Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tra La, It's May...

It's Beltain. That's a good thing. Those of us who follow a Wiccan Path seem to breathe a sigh of relief when we reach May Eve, although it is still a rather dangerous time. Folks tend to forget that this is the polar opposite of Samhain (Halloween, for you “normals”). It is the second time, in the Wheel of the Year, when the worlds of the Living and the Dead touch, and the Gates between open.

Because we are moving into the season of the Goddess, the energy and flow of life is much stronger than in October. People focus on the beautiful gardens, warm sea breezes, and gentle evenings to come. Yet, there are still ways in which the abundance and security of your home can be threatened. Therefore, it is wise to pay heed to the following:

  1. Do not bring anything yellow into the house from dusk April 30th until dusk on May 1. This includes flowers, fabric, dairy products, and the like. It may be viewed as an attempt to bring the luck of your neighbors into your own home, and we wouldn't want that Karma, now would we?

  2. By that same token, don't let anything yellow leave your house. No cup of sugar, no bread, no tabs of butter and, by association, no cream or milk, especially buttermilk. Leave the flowers in your flower bed. These all represent your ability to feed and take care of your family. Don't give it away until dusk, May 1.

  3. Don't get yourself tangled up with inviting spirits/fairies into your home. Being in a Magic Circle is one thing; leaving food out on the table is tantamount to laying a feast for any passing ghosts. Who has time for that? If you think dear, departed Grandma may be floating by for afters, leave a mug of tea and some sponge cake on the back lawn.

  4. Protect your live stock! In the old days, cattle would be driven between two bonfires to “cleanse” and protect them. Often, their hides would be singed as an offering to the gods, so they would bless the beasts. In this day and age, your live stock is probably a dog, a cat or two, a ferret or a bird. If you want to be old fashioned, take a little hair of the dog, cat, etc. (or a feather), and burn it in candle flame. Will is work? Yes. Will it stink? Oh yeah, but you have to look after the spiritual well being of your pets. If you have fish...I think you're SOL. Sorry.

    Well, actually, the first water drawn from the well on May 1st is blessed. Your “well” is now your kitchen faucet. Draw yourself a glass (the first of the morning) and add to your tank. Save a little for blessings around the house!

  5. Finally, be ready to release old ways and embrace the new. This requires one to stop, think, see the Path you have walked, and prepare for the road ahead. You must pass through the spiritual night and darkness before you can celebrate the dawn.

When I think of Beltain, I think of reflection and new beginnings. In fact, I've been thinking a lot about my life up until now – how I perceive myself, and how I have been perceived. I think, from the beginning, I always felt like the “odd man out”. I didn't play with dolls, crave pretty jewelry, or envy ruffled dresses. I was rather content in slacks and tees. That was a good thing because, due to being a stocky child, there weren't many pretty, fluffy clothes made for “chubby girls”. When it came to school, Saint Peter's required uniforms. I accepted that. It wasn't a dress, in my mind. When I got home in the afternoon, I immediately switched to my more rugged attire. See, I found this ...

more fun than playing with this...
 I had no use for baby dolls or prams. There was one time, however, when my mother was buying a small dolly cradle for my sister, complete with baby doll. I insisted that she buy me one as well. I think she was so delighted that I showed an interest in pretend womanly duties that she promptly agreed. Once home, I ripped open the cellophane wrapping, discarded the doll, and went to fetch one of our pet pigeons from the coop under the back porch. When I was next seen, I was happily rocking the cradle out on the picnic table of our playhouse, gently stroking the head of my tucked in, sleeping pigeon.

My Grandfather shook his head. “And how did you do that?”

It cooed for me, so I sang back. It nodded off.”

No magic? Indeed.

It wasn't just my disregard of female apparel. I was also interested in things that puzzled my other friends and relatives. Horror movies, bugs (I once was given an old, red, box -shaped pocketbook of my mother's. I used it to house my dead cicada collection. I was 25. Joke. I believe that was 1962 when I was 8), Super Car, wild birds that we housed in our little aviary, and watching my Dad dress rabbits in the basement during hunting season. He was so expert at the task, I found him amazing. When finished, he would cut off the rabbit's foot, tie a string to the exposed tendon, and give it to me as a toy. Pull the string, and the rabbit toes moved! I was mesmerized by this until the tendon stiffened and the foot had to be discarded. I didn't mind. During season, there would always be another bunny.

I would haunt the corn field behind our house, checking for pheasants, looking for the weasels I was told ate our quails, watching for birds that might have fallen from the surrounding trees. I remember finding one, when I was around nine. I picked it up gently and carried it back to our yard, calling for my father to come and help. When I got to the area where family and friends were having a cook-out, they all looked at me and started to point and laugh. The bird had crapped and it had run down the front of my shorts. I was heartbroken. Who cared if I got messed on, the baby bird needed help. I ended up bursting into tears, and running behind our neighbor's garage, where it was shady and overgrown. I used the tall weeds to wipe off my hands and clothes, and build a soft nest for the bird. I then just sat by it, trying to understand why my effort was seen as so clownish and amusing. Eventually, my Dad found me and helped me set up better arrangements for the bird. He was the only one who hadn't laughed.

So, from the start, I was different. I wanted to be a writer since I was 8 years old. I believed in ghosts and magic, because I saw them and could do some, even though I was never believed. I eventually came to appreciate jewelry and mod clothes (it was the 60's, the only time when I didn't feel quite so alone in my differences).. but I was still rather fey.

And now, almost 59 years into it, it has dawned on me that I will always be different. In the hen house of life, I was born a duck. I don't know how or why. Perhaps there were other ducks in my lineage.. who knows? The chickens I was born into will always see me as defective, strange, delusional, and oddly feathered. That is because I will never be able to cluck, crow, strut or preen as they do. I make an absolutely lousy chicken...

..But I'm one hell of a duck. Other ducks think I'm smart, creative, funny and interesting. I'm not “foul”; I'm merely “fowl”, bird of a different feather, as it were.

Now, this is no Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. There's no way in God's green earth this “chick” is ever morphing into a swan. I'm just finally at peace accepting the truth that this gal is never going to learn how to tweet (Boy, is that true on various levels) or chirp. This Casey/Cassidy/Thompson/Clark is not a cockle-doodle-do or a cluck. Nope. This Clark is a quack.

Just ask the other Clarks.

I guess my message, on this celebration of Death regenerating into new Life, is two-fold.
First, as Jesus is quoted in the Bible, “No one is accepted as a prophet in their own land.” Strangers are more likely to see the diamond you have become. Your kin may only remember the lump of coal you once were.
Second, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, whatever you are, be a good one.

..And that ain't no chicken scratch.
Joyous Beltain, everyone!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What's In A Word?

Yesterday, I had an epiphany. At least I think that's what it was. I had one once, long ago, and it had a profound impact on the way I viewed my world. Back then, I was working in a jewelry store. I was trying to keep busy on a slow day, and decided to polish the geodes of amethyst and such until they glistened. I really wanted those suckers to sell.

I was thinking about the nice money we could make by just selling one or two. Trusting in the power of thought, I envisioned myself wrapping up a freshly polished geode and handing it to a customer who, in turn, handed me some good old American greenbacks.

That's when it hit me... what I was actually doing for a living. I was polishing a geode taken from the ground. If I made it look all sparkly enough, somebody was going to come in off the street and hand me a predetermined bunch of green pulp so they could take it home. In short, my efforts and magical concentration were focused on exchanging a rock for parts of dead trees.

Rock for trees. (I can't believe I found a graphic for this!)
My job depended on this. I was to make the rock look pretty so I could get dead trees for it. If I did a good job of selling rocks for trees, by week's end I, too, could have some green pulp... predetermined. Why? Because somebody else, long ago, decided that these things had value. The scales fell from my eyes. That's when I knew: I may have to abide by this arbitrary exchange of “work” or “rarity” for “money”, but I did not have to be deceived by it. I never looked at money or tangible things the same way again. Yes, I went on earning it and spending it on other sparkly things, but I knew from that moment forward it was just a game that had nothing to do with human survival, development or happiness.

So, I think I know an epiphany when I see one... which leads me to the other day. I have to hide from Rufus if I want to read. (No, that's not the epiphany. It's only a sad truth.) If I want a few minutes with my book, I have to stow it in my basket on my knee walker and sneak it into the bathroom. Usually, I'm found out – and Rufus then pees a contemptible pee in my hallway – but sometimes he's asleep. He doesn't see me leave the living room. And so it was when I sneaked Raymond Khoury's “The Last Templar” into the loo. Yes, I had read it before, but it was a while ago. I wanted a refresher before I read his follow-up books.

I was happily sitting there, reading along, when I noticed his use of the word “rapacious”. (I also noticed he uses the word “Stygian” all over the place. Must everything in his world be THAT dark?) I started to think: Why did he use “rapacious”? What was wrong with “greedy”? Does rapacious denote a degree of greedy of which I'm unaware? So, I looked it up and found that it is defined by “greedy” - yes – but also “extortionate”, “ravenous”, as well as “edacious”. Well, OK, but now are we still talking about greedy people, greedy hungry people, or greedy hungry people who extort others? Huh?

And that's when the epiphany hit. Defining words with other words is a bit like playing the game “telephone” while running in a hamster wheel. Hell, we even have a word to describe the fact that there are no words to describe a fact. (“Ineffable”, in case you were scratching your head.)

As an author, I must – by logical deduction – be a word smith. It is my blessing/curse to be able to express thought with clarity and relate my tales with vibrancy. Yet, how often have I seen writers throw in every conceivable synonym to window dress their creation. Make the article or book sparkly enough and perhaps you'll be able to sign a dead tree with an agent or publisher, and thereby earn some green pulp.

This is not a criticism of Raymond Khoury; far from it. I enjoy his writing. His just happened to be the book I had in hand. However, after sitting home for a year, I have utilized the library ladies and their home bound services to the max, and I have slogged me through some mighty ponderous tomes. If you write, even so much as a diary (or – hey! - a blog) focus on capturing the thought, the moment, the sense and feel of a setting – not every word in the Funk & Wagnalls! (BTW: Funk and Wagnalls no longer exists. See? All those words didn't help them either!)

Gone but not forgotten.

Until next time, use your words (just not all at once).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring Cleaning...

I was going through my electronic documents, trying to clean things up a bit, when I stumbled upon a copy of a letter from 2005.  A business friend, who had been interested in "The New Age", found Jesus.  Knowing I was Wiccan, she asked if she could send me a book which could "open my eyes"  to the spiritual pitfalls of my Faith.  I agreed to read and comment.  The following letter was the result. I thought it might 1) help Wiccans when discussing our religion with non-Wiccans, and 2) help those outside our beliefs see things from our perspective.  It's a bit long, but I think worthwhile. (It doesn't matter the title of the tome I was sent.  Most of them cover the same arguments and warnings.) I added graphics because ...well, to break up the space.

Thank you for the book. As promised, I have read it and am willing to comment. I want to stay as open-minded as possible, and hope you will be the same. There are barriers to this, however, based on my experiences with others. Please bear in mind, as you read this letter, that I am not holding you responsible for the behavior of other Christians I will mention here, nor am I assuming you share all their views. I can make an educated guess and say that you share some, but each individual walks their own Path and has their own emotions and views.

      We talked about “sacred scripture” on the phone. I can not speak for all Wiccans. We have no central authority figure or absolute doctrine, so I can only represent myself and those other Wiccans with whom I associate. I can say that Wiccans, in general, accept the Bible as inspired, but not as the absolute “Word of God”. This creates a problem when discussing our Religion with Christians. I can try and help you see it from our vantage point by giving an example to which you might relate:

If I were a radical Muslim, and believed in the Koran as the word of Allah, I might come up to you in your business suit and say, “You are a woman. Allah demands modesty of women, yet your hair is uncovered, I can see your face, you wear make-up and clothes that show your body shape and your legs. You are a tempter of men when you dress like this. You are committing a sin against Allah and should be punished. Yours will not be the realm of paradise!”

What would your reaction be? Possibly you might explain to that person that you are a Christian. You do not believe that the Koran is the sacred word of God, and you might walk away without the slightest thought that “Gee, maybe I should cover up more; maybe I am offending God.” You are confident in your Faith, and the beliefs of Islam don’t apply to you. As a Wiccan, I have read the Bible cover to cover, but it is not my authority – any more than the Koran is yours. I have read the Koran as well, not to mention the Book of Mormon, the Upanishads, the Near Eastern texts and several Buddhists tomes. I’m not bragging. I felt it was my obligation to do so. I live in a world where mine is definitely the minority Faith. I want to understand where the beliefs of my fellow humans derive. I am also confident in my Faith and am not afraid of exposure to the thoughts and beliefs of others, which (to me) is the real definition of Faith.

The Christian world does not seem to see it that way, which sets up another Barrier. I know the Mormons do not want their members reading non-faith producing materials. I know other Christians feel that reading materials on Wicca, or even allowing Wiccans to converse on their beliefs, is opening themselves to evil influences. What if I actually make a valid point? What if something I believe or think or say makes you question something within yourself? That’s usually the point when we are accused of tempting Christian away from Jesus. What results is a wealth of information only half true, which we can’t correct because we are then accused of doing PR on our own behalf or trying to sway the “faithful”. Can you imagine how difficult that can be? How frustrating? The book you sent me does that is several places, even stating that we spend a lot of time trying to point out where “Christians have it wrong”. Wiccans aren’t trying to challenge anyone’s Faith. We aren’t out to win you over, we don’t want your children to convert, we aren’t saying your Faith is wrong. We’re trying to say many of you have it wrong about US.

So, from the start, let’s be clear that I am not challenging your Faith in Jesus or the Bible. I’m interested in enlightened discussion, not debate over who’s right or who’s wrong. I’m not sure that is possible. The reason I’m not sure: Christians have already determined that we are 1) Satanists or 2) deluded by Satan. We have fallen prey to the Great Evil and so our arguments or discussion points are tainted by that Evil, and dangerous for you to hear. (The “you” is generic, of course).

I’ve been here before, and it has been an education of the negative kind. I always thought that if you had Faith, nothing could rob you of that. You have the strength to hear anything and still not compromise what’s in your heart. I feel that way about me, and I hope you feel that way about you. You found a Faith that gives you comfort and peace and answers. I applaud that and I want you to cling on to that. But I have the same support from my beliefs. We both knocked on the door and got different answers. Your coreligionists believe I have knocked on the door of Hell. Hard to get a positive dialogue going at that point.

I have read the Bible, as I mentioned, and I have studied it with both clerical and secular teachers, and I have researched the history of its various translations. There are interesting things I could share with you about what I found. Mind you, I’m not trying to disprove the Bible as sacred for you. It would only be by way of explaining what influenced me. It wouldn’t matter, however. It doesn’t matter if I find a discrepancy in the verbiage or contradiction in the text, or even if I use the Bible to demonstrate points of Wiccan belief. Know what I hear if I do? “Even the Devil can quote Scripture”.
  That shuts down another avenue of discussion. I could even say: “Look, I won’t launch off into what I found. If you really want to know, ask me”. . and then I’m accused of tempting you, luring you. So, I will only point out one very important thing, and only because this line was mentioned several times in the book:

“Thou shall not suffer a witch to live”.

First of all, if the Bible is the absolute word of God and should be obeyed, doesn’t this give you the right to kill me? And if so, you’d be in direct violation of a commandment. King James employed a variety of court appointed clerics to translate the Bible. The good King also had a lot of influence on these folks. At the time, he was under politics siege by the common people of northern England, as well as Scotland. Particularly aggressive and working towards his downfall were the people near Berwick-Upon-Tweed. These folks had long been viewed as practitioners of the old ways and versed in magic. The king was convinced that they were bringing every influence to bear to de-throne him, even conjuring forces to remove him. What does that have to do with the translation of the Bible? Simple. Suddenly, thou shalt not suffer a “witch” to live. The actual word in Hebraic is ‘poisoner”. Not the same thing, but now the good king had divine justification to go rid himself of political opponents.

The Book: Well, since I haven’t read Harry Potter, only saw 1 movie (under duress) and don’t particularly care for the whole thing, most of the book was lost on me. I can comment on things in general, however. Does H. P. make children interested in magic? I would think so. Is the author Wiccan? Not as far as I know.

There is no such thing as White witchcraft and Black witchcraft (and I found it SO annoying when the author kept saying “wicca witchcarft” ugh!). One of my problems with this book is that it seems to say Wicca is all about magic. No. Wicca is a religion first and foremost and magic is not what makes it so. There is a complete belief system. Are there people who are Wiccans that do evil things? Yes. I also know some evil Methodists, but that doesn’t mean that evil is part of the religion. Using Harry Potter to explain Wicca is like using Elmer Gantry to explain Christianity.

Some of what the author quoted is direct from Wiccan writers. There are some leaps made based on those sources, however. Yes, Wiccans believe in a God and Goddess.
 That is how most of us express divinity. Male and female appears to be the most basic dichotomy in Nature and Creation. Does God encompass male and female? I think that’s evident. We are all a part of creation, along with this planet, the life upon it, and the Universe as a whole. As male and female exist, they must be a part of the Creator. Now, do I believe personally that there is a male god and a female goddess standing at the gates of Summerland or anywhere else waiting for me? No. Do Christians really believe there is a man sitting on a throne waiting for them?
Well, some do and some don’t. Like your folks, some Wiccans need a touchstone to understand the Divine, so they anthropomorphize God, depict him or her or them as human. God is more than we can comprehend. When I think of Divinity I relate to an aware intelligence, a creating force. God and Goddess are the symbols by which I express that Divine spirit.

Yes, Wiccans believe that that spark of the Divine exists in Nature, throughout the Universe and within us. The nuns, in my youth, called it a “soul”. Don’t Christians believe that we are the sons and daughters of the Divine? Aren’t our gifts and abilities and capacities our gifts from God that we should use in service to others? I’ve often heard church members talk about seeing the light of God in all people; that is why all people are worthy of respect. Part of the spirit of God flows through each of us. So why did the author jump to the conclusion that Wiccans think we are God? Or that we think Nature should be worshipped? That’s a weird leap that seemed to exist only to equal our believe (that the spirit of life is the spirit of God indwelling in us) to the hubris of Lucifer. Taking the Bible at face value, Lucifer wanted to be as God, usurping the throne of the Lord. That’s not a Wiccan belief. If anything, we seek reunification with the loving Spirit that invokes us into being. Divinity is vastly more than mere gender markers. Divinity is greater than our own being. We are a part of God, but we are not the Creator.

As for Nature, I haven’t prayed to too many oaks in my life. I have nurtured plants and used herbs, I have respected the forest and the fields, and I have seen the hand of God in the changing of fall leaves and the formation of ice flows on a cliff. We believe that we are not owners of the Earth but its caretakers. By understanding the Earth and its ways, we are better able to appreciate and respectfully utilize the world we are given. Wiccans use herbs and stones to heal and to focus energy. We often call that Magic, but then we get misunderstood by non-Wiccans folks. If it is evil to use the herbs and stones of the Earth to heal and improve ourselves, then pharmacies are evil as well. Vicks becomes the work of Satan, and I should throw away my blood pressure medication etc. When science uses the Earth, it’s medicine. When I do it, it’s forbidden magic.

Using the gifts God gives you is encouraged in Wicca. Christians don’t believe psychic gifts etc come from God. OK. We disagree. The Bible is full of prophets, magi, and old men who shall “dream dreams”, but when we do it, we’re evil because we don’t do it through the power of Jesus Christ. . I understand that. It sounds a bit like “our magicians are better than your magicians” (Moses threw down his staff and it turned into a snake that ate the staff/snakes of the Egyptian magicians.) but I understand Christians are worried about the source of the power. We believe it is from God/Goddess and…. We’re back to being “deluded” in the Christian mind. (Sigh). But Wicca isn’t all about Magic. Some Wiccans don’t do anything magical beyond sending energy to others. If you feel more comfortable substituting “prayer” for sending energy, do so. And hopefully you realize we aren’t praying to Lucifer.

I have to point out quickly that Wiccans are not the ones broadcasting, appearing in, or scripting “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. “Charmed” (what drivel!), or dreadful movies like “The Craft” (shutter). These are examples of non-Wiccan folks making a buck out of twisting our beliefs to fit an hour TV drama format. They aren’t worshipping anything but the Almighty Buck. Why aren’t Christians going after them? Instead, folks like the author seem to accept that these programs truly represent our ways and then holds us accountable for them. There’s more frustration!

Unfortunately, the other component is that anyone can call himself or herself a Wiccan, write a book and focus merely on sensational externals. I don’t want a coven of teenyboppers, interested in casting spells on their teachers or doing love spells on the hunk from the football team. That’s not what we’re about, but the Internet generation is all into fast thrills and instant mystical knowledge (just add salt water!) It’s a shame. And when we responsible adults try to separate fact from fiction we’re accused of proselytizing.

Wow. There is so much more that could be discussed, but I don’t want to overload the issue. I will say, before closing, that it was nice to see someone actually say we should be treated with respect when spoken to. I’ve been accused of raising the dead (? WHY would I if I could?) sacrificing animals (disgusting) and a world of other charges. So much for the commandment about bearing false witness.
Be well, . And thanks for caring.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Any Bunny see Spring?

Spring Equinox came and went on quiet breath, and Easter has now faded into the same strange mist. It was an odd day. As the nephew and I drove quietly down the country roads on our way to Lambertville, I noticed that the land had not responded to the clarion call of Spring. It was warmish, but damp. The trees were barren, and surrounded by blankets of brittle brown leaves that had been tucked in since Fall. Not a bloom could be seen; no color broke the landscape of brown, gray and faded green. This was true of the people as well - the few we saw. There were no pastel dresses, no Easter bonnets, no stalls of budding tulips. It was as though Nature opened one eye on a dank and silent world, sighed, and rolled back over. It looked more like time for Thanksgiving turkey  than a pascal feast.

Guy and I, trying to look colorful
My sister and Guy had come home to see the family before his treatments started in Maryland. My nieces cooked, others brought trays of various foods and desserts, and we made peaceful and upbeat, if not merry. We didn't shy away from the topic of Cancer, but neither did we make it the focus of our energies. We simply tried to enjoy each other's company.

My niece Becke and her family gave me a beautiful hyacinth, but the pink blooms were almost jarring against the strangely muted colors of the day. Even she said the weather and the world just didn't “look right”, as though we were all poised on the brink of some awakening event. I'm truly hoping that moment is a late but riotous eruption of renewal. Perhaps this year we will have a sudden explosion of color and growth, the Goddess making a statement concerning life, hope, and re-birth.

Fight the vestiges of Winter, my friends. Connect with the flow of energy in the Earth and join your strength with the resurgence of Spring. Keep faith, and anticipate a season of miracles. We could all use it.

Benedict Cumberbatch on set in Bristol: Sherlock series 3
For the Sherlockians out there: Season 3 filming is well under way. Mark Gatiss released the following photo on Twitter, a week before Easter. The caption read “Easter resurrection a bit early”.

That man is a tease. There was also a fan video made of outside/night filming in Bristol. It is below, for your pleasure. Running with Benedict's Sherlock is Amanda Abbington (in red), the real life partner of Martin Freeman. Her character is “Mary”. Dare we hope art imitates life, and she'll play Mary Morstan to Martin's John Watson?

On the writing front: I'll soon be hard at work on “Myth Spelling”, my Celtic Gods book. Also work continues on my article for Sage Woman (if they take it) regarding Shamanism. Finally, I'm delighted to say that I'll be doing an article for Fate on NJ's most famous unsolved murder, the Hall-Mills Murder Case. 

We'll be getting fresh photos, and hopefully new insights. I'll keep everyone posted on our progress (Keith will be my photographer once again, and Gary will be assisting with the research).

Create a beautiful Spring, everyone. Please remember, there is still time to donate to my niece Brenna's  half -marathon in honor of Guy. Every dollar helps...honestly. If nothing else, toss in 5 bucks because she can run a marathon, unlike the rest of us! (Oh, to be young...and have two good legs... and the desire to run...or walk...or waddle..who am I kidding – the desire to get out of bed!)