Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mystic Crystal Revelations

One of my holiday presents this year from my parents is a book that I'm eagerly devouring: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, & Other Subversive Spirits. Written by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack (a playwright and her writer daughter, both with degrees in religious studies), the book is a sometimes cheeky, but often really informative and fascinating, look at the spirit beings of various cultures throughout the world.

One passage in the chapter titled "Origin of the Species" really made my ears perk up:

"Starting in the fourth century, B.C.E., after Alexander had changed the geography of Greece by adding vast conquered territory, borders widened and villages became urban and people no longer knew their neighbors. For many, a sense of alienation set in...We begin then to see a major downgrading of belief in the sacrality of earthly life as the ancient world became seen as 'sublunar.' The ancient gods fled for 'higher places' and without them, it was darker here."

I think, as pagan folks, New Agers, whatever, we often think that the proliferation of Judeo-Christian traditions was the chink in the armor that grew to full-out catastrophe, but this, and other sources, have pointed out that humanity's separation from the cycles of enchantment happened long before that.

Was this patriarchy, valuing hierarchical thinking and structures that took us away from the feminine inclusive model? (Is that a myth, too? As the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow points out in his wonderful poem "Mezzo Cammin," when viewed from the present, the past is seen only in half-light.) Check out the story of Tiamat, the serpent-like goddess of Mesopotamia, later killed by one of her descendants, the warrior Marduk. It's a classic example of solar/sky gods "taming" the seemingly anarchic feminine primordial types.

So, now what? Do we fight like hell to return to a matriarchal model? Somehow, I don't think that's the answer. While I don't think it would be a bad thing, I do believe that we're a little too lost at this point to make that return an easy one. Also, how did a matriarchal worldview contribute to some feeling of alienation that drove sky gods/male identity to fall out of whack. I'm not blaming that feminine power - I'm just wondering what the contribution was.

No, I think with the rise of Aquarius in the heavens, perhaps it's time for a queer model to come into being - a creation of a both-and culture, insteand of an either-or, duality-based culture. Instead of cycling back to a previous time, we need to walk through into something else entirely.

(The first image is of Barberini's Faun. Originally created in second century B.C.E. Rome, the statue was rediscovered in the 1600s as belonging to Cardinal Francesco Barberini - now what's a good Catholic boy doing with a statue like this? I chose the image partly because it's a faun, enchantment of the world, blah, blah, blah - mostly, I chose it because it's smoking hot. Our next picture is a line drawing of an Assyrian relief of Tiamat and Marduk. The final image is of Ganymede, a.k.a. Aquarius, done by two gay French artists Pierre et Gilles.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yuletide Abundance

Happy Solstice to everyone!

This weekend has been spent in a flurry of baking activity.

So far:

Standard chocolate chip cookies (considering how much I adore them, I've exhibited a shocking amount of restraint by not eating the entire batch on my own)

Pains D'Anis - an exquisite French anise cookie

Ricotta Cookies - Italian cookie with heavy vanilla flavoring, along with Ricotta cheese and a confectioner's sugar-vanilla glaze

Peppermint Cookies - Think homemade Thin Mints with white chocolate coating

And right now, I'm simmering some figs in spices and red-wine to go along with a Winter Fruit Crisp (pears, apples, dried cherries) for dessert tonight.

Dinner is Radicchio and Robiola cheese tortelloni (a kind of ravioli) with homemade pasta.


A little later, I imagine, I'll go decorate a lovely spruce tree outside with some of the cookies - the Fae and other folks will undoubtedly enjoy the yummies.

I'm going out of town for about 5 days, so my blogging will be spotty this week.

May everyone's holidays be full of love, peace, and deep joy!

(The photo above was found at the website of the North Shore Homeowners Association.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Someone Else's Shoes

One of the blogs that I regularly check out is The New Gay, run by some cool local folks and started by a couple of good friends of mine and former co-workers at the Washington Blade, my old employment haunts.

I recently came across this post about the Dubya shoe-throwing event. When I found out that an Iraqi journalist lobbed shoes at the current president, I surprised myself with my reaction.

I've been snarling and spitting fire over this administration for eight years because of all the reasons that readers of this blog can imagine.

However, I actually felt bad for the guy. Not because he hasn't fucked things up in horrific ways for human life, human dignity, the political landscape, the Constitution, and the environment - but because, in that moment, when the shoes were launched, I wondered if he was frightened. Did he think, for a moment, that these objects were something more devastating than a worn-out pair of size 9s? I realized then that I would not want him to experience that fear, or thinking about his wife and kids, or bitterly cursing the fact that he almost made it to the end of a tempestuous eight years without getting killed only to be done in at the 11th hour.

Reading the post on The New Gay and the subsequent comments, I got to thinking about compassion once again and something that the ever-amazing Mary Magdalene told me: You don't just get to be a priestess to those already on the path.

Boy, does she know what she's talking about or what?

I suspect that if all of us who are working to create new cultures based in love and freedom really want this shift to come about, we need to take the message beyond the choir loft and out into the world. I'm not saying we put on our cloaks and start handing out flyers on street corners. I'm suggesting that we start by erasing the divisions and anger toward people we perceive as "other."

Do people who commit heinous acts need to be held accountable? Abso-fucking-lutely. Does this mean we close our hearts off to them and treat them as sub-human? No way.

A good way to start might be just by raising points like the one above. When folks laugh and give in to the delight of Schaedenfreude, perhaps it's time for us, as priestesses of love and compassion, to open our mouths and say, "Actually, I felt differently."

(The first image is of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pietro Annigoni. The story of this amazing painting is here; I loved it, because this Virgin Mary is a working mother. The second image is of Mary Magdalene by Georges de la Tour and is a great example of the chiaro scuro technique. The third image was found with a story from the Daily Times, where performers from China's Disabled People's Arts Troupe performed the Thousand-Armed Kwan-Yin dance. Kwan-Yin is one of the major mothers of compassion.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

True of False: All Gods are One God

In my yoga training, there's been a lot of god talk, which hasn't been easy for me. I can't help but think of the patriarchal Yahweh of history and his fundamental followers, who have, in my estimation, been one of the biggest blights on the planet. (Note that I'm talking about the fundies here - not all Judeo-Christian folks.)

Right now, I'm making my way through Paramahansa Yogananda's famed "Autobiography of a Yogi," which, in many ways, is a remarkable book, but I keep stumbling over the idea that all gods are one god - they're all emanations of one great god who is, of course, male.


I think there's something basically absurd about this idea. I am all-too-willing to say there's a whole lot about Mystery that I just don't understand, but I'm also willing to suggest that this lack of clarity is true for most humans. After all, we are human, and we live here, on this good green Earth where we deal with the concerns and magick and spirituality inherent in this lifetime and place-time.

I experience the Mysterious Ones (a term I use because it more accurately reflects my gender politics, among other ideas) as separate folks. Kali isn't just some facet of Brahma. Juno isn't part of someone else. They're different like me and you.

However, I do also see and ascribe to the idea that we are united on certain levels. As a priestess of Grandmother Spider and her peoples, I see that all of us are strands of web energy, as are our thoughts, visions, emotions, and dreams. In between those strands that make up matter and intention lie the spaces-in-between, where all experiences and all beings dissolve into a great no-thingness - Chaos, unlimited potentiality, the fabric of the Multiverse itself.

So, I get that we are "all one," but part of the paradox is that we manifest in some different ways while living these lifetimes right now.

Some of my other difficulty in the philosophy of yoga, as it's being taught to me and as I understand it, is what I call "Escapist Theology."

It goes something like this: "Life is an illusion. Everything is an illusion. Do everything you can to get the hell off this wheel of suffering, otherwise known as life, death, rebirth, and endless bullshit."

Call me an attachment junkie, but damn it, I love this place. I'm not looking to make the jump into Nirvana - I'm just hoping to be a vehicle for love to work through me in the world to make it a place of peace and deep joy. If I skip out (assuming I ever reached enlightenment), I feel that it's kind of selfish and seems antithetical to the views of compassion espoused by many of the East's powerful and life-changing spiritual traditions (shout out to the Boddhisatva's still hanging out and doing this work and the Buddha for staying around to teach all beings about his path!).

I also find it interesting that the unchanging principle of the Universe in yogic philosophy (and unchanging is "good") is male - the changing, form-based principle in the universe (read "unrealiable" and "illusory") is female. Hmmmm...patriarchy strikes again.

So it's been interesting, as a witch priestess of various Mysterious Ones (female, male, both and neither) to be a part of this training. I've had to do a lot of translation (which is starting to get a little tired, honestly) and also opening my mouth a lot - not a suprise to those who know me in the flesh.

Case in point: This weekend there was a chat about vegetarianism and its spiritual superiority to meat-eating. Full disclaimer: I've gone vegetarian since the end of June and have made the commitment to remain so through the training. I'll revisit this commitment at the end of it.

I brought up the question, "Why is taking the life of a plant any less valuable than taking the life of an animal? I find that there's a certain moral relativism going on in regards to the value of life."

The response was about doing "less harm," and the instructor pointed to the environmental toll that the meat industry wreaks on the earth. I'm totally down with that (and it's one of the reasons that when I ate meat, it was only from small farms where I knew how they treated their animals), but unless people are buying full organic, local farm produce, they're not doing much more to help the planet - see the "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico due to fertizlier run-off.

All of these thoughts are not to condemn the long-held beliefs of yogis - who the hell am I, right? But, it is a reminder to myself and perhaps others of a phrase that I've been using a lot lately: There's always another story.

(The first image is, of course, from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. The second is of the Tarantula Neubla, photographed by M.Schirmer, T. Erben, M. Lomardi European Southern Observatory. Amazing, right?! The Wheel of Samsara, that aforementioned wheel of life, death, and rebirth, was found here. And the last image is one that fast food chain Chik-fil-a put out years ago, and it still makes me laugh.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Love Notes

At the end of my yoga practice this morning, while in corpse pose, the Earth Mother rose up before me and said, "Love is all that matters. Let the rest go."

The love and compassion journey has been huge for me over the past year, and it really has changed my life in profound ways.

For a long time, I just didn't get "compassion" - not that I was a bastard to people or didn't feel empathy, but the word itself seemed overused and trite. But since opening up more and more to the power of Love and allowing that to be the guiding force in my life (in my actions, words, thoughts, and movements), I've come to gain a greater understanding of compassion and the profound impact it can have in the world. It's so much bigger than just feeling sorry for someone - to truly get the suffering of another on a deep level and be willing to meet them in that place is incredible. Take it another step further and be active about it and that's downright revolutionary.

I work with Kali a lot, and one of the things I most adore about her (besides her wicked sense of humor) is the way she works love and compassion. She will meet us in any place - no matter how seemingly ugly, shameful, reprehensible, awful, rageful - and dare to stand there with us and push us to the next breakthrough. She doesn't shy away from our "dark" sides - in fact, I think She relishes them, partly because She knows that those freaky underbellies are just one roller-coaster ride away from opening up to Divine Love (which we all carry within us, a constant potentiality). On whatever level I can, it's one of my personal prayers that I, too, can meet people wherever they are without judgment and channeling profound Love, helping to guide them to the next level in whatever ways possible. (Using the word "I" in here just doesn't sound right, because I think that opening up on that large level to Love means that a socially constructed notion of self slips away. More on that for another post, perhaps.)

A challenge to my readers:

If you haven't already, sit down with someone (human or otherwise) and have a chat about what love is and how you both think it can change our world.

If nothing else, I bet it will be a good conversation.

(The first image is of the Anahata Charkra, the heart chakra, and can be found at Aquarian Art. My understanding of Anahata is that it's the "Unstruck Sound." Unlike a bell, which we need to act upon in order to cause sound and resonance, the heart just sounds, without us doing anything at all. Sure, we can muffle that divine resonance, but it still continues to ring - so let it sound for all the world to hear, or in other words: "Don't hide your Anahata under a bushel."

The second image is, of course, of the lovely Kali - or "Missy K." as I sometimes like to call her. The colored etching on paper was done in 1770 and is currently housed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'd like to thank the Academy...

A blog buddy of mine, Beverly of So This Is Wonderland gave me a fab award. How awesome is that!!! Thanks, Beverly!

I would HIGHLY recommend checking out her blog on a regular basis. Full of everything from astute political observations to witchy musings and incredible educational and inspiring writings about Hawaiian myth and culture, So This Is Wonderland is one of my daily must-sees.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Enchantment

After the breakdown craziness of a move, we rushed to unpack as much as possible and set up our big dining room table, so we could have a real Thanksgiving. All went as I had hoped, and on Thanksgiving morning as I started rolling out the pie crust, I felt that this new apartment became a home. The power of the kitchen never ceases to amaze me.

Needless to say, my Mamma Italia persona kicked in and I made enough food for about four families: a Cornish Hen for Philip (I've gone vegetarian for the duration of the yoga training - oh, how I longed for turkey!), chestnut stuffing/dressing, whipped sweet potatoes spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg with carmelized apples and toasted sunflower seeds on top, the ubiquitous green bean casserole (please note, however, that I use fresh green beans, make my own bechamel, employ the powers of button and baby bella mushrooms, etc.), mashed yukon golds, and a mushroom gravy. Then there was the pear-apple pie that we ate for a few days afterwards. Yes, this was all for two people.

(Our big trashy secret? We love jellied cranberry sauce!!! At least we bought some organic kind from Whole Foods.)

I've decided this year to make the variety of Christmas cookies that my now-deceased Uncle Steve made every year. He would descend into his basement baking workshop and make tray after tray of the various Italian cookies that everyone in his life adored. He had a slew of recipes that I got from his husband, and in the oven right now are the pignoli cookies that I love.

I had some hesitancy about making them without him being dead for a full year (he died in Feb. of 2008), but after an all-too-brief encounter with him at the Roadhouse of the Dead on Halloween, he encouraged me to go-ahead (and not to call him during the process, because he's so busy on the other side).

So, here I am listening to the great Oscar Petersen's Christmas album, baking cookies and continuing to set up house. A fab morning in my book.

I deeply believe that making magick in the home through baking, dusting, laughing, sex, and even sitting down to a good movie helps us all to appreciate the sparkle in everyday life. There is no division between "sacred" and "profane."

There are no hidden secrets or recipes.

(The first image is from the Bellevue Opera's production of Englebert Humperdink's "Hansel and Gretel." The second, from The Daily Green ,is of my beloved pignoli cookies.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Moving and Yoga...

What a week! We moved into our new apartment on Friday and are in the process of unpacking and wondering why on earth we have two sets of differently shaped ramekins.

Then last week I took two workshops with the amazing Shiva Rea. The yoga style is so up my alley - devotional, ecstatic and completely organic. Incredible!

Finally, during this weekend's teacher training we had an inversion and arm balance workshop with Simon Park, who is a great teacher and really cute (not that I noticed - I was only focused on my own practice, of course). It was amazing how being upside-down brought up hidden emotional issues around moving - funny how that yoga stuff has a direct impact on the internal world. Go figure!

More to come!

(Shiva photo by Michael Sexton. I couldn't find the credit for the Simon Park photo. Drat!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Intermission: A bit of randomness

A while back, my blog buddy Beweaver, tagged me to write six random things about myself. I need a break from heroic community (nobody said being a hero doesn't mean we can't sit and have some hot chocolate, right?), and after doing a Sanskrit immersion weekend for my yoga teacher training, my brain is pretty fried.

A little narcissism should fix that right up!

1. I'm a huge opera queen. My husband long ago realized that my listening to the Metropolitan Opera Broadcast on Saturday afternoons was a super gay version of the straight man's football game. "Coach, are you blind?" and "Come on! Carry the ball!" turns into "You call that a trill?" and "I've heard elderly church choirs tighter than that!" As a side note, I'm a major Maria Callas fan and have been since my teens. In my opinion, she is the go-to for operatic interpretation and inspiration, although in today's day and age, Renee Fleming (whom I just saw in "Lucrezia Borgia" at Washington National Opera) is the best thing on record. She's amazing, and onstage, she's spellbinding.

2. I hate Jell-O. I think it's just vile, and even worse are those freak-ass Jell-O molds with all kinds of shit in them. As if Jell-O weren't bad enough on its own, people have to put those crappy "Mandarin" oranges in them?

3. When I was a kid, I used to put on my headphones, stumble around on the lawn like a drunk and lipsynch "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Stephen Sondheim's "Company." And yes, this was the front lawn.

4. I've never done any drugs, including pot. It somehow never came up, although I did turn down coke once.

5. Despite being able to whip up some mean tarts (French and Italian), bake a layered lemon cake filled with my own lemon curd filling, make puff pastry, and other assorted desserts, I am absolutely powerless in the face of a good chocolate chip cookie. I'll happily eat an entire batch and love every minute of it.

6. I adore makeup. I think a little glamour enhancement is a wonderful thing, and if there wasn't the threat of getting my ass kicked, I'd probably wear it everyday. Ideally, a little eyeliner, mascara, lip gloss (which I do anyway) and glitter (which is also not uncommon in my daily life). Did you know that the ancient queer priestesses of Cybele, the Galli, mixed flecks of gold into their face paint? Ancient world precendent for the holy uses of glitter!!!

There are some rules with this random post game, but I'm going to bend them a bit. Instead of tagging six other people, I'm just throwing it out there that anyone who reads this and has a blog can write their own version of this on their blog: write six random things about yourself and link to the person you got the idea from. (Oh, no, I ended the sentence with preposition - eeeeeeek!)

Have a great week everyone! I'm moving to a new apartment on Friday, so I'll return to heroic community stuff next week.

(The first photo is of Callas from a 1958 production of "La Traviata" at Covent Garden; the photographer is unknown. The second photo is of Elaine Stritch, who was on the original cast recording of "Company" and sang "The Ladies Who Lunch," getting her Tony Award; it was taken by Suzanne Plunkett of the AP. The third photo is, of course, "Sesame Street's" Cookie Monster. I had a big stuffed toy of him when I was little that I used to lay my head on at night. I don't know who took the photo; it's all over the place.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Part V: The Belly of the Whale

According to myth scholar and folklorist Joseph Campbell, after the hero crosses the First Threshold, s/he enters into the belly of the whale - the place of annihilation.

The hero disappears a la Jonah, Raven of the Pacific Northwest cosmologies, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Zulu story of two children and their mother being swallowed by an elephant. Yet, as Campbell points out, "the disappearance corresponds to the passing of a whorshiper into a temple - where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal...Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise."

Part of the major point of this leg of the hero's journey is the obliteration of the former self. The individual walks into the adventure believing in who s/he is, but at this point, nothing is for certain, and really one of the only certainties is that the hero is nothing and no one at all.

I suspect at this point the individual slips into an understanding of the vast expanse of the Multiverse itself. In another view - if we are all made up of strands of energy like a web, we also harbor within our bodies and within our energetic fields the spaces in between - the no-thingness that can be seen as a unifying factor in all of existence.

As we've done before, let's take a look at how this stage can manifest in a group attempting to form a heroic community.

One option is that the group of people has to willingly let go of all preconceived notions of what this kind of group "should" look like. Non-attachment to outcome is the name of the game here - not that we shouldn't care about what our goals are, but that we recognize that whales lie in wait for any people ready to take the journey.

This could also be the time during the formation of a group where it seems like it's going to fall apart completely. Perhaps the vision falters, people lose interest, others decide it's all bullshit and time to head back to their own lives, finances go to hell, relationships are strained - everything looks bleak. Yet, these experiences are instrumental to the path itself and the eventual outcome of the adventure. Without these dark nights of the soul, the group can not hone its vision and actual implementation of collective core values.

It's interesting to note where the whale/monster comes from. This is a creature from the deep, the ocean of the collective unconscious. In particular for a group, what are the things that threaten to annihilate us? What monsters of the depths must we confront in order to move on to the next stage of development?

(As a side note for literary nerds, I can't help but think of Melville's master work Moby Dick. Ahab pursues his monster, trying to conquer it and take revenge for the loss of his leg that's broken his spirit. Yet, in the end, he, too, must succumb to obliteration in order to move beyond his hatred, rage, colossal arrogance, and bitterness. This book has long been one of my absolute faves; if you haven't read it and have a long winter ahead, go for it! It also contains one of the most famed homoerotic scenes in American literature.)

(The first photo is taken by Ray Alley. The second image is of Jonah's swallowing from an old bible. From what I can gather, the last painting is done by Lasaine Brizzi. The site I got it from had no info, but there is a signature on the painting.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Part IV: Crossing the First Threshold

After attending a wonderful spiritual retreat over Halloween and spending time with friends in Minneapolis, I'm back in D.C. (which looks brighter and more full of hope given recent events!). I want to continue on with adapting Joseph Campbell's hero's journey to a heroic community, a group of people willing to take on a unique position in the world, uplifting themselves and all peoples.

This installment is all about crossing the first threshold, where the hero encounters the "threshold guardian at the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in the four directions - also up and down - standing for the limits of the hero's present sphere, or life horizon."

This is the point where the hero really has to pony up and step into the great beyond in a deeper way. This has happened, to some extent, by heeding the call to adventure, but that was before encountering a major challenge and an embodied experience of what it means to leave the comforts of everyday life.

"The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored."

Campbell references the ancient maps of the world where dragons lie at the ocean's edges or the monsters who wait in the wilderness for the wandering tribespeople.

However, a key point is that this first threshold often focuses on "the pairs of opposites (being and not being, life and death, beuaty and ugliness, good and evil, and all the other polarities that bind the faculties to hope and fear, and link the organs of action to deeds of defense and acquistion) are the clashing rocks that crush the traveler, but between which the hero must always pass."

Now, here's my spin on that pairs of opposites thing - this is where Queer Magick can serve every hero (community or otherwise). Part of Queer Spirit's power lies in the recognition of walking a third road - not black or white, good or bad, male or female, but something altogether different - a third road that encompasses all paths.

To the task at hand: what does crossing the first threshold look like for the heroic community?

I think a great amount of it might have to do with ego/self, which can tie in nicely to overcoming binary/polarizing thinking. The community members need to accept and understand that life is not all about them as individuals, but about the health and vitality of that community. That's not to say that our individual happiness is dirt - that would be binary thinking. What if our individual happiness and the community happiness can be shared goals and ideals? That's a third road.

In our American culture, which greatly values the power of the individual to overcome all obstacles by himself (and I use "him" acknowledging the patriarchal aspect of this construct), coming together into a community can be really challenging to everyone's notions of the four directions and how the world has acted up until this point.

Some personal confession: I'm all for these ideas. I think they're great. Does that mean I'm all happy-go-lucky about it? Hell, no. Part of it freaks me the fuck out. Do I have to live on a commune spinnng hemp bracelets in order to do this? Do I, even worse, have to share a room? On a more serious note, does this mean that an entire community of people whom I love have access at all times to hold me accountable for my actions and choices? That definitely sounds like a big threshold to cross into an unknown that, given the way I've lived until now, is pretty god damned scary.

Yet, as Campbell points out, when Jason and the Argonauts make it past the clashing rocks (two cliffs in the sea that smash together, making passage a dicey prospect), the cliffs fell still and have not smashed together since. Once we go beyond those polarities, they cease to exist. Consciouness once raised can not be lowered.

(The forest image can be found here. The image of Pan, seen by Campbell as a prime example of a figure who stands at the threshold of opposites, was done by Eric Pouhier. This photo is by the AP and accompanied a story about a modern attempt of the Argonautika.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tears In My Eyes

Upon hearing the news of Obama's victory, I started to cry with relief and a real sense of hope for this nation and the world. What a grand day!!!

I'm still in Minneapolis after going to a witch gathering called Earth Conclave. I've gotten to visit with dear beloveds and meet some new folks, too, that I've been hearing about from for years. It was fantastic, and a highlight was walking up to the Bear Mounds, ancient sacred sites in Iowa along the Mississippi River.

I'll be back in Washington on Friday and then deep into yoga teacher training for the weekend, so I'll probably write a real post next Monday or so, moving onward into the journey of the heroic community (something we did ritual work around at Conclave).

Blessings to everyone!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Heroic Community, Part III: Supernatural Aid

As we head into the week of Halloween, we continue our look at the Heroic Community, an idea percolating among many people, especially as we slip into the darker days of dreaming and vision. (See posts below for previous writings.)

According to folklorist and myth scholar Joseph Campbell, the next step in the journey of the hero comes in the form of supernatural aid.

"For those who have not refused the call, the first enouncter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass."

Campbell cites the Navajo's Spider Woman or Grandmother Spider as an example, especially in the tale of the heroic twins who are journeying to the home of their father, the Sun. Spider Woman gives them a magic amulet and spell to defeat their upcoming challenges.

The Fairy Godmother figure in European folk tales is another example, as is the Virgin Mother in Christian mythos.

"The hero who has come under the protection of the Cosmic Mother cannot be harmed."

Men can also be guides, as noted by the wizards, shamans, and psychopomps who appear to heroes (Hermes, Thoth and even Virgil in Dante's Divine Comedy).

Interestingly, the guide or first appearance of supernatural aid doesn't always have to be completely beneficent. Sometimes, s/he can be challenging and lead the hero on difficult roads that are the individual's most powerful journey of transformation.

I think one of Campbell's most important observations is that "One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear."

Once the intention is set by the group building a heroic community, I suspect something gets set in motion. We know from studies in physics that our thoughts hook up to actual points in space, so when the word is put out into the Multiverse by the group, then perhaps the energy comes back around in the form of various helpers on the road.

Probably, a community based in some kind of spirituality has an extra kick to this, because in imagining co-creating such a group, I see myself praying to various Mysterious Ones for aid or doing ritual work around the initial stages, thereby starting a magickal ball rolling.

This part of the heroic journey is no less challenging than any other, because the community has to be willing to keep their eyes and ears open. There are innumerable stories of people being so busy, so pre-occupied, so wrapped up in self that they miss the aid that's right in front of them, causing them to wander until they're finally able to see and hear what they've most needed.

Then, of course, the group has to be willing to trust the assistance - what happens when some members of the group are inspired by the supernatural aid and others aren't? Perhaps part of the spellwork around this could be that everyone in the group needs some help in ways that are resonate to her/him.

Something I get from the Fae around all this is "Always ask the Faery Godmothers." They'll show up, ready to roll up their magickal sleeves, but they do need to be asked.

Perhaps once the group of people decides they are willing to commit to creating this type of community, they could get together and do ritual work around stepping into the abyss, into the unknown and opening to the guidance of those very timeless ones who could shed some light on the road ahead.

I probably won't be writing again until after Halloween, so I hope everyone's holiday is full of mystery, wonder, and deep, deep joy.

(The lovely Spider Woman image can be found here. The image of Virgil holding back the demons from Dante was done by Gustav Dore. The fairy godmother was done by Emily Hilda Rix Nichols.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Heroic Community: Part II, Refusal of the Call

We continue with musings on the heroic community from the previous post.

This section is all about refusing the call to adventure, the call to move forward.

Campbell writes, "Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or 'culture,' the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved."

Instead of the herald or call to adventure becoming a boon, it becomes a curse, something that gnaws away at the individual's vitality. Campbell sites King Minos, who walls the monstrous Minotaur in a labyrinth, as an example.

"What ever house [the person refusing the call] builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his Minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration."

Wow, that's rough, right?

Campbell goes on to say that refusal generally happens because it's "a refusal to give up what one takes to be one's own interest. The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting series of deaths and births, but as though one's present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages were to be fixed and made secure."

Through this denial, we blindfold ourselves and stumble off the path of our authentic self's choosing, blundering deeper into the wilderness. If only we remove the blindfold, we could perhaps begin to find our way again or at least forge a new path. I find it interesting that refusals often arise because we believe that things will stay the same as they are for all time - as opposed to embracing the true constant of the Multiverse: change.

How many times have we ignored things that we knew to be the right choice for our lives and our direction? Granted, our culture doesn't support people who throw caution to the winds and "follow [their] bliss," but that's part of the adventure, too.

So, how does this all translate into a community experience? I think much of it has to do with forming the heroic community.

If a group of people hears a call to become a community, to begin that journey together, what happens when the group decides it's just too much - too much work, too much heartarche, too impossible, too crazy? Perhaps the call is to join the community, and the refusal comes from each of us as we decided we can't possibly do this. What then do we lose? What nags at us in the middle of the night? Does our longing for community only increase in intensity, leaving us barren emotionally because of our refusal?

I don't think the punishment Campbell mentions is one visited upon us by some malignant deity. Who needs that when we've got natural consequences?

Maybe becoming part of a heroic community is not just about survival, but about thriving. This type of group transforms itself into a place where everyone can follow their dharma, simultaneously creating a collective dharma - a collective spirit where one of the greatest mysteries unfolds:

We are more together than we are apart.

(The first photo is of Arizona's beautiful Superstition Mountains, courtesy of gemland.com. The second is a painting done by Paul Reid.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Heroic Community: Part I, A Herald Appears

My dear beloved Donald Engstrom-Reese and I were talking on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and he mentioned a term that really inspired me: the heroic community.

He and I (and others) often discuss what it means to live in community, to develop community, to sustain community, etc., in this time and culture, and when he mentioned this term to me, I thought of Joseph Campbell's incredible book "The Hero With A Thousand Faces," where he maps out the heroic journey as evidenced in cultures' mythic archetypes around the world.

How does this great journey apply to a community? Can the notable stops along the path of the individual be translated into the way of the group? I'm going to be blogging about that for a bit, so here's our first installment.

The Call To Adventure

According to Campbell, this is the first step in the hero's journey - the moment when s/he gets the call to head in a new direction, "ringing up the curtain on a mystery of transfiguration."

It's often here that a "herald" appears, some figure who moves us to our next level of experience.

"The herald's summons may be to live...or, at a later moment of the biography, to die. It may sound the call to some high historical undertaking. Or it may mark the dawn of religious illumination. As apprehended by the mystic, it marks what has been termed 'the awakening of the self'...The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand."

Often, the herald figure frightens or disgusts us; it's seen by the larger culture as something hateful, yet, this character ushers us through the first gateway of adventure. Also of note is that if ignored, the herald's signs get bigger and louder, until the need for change can not be denied.

What does all this mean for the heroic community?

First of all, I confess that I don't exactly know what a heroic community is, but I think that's alright. How often does the hero step into the adventure not truly understanding who s/he is? S/he knows a change is needed, and s/he knows the current way of living is no longer nourishing or powerful. So, s/he walks into the breach, discovering the answers along the journey.

The same goes for a group of people who know that the current ways of living are not only ineffectual, they're stifling humanity's potential and the planet at large.

For this burgeoning community, who or what is the herald? What is the figure that calls us to adventure, the next phase?

If not an actual person, perhaps it's a trend, piece of information or current cultural norm that frightens the budding community, like the examples cited below (these are things that goad my own personal need to live in community - not in fear, like some millenial cult, but in recognition that people must create new ways of living in order to change the current paths humanity is walking).

Corporate greed and financial ruin?
Cruelty to our food sources?
The madness of war?
Tyrannical governments?
Children who are succumbing to hatred?
Religious fanatiscm?

Let's take an example: the polar bear. Could that be considered the current herald for a culture that is hurtling toward global disaster via global warming? While the polar bear may not frighten us or provoke fear in a traditional sense (although left alone with one in the arctic it should), an underlying part of the fear response it evokes, in this particular context, is that we've fucked things up beyond repair, that we must face our own errors and take responsibility for our actions. This realization is something loathsome in a culture obsessed with consumption and inbalanced desire.

What do you think the heralds are for building a heroic community? Have you and your beloveds heard the call to adventure? What did it sound like, and if you've been ignoring it, how has the call gotten louder?

(The path in the forest photo is from Francis' site. The polar bear photo is from the ever-amazing National Geographic.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Work It, Mary

Yesterday, I went to one of my favorite sacred sites in Washington - the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the Catholic University of America.

Some readers might be wondering, "What the hell is a Queer Witch Priestess doing at a Catholic church?"

First off, it's an absolutely beautiful place, full of '50s-era high art all done in mosaic. Many of the images are not only gorgeous, but full of interesting iconography, including a world's creation that features dinosaurs. Just amazing!

Secondly, I'm big on the Virgin Mother (in fact, right now, I'm listening to Antonio Vivaldi's Vespri per l'Assunzione di Maria Vergine, Vespers for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary - a beautiful piece).

While the Catholic church has certainl caused a whole mess of problems in this world, the sustained veneration of Mary has left goddess worship open to a great many people. From what I hear from various humanoid Mysterious Ones (Juno and Cybele included) is that Mary, the woman, was approahced by various female Mysterious Ones and asked to hold their place in the world until the time was right for them to return more fully to people's hearts and minds (Westerners and those affected by Christian conversion, in particular.) Mary graciously took on this role after her death and continues holding this space to this day. It's my understanding that this is starting to shift and as Cybele said to me yesterday, once this part of Mary's job is done, that gal gets a long-ass vacation.

The National Shrine has chapels all down the sides of the church depicting the different Marys from around the world - Latvia, Korea, Poland (featuring a gorgeous Black Madonna), Guadalupe, etc. They're all so beautiful and the iconography is delightfully pagan. So many of the images depict her surrounded by a very yonic burst of energy. Roses (major goddess flower) and lilies (often associated with the lovely Juno) are frequently part of the art depicting Mary.

The rosary was being prayed while I was there yesterday, and I found myself irritated at some of the prayers, which focus on being saved from hell and being sinners, etc., etc. Yet then I saw Mary sending loving energy to all of the congregants' hearts, energy of healing and deep compassion. She knows that they aren't sinners and hopeless fuck-ups. Through this incredible compassion, she continues to hope that they will come to see themselves as she does - with great love and possibility.

It was an incredible inspiration, and I sat in a pew, quietly singing an Italian song to the Black Madonna (Cybele, in pre-Christian times), adding energy from my own heart to the prayers for healing and love.

Afterwards, I went to Mary's garden, a beautiful respite behind the cathedral and played my Black Madonna drum, working the rhythm of Cybele, a deep, Mother Goddess beat. Mary was there and smiled warmly as a straight couple lolled on each other under a tree - the man prone with his head in the woman's lap as she stroked his hair. The sun was setting, casting golden rays over the scene, and I thought, again, that a Queer Priestess was sending blessings of a Goddess on the love between men and women.

In fact, there were a couple of images in the church that made me wonder about Queer folks' continued work with various female Mysterious Ones. The first was outside and pictured a very, square-jawed "woman" playing a tambourine (on the right - click on the photo to enlarge). Notice that the hair is loose - the very thing condemned by "St." Paul as being the sign of a wanton woman and/or men who were in service to goddesses. The Galli, priestesses of Cybele, played the drum and loosened their hair during wild rituals.

While staring at this image, I heard the Virgin Mother say to me, "See? You're everywhere."

I don't know that the artists intended any of this, but like any good piece of art, we bring ourselves and our experiences to it, seeing our own lives and attributes reflected back to us in ways that resonate with us. I hope I'm not the only Queer one out there to feel this incredible love and hope that our ecstatic gifts have survived vicious persecution and have had the blessing of Mary and so many of the Mysterious Ones.

Blessings of Mary (who as I hear it, was thrilled when a straight university student couple were engaged in a killer blow job on the steps of the cathedral - she wasn't as thrilled when they were caught, however) on all of us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Inspired Reading

While at the library last week, I happened upon a perfect book for myself:
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, by Barbara Ehrenreich. The author has written 14 books and is a frequent contributer for Harper's and The Nation; she's also been a columnist for the New York Times and Time magazine. All of these facts were heartening to me, as are the copious footnotes and bibliography.

The book is all about the history of ecstatic joy/worship/ritual among European folks and how the church, capitalism and other forces eventually squashed these experiences, leading us to a twisted relationship with deep joy.

I started experiencing the necessity of ecstatic joy most intensely in Tuscany this past summer, and over the last year or so, I found that dance was a great way for me (and others) to access these heights of mystical experience.

Not surprisingly, there are damned good reasons for that, including a long and rich history that stretches back to prehistoric times.

I think that many of our modern spiritual traditions, at least here in America, tend to shy away from the ecstatic, and this is certainly true in pagan traditions, where we hope for something different than the standard Judeo-Christian scripted experience.

Concomitantly, there's often a focus on misery and the mea culpa complex. At times when I've brought this up among pagan people, I get a dismissive attitude about not wanting to be "white-lighters" or "fluffy bunnies." Since when did committing to deep joy in a world suffused with pain mean that we're not working hard enough? And, honestly, isn't what we're all working for a world where bliss is part of the every day and not just something experienced in all-too-rare flashes of insight?

Anyone who's interested in this topic might want to check this book out - I'm only half-way through but I'm spellbound for sure.

(The image above is a painting by Leon Brazile Perrault titled "La Tarantella.")

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Trip to Faeryland

Last weekend, I and a dear beloved co-facilitated a workshop all about connecting to the Fae, those magnanimous and beautiful beings of the wild woods, lakes, beaches, deserts, cities, worlds seen and unseen.

The gathering was absolutely magickal, and I can't remember the last time I felt so fulfilled, so contented after a witchy weekend.

At the start of the event, we set up sacred space using a variety of means, including various circle castings, some of which were done with the idea that we would create this space through spoken commitments to our own and others' well being.

Much of the weekend focused on creating gates to Faery, including a very large one that we walked through on Friday night and didn't return from until Sunday late morning.

I and the other facilitator have spent time working gates on our own, recognizing that the need for them in the world isn't just about getting from one realm to another - very often it's a symbol of trust between the worlds, one where we consciously ask the Fae into our world and they allow us into theirs. I've created gates of found objects in the wild, I've drawn them into honey (thereby transferring the world traveling power to the sweet treat), I've drawn them on one of my drums (again, when played it shifts our being into the Faery realm), and other experiments. I have a couple outside near my home that I regularly visit and walk through, spending time in the Faery realm with some regularity.

Spending time in the Faery world for an entire weekend was a wonderful experience and one I hope to repeat. While there, we created ritual art and offerings from the heart, aspected with the Fae, danced, sang, did sacred beading and embroidery, laughed (a lot), cried, and deepened our relationship to these wonderful beings. There were lights shining in the darkness and a rainbow that appeared in a downpour outside the main hall, about 10 feet off the ground.

The Wild Fae have been near and dear to me for many years (since childhood, really), and after this weekend, I began to understand my role with them more and more. Much of what I do is based in the idea of Faery Freedom - my spiritual calling is about freedom and liberation.

The tarantella and the tammorriata are dances of liberation. Yoga is all about liberation. Belly dancing is about freedom. Queer Spirit work is certainly about freedom. All these threads tie together, and I began wondering about the nature of the bodhisattva during the weekend.

These are the beings who have vowed not just to achieve spiritual and everyday liberation for themselves - they have agreed to come back to the world again and again until everyone is freed from cycles of pain, misery, and suffering.

In many ways, this seemed a very Fae-like vow to make, and my mind is whirling with possibilities.

I was deeply moved over the weekend by what all the other priestesses brought to the workshop. I learned a great deal about the nature of Faery and myself through their experiences and willingness to share what they had seen and felt up to this point and what was unfolding during the magick. I am so grateful to everyone there for meeting the magick head on and committing to the work of Faery.

Especially in this twilight time of the year, I would encourage you to spend some time with the Fae. Maybe set up a comfortable spot outside, beautifying it in whatever ways seem right to you (or leaving it as beautiful as it already is), call in your allies, and begin to strike up a conversation - mostly through listening.

As a side note, this is the time of the Navratri, a sacred festival of India that honors the divine feminine through various rituals, including nine days of sacred dance. I learned about this last night at yoga class, and I'm planning on doing sacred dances for this next nine days.

(The first photo is one I took of the dozens of mushrooms at the park site where we held the weekend. There really is something to Faery mushroom magick. Many of us have heard that mushrooms can save the world, and given their ecological powers, it seems like a good bet. The second is an image from the Brian Froud Faery Oracle deck. The third group of mushrooms sprouted up in my absence at a clearing I visit regularly near my home. What a great surprise!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Faery Freedom

In a couple of days, I'm off to co-facilitate a weekend of Faery magick, focusing on a chance to explore, introduce, and deepen our relationships to the Fae world.

I know that sometimes people get freaked about the Fae - usually out of bad past experiences or the curse of the Precious Moments figurines. Either way, both ends of this Faery-ick spectrum are not something I've had to deal with. However, these perceptions stopped me for a while from fully opening to this spiritual path and magickal energy, but once I got over it (with a nice push from the Faery clan leader I work with, Elavin), I realized how deep and powerful this magick is.

It's all about freedom and not the kind that is without responsibility. For if there isn't some kind of understanding about interconnection, then free-livin' is just rampant selfishness - not a Faery virtue at all.

Faery Freedom has been presented to me as a tree image. Each branch, each twig sails off into the air, reveling in its direction and sense of purpose, but it is ultimately intimately connected to the rest of the organism. If it grows out of balance, it can bring down an entire branch and sicken the whole tree. It's the same with freedom and the individuality that's often preceived to go along with it - we do strike out in various directions that seem like completely unchartered horizons, but without the support of a family, friends, previous explorers, farmers growing food, etc., we wouldn't be going anywhere.

And all to often, our culture values inbalanced and eventually malignant growth more than it does a community-based model.

May we all dare to explore freedom as the faeries do - in conjunction with one another.

(The first image is of the Faery Godmother by Brian Froud, an amazing artist of the Fae. The second is some stock photography.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Grandmother Spider

Out of the dark roiling fabric of the Multiverse she comes. Multiple, long legs emerging, followed by a series of eyes and a a large beautiful body, full of possibility, full of endless creation, and full of Mystery.

Spiraling strands of will into the blackness, worlds are created, as are particles, atoms, sub-atomic energies, matter, light - creation itself springs from her in filaments, giving a toe-hold to future beings still held deep in her body.

Slowly, light coalseces into stars, which send their energy into the surrounding space, leading to the birth of infinite galaxies and universes, infinite realms, folding onto one another like the endless and only seemingly chaotic web of a Wolf Spider.

Grandmother Spider gives birth to others like her, carrying them on her back as she makes her way through these new hotbeds of creation. One of her many worlds and homes is, of course, Earth. A place of exquisite beauty, she leaves some of her children here, and finds her place on the heaving planet in its early years.

She befriends Gaia, guiding her through her birth and growth, tending her in hours of confusion and rejoicing with her as waters grow in strength. Grandmother Spider sends strands of connection between oceans and moon, creating a love song between these bodies that still resonates today.

Other beings begin to inhabit Gaia, and Grandmother Spider takes an interest in all of them. Along with her progenitor sisters, Grandmother Bear, the Snake Mother, the Great Tree, and others, they become matrons of this planet, taking delight in all of the inhabitants, including the humans who eventually emerge from Primate family.

From Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelley to the deserts of Australia, the jungels of Meso- and South America, to Africa where her son Anansi became one of the trickiest of the tricksters, her spirit can be found.

In our thoughts, which physics has shown to hook up to actual points in space, to the sound of splashing waves, her Web of Creation pulsates with life force. All our experiences and the experiences of this place we call home are the result of this Web, that spirals ever outward, growing, changing, shifting, deepening, and vibrating with color, sound, and power. All we need to do is access it, be mindful that string theory is the modern way of explaining the Web, and realize that interconnection is not just some platonicc new age platitude.

Whisper your dreams to spiders in their webs, send energy out along Multiversal strands, and realize that one day, we all will be consumed by Grandmother Spider and sent on to our next experience.

I first became aware of her presence on a trip to Canyon de Chelley, many years ago, but my first formal moments with her were in a labyrinth at my first ever Reclaiming Witch Camp. Since that time, she has become one of my matrons, and only recently have I begun to understand the ways in which my relationship with her has unfolded - including, of course, as a tarantella priestess.

In many ways, it's hard to discuss where she is most or what she does, because her handiwork is everywhere. Every object, energy, thought, breath of every being is part of the constantly unfolding Web of Creation, and because of the nature of the Web itself, she is omnipresent, feeling and having a connection to absolutely everything.

Despite all of this, she often comes to me in very grounded forms - most always as a large spider. (One of her favorite games is what I call the "Horror Movie Spider Game," where she peers menacingly over entire city blocks, legs perched on various buildings. She never gets tired of this, and honestly neither do I.) Only on very rare occasions has she appeared to me in a human form, and then it was usually a composite of human and spider.

Being a non-human Mysterious One, she sometimes has much different opinions on certain questions or dilemmas. Shortly before going to my first tarantella workshop, she leapt out of a stairwell at me and sank her fangs into my heart. After recovering from the shock, I said, "Can you warn me next time?"

Somewhat incredulous, she responded, "I AM a hunter."

Point taken.

Yet, the love I've experienced from her is overwhelming, and I am ever grateful for her presence and magick in my life.

Grandmother Spider Holds a Special Place in Her Heart for the Following:

A good hunt
Surprises (more specifically, surprising others)
A well-made web
Dances of healing and transformation
Sacred dancers
Teasing arachnophobes
The month of August in the Northern Hemisphere
Spending time with her Progenitor Sisters
Chasing prey
Dancing by moonlight
Eating her husbands
Playing fetch with dogs
A good circus act (no animals, though)
The laughter of children (human and otherwise)
"Charlotte's Web"
The Shelob scene in "Lord of the Rings" (sans the killing of Shelob)

Grandmother Spider is a Friend of Many Clans, Including:

The Bear Clan
The Snake Clan
The Tree Clan
The Human Clan
Clan of the Queer Priestesses
The Dog Clan
Clan of the Wild Fae
All Insect Clans
The Crab Clan
The Scorpion Clan
The Wild Grass Clan
The Family of the Tarantati
The Apple Clan
The Pear Clan
The Pecan Clan
The Pine Clan
The Rose Clan

Blessings of the Web upon you.

As with all things related to mystery that I talk about, know that this is how I have experienced it or gotten the info. Nothing is holy writ. In fact, I'd love to hear what others' experiences are with the spider folk, if you have them.