Adventures in Wortcunning: BS & Compost

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Image Courtesy of the Author

Compost …

chicken … manure

bull … whoey

horse … pucky

Awwww … Crap!

__ it happens.

The President and Mrs. Roosevelt were at a ladies luncheon during the Great Depression of the 1930s when this very subject, manure, became the topic of conversation. The President appeared as an honored guest and even spoke to the ladies as a favor to his beloved wife Eleanor. During the course of the speech, Mr. Roosevelt had occasion to use the word… well… to use the word manure in reference to some of the problems we were facing as a nation.

Despite their gratitude for the appearance and speech of the Guest of Honor, Mrs. Roosevelt received quite a bit of flack about this choice of wording when the luncheon was over and the ladies felt free enough to speak their minds to the First Lady. Eleanor smiled and here I will paraphrase her reply to their concerns with a characteristic twinkle in her eye, “Manure? Honey, you should have heard what he was going to say!”

We don’t like straight out talking about times when … things go wrong in our lives., when the feces hits the ventilator, when it goes to Hecate in a hanky, or Hel in a hand basket.

We tend to use euphemisms–like manure or compost–or, preferably, avoid the subject altogether when we talk with friends. This stuff is gross. It’s caustic, and a little too personal for casual conversation. Besides, it just plain stinks.

If the grass is looking greener on the other side of the fence, it must be time to fertilize.

In the tradition of Pagan translation of everything, particularly natural process and cycles, into anthropomorphic or human terms, let’s look at this idea. What does it mean to “fertilize” our lives?

Does it mean we should spread a bunch of BS around?

Well, that depends…

Once upon a lily-pad and a long, long time ago. I had a boyfriend with the gift of Blarney. What is “Blarney?” It is an Irish word that has come to mean something like having the gift of gab, the ability to slice the baloney thickly, spread the BS around, or otherwise talk your way out of anything. It is a careful choice of words that has your bothersome neighbor paddling cheerfully across the River Styx; it paints a rosy picture omitting the thorns.

Together, he and I would go to a place. Let’s say, a ball game, grabbing a drive-thru burger on the way. Our team might win, or we might lose. This would only affect the mood of the evening. Later, he would describe the event to friends. He spoke in colorful detail with an eye for advertising the fun in a moment. Sometimes I wouldn’t recognize the event from his description and I would catch myself thinking, “Dang, I wish I had been there!”

As a result, to hear it from him, we always had fun. And because that is what was focused on in the retelling, I learned to remember things in this way, discarding the rough edges of a carefully cropped scene. This doesn’t mean you ignore the unpleasant, but by not feeding it more energy you minimize its impact in your life.

The function of compost in soil and growth is to add nutrients back, as food, to the cycle of life. What was once alive, died. It was eaten and in the process turned to… what have you. It has already been digested. And when it first arrives, it is hot. Hot to the touch, and hot chemically too.

You can’t put too much of it on the soil in one place or everything around and under it dies.

How do we grow from it? The crap in our lives feeds us in various ways. We learn from it. From our own mistakes and the mistakes of other people in our lives. Sometimes that hurts. But still, it gives us something important. It gives us compassion, sympathy and understanding for the troubles that others are going through.

And because we’ve survived it, means we’re probably smarter now too, and won’t place ourselves in that situation again.

When do we grow from it?  When we laugh at it. Give it time to cool down – you know, deal with it when it isn’t as ‘hot’ to talk about. Egos can get bruised in the first few minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even years after something poopy has happened. It takes a while before a painful memory is old enough to laugh about. Yet, laughter is good medicine for the soul.

Spreading the BS around – a little blarney is a good thing from time to time. Look at the good, and crop the bad from the mix. Sorting what we can’t use from the nutrients, it is what we take from the lessons in our lives that makes the crap worthwhile.

The Working

For the working gather and place:

  • a flower pot (center altar)
  • a bag of garden compost (North)
  • herb or flower seeds (East)
  • plastic wrap or damp cloth (South)
  • water (West)

This working is a great mystery. Begin as you normally would, perhaps by creating sacred space, and insert this rite as appropriate to your needs. Consider what you are planting and the good that feeds it from the compost in life.

  1. Take a flower pot from the center altar
  2. Fill with (sterile) garden compost from the North
  3. add a seed or two in the East
  4. keep the soil & seed from drying out with plastic wrap & a rubber-band, or damp blessing cloth in the South
  5. add some water from the West
  6. After adding the water, return your planted seed to the North. Take a moment to express gratitude for the mystery of compost and how in time we may find something good from even the most awful offal in our lives.

The newly planted container is a token of the working. Hint: be careful not to over water. Water once and cover. This should be enough until the seeds sprout. When they do, remove the cover and plant as usual.

And may this all a Blessing Be.

(Adapted from an open ritual prepared for Community Seed, June 2015)


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Dandelion Seeds: Finding an Ancient Earth Mother

There’s this ongoing argument in my druidic tradition about Earth Mothers and if they’re really REALLY really real, i.e. real in a Druidic Indo-European context.  More to the point, we argue whether we should really put them first in our rituals.  If you find three ADF druids, you’ll quickly discover seven different opinions on the way that ritual is done. In all our rituals, the Earth Mother is supposed to come first.  This is the way our founder Issac Bonewits designed it. This is the way it is in our Core Order of Ritual. But, just because this is the way it is, doesn’t mean people can’t argue about it.  As long as the sun shines and the moon waxes and wanes, people will argue. So, I’ve been on the lookout for Earth Mothers. Sometimes, I like to argue too.  One of my favorites is from a very long time ago.  She’s a Hittite earth goddess named Hannahannas.

Image by WhiteHaven, courtesy of Shutterstock.
Image by WhiteHaven, courtesy of Shutterstock.

The Hittites are old: like Bible old. Their empire was concurrent with the Assyrian Empire. They were forerunners of the Iron Age during the Bronze Age. Their chariot tech impressed the Egyptians and they sacked Babylon. These people were around almost 4,000 years ago. This means that when we talk about the Hittite Earth Mother, we are getting a glimpse of something very, very old.

I can hear you saying that the Greeks are old too, right? Yes, but they lasted longer. That means there was more evolution of their goddesses. One thing that you learn by studying history is that the gods change. They change because the climate changes, or the people worshiping change, or the people think new thoughts and their gods reflect that. By learning about the Hittite Earth Mother we get a glimpse into something that is very old and didn’t have time to change.

The Hittite Earth Mother was called Hannahannas. What we know of her is fragmentary at best, but we do have a story to consider. The tale goes that the Storm God’s favorite son is missing. His son is the God of Agriculture, Telepinu, who plows the earth and plants the seed. According to the ancient glyphs, He has had a giant temper tantrum and has wandered off. This is unfortunate, since he’s the god of growing things, and when he wanders off, people start getting hungry.

When this happens the Sun God steps up and offers a feast. He is the ally of the Storm God, who is clearly the boss in these parts. Unsurprisingly, that wonderful spread of high energy plasma and light isn’t very filling and the Storm God complains. So the Sun God sends out his eagle to search for the prodigal son, Telepinu. The eagle searches high and low, spying all with his clever eagle’s eye, but alas, no Telepinu.

Bee Spirit Meditation / Melissa Hill
Bee Spirit Meditation / Melissa Hill

The Storm God is clearly miffed at this point and does what he should have done in the first place. He goes to the Mother of All, Hannahannas. The Mother of All agrees to help, and like most mothers, probably gives him that look that makes adult children feel totally inept. At any rate, she sends out her sacred animal, the bee, to search for her grandchild Telepinu. Of course, the bee finds him. Then the bee begins to sting his hands and feet, and then wipes his eyes and his hands with beeswax.

After stinging her grandson into submission like an old woman beating a thief with a handbag, she gives her son, the King of Gods, some good advice to pay the bride-price for the Sea Gods daughter to wed Telepinu, because what is better to settle down a cranky young God of Agriculture than a lovely young Goddess? Grandma knows best.

Entertainingly, it’s not just the young folk who have been known to wander off in a fit of pique. There is a tale told of Hannahannas’ anger as well. We don’t know what happened to cause her to become enraged, but we do know that she wandered off too. Maybe she got tired of fixing everyone’s problems; maybe it just runs in the family.

While she’s gone sheep and cattle begin to die off, and mothers no longer take care of their children. This time, however, her anger is banished to the Dark Earth and she returns full of joy. I’m sure that her children were very grateful for the improvement of her mood. We aren’t told how this banishment of anger was achieved, but another method is to burn brushwood and let the vapors enter her.

So we know a couple of things from all of this. We know she is the mother of gods, connected to mothers, sheep, and cattle, and her sacred messenger is the bee, an insect that provides sweet honey and is connected with agriculture. The bee is also connected with Demeter, whose priestesses are called the Melissae, or the bees.

It seems likely that Hannahannas is a reflex, or has evolved from the earlier proto-Indo-European cow goddess. The Indo-European cow goddess has been reconstructed through linguistic detective work and appears to be a goddess of plenty and generosity. *Gwouinda is a created name that linguists think might have been the real name of the prehistorical cow goddess of the pastoralists that became the progenitors of many of the languages we speak today including English, French, Greek and Hindi. All of these languages have a common root through these crazy horse riding, cow grazing, wagon toting ancient peoples. So, by trying to understand the commonalities between them we understand our own beginnings, and we also find out that kick ass old grandmas have been around for a very, very long time.

I think I will keep putting her first in my rituals. I don’t know that she would wander off and need some refreshing vapors to put her right, but it can’t hurt.


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Irish-American Witchcraft: Midsummer – Honoring Áine and the Other Crowd

Midsummer is fast approaching and it seems, if you’ll pardon the pun, timely to discuss my Midsummer traditions and practices. In my family you see we have a long standing tradition of honoring Áine* at this time of year and she is certainly worth sharing to those who don’t already know her. Her mythology is complex and sometimes contradictory, her stories both tragic and triumphant. We also honor the Good Neighbors at this time, which works well because of Áine’s intrinsic ties to the fairy folk.

Ladybug on Hawthorn leaves / Morgan Daimler
Ladybug on Hawthorn leaves / Morgan Daimler

Áine is a complex figure whose hill – Cnoc Áine – saw torch lit processions on midsummer in her honor to bring blessings on the fields. One of her by-names is Áine na gClair, Áine of the wisps, because of the straw torches use in the midsummer processions. She is also associated with Lúnasa, or more precisely the Sunday before Lúnasa, when she is the consort of Crom Cruach and appears as a fierce and dangerous figure. This may seem like a contradiction, that the goddess who blesses the fields one month threatens them the next, but at least to some Áine is the goddess of the summer sun who ripens the harvest but also brings the dangerous late summer heat. Several scholars make this connection, including MacKillop and Monaghan, who suggest that while Áine is associated with the summer sun her sister Grian is associated with the winter sun. This view is held in the  Irish-American Witchcraft I practice where each sister is celebrated on the appropriate holiday.

Áine is many things; goddess, fairy queen, perhaps even mortal girl. As a goddess, she may, some say, be the daughter of the sea god Manannan mac Lir, and have helped to ensure victory to her male relations when they sought to conquer the area in which her hill is found. As a fairy queen, she was the daughter of the king of Cnoc Aine; one Samhain her father was killed and she was raped by Ailill Aolum and she maimed him in return, removing his ear and rendering him unfit to rule. In this she may well have been acting as a sovereignty goddess who was removing an unworthy king who tried to take sovereignty by force, the line between goddess and fairy queen being a blurry one at best. We see this theme with later in her interactions with the Earl of Desmond who it’s said she bore a son to, sealing his right to rule; she is said to be the ancestor of both the Fitzgerald and the Eóganachta families. In later stories they say she was a mortal girl who was taken by the fairies into the hill, and the torch lit procession every midsummer was in her honor, rather than the goddess’s.

An offering cake to Áine / Morgan Daimler
An offering cake to Áine / Morgan Daimler

On midsummer we honor Áine, as the spirit connected to the summer sun, the Lady who ripens our fruit for Lúnasa, who blesses our home with abundance. We offer her milk and baked goods, usually cake, given in a ritual in her honor. The cake is vanilla with vanilla frosting and is decorated with a sun-symbol design; we cut a huge slice as an offering for Áine and the rest is shared among the family members after ritual. We light bundles of dried herbs which we carry around the boundary of our property three times to sain it; this is our equivalent of the straw-torch processions, and holding with tradition we always walk deiseal, clockwise, around the space.

For my family honoring the Fair Folk is just as important – in some ways perhaps more so – than honoring the Gods and this is especially true on certain holidays when they are said to be more active. Bealtaine and Samhain, midsummer and midwinter, in particular are liminal times when the fairy folk are more present and more likely to be encountered than other times. My children and I bake a second special cake and decorate it with triple spirals. This cake, unlike the other, is given entirely to the Other Crowd, left out at the roots of our fairy tree – a lone Hawthorn which sits on our property. This offering is a way to maintain a reciprocal relationship with the Otherworld and its inhabitants, by giving back to them a portion of our own sustenance.

All of this is done in a somewhat informal ritual. There is no circle casting, but the act of circling the yard three times with the saining fire creates our sacred space. We invite in the Powers we are honoring, Áine, the liminal Gods of the season, the goodly inclined spirits and of course our ancestors who would like to join us. We sing any and every song we can think of that fits the occasion. We tell stories, from myth and history and our own lives, weaving them all together into one strong thread. We eat cake and share the efforts of our baking with all the Powers and spirits – the Déithe and an-déithe – who are present with us. We pour out milk onto the earth and leave some in a bowl as an offering. And, usually about the same time the sun finally sets and the fireflies begin to appear twinkling in the hazy darkness, we give our thanks** to the gathered Powers and go back in the house.

Midsummer is a fun holiday, one that we all look forward to. The children enjoy walking the boundary of the property with the blessing fire and making – and eating! – the cake. I enjoy the ritual, the singing, and the feeling of connection to the spirits. Where we live midsummer marks the beginning of the real heat of summer as we move into the ripening weather of July and August, so it is an excellent time to honor Áine, who is so strongly connected to the summer sun. As we go back into the house on midsummer night there is always a feeling of joy and peace that is unique to this holiday.

The outdoor altar where our family leaves offerings after ritual / Morgan Daimler
The outdoor altar where our family leaves offerings after ritual / Morgan Daimler

*Pronounced Awn-yuh
**I actually have a strong prohibition against saying thank you to the Fey folk so to them we merely wish for friendship and peace to be between us.


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Seeking the Grail: The Heaviness – Rites of Passage

What does it mean to be initiated? To go through a rite of passage? What does it mean to stand up, to be seen, to be a leader? What does it mean to have the Mysteries revealed to us?

 

Image Courtesy of the Author
Image Courtesy of the Author

People will sometimes ask me what tradition I’m in, or just ask “Have you been initiated?” Sometimes others will ask, “Are you ordained?” or “What tradition are you ordained in?” And the answer is complex. The Pagan traditions I’ve been a part of haven’t had a formal initiatory process; not in the way most people trained in Wicca seem to mean. And though I did a three-year leadership program at Diana’s Grove, that process did not offer a formal ordination in any specific Pagan church, though graduates of the program have successfully used it in lieu of an M.Div when applying for other programs.

What I often want to say in answer to the question is, “Yes, I have been initiated.”

Because I believe that initiation is a process. Initiation is a right of passage, and there are many different rites of passage that we each can go through. That sometimes, an initiation can take different forms. Certainly one form of initiation is going through a formal education in a specific religious tradition and being accepted into that tradition by the leaders who have already gone through the process. It’s also possible to become initiated into the inner mysteries of spirit by the struggles our lives put before us.

What is a Rite of Passage?

Often when we say, “Rite of Passage,” we mean, “A formally assembled group witnessing and affirming and affirming our Rite of Passage.” Weddings, births, baby blessings, graduations, comings of age, ordinations…these are all experiences that have a certain expectation to them, a formality. They are perhaps more about the family/group/community than they are about the person.

When I got married, I didn’t suddenly change. But my family’s relationship to me changed, and my (now ex) husband’s family as well.

Many of the initiations we go through nobody will witness but ourselves. Or, ourselves and our gods, if you want to look at it that way. The night we’re crying through the rainstorm because of a broken heart. The night we wonder what it’s all for, why we’re even here, why we bother to keep going. The morning we get the phone call that our father has passed away. The first time we get badly injured. The first time we are really sick or injured and have no one to help us. First time we have sex. First orgasm. First time we did our laundry on our own. First time we get into a car accident. First time we accidentally set an altar on fire in a ritual. First time we talk to the gods and they speak back to us. The first time we facilitate a workshop or a ritual. The first time we completely blow what we were supposed to say. The first time we lead a chant and it really works. The first time we’re lied to, the first time we’re betrayed by our mentor, or friend, or spouse.

These change us and shape us in ways no planned ritual can.

Initiation Into the Mysteries

And yet…there are ritual experiences that do shape us. That transform us. The rite of passage ritual I went through at Diana’s Grove at the culmination of my three years of leadership training still sits with me, heavy on my shoulders. Often when people say, “It’s a mystery,” what they mean is this: I can try to explain why my initiation ritual was meaningful to me, but I’ll never, ever be able to get it across in words. But perhaps I can give you a shadow, an echo, a look into that experience that cut me deep, that carved open a space inside of me and shaped who I am today.

I did a three-year leadership program at a retreat center called Diana’s Grove. It no longer exists, but at the time it was located in the Missouri Ozarks. The Diana’s Grove Mystery School grew out of the Reclaiming tradition as well as Jean Houston’s Mystery School, and it borrowed from other sources such as educational theory, psychology, hypnotherapy, mythology, and more. It wasn’t really a tradition or theology that was being taught, and rather, a process of personal growth, ritual facilitation, and group leadership. Many of the staff were agnostic or atheistic Pagans, so the program was intense and transformative, but my work there wasn’t an initiation into any particular religion.

It was still, though, an initiation into the mysteries.

Leadership Training

The fastest anyone could do the program was in three years. You had to first have attended a year of intensive weekends focusing on personal growth work before you would be considered for the general leadership program. And you had to be in that leadership program for a year before you’d be considered for the culminating and intensive Rites of Passage year. Some stayed in the intermediate program for several years; others who had pressing need of advanced leadership training could do a Rite of Passage year in their third year.

As I’d moved to the Diana’s Grove land as a staffer during my first year, I was expected to adhere to the rules other staffers did, even though I hadn’t yet been through the leadership program. Thus, I was sort of shoehorned into leadership training early. Then, I began leading a group in St. Louis of people who were engaged with the work of the mystery school, so the staff invited me into a Rites of Passage year in my third year.

Over the course of a ROP year, the ROP team (my team was 4 people) takes on more and more leadership and facilitation roles. We were given less and less time to plan things like ritual parts. Our “capstone project” was planning the programming for the Rites of Passage weekend, the most well-attended annual event at Diana’s Grove. The ROP team would also offer a large quantity of the programming; we’d be doing many of the workshops and leading most of the rituals.

Rites of Passage Rituals

The only part of the ROP weekend we wouldn’t plan would be our own Rites of Passage ritual. That ritual would be kept carefully secret from each of us, and the entire community (staff, members of the rest of the leadership program, alumni, and attendees) would be involved in planning and carrying out the ritual.

Unlike the initiation rituals within a particular tradition, these ROP rituals are designed specifically for the team. In the previous two years, I’d been part of the secret ritual planning shenanigans, so I knew the level of depth that went into planning one of these rituals to make it a customized experience for that year’s ROP team.

The rituals were deliberately designed to crack people open. To show them the mirror of their own hearts.

Each year, the mystery school focused on a myth. Or more accurately, a myth retold. My first year we worked with Arthurian myths. The second year, Psyche and Eros. The year of my ROP we worked with the Ballad of Tam Lin. During both of the first two years, I spent a good deal of the Rites of Passage ritual running around behind the scenes decorating spaces, lighting candles, carrying torches.

And in one case, donning armor to portray the Green Knight and destroying a large plaster pillar with a sledgehammer while the ROP team was blindfolded; all they would hear was the sound. At one ROP ritual, each team member was led, blindfolded,  to a fire and surrounded by friends and family. There they sat in silence while they were eulogized.

I recall being nervous waiting to be led down to one of the ritual areas, wondering what they had in store for us.

The Roses

white roses
PDGR / pixabay.com

The main house was atop a large hill, and the four of us were led down the hill by our mentor to the ritual area in a converted barn. People were singing inside, and when we were led in, I was astounded. Usually I’m the one going crazy setting up elaborate ritual decorations, but the barn had been transformed into a grotto. Plants, trees, flowers, candles. And as the group came to silence, we saw four chairs in the center of the room. The four of us each took a seat.

I don’t recall the precise order of what happened, but after a meditation piece, people began to line up in front of each of the four  of us. They had white roses. They knelt at my feet.  They told me what I meant to them. They told me why my work was special. They told me how much they loved me. They laid the roses at my feet. over and over. And over and over. I’m shaking right now just writing this, the tears are falling from my eyes.

What you might not know about me is that I have a thing for roses. I wrote an entire book of rose poetry long ago. Roses, for me, were a symbol of love. Or perhaps, of love denied. For me, roses meant heartbreak and betrayal. They meant the pain of the heart. In the Ballad of Tam Lin, it’s a rose that draws Tam Lin to Jennet, it draws him forth from the Faerie realm.

And here there were roses upon roses laid at my feet. Roses of love, of honor, of respect.

The Candles

Eventually, people filed out of the barn leaving the four of us and a couple of our mentors. They spoke words to us, and then guided us to leave the barn. I was first in line, and I recall actually taking a step back from the door once I realized what was out there, out in the darkness.

As far as my eye could see, there were people standing on either side–two rows of people–holding candles. I took a breath and stepped into the gauntlet. The first person looked me in the eye. “I believe in you Shauna.” And the next, “I believe in you.” “I believe in you, Shauna.” 

Over and over and over. Somehow I walked, but I couldn’t see. I couldn’t stop the tears. Every person said, “I believe in you.” They named me. And as I passed each of them I felt a weight fall on my shoulders, a heaviness. As I reached the end of the gauntlet, the words changed.

“I believe in you, Shauna.” “Don’t let us down.” “Don’t let us down, Shauna.” “We need you.” “We’re counting on you.” “Don’t let us down.” 

There was more to the ritual; a long period of silent contemplation in the moonlight, and then each of us endured Tam Lin’s transformations while blindfolded and surrounded by dozens of people whispering at us. We each fought our own demons and shadows that night.

But it’s the roses and the candles that stick with me.

The Weight

There are some days when I am almost standing back in that row of candles, walking through the corridor of people’s faces lit by the flames in the darkness. And every time I’m standing there, I feel the weight of that honor. The weight of that respect. And the weight of that responsibility.

Whenever I do work as a Pagan leader, I try to remember that what I do has impact. That there are people counting on me. That–when my dreams are big, and because the projects and initiatives I take on are big–the impact is big too. It’s not that I don’t screw up. Wow, do I. But I try hard to live up to that honor, to that responsibility.

I believe at one point in the ritual, one of my mentors said something about how initiation and ordination is about becoming someone who can’t unsee your impact. That you can’t go back to the person who can pretend that you don’t have power, you can’t go back to pretending that what you do doesn’t matter.

I remembered back to the previous year’s Rite of Passage ritual. I had been given the task of getting enough chairs to all the ritual areas, including one special chair for someone who had some specific physical difficulties. In the frenetic last hours of setup, I’d forgotten about the special chair and so when this person arrived at the ritual area, she had nowhere to sit. Two other staffers went to a neighboring shrine and carried a heavy stone bench so that this participant could sit. One staffer injured their back carrying this bench.

I’ve never forgotten that moment, ever. The one thing we forget can cause ripples of impact, can cause pain and problems, for others on our team. For our community.

“Don’t let us down.”

Red roses, for me, have long symbolized the pain of love…of love denied. The roses might as well be red for the blood spilled from their thorns. I often thought of those thorns as the shards of broken mirrors, like the mirror from the fairytale “The Snow Queen” that shows each person the darkness in everything around them. After my own experiences of heartbreak, this was what roses had come to embody for me.

But white roses…after this ritual, for me, white roses are for honor, for respect. They are for stepping along the spiral path and into the center of the labyrinth and all that it means to hold the Grail, to be seen as a Grailkeeper. White roses are for the dream made real, the perfect stillness of a heart without hate, or fear, or pain, just love. White roses are just for that moment before the world changes. They are the moment before the thorns. They are a gift from divine love.

a single white rose
Gottberg / pixabay.com

“I believe in you. I love you.”

Once again I stand in that row of candles. I feel the weight of the belief in me, the heaviness of that honor.  For me, that is initiation, that is ordination. The weight, the awareness of my own ripples of impact. The weight of love.

“We need you. Don’t let us down.”


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Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft: Parenting and Caitlyn Jenner – Sexual Identity and Tolerance

Sexual identity has been thrust into the news these past weeks as Bruce Jenner officially came out as Caitlyn Jenner. Following in line with other articles I have done in the past, I thought it was time to discuss this coming out and parenting techniques that can help children gain a greater understanding of sexual identity.

MNStudio / shutterstock.com
MNStudio / shutterstock.com

When I am parenting, I believe in a simple model of showing, telling, explaining and final message. Showing starts with visual aids whenever possible. Watching television shows that are age appropriate or showing books are all easy to find. Baring this, you can use photos off the internet that explain the situation.

While you are showing you should be telling. Don’t let children wonder what you are up to. Be bold and tell them in age appropriate language what you are talking about.  Then, engage the child in an age appropriate conversation about subject at hand. This means letting your child give input and directing that input toward tolerance.  Finally, leave the child with the a message simple enough that the child can repeat it to you.

For the Caitlyn Jenner issue, I would suggest the following: start these conversations by asking children to engage by using questions. Some introductory questions are:

  • Are you a boy or a girl?
  • What makes you a boy/girl?
  • Do you think everyone is either a boy or a girl?

These questions are meant to start a conversation about gender, what gender is, and what gender can mean. Once the conversation is started, introduce the idea that not everyone is sure whether they are a boy or a girl because of how they feel inside.

  • Did you know that some people are born looking like a boy but feel like a girl inside?

This should lead to discussions around feeling like something and looking like something else. Sometimes children feel mad and look mad and sometimes mom/dad might look mad and be happy. Not everything is as simple as how something looks.

Once you have started to engage in this conversation, bring up a picture of Bruce Jenner from on line during the time he was an elite athlete.

  • [showing picture] Is he a boy or a girl?

Discuss the physical characteristics that make Bruce _look_ like a boy. This is a great time to talk about how girls can be good athletes, too.

  • Bruce might look like and act like a boy here but deep inside he wanted to be a girl. Inside he WAS a girl he just didn’t look like it on the outside.
Caitlyn Jenner / Photograph by Annie Leibovitz / Vanity Fair
Caitlyn Jenner / Photograph by Annie Leibovitz / Vanity Fair

Now call up a picture from Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair spread and show that to your child.

  • This is Bruce now, only he has decided to call himself Caitlyn and made his outside look like his inside felt.

Talk about the differences between the two photos.

Now spring the bottom line on the child.

  • Do you feel like a boy or girl inside?

The important thing to leave your child with is a sense of self. So asking what they feel like inside is important. They may say that sometimes they feel like a boy or a girl depending on their mood. Assure them that this is completely normal and ask if they ever want to wear boy/girl clothing. Assure them that however they feel is fine and then end with the over whelming message.

  • So not matter how you feel on the inside, that is okay and people like Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner are okay too. They can grow up and be whatever they want to be if that makes them happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else.

For children in the tweens and teens, this discussion can move on to discuss the difference between how you feel (the gender you identify with) versus who turns you on (the gender you prefer to be sexually active with). This is an important delineation for the transgender community. Who you are attracted to is not ruled by your gender self-identification. Since this discussion involves sexuality, you should take the time to talk about safer sex practices with your tweens and teens.

The goal of all these conversations with your children is to ensure that your child has information from the world given with a view to kindness and tolerance and that their own sense of self is validated.


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The Path of She: A Summer Solstice Meditation – Thou Art Goddess

The wheel of the year turns and the longest day, the Summer Solstice, is upon us. The powers of life are turned on high, gifting us with a heady display of a natural world in its fully unfurled beauty and overflowing abundance.

Image Courtesy of SheBard Media
Image Courtesy of SheBard Media

From the mighty oak tree with its vast, green canopy to the baby robin casting itself from the nest, what is inside, the luminescent seed of creation within every living being, seeks its destined place in the sunlit world, each according to its unique essence. The Goddess is everywhere and in everything.

At the Summer Solstice, the Divine power that waits for us is our own Goddess Self, calling us to flourish and blossom from our deep inside outward. The baby robin cannot help but jump from its nest and spread its wings in that first moment of flight. The oak cannot help but burst forth from the acorn, stretching its green arms toward the sun. We cannot help but reach for our place in the sunlit world, drawing on our shining presence and special gifts. We may repress and truncate this primal soul imperative, yet our innate, unquenchable desire to flourish in our own unique way remains.

In the midday brilliance of the Summer Solstice, find a warm, comfortable place in your home or outside to do ritual work. Slow your breath and bring your attention to your center. Imagine breathing in and out from your solar plexus. Feel the outward rounding of your belly on the inhale and flattening of your belly on the exhale. At first, keep your eyes open and drink in your sensual engagement of the daylight world: the kiss of sunshine on your skin, a warm, fragrant breeze and the green-world beauty.

Then close your eyes for several deep, full breaths until you feel yourself sink into your inner landscape. Imagine a pathway at your feet, the path of your blossoming. What you seek is the inner sanctum of your feminine soul, where the seed of your true beauty and essence resides. Sense the soles of your feet against the contours of the earth and let the mysteries of this place draw your forward.

As you travel, take in the state of this path. Is it smooth and well tended, in a state of neglect and disrepair, or somewhere in between? Is your way free and clear or blocked by debris and brambles? Take another full breath and accept that, whatever its condition, this is your path and your way forward to your inner beauty and blossoming. Listen for the voice of your inner Goddess Self, beckoning you forward. Try to catch Her scent on the wind. Then continue on your way.

You will know when you have reached your inner sanctum. I cannot tell you what your Goddess Self looks like or what She will say to you. For this place, the holy of holies, is for you and you alone. All I know is that She waits for you, patient and trusting that you will find your way to Her when you are ripe and ready. Ask Her to show you your beauty and sacred purpose, and to help you understand the journey work that can help you blossom in the sunlit world.

When your time with Her, for now, is done, put your hand on each other’s heart until your heartbeats become one. If you are ready, say yes to all that your Goddess Self has shared with you. Say yes to the path of your blossoming.

Then retrace your passage along the path and let each step and breath return you to your physical body and everyday consciousness. Open your eyes and connect once more with the summer bright world from your deep inside outward.

Know that everything in the natural realm around you has been born of its own unique seed. You too have a seed inside of you, woven of the sacred light and sacred matter of your personal essence. There is a place for you in the sunlit world, waiting for the shining outward of your true, deep beauty. The Goddess is everywhere and in everything. Thou art Goddess.


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The Zen Pagan: The Only God to Whom Jupiter Must Bow

[Editor’s Note:  It’s with a heavy heart that we bid adieu to the Zen Pagan column here at the Agora.  But, all is not lost!  Tom will continue to write here on Patheos on his own site conveniently named, the Zen Pagan.  I’ve enjoyed shepherding Tom’s work here on the Agora and hope you’ll all join me in continuing to read his articles on his own site.  Congrats, Tom!]

Boundaries have been much on my mind this week.

It started when I was contacted out of the blue by a ex-paramour with whom things had not ended well. I hadn’t heard from her since, and seeing her text message stirred up more than a little emotional consternation. I replied that I needed to draw a boundary, that unless we were going to start with an apology from her for some past behavior I didn’t have much to say.

I don’t know where that will end up. It was the first time in quite a while that I’ve had to so explicitly draw a line, but stating and enforcing boundaries is an essential part of our mental and spiritual health.

Boundaries in their role as both endings and beginnings are also on my mind because this will be my last column for Agora. The good news (at least I hope you agree it’s good news) is that this is because The Zen Pagan will soon be its own full-fledged blog here at Patheos Pagan! (I’m going to ask our indefatigable Agora editor Dash to put a link here to the new blog when it’s up.) But this change too is the crossing of a line, a passing of a boundary.

Terminus. Image via Wikimedia Commons
Terminus. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Romans had a god for that: Terminus, the god of boundaries. His name may bring disturbing connotations to a modern American English speaker, from phrases like “terminal illness” to the sanctuary of Terminus in The Walking Dead — without any spoilers as to what our heroes find there, the name itself is designed to invoke apprehension, “the end of the line.”

But consider also “computer terminal”, a place where with the right incantations unlimited information is available; or “airport terminal”, where we can quite literally take flight, the dream of ages; or “battery terminal”, a point of power, where the power of the lightning itself is harnessed for our use.

Terminus was an overseer of boundaries, and each boundary is both an end and a beginning. Death is a terminus, yes — but so is birth. Our life has two ends, just like a piece of rope or wire, and it’s merely a habit of language that we do not refer to birth as a terminal event. So let’s not carry any negative associations we have about the word “terminal” into our consideration here.

According to Plutarch, it was the ancient king Numa, successor to Romulus, who originated the worship of Terminus:

He was also the first, they say, to build temples to Faith and Terminus…Terminus signifies boundary, and to this god they make public and private sacrifices where their fields are set off by boundaries; of living victims nowadays, but anciently the sacrifice was a bloodless one, since Numa reasoned that the god of boundaries was a guardian of peace and a witness of just dealing, and should therefore be clear from slaughter. And it is quite apparent that it was this king who set bounds to the territory of the city, for Romulus was unwilling to acknowledge, by measuring off his own, how much he had taken away from others. He knew that a boundary, if observed, fetters lawless power; and if not observed, convicts of injustice. (Plutarch, Numa 16)

Plutarch contrasts Numa’s emphasis on peaceful boundaries with Romulus’s militarism and expansionism:

Why is it that they [the Romans] were wont to sacrifice no living creature to Terminus, in whose honour they held the Terminalia, although they regard him as a god? Is it that Romulus placed no boundary-stones for his country, so that Romans might go forth, seize land, and regard all as theirs, as the Spartan said, which their spears could reach; whereas Numa Pompilius, a just man and a statesman, who had become versed in philosophy, marked out the boundaries between Rome and her neighbours, and, when on the boundary-stones he had formally installed Terminus as overseer and guardian of friendship and peace, he thought that Terminus should be kept pure and undefiled from blood and gore? (Plutarch, Roman Questions 15)

Ovid writes of later rituals, of blood sacrifice to Terminus and of a corrupted interpretation where boundaries are for other nations, not for Rome, and how during the building of a great temple to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva there were many old altars to be relocated, but the augurs contacting the deities found that Terminus would not be moved: (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 3.69.3–6)

O Terminus, whether thou art a stone or stump buried in the field, thou too hast been deified from days of yore. Thou art crowned by two owners on opposite sides; they bring thee two garlands and two cakes. An altar is built. Hither the husbandman’s rustic wife brings with her own hands on a potsherd the fire which she has taken from the warm hearth. The old man chops wood, and deftly piles up the billets, and strives to fix the branches in the solid earth: then he nurses the kindling flames with dry bark, the boy stands by and holds the broad basket in his hands. When from the basket he had thrice thrown corn into the midst of the fire, the little daughter presents the cut honeycombs. Others hold vessels of wine. A portion of each is cast into the flames. The company dressed in white look on and hold their peace. Terminus himself, at the meeting of the bounds, is sprinkled with the blood of a slaughtered lamb, and grumbles not when a suckling pig is given him. The simple neighbours meet and hold a feast, and sing thy praises, holy Terminus: “Thou dost set bounds to peoples and cities and vast kingdoms; without thee every field would be a root of wrangling. Thou courtest no favour thou art bribed by no gold: the lands entrusted to thee thou dost guard in loyal good faith….What happened when the new Capitol was being built? Why, the whole company of gods withdrew before Jupiter and made room for him; but Terminus, as the ancients relate, remained where he was found in the shrine, and shares the temple with great Jupiter. Even to this day there is a small hole in the roof of the temple, that he may see naught above him but the stars. From that abide in that station in which thou hast been placed. Yield not an inch to a neighbour, though he ask thee, lest thou shouldst seem to value man above Jupiter. And whether they beat thee with ploughshares or with rakes, cry out, ‘This is thy land, and that is his.’”…The land of other nations has a fixed boundary: the circuit of Rome is the circuit of the world. (Ovid, Fasti 2.639–684)

There are no stories about Terminus in your Bullfinch’s Mythology, and you probably didn’t talk about him in your social studies unit on Greco-Roman myths back in elementary school. The only significant mentions of him outside of classics and academia that I know of are a poem about aging by Ralph Waldo Emerson (a sort of polar opposite to Tennyson’s Ulysses) and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman story “August” (collected in Fables and Reflections).

And Gaiman’s story is amazing.

In it, Terminus, “He who walks the boundaries,” is “the only god to whom Jupiter must bow” because “boundaries are the most important of things.” Gaiman’s Morpheus (a being beyond the gods, the anthropomorphic personification of Dream) appears to Augustus Caesar as a favor to Terminus, to help Augustus steer Rome towards a bounded future rather than a world-conquering one.

Gaiman was clearly inspired by the tale of how Terminus would not yield to Jupiter at the building of the Capitol Temple. And perhaps he was inspired also by Plutarch’s contrast between Numa and Romulus’s versions of Rome — he’s just the sort of writer who would see something like that and ask “What if there was a conscious choice here for the future of Rome, on the level of a struggle between the gods?”

In the paucity of ancient myths about Terminus I’m quite content to steal Gaiman’s.

The god before whom Jupiter must bow. A god of peace and justice, of limits on power. Terminus is not much spoken of today but perhaps this is a god to whom we should pay far more attention. So many of our troubles are rooted in a failure to agree on, abide by, and enforce boundaries; from our personal relationships to issues of state power and civil liberties to international disputes.

And so as I close out my column here on Agora and open a new project, I sing thy praises, holy Terminus.


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The Zen Pagan is leaving the Agora with this post.  If you’d like to continue following it, you can find it on its own blog here.

My next scheduled events are the Free Spirit Gathering in June and Starwood in July. I hope to make magic with you around the fire at one of them.

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Spear of Athena: Whose Sun is it Anyway?

My eyes dart over the message board, and I’m met with a question I’ve seen a million times, always from someone new. Always grappling with the same essential question. Helios is the God of the Sun. Ra is the God of the Sun. Amaterasu is the kami of the Sun. So, whose sun is it? Do they take turns with it? We are aware of many cultures and many gods, so how do we reconcile that with only having one sun?

rosalaboral / pixabay.com
rosalaboral / pixabay.com

It is such a simple question but I find that many struggle to answer it or choose to resort to “same deity expressed through different cultures.” I know I’ve struggled with it, especially in my first year of practice, and seeing that question pop up again reminded me of the importance of examination and discussion on such a simple question.

I’ve elected to resolve this question in a simple way. It is no one’s sun. The notion that the sun is the deity and the deity is the sun is one I immediately have to reject on the basis of my belief that the gods do not die. One day, the sun will die, therefore I cannot tie the existence of the sun to the existence of any singular deity, resolving the issue of many sun gods but one sun for myself.

Helios in his chariot, early 4th century BC, Athena's temple, Ilion  By Gryffindor (Own work) [Public domain] / Wikimedia Commons
Helios in his chariot, early 4th century BC, Athena‘s temple, Ilion
By Gryffindor (Own work) [Public domain] / Wikimedia Commons
Nor can I tie the revolution or behavior of the sun to the will of any particular sun deity. Yet, the deities are undeniably immanent within the sun. As a Hellenist in Texas it is very difficult for me to deny the power or might of Helios when I have the hot Texas sun bearing down upon me, causing sweat to bead my brow and drip off the tip of my nose. I have friends who have traveled to many different countries who tell me that the experience and connection with one sun deity becomes harder yet connection with another becomes easier based on the longitude that they are at. Yet it is the same sun, so what gives?

The sun, and our experience of it on a physical realm, points to spiritual and metaphysical realities of deities who choose to express themselves through it. This means that gods who have natural associations can be better understood through interaction with those elements in the original lands which they first found expression or in lands with similar conditions. Yet, this does not suffice. If we are to believe that our gods are both immanent and transcendent and can be experienced by any person at any locale then we can to come to yet another conclusion:  gods are to their expressions as notes are to instruments.

Let me be clear, I do not think we can ever understand the totality of a deity, but based on experience and shared gnosis, it seems that environment does affect how many deities manifest with and interact with their worshipers. As noted above, people do find that they connect with their deities in different ways in different locations, so it could be thought that gods are like notes and the material realm is like an instrument.  A G is a G; well, you know what I mean. This isn’t the place to get into music theory! That same G will sound different based on whether or not it is plucked on a guitar or blown through a sax. It will always be a G but the timbre will change.

Now imagine a billion notes that can be expressed through a nearly infinite number of ways (and each expression has its own timbre), and we can begin to formulate a vague idea of the immensity of our gods. We need to remember that the material realm is important. Yes, it is important. But it often is not sufficient for expressing the totality of our gods and spirits (I can only assume that deities and spirits exist that it *is* in fact sufficient for. I haven’t met them. But I haven’t met a lot of things). Often times, the material realm points beyond itself and is an expression of a particular spiritual reality. Does this mean that the material realm is the total expression of the spiritual realm or that the non-material realm cannot be understood or comprehended beyond its material expression? Absolutely not. But the material can give us clues and hints about what is occurring in the physical realm. It points to itself to everyone and beyond itself for those who care to look.

The important question isn’t to ask “whose sun is it?”

Ask yourself who you see when you look at that sun. Who do you feel when the sun shines into your eyes? Who is on your mind as you watch the sweat drip from the tip of your nose and wet the book you are reading? Who do you long for when it is hidden for days at a time by rain and clouds?

Whose sun do you revel in?


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Social Responsible Magic: My Pagan Values … or just my values?

June is Pagan values month, or so I’ve been informed by my Patheos editor. Or, maybe it’s religion value month. I don’t know because I don’t really keep track of these kinds of things, but what the hey! I figure this gives me a topic to write about.

jill111 / Pixabay.com
jill111 / Pixabay.com

When I think about the values that Paganism has exposed me, to the first value that comes to mind is freedom. Way back when I got into Paganism and left born again Christianity behind, this freedom represented the ability to be myself, to ask questions, to discover my own answers, and to really just be me. When you’re a teenager, that kind of freedom is quite precious. Too much of the time you are exposed to other other people’s ideas of who you should be or how you should grow up. I took that value to heart, and still do in some ways, though with the benefit of some time and experience I’ve also come to some other values that I associate with Paganism (though in truth they can be associated with other things as well).

One of the values that has come to mean a lot to me over the last five or so years is community. I’ve created my own community, and in that process figured out a lot about what community actually means to me. For so much of my life, I hungered for a sense of community–of belonging, but I eventually realized that I needed to create my own. I’ve never been good at fitting in and have always marched to my own drum beat, so I looked at what I liked about various communities I ran into as well as what I didn’t like. Then, I created my own based on values that included freedom but also included another value I think is important.

kathe / morgefile.com
kathe / morgefile.com

I’ve always believed in being open-minded and curious. I think these qualities of mine are values in their own right, and they are ones I’ve made a part of my community. I don’t always find these values in other communities of Paganism, which is one reason I decided to create one. A lesson I’ve learned along the way is that no category of identification really embodies the values you think that category ought to have. Instead, it’s up to each person to come up with their personalized values, which I suppose leads us to another value of mine, which is personalization.

I find personalizing your spiritual practices is useful. Make it your own is what I tell other people and what I practice in my own spiritual work. Personalization is a value I associate with my Paganism as a way of just claiming my path without having to adhere to what everyone else thinks I ought to do. Yet personalization is not necessarily a value that shows up in everyone’s version of Paganism or what their values are. And this leads me to a very important realization about values and the problem that occurs when you associate them with categories of identity.

Really what it comes right down to is that any “values” you have are ultimately your own. I really don’t know if there are specific Pagan values that I could (or would) aspire to. I do know that each person has their own path to walk and while there may be similarities, there are also differences and getting too caught up in values leads to lots of talking and little of doing.

What are your values and how are you living them? Answer that question and you’re set.


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The Busy Witch: The Magic of Receiving

In my last post, I talked a bit about the magic that is inherent in giving voice to our desires. But asking isn’t enough; no matter how much brave, bold magic you muster up when you are finally ready to ask the Universe to give you want you want, all that effort will fall flat if you aren’t ready to receive.

Photo by Jen McConnel
Photo by Jen McConnel

Of course, if I ask for something, I think I’m ready to receive it; if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have asked, right? However, I’ve come to realize that asking isn’t the same thing as being open and receptive, and sometimes, that lack of receptivity can sabotage my wants and needs more than my natural hesitation to ask.

One way I’ve noticed that I shut down receptivity is something I’m sure a lot of you do, too: deflecting small favors and gifts. Think about the last time you went out for coffee with your friends, and one of your pals offered to pick up your tab. My instant response is usually “Oh, no, you don’t have to do that!”, but as I’ve tried to become more open to the abundance of the Universe, I’ve realized that when I say that, I’m essentially refusing the gift. I’ll talk in my next post about how giving is inextricably linked to asking and receiving, but don’t you feel a letdown when people won’t accept the gifts and little gestures you want to shower on them? Sure, it might just be a cup of coffee, but by turning that down, I’m sending the message to my friend (and the Universe, which is ALWAYS listening), that I don’t need assistance of any kind. If I can’t accept the little blessings along the way, why would the giver expect my response to be anything different if the gift increased in size and value?

It’s hard to say “yes” to everything; like I talked about last time, the stoicism of my family runs deep, and I think there’s a certain misplaced pride element to it that makes it hard for me to accept freebies; after all, I don’t want to send the message that I can’t provide for myself. Maybe you have no problem with receiving, in which case, you’re well on your way to making some fabulous manifestation magic! But for me, and for anyone who struggles with this, the challenge is to remain open to gifts and offerings.

I have to bite back my impulse to turn down these small blessings, and it’s even harder when the unlooked for gift is something large, but I am trying to practice openness. I’ve been working on consciously receiving things as they are offered, in the spirit in which they are offered, and it’s kind of amazing how many things are suddenly being offered to me.

Abundance comes in all shapes and sizes, and really magical things happen when you accept gifts, favors, and lucky breaks. This week, I challenge you to add to the magic you’ve started by speaking your truth and asking for things, and truly open yourself up to receiving whatever gifts the Universe has in store. And if anyone wants to buy me a cup of a coffee, I promise I won’t tell you no!


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