Winter is a hard time for me. Less so since moving to the sun-drenched South, but it’s still a season that I’ve struggled with over the years. Because of that, it’s only in recent years that I’ve begun to craft Solstice traditions to welcome the return of the light while at the same time honoring the dark. I’ve realized that, even as the darkness pushes me inside myself, if I take the time to properly honor the season (and SLOW DOWN), I can do better than just survive in winter; I can begin to heal, to rest and restore, in preparation for a thriving new year.

A few years ago, I attempted this lovely recapitulation ritual (inspired by an article in Yoga Journal), and the following year, my husband and I burned a jar of wishes we’d been collecting the entire year, plus a jar of the best moments we’d remembered to write down (we read the best moments to each other before giving them to the fire, but we sent the wishes in silence).

This year, we’ll be traveling back and forth quite a bit during the winter holidays, but I still want to take the time to honor the Solstice, even if I’m a few days late. I’ve planned a quiet ritual that’s a combination of mundane and magical, and I wanted to share my plans with you in case they spark an idea for your own celebration.

Weather permitting, I’d like to sit down in the next week after dark to a fire in our fire pit. First, I’m planning to burn the box of bills, bank statements, and other “shredable” mail that I’ve been collecting over the past few months. My hope here is to clear away the energy of a year of tight finances so that we can enter 2015 in a new place. There’s the practical part of my Solstice-week plans.

Borrowing from last year, the magical component of these plans is to, once again, burn a jar of wishes together, sending our love and dreams up on the smoke to the dark winter sky. We’ll probably offer some chocolate to the fire, too, to sweeten our secret wishes.

Finally, I’ve started a clutter clearing crusade lately in an attempt to help our small home to remain cozy rather than cramped, and there are a few pieces of clutter that I’m planning to offer to the fire. My first yoga mat has been dead, dead, dead for over a year (ever since I began my yoga teacher training, actually), but I haven’t been able to bring myself to part with it. This week, however, I’m planning to burn a scrap of the cloth bag that the mat has lived in, before finally tossing my little square of sacred space into the trash.


This year, I’m trying to embrace the darkness as much as I wait for the return of the light, and I’m hoping that my Solstice ritual will help me find a place of quiet stillness to see out the year. How will you be celebrating this time of dark and light? Love and light to you and yours this season, and always!

The Busy Witch is published on alternate Tuesdays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

(A philosophical venture onto thin ice)

It’s once again that time of year when we are surrounded by images of the most successful American demigod. His priests are donning their red ritual vestments for the annual blessing of children. Stories from his mythos are featured on TV. Elementary school students across the nation are rehearsing songs about his bounty to be performed at “Winter Holiday” pageants that put a non-denominational veneer on a Christian holiday — a holiday that is itself a veneer on ancient Pagan celebrations of the solstice. And soon sacrifices of milk and cookies will be left out to curry favor with him.

Sophisticated cynics know that it’s a bunch of bunk, of course. There is no jolly old elf at the North Pole. There is no magic sleigh, no one coming down the chimney, and your parents are going to eat those cookies.

And yet…and yet…somehow, the gifts still end up under the tree. We tough-minded cynics and bah-humbugers still find ourselves softening up for a few days, a little more susceptible to break into a hearty ho-ho-ho or experience an unaccustomed warmth in the center of the chest, a bit more likely to find ourselves giving a damn about our fellow humanoids.

Even wars of imperialism have been known to pause for gift-giving and expressions of fellowship, to the great consternation of nationalists and warmongers.

To stop war, even briefly, takes more than a fictional character in a children’s story. There is a truth — an experiential truth, not a supernatural one — behind the myth.

Illustration from Clement C. Moore’s (1779-1863) Night Before Christmas, circa 1870. Illustrator Unknown.

There is magic afoot here, something that changes consciousness and the world.

Santa Claus may not be “real” in the sense of a material substance immediately evident to our senses or measuring devices. But as an aspect of the human experience, he’s as real as a poem — say, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” — or as the number eight, as in “tiny rein-deer”.

There are millions of copies of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which exist as material objects, ink on dead trees or magnetic or electrical patterns in computers. Yet none of these copies is the poem itself. Does this mean that the poem itself does not exist? Even the most positivist philosopher would make such a claim only in an academic debate, not in “real life”.

There are millions of mall Santas and parade Santas and Christmas garden Santas, yet none is Santa Claus. Does this mean that Santa himself does not exist?

Or does it mean that we’re looking in the wrong place?

As Francis Pharcellus Church of the New York Sun wrote in his famous 1897 reply to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon,

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.

We could label Church’s reply as a lie, of course. We could declare ourselves a-Santaists and be done with it. But when Church wrote “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus,” he was not operating in the context of the objective, material world.

He was not suggesting that a zoological expedition be mounted to the North Pole to capture those rare flying reindeer, or that experts in industrial efficiency be sent to bring Santa’s manufacturing methods to the factories of the United States. If he had, clearly he would be a liar or deeply confused, and a-Santaism would be the correct response.

But if we understand the realm in which Church was operating, a more sophisticated response is required — one which does not deny that material-realm a-Santaism but that is also capable of going beyond it.

And so ol’ Saint Nick actually makes a decent starting point for a deep consideration of the nature of the gods and goddesses. Are the deities real? Is Santa Claus real? The question can only be answered meaningfully when we agree on a context.

A Fae Footnote

It’s interesting that Church makes reference to “fairies dancing on the lawn”. Recall that this was before the Cottingley Fairies, or Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell — a fairy so delicate that children’s skepticism could kill her. We’re dealing with a little bit older and more dangerous understanding of the fae folk here.

While there was a bit of a craze for paintings of fairies in the late 19th century, even the small butterfly-winged subjects of those paintings cavorted about scantly clad — or nude! — in stunning violation of Victorian convention. And perhaps we might think less of Tinker Bell and more of Puck of Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, a different sort of faery:

“Can you wonder that the People of the Hills don’t care to be confused with that painty-winged, wand-waving, sugar-and-shake-your-head set of impostors? Butterfly wings, indeed! I’ve seen Sir Huon and a troop of his people setting off from Tintagel Castle for Hy-Brasil in the teeth of a sou’-westerly gale, with the spray flying all over the Castle, and the Horses of the Hills wild with fright. Out they’d go in a lull, screaming like gulls, and back they’d be driven five good miles inland before they could come head to wind again. Butterfly-wings! It was Magic—Magic as black as Merlin could make it, and the whole sea was green fire and white foam with singing mermaids in it. And the Horses of the Hills picked their way from one wave to another by the lightning flashes! That was how it was in the old days!”

There’s an edge of terror in those fae folk — just as there’s an edge of terror in Santa, with his surveillance capabilities that the NSA can only dream of, and his capacity to punish the naughty. (Sometimes assigned to his partner the Krampus.)

“The Zen Pagan” appears every other Friday. You can keep up by subscribing via RSS or e-mail.

Looking forward to the new year, I’’ll be presenting at PantheaCon in February. But before that, if you’re still Yule shopping, Why Buddha Touched the Earth makes a great gift for the Zen Pagan on your list.

Finally, if you do Facebook, you might choose to join a group on “Zen Paganism” I’ve set up there. And don’t forget to “like” Patheos Pagan over there, too.

The holiday season.

The time of year when we all use-or-lose our meagre remaining vacation time on our self-imposed commitments to family. I’m sure that there are people reading this who really do both expect and receive the cheer that commercialized stereotypes have led us to expect, but for others this time of year is somewhere between mildly unpleasant and hell on earth.

As a child growing up in an industrial English town within a C of E lower middle class family, Christmas was officially the Best Thing Ever. Too much turkey, annoying the grandparents by deciding that the huge box their present arrived in was really the Eagle, about to land on the Moon for the first time. The buttons I drew on the cardboard didn’t really fire the landing thrusters, but that didn’t matter to me. Christmas was Awesome, and Santa was Definitely Better than Batman. It was a time filled with grandparents, cousins, visits from the Scottish branch of the family, snowball fights and, best of all, no school for a couple of weeks.

blue ornament - Image by Sarah ThompsonAs I got older, Christmas wasn’t quite all that it once was, of course. Once I accepted Santa-as-abstraction, a virtual being with no physical realization other than the bits-of-well-meaning family that allowed him to exist by borrowing their consciousness occasionally in the latter part of the year, the shiny image corroded a little. The glass baubles broke too easily, just as likely to cut me as fascinate me. Family spread out, the older members taken by time over the rainbow bridge, the younger by ambition and need to get out of the home town. I was one of them, moving to the other end of the country once I had the societal permission that Going Away to University afforded to those willing to abandon their roots.

Christmas had already eroded due to my lack of attention, but ultimately shattered into pieces when, in 1993, I came out as something significantly other than straight. My parents took it hard, but came back on side after a while. My grandparents were surprisingly supportive right from the start, though I found out later that this had come at a horrible price. One of those Christmas cousins took their own life a few years previously. My grandfather found the body – carbon monoxide poisoning. This had, at the time, shocked me to the core, because Things Like That didn’t happen to nice families like ours. I was told at the time that my cousin had had money problems. I felt awful – though I wasn’t rich, I’m sure I could have helped somehow, but didn’t know until it was too late. After my coming-out, however, my grandmother confessed to a substantial lie. My cousin was transgendered. I never knew. She took her own life because her own family were horrible to her. In confessing to me, my grandparents accepted that they had been partly responsible for her death. Consequently, they were never less than supportive of me.

The other cousins dropped me cold, other than one of the Scots who sadly passed on herself a few years ago. My Christmas family shrunk overnight from an extended network to just six people, four grandparents and two parents. Time has since claimed all but my parents, who live in another country on the other side of the world. We still talk, but not as often as we once did. I can’t really afford to travel there, they can’t come here. My Christmas blood family has shrunk to just me.

From PublicDomainPictures, License.
From PublicDomainPictures, License.

I’ve been luckier than my transgendered cousin, of course. I’ve always had friends, I’ve usually had love, so I’ve made my own family. As I lost my original religion, Christmas became Chinese food and a movie, then years later finding Pagan community Yule happened sometimes. I have made my peace with this, but it is perhaps much more visible from my perspective as an outsider that my original view of the holiday season still is many people’s subjective reality, modulo a tacky pair of antler deely-bobbers. Consequently, the estranged black-sheep-of-their-families like me often find their intentional communities disappearing on them right at a time when work stops and they have nothing better to do than think about the way things were Before, back in the idealized Hallmark holidays. This is the absolute zero of being left out in the cold. This is why so many of us end their lives at this time of the year.

I have plans for the holidays, and a wife with a huge family who for some bizarre reason seem to actively like me. I’m OK. I don’t forget, though, that I’ve had times when I wished the calendar went directly from Halloween to January. So, in planning your holiday antics, I’d like to ask you all to look around you. Most of you know someone who is going to be left in their own personal cold place this year. Most of you probably have enough room at the table for one more, if you think to ask.

An it harm none, do as ye will.

Compassion is all.

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love - erick dupreeLove came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

-Christina G. Rossetti

It seems, regardless of Faith tradition, we are all reminded of this big umbrella of holiday time that is overwhelmingly Christmas.  For every Santa Claus, there seems to be a manger. Regardless of what you say you believe or don’t believe, the tides of Christmas are not going anywhere. They have been with many of us since the beginning of our lives. If you are a westerner, even the most devout Muslim, orthodox Jew, or dyed in the wool Atheist, you still know Christmas. Most learn that an angel appeared unto Mary, “bringing her tidings of great joy to all people.” We learn that another Angel appeared to Joseph warning him of danger, and that a star was seen in the East. Some learn that the wise men that traveled to the star tricked King Herod, who subsequently gave an order to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem. But what people seldom learn is the meaning of “unto you a child will be born, and you shall call him Emmanuel.”

Emmanuel means god is with us. Imagine for a moment what it might be like to lean into the idea that god could instead mean love? Emmanuel, Love is with us. Emmanuel has nothing to do with church, guilt, sin, or judgment. It has nothing to do with the Jesus many come to learn. Simply put, god with us, Love with us. When I reframe the Christian Christmas story though the lens of love, I no longer find myself at odds with the seasons. I do not feel disempowered, but rather I see a nativity, and instead of thinking that a savior is born, I think Love is born.

I have no interest in the story that develops after Emmanuel. The messianic prophecy that is Love is the only salvation I need. So, what if we really could believe that Love is with us always, in all ways, a love divine?

Oh come oh come Emmanuel… ransom captive Israel, the carol goes. I have often wondered what could the ransom be in a modern world? What is the currency to ransom people? It is still Emmanuel, Love is with us. Love is the currency, all lovely, a love divine. What if for a moment we looked at each other the way we look into the eyes of children, with love? If one man could ransom one captive nation with love, imagine the power of every child in the world? Feeling love, and knowing what love is, believing that love is divine: this is what I mean when I say Emmanuel. God with us. Love with us.

What inspires me about this beloved time of year is the invitation to look at the faith that seems least like my own, and in their most holy time, welcome a new truth and experience. That truth is love. When I enter into the presence of my most sacred self, what I know is love. Love is the currency is desperately needed in these times of uncertainty. I have no faith in a child who would become a prophet that empowered patriarchy, but I do take comfort in love: that we are all born into this Love, the currency of peace.  This is the reminder I get at Christmastime. Love is with us, a Love all lovely, a Love Divine.

Alone In Her Presence is published on alternate Wednesdays! Subscribe via RSS or e-mail.

My husband priest loves Bill Cosby and has been devastated by the recent news surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct. However, as with any heavily covered news story, the allegations create an opportunity to parent and discuss the issue at home.

Age Appropriate

Whenever you discuss sexuality with children it should be done within the concept of age appropriateness. I have mentioned before that I encourage parents to call sexual organs by their clinical and proper names when dealing with their children. I have also mentioned that children under the age of eight years old should not necessarily be watching the news enough to have questions about heavier issues.

There needs to be time in a child’s life when they are allowed to be a child without the burdens put upon them by harshness of the news. That said, when dealing with children from the ages of birth to around eight years of age, parents should focus on appropriate naming of body parts, stranger danger, appropriate and inappropriate touching, and what to do when someone is inappropriate with them.

These talks should happen in short fifteen- to twenty-minute sessions. I have found the car to be an excellent place to have them. There should also be focused conversations without the television or other distractions where books are used to help name the body parts of people of different sexes. One of my favorite books is It’s Perfectly Normal by Michael Emberley (Anv. New edition; Candlewick, 2014). This book is rated for children ten and up; however, I started using parts of this book with my own child around the age of seven. The book can be used to explain gender differences and physical sex differences to children.

Books like these give anatomically correct pictures to use with children to show them the sameness of people. I used It’s Perfectly Normal to show my son that all men’s penises become erect and, therefore, it was perfectly normal if his did this from time to time, too.

Throughout the years, the book acted as a starting point for sexuality discussions with my son. It  fully illustrates the conception and birthing process and even covers the normality of gay and lesbian couplings.

Family Coven Virtues

I have written previously about setting up and parenting to Family Coven Virtues. In my family coven, we would say that we are tolerant of all persons who love. We respected our son’s right to masturbate in his own space and not in front of the television (age appropriate about birth to five years). We would use our discernment in knowing when someone was appropriate or inappropriately touching us. If someone made us uncomfortable, then that touching was inappropriate for us.

As the child grows in age toward tween and teenage years, discussions around sexuality can expand and still tie into the family coven virtues. Respect is necessary when you begin to have sexual contact with others. It takes courage to turn down someone if you don’t want to have sexual contact. Sexual contact is best done in devoted relationships where clear sexual boundaries have been agreed upon. You demonstrate trustworthiness, reverence, efficiency, respect, and helpfulness when you use condoms during sexual intercourse.

The Bill Cosby Story

When dealing with tweens and teenagers, the family can watch a story on the news together about Bill Cosby and the allegations against him. There are several aspects that parents can focus the discussion around.

Rape Is Often Perpetrated by Someone You Know

Rape is most often perpetrated against women by men they know. Men who are raped, similarly, are most often raped by other men they know. Making sure children know this regardless of gender is an important first step to parenting around a story like the Bill Cosby allegations.

Familiar or Date Rape Often Happens When Drugs and/or Alcohol Are Involved

The second take-away from the Bill Cosby story is that drugs and alcohol often play a significant part in familiar or date rapes. For boys, this means that to show respect for girls they are dating, they should only offer them closed drink bottles or encourage them to make their own drinks if possible. It also means that boys should tell their friends who are girls that if they ever feel weird after drinking a drink, they can call upon them to help get them to safety. Boys should also have a plan if they should drink something and then feel strange, a system within their peer group or carte blanche to call a parent or uncle or aunt to rescue them should they get into trouble.

“It is just a sad fact that if you’re a girl, then you have to be aware of certain things,” my sixteen-year-old son explained to me.

Girls should be taught the invariable rules of drinking.

  1. Do not accept already opened bottles of wine, beer, water or other drinks, especially sweet drinks from anyone you aren’t 100% sure you are safe with.
  2. You are only 100% safe with most other girls and your female relatives.
  3. Do not leave any drink unattended. Take drinks with you to the bathroom and never allow the drink to leave your line of sight.
  4. If you order a drink at a bar, accept that drink directly from the bartender or waitress only.
  5. Consider nail polish like Undercover Colors to help warn you if your drink has been spiked by date rape drugs.

Take-Away for Boys

When I asked my sixteen-year-old about what he thought about the Bill Cosby story and what was the most important point, he said, “Don’t rape. I mean, how hard is that really?”

When I asked him further about how he is sure when a girl really wants to have sex with him, he said, “Mom, if I am going to have sex, she has to take it and stick it in. I am not going to do that.”

Although it might seem a bit extreme to give the physical act of penetration over to your partner, it is one way that boys can be sure they aren’t violating a girl. This, of course, doesn’t mean she might not have regrets about the activity later; however, if the first time with a new partner always requires this act, it can help a boy feel better about the sexual experiences he does have.

I also took time to ask my son about what he thought about the gang rapes that have been reported at frat houses throughout the US. I asked him what he would do if he found this activity happening at a frat party he was at.

“Call the police. It is the only right thing to do,” he said.

“Of course, what this really means is we all need to look out for each other,” my son elaborated. “I mean, there are plenty of men who have been raped because there was too much alcohol going around. So we just have to watch out for each other. If we see someone really looking bad at a rowdy party, we should take them home and see them to safety. If we all did that, it would really help a lot.”

Below are some of the things boys should be mindful of according to my sixteen-year-old.

  1. Never give your date an opened bottle of any drink.
  2. Always let a bartender or your date fix their drinks.
  3. Always carry a condom.
  4. Do not have sex when you are wasted or impaired by drink or drugs.
  5. Communicate thoroughly before you have sex with anyone.
  6. Let penetration be overseen by your partner.
  7. Don’t be alone with someone you don’t want to have sex with.
  8. Interfere if you see someone who is impaired and in what could be a dangerous situation.
  9. Call the police if you observe illegal or questionable activities at a party when it comes to rape.

Take-Away for Girls

Although it is obviously unfair that the situation for boys and girls is so different, I wanted to give parents some guidelines to start giving to tweens and teenagers who are girls. Even though the following suggestions are true for girls, boys wouldn’t go wrong observing them either.

Group Date for a First Date

Even if you have known a boy or girl for some time, the first date is often safer when done with a larger group. Invite some girlfriends and have the boy or girl invite some of their friends. There is safety in numbers. Even if the date goes well, don’t spend any time alone with the date the first time.

Make Up Your Mind About Sex BEFORE the Date

Be clear in your own mind about whether or not sex will be something you would be willing to do before you go out with anyone. Being clear in your own mind will allow you to be prepared with condoms and lube if necessary, and will allow you to stand your ground and make good decisions during the course of the date itself.

Never Meet a Dater in a Private Place for the First Three to Four Dates

There is nothing wrong with meeting at a restaurant, coffee shop, or the movies when you begin to date someone. This allows you the ability to leave and to do so in relative safety.

Always Employ the Buddy System

When you first start dating, curfew is as much about the buddy system as it is about having a curfew. Girls and boys should tell someone whom they are going out with and the anticipated time for the date to end. Daters should get into a habit of calling a friend or relative when dates are over to verify they are home and safe. When college life begins, having a friend on campus you check in with is a great way to ensure your safety. This could be a college roommate or another friend.

Have An Escape Plan

Boys and girls should have some plan to get out of dates that have turned awkward or have taken a strange turn. Some girls and boys do not feel like they can simply end the date and having a signal to text a friend to call and get them out of bad situations is an excellent way to stay safe and can be part of the buddy system.

Public Places Are Your Friend

If you find yourself in a situation where you are fearful of your date or at a party where you are fearful of who you are around, lock yourself into a bathroom or any room with a good lock and execute your escape plan. Never be afraid to call the police. If it is an option, go find yourself at the most public place available and solicit help or call the police.

As I was wrapping up my discussion with my son, I left the room, heading back to my office. He called me back, saying, “But it all comes down to this, Mom: don’t rape.”

When parents use horrific stories like the Bill Cosby allegations to jump start conversations around sexuality and personal conduct and responsibility, we move our entire society toward a place where it becomes that simple.

Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft is published occasionally on Agora. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

Despite my pride in my matrilineal Celtic heritage, and although I’ve been honored to participate in rituals held by various ADF Groves, I am not a Druid. But when James Nichol’s Contemplative Druidry came in, our editor decided that as “The Zen Pagan” I was the go-to guy for the contemplative side of Paganism in general. So my reaction to it may be a little backwards from what the author intended — instead of justifying a contemplative approach to a Druid reader, in this case it’s justified a form of Druidry to someone with a more contemplative practice.

The Druidry here is mostly that of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD), a primarily British group. Like me, my fellow American Pagans are probably more familiar with the somewhat different Druidry of Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF). The inimitable John Michael Greer, a member of both groups, has written a comparison which can be found at the ADF website; in short, where ADF is a church with a more recently added initiatory current, OBOD is an initiatory mystery school with a Universalist approach. I could have used a bit more background about OBOD’s Druidry, but a few minutes with DuckDuckGo (my internet search engine of choice) was sufficient to fill me in enough to follow the discussion.

Nichol came to be interested in a more contemplative approach to his Druidry after a mystical experience in June 2007, “triggered simply by noticing and contemplating a wild rose, growing on the banks of the river, an experience “which only “lasted a few moments” but caused “a subtle shift of awareness” for several weeks, where he “woke up every day with a sense of joy and connection.”

This experience eventually led him to renew his study of the Shambhala school of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as other forms of Buddhism, and then to propose to the OBOD leadership a program of “contemplative exploration”. This book is the result of that exploration.

Nichol’s role here is more editor than author, summarizing the discussions of fifteen English Druids (including Nichol himself). Thus, rather than a detailed discussion of one perspective the book presents a diversity of voices — the depth perception of multiple perspectives. I found this to be a strength, but a reader looking for a deeper justification of contemplative practice, or detailed instructions for practice, may find it a disappointment.

The first section of the book relates bits of the participant’s back-stories, from their childhood spiritual experiences to how they came to identify as Druids. It gives a composite portrait of the sort of person who is attracted to a contemplative path within Druidry/Paganism. The second section looks at the practice methods they’s adopted: formal meditations, both solitary and group; walking in nature; and integration into daily life. As Nichols notes, “…[F]ormal meditation is not our only kind of contemplative practice. Just being in nature and walking the land are major settings for contemplation. So are chanting, movement and methods that involve creative arts and crafts. So are the activities of daily life. In many ways the essence of our contemplation lies not in what we do, but the presence and awareness we bring to it.”

The third section looks at the benefits of contemplative practice for the individual, as a sort of “recharging”, a antidote of the busyness of modern society, and as a foundation for more outwardly directed work; and at what it can bring to Druidry as a whole, as a resource for a more mindful community living. A concluding section (prior to an appendix with more details about how the collaborative process worked) presents Nichol’s conclusions and suggestions about how to foster a contemplative current within Druidry.

While all the participants in this exploration are Druids, there is enough diversity in their experience that I can recommend this book to readers interested in a broad survey of contemplative trends in Paganism. It also perked up my interest in the OBOD form of Druidry, so I’ll be doing some further reading on that.


Contemplative DruidryContemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential
by James Nichol
with Foreword by Philip Carr-Gomm:
“Deep Peace of the Quiet Earth: the Nature Mysticism of Druidry”






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

Sometimes life loafs about, trudging endlessly through the same monotonous rut for months on end. Other times, life decides to pull itself out of that long ditch and go for an adventure out in the open. Then, every once in a blue moon, life finds itself crying for its mommy while dodging a veritable maelstrom of flaming debris. Let us say that the past month has been “interesting” in the ancient-chinese-curse kind of way! On top of the standard holiday madness, I’ve also been working 50-60 hour weeks in preparation for a sudden change in employment. Now that’s a big enough stress-grenade for just about anybody, but it pales in comparison to the biggest bomb of last the month.

 photo baby_zps4e6ac417.png
[Babies: For when you want to measure stress in Megatons…]
 For the past few weeks approximately 50% of my brain has been devoted to an unending loop of: “Holy crap I’m going to be a father. Holy Crap I’m Going To Be A Father. HOLY CRAP I’M GOING TO BE A FATHER.” The other half of my brain has been busy trying to figure out exactly what that means. We’ve all seen those awesome movie montages in which some loser discovers that he’s a father and miraculously becomes a cooler person over the course of a single song. I honestly spent the first week waiting for somebody to cue the music.

I thought I’d suddenly feel this massive paternal drive to become a better person, work harder, go to the gym, pray more… I thought I’d become obsessed with morality, and ensuring that my child was raised “properly”. I thought that Faith would suddenly take an even more central role in my life now that I was in charge of raising the next generation. Why? Because that’s what happens in the movies. The main character suddenly finds god, drops his bad habits, turns his life around, and becomes “Super-McAwesome-Dad-Man”. Unfortunately, it seems that my expectations may have been somewhat unrealistic…

It’s difficult to focus on such high-minded concepts, when there are so many other (more immediate) concerns. It’s hard to put too much thought into what kind of theology you’re planning to teach your child when you can’t stop wondering how you’re going to find space for baby supplies. Your plans for ensuring that they have a quality science education seem inconsequential when you’re so focused on figuring out how to baby-proof your house. (Seriously, I can barely keep my CAT from doing really dumb things like chewing on live power cables, and now I’m basically going to have a cat with THUMBS.) I thought that the discovery of my impending fatherhood would bring some kind of profound spiritual revelation. Instead the biggest realization I’ve had is that my Smart Car has no back seats, and that’s suddenly a problem…

 photo DaddySmartCar_zpse3d21f2d.png
[That’s a negative Ghost Rider, the vehicle is full.]

You know what else the movies don’t tell you about becoming a father? Absolutely everything becomes COMPLETELY TERRIFYING. Little molehills that used to fly under your radar suddenly become giant mountains that keep you up at night. “Mom” has the sniffles? Well her immune system is shot so you need to make sure she’s taken care of. “Mom” trips over her own feet? No longer something to snicker about, because now you’re too busy diving in to catch her like some kind of Secret Service agent body-blocking a bullet. The stairs in your house that you never cared about before suddenly become an obstacle course of DOOM. Every single unexpected phone call from your partner now sends a shot of ice down your spine because something could have gone wrong while you were away. As a father-to-be you now have 99 problems and a baby is every single one of them.


It’s not all bad. There might be a whole new passel of hassles, but there’s an upside too. It’s brought my family closer together. Now that there’s going to be a grandchild, my parents and my in-laws have become a more cohesive family unit. It’s brought my wife and I even closer together, which I didn’t think was possible. Most of all it’s given me one more reason for living. When I feel like crap, and the car won’t start, and work sucks more than usual, I can get through it all that much easier because I know that one more person is depending on me. I thought that responsibility would be a burden, but instead it’s become my inspiration. I know I can handle everything else that’s coming, because becoming a father has given me HOPE.

</Cue End Of Musical Fatherhood Montage>

Wyrd Words is published on alternate Thursdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!


Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, and now Phoenix, Arizona have shown black people killed by white police officers. There have also been protests (and in some cases, riots) over the acquittal of the white officers. What you choose to focus on can tell you a lot about your own awareness of racism. Do you focus on the injustice that has occurred when police officers have been acquitted of their crimes? Or do you focus on the protests and riots, complaining about how those people are destroying their communities? In my opinion, if you focus on the latter, you are likely refusing to see the problem that faces all of us: What are we to do about the systemic racism that is built into this country?

When I consider this question, there are no easy answers that come to mind. Systemic racism is pervasive in this country. What I do know is that all of us, regardless of our skin color, can’t continue to ignore the racism that is part of this country. As a white person, I think it is important to continue to educate myself on white privilege, critical race theory, and micro-aggressions. However, education is just a start. What must really be done involves applying what is learned to my own behavior and, just as importantly, doing whatever I can to be an ally to people of color.

Systemic racism isn’t something that will be changed overnight, as is evidenced by the history of this country and its treatment of people of color. What you can do, though, is to fully acknowledge that racism exists and that if you’re a white person, you are racist. It may not be a conscious form of racism, but you can still be racist and not cognitively recognize it. Now is the time to start recognizing it, to recognize the micro-aggressions that show up in your behavior, or the assumptions that show up in your thoughts about people of color. What you can also do is acknowledge that you have privilege, that the experiences you have with the police are not the experiences a person of color has with them. You can acknowledge that you don’t face the same challenges a person of color faces in everyday life. Most importantly, you can listen to the people of color you know. I mean really listen. Don’t tell them you aren’t racist. Don’t get defensive. Just listen and when you feel reactions come up, sit with them and ask yourself what’s really causing you to react the way you want to react.

You can also be an ally to people of color. Being an ally involves calling out the racism and saying enough is enough. It involves supporting people of color as they make their voices heard. It involves supporting the organizations that advocate for people of color. It also involves not making the conversation about you, but instead keeping it focused on where it really matters: #blacklivesmatter. Part of being an ally involves having courageous conversations about what has happened with your friends, family, neighbors, etc. We need to talk about the recent events and the real issues involved instead of burying our heads in the sand. The conversations won’t be easy, but if we don’t have them, we will perpetuate the system of racism that has caused cops to be acquitted of murders.

Racism is part of our lives. It’s time we acknowledge that and start working to change it. The change won’t be easy, but if we want to espouse  values such as freedom and equality, then we need to actually make those values part of our lives and part of the actions we take. We make those values part of our lives by exposing racism in its various forms and working toward creating true equity, wherein race is recognized as a factor that affects how people treat each other. When we address racism in this manner, we will face resistance, but we will also make it harder for racism to flourish and eventually perhaps even stop its perpetuation altogether.

Black lives matter. Racism matters. It’s time to stop pretending otherwise.

Socially Responsible Magic is published on alternate Wednesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

I can’t seem to get away from mythology and archetypes. My writing practice has grown up alongside my experiences with magic and the gods, so it’s probably no surprise that mythological elements play a huge roll in my fiction. In fact, Beautiful Curse, my newest Young Adult novel which was just released, is a contemporary retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

It’s been a really interesting experience writing mythology-based fiction, particularly when it comes to creating characters out of gods and goddesses who may be familiar to me. Although my nonfiction stems very much from a place of personal truth, my fiction is just that: fiction. Still, it can be challenging to craft a character out of a deity.

A great example of how I’ve played with this strange alchemy is the character of Aphrodite. She plays a major role in my YA Paranormal trilogy, starting with Daughter of Chaos, and Aphrodite is also present in Beautiful Curse. Although the two characters are “the same” goddess, they are very different creations in the two different stories. In Daughter, I created an Aphrodite who’s a little bit spoiled, but very sweet, sensual, and warm. In Beautiful Curse, however, the character of Aphrodite is vain and spiteful, verging on being outright cruel to the protagonist. Are they both Aphrodite? Well, sure, in a fictional sense, but neither character is the goddess I would speak to if I wanted to work magic with Aphrodite.

When I first started writing fiction, I will admit that I was a little worried that my characterizations of the deities might get me in some celestial trouble, but I’ve realized that, like my mortal characters, these gods and goddesses are my creations. Sure, I draw heavily on various myths to help me craft these characters, but at the end of the day, when I use mythological figures in my novels, they’re fictional. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job well, these characters may strike a chord with readers, and I would love it if my novels sparked the interest of a reader or two to pursue some actual nonfiction mythological reading, but the gods I write about in my books only exist between the covers of my story.

Still, I make a point to offer thanks to the deities who share names and attributes with my characters, just in case I’ve accidentally offended them. It seems prudent, since my love of mythology and my penchant for retellings don’t seem to be waning. I’m not the first author to play with gods and goddesses in fictional ways, and I hope I won’t be the last; there’s a lot of power in the old stories that can be told in a myriad of ways.

The Busy Witch is published on alternate Tuesdays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

The past few weeks have been difficult in my house, as the news of Ferguson and New York killings of black men by white police officers continue to make headlines. This news offers parents a unique opportunity to discuss these weighty social issues with their children.

Family Coven Virtues

What are your family coven virtues? In this past article, I discussed how a family coven can set up family coven virtues and then use those virtues to parent. Whenever you think about topics like social injustice and institutionalized racism, start by examining what your family’s virtues are and how these issues impact them.

Dragonstone Family Coven’s virtues are tolerance, humility, devotion, patience, kindness, respect, courage, efficiency, discernment, trustworthiness, reverence, and helpfulness. For this article, I will be referring to these virtues.

Clarify the Problem

Depending upon the age of your child, you will approach these issues differently. Your approach will also depend upon which type of psychological system your child best responds to. Children from birth to 2 years old might be best served by doing things for others. Going to rallies, holding signs, candle light vigils, and are placing candles where horrible violence has occurred are all appropriate activities for this age group. It is the act of going and doing something that is most important.

For children ages 2 to 5, a discussion around the virtues as they apply to the news you are discussing is also important. In the case of Ferguson, it would be appropriate to talk to your children about discernment. What does that word mean and how is it applicable in this case? Some discussion topics might include:

  • Can you tell me how many children in your class are black (white, Asian, Native Indian, other colored)?
  • Why do you think this is? (social and economic make up of where you child goes to school)
  • Do you think it is like this everywhere?

If you are taking your children to rallies, talking about peaceful protest for change, the history of peaceful protest in the United States, and what virtues peaceful protest mimics (courage, respect, kindness, devotion, efficiency, helpfulness) is also an excellent discussion.

From ages 5 to 8, children’s focus is more self-centric. They are curious how the news affects them specifically and how daily actions can translate into worldwide events. Talking to children about race and how bullying and race often go hand in hand is an excellent topic of discussion. Talk about everyday actions. Some discussion topics might be:

  • How many children of color are you friends with at school? Why?
  • Do you think the teachers are meaner to children who are of color than white children? Why?
  • What can you do at school to lessen the impact of racism?

Children ages 8 to tween begin to be desensitized by the bombardment of news and social media input into their lives. For this age group, I would insist on watching or listening to a news program about the issues and then beginning discussion on one specific topic. Limiting the focus to one topic helps to focus the child’s attention. Some discussion topics might include:

  • Do you think you are privileged? How?
  • Does your privilege lead you to be racist or sexist?
  • What can you do to impact the school you go to and help even out racism and sexism that may be happening there?

When dealing with teenagers, you typically wind up with two types of teens. One type is proactive and involved, believing that they personally have an ability to change the world in which they live. They may see the discussion around Ferguson and New York as exhilarating and interesting. The other type of teenager may come to the table with a belief that the events in Ferguson and New York are beyond the scope of their lives and have little to do with their day to day interactions with others. They may come to a place where they feel frustrated, like there is nothing they can personally do that would make the situation any better.

Either group can become defensive if they feel that you are talking specifically about them when you are discussing general trends. Be aware of this possibility and steer young adults away from this thinking when you observe it.

Image via Shutterstock

For teenagers, having any conversation about these events is important, and it is also important to work on their communication skills while you do so. Ensuring that your child is saying what they mean and meaning what they say is an important life skill that will serve them going forward.

Asking teenagers what they would or wouldn’t do in similar situations as the victims and the police is another tool to try to move the teenager into thinking from the first person regarding these situations. For black men, especially, a discussion about what to do when faced by police is important. My son has been instructed to do whatever police tell him to do and give his ID willingly, and if he is confused, simply demand a lawyer repeatedly.

Unfortunately, the likelihood that my white male child will need this information is small. However, since he began attending a magnet school, I have discussed with him what to do when riding in a car full of teenagers of various races as he often does on the way home from school. Basically, the advice is the same with an added suggestion that he tell all his friends to behave in a similar manner, deferring to adults to sort the situation out.

When faced with my son’s frustration and hopelessness, I sought the advice of his aunt, Crystal Blanton, pagan author and social activist.

“Validate that sense of hopelessness,” she told me. “That sense of hopelessness is the first step to action because it shows a full understanding of the scope of the problems faced.”

Blanton went on to explain that it is the sense of hopelessness that often leads to revolutionary action. “When people are desperate and hopeless, revolutions happen.”

She suggested we talk to my son about how that feeling can be transmuted into action and how any action toward change is important. “No one person’s actions change everything. Every person’s actions will change something,” she reminded me.

Faced with a teenager whose life experience is limited, I have encouraged him to live social justice in his daily life. When he judges people by the content of their character and not their skin, he can create change that reverberates throughout the universe. This action has an energetic effect well beyond his immediate sphere of influence.

Blanton and I went on to discuss the developmental differences in children and how they also impact a parent’s ability to talk about social justice issues. “Next to experience, watching a child come up to an abstract idea and not be able to mentally take the next leap is frustrating for them and for the parent,” I observed.

“Yes,” Blanton concurred. “A lot of this is parenting to develop critical thinking skills and helping the child increase their capacity to think critically about what is happening around them instead of parroting what they hear in the mainstream media.”

Parents should understand that children develop differently and their experiences also color their perception of problems like Ferguson. Don’t push your child if they don’t agree with you one hundred percent all the time. Walk them through the process of thinking about the issues without having a judgement about how they should think about those issues. This helps them develop and utilize critical thinking skills that are part of long term mental development. Questions that can be asked to help develop critical thinking skills include:

  • What makes someone powerful?
  • Why do people think differently about different types of people?
  • What makes up stereotypes?
  • How are stereotypes created?
  • How does the child uphold or reinforce stereotypes?

Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft is published occasionally on Agora. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

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