Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Pagan/Satan Connection, or Lack of One

Last March I started reading George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" and my life hasn't been the same since. If you ever bother to read Martin, you'll find this his writing style is dense. In the usual amount of time it takes me to read forty pages of any author, I've read twenty of Martin's. That's not all bad. I loved the story, the characters, and the depth of the whole thing. Since each book is nearly 1000 pages (or far more) it took an awful long time to read. Now that I'm through with it I've been totally crapping the bed about reading anything with any depth. (That's not to say I haven't been reading, I finished a whole book over the weekend, but my reading has been light.)

As I procrastinate and try to avoid any books that might require me to work my blonde brain I've been spending a lot of time surfing the internet. Much of that time is spent on Facebook. Last night I ran into a link from the Witches' Voice that took me to something written by Theistic Satanist Diane Vera. Quite surprisingly, I'm pretty well versed in the history of Satanism as a movement, and even more well versed in the development of Satan in the Old and New Testaments, even though Satanism is one of the few religions I'm not particularly tolerant of.

Unlike some of my more enlightened friends there are a few religions I make fun of: Scientology, Satanism, Militant Mormonism, but that's pretty much the list. I don't wish any ill will towards Satanists in general, I just find the idea of worshipping a sketchy demonic entity from the Bible kind of, well, dumb. I just don't understand where you go with it. I realize that Yahweh can be kind of a bastard, especially in the Old Testament, but that's not quite enough to start worshipping his prosecuting attorney. I'm also fully aware that (Anton) LaVey style Satanism is more of a selfish philosophy than an actual religion (which is why the "Theistic" in Theistic Satanism is so important, differentiation between those who worship the Devil and those who follow LaVey's ideas). I think naming a philosophy "Satanism" showed a shrewd carny like business sense, but also proved that the ideas contained within aren't strong enough to stand up on their own without a dash of sensationalism.

I do think that there are good things that can come out of Satanism. For someone with serious self-esteem issues LaVeyian philosophy probably works pretty well as a self-confidence builder. I lied, I can't think of any more "good things" that might come out of it. That's the only one. For me, being a Pagan is about living in harmony with stuff, if I wanted to force my "dominion" over the Earth I'd be a Christian (a crappy Christian who doesn't really understand Christianity, but a Christian none the less). I can't come to grips with lakes of fire, and brimstone. I need the beauty of the green earth, songs that sing on the breath of a breeze. If you get that out of being a Satanist, more power to you, but that doesn't seem like the purpose of it all to me.

Back to that whole not reading thing . . . . . I clicked on the link and then ended up at Diane Vera's Theistic Satanism page, and suddenly found myself with lots to read. While I had some problems with Ms. Vera's essay "A Critique of Wiccan and Other Neo-Pagan Disclaimers About Satanism" it would be silly to call her ignorant or ill-informed. She's obviously smart, and extremely prolific. Her website is more "book" than website, just tons of information, but I did object to some of the things she wrote about Satanism having an influence on Modern Wicca.

One of my main objections was in a section about common inaccuracies modern Pagans have about Satanism, specifically Ms. Vera's contention that Witchcraft is not the name of a specific religion. She writes:

"Many Wiccans use the word "Witchcraft" as a name for their own religion, implying that Wiccans are the only true Witches and, therefore, Satanists can't be Witches. But the idea of "Witchcraft" as the name for one specific religion is absurd. There are witches all over the world, in many different cultures. They don't all belong to the same religion, and they don't all worship The Goddess."

Much of what she writes there is true, there are "witches" all over the world, and the word "witchcraft" is generally used to convey the idea of malevolent magic by scholars. However, a "Witch" is simply a practitioner of The Craft, or Wicca in the United States. "Witchcraft" with the capital "W" means a specific path, one that can generally be traced to Gerald Gardner and other folks in Great Britain who nurtured it. I've never been a big fan of the word Witch, but with capital letters it's our word, and it applies only to Modern Paganism. I'm not saying someone couldn't call themselves a "Satanic Witch," but the word "Witch" alone is ours. It doesn't mean anything other than (Modern Pagan) Witchcraft.

Vera attempts to link Satanism and the development of Modern Paganism in her Satanism and the History of Wicca article, and while I'm willing to admit that Pagans borrowed from everyone and everything, I think she's giving "Literary Satanism" far too much credit. Yes, writers like Jules Michelet were among the first to link the idea of medieval of (persecuted) witchcraft to Satanism, but writers like Michelet (and later Margaret Murray) always saw that "witchcraft" as a perversion of ancient paganisms, not Satanism in the idealized modern sense. Besides, Michelet wasn't trying to write actual history, he was trying to write a best-seller.

Vera says that Charles Leyland's "Aradia" was one of "Wicca's major sources" and mentions the husband of Diana being named "Lucifer" in the text. While parts of Aradia have certainly been influential, the cosmology of Aradia has been abandoned and the extremely unethical belief system outlined in its pages is definitely not a part of the Modern Craft. If "Aradia" truly represents a legitimate strain of religious thought or philosophy from nineteenth century Italy, it's likely that it dates back to the Renaissance, and the name "Lucifer" was chosen simply because there were so few options. My parents didn't name me after "Jason" from the argonauts, just because the male principle in "Aradia" is named Lucifer, that doesn't necessarily make him the Christian Devil.

It is true that Witchcraft and Satanism shared an uneasy bed in the late 1960's and early 1970's, and Vera does make mention of Paul Huson's "Mastering the Art of Witchcraft," but that book has been nothing more than an "artifact" since shortly after it was published. You really won't find a lot of Pagans today excited about buying (or even reading) Huson. There was so little occult information available during that period of time that it all sort of blended together, but the mixing was short-lived, and is now most certainly a relic.

Vera also mentions several "feminist" writers from the nineteenth century, and while Matilda Jocelyn Gage did come up with the "eight million women were killed during 'The Burning Times'" footnote, I have yet to meet a Pagan who has ever read Gage. It just doesn't happen.* In fairness to Vera, her essay was written years before Ronald Hutton's "Triumph of the Moon" or "Wicca: Magickal Beginnings."

I'm about as well versed as anyone when it comes to the history of the Modern Craft and I've never been able to find any real connection. Writer like Murray were trying to articulate the belief that if there was a real religion behind the Witch Trials of the Renaissance, it was a pagan one, that might have been bastardized enough through centuries of oppression to end up being labeled "Devil Worship." Murray traces the evolution of her Witches' God to a period before Israel, Yahweh, Jesus, and certainly Satan.

Vera wraps up her essay with "It would also be nice if Wiccans would stop making inaccurate pronouncements on what Satanism is, such as, 'Satanism is a form of Christianity' or "To be a Satanist, you must believe in the Christian God," but isn't that the point if you are Theistic Satanist? Aren't you saying that you believe in the Satan of the New Testament, and for that being to be real you have to believe in the New Testament?

*Though admittedly I run in strange circles, so if there is someone who has read Gage in Pagandom, I might know them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rituals Should Make Sense!

The words we say in ritual should make sense to us. That sounds like a no-brainer, but so often that's just not the case. People try to make ritual sound "more flowery" than necessary, adding archaic sounding language so that things sound "old." There's nothing wrong with saying "thee" or "thou," but it shouldn't become a distraction. If you spend more time worrying about what you are going to say than actually saying something you are going to end up in trouble.

While Ari and I are Gardnerians, we will also always be Eclectic Wiccans, wanting to write our own rituals, use our own gods, and adapt things in ways that work specifically for us. As we get closer to starting our own circle in California we've really begun to talk a lot about ritual, and how it's formed, and what we say during it. We often do things in ritual out of habit, without thinking about them, and much of our discussion has revolved around removing things from ritual that borders on nonsensical or theological inconsistency.

Most of us are familiar with Doreen Valiente's "Charge of the Goddess." I've been using it in ritual for nearly fifteen years, and it's always been a high point of ritual for me. However, it has its share of problems. Just look at the first few lines:

"Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men: Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Cybele, Arianrhod,
Isis, Dana, Bride and by many other names."

You might be wondering what the problem is, I think it's glaringly obvious, how many of you worship Melusine*? Melusine is basically a mermaid, and you could make the argument that there are many Melusine's and not just one, like it's a race of water spirit. Do you know how to pronounce Melusine? For years I tended insert the name "Demeter" in place of Melusine, or skip it all together simply because I didn't know what or who Melusine was. Language in ritual is difficult, we tend to accept things just because they are there. While Valiente was certainly a better writer than I, she was writing in the early 1950's, and in this day and age I have to assume I have more access to information about pagan gods and goddesses.

Dione was a Titan and the mother of Aphrodite, not a popular goddess, and it's very likely that many people who read Valiente's Charge think they are calling to Diana, who is already mentioned in the Charge as her Greek counterpart Artemis. I'm not picking on Valiente here, I'm really picking on myself for simply reading something and not truly understanding. If Valiente's Charge is truly going to reflect my beliefs it might be better for me if I change a few things in it.**

"Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men:
Artemis, Kali, Athena, Astarte, Sophia, Aphrodite, Freyja, Ariadne, Demeter,
Isis, Dana, Bride and by many other names."

Now this list of deities makes better sense to me. Arianrhod and Cerridwen are more mythological figures than out and out deities, and that's something I've always been uncomfortable with so it makes to me to remove then. (Besides the Cauldron of Cerridwen pops up again later in The Charge.) I've never been a Cyble worshipper, and the Charge is certainly lacking in Norse deities. Sophia the Gnostic Goddess of Wisdom might seem like an odd pick to some, but it speaks to me, and my Goddess is a goddess of wisdom. I included Kali because our Goddess is a goddess of death, that needs to be acknowledged. Ariadne is a selfish choice, somewhat unique to Ari and I, but it makes more sense than Melusine, which brings me back to my original point.

Flipping through Herman Slater's "A Book of Rituals" I'm always struck by some of the language, and that while it sounds cool, it doesn't reflect how I speak, write ritual, or even think. This excerpt is from the circle casting:

"I exorcise thee, O creature of water, that thou cast out from thee all the impurities and uncleanliness of the Spirits of the world of phantasm."

For some people there's a real joy in archaic language, for me archaic language ends up becoming more about remembering archaic language than it does about focusing on what I'm doing. Water is a creature? Did we really just use the word "uncleanliness" there? The world of phantasm? Phantasm is a complex word with many definitions. Some of those definitions are as simple as "a figment of the imagination," but here it's being used (I guess) to represent the world of the dead, or more specifically the evil dead, since many Pagans do place some emphasis on ancestor spirits.

If saying "I exorcise thee" floats your boat then by all means say it, but the point of the exercise here is to simply cleanse the water for use in purification. Some words and phrases are cool to say, "cast out" being one of them, but I can certainly do without saying phantasm most of the time.

"I cleanse the water, the sustainer of life and source of many blessings. I cast out all impurities so that the sacred water might aid us in our rite. Blessed Be!"

Perhaps you like the other version better, which is fine, but to me, my ritual needs to make sense, to be simple, especially when other folks are at who may have never been exposed to the "Spirits of the world of phantasm."

You can write the most exquisite call to the Goddess ever, but if you are using a name of hers that most (or all) are unfamiliar with it's not going to do a lot of good. You can write the earth shattering call to the West, but if you call the undines and no one knows what an undine is . . . . you get the drift right?

*In fairness, in Valiente's day it was far more common to worship creatures and individuals out of folk tales as if they were gods. Many books published in the first half of the last century argued that nearly any creature or character from such tales was a reworked version of a Pagan god. Valiente probably thought she was including the specific name of a goddess with Melusine, but facts and information in 2011 tell me something different. If you want to worship Melusine, go right ahead, I worship Herne whose origins are also in folk-tales. In "Fairy Tale Rituals" Kenny Klein came up with some fantastic rituals using characters like Cinderella and Rose Red, there is no harm in that. It's just that I'm writing ritual for ME, and as such it has to make sense to ME.

**While I would argue that the Charge of the Goddess is holy writ, it's been adapted several times. The earliest printed version we have dates back to Leyland's "Aradia" in 1899. That was in turn adapted by Gerald Gardner, and then by Doreen twice! Starhawk has an adapted version in "The Spiral Dance." It's safe to say that you probably SHOULD adapt it to your own needs.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Catalyst for Me Today? The Old Me.

I'm leaving California this weekend and heading to Nashville TN for my (insert year here) High School Reunion. I'm expecting a rather surreal experience, as the person I am today is nothing like the person I was twenty years ago. Back then I was a Republican, rather conservative, probably homophobic, and hopelessly quiet and insecure. Now I'm mostly the opposite-though still a bit insecure and quiet at times. I've learned to be a people person, but I'm naturally an introvert.

My progression from Church Youth Group President into Pagan Rock Star seems quite natural to me when I look back on it now, but to my former classmates it probably borders on nonsensical. My first steps on the Pagan Path date back to the third grade when I picked up my first books on Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Now Sasquatch, despite my best effort, is not a Pagan icon, but the books about him/here were in the "Occult/Paranormal" section. I knew who Aliester Crowley was in fourth grade. I devoured books on ghosts, werewolves, vampires, demons, UFO's, and general weirdness back then. I was aware of "The Key of Solomon" long before reading a Judy Blume book.

Talking to other Pagans, this doesn't make me unique, apparently lots of kids were drawn to a more "occult*" path in much the same way. My love of the paranormal never really abated and in seventh grade I read my first "Witch" book. Though I remember the author, Sybil Leek, I don't remember which of her terrible paperback books it was. What I most remember about that book is that it contained the words "O Triple Goddess" and that upon reading them, I instantly felt a power beside me that was older than Yahweh, something as ancient as the universe its self. It was like the whisper of an older person, full of wisdom, with the hint of the power they once had. That was Her, though I had no idea what to do with this knowledge.

The second thing about that book was that it contained a spell for finding lost items. That spell worked like a charm when I couldn't find another one of my library books. I literally found it within four minutes of reciting that spell. Instead of being elated that spell scared the shit out of me. It worked far too well, but I should have know that, since I had seen magick work back in the second grade.

When I was a kid I had warts on my fingers. Not a gross amount, but two that just wouldn't go away. We tried "Compound W" and burn those suckers down to the ground, but they would always come back. A friend of my Father's gave him a copy of what they called "The Full Moon Trick" where you recited a spell by the light of the full moon and held your warts up to the moonlight. I probably giggled while we Dad and I did the trick, but it worked. I was wart free within two weeks and they never came back. Hail the Goddess!

So by second grade I knew that magick worked, and I was heavily into Greek Myth at the time too. Yes, I called Persephone Purse-Ah-Phone but I still liked the stories. I remember trying to worship Zeus for a day or two as I wondered why no one worshipped the Greek Gods anymore. In ninth grade I built a clay "temple" in art class dedicated to the Goddess Aphrodite. I thought that if I was ever going to fall in love, it was Aphrodite I should be petitioning. I remember rolling little tiny phalluses out of clay and setting them on the altar in my "temple." Little did I know that I was practicing sympathetic magick. Of course I was too stupid to word my request properly, asking to fall in love instead of asking for a reciprocated love. (I'd continue to make that mistake for at least another eight or nine years.)

I was spiritual in High School, no doubt about that. I had a relationship with Jesus, but I never saw that as "the one and only" pathway to the Divine. In the back of my mind I always had the "if there's only one way, why are there so many religions bug?" and when challenged by a Church Youth Group Counselor over whether or not an atheist who lived a good life should go to hell for not accepting Jesus, I came firmly down on the side of "A loving God would never condemn anyone to hell" if they lived a "good" life.

When you read paranormal books you end up reading lots of cool stories about reincarnation, so I was an early believer in that. Much like I do now, I didn't think everyone was reincarnated, just those who wanted to be. I don't want anyone to think I was "progressive" as a high schooler, I wasn't, these were mostly internal things, but in who I was I can see who I eventually became.

My senior class ring has a "Christian Symbol" on it, and to this day I have no regrets about that decision. Church played a large role in my high school years, but I didn't live in "Church," I lived a pretty secular lifestyle. I listened to Heavy Metal and had lots of cassette tapes with parental advisory stickers on them (my Dad was super cool about that). I had no desire to listen exclusively to Christian bands or get caught up in that "box" lifestyle where you try and separate yourself from whatever else is going around. I remember getting angry when a new Youth Group Leader tried to get our group to go that route (I was 17 at the time, so she didn't even really try with me, I think she could tell it was not my bag).

My secular music obsession lead me to Led Zeppelin, which was one of the other catalysts to becoming a full fledged Pagan. For a long time I was embarrassed that I had a religious conversion because of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, but at this point it makes sense to me. Spirituality should be about things that make us happy, happiness brings us closer to the gods. If they didn't want us to be happy they wouldn't have put pleasurable things on this planet. Life is not some sort of cosmic test to see how many of those things we can avoid, but a challenge to see how many we can take advantage of (in a responsible way of course).

So while I sometimes have trouble recognizing Jason circa 1991 I realize that Jason circa 2011 wouldn't exist without him.

*I hate the world "Occult." Occult means secret knowledge, and I have no secret knowledge, well, other than a few things I know about Ari that I can't share. My religion is sunshine, moonbeams, hard cider, and music, not incantations and nightmares.

*More like "Pagan Lecturer, Now With Dick Jokes!" but Ari likes "Pagan Rock Star" better.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

There Are no "Black" Witches

"People always ask me about the intent of witchcraft and what it is used for. The answer in 'white' covens is simple: it is to be use the powers for good amongst the circle and its friends."-Vivianne Crowley in "The Book of English Magic."

Blogging is a unique form of written communication. Writing a blog is not like writing a book, there are no large threads connecting various "chapters." It's probably most akin to essay writing, but blogs tend to date easily, and topics you'd never touch on in a book seem to be fair game in the blogosphere. Bloggers are also free to write about nearly anything that touches their fancy, or bothers them. This is one of those short blog posts about something that bugs me, namely the quote above.

Perhaps it's because of the differences in approach to Witchcraft in the United States and witchcraft in Great Britain, but the phrase "in 'white' covens is simple" bothers me greatly. In the United States I've never heard anyone call a coven "white" or "black." If there are legitimate "black" (evil) covens of witches perhaps its time we call ourselves something else? Besides talk of covens being good or evil provides all sorts of fodder to Evangelical types who are convinced that every sabbat celebration is just cover for drunken orgies and baby sacrifice. Why perpetuate the stereotype by claiming that there are some of us who are "bad," which is what Crowley's quote above certainly does.

Having travelled extensively throughout North America I have yet to meet a "black" coven of witches. So far I've encountered no notorious groups attempting to harm people through the power of the Lord and Lady. I have found "Witches" worshipping dark gods like Kali, but that certainly wouldn't make the practitioners evil. Besides, Dionysus rules the lands of death in some versions of his myth, Hermes escorts the souls of the dead to the underworld, and Pan has raped a nymph or two; my gods certainly have moments of "darkness" that I don't want to emulate.

Worshipping a "dark" god can be very empowering. Want to overcome the fear of death? Worship a goddess of it. Need to feel empowered? Worship a deity who controls the portal between this world and the next, there's not much more control than that.

I'm sure that there are people who abuse the principles of magick found within Modern Pagan Witchcraft. It's just as easy to curse instead of cure, but when that boundary is crossed are those people even practicing Witchcraft anymore? "An it harm none, do as you will," while the Wiccan Rede is rather ambiguous (who are the none exactly?), I think we can all agree that cursing someone or trying to bring about harm violates that principle. There aren't a lot of rules in the Modern Craft, but if you break the one rule we have in such an explicit manner, it's hard to say you are still an adherent*.

There are Satanists who have no ethical guidelines akin to the Rede or "The Golden Rule" and some of those people call themselves "witches." I can't control language, and people will call themselves whatever they want, but I certainly wouldn't legitimize them by saying there are two types of witchcraft. Because that's exactly what implying that there are two types of witchcraft does, it legitimizes those who are nothing like the rest of us.

*None of us are perfect, and I've certainly "harmed" my share of people, but it wasn't deliberate. Setting up a spell to cause illness would be quite deliberate.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Essential Reading-"Wicca: Magickal Beginnings"

I don't want to come across as a snarky ass, but it's a rare day when I actually "learn" something from a Pagan book. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy the occasional insights I get from reading Contemporary Pagans, or that I discount the majority of what I read. Some of it's very fine personal observation, or I get information about doing something I've always done differently, but generally I don't get those "A ha!" moments I got twenty years ago.

I don't think I've gotten a good "Whoa!" moment since reading the last Philip Heselton book; "Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration" back in 2003. I'm happy to report today that I just finished up a book full of "A ha!" moments, and I enjoyed it so much that I'm going to put it on my "Essential Pagan Reading List." The book, "Wicca: Magickal Beginnings-A Study of the Possible Origins of the Rituals and Practices Found in this Modern Tradition of Pagan Witchcraft and Magick." by Sorita d'Este and David Rankine is a tour de force exploration that entirely lives up to its very long title.

Nearly every aspect of British Witchcraft (the kind of rituals you read about in the Farar's "A Witches Bible," not the more American "eclectic Wicca" found at most public gatherings) is dissected and traced to its possible origins. The approach is scholarly, but with room for conjecture and theory. d'Este and Rankine don't ever come out and say something is hundreds of years old, they simply trace the evolution of symbols, language, tools, and ritual, concluding that many of the elements in the Modern Craft are quite old, though perhaps not given to us in a direct line from practitioner to practitioner up until the modern age.

The book is full of information I'd never come across before. Most people have always assumed that the use of the athame (ceremonial knife or dagger) evolved out of Gardner's fascination with knives, but there's apparently a long history of black handled knives in magick and the occult. While the "black handled knife" was never called an athame in such instances, it's use is certainly similar.

Many of my favorite moments concerned the evolution of "Wiccan Liturgy," especially a very long and thorough breakdown of "The Charge of the Goddess." While I've long recognized the parts from Leyland's "Aradia" and the excerpts from Crowley, the authors go further, revealing more Crowleyana than I knew of, and various other sources for the language in the Charge. Similar attention is paid to the wordings in Drawing Down the Moon and The Great Rite.

While I always aware of the influence Dion Fortune had on the Modern Craft, I was surprised at how often her words and ideas pop up in ritual. The amount of "Enochian John Dee" material was similarly surprising. I can only imagine the hours (months?) that went into their research, and the book meticulously footnoted to give you even more to do when you are done.

If I have any quibbles they are mostly due to a slight Alexandrian Slant (they are Alexandrians after all) in a few places, and the overall dryness of some of the materials they quote (can't quite blame them for that, but I needed some Red Bull to get through a few parts). All in all this is essential reading for anyone intrigued by the history of magickal practice and the evolution of Modern Wicca.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm Just as Hard on my Religion

I have a reputation as someone who is "hard" on Christianity. Because I refuse to accept many of the claims in the New Testament at face value, I've been accused of being antagonistic towards that particular faith.* Just because you refuse to accept a particular belief doesn't make you an enemy of anything. Critical thinking is something to be applauded, not vilified.

I've always been curious about religion, and refuse to accept any claim at face value. Just because something is said to have been written by the Apostle Paul doesn't make it literally true. If you are going to tell me that a guy was born from a virgin and then rose from the grave, you had better have some pretty hard evidence if you want me to believe those things in a literal fashion.

You see, my religion believes many of the same things. Dionysus was said to have been born out of the thigh of Zeus, which is just as miraculous as a virgin giving birth. Of course I don't believe it's literally true. Zeus was able to produce children because it served the patriarchal needs of Greece at the time, it had nothing to with the actual origin of the Wine God. Jesus was born of a virgin because the idea played to the pagan worldview at the time, and because someone didn't quite understand the book of Isaiah. It's no more literally true than the story of Dionysus, and both tales have an equal number of facts supporting them: none.

This is the problem most Christians have with me. For me research means more than just reading a text and perhaps some opinions other people have about it, it means understanding everything that was going on at the time it was written. It means questioning what I've just read, and reading sources contrary to my own opinions and conclusions. It also means looking at things from a rational perspective and not just accepting something because it's in front of me. Human beings are generally curious creatures, and being curious means exploring and looking at something from every angle. I also don't believe in throwing something out because it's not literally true either, something can have meaning and not be a real event. The power of myth is a strong and should never be dismissed easily.

I'm skeptical enough that I sometimes even rationalize my own religious experiences. Did my High Priestess really "Draw Down the Goddess" (have deity inhabit her body) or is it some sort of trance state brought on by the brain? Did I really channel Dionysus or did I just drink too much mead? Does it actually matter whether or not something is a trick of the head or a tipple of the bottle? I don't think that it does, as long as the experience is real to you. While I'm quick to discount statements like "he was THE prophet of God," or "he was the Son of God," I don't discount the religious experiences. Those are just as valid as mine, if not more so, since anyone who believes that the world was created in seven days probably does a better job of turning off their rational mind than I do.

I've never accepted anything in Paganism at face value. Long before Ronald Hutton released "Triumph of the Moon" I had serious doubts that Wicca existed in an unbroken chain for hundreds of years before going public in the 1950's. The idea always seemed absurd to me, and it does now. My rational journey has convinced me that magical systems can exist for hundreds of years absent from religion, but I don't buy whole religions lasting in secret with no paper trail for a thousand years.

Most people today have no idea how big discounting the foundational belief that Wicca is "old" was just ten or twelve years ago. I got kicked out of a circle once for stating it, it threatened people's beliefs that much. I can certainly see the romance in the idea that my religion was passed along in secret for hundreds of years, and that the women executed (murdered?) during the "Witch Trials" of the Renaissance** were my spiritual ancestors, but it's just not literally true.

While I used to scoff at the whole idea, the older me sees the validity of the "myth" though not the Margaret Murray account of the whole affair. The "Witch Trials" tell us to stay vigilant, and remind those of us in a minority religion that things can go south very quickly at any given moment. The world is not puppies and rainbows, people are capable of cruelty so its best to be vigilant. The "witches" of the 1500's are not my spiritual descendants, but their sacrifice has value to me today because of what it teaches me, and warns me about. So while I don't accept it as a "Foundational Truth" I accept it as a "Foundational Myth" and have found a place for it in my faith.

Maybe I'm so hard on Christianity*** because I've met so few Christians who are as hard on their own faith as I am on mine. The gods gave me a mind, that mind questions, I believe in putting it to use.

*For the record I am antagonistic towards a whole lot of people who claim to be Christians, but my problem has never been with the religion, just those who use it as an excuse to be close-minded, or not pay taxes.

*If you look at the real numbers, most of those executions took place during the Renaissance and later. The "New World" was being colonized (stolen from the Native Americans) during most of them.

***There's this really weird idea out there that anyone who is a liberal (like I am) gives Islam a free pass in religious debate. That's a ridiculous notion. The reason why I don't talk about Islam very much is that no Muslims read this blog or my facebook page. It's also not something I'm exposed to very often, and I don't know as much about it as I do Christianity (my former faith) and Paganism (my new one). Makes sense to me. If I lived in a European country (or Dearborn Michigan) with a large Muslim population I'd probably write about it more.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I am an altar whore. At my old house in Michigan I had eight or nine altars all over my house. Most of them were in my office,* now the majority are in my living room with one the in bedroom. I'm not sure when I first became infatuated with personal altar space. It might have been in high school when I decided to decorate my bedroom for Christmas. I didn't really do much in the way of decoration in retrospect, but I did prop up an old picture of Santa Claus (a Thomas Nast if that means anything to you), and surrounded that with a hint of tinsel and a very very tiny plastic tree. Since "Santa" is the unofficial deity of Christmas in some ways it was an altar to the Spirit of Gift Giving.

During college I began collecting Pagan things, and eventually had enough for a Pagan altar. My first altar was simply one of working tools: a few candles, an athame, a chalice, a tiny metal bowl that I used like a cauldron, some salt . . . There were no deity statues or anything like that, just bare bones tools. It wasn't very pretty but it was functional. Back then I did a lot of spellwork too, I was generally a neurotic mess constantly screwing up love spells and other crap, so that altar got a lot of work.

A few years later I began to stabilize as a human being and my focus totally shifted from spellwork. It became more like it is today: the constant pursuit of deity. To that end, my altar began to take on a different appearance. Instead of just working tools on the altar I began to build altars to specific deities/archetypes in order to get closer to them. Most of those archetypes I chose to get in touch with were the obvious ones: The Horned God, The Mother Goddess, etc. As time rolled around I kept up the altars to those powers, but added specific altars to Pan and Dionysus, one to just the Greek/Classical** gods, and even one to Jesus and his mama Mary which I thought needed "Donkey" from Shrek on it.

As I grew up my altars grew up with me. In Ari and Jason's more general living space I began creating seasonal altars for the both of us every couple of months. Most of those altars revolved around the seasons, but many of them were about specific holidays like Yule and (secular) Halloween. During football season we sometimes had a football altar up. My favorite one was generally the Spring Altar because we have matching Maiden and Goatboy statues, and of course we always position the Goatboy so he's chasing the Maiden (and despite cries otherwise, she does want to get caught).

Due to space limitations in California the Goatboy and the Maiden stay up all year now and now occupy Ari and I's main altar in the living room. While I have many "unbalanced" altars my favorite altars are always "balanced ones." What is a balanced altar? Well it has an equal amount of Goddess and God on it, and also representations of all four elements (earth, air, fire and water). The deity choses here are obvious ones: Pan, Ariadne, and the two young lovers. More subtle is the figure in the middle which is the Goddess holding a balled up Green Man in her arms. That might be Ari and I's favorite statue right now. The four elements are represented with the chalices (his and hers!) for water, the bell for air, the candle in the middle for fire, and the flowers for earth. In our own style there are glass grapes on the altar too. Grapevines are all over our altars, it's a part of that whole "Craft of the Vine" thing we've got going on together.

Our second main altar continues with the grape theme (these light up if you plug them in!) and features two of the four most important deities in our private (and soon to be more public) worship: Aphrodite and Dionysus. The three tiered cake holder was used at our wedding so it has special meaning to us, it also serves to remind us of the Earth's bounty since we put a lot of fresh fruits and veggies on it (and we kind of have to because of our tiny kitchen). The four elements are represented through an oil diffuser (air), candles (fire), chalice (water), and two sand dollars (earth). To the right is my stang (giant walking stick) and yes, that is a Led Zeppelin above the altar.

This is a very unbalanced altar, 100% male deity free. When Ari and combined all of our magickal things a few years my altars became our altars. One of her most cherished possessions is a very old Mary statue, so she sits in a place of prominence here. This altar also ended up getting a lot of my old Christian stuff, most notably the cross, but also Sophia the Goddess of the Wisdom who has set up shop in the corner. For some reason this altar has three pentacles on it, and a cat of nine tails for fire, but no other elements make an appearance. There is a Green Man mask on the left side of the altar, right below Aphrodite, so perhaps The God is here, sneaking a peak.

This is my most balanced altar, as long as you don't count Jim peering down from his perch on the American Flag. You've got two Bridgets in there, Aphrodite, Cernunnous, Kokopelli, and Pan. For the elements there are a few chalices, candles for each of the elements, a couple of rattles, a pentacle, and another oil diffuser. There's a small rock on the right that came from a Greek Temple in Turkey dedicated to Dionysus (a gift from a friend). This altar probably should be straightened up a bit, but since this one is "mine" it represents the frazzled state my brain has been in the last couple of months with the move.

The Goddess and God sit in the middle of this altar in their guises as the Horned God and Mother archetypes, and these two statues were probably Ari and I's favorite for a long time. Over the last couple of years we've become more "Hellenized" and more obsessed with Dionysus, Pan, Aphrodite, and Ariadne. I don't know if it's a sign of spiritual maturity or perhaps ego, but we've moved away from archetypes the last few years and into more concrete forms of deity. There's certainly still a place for the worship of archetypes in our practice, but we've just felt closer to gods with concrete names and myths lately.

One of the best things about being married to Ari is that I ended up with a woman who has a good sense of humor. Perhaps The Beatles aren't "gods" but John was right, they were "bigger than Jesus" for a bit, so they get their own altar space at the house. Parked behind them is a Jim Morrison race car, I hope Jim's not driving. If there was ever a band with four distinct personalities it was The Beatles. You could make a case that Lennon was fire for his passion, Paul was water for his "Silly Love Songs," Harrison was obviously air, and Ringo as the drummer the representative of earth. Until we get Led Zeppelin or Doors action figures we'll make do with the "need to be dusted pretty badly Beatles."

There are a few other altars in the house, but nothing as obvious as these five, though one has Princess' ashes on it and a love letter from my Grandpa to my Grandma back during WW II. While those things are important to me, I might want to separate them, those moving into morbid "Death Altar" territory, and I'm usually too sunny for that.

Hope you enjoyed the swing through our altars.

*Yeah, in Michigan I used to have an office. In California I have either the back piece of the living room, or the "dining room" that's too small to have an actual dinner table in it (that's what the television upstairs is sitting on). I love California, but we pay double what we were paying in Michigan for half the space.

**Isis sat on there, but she was worshipped by some Greeks.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Strange Triumph of Cernunnos over Pan

Currently I'm reading "Wicca: Magickal Beginnings, A Study of the Possible Origins of the Rituals and Practices Found in this Modern Tradition of Pagan Witchcraft and Magick." It's one of the best books on The Craft I've read in ten years. The aim of the book is to take explore the elements we traditionally associate with early public Witchcraft. There are exhaustive surveys on the use of the black handled knife (athame) and the ritual circle in magickal practice. There's a breakdown of the "Charge of the Goddess," and buried at the back is a little chapter on Cernunnos, the Celtic "Horned God," and it made me ponder some things.

That Cernunnos was popular with early Witches I have no doubt, but why he rose to prominence is another question entirely. He just sort of pops up out of nowhere and becomes the de facto representation of the Horned God in Modern Paganism. There's no slow build up, no real literary history to trace, He just conquers, and throws Pan off the throne that he was so poised to to sit on (or hump, it is Pan).

Cernunnos is an enigma. There's no mythology or stories. Can you name a Cernunnos tale that you read in elementary school? If you can, you are an incredible person, because none exist, unless they've been written relatively recently. Can you recite a few lines from your favorite Cernunnos poem? Maybe something from the 19th Century that you were forced to read in high school? Again, you can't, because they don't exist.

Now those myths and stories and poems are there for Pan. I've been reading Pan mythology since the second grade. I was familiar with Pan and Syrinx before I read a Judy Blume book. Pan shows up countless times in 19th Century literature, eventually owning the century and its poets; becoming the most written about deity in all of English literature. Most of us were forced to read Pan in High School, he shows up in Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, and numerous other poets. Pan was a rock star (on and off) for nearly 2500 years, Cernunnos wasn't written about with any regularity until the 1930's.

If there's one person responsible for the ascension of Cernunnos it's probably Margaret Murray in 1931, but even then I'm not sure. Murray's inclusion of Cernunnos in her book "The God of the Witches" was definitely a turning point. In the first chapter of "Witches" Murray weaves together 15,000 years of horned god iconography and myths and turns it into one Horned God. Though she doesn't single Cernunnos out for any special treatment (she mentions Pan a lot too), she does make him the starting point for the Herne the Hunter* folk-tale and turns Herne into a full fledged god.

In one chapter Cernunnos becomes Herne, and Herne becomes "Old Horny." Who can blame people for wanting to worship a god called "Old Horny?" Hell, I'm down with it. It's probably at that one moment in 1931 nearly 130 years of Pan poetry get flushed down the toilet, and the goat-foot god becomes second fiddle in the minds of Modern Pagans.

Now, I don't want to sound bitter about this, because I'm not. Cernunnos is a fine deity, even if what we know about him is a bit lacking. For those of you wondering, as best as I can tell, Cernunnos was never a fertility god a la Pan. There are no pictures featuring Cernunnos with an erect phallus. He's usually depicted in a sitting position with legs crossed (we called this "Indian Style" at my elementary school). Celtic hunters often assumed that position because it's easy to get up from, so it's probably safe to say that Cernunnos is a god of hunting. He usually wears a torque and has money on his person. Those are obviously symbols of wealth, perhaps nobility, after that there's not a lot of consistent iconography other than the horns.

As Modern Witchcraft is a British Religion there are some practical reasons for the ascension of Cernunnos. While he's not "English" and depictions of him in the British Isles are lacking (perhaps just six or seven, and even then whether it's the god generally depicted in Gaul is up for debate), Murray made him English. Linking him directly to Herne suddenly gave him a British pedigree, and Celts did live in Britain, so even if there's not a lot of evidence for his worship in Great Britain, it's at least possible. Pan, despite the love many English poets felt for him, was Greek, perhaps the worship of Cernunnos over Pan was a matter of national pride?

Cernunnos has other advantages too, not just his nationality. He's a blank slate; he can be about anything you want him to be since there's no back story. No one can point out his foibles or his rapes, unlike Pan. For someone like me who is obsessed with figuring out how my gods were worshipped in ancient times, Cernunnos is a problem. For the majority of people who don't care about such things he has a lot of advantages. It becomes impossible for someone to tell you "you are worshipping him wrong**," since no one knows how he was worshipped.

As a piece of iconography he has some distinct advantages over Pan. Cernunnos more easily fits the modern "Horned God" archetype, which has evolved into a strong, virile, middle aged man with horns on his head, generally those of a stag or deer. With Pan you get the baggage of the 24/7 boner and the goat legs. While the goat legs aren't a problem on the cover of a book, the raging hard-on is, advantage Cernunnos.

Society at large also has "Pan issues." Since Pan has been used as a "Devil" figure for the past several hundred years he sometimes comes with pre-conceived notions. While Modern Pagans don't make the mistake of Pan=The Christian Devil, the public's knowledge of Greek Mythology and religion in general is not what it should be, and Pan=Devil has become a shortcut to thinking in our society. While horns aren't universally loved, they aren't quite as feared as goat legs.

In Modern Paganism the "Horned God" is supposed to represent "The Ideal Pagan Man," and the ideal usually doesn't include goat hair. (Which I think is a shame, but I'm probably a minority.) While Pan has many fans and followers, the ideal is generally two human legs, and a phallus that deflates from time to time so there's not too much funny walking in the morning.

Cernunnos has emerged as a powerful symbol over the past 80 years, becoming the most recognized Horned God in Modern Paganism. Even those who don't worship him by name generally honor a "Horned God Archetype" made more in his image than Pan's. While Pan's place in 19th Century literature created the woodland ideal of the Horned God most of us know so well, it ended up being the Cernunnos honored in ritual and art.

*While worshipped as a deity in Modern Paganism, the earliest tales of Herne were more akin to ghost stories than mythology. If Herne has his origins within Pagan Gods, it's more probable that his "father" was Odin/Woden than Cernunnos.

**That doesn't stop me from trying though.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Word "Pagan" Works Just Fine

Being an active participant in the Pagan Blogosphere doesn't just mean writing my own blog posts, it means reading other people's posts as well. Catching up on "The Wild Hunt" this morning I stumbled upon a post by "Rogue Priest" Drew Jacob who has written a piece on "Why He's Not a Pagan." His post ended up being linked to the Wild Hunt and it sparked a great deal of criticism and thought.

I don't know Mr. Jacob, and I don't know much about his faith path. From what I can gather he's a "Celtic Reconstructionist" who doesn't feel at home in modern Druid groups. Fair enough. From the outside looking in most of us would (hell, all of us) would say that he's probably "Pagan." His argument against being "Pagan" is that he doesn't feel at home in the average Pagan circle, and that he gets along better (spiritually) with people he's met at Irish dances and Renaissance festivals.

Reading his blog post one sentence used to justify the shedding of the word "Pagan" jumped out at me the most:

They (modern Pagans) didn’t know what the ancient Celts did.

And here's where I get snarky . . . ."And you know what they did?" Remember, we don't really have a very good grasp on Celtic Religion. There are no written records, no Celtic Mythology from the Celts, mostly it's just a jumbled up mix of second and third hand accounts. Even Caesar's "First Hand Account" in Gaul has been accused by modern scholars of being second hand. There's really very little there. I know that ADF has tried to reconstruct authentic Celtic Ritual, but it's near impossible. Hell, as someone who leans toward Greek Reconstructionism, I can tell you that it's difficult putting authentic Greek Rituals together, and those people had written records!

I will admit that there are some horrible (shitty) books out there written by Pagans about "Celtic" religion. I can understand the desire to distance yourself from "Pagandom" after reading D.J. Conway's "Celtic Wicca*." Up until the late 1990's Pagan writers were allowed to write almost anything. There was no accountability when it came to the actual facts. That changed, eventually, but a lot of those horrible, unsubstantiated, books are still in print, and still an influence. Sure "Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition" is embarrassing, but I'm not going to cut the ties to all of Contemporary Paganism because of it. (And Mr. Jacob hasn't either, since he writes a blog on a Pagan website, he still has very real ties to Pagandom, even if he's trying to move away from the word "pagan.")

"Pagan" is a broken term, but it's what we've got. Jacob's religion most definitely falls under the umbrella of "pagan" because it's not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. Remember, that's the first, and simplest, definition of pagan out there. A quick google search shares the other definitions in common use. Webster's states that a pagan is "a follower of a polytheistic religion," not surprisingly Jacob calls himself a polytheist at the end of his blog post. Webster also gives "Neo-pagan" as a definition of Pagan, with the definition of Neo-Pagan being a "person who practices a contemporary form of paganism." It's almost like a crazy circle of pagan/polytheist/Neo-pagan.**

I am not someone who demands that words only be used in certain ways and I would never tell someone how to define themselves. If you don't want to be called a "Pagan" fine, that's OK, but I don't see the purpose in it. We are already fragmented enough, and if you, like me, are worshipping ancient European gods, I'd prefer to have you in my extended community. I want you to share what you've learned, and I can't get that information if you are putting distance between yourself and the rest of us.

I am not in agreement with Webster's on the definition of "pagan." First of all, it should be capitalized. "Christian" is capitalized, are we the only religion that doesn't get that courtesy? Secondly, their definition is incomplete, and far to simplistic. I think it would take a couple of sentences to truly define "Contemporary Paganism," but most dictionaries don't take that path, which is OK, but . . . . . .

Modern Paganism is certainly about gods and goddesses (polytheism), but it's also about nature. To leave out "nature religion" is to leave out half the definition. "Nature" is about the only thing most Pagans can agree on, and whether they admit it or not, it's always there. Since we don't celebrate the birthdays of deities (generally), our holidays revolve around celestial events, making them "Nature" holidays. Pagans are generally polytheists with a deep reverence for nature. "Polytheism" is a bit simplistic, there are atheist Pagans, and Neo-Platonist Pagans, but "polytheism" works because Modern Pagans, regardless of their own beliefs about deity, will be accepting of your gods.

There are a lot of Modern Pagans who are "Reconstructionists" and most of them haven't gone running from the word "Pagan." As I said before, there are times when I've done "Reconstructionist" Hellenic (Greek) rituals, and when I do that I take out all the "modern" Pagan elements. Jacob alludes to this in his post, if you are a "Celtic Reconstructionist" you rid yourself of modern influences. That means no quarters,*** perhaps no circle, and you don't celebrate solstices and equinoxes because the Celts didn't. When I do Greek Reconstructionist things i take out the circles, the quarters, Drawing Down the Moon, heck, most everything that is familiar to most Pagans. But because of the nature of the rituals, calling Pagan Gods, I'd say they are still Pagan.

I'd love to just call myself a Zeppelinite and be done with it, but if I did that, I would miss out on so many experiences and opportunities. Because of what I worship, and not so much "how" I worship, I'm a Pagan. My religion is wine, women, and song; but it's also connecting with ancestors from long ago (Pagan Antiquity) through gods that have been here far longer than the monotheistic ones. Yes, the word Pagan has problems, but it works just fine, for me.

(After commenting on Drew's blog, I began to understand why I became so passionate about this issue. I like people who think, and can separate "truth" from "speculative fiction." I don't want someone like that getting out of the tribe!)

*In defense of "Celtic Wicca" it's important to point out that D.J. Conway is a talented writer, and that "Celtic Wicca" was the first Pagan book I read as an adult. As such, it has a lot of sentimental value for me, but as a book about "Celtic Anything" it's mostly fiction.

**Neo-Pagan is a term I have trouble stomaching. I am a "Contemporary Pagan." Since we've been around since at least the 1940's, "Neo" no longer works. I mean, we are looking at almost seventy years now, that's a couple of generations. "New" no longer works. I'm a "Contemporary" or "Modern" Pagan.

***Which he makes explicit reference too, and which I find odd. Almost all the Druids I know don't call quarters, which is why I'm not a Druid. It's not "radical" to do something else.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Often times my best thoughts aren't written, they are spoken. This can be good, and bad. It can be good because they often occur in front of large groups and I end up looking the like smartest guy in the room. The bad part is I often forget those thoughts soon after saying them, and then they end up lost in the ether. This past weekend at Michigan Pagan Fest (a fantastic little festival that should have been much bigger), I had three pretty amazing thoughts. Of course I've already forgotten one of them, but two for three is great in baseball, and good enough for blog writing.

I was lucky enough to be invited to sit on two panels (and they even let me speak!) at 'Fest. One of them was pretty open ended and was one of those "Meet the Presenters" type panels. The second one is the one I want to write about today, and that panel was on community. There were some real heavy hitters on there too. Selena Fox (and you could argue that she is the Pagan community), Christopher Penczak, Raven Grimassi, Stephanie Taylor (Raven's wife, and she has more impressive hair than I d0) and from Great Britain Damh the Bard. (You've never heard of Damh? Neither had I, but he was really cool, good singer, and the English accent lent him an air of authority). There were a few more local types on it, but a lot of these folks I'm sure you've heard of, or read.

We got asked four or five good questions, and all got to respond. The opening question "How do you define community" was the best question, and my answer was very different from the answers the first five or six people on the panel gave. At one point an individual who runs a 501-C Pagan "Church," started talking about Muslims being a part of his "greater community" because he believes in religious outreach, and in the idea that we are all worshipping the same idea under different names. I disagreed, and his answer changed my entire perspective on the idea of Pagan Community.

I think it's wonderful to think that we might influence someone's opinion of our faith with "outreach." I don't believe it happens very often, but the idea is good. However, no matter how many "interfaith panels" I sit on, the majority of people in the audience have already formed an opinion. What I say might sway someone into thinking I don't eat babies (I don't, not even veal which is baby cows), but they aren't going to just mystically start approving of my faith. That's fine, at this point in my life I really just want to be left alone and not hassled. It's important for Pagans to visit things like "The World Parliament of Religions,"less important to come out to your Evangelical neighbors. Just be nice to them, and when they figure you out, then their opinions will change for the better, no need to be loud about it.

So as the panel slowly moves towards me and as Selena Fox says almost everything I want to say (the woman is great), I come up with this amazing, yet simple, definition of community. "Community picks you up." I realize that community is not a rental car, it's something intimate, it's something shared, and it should be full of people who know you personally or are in some way directly connected to you. Unless I have secret Muslim friend who has been hiding his faith from me, Islam is not a part of my community. It certainly exists in my broader tapestry of faith, but it's not my community.

Breaking community down I could only come up with 3.5 different types of Pagan community. The first one is the most obvious, it's the people you see almost every day, it's your immediate circle of family, friends, and faith practitioners. In Lansing Ari and I had an amazing Pagan community around us. Now we all didn't worship the same anymore, but the bonds of friendship were still there, and when we fell down, those people were there to pick us up, and we tried to return the favor. To me that's community, it's flesh and blood, and real. It's not an abstract, or a hope, it's something that either exists or doesn't.

The second type of Pagan community is more transient, but real enough, and that's festival community. Go to a large Pagan Festival and you'll see 1000 people build an intentional community. It's true that not everyone there is going to be my best friend, but at least we all are generally working towards the same goal: to create a time and place for spiritual growth and transformation. Also, my experiences at Pagan Festivals tend to be positive, and the majority of the people there are great, and nice, and would give you the shirt of their backs or their last beer in the cooler. I wouldn't expect my friends from Festival(s) to come running to my aid out here in California, but if I was there, I know that they would be around for me.

The third type of Pagan community is a little harder to write about, a little more abstract, and it deals with our specific Pagan Paths. If you are a Gardnerian and move around the country, it's likely that you'll meet other guards and be accepted. If you are a member of ADF (A Druid Fellowship), and you move, you'll probably be welcomed by other Druids in your new area. When we enter a specific tradition, we tend to be looked at as "brothers" and "sisters" in that faith community. If I was ever in dire need and that news was shared with the Pagans I'm involved with throughout the country, even the world, I like to think that prayers and money would be sent to me. That's community, picking you up when you fall down.

The fourth type of Pagan Community, I could only count as a "half." Probably because of my age, but I think there's some truth in it too. I happily have a ton of friends on facebook, most of them are people I've met, some of them are simply people one or two steps away from me. I tend to read them all and comment on them all. I feel close to a few of those people I don't know in "real life" due to their frequency of posting. We share an online community, and an interest in each other. When I update my facebook status with "I'm having a bad day" they respond and try to pick me up with happy comments. Would I expect those people to be at my funeral or to sit with Ari at the hospital if something bad happened to me? No, that's why it's only a half, but a half is always better than none.

Immediately after giving my answer, the next two people on the panel stole it, and used the "pick you up" line. I was intensely happy about that. I feel as if community should be built slowly. I know many people out there have these crazy dreams about uniting all the Pagans and putting something together a little more concrete than our current web full of many holes, but I don't see it ever working that way. Start small and start in your own backyard. If your circle isn't all it can be, then you need to start building your immediate community. Once that happens the rest will follow, mostly.

Community is the people you rely upon to get through life, not some faceless idea whose connection is only abstract.