Saturday, June 07, 2014

Sparky T. Rabbit

Sparky T. Rabbit
Peter B. Soderberg
Bruner Soderberg
3 February 1954 – 2 June 2014

Back in 1982, if memory serves, I attended the first CoG MerryMeet festival held outside of California, at Circle Pines in Michigan.  I was a very young Witch (not such a young woman, but a young Witch).  I had only been to two smallish, mainly local Pagan festivals, one being the first MerryMeet in ’81 and the other one in the hot, dry coastal hills of the East Bay.  I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited.  I was there for a reason, as a delegate from my Local Council to conduct the business of CoG.  That fact gave me some assurance of who I was and what I was doing out in the woods with a bunch of unfamiliar Witches.

We held our meetings under a pavilion, where I remember shucking Circle Pines-grown corn for the evening meal.

On the first day, I was wandering the grounds between sessions when I came upon two friendly men who introduced themselves and asked my name.  When I answered, the larger bearded man who wore a long black cassock-like garment, let out a tremendously loud and jolly laugh, and said, “Oh, you’re Macha NightMare!  I love that name.  It’s one of the best names I’ve ever heard.  How did you come to get it?”

“You’ve heard of it?” I replied in surprise.  Both men had read it in the old Reclaiming Newsletter (predecessor to Reclaiming Quarterly).  The man who expressed such delight in my name was Sparky T. Rabbit; his slender friend, who has an equally wonderful, wickeder-than-Sparky’s laugh of his own was Steven Posch.  We became absorbed in a lively conversation for some while.  Throughout the festival, we found ourselves together.

* * * * *
From then on we kept in occasional letter and telephone contact.  We did our best to keep up with each other, and when I had occasion to be in Minneapolis, a guest at Steve’s house, Sparky sometimes coordinated visits.

Some years later there, I think it was 1992, there was another MerryMeet at Circle Pines.  Sparky and I really fell in love during that visit.  When I wasn’t in meetings, we hung out, just the two of us, talking, singing, sharing songs and chants, exploring our respective experiences of culture, Pagan community in particular.  You know how it is sometimes – you’re in an unfamiliar environment for a brief period, a weekend or a few days, and you meet someone who captivates you, and who is mutually interested in you and your ideas, and you can’t get enough of each other?

Twisted River Witches

I remember Sparky telling me about his then-coven, the all-male Twisted River Witches, who did, as I recall, public activist magic, maybe on a bridge joining the Quad Cities?  I think it’s a wonderful name for a coven, indicating as it does the home from which they get sustenance, the place where the mighty Mississippi twists.  I don’t know that area at all, plus this memory has dimmed with the passage of time.  There is one wicked Witch from that coven who may be reading this.  He’s generally closeted due to his employment and I don’t want to transgress and ‘out’ him.  Perhaps he’ll share a story about the magical pranks (if pranks they were) done by the Twisted River Witches.

Another all-male coven, this one I think was all gay men, Sparky told me about was Sons of the Bitch in Kansas City.  One of the songs on Hand of Desire, Lunacy’s second and final album, “Praising Her Name,” includes the lyrics “Praising Her name, praising Her name, that Sacred Bitch, that Holy Witch.”  I love it!  I doubt the coven exists today; however, if anyone reading this can tell us more about it, I’d love to learn.

Radical Faeries

Sparky had some involvement with the Radical Faeries, as evidenced by this pithy quote:

“We are the equivalent of Shamans in modern culture,” said Peter Soderberg, during an interview at the 1985 Pagan Spirit Gathering. “Many gay men want to be middle-class Americans. They want to be respected as human beings and they want their sexuality to be ignored.  But radical faeries are willing to live on the edge.  We feel there is power in our sexuality.  You know there is a power there because our culture is so afraid of us.”  Margot Adler, 2006.

I invite anyone who can say more about Sparky and the Radical Fairies to tell us.  Mugwort of Nomenus has placed Sparky’s name on the fairie ancestors list.

"Wicked Witch of the Prairies"
Master Ritualist

In her 1995 anthropological study of contemporary Witches, Never Again the Burning Times, scholar Loretta Orion rhapsodizes about a Full Moon ritual at Pagan Spirit Gathering designed by Peter Sonderberg [sic], whom she says calls himself Peter the Big Blue Fairy.  I think Sparky hated that appellation, at least in later years he did.  Maybe he gave it to himself earlier.

Throughout the book she quotes liberally what Sparky had to say about ritual.  Ritual designers would do well to consider his ideas.  They have served me well.

One of the few opportunities I had to actually perform ritual with Sparky was at a festival in Wisconsin in 1999, “The Union of Earth and Sky: A Ceremony for Thor and Freyr,” I was honored to work with him and the crew he’d chosen, among them Elvis, K.J., Sonja, Melanie, Owl, Archer, Steven, Keith – you know who you are.  For me one of the most touching components of that ritual was the Man in the Moon and the Night-Time Stars.

Steven Posch, Macha, Sparky T. Rabbit
Here’s what some have said on Facebook[1] about Sparky’s ritual expertise:

Wisconsin Witch Mari Powers says, “He taught me that ritual can really rock in 1983. I will miss him very much.”  

Washington Druid Kirk Thomas says, “Sparky facilitated a trancey ritual at a gay men’s pagan festival I attended that was pretty life changing for me.  It was the first (and I hope, last) time I was ridden (non-consensually, no less) by a god.  It opened my eyes to that deity and his power.”

If anyone who was there reads this, I’d welcome your elaboration on your experience of this ritual, either in a comment below, or I’ll be glad to add it in a subsequent post of Sparky stories.

The Pagan Book of Living and Dying and Lunacy

In 1995 Sparky contributed his song “Lament for the Queer Dead” to Crossing Over: A Pagan Manual on Death and Dying, the prototype for what HarperSanFrancisco published in 1997 as The Pagan Book of Living and Dying.  The Lunacy a cappella singers, comprised of Sparky and Greg Johnson, recorded this true lament on their second album, Hand of Desire.  This album was released on cassette tape, but at the time of Sparky’s passing it was nearly ready for a digital release.  Speaking for myself, and others I’m fairly confident, that album will be made available as soon as practicable.  Right now Ray has business surrounding Sparky’s death to take care of.  Watch this space for updates.

The Irish say that music has three purposes: to elicit laughter, to induce calm and sleep, and to elicit tears.  I may not have that exactly right, but I’m certain that music fosters and enhances the experience of mourning.  “Lament for the Queer Dead” fulfills this charge.

Canadian Witch Jane Pawson says, “Oh this is so sad.  I loved the Lunacy tapes.  I have the fondest memories of Sparky at a very early [Reclaiming] B.C. Witchcamp.  He taught and his traveling companions taught that camp a lot.  Like how to dress for ritual and Ms Cow's Maxims and chants and just a more inclusive way of being.   

As a contributor to The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, Sparky describes himself as “a Faggot Witch from Illinois.” 

* * * * *

I think it was in 2000 that I visited my late friend Patricia Monaghan in Chicago, where I was presenting at a gathering that I think was called a Pagan Expo, Chicago.  Sparky was with his husband Ray in Chicago that weekend.  After the expo, we retired to an Irish bar downstairs for socializing.  Sparky had long admired Patricia’s work, her goddess scholarship in particular, and Patricia had long heard of Sparky.  I had raved about both to each other, so this was their first meeting.  The other first was that I finally got to meet Sparky’s beloved husband Ray about whom Sparky spoke often.  Afterwards I told Sparky how cute I thought Ray was, how lucky they were to have each other.  

Sparky & Ray Jump the Broom
Sparky and Ray spent nearly 31 years together.  I only recently learned that two friends here in California whom I’ve known for maybe 25 years officiated at Sparky and Ray’s handfasting.  (I’m not naming names due to uncertainty about their ‘out’ status.)

Pagan Summit

Pagan Summit, 2001
Due to my involvement in a dictionary project initiated by the Pagan Educational Network (PEN), I learned that organization expanded to sponsor what they called a Pagan Summit (not well-chosen title, in my opinion, but nonetheless that’s what it was).  Coordinated by Cairril Adaire and held at the University of Indiana in Bloomington in 2001, the summit organizers sought to include people the organizers considered influential.  Networking fool that I am, I insisted that some others I knew be invited.  Among them were Patrick McCollum, Deborah Ann Light, and Sparky T. Rabbit.  Sparky came as a delegate from the Twisted River Witches.

Sparky served as a sharp facilitator of consensus process breakout groups, a job made especially challenging by the fact that many had not experienced that kind of decision-making.  Sparky was an expert.  Attendee Jerrie Kishpaugh Hildebrand said, “I met Sparky at the Pagan Summit in 2001.  His brilliance around the use of consensus processed was as inspiring as his music.”

Heartland Pagan Festival

The one time I attended Heartland Pagan Festival in Kansas, Sparky came, too.  He’d been there before, I think, and he knew some of the organizers, Parsley being the one I remember best.  My friend Grey Cat from Tennessee, who’s on the Other Side now too, and I were two of the featured guests.  Sparky was there to give a workshop on ritual, in which he emphasized play and spontaneity, and to perform a concert.  Sparky drove there with his pal Beal from Chicago.  We four formed an odd group -- two Midwestern gay men, one Tennessee crone, and one uppity Californian -- shared a cabin not far from the communal showers and the dining hall, but away from the tent campers.  We talked and laughed and had a great time until late into the night.

I gave a workshop I call “Chants & Enchantment.”  Though Sparky and I had been friends for years, we rarely enjoyed face-to-face meetings, so we took this rare chance to experience each other’s teaching.  This workshop happens to be one of my favorites.  In fact, some of the chants we use were written by Sparky.

The first singing I do in this workshop is a Sufi meeting dance of sorts.  I learned it from Ginny Brubaker of Chicago at that very same Circle Pines MerryMeet where I met Sparky and Steven, in fact, although it turns out she learned it from someone here in Marin County, California.  In any case, this chant involves people looking into the eyes of each person in the circle.  (I tend to lead workshops with attendees seated or standing in a circle.)  When I got to that part, Sparky discreetly left.  Later I asked him, “Too California woo-woo?” He confirmed that fact with a nod.

Sacred Harvest Festival

Macha & Sparky at Sacred Harvest Festival
In 2004 Sparky and I, along with Ivo Domingo, Jr., presented at Sacred Harvest Festival in Wisconsin.  I had designed a special ritual for that weekend entitled “Witchual: A Spell.” We cast a spell to view the dark and light, in ourselves and in our communities; to recommit to Goddess; and to reclaim and honor stereotypes.  My design concept was influenced by Sparky and Steven, so I was especially eager to learn how Sparky had experienced it.  However, I have a rule not to critique ritual – every ritual deserves honest critique so that it can become as effective as possible – sooner than 24 hours afterwards.  Sparky laughed a lot that evening that I’d made that rule because he knew I was dying for his feedback.  I made it, though: the next evening he told me he loved it, and got specific about what worked and how.

* * * * *

Much of what Sparky and I shared had to do with Craft, ritual, Pagan community, Pagan groups and organizations, the massive dysfunctions we see that drive us nuts, as well as the ritualists, activists, and artists we respect and admire.  We’re passionate about all of the people and culture we love so much.  That, of course, is why we sometimes become frustrated.

Sparky was not a candidate for Mr. Congeniality, although he was a congenial man in my view; nor was he one for Mr. Popularity, although he was popular in the sense that people liked him and wanted to be around him.  But Sparky didn’t care what anyone thought of him when he spoke his mind.  He would get on a tear about some topic and he would work it and work it and work it until he reached some understanding, and satisfaction that his points were being understood and appreciated, if not agreed with.  I’m sure there are readers who’ve known Sparky, or maybe heathenbear or Bruner, on listserves.  We both got kicked off of one list due to Sparky’s persistence in a particular discussion of het male assumptions.  I had never actually taken a position in that fight, which is what it devolved into, but evidently my friendship with and support of Sparky was enough to get me banned.

At the festival from whose list we were banned.
From time to time Sparky would have a falling out with one friend or another, or more than one at the same time.  He held his grudges in a strong grip.  Eventually, with the passage of time and some perspective, rapprochement could be achieved.  Even forgiveness and renewed vows of friendship.  I am among those who did time away from Sparky for a hurt he felt.  In the end, though – and I’m sure of this from our conversation about a week before his passing – everyone forgave everyone else and he knew who loved him and he loved them back.

He regarded his identity as an artist as sacred.  He took pride of authorship; he insisted on proper attributions; he valued honesty.  He was a perfectionist of his creations.  And he expected nothing less of others.

When I felt I had to disassociate myself from the tradition of my forming, both as Witch and as tradition, Sparky was a tremendous source of support.  He helped me analyze the things that bothered me.  He sent me articles.  He opined.  He reminded me of old feminist analyses about the tyranny of structurelessness.  He took his concerns to the leaders and organizers of the larger community, via an international listserve.[2]  He phoned frequently to see how I was processing this big change.  He was a wonderful friend to me.

* * * * *

Upon learning of Sparky’s death, my friend Ivo Dominguez, Jr. wrote:

Sparky T. Rabbit’s voice is intertwined with the roots of my development as a witch, and we still use the chants that he wrote and the chants that he popularized within our covens today.  I played the cassettes for his two albums so often that I wore them out and had to buy replacements twice.  I cherish the one time that I had the opportunity to sing with him.  It is still a luminous fanboy moment for me.  I grieve the loss of such a beautiful man and his beautiful talents, but I also grieve that so many in the current generation of Pagans have not heard of him.  What is remembered lives.  Take the time to look him up and find copies of his music which is finally available again in digital formats.  Then you'll feel the joy of discovering his music, and also share my sense of loss as well.  May he go forth shining.

Abby Willowroot says, “and yet, the music lives on and nourishes all who and sing it. Many Blessings on the passing of this uniquely creative Pagan Spirit.  May the road he next walks be as inspired and fruitful as the Path just walked.  May All who feel this loss acutely be comforted, and may they soar as they perform rituals in Sparky's memory.”

Even in just that past three days I’ve run across several posts and articles I just have to talk with Sparky about.  It’s not that I have no one to explore these ideas with; I have good friends for that.  But they are not Sparky.  They do not have his unique perception, his sharp edge, his principled stand, his unwillingness to put up with bullshit.

There’s so much more to say!  I hope others will contribute – fill in blanks, offer stories not yet told.  I know many knew him in completely different contexts than I did.  Nothing here touches on his fondness for Lord Ganesha, his explorations of his Scandinavian heritage, so many other things.

The terms Sparky claimed for himself is *argr* seidhmadhr.  I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve forgotten what he said it means.  Can someone who reads this help me?

To Sparky, *argr* seidhmadhr, I say goodbye, dear friend.  May you find peace, wherever you are.  We who remain on this side will keep your light aglow, for what is remembered lives.

[1]   I’ve taken the liberty of copying some Facebook responses to Sparky’s death in order to share them with people who aren’t on Facebook.
[2]  For any Reclaiming folks who may be reading, I had nothing to do with Sparky’s presence on RIDL.  He, in fact, asked me to sponsor him and I declined, believing it inappropriate for me to do so.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Memories of Morning Glory

From a party at Farida & Conly's house, July 2006
In my view, one of the most comforting activities one can do after a loved one has passed through the veil is telling stories about the deceased.  Stories tell us who we are, where we came from, what we might become.  They are our primary teaching tools.

“We're all made of stories.  When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on.  Not forever, perhaps, but for a time.  It’s a kind of immortality, I suppose, bounded by limits, it’s true, but then so’s everything.”
                                                                                                        ~ Charles de Lint

One of my first memories of Morning Glory was from 1981 when we were both at the first MerryMeet gathering that accompanied CoG’s Grand Council, held at Rodeo Beach in California.  Although time has dimmed my memory, I do carry many fond ones of this, one of my first larger witchen gatherings.  (See Judy Harrow.)

At that time she and Oberon (Otter then) were members of a CoG member coven called Holy Order of Mother Earth (HOME)[1], which is one of the best names for a coven I’ve ever come across.

Decompose & Recompose

We who were there collaborated on several rituals that weekend.  My then-coven, Holy Terrors, also offered a unique ritual celebrating the Wheel of the Year; that’s fodder for another feast.  However, there was one ritual the strongest memory of which I carry is the chanting of “Decompose and recompose and decompose and recompose and decompose and recompose.”  I’m not sure if Morning Glory was the one who came up with that power chant, for that’s what it was, but I do remember her flinging her head and body up and down while she chanted that phrase with great gusto.

Medusa & the Unicorn

Another early memory is from a Samhain event in Berkeley that was either one of Gwydion Penderwen’s Witches’ Balls or the first repeat performance (i.e., second) Spiral Dance ritual.  (Since Gwydion died in 1982 and the Spiral Dance debuted in 1979, it had to have been 1980 or ’81.)  Anyone who knew Morning Glory knows that she loved to dress up.  What better occasion to strut your stuff than at Hallows?  There she was, leading a live unicorn (Lancelot, methinks) dressed as Medusa.  She wore snake skin-printed close-fitting pants and top made of some kind of shiny nylon fabric.  Her face was painted green, and if memory serves, she wore some kind of blinking eyeglasses.  Spectacles or not, her hair served as her crowning glory.  Dozens of rubber snakes adorned her head, weaving and bobbing as she moved, and making an unforgettable and powerful image.   She darted her tongue in and out a lot, and when she spoke, she hissed the esses. We didn’t have digital cameras in those days, but I hope someone got a snapshot or three.  Perhaps my writing this will cause one to resurface from someone’s archives.

Roasting a Pig

Years later my then-lover and I went to Annwfn for Beltane.  The Zells and their entourage had recently returned from an expedition to the Caribbean in search of dugongs to explore a theory about mermaids.  We were eager to here their reports and view their photos.

The plan was to feed the assembled Pagans with a pig that was being roasted buried in a pit.  It seems that often hippies have more enthusiasm than real knowledge, because although the pig had been roasting all day, when exposed we found it to be raw.  The sun was setting, stomachs were beginning to growl, and there was no pig upon which to feast.  So by this time Morning Glory, myself, and maybe one or two others had taken the pig into the yurt where we began cutting the pig into smaller pieces and cooking them fast in a skillet.

* * * * *
Let us tell our stories.  Let us celebrate our loved ones, those who are here and those who’ve gone to the Other Side.

[1]   HOME is now the name of an Elvin nature sanctuary in Indiana.  That was 1981 and this is 2014 C.E.

Friday, May 16, 2014

MIC’s Annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast

Don Frew, Macha, Matt Whealton, Carol Hovis
What’s a Witch to do when her interfaith council’s 15th Annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, which occurs on the first Thursday in May, falls on Beltane?  Well, she sings up the Sun with the Berkeley Morris Dancers at dawn, then hustles across the bridge to Tiburon with her Wiccan (Gardnerian, to be specific) interfaith colleague, Don Frew, to rendezvous with Matt Whealton, a practitioner of Kemetic religion from the Temple of Ra, at his first foray into interfaith activities.

I attend this event every year.  MIC began hosting its own truly interfaith prayer breakfast on the same day that conservative Christians hold a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C., with the President in attendance.  National Day of Prayer was established by Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1952, although it has antecedents that go back as far as the Second Continental Congress in 1775, when citizens were supposed to observe “a day of publick [sic] humiliation, fasting, and prayer”… and to bless our rightful sovereign, King George the Third...” I daresay that, considering that their 2014 theme is “Lord, hear our prayer!” the factions who created the day have not evolved to appreciate the religious diversity found in the U.S. today, in 2014 C.E. (Common Era).

MIC’s breakfast, though it is partly about and does include prayer, celebrates religious diversity.  The breakfast customarily features three different speakers from three different religious traditions speaking about that particular religion.  Three years ago Don Frew, representing Witches, spoke, along with a Buddhist and a Mormon.

* * * * *

This year we heard two other speakers, in addition to the three featured religious teachers:  Annie Reynolds, MIC Board member and Tamalpais High School Senior, announced a youth program later in the month.

* * * * *

Heidi Kühn
I was most moved by the reports of Heidi Kühn, Founder and CEO of Roots of Peace, “a nonprofit, non-religious NGO turning mines to vines – replacing minefields with bountiful vineyards and orchards worldwide.”  Heidi told us of having her home in Kabul attacked by Taliban fighters just last month.  As it turned out, the attack had been focused on the preschool next door to her home.  Cowards shooting at five-year-olds!!!  Heidi said that the Afghan forces who were supposed to be protecting them, as American peace workers, resisted the Taliban forces for an attack that lasted four and one-half hours!  Ultimately the Afghani forces succeeded and the fighting ended. 

This is not just high-minded talk.  This is real people doing real work to benefit the lives of our
fellow humans.

* * * * *

Note pentacle and Nile goddess.
Speaking on behalf of the Bahá’í faith, Darrell Metcalf of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’í of San Rafael, explained that the religion was founded in Persia on May 23, 1844, and now claims more than seven million followers worldwide.  Darrell spoke of three core principles of oneness:  “unity of God,” “unity of religion,” and “unity of humanity.”  He said, “Like mirrors, we tend to reflect what we give attention to.”

* * * * *

Lama Palden Drolma
Third to speak was Lama Palden Drolma of the Sukhasiddi Foundation, “founded in 1996 … [to] provides a vehicle for the teaching and practice of Vajrayana Buddhism in the West. … emphasizing “the cultivation of deep realization and understanding – even in the midst of our ordinary lives – so that wisdom, compassion and loving-kindness can open and flourish within us.”

Sukhasiddhi Foundation’s Core Values

  • Honoring the feminine principles of openness, relatedness, peace, harmony, natural unfolding, embracing, nourishing, unconditional love, and wisdom;
  • Embracing the masculine principles of clarity, one-pointed concentration, grounded strength, skillful activity, organizing, discernment, and creativity;
  • Bringing the inner feminine and masculine principles into harmony, fruition, and union. Integrating spirit, psyche, and body and integrating practice with everyday life;
  • Practicing being a good world citizen by: caring for our mother earth, ourselves, and each other; honoring the equality of all being; practicing generosity towards all beings; and acting with integrity, truthfulness, and honesty;
  • Facilitating the unwinding and releasing of unhealthy habitual patterns, as well as taking responsibility for our own body, speech, and mind;
  • Developing courage, self-reliance, confidence and flexibility;
  • Facilitating the bringing to consciousness of the student’s own innate wisdom; and
  • Cultivating a conscious spiritual community within an environment of support, friendship, and mutual respect that encourages open, direct and loving communication, and enhances compassion, loving kindness, fulfillment, gratitude and joy.
* * * * *

Bill Englehart
The Rev. Bill Englehart from Unity in Marin told us that Unity, founded in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1899, was part of the New Thought movement, that also includes Christian Science, Seicho-no-Ie (in Japan), Divine Science, and other iterations.  Bill stated, “As we think, so we experience life.”  He articulated the Five Principles of Unity:

  • There is only one Presence and one Power active as the universe and as my life, God the Good.
  • Our essence is of God; therefore, we are inherently good. This God essence was fully expressed in Jesus, the Christ.
  • We are co-creators with God, creating reality through thoughts held in mind.
  • Through prayer and meditation, we align our heart-mind with God. Denials and affirmations are tools we use.
  • Through thoughts, words and actions, we live the Truth we know.

Bill stated, “Prayer is primary.  Prayer changes us.  We become like the god we worship.”

* * * * *

Some interesting facts I note is that of the composition of speakers about three different religions represented at the breakfast this year: (a) only one was Abrahamic; (b) two were monogamous; (3) two, being fewer than 250 years old, were New Religious Movements; and (4) one was non-deist.  I’m proud to be a member of an organization that welcomes and respects people of all religious persuasions and spiritual expressions.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Morning Glory’s “Wake”

Morning Glory, Morgan, Wynter, Baby Girl

My old friend Anna Korn and I drove up to the Zell compound in Cotati after I finished with the Wiccan circle at San Quentin, so we weren’t there from the very beginning.  When we arrived, there were cars parked up and down both sides of the country road outside their home and the place was packed.  There was a proverbial groaning board in the dining room that kept acquiring more and more dishes of food.  Platters of ham, beef, chicken for the carnivores.  All manner of salads and side dishes – beans, pasta, greens, tomatoes and pomegranate seeds, you name it.  Plus veggies, breads and many tasty chips for dipping in many tasty dips.  There were also food tables out on the various decks surrounding the house, with plenty of folks outside, too.  There was a seemingly endless supply of wines and other potables, including Pyrate Jenny with her lovely basket filled with about a dozen different flasks, each containing some kind of whiskey or rum.

People congregated in the two living rooms, the den, and in several seating clusters on the surrounding decks.  During this time Zack Darling, using a fancy video camera with a tripod and a handheld mic, recorded stories about Morning Glory from individual friends and lovers.

The stated plan was that small groups of people would be shuttled to the hospital for brief visits with MG.  Only two visitors were permitted in her room at a time. 

Anna is an old friend of the Zells and other Pagans at Greenfield Ranch, and in fact had lived there for a time in her younger years, so she was going up there to see MG. 

However, since I have never been involved with Church of All Worlds, although I’ve attended a weekend gathering now and then over the past 30+ years, I had planned to defer visiting to others who were either closer or who’d come from farther away. 

My former Holy Terrors coven sister Cerridwen Fallingstar had visited her only two days earlier, on Thursday, and said it was a really hard visit because MG was in such intense pain.  One of the first friends I spoke with when we got to the “wake” was Richard Ely, another old friend.  Richard told me that he too had visited MG a day or so before, and that seeing her in such extreme pain was difficult.  So hearing this news reinforced my plan to forego a face-to-face visit.  It seemed to me that, however much she appreciated a gathering in her honor, one in which people related loving, often hilarious tales about her, she had only so much energy in her weakening state.  There was only so much time, and there were so many people!

So I spent the time visiting with old friends, becoming better acquainted with others, and meeting a few new ones.

When Anna and I arrived, Cerridwen, who planned to drive back to Marin with us, was off at the hospital with Morning Glory.  She told us when she returned that MG seemed much, much, much better today.  Evidently the medical professionals found the right painkillers for her.  I was relieved to learn this.

But it’s the other observation Cerridwen related that upset me.  It turns out that some of the visitors to Morning Glory’s bedside had never met her before!  Why would someone who’s never met the patient choose to take up limited time, space, and the patient’s energy to get some grand introduction?  There’s a carrion-esque feel to this situation.  Not that I don’t love carrion eaters; I am one.  But carrion eaters wait till their meal is dead before diving in.

Now I didn’t ask Morning Glory if she welcomed people who didn’t know her.  Perhaps she did.  One might reasonably assume that someone took on the role of figurative gatekeeper of access to MG, in which case some boundaries might have been set up.  Again, perhaps someone did and everything was copacetic.  I wasn’t there.  But I can tell anyone reading this right now: if I’m in any kind of state wherein my health is compromised and I need others to care for my daily needs, whether in a hospital or at home, please do not bring strangers to my bedside!

Cerridwen, Avelynn(sp?), Willowoak, Raina, Julie (my hand in foreground)

Farida, driver for that particular shuttle, soon left for the hospital with Anna.  While they were gone I mostly hung in the living room where MG’s famous collection of goddess statues are displayed.  Personnel shifted, but most of the time Julie Epona more or less presided.  Others I got to catch up with a little bit were Anodea Judith, Willowoak (who was super unsteady on her feet, had fallen more than once that day, and seemed to want her wine cup refilled often), Raina Woolfolk.

During that period Zack recorded Cerridwen, a former lover of MG’s, reading a story she’d written about her early days with MG.  The scene was a park in a middle class neighborhood in the Los Angeles area.  I found it to be a magical piece, full of love and sensuality.  I was glad I happened to be there to listen to it told directly to MG via the camera lens.

Anyone who knows Morning Glory knows she’s a sensuous, sexual, loving being, so it’s not surprising that other lovers spoke, including MG’s “Filly from Philly,” Diane Nemea Laessig.

Hospital visiting hours having concluded, we loaded our car to leave when Oberon drove in the driveway with a car full of folks.

I hope that this tribute served to lighten the spirits of Morning Glory and all her loved ones and caregivers.

Photos by Diane Nemea Laessig.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Perspective on “Wiccanate Privilege”

There’s been a lot angst expressed over the notion of “Wiccanate privilege.”  Personally, I dislike the term.  I think that stating this dissatisfaction at the outset by the using the notion of “Wiccanate privilege,” or any other kind of privilege, sets up an oppositional stance when perhaps none was intended.  Or if it was intended to be derogatory or critical, I feel disappointed, even hurt.

I’ve read most, but surely not all, of the discussions of this topic in the Pagan blogosphere.  Between what I’ve read and attending the “Wiccanate privilege” discussion at PantheaCon, I feel reasonably well informed. 

I’ve participated in interfaith activities for several years now.  I publish reports of most of these activities on my Broomstick Chronicles blog, the CoG interfaith blog, and Wild Garden at Patheos.  I’ve been active member of Marin Interfaith Council where I live.  Most regular attendees at MIC events know me.  For some years I worked more specifically on MIC’s Justice Advocacy Team.  I’ve learned a lot about situations in my county: housing for the homeless; teen suicide; substance abuse; affordable housing; water and open space issues; increases – they’re nearly always increases – in the number of people relying upon food giveaways to feed their families rather than as a supplement; and many other local problems.

I’ve also participated in other, sometimes broader interfaith efforts: United Religions Initiative; Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County; MountainTop; People of the Earth; Auburn Theological Seminary’s Center for Multifaith Education are some. In addition, I’ve participated in co-created interfaith rituals (homeless memorials; celebrating light in winter; reaffirming peace efforts on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, re-integrating returning veterans, for example).  I provide this sample of my involvement so readers know I’m speaking from personal experience within the interfaith movement.

At most events everyone is asked to introduce herself[1].  When I first began this work, I used the name “Macha” and the term “Witch,” because that is who I am and because the organization I represent is the Covenant of the Goddess, a witchen organization. (I’m not getting into the Wicca/Witchcraft terminology discussion here.)  Before long, I began to introduce myself as a Pagan, because I am a Pagan.

No surprise, others asked me about what Witches do and what we believe.  One of my Roman Catholic friends in the JAT once asked me, very hesitantly, “You don’t worship Satan, do you?”  I said no, and spoke a bit about horned and antlered gods and their having been conflated with the Christian concept of the devil.

When I speak of being a Pagan, I make a point to mention that Witches (or Wiccans, for those for whom the term is more comfortable) are not the only kinds of Pagans out there.  I explain that we are the more visible and the more populous, so that’s what the public sees.  That is why the uninformed (both the general public and religious leadership) may be unaware of the diversity of spiritual expressions found in contemporary American Paganism. 

I explain that Paganism is an umbrella term for many contemporary, generally polytheistic, sometimes ethnic-based non-Abrahamic forms of religious expression.  I say that the term embraces Druids, Asatru, Kemetics, reconstructed religions, et al., and that some of them considered themselves to be Pagans while others chose not to identify with that label (thinking of Heathenry in particular, since some Heathens shun the association.)

I make no claim to be able to speak knowledgeably about minority Pagan religions.  I say nothing beyond the most basic description.  For instance, that Kemeticism is a reconstruction of the religion(s) of ancient Egyptian.  Further, I offer to find them resources, and then, if they’re really interested, to try to find a real life human practitioner with whom to put them in touch.

I make these points in my conversations with interfaith colleagues because I don’t want them to see us Pagans as being monolithic.  In my view, our diversity and our questioning and reevaluating, are among our greatest assets.  I believe we are richer and healthier when we share our perspectives.  This is true for me in terms of interfaith (or multifaith or interreligious) engagement as well as within the Pagan spectrum.

For those of us who find these explorations of who we are, what our sources are, where we find inspiration, what our ancestors were up to endlessly fascinating, great!  But for most of the population, at least that part I’m exposed to, this kind of talk just makes their eyes glaze over.

Unless they’re theologians (few are) or evangelicals (again, few are inclined to work beyond their own sects), they don’t want to know all that.  The people who participate in interfaith activities are those who already can see that there are lots of different ways of experiencing and expressing the sacred beyond their own. They see that we (or at least I) share common concerns about society and the environment.  We share life-affirming values.

I invite non-witchen Pagans to join us.  That way you can be assured of the accuracy of any assumptions about who you are and what you do.  If that’s not feasible, then I ask you to trust me to speak on your behalf in a way that is respectful and not misleading.

[1]     I’m using feminine pronouns herein because I’m speaking from my own experience as a double X-carrying person of the female persuasion.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

My Take on the Kenny Klein Affair

If you’re one of those Pagans who socialize on the Web, you’re no doubt aware of the current shitstorm in the wake of the arrest of prominent Pagan musician Kenny Klein for possession and distribution of child pornography.

The way I see it, this occurrence has brought out the best and the worst conduct on the part of Pagans.

Among the worst are (1) screaming for his head; (2) protesting in his defense because there’s been no adjudication yet, just an arrest; (3) dredging up all manner of rumor, founded and unfounded, from the past; and (4) untenable ad hominem attacks on other prominent Pagans.

Among the best:  Bringing up all manner of past questionable conduct on the part of individuals, groups, and festival organizers.  You’ll note that this “best” relates to the third “worst” mentioned above.  Many have pointed out that they were silenced when they tried to speak out about someone’s bad behavior (much of which went far beyond the fairly innocuous and relative term “bad behavior”).

Much of this stems from the Pagan, or at least Witchen, emphasis on secrecy.  My friend Holli Emore notes: 

“Wherever secrecy and opacity trump community values, whenever we think that it is more important to hide ourselves or our group from the rest of the world, dysfunction can then grow rampantly, like black mold in a damp basement.”

I want to point out something that I haven’t seen mentioned yet.  That is that the mainstream news reports of this incident never once mentioned any kind of religious affiliation or persuasion on the part of the perps.  No mention of the fact that Kenny is known in the wider Pagan community.  Not one word.  That is as it should be.  No news reports ever mention anyone’s religion unless the report is specifically about religion, like the recent passing of Fred Phelps, for instance.  That, in my opinion, is one the triumphs of this situations. 

So when I see folks griping about how unfairly maligned we Pagans are, it bothers me that they cannot also see that work has been done to dispel misunderstandings about Paganisms since at least the 1970s.  So many of our Pagan cultural efforts – festivals, publishing, music, art, blogs, conferences, symposia, seminaries, and the like – would not be experiencing the warm and enthusiastic reception they enjoy were it not for this groundwork having been done.

Some of us old-timers have been working on behalf of Pagan credibility in the overculture for years.  We have worked to educate journalists, reporters, and the media in general.  Some have worked with law enforcement, even in the investigation of crimes around which such things as Tarot cards, sigils, and home altars have been found.  Others have worked in academia, speaking to college classes and seminarians, and some have worked in the arena of local, national, and even international interfaith.

So I choose to see this discussion, with all its fractiousness, as a sign of the birthing of a new, more established Paganism.  Labor is messy and painful.  All this screaming and figurative bloodletting I see as part of that process.