his conception, and he was born with a fine pelt of grey fur. He is a special, magickal child who already has gifts of non-verbal communication and profound empathy. Teaching him our religion as he grows will be easy- he is gifted.

Each day is a precious gift with him around. He allows me to have beginner's mind once more and see the world as he does. I am deeply in love with my son and today, I celebrate his existence and my renewed existence as a mother.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Interesting Video

All religions have a common starting point, if you know where to look.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gender, Sexuality, and the Craft

I have been a religious seeker all my life and realized that I was "some sort of pagan" in 1989. Along my way of finding my place, I have encountered all sorts of traditions and groups, all interesting. Some have personally rubbed me the wrong way- after all, not every Path is for every person. But the issues that squick me the hardest have to do with theological biases and bigotries about gender and sexuality, which not only occur in Abrahamic, patriarchal religions- but in pagan ones, too.

Jai Maa!
When I first started seeking, it was a breath of fresh air to embrace religions that believed in the Divine Feminine. Most people I know in the US grew up with Christianity being the dominant cultural force*, and "diversity" simply meant acknowledging that other monotheistic patriarchal religions- Judaism or Islam- existed. Buddhists, people lumped together as "Hindu", and pagans were not really talked about or considered back in the days of my teens (at least in Indiana, where I grew up). So as I say, it was revelatory to learn of religions that had a Goddess (or several)!

I moved out of my parent's home in 1987 made my way to Chicago- the nearest city. It was in Chicago that I was exposed to more religious diversity- and had interactions and experiences with ceremonialists, gnostics, and Dianic traditions that continued as I moved around the country.

With each experience, it became more obvious to me what I was not, but I had yet to find what I was. My issue with ceremonialism is that it seems to place the most importance on humans, to the detriment of the rest of the planet and its inhabitants. The religion seemed to be mostly in the human head. I wanted a theology that put us where we were- no better than a bird or plant, just different in our roles- and I wanted a religion that embraced the planet we lived on and its inhabitants as equals. My issues with gnosticism were still some of the issues that I had with Christianity: the body being something to be transcended, their concept of evil, and a remote disengaged god.

The Dianic Witchcraft folks had me enthralled for quite a while, and I stuck with it the longest before becoming solitary for a long while. It was the closest that I had found to an earth-centered path that worshipped "the Goddess". It was amazing and empowering to be in all-women circles. The combination of feminism and religion was potent and intoxicating. But then I started to see cracks in the theology. First off, what about men? I mean, if a religion is going to do its job in the world, it should be less of a support group and more of a big tent experience that embraces the entire human population (as well as non-human inhabitants). These issues bugged me, but I enjoyed women's space and comforted myself with the fact for a good long while that all genders could come together with men when we chose.

And then I found out just how much of a small tent Dianic Witchcraft really was: in Boston, I met Ella**. Ella was a gifted priestess and a trans woman. She was more skilled in the Craft than I and comfortable in her own skin. She had a calm sense of purpose and a great sense of humor. She seemed like a great addition to our Dianic circle in more ways than one. And when I proposed her entry, I found out about the horrible bigotry that most Dianic groups have- they say that trans women are not allowed. The founder of Dianic Witchcraft (Z Budapest) has made some horribly bigoted remarks and intentionally uses wrong pronouns when referring to trans women.

Here are words that contradict themselves from a Dianic website
(contradictory words bolded by me for emphasis)
"The Dianic tradition is a vibrantly creative and evolving Women’s Mystery tradition, inclusive of all women. Our practices include celebrating and honoring the physical, emotional and other life cycle passages women share by having been born female."
It made no sense to me- Ella was a woman who fought long and hard to be recognized as female (and had to undergo a mandatory psychological and medical gauntlet to do so), only to have doors slammed shut in her face by her sisters. I learned how decidedly un-feminist Dianic trads were that day- they reduce women to mere biology ("She wasn't born a woman!") or experience (feminists of color have made this critique far better than I could). I was pissed off and confused. I decided Dianic Wicca was not for me, and never looked back.

So then I decided maybe Wicca was for me- after all, it was the root of the Dianic stuff that I was attracted to- and it included men and trans folk (if you found a progressive, forward-thinking circle). But the problem with Wicca, as it has come to be known in the US, is that it has become so watered down with books and fly-by-night, DIY religion folks that it has become almost meaningless as a term. Used to be, "the Wicca" was a word that defined a very specific priesthood with a specific theological lineage. Now it means almost anything and everything.

It took a long time to find a circle with theological substance. When I did find a theologically sound circle (not just feel-good, namby pamby, white-lighter stuff), I experimented for a while and again, came up with theological underpinnings that squicked me. Here I was, a young queer woman circling with other young queer people- and we had a heterosexual fertility dyad as our pantheon/ideal! Indeed, the whole of this tradition seemed to revel in fertility and heterosexuality as the ideal, leaving queer expressions of love and lust out in the cold. We queers in the circle would talk about "channeling that fertility energy" into "something creative", but for me, that was akin to a theological band-aid on open heart surgery.

I also thought that the reductionist "all Gods are THE God and all Goddesses are THE Goddess" was flawed. After all, all that does is remove culturally appropriate filters and flavors. It gentrifies ethnically and racially diverse experiences of the Divine, and that did not sit well with me. Oshun is not Brighid, if you catch my drift.

I was at a loss. I knew that the Craft was where I should be, but I was looking for a queer positive, progressive, polytheistic, trans inclusive trad. One that truly embraced the planet's diversity and had juice. I was so grateful to find my small strain of Traditional Religious American Witchcraft.

I am interested to hear from folks in other trads- what is it that attracts and squicks you? Do you have similar or different ideas and stories than mine? Are the things that bother me something that you embrace, and why? Please share.

*Religious diversity in my hometown meant that we never had spring break during Easter OR passover- so neither Catholics nor Jews (the two main religions where I grew up) had their way. (Tolerance through making each group upset! Genius!)

**Name changed, since I have no way to reach her for permission to use her real name.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy Birthday, Cora Anderson

Cora and Victor
Today would have been Grandmaster Cora Anderson's 96th birthday, had she not passed on Beltaine three years ago.

She was an amazing, gracious woman who taught me quite a bit as I got to know her in her last year of life. I was beginning my training in the Faery Tradition when I heard the call that she needed frequent visitors. I went almost once a week for the last year of her life and got to know her. She generously shared stories with me about the Craft, her late husband Victor, other initiates in the tradition, and lore. She answered my many, many student questions with humor and folksy wisdom.

Her hospitality was legendary. While her husband could be somewhat of a hothead, she always insisted that anyone in their home (jerk or not) was shown hospitality and generosity.That did not stop her from having very pointed opinions about people however- and the Cora I knew loved to gossip about it later!

I also learned about grace under pressure from Cora. Her entire life she had been a strong, practical woman, supporting her family with hard labor and caring for her husband and son. After a series of strokes that left her mostly bedridden, she made due with life in her mind and on the astral. She would often talk about dreams visiting Victor and how she was sad to wake into the same hospital bed (at home). While her body had stopped working the way she wanted, she lived a full life in her final years- the way a powerful Witch should.

She still had very particular ways she wanted things, and as a caregiver and visitor, I strived to do things the way she wanted- giving her the ability to arrange her world as she desired it, even if her body could not make her Will manifest anymore.

Cora's favorite food was pie. In the end, when she was unable to eat lots of foods, chocolate cream pie was still a favorite and I would bring her some from time to time.

Cora hosted Thanksgiving in her home for the tradition, even after being bedridden. There were always several varieties of pie. At her funeral service, people brought dozens of varieties and people ate pie in her honor. The year after she died, my Craft home (Casa Vesperus) hosted a "Cora Pie Day" on her birthday.

I miss her very much. When I first started to visit her, I thought that I was doing her a favor. Our visits were awkward at first, since we did not know one another before her strokes. By the end, when I was visiting her in the hospital (the last time I saw her was April 30, 2008- the day before she died), we were friends and I knew I was going to miss her terribly. I do.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


There is a book out that I am dying to read: Principles of Neurotheology. In it, a scientist (Dr. Andrew Newberg) starts out by doing brain scans of meditating Buddhists, chanting Sikhs, and praying nuns. New berg found that brains are different while doing any of these practices, and the brains of people who do them often are significantly different than those who do not. What he found was interesting enough to try out religious practices to help people with memory loss.

Neurotheology is attempting to understand spiritual experience — and what happens in the brains and bodies of people who believe they connect with the divine.

From an NPR feature on the book:
Newberg's scans have also shown the ways in which religious practices, like meditation, can help shape a brain. Newberg describes one study in which he worked with older individuals who were experiencing memory problems. Newberg took scans of their brains, then taught them a mantra-based type of meditation and asked them to practice that meditation 12 minutes a day for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, they came back for another scan, and Newberg found some dramatic differences. "We found some very significant and profound changes in their brain just at rest, particularly in the areas of the brain that help us to focus our mind and to focus our attention," he says. More than half of adult Americans report that a spiritual experience has changed their lives. According to Newberg, many of the participants related that they were thinking more clearly and were better able to remember things after eight weeks of meditation. Remarkably, the new scans and memory tests confirmed their claims. "They had improvements of about 10 or 15 percent," Newberg says. "This is only after eight weeks at 12 minutes a day, so you can imagine what happens in people who are deeply religious and spiritual and are doing these practices for hours a day for years and years."
As a Witch, I know that what happens in my brain affects other things, can indeed affect all the worlds. Religious practices hone the brain into a sharp instrument- and science is just beginning to catch up with centuries of religious practices in almost every tradition.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reminder of Features

Ask Me Anything! You can ask me a question and I will answer- if it is a long answer, I will blog it. Past blog posts inspired by readers have included divine possession, ghosts, and astral projection! Just keep the question short- the application cuts off wordy inquiries from time to time. Or you can make suggestions for a blog post. what do you want to see me write about?

Witch Mom forums! Let's get the party started- the forums can be anything we want them to be.

My January

"The name, given to the month of 'January', is derived from the ancient Roman name 'Janus' who presided over the gate to the new year.  He was revered as the 'God of Gateways', 'of Doorways' and 'of the Journey.'  Janus protected the 'Gate of Heaven', known as the 'Lord of Beginnings', is associated with the 'Goddess Juno-Janus', and often symbolized by an image of a face that looks forwards and backwards at the same time. This symbolism can easily be associated with the month known by many as the start of a new year which brings new opportunities.  We cast out the old and welcome in the new.  It is the time when many reflect on events of the previous year and often resolve to redress or improve some aspect of daily life or personal philosophy."

My January has been a relaxing time. There has not been much work, and I am in a small break from school (my spring semester does not start until February). The phrase, "slow as molasses in January", however, doesn't really apply. My idea of fun has always included staying busy. So when there is a gap in what we "must do", I create new things to do in their place. January has given me the opportunity to catch up on projects and chores as well as start new things: 

This month, I started the Bay Area bureau for the Pagan Newswire Collective. I am excited to be working with some amazing volunteers, all reporting on what pagan and witchy events and news make my part of the world so great.

I started embroidering again, which I have not done since I was a girl. I bought supplies off of ebay and began with a project for Rowan's birthday- a banner that spells out "Happy Birthday" that we can use each year. It is made from felt and I am using it as a way to practice stitches and is a sampler of sorts. I plan on using it each year. I also have other projects lined up!

My partner and I have started hosting a drop-in social Faerie coffee each Saturday- open to Radical Faeries and Faery tradition folk. It has been a lovely way to connect with wonderful people in earnest. I find that it is so easy to spin your wheels, going through life with deadlines and stuff to do, and miss out on what really matters- connections with others. We have decided that each week, we slow down and sip coffee an chat. It is really nice.

Tengu and Tallulah love movie night, too.
I started the process to be certified in wildlife rehabilitation! I took the beginner class and now start a weekly class in February and March to earn my certificate. I will be volunteering at a local non-profit that has a hospital and education program. I may even take a wild animal into my home to care for it! I'll be feeding baby birds! I hope to focus on corvids, as they are some of my favorite animals. (If you didn't know, I am a "bird person"- I have parrots at home and LOVE all kinds of birds.)

And of course, I play each and every day with my son. He is walking now- and wants to be a big boy (especially when he sees their antics on the playground!) so bad. I also take him to see animals whenever I can- he loves animals, like his mama. I am glad to be able to spend so much time with him. I am still only going to school part-time in the spring, but it still means some time away. Sigh.

Friday, January 21, 2011

National Hug Day!

Today is National Hug Day, and I want to stress that it is more than a silly meaningless holiday. Hugs, indeed all positive touch, are so important. Humans are social animals and we need to be touched by others for our well being. While it is true for all humans. it is especially important for babies and children to be touched positively all throughout their brain and social development. Indeed, there is speculation in science that touch establishes the foundation of all other forms of communication developed later in life.

There are studies that show touch is actually an analgesic (pain reliever) when children are hurt. Remember kissing the boo boo? That actually works! It helps form the social bonds between parent and child, between lovers, and more.

When people that are deprived of touch, children often grow into juveniles and adults who show tendencies toward physical violence, sleep disorders, suffer from suppressed immune systems and even show some tendencies toward impaired growth development.

Hug your kid and an unexpected someone today!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Today is the First Full Moon of 2011.

The full moon in January is known as the Wolf Moon. Last year, the Wolf Moon brought me my son (he was born on this auspicious day- which happened last year on the 30th of January). It is an important time for our family personally. It's also an important time magically, like any full moon.

The moon is the most important heavenly body to Witches. As Witches, we work to keep our lives in the flow of nature's cycles. It is our job to do so, as walkers in all worlds to be in tune with all of those cycles. Since the moon is the astronomical body closest to us, she has a profound influence upon us. If you work with and according to the moon's cycles, the full moon is a time for prophecy, protection, divination. Any working that needs extra power, such as help finding a new job or healing, should be done now.

Witches cast our spells in accord with the moon's cycles. As the wheel of the moon continues on its never ending course, she also travels through the different astrological signs, just as the sun does, only more rapidly. When the moon resides within the various signs, that sign influences the magical aspect of the moon. This month's moon is in Capricorn, so spells involving career, political matters, and ambition would be auspicious to do.

This full moon, I will be doing divination and spellwork to see what the year brings in many aspects of my life. What will you do?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kalama Sutta

Some wise words from the Buddha for you today. I find re-reading these things helps me make better decisions when listening to stories, gossip, or "the news".

The people of Kalama asked the Buddha who to believe out of all the ascetics, sages, venerables, and holy ones who, like himself, passed through their town. They complained that they were confused by the many contradictions they discovered in what they heard. The Kalama Sutta is the Buddha's reply.

Ma anussavena.
  Do not believe something just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations. [Simpler: Do not be led by what you are told.]

Ma paramparaya.
  Do not believe something merely because it has become a traditional practice. [Do not be led by whatever has been handed down from past generations.]

Ma itikiraya.
  Do not believe something simply because it is well-known everywhere. [Do not be led by hearsay or common opinion.]

Ma Pitakasampadanena.
  Do not believe something just because it is cited in a text. [Do not be led by what the scriptures say]

Ma takkahetu.
  Do not believe something solely on the grounds of logical reasoning. [Do not be led by mere logic.]

Ma nayahetu.
  Do not believe something merely because it accords with your philosophy. [Do not be led by mere deduction or inference.]

Ma akaraparivitakkena.
  Do not believe something because it appeals to "common sense". [Do not be led by considering only outward appearance.]

Ma ditthinijjhanakkhantiya.
  Do not believe something just because you like the idea. [Do not be led by preconceived notions (and the theory reflected as an approval)]

Ma bhabbarupataya.
  Do not believe something because the speaker seems trustworthy. [Do not be led by what seems acceptable; do not be led by what some seeming believable one says.]

Ma samano no garu ti.
  Do not believe something thinking, "This is what our teacher says". [Do not be led by what your teacher tells you is so.]

Kalamas, when you yourselves directly know, "This is [these things are] unwholesome, this is blameworthy, this is condemned or censured by the wise, these things when accepted and practised lead to poverty and harm and suffering," then you should give them up.

Kalamas, when you yourselves directly know, "These things are wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise; when adopted and carried out they lead to well-being, prosperity and happiness," then you should accept and practise them."

I especially love "Do not believe something merely because it accords with your philosophy." It reminds me of this bumpersticker.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from Children

Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from children

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared the many lessons their children have taught them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


"You learn something every day
if you pay attention."  -Ray LeBlond
We are often reminded that we learn as much from our children as they learn from us. As my son is just turning a year old, he has much yet to teach me. But his lessons so far have been miraculous: more than any meditation practice in which I have participated, my son reminds me to be present, in the here and now, at all times. I am not just talking about being present so that I can be vigilant and watch for his safety. 

No- Rowan wakes with boisterous enthusiasm, laughing and smiling at the new day and slapping his sleeping mama's form next to him so that she can wake and witness it with him. It's hard to be morning-grumpy when he's so simply happy to be alive.

At 11 months, he now points at everything and asks "eh?" which is his pre-vocabulary way of asking any and all questions.  Often, he does it when he sees something for the first time and wants to know what it is and if he can touch it. 

I have been astonished at all the things he notices that I am simply not seeing- usually items of great beauty- rocks, flowers, birds, that sort of thing. Here is a mundane example: the morning right before our big holiday meal, I was at the grocery store, frantically putting my list items in my cart, with Rowan in the front seat. I answered his "Eh?" questions about canned foods, produce, and bagged bread, but there were more "Ehs" than I knew what he was referring to. Then he got his chance to show obtuse mommy what it was all about. There was a foil helium balloon at my eye level on a holiday baking display. "Oh, look! It's a balloon!", I said, thinking that I was showing him something neat. "Ballooooon." And I moved it closer to him so he could see it, touch it, and explore it. It was shiny and sparkly, like most of his favorite things. 

After a minute or so, I put the balloon back and started my shopping again. Soon, he was like "Eh?" "eh?" "eh?" "eh?" "eh?" "eh?" "eh?" "eh?" pointing everywhere. How did I miss that the store had decked out the entire place with helium balloons for the holidays? (Forehead slap) They were freaking everywhere, and I had failed to see any of them. Rowan didn't. He not only has what the Buddhists call beginner's mind, he has beginner's eyes, too.

"All the world is a laboratory
to the inquiring mind."  -Martin H. Fischer
It was quite telling to me that what I missed was a balloon. These are items solely created for pleasure and decoration- I was missing beauty and whimsy because I was too caught up in my agenda for the day! Lesson learned!

As Mark Twain quipped,  "Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned." I have got to unlearn my hyper productivity and slow down and simply BE with my child.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: 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:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 11 with all the carnival links.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lessons for My Son: Follow Your Passion

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -Howard Thurman

Your mama has been guilty of asking what "the world" needs and supplying it, many times over. As someone deeply interested in building community, I have often taken it upon myself to fill roles that are needed- yet left undone by others. Over and over. And it leads to burnout and resentment. Resentment is a big no-no, Rowan. As film critic and everyday philosopher Roger Ebert says, "Resentment is is allowing someone to live rent-free in a room in your head." And in Witch terms, it is giving away your power.

So a little late in life, your mama realized that a balance needed to be struck. Sometimes we need to do what MUST be done (and learn to say no sometimes), and other times we need to do what feeds our soul. If your soul is starving, you will be of no use to anyone, least of all yourself. Being "selfish" sometimes is a good thing. How is your mama selfish these days?

I am in school- studying things that I am passionate about (social justice, building just and sustainable communities, world religions), even when I am unsure how it will translate into me making a living afterwards. I am following this passion- finding out where it leads. I am confident that it will lead me to an as yet unknown place that will feed me in more ways than one.

I take time to do things purely for pleasure (although probably not as often as I should): I am crafty, have joined a witchy book club and am reading for pleasure, and I take some cheap thrills for myself now and again (like a pedicure or a latte alone).

And the most selfish thing that I have done recently is to forge ahead and have you, Rowan. You came to me in dreams for over a year before you were conceived and I knew I just had to meet you, fears be damned. I know it sounds strange, thinking of a pregnancy and childbirth as selfish (most people view them as selfless), but you are the reason I smile in the mornings (despite being smacked awake with mamamamamama as the soundtrack) and I love that the last thing in my conscious at the end of the day is your form curled up against mine, your smell in my nostrils, and the sound of your breathing lulling me to sleep. Have I told you lately how awesome you are?

In order to have you, I had to give up a few things. But you know what? Sooooo worth it. The original meaning of the word sacrifice applies here- not a martyr making resent-filled offering- but one that you joyously offer up- because that offering becomes sacred in that moment.

What I wish for you is to spend your lifetime finding what brings you joy- and pursuing those things and keeping them in your life. I will help you as a child- introducing you to music, art, dance, games, people, animals, nature, the Gods, and more- and you will tell me what motivates you. Together, we'll explore your passions, preparing you for an adulthood where you do that on your own. "If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time."- Joseph Campbell

That does not mean that following your passion is all fun an games. When you find your True Will, there will be hard work and plenty of it. Far from pointless hedonism (which is fun now and again), following your bliss requires dedication and travail. During his later years, when some students mistakenly took him to be encouraging hedonism, Joesph Campbell is reported to have grumbled, "I should have said, 'Follow your blisters.'"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy Sviata Vechera!

As someone in seminary studying multi-religious education, I enjoy learning about new holidays. Here is one that I have learned about this year: Sviata Vechera.

January 6th is a traditional Ukrainian Orthodox holiday called Sviata Vechera. While the holiday in modern times is now held on December 24th (Christmas eve), many Ukrainians hold to the old calendar which would place the holiday today, on January 6th. Like most Christian rituals, it has borrowed heavily from pagan sources for inspiration and is quite easily turned back into a pagan ritual if you so desire. It is quite beautiful.

The Holy Supper is a ritual meal, and like many such meals in many traditions, most devout Ukrainains fast before this feast as a part of their religious devotion. With this holiday, the feast isn't served until the first star of night is observed (many industrious Ukrainians send the kids outside to play as they prepare the space and the food for the feast to do this task). Before the star is observed, it is tradition for agricultural folk to make sure all the livestock and animals were feasting themselves and the table is decked out with the finest linens and table runners (made for this specific feast) and candles and greenery. There is a centerpiece loaf of bread that is a triad of round braided loaves called the kolach, which is flanked by greenery and two candles. Hay is scattered under the table (to symbolize the humbleness of Christ's birth), although more than one witch (with a Ukrainian background) I know have re-appropriated the symbolism of the entire meal to more witchy meanings. (Warning: link has delightfully funny obscenities and is not safe for work).

The meal itself is a ritual meal: 12 dishes over 4 courses. There is call and response chanting during the meal. Afterwards, the entire meal is left out overnight for the ancestors to feast upon it. (That part is my witchy favorite).

Does your tradition partake in a ritual meal?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Importance of Community

"Ubunto" is the essence of being human. A person is a person through other persons. You can't be human in isolation. You are human only in relationships."  -Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Most people have a great need to belong, even the ones that don't "fit in" to the overculture. I am no exception. I have craved community since I was small and as a result have spent most of my adult life living in communal houses and even took a (failed) stab at co-housing. I have worked at collectives and worker-owned cooperatives (or even non-profits where there was a strong communal culture). I have been drawn to community since I was small (be they religious traditions or girl scout camp- anything and everything that I was offered, really). I have considered moving to a commune many times (but thought that the vegan hippies would drive me crazy). I have participated in internet community experiments as well.

Sharing without squabbles.
One of the problems with being in community is all the damn people you have to deal with (she says, only half joking)! People are messy, aren't they? And their individual messes tend not to stay that way- people tend to leak onto others- causing conflict, miscommunication, hurt, distrust, and strife. There are so many issues that arise when working or living in community: How does one stay in community when often there are one or more individuals who seem to not value the group- and are only looking out for themselves? How do we share the work equally when not all people are equally skilled or able? How do we deal with issues of leadership or power? And how do we share power?

These are the questions that take a lifetime for each person to answer for themselves, while existing in relation to others. Community only works when everyone involved actually values it. Nothing is more frustrating when people that you are in community with deny the connection itself and disrespect people in the community in the process. Holding people accountable to the community is a hard task. After trying to reconcile issues and having some frank discussions, if there is still someone causing more woe than woohoo, I personally have no problems saying, "buh-bye". Communities only have responsibility to those that understand their responsibility toward the community in turn.

Together, people can do amazing things.
These big questions about to exist in community, even in times of strife, are ones that can only be answered by the groups themselves- there are no universal answers that will work for every group. And what that means is there needs to be lots of talking ABOUT process before actually trying to use the process itself. While I am one of those anarchist-leaning people that wishes to have an egalitarian decision making structure- that model only works when all are informed and involved in the process. It's a lot more work than assigning someone to lead and just simply doing what they say. If you don't work for it, you don't deserve it.

No one that I have ever met has only one community. The world is not that simple anymore for most people. Some of the communities that I belong to, for example, are: my family, my school, my religious tradition, and the radical faeries. Each community functions differently and I am called to do different things and be in relation with others differently in each one. In my family, I am one of the heads of the household. I am a mama and a partner in the every day, and a daughter and a sibling when communicating with my family of origin. In the radical faeries, I am one of many- we are all co-creating community together in each moment. There is value placed on presence, showing up, reconciliation, speaking your feelings, and being heard. In my religious community, I am a student with an intimate relationship to my teacher and a handful of others. It should not surprise anyone who has spent time in a religious community that I do not like everyone in the community nor do I wish to spend a lot of time with some of them. Such is the nature of community. We have to be grown ups and be civil to those that are disagreeable.

So what does community mean to me, and what do I offer? These are questions that everyone needs to ask themselves before entering a new community. For example, I am considering becoming a member of my local Oakland UU church- a commitment that the church takes quite seriously- you need to attend three meetings after church that last a couple hours each before considering it. They talk about the church and volunteer opportunities, UU history and where the church fits into that history, and plugging you into what they have built.

Last month, I went to a great training in Restorative Circles (related to but not identical to the idea of Restorative Justice), a process that helps any size and type group communicate well with the aim at reconciliation. It is a powerful model that has assisted in families, religious congregations, workplaces, neighborhoods, and more. It is adaptable and flexible- yet strong enough to get the job done. I look forward to honing my skills as a facilitator in this model, so that I can be of service to the communities I belong to.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Gorgeous nature scene #1!
So it is that time of year again- when we (who follow the Gregorian calendar, that is) all sit down and create goals for ourselves for the coming year. I have always been an ambitious person; a go-getter. So my resolutions are plenty, but usually I pick 4 "areas" for resolutions to fall into: Career/School, Motherhood, Personal, and Relationships.

Career/School: I am still getting a Master's Degree, and am less than half of the way there, I think. I am meeting with my advisor next month to assess what I need to do and what I need to take in order to finish. I have already decided that spending time with my son is more important than graduating as soon as possible, so I will only go half time. I need to find a non-profit organization that will be willing to pay for 1/4 of my salary, as I have some unused work study money that we could really use.

Stunning nature scene #2!
Motherhood: My main goal this year is to take lots of time with Rowan and enjoy our budding relationship and his ever expanding personality. I will continue to organize playgroups and social time for him as well ensuring that he gets lots of mommy and daddy time.

Personal: I am taking up a few hobbies: embroidery, reading for pleasure, and want to cultivate more friendships this year. I want to get back in shape after having the baby. I hope to be initiated into my religious tradition this year. And I continue to seek out and build my tribe.

Relationships: I am looking to reinforce existing relationships and cultivate even more relationships this year- I am in need of downtime with friends and would love to find a babysitter so I can enjoy some adult time a couple times a month. Being pregnant and then having a small baby took its toll on my social life- and now I'd slowly like to get some back!