Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween! Evolution of a Jack-o-lantern...

Happy Halloween everyone - here is the evolution of our jack-o-lantern! First I went and found the Great Pumpkin! it was 22 lbs and a wonderful thing to behold - last year we had a "volunteer" pumpkin vine sprout spontaneously in the garden. However, this year we did not have such luck, so I had to go acquire our jack-o-lantern-to-be more mundanely. Here it is....

So, I took it home and began the process of turning a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern. First, I was quite fortunate in finding our little stash of Pumpkin Carving Tools ( ) which I have hung onto for years and carved quite a few generations of jack-o-lanterns. They do tend to find their way to odd corners of little used drawers, so finding them at Halloween always makes things interesting...

And the process continued for awhile - I was sort of carving with one hand and taking pictures with the other - non-sticky - hand, but after the next shot, I finally had to cease picture taking and get both hands into the situation...

When I finally had the shell of the pumpkin nicely hollowed out and smoothed, I then began comptemplating just WHAT to carve into it. This image popped into my head of a scruffy black Halloween cat in front of a full moon, so that is what I finally went with...this is where those pumpkin carving tools come in handy! They are beautifully designed to to this specific task, and they truly simplify the process!

And this was the end result of my jack-o-lantern design for this year's Halloween;

So may my little Halloween cat here bless you on your way...and hope everyone had a Happy Samhain! Oh, and of course, we will be fixing toasted pumpkin seeds...but I am holding back a handful of the seeds...

Next years Jack-o-lantern will come from our garden!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Remembering James Byrd Jr...

I encountered the news that was all over the place - Obama Signs Measure to Widen Hate Crimes Law.....
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was included as part of a $680 billion defense spending authorization act, which President Obama signed at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House....I have seen tons of blogs, discussions, and pictures, all of Mathew Shepard.

There was another name on the bill. There is another name on the law.
James Byrd Jr.

James Byrd Jr. was murdered in 1998 in a racially motivated act of hate where he was brutally dragged to death behind a pick up truck by three white men with Klu Klux Klan connections.

Let us not forget another man who died a victim of a vile hate crime that same year as Mathew Shepard.

James Byrd Jr.'s death, once senseless, may now have a purpose far greater than perhaps anyone could ever hope for by being associated with this law...
....that such vile crimes might be prosecuted fairly. that perhaps someday they may be ended.

Don't forget James Byrd Jr.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Moment to Brag....

I have to point out that my wife, Dream Weaver (at Grace DreamWeaver : Reflections of a Suburban Witch ( is working on starting a side line of hand crafted Jewelry...she has some posts about the beginnings of her art and business and I am quite proud of her!!! Here is an example of what she has been working on!
She will be setting up a blog about her jewelry craft and as soon as she does, I will link to it here.
She has a lot of cool stuff made - and hasn't even let our first vending experience in a sparsely attended, freezing cold rainy out door event discourage her!
She is amazing and I am very proud of her!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A New Friend...

Sitting outside the bank the other day, we spotted a small creature in the manicured bushes by the door way into the bank. We grabbed the camera and zoomed in and this is what we found...
There was a little chipmunk happily sunning himself in the top of the bush!

He seemed perfectly happy and content - all was right with his world and he was just soaking up the autumn sun.

This is the first time I really got to play with the zoom feature on our new (to us) camera. Since we didn't get the manual that had come with it, I am figuring it out as I go. These pictures were actually taken through the windshield of the car - so I did not have to get out and scare the little guy to death to try to get this lovely portrait.

It was a neat thing to share the lovely day with this chipmunk! And I think we are going to enjoy this camera. He eventually hopped down and skittered to a new set of bushes, where we lost sight of him. Hope the rest of his day was as pleasant as that moment in the sun.

I'll be returning to the post series I have going, but I just had to share the moment. Maybe it will share with someone else the joy of a perfect autumn day!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Moment Aside - Harvest

The Wheel of the Year has definitely turned. We have had mild frost. The trees are lightly touched with color - harbinger of the display of full autumn to come. We are merely days away from Oiche Shamhna - Samhain - the last harvest festival of the season, though most of the world knows it as Halloween and thinks in terms of the harvest of candy, garnered by the age old chant of "Trick or Treat!"
We have a garden, several in fact - one is a hay bale garden, built up and ringed with tree stumps. It produces all kinds of things - herbs, one year a volunteer pumpkin vine that made us very happy, cantaloupe, etc...and tomatoes.
LOTS of tomatoes.
We do not buy tomatoes in the growing season - late spring to early autumn our garden delights in great over abundance of them! Our other gardens produce strawberries and cucumbers and raspberries.
We are not selfish with the tomatoes - I know the lower vines' tomatoes get raided by possum and rabbit - and if there isn't a raccoon in the mix I will surprised, though I have never seen them around here. The higher tomatoes with nibbled bites were a little tougher to fathom, until the night I startled a young deer into flight across the yard. They are all welcome to the bounty - we still have more than we can keep up with, even with their help. Tomatoes go on salads, used in sandwiches and burgers, eaten straight off the vine and of course - Fried Green Tomatoes! We have been very blessed. We live near poverty level - it is no small thing to have an over abundance of food in ones yard!
But the growing season is ending - there were three tomatoes left - the ones pictured above, and the vines were showing the marks of frost and time. I harvested the last three, and then pulled the vines and the tomato cages and frame work out, setting aside the latter to store 'til next year, and gently placing the vines on the burn pile. Any remaining frost damaged fruit I let fall in the garden it self to compost and then shoveled the dark rich earth around and turned it.
Tonight I fixed the last meal of fried green tomatoes until next summer, giving thanks for our sturdy little garden's bounty. Later tonight, I will take a small offering - a libation - out for the fey, or the genus loci, or the land wights - or perhaps for the very Earth itself to give back the gift we have been given. Of course, there is more to be done - some turning and mulching, and pine bark to insulate and protect the garden through the long winter. I give thanks to God for the good earth, remembering that we are NOT, as mistranslations of Genesis imply, in domination over Creation, but a part of it and hold it in loving stewardship and care.
But tonight, we can say our harvest is safely in, the wheel is turning and we have eaten once again of the food of the land we live on. What is more sacred than this - the land that you care for and til and plant with your own hands, that sustains you and feeds you? Tonight I will stand on holy ground, this small circle of good earth and give honor and respect with a grateful heart!
Siochan leat!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monotheism, Polytheism and this Episcopagans Journey, Part Two : The Dark Night of the Soul

Because you come to us by profession of your faith, I ask you therefore, to reject sin, and to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, and to confess the faith of the church, in which you were baptized.
1) Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Response: I do.
2) Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?
Response: I do.
3) Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
Response: I will.
4) Do you vow to submit in obedience to the leadership of the church in work and worship in all things, becoming a faithful member of the congregation?


I do.

With these words, at 8 years of age, I became a "communing" member of my church - able to take communion, to vote in church elections and congregational meetings and be considered a professing Christian and member of the church. I never forgot the moment and the words. They reverberated down my soul, even at age 8 - a solomn vow for all my life ahead of me.

18 years later, these words, these vows cost me more than I could have ever believed of my faith, my sanity and my ability to trust my church, or any church.

Continuing from part one, I graduated my Christian High School, and my very sheltered environment of home and church and school - all enmeshed and one in a doctrinal unity - and went off into the secular wide world of college. My father would have happily sent me to a conservative Christian college, locally or elsewhere, but the funds simply did not allow it. So instead I attended a local secular (by my Christian background's standards) college and fell head long into normalcy - people who had varying views, who drank or smoke or did drugs, who were gay, who were not Christians...things I had never been around in my whole life and had no experience in coexisting with whatsoever. My third roommate, Sceptic - and the one I was to room with the rest of my college years, (and Hi by the way, when you read this!) was atheistic, and talked about Carl Sagan the way I talked about God, at the time. What is interesting is, that she and I became dear friends, and were able to discuss our separate views without rancor or hate. In theory, by my church's standards, we shouldn't have even managed to be in the same room - in reality, love transcended our differences.

But despite my apparent ability to more or less fit in, the fact was that I was woefully unprepared for the reality of life. I trusted. I made friends easily. I viewed everyone through the lens of my own experience - that of my sheltered world, where other than the mindless cruelty of my peers, which eventually faded, people were basically loving and trustworthy. (although I must point out - one of my friends was permanently disillusioned by the vicious behavior of our classmates and to this day views her time with me at the Christian High school as some of the worst years of her life...I cannot say that she is wrong. Kids are brutal in their social milieux and there were no anti-bullying programs back then.)

So, having this gentle view of the world, when I met up with a man who was a predator in the guise of a "friend", I became a victim of sexual assault and violence. I had no map for this. I had nothing that had ever told me how to survive this, despite scriptural platitudes. I sank into a killing depression, and eventually left college, almost unable to function.

I wish to say, here by the way - I have survived this event of more than 25 years ago - survived and gone on to thrive. For any who reads this who has lived through such a situation, rape is a nightmare, but healing is possible - get help...reputable help, particularly survivor support groups with good moderators. There is life on the other side, and it can be a good healthy happy life!

So, I finally went home...found a low paying mall job, and tried to figure out what to do with myself. There was some gentle friction between me and my parents - no fights, but the sudden conjunction of lives that no longer fit. Not only was I radically different from the person who went off to college, but I was also a far more independent person. I could see future conflict arising, so I moved out, acquiring as a roommate, one of my co-workers who also needed to get out. She and I were of an age and similar in thoughts - both artists, both extroverted, both needing to get out of our parents shadows and issues. "Lynn" and I became fast friends, and fairly inseparable. She is the first person I ever told of the assault, she in turn shared some of her past with me (her story is not mine to tell, except where it intersects with my story.)
And then the unthinkable, the unbelievable, the unmentionable happened...she and I became lovers. The situation was deeply closeted. I was torn between being happier than I had ever been in my life, and totally horrified - convinced that I was going to hell, that as a Christian, I had committed the most heinous sin imaginable - that should it be known, I would never ever again be accepted by my faith community. (there was some truth to that last, as the distant future proved). I confided my situation to one friend - Starchild - the only one I trusted enough to tell for certain reasons, and when she gently suggested I might be gay, I metaphorically screamed denial and ran the other way. It. Could. Not. Be. And yet, there is no doubt I was head over heels in love with Lynn, would have spent the rest of my life with her, if events had turned out differently.

But Lynn, however much she loved me, and for all our loving intimacy, was NOT gay. She shortly met a man whom she fell in love with, and in the callousness of youth and disregard, took him to our bed. I walked in on them. This scenario eventually ended with her moving out and marrying him. It also led me, blind with depression and self hate, to attempted suicide. I moved into a small single rental afterwards, explained away the attempt at suicide as a result of the rape, and not the despair of finding my lover in a man's arms in our bed, and lamely tried to get my life going once again. (I won't say that the rape had nothing to do with the suicide...I was a freaking mess by then all the way across the board. But it was a lovely red herring to blame, rather than deal with the hint of the possibility that I was gay!)
Some attempts at finding help in the therapy and psychiatric communities turned out to be the time, rape was considered to be something that you could get over in about 6 weeks, rather than the life long damaging event it actually is. And I had full blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (still do, though largely in abeyance.). The one counselor, who almost put her finger on the pin on the map and caught the possible significance of Lynn in my life, I ran from as fast as I could as my religious driven denial continued. I could not be, simply was not and never would, be gay. I was a Christian! This was wrong! It was sin...said so right there in the Bible. Therefore, I was not - WOULD not be - gay. God, how obtuse can you get! It's almost funny now....almost. Because what happened next nearly finished me.

I had reconnected with my church since crawling home from college, and moving out on my own after Lynn's betrayal - I rejoined the choir, and became a lay worker with the youth ministry. I was starting to find that I might survive and even be happy, despite nightmares and PTSD symptoms. I missed Lynn like I might miss oxygen, but of course I had renounced all that evil, and therefore could not acknowledge that. So I threw myself into my old haven, the church. And eventually Had A Thought...of course! The church is here to help you, you idiot! Go to them about the assault, let them counsel you. So I did.

I went to my minister, who was very gentle, and sad about what had happened to me, and paired me off with a woman in the church for counseling, whose heart was in the right place, but had NO clue what to do with me. It was a good Bible study, but it did not remotely touch on the issues I was struggling with. And then came the final betrayal...

I was working with the youth group under the leadership of the youth minister. While meeting with him to go over lesson plans shortly after I had confided in deepest confidence my past with the senior minister...I was pulled out and called into the other office. There the senior minister bluntly, in a matter of about 2 sentences informed me that because of the rape, the session had decided it was not appropriate that I be working with the youth group, and I would have to withdraw from the youth ministry.

My entire world crumbled and imploded. I sat there, struggling to speak, to say anything, all my victim's self blame and horror rising to choke my throat. And he just sat there and look at me and waited in patient silence for my utter capitulation. I finally got out a strangled "Can we talk about this, do I have any choices?" No, I did not, he informed me. There was no discussion possible. I was officially kicked out of the program. The compassion that had originally been in him was simply not there. He was cold, distant and removed.

And all I could think, all I could manage to hear in my mind was my own 8 year old voice, 18 years ago saying "I do." to the question laid before me - "Do you vow to submit in obedience to the leadership of the church in work and worship in all things, becoming a faithful member of the congregation?" I had promised. I had given my vow, my word, my honor. Utter obedience...

In the eternity of those few seconds, I swallowed agony and submitted.

Very well, I said.
They had not told the youth minister, so I had to go back down the hall, and tell him that I was not allowed to work with the youth any more. I left my carefully researched lesson plans at his feet metaphorically, and walked out blind with tears into the sunshine, feeling that somehow, I was the evil one for being raped, that somehow I must have asked for it, that I was at fault...the trap that awaits most victims, and I had just begun to believe in myself again.

In author Lois MacMaster Bujold's works, is a point made in the words of her main character; "The problem with death before dishonor is a survivors problem. If you live long enough, the world sorts itself into two categories - the dead and the fore sworn."

I was not fore sworn....but I was certainly for all purposes walking dead. I spent the next 10 years, still in this church, faithfully singing in the choir...and simply not engaging with much of anything else, or trusting another living soul. I was totally severed from my community, and they never even noticed. I was obviously up there singing, wasn't I?

My community and I were severed, and I had simply no where to turn that I trusted any more.

And thus my relationship with Organized Conservative Christianity was shattered, though it took another decade and many changes in my life, before the final amputation occurred.

The Fool had fallen off the precipice at last...

More to come....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monotheism, Polytheism and this Episcopagan's Journey, Part 0ne

I titled this blog "Walking the Labyrinth" for a life has been a journey that has wrapped around in what seems to be an infinite variety of pattern. I return always to similar places - and yet they are different every time. Unending changes, and unending similarities.

I grew up in a Presbyterian church in the deep southern Bible belt. I was baptized as an infant, and my parents and my church saw to it that I absorbed traditional Christianity like a sponge from the cradle. I had a difficult childhood medically - I spent 4 - 5 years on a leg brace and crutches, from about age 5 1/2 to about age 10. That journey including things like traction, a body cast, and lengthy hospital stay. This was interpreted to me as temporary by the medical community - every month, every year was the last one I would have to spend in this state. The original prognosis was 6 months to a year and then I would be walking. My peers were of course unwittingly cruel - I was different, Other and alien. My simple faith as a child was my comfort, as was my family...and books.

Many, many books. I read everything I could get my hands on - it was how I experienced the world. And perhaps that is the earliest clue as to why my horizons are so much broader than the narrow path my church laid out for me. One book I read very early on as a child trapped in my medical bonds was "Wind in the Willows", Kenneth Grahame's gentle anthropomorphic adventures of Rat, Mole, Badger and Toad. I was deeply affected by one chapter in particular - Chapter Seven - "Piper at the Gates of Dawn". In this chapter a small creature goes missing from it's family and Rat and Mole join the the dawn, they discover the missing baby otter sleeping, protected and safe at the feet of the god Pan, or the Green Man, who is implied to be the god of the woodland creatures. They see him briefly and then are blinded by the rising sun and he is gone, leaving behind the small otter. All that remains are fragments of song, imperfectly heard and soon forgotten:

Lest the awe should dwell
And turn your frolic to fret
You shall look on my power at the helping hour
But then you shall forget!
forget, forget

Lest limbs be reddened and rent
I spring the trap that is set
As I loose the snare you may
glimpse me there
For surely you shall forget!
Helper and healer, I cheer
Small waifs in the woodland wet
Strays I find in it, wounds I bind in it
Bidding them all forget!

I remember a thrill going through a small child, I had been taught that God was to be feared with awe, and that Jesus was our protector and friend...and here were echoes of that, deity in different form! I never forgot, ever after, that chapter and it's affect on me.

I grew...I was pronounced "cured" - though I can truly give the medical establishment no credit for my freedom when it came at last. I gained my feet and supposedly those years were past and gone. But of course I was marked by them forever. My parents kept me in private Christian schools from Kindergarten through the 12th grade. In my childhood, during those difficult early years, they placed me in a Lutheran church school for Kindergarten through sixth grade. This became a quiet source of gentle confusion for me - the differences between Lutheran and Presbyterian were profound. So at school we had the Advent Candles and the Liturgical Seasons, and said the Lords prayer differently, while at church such things were frowned upon as being inappropriate or unacceptable. I kept my confusion in my heart - truth be told I LOVED the Liturgy, and the great Seasonal wheel of the Church year, and missed them when I was at church. Another mile marker on this journey...
I grew up, officially joined my church at age 8 which was an appalling young age for so great and heavy a vow. In my early teens my church split off from the parent denomination, becoming one of several "reformed Presbyterian" denominations. I, knowing only what I was told, was taught that the original denomination had grown corrupt and was misinterpreting the Bible and other horrible things. Dutifully in my parents wake, I cast my vote and so became a charter member of the new reformed Presbyterian church. At first, the changes were invisible - we stayed in our great almost 100 year old sanctuary, the minister remained the same, the sermons sounded no different. I was an innocent who trusted...and who loved God with all my heart. I left grammar school and moved on to 7th through 12th grades at a Presbyterian Church school of the same denomination as my church. Needless to say my innocent faith soon became indoctrination - the world was an evil place, Christians were to be soldiers who conquered in Christs name and the battle was for souls. I became that most obnoxious and earnest of all creatures - a devout evangelistic teenager who had swallowed down whole the militant language of my church's prime agenda.

And yet, there was also an echo that remained with me in my heart - from the forbidden Liturgy of my childhood, the books that I read and never discussed with anyone, the flare of recognition of a God of Love and not of Hate in certain scriptures, that was slowly being buried under the rise of moral conservatism's darkest incarnation. I could still hear that Horn blowing at the Gates of Dawn...I was happiest focused on the Christ of the Gospels, on his actions and his life, rather than on these knotty thorny esoteric theological arguments. I yearned for a faith that DID, rather than just sat there in it's pew. The hint of the dichotomy that was to tear me apart later was already rising - how do you square a God of Love with the Hate and dishonesty of His people? I some how absorbed the idea that God was love, that worship was doing rather than sitting and being spoon-fed, that Christians were a Priesthood of Believers and God was immanent and indwelling. In short, buried under the bitter load of dry conservatism, I was a budding Christian Mystic, in a church that damned any form of mysticism as of Satanic lies.

Meanwhile the Church I was a member of was slowly stifling the life out of it's people - worship becoming regimented, "Pagan" celebrations of the years turning questioned, women turned out of any role other than baby sitters and cooks and cleaners within the church walls. The Priesthood of all believers became suppressed, forgotten, and the male ministers and session gained in power. Contemporary music was of the Devil - I had acquired the skills of playing the guitar for use in the church only to find guitars forbidden. My greatest joy was to be in the Church Choir and to sing - an active living act of worship that, little did I realize until much later was all that was sustaining me and holding me to the church.
All of this, mind you, was deeply subliminal, fragmentary, deep withing my heart, and even I didn't consciously realize it. Outwardly, conscientiously, I was what I appeared to be - a devout conservative thoroughly indoctrinated young Christian. But the distant sound of the Piper did come to me now and then and at times I was uneasy for no reason I could fathom. It is a journey that is only clear in retrospect, with now obvious twists and turns.

Little did I know that I was ripe for a crisis of faith, for a collision with truths greater than the narrow interpretations doled out to me, and I didn't even know I was the Fool on the edge of a fall off the precipice in a much greater journey

And the fall came...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Moderation in All Things...

I have a friend's blog whom I follow because of the scholarship, complexity and strength of his views and writing ability. His blog is "A Heathen's Day" at . He is Heathen (think Norse Gods and Goddesses), a proactive polytheist and a deep scholar. You may agree with him fervently, you may disagree with him violently, but it's impossible to be indifferent around him.
In one of his latest posts, Trying to Understand Extremism
(Monday, October 05, 2009, Author: Hrafnkell Haraldsson) he discusses extremism verses moderation. It got some interesting thoughts going in my head...I have spent many, many long hours struggling with the conundrum of extremism - particularly of the Christian variety.

Being a moderate - probably liberal and with a part of my path that is pagan - Christian, I have a great deal of pain in my heart over the actions of my - *sigh* - idiot brothers and sisters over in the right wingnut corner who are making life miserable for the rest of us. What drives a person to the point that they cannot see the middle of the road? Cannot walk a mile in another's shoes? Cannot see a much wider and deeper world than the narrow range they permit themselves?

Paradigms, schema...let me belabor this for a minute. A schema is a psychology term that defines - in lay person's speak - the way the human brain seems to be inclined to create frame works for organizing information. This is useful because it lets us organize information quickly based on things we have already learned. We all do it to greater and lesser degrees, beginning from infancy on up. A child is informed that the big shaggy four footed tail wagging thing that just slobbered all over him is a "dog". He repeats the word several times, in reference to other four footed tailed beings of varying shapes and sizes and is praised for remembering that they are doggys. He has a "Schema" for the concept of "dog". Then he goes out to his Uncle's farm, and there on the other side of the fence is the biggest four footed, tailed thing he has seen so far in his life - however, he has looked it over, it has four legs, yup, there's the wagging thing on the back end, and he proudly proclaims "doggy!" No, he is told to his shock and dismay! Not doggy...cow. Uh oh, no praise forth coming this time. He must form a new schema that is "not Doggy", a "cow" schema.
When you are three, this is stressful! This is huge! But you get there..."Cow!" you proudly proclaim! Praise and re-enforcement fallow. All good. At which point, your uncle comes down the field RIDING on one of the darn things! WOW! But you are good. You have your new box labeled "cow". Four legs, tail, can handle this. So you point, and proudly say "Cow!" At which point, you are told, no dear...horsie. At which point, being three, and discovering the world is MUCH bigger than you ever thought, you have hit your expiration date, you melt down and must be consoled with ice cream!!!
Ok...humorous way of looking at it...but lets look at it in terms of a larger picture. Schema are ways of learning patterns. When the pattern does not fit, it causes stress. Fear. Anxiety. Probably has a good evolutionary basis - if the pattern didn't fit, it could be dangerous. Monotheists have a schema for one thing and one thing only. One deity. The penalty for transgressing that schema is far far worse than missing out on an ice cream cone. Aside from theological teachings that include scary things like "hell" as a consequence of stepping outside the schema, the pattern, the box; there is also the fear of rejection by ones community,the fear of getting it wrong, the stress of being outside the pattern, the safe place, the herd, the pack. Also another good survival point. However, schemas can influence and hamper the processing of new information. Hardened, limiting patterns of thinking give rise to limited or biased discourses and prejudices. A polytheist, that has a schema for varied views and multiple deities, has built into the very wiring of his or her schema a flexibility that a bred to the bone monotheist does not. A deeply conservative, right wing extremest has schemas set in concrete, and to set one foot outside them is terrifying. Fear breads hate and anger - hate and anger breed horrors. Everyone I have ever spoken with, or whose written account of their change of paths has at one time or another felt soul deep terror as the foundational schemas of their lives crumbled. I am one of them.

I spent two years consciously tearing my world views a part, struggling for identity, for understanding, fighting free of the schemas I was raised in - brainwashed in. It was a rich, holy time, a transformative time. However, since I was working my way from far extreme right wing Christianity, it was also terrifying. If you wish to read a Conservative Christian monotheists journey to polytheism and goddess worship as an example, may I recommend "Dance of the Dissident Daughter" by Sue Monk Kidd. She was a successful conservative Baptist women's author writing devotional works, when one shattering moment tore apart the foundation of her world...and she painfully left the narrow confines of her beliefs, her schemas, to seek divinity else where, in Goddesses and in the pagan roots of the world. She in effect rebuilt her schemas. And she paid dearly - she lost her career - at the time - her community turned on her, and her marriage was rocked to the ground. Small wonder so many of us take the safe road, the patterns given to us, seeking safety in extremism. See, if we are a-l-l the way over here, in the extreme corner here, then we are safe. If we are near the middle, the line, the dangerous edge, where the catalysts of change lurk, we might lose our way, our identity, our schema. When I am not actively struggling with the desire to wring my idiotic extremist Christian bretherens necks for being so narrow, prejudicial and hateful, I can feel pity for them, and sorrow for the trap they are in, for the fear they feel, for the narrow prison of their schemas. Fear becomes anger - because it is more empowering to feel anger than fear, anger and rage become hate, and with hate they justify their actions...and at the bottom of it all is a three year old yearning to get it right, to feel safe, to have boundaries without all that stress of dealing with change.
And nothing is more certain in this world than that it is not a favorite song writer of mine says "The only gospel that I know is things are gonna change" (Wishing Chair - Kiya Heartwood "Fiddlin' On") Moderates have more flexibility built into their schemas. They weather change better. They see further and walk better for being able to envision someone else's views.
I always try to remember when I encounter an extremist - which living in the Bible Belt south as I do, that extremist is 99 times out of a hundred is going to be a right wing Christian - that there but for grace go I...and that fear and rigidity are the driving forces underneath their actions. It's not always possible to do. But I try.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

First Degree Initiation; Part One

Earlier on this blog I posted a series of dreams that I had that reflected strongly my call to pursue initiation in my Wiccan Pagan community. (see tags : dreams, initiation) About two weeks ago I received my First Degree. I will be posting some blog posts on the Initiation and how it went, what it has meant, and what comes next...So this particular post might aptly be sub-titled:

Part One: "In Which We survive planning the blasted thing!"

I want to give an account of some of the craziness leading up to the initiation itself. There is a degree of humor here as was a little nuts in places! Perhaps it will give hope to others on this path who are dealing with the process...that even if it looks insane, not to give up.

Three people were involved in my degree process...Dreamweaver (of course), my friend Priestess - who was present at all of Dreamweaver's degrees, a nice piece of continuity, and she ran the Circle - and my friend Hermit - third degrees all in their spheres and traditions.

I had let be known that, while my first degree was vastly important to me, going all out for "high church" ceremony was not expected (the term "high church" being a bit of a joke on my being Episcopalian as well!). I know how tight every one's time and finances are - Hermit literally has no circle garb at all. For her comfort level alone I would have been perfectly content to have stood there in my blue jeans. However, Priestess has a life time of robes and circle garb in her closets - Hermit was promptly be-robed the second she walked in the door!

There were funny moments - originally, Priestess had called me the week before on Thursday, and asked when did I want to do my First, as she was completely satisfied with work I have put into a long preparatory past heading for the moment. My schedule being such that it is - insane, particularly if you factor in Dreamweavers schedule (goes to work a 4 am and it goes down hill from there!) I thought about the way the month was to play out and said, OK....Saturday. She said "Great!" So we talked a minute about some nuts and bolts type scheduling and it suddenly became evident she was thinking "Saturday a week from now". I broke in and said, "No, no, THIS Saturday."

(Long extended silence on the phone)
Very small voice from my Priestess "Why do you hate me?"

After some back and forth on dates and schedules, at that moment we went ahead and decided for THAT Saturday, 2 days away. Priestess now in full blown panic mode. Then we started discussing some points of the ritual. She trotted out a few things she was going to throw in. And I balked.

Me: "Absolutely not!"
Priestess: "But..."
Me: "NO!"

(Irresistible force meets immovable object - tickets on sale, one day only, get your popcorn here.)

She wanted to include my being bound and blindfolded for the ritual - which I was opposed to.
After a fair go around on the subject, we finally got out of head butting mode - friendly, it wasn't a fight - and calmed down enough to discuss it. After hearing her reasons for including certain things, and after she heard my reasons for NOT including them, she actually dropped those elements from the ritual. She viewed this as symbolizing my leaving the past behind, whereas I felt that since I was not leaving my "past" behind, but was to continue walking a dual spiritual path (Episcopalian/Wiccan) that the binding and the blindfold were not appropriate for me. So...that got resolved all right!

Huge sigh of relief on my part...and then was more than a little guilty. One simply does not dictate to ones Priestess. It's not respectful! I was embarrassed. On the other hand, said elements ran counter to what I am, and truly did not fit, which to her everlasting credit, once we got out of the "But-NO!" mode, she instantly saw what I was saying and agreed with me. I did apologize to her very humbly.
We got some ground work laid and got off the phone.

20 minutes later my phone rang again and it was Hermit. I answered and was IMMEDIATELY greeted with - not "Hello..." or "Priestess called and told me about your degree ceremony and asked me to participate..." No, I hit answer on my phone and started to say, "Hi, Hermit!" when I was blasted off my seat by:


Picking up my now slagged and melted phone I tentatively and intelligently said "Um...what?"
Turned out there was no way Hermit could make it on such short notice. Period. After calming her down, and texting Dreamweaver as I talked to see if our schedule could be re-manuvered - it could - I caved in and set it for the less convenient date of the following Saturday. I then spend the next few hours trying to get Priestess back on the phone before she stroked out planning everything out for 2 days later to let her know I was bowing to the inevitable and agreeing to Saturday a week away. It turned out to truly be easier on all involved, despite the scramble on our schedule, so I am glad I did so. I do occasionally let my enthusiasm get the better of me. And there is another factor involved...most Circles, even big ones, that I have been in have been unscripted, or loosely scripted, which has worked very well. Priestess profoundly prefers a tightly scripted Circle with everything written out, for even small Circles. You can see how we wound up tangled! For that matter, as good as I am on my feet in circle without a script, *I* would probably script a Degree Ceremony of any level to some degree. her the week was a lot kinder. Altho, once they forgave me for raising their blood pressures so profoundly, it has been a point of high hilarity among us. So that all worked out OK in the end.
Truthfully, giving myself the week to meditate, think, journal and prepare was very necessary, and I would have shorted myself profoundly if I had insisted on the first date.

I was required to find 4 things to bring to the circle that for me represented, symbolically, the four elements. I found over the course of the week a beautiful river stone that had 3 striated lines in it that represented earth. For air, I chose a huge red tailed hawk feather. (for about a week on my college campus this summer I kept finding these enormous hawk feathers, in roughly the same spot. Do not know why...hoping nothing happened to the hawk, but I kept having this mental image of a naked hawk very embarrassed somewhere! Hope they were simply sheds!) For water, I went through the beach shells we have collected, mostly off the coast of N.C. and found a beautiful spiral shaped shell! And for fire, I chose a piece of obsidian - the molten glass cooled from volcanic lava. I was very excited about this.

Then the next funny conversation occurred between me and my priestess.
Priestess: "Anything that you want to put on the altar that has meaning for you, particularly circle tools, please bring them. Do you have an athame, by the way?"
Me: "Oh yes, white handled deers antlered for the, should I bring the swords?"
(Long silence.)
Priestess: "Well, you shouldn't be using swords."
Me, suddenly feeling very nervous: "Um...but I already have..."
Priestess: "When have you have two!? Are they consecrated?"
Me in a small voice: "Uh...yeah...the big one I used in the warlocking you ran that I backed you and Truthteller up in. Dedicated that one for that purpose, and then cleared it completely, re-dedicated it, and have used it ever since in circles. And I used it to ward with in your Croning..."
Priestess: "Oh...I remember that sword...what about the other one?"
Me: (in an even smaller voice) "The other one is the one I used when I Priest-ed the Winter Solstice Circle with Dreamweaver as Priestess, for Star's were there...I drew the Circle with it."
Priestess: "Oh. Um. Yes, you did, didn't you...(another long silence, deep sigh) Ok, bring the swords!"

I think, at this point I am lucky my priestess did not throw me back for being a big pain in the ass, however unintentional! *head desk thud* (note: in many traditions, swords are only allowed to 3rd Degrees. Part of the situation is that I have been functioning as a 3rd Degree Priest for a number of years, without the Degree ceremonies. Hence why I need to go ahead and get this done!)

The next interesting moment was the conversation on my dual path. I am Christian and Wiccan - Episcopagan as we term it. My Priest at my Episcopal church knows this. It was discussed before I was confirmed as an Episcopalian, and Father M. has been wonderful about acknowledging that duality, even at times referring to Deity as Goddess from the pulpit! Dreamweaver wears her pentacle to take communion. And in the pagan community I have come up through, my fellow Pagans/Wiccans have made likewise efforts to include Christianity in Circles when I have been present. I felt strongly that both my paths should be acknowledged. It's important to me. So...we wound up having a triple wick candle on the altar to represent my Christian path, and I did the invocation for that as a part of the Circle.

The point where my poor Priestess finally hit her "Absolutely NOT!" moment was the inclusion of a Fey call. The group I was in some years back that I circled with included a candle for the Fey, and an Invitation to them in Circle. The premise is that they ARE going to show up...freaking invite them! The fairytale of Sleeping Beauty ( and no, not the Disney Version, although it has the same point to it!) has a good point. Don't stint on inviting the Fey. You can set a Circle to deal with both the Seelie and the Unseelie, but but not inviting them can for the unpredictable! (remind me to post the tale of when Dreamweaver and I got Pixie led all the way off our map after a big Gathering....we wound up in an all night McDonalds at about 3 am with our useless map spread out on the counter, beginning with the words, "Ok, what STATE are we in?" We finally got home about 5:00 am. LOL! Hear my lesson - don't stint the Fey folk! ) This is not a part of Priestess' traditions though and frankly, as she told me, completely weirded her out every time we used to do it. We worked out a compromise - the Fey had an offering placed out side the house for them, and we did not do a Circle fey call. My priestess graciously gave in on what was weirding me turn!

The final visit from the screw up Fairy came the day of the ceremony (hastily moved inside to Priestess's gorgeous altar room due to pouring rain) when I realized that at the last moment, before leaving to go over guessed it. We had forgotten something. (this is not surprising - with our combined insane schedules, I have days when I have to check what year it is!) And of course the forgotten item was the Initiatory Cord for my Degree - a Green Cord. In the pouring rain I slogged off to a hobby store (after Walmart failed to have the blasted things). My intention was to get all 3 Cords at once so that as I go through my other 2 initiations, the cords will match in type, size and length and color shade.

Well...the hobby store had only one cord, that fit what I needed and it was green, but they had nothing else I could pick up for the other two. I grabbed it anyway, now getting close to being late. Please understand - I am not known for running on Pagan standard time and tend to be fairly punctual. Got back on the road in the downpour, wishing that I had a small boat as other cars bobbed by me in the next lane! And of course, I had chosen the hobby store above Priestess house with the idea that it would save time and I would just drop down the road and over to where I was heading.

I underestimated the level of traffic snarls and sheer weight of metal sitting bumper to bumper between the rows of strip malls and shops. This is September. NOT December! It's pouring rain! There is an economic down turn - you people aren't supposed to have money to shop! Where did you all come from!? After inching my way down the road to the next traffic light for awhile, I realized I was now officially late to my own First Degree Ceremony...

Cell phone communication occurred, several times. Everyone else was already there. I inched another fifty feet. It is still pouring rain. The nearest car has hoisted a small sail and a school of fish swam by, as the light changed....repeat for several miles of stop and go traffic....

I did eventually get there...soaking wet and looking like a drowned red-headed rat.

And that will be the subject of the next series of posts.

Seriously, anyone out there who is getting their degrees, or joining the (fill in the blank) or any life transitioning event - don't let craziness and snafu's get you down. You will survive it - and the joy is worth every minute!

We Pause for a Word....

I have to take a moment and point out that lately, I am not blogging as much as I have been, due to School. I am in four classes, with several other school related scenarios and it's only gonna get more hectic as I go...which means I am now way behind on my usual pace at blogging, email, face book and other Internet activities.
For those who have been reading faithfully and following this blog who wondered what happened to me, thank you for your patience, and there will be more posts...just spread further apart for a bit.
I'm still here, and remain dedicated to this blog. So keep reading...