Friday, August 31, 2012

Theology of Religion, or What the Heck is Wrong with People?

We live in an extremely polarized culture right now. People are fighting and killing one another over their differences. This of course is nothing new, people have been slaughtering others for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and any other reason since we have historical records (and likely before that).

But this is not the world that I want my son to inherit and I struggle with the the balance between disclosure (at age appropriate levels) and keeping him blissfully ignorant, just a little while longer, to what the world is really like.

His great-grandmother is a horrible racist. So are some other family members. I have had to tell them to STFU with their crap when they are around me and my son. "That is false, ignorant, and racist- and you WILL NOT expose my son to that kind of stupidity," I have said on at least one occasion. I am surprised at how they actually shut up. They are not used to uppity women nor are they used to anyone challenging their worldview, I suppose.

My son is two-and-a-half and repeats everything. He has no filters to know what is righteous speech and what is harmful speech. He is starting to learn with his playmates what is a mean thing to say or do, but toddlers are not qualified to filter themselves yet, we have to do it for them.

This is why I do not let him watch very many mainstream movies or TV shows. The sexism and racism on these programs is astounding, especially anything branded Disney (don't get me started on Disney!). I watch everything first, so that I can be ready for questions and commentary as we watch together.

And yet, in reality- those movies reflect a reality that I dislike. Like this reality, the Republican delegate from Puerto Rico being jeered at with taunts of "USA! USA!" (Um, hey xenophobic jackasses- Puerto Rico is part of the USA.)

Or this reality, also from the GOP convention. Or the racist shootings of unarmed youth of color by civilians and police alike. Or the more subtle racism that many of us or our friends and family exhibit- jokes, slurs, or avoidance of those different than us (and the corresponding instilling of fear into our children about those people). I am heartsick over it all.

I do what I can- I am raising my son to be a good person who values difference and diversity and is comfortable with the myriad people around him. I teach kids and youth at church that looking to different cultures is not only interesting, it is necessary and an asset to their lives. I call people on unchecked assumptions. But the problem seems so HUGE. What else can I do?

This post started after reading this article about Sikh children explaining the massacre in Wisconsin. The children in that article grapple, as I do, to make sense of a crazy splintered world. Their theology is also a theology that dictates that everyone is divine and disconnection from that source can make people do horrible things to one another.

How do we connect? It's times like this when I am overwhelmed with fear and anger about my world that I try and remember the African American adage, "Each One Teach One". We can't do everything, but we all can do something. Maybe that will be enough. Gods, I hope so.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Being in Oakland

Lake Merritt
After the Symposium, I got three whole days to try and see the people who are important to me, eat amazing food, walk my old neighborhood haunts, and be immersed in Bay Area culture, which is profoundly different than Columbus culture.

Friday was my first completely at-leisure day. I was dropped off in Temescal, one of my old neighborhoods (pre-gentrification- there was no tapas bar when I lived there, I'll tell you that!) and went to Peet's to get some Russian Caravan tea to take home and then to Sagrada.

How to describe this store? It is an interfaith store selling books, music, statuary, and other things for so many different faiths and beliefs. I almost bought a gorgeous stained glass mezuzah for our doorway* but instead opted for a reclaimed wood redwood shrine for a statue (to hang on the wall), a recycled glass lightcatcher with a black crescent moon and star from El Salvador, and a book for Rowan (Starhawk's The Last Wild Witch).

At Dia de los Muertos in Fruitvale.
I then BARTed to Fruitvale and had breakfast with a long-time friend. We have known one another for at least a decade, and knew each other before we are who we are today. We have both changed in such amazing and positive ways and a lot of the ways that we have changed have surprise people, even ourselves. We laughed and caught up and shared lives for almost three hours at an amazing taqueria that makes their own tortillas and salsa, and is awesometastically delicious.

After that, I walked around the Bay. Fruitvale, which hosts the best Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Bay. Piedmont, which is super tony now- even more than it was when I lived here. I ended up going to a  favorite patisserie (I have yet to find one in Columbus that is even close in quality) and then a Himalayan import outlet and getting a few things there for myself and as gifts for folks back home.

I was picked up by my Witch mama and we went to Pacific East mall in El Cerrito. I wanted to get Rowan My Neighbor Totoro schwag, since it is his favorite movie. I love it too- and we borrowed it form the libary and now he talks about it constantly. Sadly, it is almost always checked out and he hasn't seen it again (Netflix streaming, you fail me here!). So this mall was the perfect place to go. I got a copy of the movie, plus a Totoro backpack and my Witch mama got Rowan a stuffed Catbus with a tiny Totoro inside. We then had a delicious hot pot meal with lamb, fish balls, veggies, and beef in our spicy delicious broth.

Saturday, I headed into San Francisco to breakfast with yet another beloved friend at a Mexican seafood place. I had glorious raw oysters to begin, then garlic prawns and fried tilapia in an amazing garlic sauce. I had glorious company and I am excited that this beautiful person is moving to Pittsburgh in a couple years and will only be three hours away! Whee!

I then travelled to the Richmond, to spend the rest of the day and evening with beloved friends that my partner and I met in our midwifery birth class. This class changed our lives in so many ways- we have these fantastic friends (who almost moved to Columbus with us, but because of the horrible oppressive laws in Ohio regarding same-sex second parent adoptions, they are moving to Pittsburgh instead.), one of our friends decided to become a midwife, and my son has a best friend (their daughter, born a week after Rowan).

We went to Ocean Beach together (A delight! I was not expecting to see the ocean this trip but I miss it so much so I am glad we did), dined together, and played together. I had not seen their daughter in 7 months (they visited Ohio over Hannukah last year and we went to see them) and she is a hoot!

I spent the night at their place and in the morning hoofed it to transit so that I could attend First Unitarian Church of Oakland's services. After seeing some folks there that I love and participating in worship, I went to Chaos Cabaret, a Radical Faerie sanctuary in north Oakland.

They had agreed to let me host a tea there and it was delightful to once again be immersed in Faedom. Queens singing at the top of their lungs while cooking lunch and making jokes. The smell of sage mixed with marijuana. The delight in everything sacred and shiny. We had tea and chatted, and then it was time for me to meet my ex-wife for sushi.

My ex and I were together for 10 years and are still friends. We Skype regularly and when I lived in the Bay we would have dinners together. She has agreed to teach Rowan math and science (she's a biologist) and sends him presents. It was fantastic to see her- but after all this socializing and "being on" for days at a time, I was sleepy. After twoish hours of catching up, I was ready for bed.

I am now getting ready to head for the airport to fly back home, to Columbus. Columbus is now home, and Oakland is only my hometown. That seems weird but right. I am so exited to see my partner and our son.

*I have a car mezuzah which has the traditional Jewish prayer on it, as well as some conjure (done by me) on that slip of paper as well. It is a charm of protection that packs a double wallop!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Symposium

I arrived in my beloved Oakland day on Monday night and was picked up by a dear friend. She is part of a collective household where I am staying while in the Bay, a lovely assortment of Buddhists and Witches. I missed some morning sits, but I was blessed to sit with them on Wednesday and Saturday!

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I went to Starr King School for the Ministry's first ever Symposium. It was held the days after orientation for new students (which is, in itself quite the affair*!) This year, they are honoring the Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi with an honorary doctorate. He is one of the founders of the Jewish Renewal movement and we were blessed to hear him and his wife, Eve, speak over the course of three days.

I had never heard of Reb Zalman before, but I had seen the fruits of his labors first hand. I am surprised that I have never wrote here about Chochmat Ha'Lev, the Jewish Renewal temple in Berkeley and my experiences there**.

We Starr Kingers were blessed to be in collaboration with Chochmat on this event, and their musicians and congregants were in attendance- they added joy and ecstacy to our rituals and services. We had a joyful opening ritual, which was a delightful blend of Sufi Zhikr, Jewish Renewal shabbat service, and Unitarian Universalism weaving it all together. This was a ritual that not only talked about "organic multireligiousity" but did it, gladly and wholeheartedly. There is a line that exists between multireligiousity and appropriation- and because SKSM truly encompasses people of all faiths and beliefs and they are bringing their traditions to the table to share- it is the former not the latter. It feels liberating.

As a polytheist Witch, I feel completely at home at SKSM, even when I am misunderstood. There is room for misunderstandings at Starr King, as it always leads us to better understanding through dialogue- because people there are committed to building beloved community***.

At the symposium, I was in for a treat and took copious notes. Expect some philosophical theological posts in the near future! One of the Starr King faculty, Ibrahim Farajaje, introduced our honored guest thusly, "(Reb Zalman) cracks open the cosmic cardamom so that we may enjoy the sweet taste and smell of his teachings." Indeed! I have a lot to ponder and draw inspiration from whilst I review my notes.

The shofar was blown and we prepared ourselves to listen to this man, whose amazing life and works have touched so many. Over the three days, he talked on so many subjects: how G-d is nature, how to teach children about the universe, brain chemistry and the soul, how we are all not just connected but are divine ("Upon waking and finding myself alive, I say, 'Dear G-d, you decided to be Zalman another day? OK, I'll give you a good ride.'")

His talks gave me a lot to think about and I am still processing. Heck, I am processing the whole experience, really. We discussed Audre Lorde and how two of her essays could be read and combined with Reb Zalman's. We had a workshop on Theater of the Oppressed and I have a lot to ponder on those exercises, too. The Ritual Arts Collective created two amazing rituals that left me breathless and weeping at times. I had a great Symposium and also had a great visit to the Bay afterwards.

*My orientation was overwhelming and moving. Students are included in a ritual that walks the talk of radical trust and beloved community and are given keys to the building so that they may enter it, day or night. It was such an amazing gesture, I wept.

**How to describe Chochmat? Joyous, inclusive, ecstatic, and mystical. I was blown away by their shabbat service with the singing, dancing, and squealing, giggling children diving into pillows. I would go back in a heartbeat and wish that there was a Jewish Renewal temple in Columbus.

***My first UU Church, in Oakland, CA has a dedication to building beloved community. Here is the statement about it from their website: To build a radically inclusive community, to grow the beloved community by expanding the welcome table and deepening our commitments to countering oppression as an intentional multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational congregation. There is a sermon here about it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Trip to the Bay!

I am very excited to be heading "home" for a week to the San Francisco Bay Area. I am attending a three day symposium at my grad school (so I get to see my friends from Starr King!), and then staying on to visit with friends and Witch kin that I have not seen in almost a year (has it really been that long?)!

In addition to eating my way across the Bay* (for those of you who don't know the SF Bay Area has some of the best food in the world), I am stopping at special places (Sword and the Rose for handmade incense, Scarlet Sage for herbalist kinship, Sacred Well to say hi, Field's Books for occult books shopping) that are near and dear to me. I want to go to El Rio (my fave bar) and the Oakland UU church, too.

I plan on bringing home all kinds of goodies: gourmet teas, various temple items, and a giant Totoro for my son (his fave movie deserves a big stuffie).

While I am there, I am having a drop-in social tea hosted for me at a Radical Faerie house, having brunch with my ex (we are still close), supping with brothers and sisters of the Craft, and crashing with my Witch mother. I get to have some one-on-one time with close friends whom I miss very badly.

So excited! Witch Mom will return after I do: August 28th.

*dim sum, sushi, vietnamese, korean, a decent burrito, and spanish food are all on the list.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tangible Witchcraft: Making Ink

Making your own inks for magick spell writing or taking notes is a great idea. Using a special pen and ink for your magickal workings is one way of putting you in a different place- one ready to work magick and communne with the divine. I use a special pen and ink when doing oracular work.

One way to make a special ink is with oak tree galls (click for images). What are "oak galls"? They are balls on the trunk or branches of an oak that are created by the larvae of wasps and are found on oak trees. 

Galls are irregular plant growths which are stimulated by the reaction between plant hormones and powerful growth regulating chemicals produced by some insects or mites. Galls may occur on leaves, bark, flowers, buds, acorns, or roots. Leaf and twig galls are most noticeable. The inhabitant gains its nutrients from the inner gall tissue. Galls also provide some protection from natural enemies and insecticide sprays. 

But for our purposes, they are used in healing, in Witchcraft charms, and to make ink. This ink lasts forever and has been used to make some of humankind's greatest works: Bach's Concertos, Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings to name but a few.

Here's how to make the ink: 

1. Collect a handful of galls, choose ones with holes in them (so you know that the insect has made its escape). 
2. Grate them as fine as possible. 
3. Put the galls in half a pint of water & add in some rusty nails. 
4. In an old pan boil gently for 15 - 20 min. (This is the smelly step!) You can also choose to have it steep for days without boiling. It creates a purple-black or brown-black ink.
5. Cool, then strain through a coffee filter & store in a jar. 

This ink keeps indefinitely (if you find mold growing on the top- no worries- just strain it and rebottle it).

For more great ideas on Witchcraft DIY, check out my pinterest board.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Etsy (Groan)

Right on the heels on posting an herbalist manifesto, came the news: Etsy has changed its terms of service, so that no ethical herbalist can sell their wares there anymore. They have changed what can be listed in product descriptions in such a way that an herbalist cannot describe what a remedy is used for at all without violating their terms.

In coming to this policy, they are siding with big pharma and the FDA who would rather people only have access to their expensive (and often unattainable) "medicines" often with huge side effects.

I am no foe of Western allopathic medicine. It has its place. if I am in a car wreck, I want to go to an emergency room, please. But for most maladies that affect humankind, an herbalist is the way to go. We are gentler, have centuries of data about the se and effectiveness of our wares, and do not muck around with your body or the planet the way big pharma does.

My wares will still be available online- I have my own storefront (currently here) and I also sell at Poppy Swap. But Etsy is out. It is a shame, because I love many of the crafters and artisans I have met and discovered through Etsy. But for herbalists, it is not longer a good fit. I posted on my Facebook Page,

"Etsy cares more about their bottom line than it does about herbalists. Their new policy means I can longer sell any herbs there, unless I do not explain their use.

No ethical herbalist in their right mind would sell something that is not completely understood to a client. By asking us to not tell customers what an herb is used for (your term is "making a medical claim") on our listings, you are asking us to go underground, lie, and/or make lies of omission. 

Shame on you, Etsy. You are standing on the side of big pharma and the wrong side of history on this one."

For those of you looking for a good herbalist and good herbal wares, check out Poppy Swap:

My store name is Boline, of course!

And for those that wish to patronize me more, you can use Poppy Swap or my direct store. I appreciate your business and continued patronage of small crafters like me. Many blessings!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why I am an Herbalist (A Manifesto of Sorts)

"An herbalist" is one of the ways that I identify myself. But just what do I mean when I use that term, and why is it important to me?

To me, an herbalist obviously cares about healing others. But it is the way that they do the healing that defines them as a person. An herbalist tends to value tradition and hand-to-hand, mouth-to-ear learning more than academics, who tend to place higher value on the written word.

An herbalist cares about human health, obviously- but they also care about the health of our entire planet as well. They will not heal at the expense of the planet and its other inhabitants, in the way that big pharma does. Commercial allopathic medicines and mass produced remedies (even herbal ones) by big companies rip raw resources out of their habitats, destroying them. They farm their ingredients in a monoculture way that strips the soil of nutrients and destroys habitats. They produce in a factory environment that pollutes the atmosphere and water supply. And then they create an end product that is often toxic or causes harm. Herbalists like me grow their own herbs, providing habitat as well as food for insects. (Or they acquire it from ethical sources that grow like me.)

Herbal medicine is simply more potent (as well as gentle to the system) for many more living beings than commercially made remedies and medicines. Further, there are many herbal remedies that are working better than their pharmaceutical counterparts, because they use the whole plant, not just an isolated component of it. And don't get me started on how commercial antibiotics are over-prescribed and are strengthening the bacteria's resistance to those medicines. We have major strains of mersa, clostridium difficile (c diff), strep, and other infections that used to respond to anti-biotics but now don't. We simply don't have this problem with herbal anti-biotics. They still work, and don't destroy your body's immune system while killing the bad stuff, either.

Herbalism is magick making. A good herbalist is an animist- who knows that plants are living things with a form of sentience and hold energetic properties that can heal or harm. Being able to speak to plants, commune with them, and sacrifice them to create medicine for greater healing in the world is a magickal act. Coupling their properties with my Will and infusing my remedies with healing and intent is an act of magick. Being a part of the red life who takes the green life for its survival and knowing and welcoming the fact that one day the green will eat me in turn links me to the Wheel in a way that most urban dwellers do not know in their marrow. Re-tying myself to the wheel daily is religion and magick.

Lastly, being an herbalist means that I believe that all people have a right to to health care and wellness- and that capitalism and profit do not enter into that access. I price my remedies to simply cover my costs and labor. Profit does not enter into it.

My labor costs pay me enough- I am not a Witch for profit. Further, to assist everyone with access to healing, I barter and give away remedies when needed. We have so many poor and uninsured people in this country. It is disgraceful that so many suffer without care. In my little corner of the world, I am doing my part to heal family, friends, and my community.

Monday, August 6, 2012


A vigil in Wisconsin (Chicago Tribune)
Today, as I drove my partner to work, I heard the news. Another mass shooting using semi automatic weapons, this time targeting worshippers in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. This, of course, follows the news of the Aurora, CO shooting in a movie theater, and the gun death of a friend's son recently.

In the wake of what happened in Aurora, I have gotten into futile debates with my partner's relatives (who happen to be Fox-News-watching, gun-toting people) about guns a lot lately. They believe if everyone were allowed to conceal carry their gun, violence would diminish. They believe semi-automatic weapons should be legal. This of course, defies logic, but no one who watches Fox News watches it for logic or statistics.* News flash: Wisconsin has some of the most permissive gun laws in the country and had passed a law in 2011 allowing citizens to carry a concealed weapon. This kind of law allowed a 40 year old white man to travel to the temple undetected and start firing on worshippers and kill some of them before anything could be done.

If concealed carry was legal in Aurora, it would not have saved the people that died, it may have even made the death toll worse in that dark theater, vision further obscured by a gas canister, released by the gunman. The people that argue that point befuddle me. If people are going to commit acts of terrorism, access to weapons of mass killing only helps them. It harms everyone else. Concealed carry laws and access to semi automatic weapons only allow people like George Zimmerman and James Holmes to kill innocent people.

Vigil, photo from Chicago Tribune.
I say this: If you are going to carry a gun, I believe it should be on the outside of your clothes, where everyone can see it. You should have to broadcast that you see violence as a solution to your problems and that you are a potential lethal threat to others. You should have to put one of those car magnet signs on the outside of your car that you are packing heat at that moment.  No one should be able to legally ambush another person.

My heart goes out to the victims of gun violence today: my new friend, whom I ran into at the bookstore yesterday. Her eyes were red from crying as she watched her youngest kids (my son's new friends) play with the train sets before they headed to a movie. "I am just trying to get out and do normal things." she told me. Her grief is palpable and the hole in her heart is visible from the outside. After I met her kids a couple weeks ago, I sought her out and visited her. We became friends and I am hosting them all for dinner this week. After a month of making funeral arrangements and working on gun control efforts around the state, she is left with an open schedule and lots of unprocessed grief. She needs people to be kind to her now more than ever.

Victims being escorted out of the temple, Chicago Tribune.
My heart mourns for the Sikh community in Wisconsin and nationwide, whom are probably wondering why they were targeted (and perhaps speculating, as I am, that they were once again mistaken for Muslims and this was a hate motivated crime**. Some witnesses said he had a 9/11 tattoo, marking the September 11, 2001 attacks by Islamic militants). My pryers today are with the families of the Sikhs who died and the ones traumatized by this attack.

My heart mourns for the victims of the Aurora, CO shooting as well. This senseless violence needs to stop. I am sick to death of gun nuts (and if you own more than a couple guns, I define you this way) telling us MORE guns are the answer to gun violence. I am heartsick today.

The only way to stop these attacks is stop allowing access to weapons that are only designed to kill people. (I say that for civilians, police (who ill more innocent people daily than the crazed mass murderers mentioned above), the military, and everyone. Semi-automatic weapons are a coward's weapon. It allows a safe distance from which to mow people down without regard to their life and their divine spark. It amplifies the disconnection that one must feel to make them capable of murder. It allows a murderer to not see the anguish they inflict as they kill.

                               Forgive the ranting today. I needed to vent.

*You watch that right-wing drivel because it tells you what you want to hear. It confirms your prejudices and places blame for you in a convenient, bigoted place. Why is it that everyone I know who uses Fox News and right-wing radio as their main news sources are incapable of anything more than mimicking the soundbites that they provide? When I engage in debate I seek sources, analyze facts, and have something more to offer than a catchphrase to defend my position. Sheeple make me angry when they choose to remain ignorant.

** Thank you, Jeff Dunham, you racist piece of shit for helping confuse uneducated America that terrorists wear turbans. Your "comedy" is little more than bigotry with puppets. You are a national disgrace. (

Sikhs wear turbans, Muslim men do not need to wear a head covering). And there have been more acts of terrorism committed by white men in this country than any other race. Religion, when it is true, connects people. No religion that preaches hate is a religion in truth. It is extremism and fundamentalism, regardless of the religious clothing that it wears that is at issue here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Yesterday/today is on of the wheel of the year sabbats, Lammas. Depending on what kind of witch you are, it has several meanings. For many, it is an agricultural/fertility holiday- drawing on the first harvest or it is a time when the grain is cut. People make wheat weavings and corn dollies at this time.

It is a time when the sacred king begins his sacrifice for the good of the people, too. So in this house, we bake bread (Loaf-mas!) that looks like a person, and "sacrifice" it for *our* common good by eating it. It is a hands-on activity that can be explained to children easily. As he gets older, there will be more pomp and circumstance and ritualized actions, but the point is to tie us to the Wheel, to practice re-tying us to the cycle of the seasons and the Mysteries.

Today, I am creating a special sourdough starter that I plan on keeping for sabbats and passing onto my son when he finally leaves home- a starter steeped in tradition and The Craft. What are you doing to teach your children about Lammas?