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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Born-Again Witch: Why I Took Witches to a Pentecostal Church (Part 1)

A few weeks ago I talked a couple of Witches into going to church with me. It wasn’t technically a Pentecostal church, but a charismatic evangelical church. The problem is that many of my non-Christian friends have no idea what that means, but once I say ‘Pentecostal’, I see the light of recognition in their eyes. So I chose this technically inaccurate title because really, even without specifying charismatic evangelical Christian church, the title to this story is long enough.

Luftova / Pixabay.com
Luftova / Pixabay.com

For the uninitiated (no pun intended), Pentecostal is a Christian denomination in the same way as Wicca is a Pagan tradition. But there are Christians whose practices are similar to Pentecostalism and they are called “charismatic” or, as they sometimes call themselves, “spirit-filled.” Charismatic Christians often have their own congregations, but they can also be found dispersed throughout other Christian denominations, from charismatic Roman Catholic groups to subsets among the Amish (I was really surprised when I first encountered those!).

So why did we choose to go to a charismatic Christian church? I found out that a Christian (former?) friend of mine was spreading a theory about that. He is convinced that the reason Witches would expose themselves to the Holy Spirit in this way was to have our demons cast out in order to make room for seven times more (Matthew 12: 43-45). Well, an interesting guess, but not exactly our motivation (although as much as it amuses me to hear it now, I admit his theory would have made perfect sense to me not too many years ago).

My reason for going was far less theological. I have been talking and writing so much about my Christian experiences that I wanted to see what it would be like to be in a similar environment again. And, what’s even harder to admit, I kind of missed the experience of praise and worship. I thought maybe I could go and join the singing, block out the theology, and just experience what it was like to worship Jesus through praise songs again. Good gods, I was not prepared for how wrong I was about this.

The other two Witches joined me out of curiosity and to gain a better understanding of where I was coming from (I love my coven mates!).  One of them, Autumn, told everyone it would be interesting ‘to see the Christians do magic’, which is a pretty good way of describing charismatic Christian practice, but I would have never thought of.

Charismatic churches are very different from a traditional Roman Catholic service or a Baptist church. There are few fixed elements, and even the length of the service is undetermined. It is all up to how the Spirit moves, and while the sermon and at least some of the music is planned, much is up to improvisation. Singing often spontaneously evolves into glossolalia, the speaking in tongues, whether a foreign human language or the tongues of angels. Supernatural gifts are encouraged and expected, and people pray for healing through the laying on of hands or prophesy to the church or over one another.

The church we went to is called Bethel Church and in keeping with their hipster domain name (www.iBethel.org), they have a reputation the world over for being the most cutting-edge spirit-filled community.  The church also has its own school for teaching these practices, Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, and people flock to it from all over the world. While we were there, I overheard conversations in at least a dozen languages.

I have known about Bethel for years, and heard stories of miraculous healings, of people set free from demon possession, of gold dust raining down from heaven during worship. Miracles are supposedly a daily occurrence, the Holy Spirit shows up and nearly everyone who goes has a transformative encounter with the Christian God.

I had been wanting to go on this trip for a long time and when an out-of-state Christian friend who is a big fan of Bethel came to visit, we packed our stuff and went on a road trip with just a day’s notice. I was nervous and excited to bring such an eclectic group, a Christian missionary, and a couple of Witches, one of which, Autumn Crow, had almost no prior experience with Christianity. I was particularly excited to have her along, not just because of her lack of experience, but also because of her ability to sense and sometimes see energy. Autumn graciously agreed to share her experience of our visit for this piece.

Christians praying and worshiping at a festival. Similar energy, but much less expensive setting then Bethel. Photo by the author.
Christians praying and worshiping at a festival. Similar energy, but much less expensive setting then Bethel.
Photo by the author.

Autumn: I had heard a great deal about charismatic Christian “services” from Annika prior to heading to Bethel yet there was a great deal of trepidation on my part.  My only experience with a similar sort of energy was in my youth when various teens around me proselytized unsuccessfully with little tracts and waxing on about how enthusiastic they were regarding their faith.  At the time, I was an atheist and resented it, but at the same time feared that energy as something that I did not understand and that could be used to manipulate me.  For quite a long time I was not accustomed to standing in my power, and I was worried that I would be swept up in the emotion and feeling of the religion and lose my own ability to judge what was right for me.  So much of Christian belief structure is foreign to me, constraining, and in many cases, even offensive.  And, even as I was riding up, now a Witch for 7 years and supposedly better versed in the ways of power and community, a lingering question was in my mind:  is there something here that could negate all my own experience.

Annika: I thought it was amusing how worried Autumn was about the experience. I have known this kind of energy my whole life and couldn’t see how it could feel so threatening. My only worry was whether I would still pass as a charismatic Christian, or if I would be identified as a Witch. But then I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to pass. A part of me was so curious to see how I would be treated if they knew I was a Witch. I wasn’t afraid of the reaction I’d get if I was outed, but I also wanted to know what it was like simply to be in this setting again and maybe participate in worship. In the end I decided to hide my pentacle necklace under my shirt, and I tried to blend in, hoping my nervousness wouldn’t show.

Autumn Seeing the "Sacred Starbucks" for the first time. Photo by the author.
Autumn Seeing the “Sacred Starbucks” for the first time. Photo by the author.

Autumn: My first impression of the grounds and facility was one of surprise.  Annika had covered in depth some of the things I might see, how people would likely react to me, and so forth, but the grounds of the church as we approached had a vibe I was not expecting.  The architecture and layout was something like the United Nations combined with a modern high school with a sprinkling of the Google campus.  Flagpoles lining the “Avenue of Nations” seemed to shout out the place of the church as a meeting for the entire world, and the landscaping and parking lots were meticulously maintained.  None of this quite prepared me however for walking in the door and seeing what I now refer to as the “Sacred Starbucks” — the Christian themed coffee shop ‘HeBrews’ complete with pastries, snacks, and little tables.   Everything meticulous, corporate, and professionally designed.  This place had money.  And it was not afraid to use it.

Annika: I knew Autumn would be surprised, but I didn’t think I would be. The church grounds were not what I was expecting either. I had seen quite a few megachurches with corporate buildings that cost fortunes, including the giant Willow Creek complex in Illinois, but for some reason I was still astonished to see so much money poured into this church. Maybe I had just forgotten, but I was taken aback when we pulled up. The “Sacred Starbucks”, however? That was right on par with my Emergent Church experiences and I couldn’t stop laughing at Autumn’s reaction. Her facial expression alone would have made the long drive up to Redding worth our time.

Autumn:  It was pretty clear from the Sacred Starbucks that this was not going to be what I was used to in a spiritual experience.  But, walking into the sanctuary nevertheless felt familiar in a way.  The room clearly doubled as a high-school gymnasium, with dark paint and paneling almost cloaking the folded up basketball goals.  The bleachers at the rear gave a good vantage point to see the service, and for a moment, there was a certain familiarity: big tech conferences and events also have rock music, professional lighting, darkened surroundings, and giant TV screens to zoom in on what is happening.  My experience in Silicon Valley had made the room somehow seem more familiar.  But that familiarity was quickly blown away by the beginning of the service.

Annika: Walking into the sanctuary felt very familiar. A big stage with a worship team getting ready to start, a small podium in the middle, and two large screens on either side. Lights focused on the stage like in a rock concert, electric guitars plugged into fancy amps, lyrics projected on the screens: time to bust out the ear plugs. Emergent Church meets charismatic worship, both as I have always known them. I wondered if I’d know any of the songs, and I readied myself to open to the experience. I wanted to sing along and participate in worship the way I always had, just as if I was still an evangelical Christian.

Autumn: I was unprepared for the volume of the music and fortunately Annika came to the rescue with the ear plugs.  I noticed that the crowd, some 400 people or so, immediately joined in knowing the words — but there were giant lyrics on the stage in case you were unfamiliar.  The songs had a driving beat and had a tendency for soaring lyrics and chord progressions, clearly intended to lift people “higher”.  The lyrics themselves were fairly repetitive, saying: “Glory to God,”  “Jesus you are the only one,” “All my love for Jesus,” and variations on these themes.  Periodically between songs, individuals would come up to the mic and encourage people to give even more of themselves up, more of their love and their spirit, because Jesus is the only way, and so forth

Annika: Only Jesus, only you, you alone, no one else… Have the lyrics always been like that? I don’t remember it that way. Every song was about Jesus and this One God alone and no one else EVER. I leaned over to my friend who was raised Christian and asked him if he remembered it this way. He shook his head emphatically. Apparently the focus on only Jesus had increased since we both left. I knew there would be some mention of Jesus’ exclusivity and I was prepared to translate it into some kind of monistic theology, but it was far too pervasive. I couldn’t get past the insistence of absoluteness and exclusivity.

For a while I kept thinking that maybe the next song would be different and I could join in, but it never changed. I felt a sadness wash over me, a loss. I wasn’t going to be able to participate in this no matter how much internal translating I would do. This really wasn’t for me anymore. I felt excluded, left out, the sense that I didn’t belong. For me that was unexpected and surprisingly  unpleasant. It was one thing to not join by my own choice, but this expression of worship felt so unwelcoming. I looked over at Autumn and saw that she was observing everything very carefully and was deep in thought. I couldn’t wait to find out what her experience was, if she could see the energy being moved, and what her interpretation would be.

Worship at a Jesus Festival. Photo by the Author.
Worship at a Jesus Festival. Photo by the Author.

After the service, Autumn and I compared notes and compiled them into another conversation which I will be posting here as part 2. We reflected how we each sensed and saw the flow of energy. We also looked at how differently we heard the message of the sermon, what parts of it confused us, and how we were able to make sense of it together.

In Part 3 we look at what happened our second day at Bethel when we were led into the healing rooms and had hands laid on us to perform miracles and received prophecies spoken over us.


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The Rantin’ Raven: Songs for the Old Religion – Part 1: the Making

In 1973, a friend of mine returned to Southern California from a visit to a Wiccan gathering in the Bay Area telling me about a musician he had met by the name of Gwydion Pendderwyn who had a songbook full of wonderful music all about the Craft. My friend gave me the address of an organization called Nemeton from which one could order the book. So, for the extravagant sum of $2.50 plus postage I did and set about learning to sing and play some of the songs.

Two years later, I was spending a few weeks guesting in the home of a Gardnerian couple known as Athena and Dagda. While I was there, Gwydion came to visit, and I played and sang for him including an arrangement I’d done of his Harvest Dance for Appalachian dulcimer.

Gwydion was delighted, especially because I did his songs in a bouncy, folksy style. It seems he’d recently been visiting other Witches on the East Coast, and they, too, had sung some of his songs for him. But they sounded, he said, “like Presbyterians;” everything was slow and solemn and far too reverent. It made him crazy! What he’d really like to do, he told me, was put out an album of the songs to show people how they should sound. But, he didn’t have the first notion how to go about it.

“Funny you should mention that,” says I.

A few years back my partner and I, along with many of our friends, had spent an entire summer working as backup musicians and singers on a very bad country western album. The album may have been a disaster, but the experience was invaluable. And, since then one of the friends we’d worked with had bought himself an enormous array of then-high tech recording equipment and was running a small business out of his home cutting demos for other struggling hippie musicians.

“You want to cut an album,” I told Gwydion, “we can do it.”

And, that’s exactly what we did.

Songs for the Old Religion Back Cover / © Susan Lohwasser 1975
Songs for the Old Religion Back Cover / © Susan Lohwasser 1975

First we approached Larry (“Sigfried Lohengrin” on the liner notes), the recording engineer. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll record it for you. Just don’t get any chicken blood on the rug.” We explained that we didn’t do chicken blood, and it was a go. Friends, and friends of friends, offered to play and sing backups for us in exchange for their names on the album and a copy of it.

I phoned Gwydion and told him it was all arranged, and he said he and his friend Bill, the bass player, would be flying down the following weekend. That’s when I learned just how little Gwydion understood about recording: they expected to complete an entire album, without prior rehearsal, over a 4-day weekend. He’d never even sung into a microphone before and had to be taught how to modulate his voice instead of bellow and to strum his guitar rather than whack it for all it’s worth like you do to be heard across a campfire.

By the end of the extended weekend, we’d recorded four songs and laid down the bass tracks for the rest, as Bill had to get back to San Francisco and his job. Gwydion arranged to stay another week or so. That’s when the hard work started.

My partner Hugin (mandolin, lead acoustic guitar on most cuts) and I also had day jobs. We’d get up at 6 a.m., work until 5, head out to Larry’s house in Tujunga, stopping at Tommy’s or In ‘n’ Out along the way for burgers, and work until as late as 2 a.m. Nerves grew frazzled, and vast amounts of Columbian er, ‘herb’ got consumed. I discovered that, playing almost entirely by myself for 15 years or so, I had never learned to keep a consistent rhythm and had to modify the way I normally played my song The Sungod to fit the pre-recorded bass track. I also discovered that people could get really tired of my incredibly picky perfect pitch which is why the mandolin track on one cut is so very flat: I got yelled at one time too many and just let them get on with it.

One of the funniest experiences was during the recording of The Song of Mari. Larry’s house was in a semi-rural area in the foothills, and his next-door neighbor kept chickens. We’d had no trouble before, but somehow just as we’d get to the end of this one song, the damn rooster would crow and sure enough, it would show up on the tape. Off-pitch. We must have re-recorded it six or seven times, we’d been at this for over a week, and by now we were feeling really down to the wire. We were all stifling the urge to go strangle the rooster. But, it was late and we decided to leave it and re-do it the following night.

The next night Larry met us at the door with a big grin. “Listen to this!” And he played The Song of Mari. No rooster! He’d very cleverly taken one of those “environments” albums that were so popular at the time, and added the sound of waves from it at the beginning and end of the cut. Not only did he solve the problem but he created one of the loveliest pieces on the album.

Another great incident was the taping of The Lady’s Bransle (pronounced, by the way, as “brawl.”) You hear a false start, then Gwydion saying something, then we restart. He hadn’t had his glasses on and couldn’t see the sheet music, so he was basically following the rest of us. What he says is, “You’ll have to sing louder, I can’t see.” We thought that was such a funny non-sequitur that we decided to leave it in.

This is by far the trickiest song on the album, even above The Spring Strathspey on which I triple-track harmony with myself (and talk about fun!) On The Lady’s Bransle we started with the core group and all the backup singers we could find (note that incredible tenor carrying the last chorus!). Then Larry dubbed it over and over, adding another layer to each verse until by the last one we sound as if we could have filled Carnegie Hall.

Songs for the Old Religion was recorded in about 10 days using two 4-track tape recorders feeding into a 2-track for the final stereo edit. Dolby noise reduction technology was new, and is the cause of the flat, muddy sound on a couple of the cuts; unfortunately, once “dolbyized” the recording could not be recovered.

Forty years ago we didn’t know we were pioneering anything, or that there would soon be a booming cottage industry in self-produced Pagan music. We just wanted to “show ‘em how it should be done!” I was in the right place at the right time, with the right contacts, to facilitate that. The rest, as they say, was history. Or, maybe fate.


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Adventures in Wortcunning: Of Plantain and Spider Bites

“Mom, what is this; a spider bite?”

Large spiders eat crickets in the garden.
Large spiders eat crickets in the garden.

Two little punctures punctuated by tiny spots of blood. An inch or so down the arm, there was another pair. Time to find the plantain growing in the lawn! Now, take this as just my personal home remedy, but I have done a little study and used myself as a Guinea pig for traditional cures. I am sure of my botany, and know this plant well. After all, I planted it in the yard. The following is just what has worked for me, and my family. It may not work for you. But, I hate spider bites, and if you do too, this may help.

First you need to find the broad leaf plantain (Plantago major); the narrow leaved variety will also work. If you shun the use of herbicides in your lawn (or “mow-able meadow”) it may be easily recognized as a broad leaf weed. It’s usefulness so contagious, it arrived in North America with immigrants from England.

Since my garden here tends to thrive on benign neglect, the plantain population in my meadow is quite large. It has even invaded the planting beds, and as it is such a helpful plant, frankly, I do not care. Some may even think it a pretty plant, as I do, but that may be mere convenience on my part.

Broad-leaf Plantain
Broad-leaf Plantain (Plantago major)

Once you have found the plant, you will want to make a old-fashioned poultice and apply it to the bug bite. Here is how it’s done:

  • Find the right plant, then pick a tender young leaf without any blemish.
  • Wash the leaf with cold water.
  • Pour a glass of water for yourself, to use later.
  • Open a large Band-aid style bandage, exposing the pad portion
  • Without swallowing, chew the leaf up
  • Place the poultice–yes, the chewed up leaf–directly on the bite
  • Place the Band-aid over the poultice, securing the edges so none falls out.
  • Rinse your mouth out if you don’t like the taste. Plantain is edible, but I appreciate having a glass of water handy at this point in the process.
  • Change this dressing twice in twelve hours if it is a very bad bite indeed, and never hesitate to see your local vet … err … doctor if you have a real emergency.

The knowledge presented here is from my own study, but to corroborate it is this article from Wikipedia.

The plant cultivates easily from seed, scattered in any likely place — just in case you do not find it already waiting to serve you in the garden.


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Wyrd Words: Life Has a Way of Happening…

Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!

Or at least we WOULD be every other week if life had not become a fabulous cacophony of madness! Many of my usual readers have been asking why Wyrd Words hasn’t been posting regularly, and when we plan on coming back. The second question is easy.

 

WE WILL BE RETURNING TO OUR NORMAL SCHEDULE NEXT MONTH!

 

For those of you who may be wondering about my spontaneous leave of absence, unfortunately life has been throwing punches non stop. (and it has a mean left-hook!) We recently had a family member pass away, my wife and I are expecting our first child within a couple of weeks, and we had to move out of our current house with little to no notice. Trust me, I’ll have plenty to write about when I get back…

See you in July!

(Wish me luck. I’m gonna need it!)

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