Friday, October 29, 2010

Brief Thoughts on the Nature of Sacrifice...

Its late at night, and I am on my way to bed after this...tomorrow night - tonight rather - is my 3rd Degree Initiation. Part of what I have been asked to consider is the nature of sacrifice, and what sacrifice do I bring to become a 3rd Degree priest.
I don't know what my group has planned for this...they are doing a ritual drama, that much I know, and it centers around the image of the Green Man, the Horned God, the Lord of the Harvest. That is the God of Sacrifice, in any of His incarnations. Note please - sacrifice is not martyrdom. Sacrifice to me does not mean self abnegation, or destruction. Self sacrifice is commitment in not self forgetfulness, but rather self transcendence. Self is not lost, but is laid down and then received back again.

The Green Man, the Lover of the Goddess, whose love is sacrificial in that it is total commitment to the moment, to the joy, to the giving and receiving...

The Horned God, who is the Hunter and the Hunted...who seeks to feed and care for a family, who is the prey who gives itself to the Hunter and whose soul is honored, and whose entire body is used to sustain life, not wasted for sport or cruelty...

The Lord of the Harvest, the Reaper of the Harvest, the seed that was sown and died in the earth to bring forth fruit and grain for the winter and the famine and the time of nourish others with food and fulfillment...

And finally, Jesus, known as the Christ, who came into this world out of balance, from eternity into time, to lay down himself, and his life to restore unto the world life and wholeness...and lived again, receiving Self back with the rising of the sun...

As a Priest of the Green Man, and a Priest in the Priesthood of Believers, I seek not to martyr or destroy Self, but to transcend Self, to find my greatest joy in my daily life, my commitment to my wife and our rich full relationship, my commitment to serve and to care for those in need, to reach my utmost for His highest, my connection with Deity, and with the great world around me.
I lay down self in this...I have been the Fool on the journey, of self discovery, of life, of learning. It is a journey of transformation, of change and it is one that is not over, but will continue to spiral around, forever the same and forever changing and new. And I will receive back myself, whole and entire, reborn and cradled in the earth and the light and the love of this world. I will allow those who seek to nurture and care for me to do so, as I seek to nurture and care for them. And I will be shelter and comfort and love to those around me.
I seek to be in this world the God who dwells within, and with both hands - their toil, their art and craft, their strength, yes and even their weakness - to give back to the world what has been given to me.
Thus the nature of sacrifice.
Blessed be.

Halloween Pumpkin Carving 2010 The Green Man

Having encountered Pumpkin Carving this year - not just a 2D face or scene, but actual 3D sculpture, I decided to take a swing at it! And being ambitious, I chose a Green Man for my subject. Now, the trick is to pick a pumpkin with a thick rind so that you have something to work with...note, this will not work with one of the carvable fake pumpkins. They're not thick enough.
I didn't have the right tools, and the online tutorials were all very helpful, but made one feel very incompetent, given the level of art they were showing! In fact, I have never done any 3D carving or sculpting like this before in my life. So...this is a big step. Here is how it went....
The Pumpkin - you figure out which has the thickest rind by weight - line up a bunch of pumpkins roughly the same size and test the weight - the heaviest one is the one that's the thickest.

Skinned off the outside peel...really needed better tools for this, but I made it work.

Roughed in a face, carving in the deepest parts first, as per tutorials.

Ok...looking pretty good....

Had to try a candle at this point...hmmmnnn. Not too bad!
My favorite picture of the lot - even though it's not finished here...

There's even an acorn!
Loved doing this, had a wonderful learning experience and look forward to doing more and better next Halloween! And intend to practice this summer on watermelon! WaterJacks!
Have a Happy Halloween and a Blessed Samhain!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Animals All the Same....

Discussing animal totems, power animals, etc, in the post on my 3rd degree ceremony coming up, made me want to consider the concept some more. Having animals as totems or personal symbols or sources of personal power or identification is found in most shamanic cultures...the indigenous population of America before Europe moved in had totem animals as part of their culture, depending on tribe and custom. Fortunately or unfortunately, that is not something I feel a connection to, beyond a fascination in the comparative religion and anthropology sense. Far too many modern Americans, with pure European ancestry or a few possible drops of "Native American" ancestry attempt to claim the religious customs of this continent's original inhabitants and many of them attempt to profit by them financially. (on the other hand, the area I live in, Cherokee descent is fairly common...and frankly, it is not impossible for there to be a reincarnative connection either. My thought is only adopt the American Aboriginal ways if you can do so in good Old rant here.)

My ancestry is Celtic...Scots, Irish, Briton, and possibly Norse. Mostly Scots. The ancient culture of the Celts, BC, spanned from the Rhine River in Germany to the tip of the British Isles and the current remnants of the Celtic world (so marked by the language) are Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Britany. From this, my descendancy is pronouncedly Scots (Martin, and MacAlistair primarily - in this area, 1 in 3 is of Scottish descent.)
The Celts were polytheistic and shamanistic with many animal associations - Epona, the horse, the Salmon of Knowledge, etc. (I am so paring down and simplifying this - if I ever tackle the subject of the Celts full on it would be a series.) Which brings us to Foxes.

My animal - the fox - my totemic, power symbol, etc. Maybe familiar. How did I find the fox or how the fox found me...

First off, as a budding pagan many years ago, and learning to visualize circles, shielding, etc, the mental or astral image of a fox as a protector of my home kept cropping up. OK. I went with it. Then came a big pagan event several years later, when I attended a very confusing ritual designed to "help you find your totem animal". I say confusing because, folks, just never ever do a ritual visualization where you take your participants down deep into the earth....and then your next statement is "you look up at the stars in the night sky"! Talk about an astral train wreck! At any rate, despite that particular...ah...unfortunate concept, my trance survived and I looked around and "saw" in the vision my fox approach. And I remember the smells and sounds of the night becoming preternaturally clear for a moment, as though for a brief instant in time I experienced the world through the senses of a fox. Well. Cool!

Then here came the clincher...about 4-5 years ago, when I began considering the possibility of seeking an official degree in the Wiccan/pagan community, I was driving home and pondering. And about 1 mile from my house I looked over and a matter of feet from my car, very REAL and VERY THERE was a honest-to-Deity WHITE FOX standing there... calmly looking straight at the broad light of afternoon. This is NOT an area of the world where on sees white foxes. I live in the deep American South, not the Arctic Circle. I suppose I could come up with a mundane accounting of that sighting - an escaped arctic fox or its descendant, or an albino of a regular fox breed - I see grey foxes all the time in this area. At night I might add - they are mostly nocturnal. Actually, it couldn't have been an arctic fox - the ears were the shape of a regular fox.
But lets be honest. If your fox is your familiar and you are contemplating a serious move in your life...and you see your familiar animal in an almost impossible scenario...well, you only have to hit me over the head with a brick once, hard! Lets go one step further - skipping a huge amount of "New Age Lore"of questionable authenticity (0h my aching head!) white is a color associated with the "druids", the bardic priests of the early Celts as described by contemporary (and sometimes conflicting) Roman accounts. Oh. My. A White Fox.

So what do we possibly know about the fox in Celtic lore and faery tales? They are associated with shape shifting, flexibility, cunning, subtlety, and diplomacy. The word "cunning" which we associate theses days with slyness in a negative sense comes from the word "kenning" in the Gaelic languages, meaning knowledge or to know in a positive sense. They had a sense of the trickster too. Foxes were also associated with Celtic burial rituals.
Finally, the (Irish) Gaelic for fox is Sionnach.
As for the possibility of other animal totems or familiars, particularly the otter or the beaver...I will continue to explore or see what comes in the future. The otter in particular rings a bit of a bell.
Why do we feel or sense or have these associations with animals? Familiars, friends, family members...perhaps because we are a part of this world, not separate from it. Not "lords and masters with destruction in our hands" but fellow creatures and sojourners who should remember we share this world together...animals all the same.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I grieve to post here that I learned today of the loss of a dear friend - Baron Corwyn Wodeward of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism - a Medieval history and culture reenactment group that I have been a member of in the past and look forward to
being a part of again when I am done with school.). Corwyn was one of the first people I ever met when I joined years ago. He and his wife Deidre were dear, dear friends of mine. His health had been failing, he had a kidney transplant awhile back and, it appears he had a final stroke yesterday and passed away. Still waiting to hear any further details.

Corwyn, blessed be - Pax Requiem! May the Summerlands be your haven and may you be free now of any pain and suffering.
Let us remember his best friend and his wife, Deirdre with our prayers and our love at this time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Turning the Wheel for Real...

Last weekend I was standing up by our lake watching the late afternoon sun go down, touching all the trees with gold. The wind was strong, rocking the branches and ruffling the surface of the lake with waves. The trees are just beginning to turn here - we are far enough south that color is only just starting to show in the leaves whereas many other places are at their peak of color, or even past it. And the sky is now that incredible blue of Autumn, unmatched by any other time of year.

So, as I stood out there, just reveling in the beauty around me, a thing happened that raised the hair on the back of my neck. I heard a flute playing...not a recording, or the radio, but unmistakably being played live. The music was haunting, in a soft dancing, lilting minor key and there was no way to get a fix on it, with the wind pouring down the lake. The music lurked, and haunted, faded away and then rose again, tossed to all the compass points by the wind. Standing there at the water, with the sun and the wind and the soft eerie flute , there was only one thought in my mind - chapter seven of The Wind in the Willows; "The Piper at the Gates Of Dawn." (and any of you who have never read it, go here, now, and do so - just chapter 7. ) It was one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced. The flute music finally faded away, and did not return. I shook my self out of the trance of the moment, feeling like Mole and Rat did on the river... when Mole says

" No; I feel as if I had been through something very exciting and rather terrible, and it was just over; and yet nothing particular has happened.' 'Or something very surprising and splendid and beautiful,' murmured the Rat, leaning back and closing his eyes"

Then, that night, telling Dreamweaver about the experience, and talking about the Green Man and Pan and Cernunnos, the Celtic horned deity associated with stags, and animals and
the harvest, I was rambling around on the internet looking at images of them. One such search took me to a site with the sculpture of Pan with his pipes, and I did a double take - it was the same one, it looked like, as the one on our altar. The sculptor, by the way, is Oberon Zell. Then I really did a double take - I stared at the picture, because between the goat feet of Pan in the statue is a little baby otter...the scene from Wind in the Willows! I bolted up off the bed, crossed to the altar, picked up the actual statue, which has long been one of my favorites and was stunned to see that, yes there WAS the baby otter. It actually was meant to be the Pan from the story - and that chapter was pivotal in my childhood, my first realization of Deity in that form and my understanding of a wider spirituality. (I may have been about 7 when I read the book - yes, I was precocious.)

I stood almost speechless, gazing at the little baby otter nestled between the hooves of Pan at the base of the statue. My childhood image of magic and life then, in my hands now - and this is incredibly significant folks, because on Friday, October the 30th, next week I am getting my Third Degree as a Wiccan/Pagan priest. (those of you who are wondering , wait, when did the Second Degree happen, it slid by in the scramble of the past year, acknowledging that yes, I am at a Second Degree and have been one for some time.) And on the altar of my Third Degree ceremony will be this statue. I already knew it was going to be on the altar, before I realized it's connection to my childhood and "The Wind in the Willows." I do not understand HOW I missed the fact that the otter was at the base there, given how many times I have pored over the statue, except that maybe I was meant to suddenly see it now at this most significant of times. It was one of those moments that totally takes your breath away...the interweaving of the past with the present, that phenomenological, experiential moment of gestalt, of seeing the whole, and seeing it fit together so that you see everything as it's meant to be.

So, I am getting ready for the ceremony now. It falls at Samhain, appropriate time for a priest of the Lord of the Harvest to be initiated. I am rounding up significant items to go on the altar, or be in circle with me, as I have been instructed to. (And the individuals who are running this circle are plotting with malice and aforethought too...I have no idea what they have planned, but it's evidently going to be fairly impressive!) Obviously the little Pan is going on the altar. And my favorite statue of the Goddess - the Morrigan - a warrior Goddess....other usual stuff; the runes I made, my athame, my sword, the other sword (I like swords! So sue me! LOL!), my staff and so forth.

My staff by the way is about the coolest staff you will have ever seen. Its about 4 feet long, almost perfectly straight, and smooth, no bark on it, except for an interesting pattern all over it, from top to bottom. Here's the story - it was picked up, as is, untouched and unshaped by man, on the shore by a beavers dam. The pattern comes from them shaping it as they worked the wood to build the dam, it was totally all done by the beavers! Every now and then I kind of get tempted to decorate it, add a leather grip, and so forth. But I doubt seriously that I ever should remain as it was found...shaped by the nature of the beavers who created it.

Also on the altar will be a painting of Christ, done in the style of the old Russian Icons. It was painted for me by my friend Skeptic and I treasure it. Why is a picture of Jesus going on my Third degree pagan altar???

Because for me there is NO difference between being a Christian in the priesthood of believers and being a 3rd Degree pagan priest. The Green Man, the Lord of the Harvest and the Dance, the God of the woodlands, protector, savior of the helpless, the little Otter asleep at his feet, the dying god of hundreds of myths and stories, who gives his life in autumn that spring may rise again, Christ dying on the tree and rising to life, bringing with His self sacrifice balance to the world again, it is all one. It is all One. And as a priest of both or either, I am called to manifest my God to the world - to protect, to honor life, to sacrifice, to live, to be the Fool in the Journey, to Love, and be in Love with Life.

I am also putting my favorite stuffed animal on the altar too. It is a much loved stuffed Tigger, not the Disney Tigger, but one made to resemble the Tigger of the original A. A. Milne illustrations of the Winnie the Pooh stories. He was given to me when I was six years old...which would be 42 years ago.
Oh my.
Anyway, Tigger is much loved, his fur is worn thin, and he is missing an eye. You see, he's Real. (and if you haven't read "The Velvet Rabbit", go here: ) Tigger will be in the Circle because that honors the child I was, who caught in a blinding moment the meaning in the heart of the world, bent over a children's book all those years ago and realized that it was the same thing I heard at church - that we love and are loved.

Maybe my copy of Wind in the Willows should come too.

OK, This is what I mean by carving Pumpkins!

Samhain aka Halloween is fast approaching - The turn of the Wheel for the Celts, Harvest Sabbat for pagans and Witches, and the High Holy Day for Drag Queens, Trans Folk and all us fan geeks and misfits everywhere....
So of course one must, without fail, carve one's pumpkin. Or turnip...yep.
I said turnip. Seem's that the carving of a face to ward off the things that go bump in the night began in Ireland, but they used turnips, not pumpkins. And they left an offering out for the fey with it at their door. Hence the Trick or Treat thing. And they also wore masks for similiar reasons, hence today's costume frenzy at Wal Mart. One wonder's what an ancient Celt would make of all this!
Carving the Jack-o-Lantern has risen to an amazing art form...
here are some pictures gleaned from here, there and yon, some by anonymous individuals, some by Ray Villafane, a master sculptor...his website is here for some real pumpkin madness - and there is a tutorial! I was very hesitant about posting these amazing pictures, because, see, I am going to see if I can up my level of Jack-o-Lantern carving this year and try to be sculptural instead of just carving a usual 2D image. I have done some kick ass pumpkins in the past, such as one with Stone Henge on it, ringed with Celtic Knotwork, but I have never gotten as extravagant as this stuff. And if my first shot at this turns out to suck, I am going to be very embarrassed to post it with these to compare it with. But we'll see. I am thinking about trying a Green Man. So we will see what happens! Meanwhile, enjoy! More to come of Halloween...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation

Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman

Sixteen years ago, Kate Bornstein published a land mark book in the transgender community, titled Gender Outlaws: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. It became a landmark work, exploring gender roles, attitudes and the fact that there are far more than just two genders. Now, in the year 2010, Kate and her co-author Bear Bergman have brought forth this generation’s version, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation.

Kate Bornstein, born into a male body in 1948, transitioned to a woman in 1986, and settled into the lesbian community as an author, playwright and gender theorist. However, while she definitely did not feel that she was a male, she also questioned whether or not she was female, stating that her transition to such was because it was the only other option to being male available to her. She launched into explorations of the gender binary and questioned the rigid idea that that only two polarities of gender – male or female – exist. Her books include Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure (Novel, co-authored with Caitlin Sullivan), My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely and Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws.

Bear Bergman’s story comes from the opposite side of the gender fence. Ze was born in 1974, and is an activist, writer, theater performance artist and poet. Bear’s work and life questions all facets of gender and gender expression. Hir’s books include Butch is a Noun, The Nearest Exit May be Behind You, and now, with Bornstein, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation.

Gender Outlaws: the Next Generation is an anthology containing an Introduction, an Intermission and an Epilogue by Kate and Bear; and many essays, poems, and comics all profoundly exploring, deconstructing, rebuilding and revaluing the concept of “gender”. Also included is one recipe for vegan curry.

I love the multitude of voices in this book, the varieties of viewpoints and artistic expressions! The book is divided into five parts; Do I Look Like an Outlaw to You?, Being Reconfigured is Not the Same as Being Reimagined…Which is Why I am as Cute as I Happen to Be, It Might Not Be a Picnic, But There’s a Great Buffet, and the final, powerful, And Still We Rise.

Part one; Do I Look Like an Outlaw to You? opens with the essay “We’re All Somebody’s Freak” by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, founder of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Going straight for the heart of the matter, and setting the pace for the rest of the anthology, Smith questions the prejudices and barriers that exist within the transgender community towards each other.

In Part Two entitled “Being Reconfigured is Not the Same as Being Reimagined”, “Taking Up Space” by Kyle Lukoff, addresses the powerful issues of eating disorders and transgenderism. “The Wrong Body” by Scott Turner Schofield deals with the question of the bodies we are born into.

Part Three, “…which is Why I am as Cute as I Happen to Be” has one of the most humorous pieces in the book, “The Secret Life of My Wiener” by Corry Schmanke Parrish, as well as the return of a black belt martial artist to the mats and gyms once denied her in “Living Well and Coming Free”, by Ryka Aoki.

In Part Four, “It Might Not Be a Picnic, But There’s a Great Buffet”, “The Manly Art of Pregnancy” by j wallace explores being a man and pregnant, a scenario that is having more and more impact in today’s society. “Transgressing Gender at Passover with Jesus!” by Peterson Toscano restories one of the Bible’s great stories in transgender terms, and “Today’s New Name May Be Tomorrow’s Old” by Sassafras Lowry confronts the taboo subject of transitioning and then de-transitioning in the trans subculture.

Finally, Part Five, And Still We Rise takes on the tragedy of abuse and murder that haunts transgenders today, giving powerful voice to the violence we face. “Princess” a comic by Christine Smith addresses humorously but with great force, bullying issues faced in the schools. “Marsha P Johnson::ten suns the transformer” is an elegy for Marsha P Johnson, a famous Drag Queen whose death was possibly murder, but ruled a suicide. “Shot, Stabbed, Choked, Strangled, Broken: a ritual for November 20th” by Roz Kaveney is a haunting poem for the victims remembered on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. These are only parts of this stunning anthology – 47 authors, poets and artists all told speak out on the fluidity, the power and the changes in gender in the world today.

The book is bracketed by conversations between Bear Bergman and Kate Bornstein, a rollicking walk down memory lane of their association and the changes in the transgender community, (I am still boggled by mental images of Sarah Palin and Kate Bornstein on a desert island!) and a look to the future of Gender to come. It is not just a book about transgender, but about gender itself, how it is shaped in society and how it shapes individuals and how those individuals continue to stand societal conventions on end.

There are some shocking and unsettling moments in the book – “In Our Skin” by A. P. Andre and Luis Guterierrez Mock is the transcript of an erotic performance piece (complete with photographs) of love making on stage that bends gender in dramatic ways. This piece will be startling and perhaps difficult for individuals who pick this book up to read with no previous contact with transgender and gender bending cultures. “Jihad” by Azadeh Arsanjani and “Pilgrimage” by Zev Al-Walid are powerful, much needed essays of transgenderism within the Muslim faith that may also be unexpected and disconcerting in today’s political climate. All told, this book in its entirety is a powerful cohesive exploration of gender that speaks forth- rightly and with depth, poignancy and humor to a world that faces bewildering changes in the map of gender roles and expressions in the world today.

It would be my hope that “Gender Outlaws: the Next Generation” may reach a wide audience; not just those within the transgender community, but instead, travel even further to the world at large, becoming this generation’s contributions to the changes in gender in our world. I cannot recommend it highly enough! Finally, the books dedication to Bear Bergman’s son, Stanley Safran Bergman says it all – “…to the next generation”.