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.)