Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Crossroad Vision - Or - We're All Naked At The End

About this time 6 years ago, I was interviewing for what would be my last big corporate job. I was asked what I would call my best and worst attributes. My answer was the same thing for both - that I am rather even keel in personality and approach. Meaning, that I am extremely calm and level-headed in the face of utter chaos, which is highly desirable for designers who are often faced with needing to pull a miracle out of a hat with a deadline of yesterday and no resources. It really takes a lot for me to rage-flip the cosmic tables. Inversely, when good things happen, I tend to take it all in stride, which I have discovered can be maddening (to others) in a corporate environment where much enthusiasm is faked.   (Really, to get me to appear super-excited, there needs to be a combination of sleep deprivation, booze, cake, and either bunnies or kittens, preferably both.)

And more than half a decade later, I have discovered that I continue to expand and deepen this approach in relation to most things, tempered with experience and soaked in memory.  I find it hard to get riled up over whatever is "the worst thing ever to happen to" (dance, Paganism, art, you name it) that week. Nor am I quick to embrace "the best thing ever to happen to's" either.  At this point I can look back at over 20 years on the Pagan Path (and coming on 17 years in dance) and note multiple examples of best and worst things ever that have come and gone.  But more importantly, I can see how change has had a role in growth, acceptance, diversity, representation, and community structure. I can reflect on remember the stories my mentors and elders have shared with me from the years before, can see the changes in my cohorts and contemporaries, and watch the next generation blossom and shift in the winds.

I call this vantage point "Crossroad Vision."  You are able to see where you are coming from, what's happening now, and you get a glimpse of the future. And the calmer you are, the farther out you can see. Though it can be rather frustrating to have this multifaceted grounded view of time while others are flipping their respective shit in the hot moment (for both sides of the equation).  One can get lost in despair about change not happening (at all or fast enough). But Change, it can be a slow, sneaky motherfucker. It rarely happens under your direct watch, and much more quietly and smoothly then you might think.

So I wanted to share this little metaphor about how ideas appear and cause change over time.

Let's say you are going to a week-long outdoor spiritual festival in the woods. It's clothing optional and you're camping. You practice the metaphorical interpretation of "ye shall be naked in your rites" versus the literal view, so being naked in front of other people is so NOT your thing.

Day 1: You arrive late in the afternoon and drive as directed to your camp site...turn the corner and get a full view of someone's naked butt. AH! Overt! Overt! You try and focus on the road and spend quite a bit of time getting your camping set-up just right before it gets too dark.

Day 2: You wake up finish setting up the grounds, and decide to go on a walk...and OH MY there are more naked people.  WHERE DO THEY PUT STUFF? THAT'S A LOT OF SUNSCREEN...WHAT ABOUT BUGS?

Day 3: As you settle into a workshop circle, you note there are 3 naked people. Yeap, them people be nekkid. That's a thing.

Day 4: You find yourself changing in your tent with the flap open.  It's too hot anyway.

Day 5: You're changing outside of the tent. Who cares? Easier than inside anyway.

Day 6: You're removing layers at the drum circle, mostly everyone seems to be missing a fair bit of attire anyway.  Safety and all that, you know.

Day 7: You don't even see any difference between naked and attired folks. No big deal. And now you're thinking about next year how much less stuff you would have to pack if you didn't wear clothes every day.

Yes, it's a fun (and um, somewhat true) story, but consider the gradual change in mind and relative personal comfort about nudity as a metaphor for any really any new idea taking root.  It may not happen in a week, but as people get exposed to more correct, current, and balanced ways of perceiving gender, sexuality, race, spirituality, ability, and more - they slowly and steadily begin to get used to those ideas, and learn to respect and/or embrace them. First people are made aware of the idea, then they see more of it, and begin to understand it - and it all happens at the pace of their own personal comfort and inner workings.  Some people work fast and move gracefully as they absorb, some people work slow and stagger clumsily and awkwardly into it.  But most people DO embrace change in the end.  Some people have a lot of fears and misconceptions they need to let go of first. Others may be watch quietly, and slowly absorb the changes into their psyche. There's no telling how it's going to go down.  Patience: it is definitely a thing.

So my advice to you, if you find yourself swept up into the next big "best/worst ever," take a moment to step back and position yourself on the crossroads. Take a good long look in all directions, and breathe in deep. Remember that Change is enduring, often adorned with Coyote's eyes and Fox's tail...but we're all just naked at the end.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Voice of the Witch

"Baba Yaga" - Painting by Tempest
The way of the Witch is not an easy one - nor despite the cyclical brushes of culture limelight, a truly popular one.

To be a Witch is to be of the marginal, and for the marginal of society.  This path is often iconoclastic, drawing a route against the grain of the majority.  This truth is nothing new, it's been this way for centuries, and I would hazard to suspect longer than that, given the patterns of human nature.

The Witch exists in a space simultaneously of the community and not of the community.  Partly because the Witch deals in matters of the Other - the gods, the spirits, the dead, the mysteries, and partly because the Witch is a keeper of knowledge, an independent thinker, and essentially a loner. When you see the world differently, it changes how you interact with it.

The Witch has long been the one who knows, the one you go to when no one else will help, in the dark depths of night, in the hidden part of the woods. The Witch is the gateway to the unknown, the dangerous and the wild.

So when we speak, it should not surprise us that our words are not always welcome. When we speak up for what we believe is the right way, when we stand to fight for the marginalized and against injustice, and when we seek to talk of balance, growth, and education - it will cause discontent. The same people may call you beautiful and gifted in one breath, may condemn and strike against you in the next breath when your words make them uncomfortable. But their response can't change your path or the validity of your words and actions.

This all is nothing new. It has been our history and is very likely our future. We have been hunted, tortured, maimed, condemned, jailed, burned, and killed for our ways. But we go continue on, because we must.  You must remember that their actions and responses reflect more upon them than it does you.  It can't steal the power of your words or your path - unless you let them.

It is easy to get caught up in the glamour, the trappings, the talk of elusive mysteries and power and forget that we walk and talk a dangerous path.  Be true to what you believe, speak it, and do it.  It takes a brave soul to shine light upon the fears and expose the shadows. And in time, they will learn, if you keep going.

Travel well.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

In Memory of Us

Jill Tracy & Paul Mercer at the OTO, photo by Tempest
This past Monday, in a darkened room in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, an eclectic crowd gathered to participate in an unusual performance - a musical seance with musicians Jill Tracy and Paul Mercer.

Individuals were invited to bring a personal item of meaning to them or from a deceased loved one, and place it on a table.  The musicians took turns selecting objects from the table, and invited the owner to share a bit about the meaning or person behind that.  Then a musical piece was composed on the spot to honor that spirit or memory.

I didn't have an object on the table, but that didn't stop me from contemplating the deceased, memorials, and ancestor worship.

Grave Sculpture at Metairie, photo by Tempest
No matter what name you give it, this time of year throughout the world is heavily steeped in traditions regarding the deceased: All Hallow's Eve, All Saints, All Souls, Dia de los Muertos, etc. (From a larger, longer perspective, every spiritual tradition and culture has some sort of ritual, observance, or structure for remembering the dead, even if it doesn't happen at this time of the year.)

Recently, I have seen a lot of different and interesting viewpoints from the Pagan/Polytheist community on honoring and interacting with the deceased, the Mighty Dead, the Ancestors. There are those with strong beliefs on what is the proper way to honor one's ancestors, and those who feel that their ancestors would definitely NOT approve of their spiritual path and would be offended by it, or would be disconnected by the generations that have passed. I think each has a valid point, as we all experience death and cultural identity in different ways.

For me personally, I grew up in a house that had some rather unusual otherworldly activity, but never had a sense that it was connected directly to our family.  My early introduction to death was the curiosity that I only had a godmother - my father's sister, as her husband/my godfather had passed away before I was 2.  When I was 8, my paternal grandfather passed away (preceded in death by his wife 31 years earlier), and while he was included in many family gatherings at our home, I was nowhere as close to him as my maternal grandparents, who I spent a great deal of time with.  Family drama post-funeral created a wall of confusion, making me more aware of the behavior of living humans than memories of the deceased. As fate would have it, it would be another 23 years before I would encounter death again in such a close family sense when my grandfather passed away.

Stained Glass Mausoleum, photo by Tempest
While I had great aunts and uncles and great-grandparents who passed on throughout my childhood, I never got a sense that they were "watching over" me. Why would they, when they had their own families (my cousins, etc) to watch? Nor did I have any self-identified "spirit guides", unlike most of the other professional psychic readers I encountered.  I certainly encountered other people's ancestors and spirits when giving readings, but not my own in such a specific way.

But in the time surrounding my grandfather's passing (before, while in hospice, and after), I began to have vivid dreams with him, involving long conversations and specific imagery. I was reminded of the Mediterranean and Slavic traditions that hold the belief that the ancestors can still teach and guide us after they have passed on.  Whether it was our deep personal connection, or that the relationship felt more in line with what qualified for receiving guidance in my book, I understood it and felt it. I had a lifetime of wonderful memories behind it.

But I digress, let's head back to New Orleans last Monday. Earlier in the day, we visited Metairie Cemetery to look at the beautiful monuments. Two days prior to that, I was thinking of my godfather as we passed Molly's At The Market on Decatur Street - as earlier in the year I had uncovered an article he had written about it in 1979.  It happened to be the bar we had met friends at on our previous visit to NOLA.  Standing in the cemetery, I began to wonder where he was buried, so I pulled up the obituary on my phone...and discovered it was the very cemetery we were at (and there are a LOT in New Orleans).  The office helped me locate the gravesite, and it turned out to be just meters down the road from where I was standing when the thought had occurred to me.  Coincidence? Perhaps. Godfatherly connection, or that I look very much like my aunt, and close to the same age she was when he died?

So this was all weighing heavily on my mind as I watched the musical seance. I felt the room chill as Paul played a song dedicated to his friend David who had passed last Halloween. I listened to people tell their stories through tears.

It struck me that we honor the dead for our own sake as much as theirs. We treasure the memory of them, our histories and experiences, to remember a part of ourselves. We perhaps hope that some day, others will think of us in the same way when we pass on to our next destination. That we won't be forgotten.  That maybe, in some form - may be it video, photo, object, or mitochondrial DNA, we will be a connection to both our past and the future.  I don't think it really matters whether you see the dead as familiar spirits that guide, angels up in heaven, a long line of mighty ancestors, off to reincarnation, or that there is no life beyond this one. What matters is that we acknowledge the power of death and the fast beautiful collection of moments that is life, and honor it.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Gods Must Be Crazy

"The Horned One"
Art by Tempest
I feel like lately I've been seeing a lot of commentary about how the Gods aren't nice.  The basis of the discussion roots in the "realness" of the gods, and that they aren't all sugar and spice, made of just pretty statues and paper cutouts, waiting to grant our wishes and desires.

As someone who spent 10 years in Catholic School and whose mother taught religion while also having a Jewish father, my education included fairly intense theological discussions, and a keen interest in the Old Testament. Add to that a life-long passion for mythology from around the world - Egypt, Babylon, India, Native American, Greece, etc. So I can't help but think of both "my God is a vengeful god" and "and the Goddess/God was jealous of X, and cursed her to..." and go "No shit Sherlock, really? Who really thinks that?"

Whether you view myths of deities as a means to explain the mysteries of nature and human existence, or have a very real, personal relationship with a divine entity, it's very hard to deceive yourself  into ignoring the reality of how the world works.

Water gives life, but can flood and drown you.  Fire brings warmth, but can burn down homes and ravage the landscape. Earth brings us food, but can also yield poison and swallow us whole. Air gives us breath, but can also destroy and break us down.  Myths from every culture extol the virtues and blessings of the Gods, as well as their most foul attributes.  Which is no surprise when we look at the nature of humanity - our brightest and darkest moments, and everything in between.

If we are modeled in the form of the gods, why would they be different from us in virtue, vice, and personality?  If we all (gods and humans) come from starstuff, why would we not have other things in common?  Whether they exist because of us, we exist because of them, or something in between, we are undeniably linked.

I do understand the tendency for one breaking away from Judeo-Christian religion to want to embrace an opposite sort of deity - often one that is female, kind, accepting, and understanding.  But I think that is a fantasy that is short-lived as one grows to understand our relationship with nature, the divine, and ourselves. We know that a woman isn't just one thing, and that a mother goddess can be fierce and angry, just as a father god can be nurturing, protective, giving, and supportive.  One cannot be aware and not have an inkling of the balance.

As you journey along your path, if you happen to forge a personal relationship with a divine entity or spirit (or multiple ones), then you very quickly grow to understand the nature of it - the give and take of energy, the diversity of personality, the blessings and the curses. If we do come into it naively, the gods do not suffer fools well, and it's either sink or swim with the current.

So it makes me wonder, who are we really scolding about understanding the nature of gods? Or is it more about congratulating ourselves on figuring it out?

Either way, the gods are laughing.

A few words to listen to:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Many Gods, Many Minds, Many Truths

It's been a week since I attended Many Gods West in Olympia, WA.  I thought about doing a write-up immediately after, but I realized I was mostly wearing my producer hat.  I needed some time to consider the depth of my experiences, and leave the technical notes aside to send along later. (The producer mode is all about "how do we make this better on a technical level for next time" regardless of whether it's my event or not - and it's very hard for me to turn that off. It also means I tend to be thinking about things differently than regular participants - either way, I'll save those notes for the folks whom they pertain to.)
I'm going to travel through this post first via the timeline and facts, then by thoughts/experiences.

I don't remember how I first heard about MGW, but from the start I knew I wanted to go (especially since it was fairly local and low-cost since we have family there to stay with) - and when Anaar told me she was coming up for it, that sealed it.  We sent in several proposals for programming, and the band was selected to perform on Saturday evening.  There would be no vending at the event this year, which presented me with the rare opportunity to be able to actually attend other programming.  Normally my convention/festival experience is split between presenting, performing, and vending - and despite desires to attend other things, it rarely happens. (Note: I need more minions.)

We got stuck in a crazy amount of traffic that was relentless the whole drive down, causing us to arrive much later than expected. After dropping off equipment that couldn't sit in a hot car (it was also in the 90's), we were desperately hungry - and ended up missing the opening ritual in favor of physical nourishment. (No one wants a traffic-ravaged, hungry Tempest in their rites, trust me.) We did make the first set of panels (Seb Barnett's "Androgynous Spirits and Gender-Bending Deities"), explored the local shops, and attended Morpheus' keynote address.  Then promptly crashed out for the night.

Saturday started off bright and early with 9am panels, and four hard choices reduced to two because the presenters of those were unable to make it.  Which was disappointing at the time, but also fortuitous because we were able to make it down to catch most of Gwion Raven's presentation on Ceridwen. After that, we attended "Anonymous Spirits" with L. Phaedrus, who currently hails from RI, but I think arrived well past the time I was active there.  Didn't attend the post-lunch panels as we needed to head back to pack equipment and get ready for the evening's performance at Obsidian.

Obsidian is a very cool venue in terms of space, offerings, and vibe.  However, it was not equipped for the unusually high temperatures, which made the space quite hot already before you added in lights, sound, and a roomful of bodies.  Anaar and I opened up the evening with an improvised ritual dance, and there were a couple of other performers before the band went on (Attila - a rapper from the Bay Area and Weather Veins from PDX) - and alas, during that time, the black box room only got hotter, which wore folks out.  But despite the heat, when the Nathaniel Johnstone Band hit the stage, there were quite a few folks up and dancing - and many more enjoying the music from the cooler room just beyond.

I had intended to attend a 9am panel on Sunday, but we got in way too late after breaking down and loading out the band the night before.  I was able to attend Jason Mankey's "Wiccans are Polytheists, Too."  My initial response to the title was "well, duh, of course they are" - but having met him the day before and hearing his name around on the net since PantheaCon (remember, I've been in a Pagan bubble for a few years), I wanted to hear him speak - and I quite enjoyed the panel. Oops, I'm pushing past the timeline into experiences....Then I sat in on Anaar's "Feri & The Mighty Dead" - because in all of the years I have known her (over 13 now) and all of the things we have done together, I have never heard her give a formal presentation on Feri. (As to why, go back to my earlier point of what happens when I normally am attending an event and doing all the things.)

After that, we were all exhausted - and being concerned about traffic heading home (and the cats being in a hot house), we headed back home to Seattle, unfortunately missing the last presentations of the day - but very happy to bury ourselves in good food and drinks at our favorite local dive bar, and in bed by 9pm.  Because that's how we roll.

So now for the thoughts.

Overall, I enjoyed the conference very much.  It was an interesting gathering of people on a nice scale (just under 200), and I'm very glad to have met some really wonderful people and get to know others better. Many of the best, long-term/on-going relationships in my life have come through the Pagan side of things, and I can see more developing. I often find it hard to engage with people and make new friends, but somehow, on this path, people just amble in and join me, like they've been there the whole time.

I found all of the panels/activities inspiring on different levels. I took notes in two formats: drawing and actual written notes.  Drawing may seem like "doodling" - as in not paying attention - but I actually listen very well when I draw, and it helps me think more deeply.  (I often listen to podcasts and radio programming when I work on art, versus music.).  The images in this blog post are all from MGW:

In writing notes, I often found myself writing down more questions and thoughts in response to what was being said, versus making note of what was being said (though that did happen too!).  Some may take that as meaning I didn't like those panels, but that's not it at all.  It is not until we hear the thoughts and positions of others that we are more able to determine/articulate more clearly our own.  That's the beauty of diversity - that we can see the differences, respect them, and learn more about ourselves in the process.

Other thoughts:
-There is a lot of new vocabulary that has cropped up over the several years (while I was "away") that I need to familiarize myself with - as well as new names/faces.

-There is a great deal of thinking and intellectualizing going on in the community.  This is good news overall, but we also need to be careful of being too much in our heads.  There is going to be a need to balance it with the arts and the body.

-I am endlessly amazed at the amount of parallels between my Tradition and Feri.  We may have different words and stories for things, but the concepts are very much the same in many ways.  Also, Anaar and I don't get to spend enough sans-event time together. We got much plotting done during her visit.

-It is important to realize and acknowledge that our experience is just that - ours. Our relationship with deity is first and foremost between us and the Divine.  Others will have relationships as well, but they will differ.  The differences do not invalidate your experience or relationship - or their's. We are all with our hands on a different part of the Giant Cosmic Elephant.*

-I am looking forward to the next MGW! For a first time event, the producers did very well, and I expect to see more good things in the future.

(*By making Elephant singular, I am not saying all gods are one god, but rather we ALL have a common source of stardust.)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Harm None?

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1504
I think the major issue with most "codes/laws" presented by religions is that they are often only observed superficially and/or however it suits the agenda of the believer and/or organization.  No matter how divinely inspired, humankind is imperfect and prone to misinterpret. It's also easy to pass the buck over to the "next life" versus taking responsibility now in the one that matters most - THIS ONE.

And that most people fail to see that it is our actions that speak for us, not our beliefs.  You can say you believe anything, but if your actions display something altogether different, then your beliefs are meaningless.

This has been a particularly heavy New Moon. I have been contemplating the murder of a beautiful spirit, who just a month ago was such a bright face in my Tribal Fest workshop, the unending waves of sensational media attention on circumstantial fluff while more serious issues lay at hand, the relentless flow of politics that dehumanize most of the population instead of focusing on improving quality of life for all, the massacre of innocent people in their sacred spaces because they looked or believed differently, and so forth.  Really, it's everyday news everywhere, but it shouldn't be.

Last week I finished reading "Jitterbug Perfume" and it crushed my heart reading within it the fictional event of an innocent black man being killed on the street by two white cops- pulled from the headlines of the early 80's (it was published in 1984)...and here we are in 2015 and what has changed in 30 years?

All I can see at the root of all of this suffering is one thing.  It's not some manufactured construct or scapegoat with the face of evil. It's the inability to feel empathy and respect for each other as human beings, regardless of creed, gender, color, sexuality, etc.

It is not just about the sanctity of life itself and preventing killing - (It is an imperfect world, everything feeds on life...) - it is the lack of respect for quality of life that is at the heart of most human-inflicted tragedy.  It's easy to dismiss the suffering of the less-fortunate as "they didn't work hard enough" or "they did something to deserve it" or "they are different from me" - but the line separating "us" and "them" is a haphazard game of chance.

Hate isn't expressed only through killing, but through other less obviously"violent" words and actions.  Harm is done through ignorant speech, labels, and slurs, by voting to deny others clean water, air, nourishing food, affordable housing, access to education and healthcare, by failing to see we're all in this together, by excusing actions in this life for the next, by turning away from those in need when you can make a difference, and by blaming the victims. Every day, so much food and water goes to waste, safe and affordable housing is lost to progress and profit, hardworking people battle to make enough money to live, while the system pushes against them to make less to get what they need.

Hate is passed down over generations because people are taught there aren't enough resources to go around, that someone else is to blame for their problems, and that violence is the only agency to gain or maintain power. That anyone who looks or thinks differently is a threat. That if you're "owed" something, then you take what you want, that things matter more than people, that everything on this planet was made for your own use. That God meant love these neighbors, but not THOSE neighbors. That God will forgive you no matter what you do if you just say you're sorry, or exalt you because of what you did in his/her name.

It becomes problematic for everyone when someone places more value on the next life, than making this life better, now.  The modern concepts of heaven and hell were (and are) used to control people, keep them inline, to not question the system, and to fill the banks of churches.  It essentially removes any and all responsibility a human has for their actions - that some divine entity made them do it, that you can do anything, be forgiven,and get into heaven when you die.

The problem doesn't sit only with Judeo-Christian concepts.  If one interprets"Harm None, Do What Thou Wilt" to mean you can do whatever you want as long as it doesn't inflict what you consider to be harm, it's rather empty.  Harm, as we can see, is not such a cut and dry concept. Likewise using the "Threefold Law of Return" as a precise system of doling out punishment and reward is far too basic.  In reality, every action we do has a positive and negative reaction - and I don't mean good vs. evil, but a real scientific gain/loss equation.  Nor is getting rewards or avoiding consequences isn't a healthy means of living responsibly either.

Yes, ALL of these concepts are merely guidelines, created with the hopes of constructing a better humanity.  Again, no matter what divine origin they can be attributed to, they're only as good as the people teaching and practicing them.

Within the Modern Tradition of Witchcraft, we have several keys to apply to practicing:
-Know Thyself - be aware of your strengths and your weaknesses (mentally, spiritually, physically)
-Accept Responsibility - acknowledging both known and unknown consequences for your actions
-Maintain Balance - not just about focusing on moderation, but understanding extremes and working with them

These keys may sound easy, but it does take a great deal of critical thought, consideration, understanding, and dedication to follow them. After all, we're only human. But we also capable of great things and our imperfections shouldn't to be used as an excuse, but rather as a means to become better. We can use these keys to challenge our own prejudices and ingrained stereotypes, to break the molds of system designed to control and separate us, to question ourselves when we find ourselves reacting negatively to others because they are different from us...and in the end, create a better now, here on earth.

I think if we all can examine ourselves, our beliefs, and our reactions more closely, taking time to consider how they affect us and everyone around us, we can truly start building a better humanity.  When we find ourselves being hateful to others, especially because of what they may represent to us, if we take the time to ask ourselves WHY, we can start to undo the cycle.  If we teach our children to be responsible, considerate, capable of both critical thought and empathy, we are building a better now.  And if we can see beyond our own needs (and wants, and the difference between those) to what others may need, we can strengthen society.  Hope may seem like a fragile thing in this world, but a little goes a long way to change the now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Age of Secrets

There are two seemingly separate topics I want to write about, but I keep finding that they are entangled and intertwined like vines....Age and Secrets.

When I was much younger and finding my way on the path, I felt that surely that there were secrets to be uncovered, protected by the initiated and handed out to the worthy.  That if I found the right mystery tradition or gatekeeper, all the knowledge would be revealed.  Also, somewhat related to those secrets, I would experience real anxiety thinking about the burning of the library in Alexandria, or the knowledge lost with the countless possible cunning folk killed during centuries of witchhunts.

Now? I believe that there are no secrets, only revelations. That isn't to say there aren't any mysteries and that all of the answers are out there in plain sight...but rather we learn things as we're ready to receive them...and that no one person or path has all of the answers. And that knowledge is never really lost - it always finds its way out again.

Growing up, we tend to think of our parents as infallible, and that they must know all of the things. But as we become adults ourselves, we realize that they are human, just like us.  That means they can be equally wrong as they are right, depending upon their experiences and choices.

The same is true regarding an "elder" of any path or tradition - they are not all-knowing or always-right.  But it is important  - with both ones' parents as with elders - to give respect where it is deserved. And a true elder (as with a good parent) fosters relationships that allow respect to flow in both directions.

What does that mean and look like?

In both dance and Witchcraft classes, I often talk about the stages of growth I've identified below:
-the neophyte/beginner: eager to learn everything, freely admits they know nothing
-the acolyte/beginner-mediate: staunchly dedicated to what they're learning, full of fervor for their new-found passion, and quite vocal about everyone/thing else being wrong
-the practitioner/intermediate: a swinging pendulum of confidence and insecurity - trying to prove they know things while secretly worried they will be found out for not knowing.
-the elder/advanced: has forgotten more things than they count, are still avid learners open to new ideas, and aren't afraid to say they don't know.

I have been blessed to have worked with several wonderful mentors along my path up until this point, and what sets those individuals aside from other would-be instructors/teachers/elders is that they were (and are) just as willing to seek advice from me as I am from them.  Even though they are recognized masters of their respective fields, and have been practicing for decades - they are not closed to hearing about other experiences and perspectives.  They also find that their own paths are more fulfilled in seeking answers outside of themselves and what they know.  The biggest secret that is not a secret is - the more we learn, the more we are open to grow and share, the more we can understand what makes, connects, and expands us.  And that power doesn't come from hiding, gate-keeping, or taking from others, but from mastering of oneself - spiritually, mentally, physically.

So for all of you seeking the secrets, the answers are waiting within you, poised for the right time and place to be revealed.  It won't happen all at once, nor from one source, but if you seek, you shall find. Or sometimes, the best revelations aren't the ones you think you are looking for.  Look at your journey as nonstop, and that as you go along your path, you pick up tools that help you uncover more clues, maps, and possibilities.  It's essentially a choose-your-own-adventure book that has infinite possibilities - all unique to YOU!

Most importantly, anyone who tells you that they are the keepers of the secrets and that you must submit to them to discover them - well, they're essentially telling you they don't know any.  A person who lauds "don't you know who I am?" over anyone else hasn't reached the elder stage.  They're more concerned with what they know and what power they can hold over others.

And so this is the point where the concepts of secrets and age find a twisted mutual root. Every relationship must start from a place of equal footing and understanding, in order for respect to take root.  Respect comes from active, healthy growth that is constantly renewed - not a ribbon or crown that sits upon a dusty pile of books or long-ago deeds. Laurels can become stagnant, and youthfulness is not to be discounted for a mere lack of apparent years. Wisdom comes not strictly from the numbers of years, but by how well you have experienced those years and choose to share them with others. A true mentor or guide understands this dynamic - and knows you both will grow from what you experience together.

Lastly, the wise Witch knows that in order to uncover the secrets within, one must be able to listen, to be kind, and to be bold.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Living Tradition

Our Witches' Almanac* lives in the bathroom. This location is pretty much the only guarantee that I will look at it regularly, instead of losing it in my studio.  (Seriously, in a former life, I misplaced past issues for nearly a year, so the bathroom placement is a revelation.)

I tend to check in with the monthly calendar, but I particularly revel in opening it to any page and see what comes up - and am nearly always finding new material within it, no matter how long I have had it.  Usually it tends to be something very much appropriate for that moment as well.

And it so happened the other day I picked up the newest edition and started in on David Conway's "The Old Religion." Which to summarize, talks about the need/desire of esoteric organizations and spiritual traditions to espouse how old they are, how much they are connected to antiquity to prove the authenticity of their ways - and then points out how silly it all is. (Mind you, this is a brief summary in my own words - it's quite an extensive long article for the WA!)

This sentiment created a big AH-HA! moment in my head for something I've been pondering for nearly two decades in many ways: in Witchcraft & Paganism, in Art, in Dance. What is authenticity? What does it mean to be authentic and why is it at the heart of so many arguments?

I think back to any number of the Traditional Witchcraft forums/groups/chats/discussion boards I used to frequent 15 years ago - and how often "my way/tradition is better/more correct than yours" would come up. Even as the truth about various hereditary stories being fantasy came to light, folks dug in deep.  And there I was with my Modern Tradition oxymoron - "why yes, I'm both modern AND traditional, and no I don't mean Wicca" - not really giving a damn about arguing better/worse/older/newer.

Why? Because I'm not a genetic pureblood anything, nor am I living in the 12th, 17th, or 19th centuries.  If I'm not from one particular ethnic background, why would I align only with the gods found in a portion of my blood - when there's many more talking to me? What if it's not just ethnic heritage that factors in, but also past lives - and what if those aren't connected by blood either? What if our ancestors really can come to us in dreams and initiate us in the Old Ways (as believed possible by various Slavic/Russian and Mediterranean traditions) as needed? And if they had the tools we have access to today, would they exchange the flint for the lighter?

Every day we live, we are not only existing and working with tradition, but we are innovating and creating new traditions.  To me, Witchcraft is about doing what needs to be done, with what you have available. There are time-honored things we do, not just because Grandmom did them, but because they WORK - and then there are the ways we find that work better.  Whether the method is ancient or modern doesn't make it any less effective, as long as it works.

That's what authenticity is about - doing what works because it's the best option available. It's not about trying to forge a link to a distant or imagined past to justify your system. There's a weight that comes with that facade that holds back growth and prevents finding truth. If you strive to maintain balance, to know yourself, and to take responsibility for your actions - it doesn't matter how old or new the tradition is, who may approve or disapprove of it. That stuff really doesn't matter in the big picture.

Instead, when you decide to be authentic to yourself, and truly live your own tradition, the Universe opens up in new ways - or old ones you may have not seen before. Knowledge is never truly lost, it can only be hidden for a time.

*the one published in RI - always has been my favorite - check it out at

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

PantheaCon 2015!

I am recovering from being on tour with the band for the last few weeks, and more specifically the plague, but I wanted to write up my PantheaCon experience before I forgot/moved on to the next 60 projects.

Some background: I first attended PantheaCon way back in 2002 to scope it out, shortly after I had moved to the Bay Area.  The next year, Crescent Magazine got a booth there - and I don't remember if we started off with panels or presentations that year or the next - which would have been the "Kali Ma Dance Ritual" and I lead some ritual/sacred dance workshops along the way. What stands out in memory is that "The Red God Revel" took place in 2005 (me, Anaar, and Thorn - it was later performed again in 2010, but I was on the other coast then and could not participate) and in 2006, I presented "Dance of the Djinn" (also a performance/ritual). In 2007 I was in the process of moving back to the East Coast, so I just informally attended.

That would be it until last year - 2014, when Nathaniel and I decided to check it out (his first Pagan convention) - and we presented our live music/dance/ritual performance "Dreaming The Raven: A Morrigan Dance Ritual."  It was so well-received that we decided to apply to bring the whole band for 2015, offer a movement workshop, and to get a booth space - and we got in across the board!

I opted for a booth space on the mezzanine (outside the main ballroom), for several reasons: I remember it being quite cold in Anaar's booth last year (one side of the ballroom was freezing while the other was sweltering), the mezzanine offered lots of natural light, and extended hours. The downside was mainly being needed to pack small things up and cover it all every evening, and reset every morning.

Since we were bringing the whole band down (and doing a tour down/back), this meant we were driving, so I could bring ALL of the set-up - which sounds great until one realizes that it's a lot more complicated to hang ALL the artwork and display when you're used to just setting up some print racks - oh and forgot the zipties back in Seattle.

 I think I spent most of Friday trying to keep calm as I tried to figure out how to make it look good.  What really helped keep me sane was the immense number of folks who kept stopping in their tracks to look at the artwork and compliment it as I pulled it out.  There is nothing quite so satisfying for an artist as watching folks stop whatever they were in the middle of doing, and from 8 feet away just look at the art with such an expression of awe and inspiration. (SO much better than the typical regular art festival reaction, where many folks seem in a hurry to run away and dowse themselves in holy water...)  

I was determined to start Saturday off early and fresh. Best laid plans of mice and maidens.

The morning flew by as I worked on setting up the booth and trying to eat breakfast before my 11am workshop "Merging Movement With Ritual" - and then I had a waking anxiety nightmare.  Ever have one of those dreams when you are late for whatever event you're supposed to be at, in the wrong room, missing clothes, etc?

Well, as I handed the tablet over to Nathaniel to get him set-up, I happened to press the button that showed the time: 11:01am.  I was in complete disbelief because I had just checked my watch and I had at least 20 minutes - but my phone also confirmed it.  In changing my watch over from East Coast to West Coast time (as we had just been in RI for TempleCon), I must have not synced it properly - and now was LATE for my own workshop - and I am the gal who is always there early.

Commence me grabbing my laptop, tea, dvds, some cards, and running from one end of the hotel to the very farthest room on the ground floor.  When I arrived (11:03), I discovered a room packed full of Pagans and a very worked-up door person who proceeded to admonish me harshly in front of the entire room for the next few minutes while I sincerely apologized and was so embarrassed.

Apparently, even though I had checked in the day before as a vendor, received my badge, etc - I was supposed to also check-in with the Green Room so they had me listed as missing (despite numerous people having seen me.) (btw, 11:03 - was also the same time my phone registered a missed call....which begs the question, if they thought I was missing/not checked-in 15 minutes before the event, why didn't someone call earlier?) I totally understand her frustration with the situation, but as an event producer myself, I believe there are more graceful (positive) ways that that could have been handled. Especially at an energy-sensitive type of event. And I know it just wasn't me feeling it in the stress of the moment, as others expressed their concern afterwards.

That negative (and mortifying) experience aside, the workshop went splendidly.  The class was wonderful, receptive, and enthusiastic.  Afterwards, I apologized to the Green Room staff for the check-in misunderstanding - and they were so kind and gracious - and reminded me that what mattered most was that I was there and taught the workshop and pretty much started on time.  Then they gave me an "early check-in" ribbon since I could take care of the band's Sunday event while I was there, so LOL. Those folks were really helpful to us throughout the weekend, and are always so awesome - so extra kudos to them!

The rest of Saturday flew by at the booth, where my art was being so well-received.  By the time we shut down that evening, I was exhausted.  Yet when I got back to our hotel (one of the overflows) and grounded for a few, I realized I wanted to go back and socialize.  Dogwood was up for heading back, so we refreshed ourselves and walked back to the DoubleTree.  We spent some quality time with Anaar, Onyx, and their DIL + grandchild, then explored the hospitality rooms - including the Pandemonaeon and Black Rose rooms.  It was great to just chat and catch up with folks - and I had so many people from the workshop that morning relate their experience to me - so satisfying!

Sunday started off more leisurely - and with bacon. Everything is better with bacon. Dogwood and Nathaniel had an acoustic set in the Pandemonaeon suite, and then were off to load in for our 9pm show.  As circumstances would have it, The Nathaniel Johnstone Band concert was scheduled at the same time as our friends at the bellydance show, which cause some sadness (and confusion), but now we all know next year to work to avoid that.  Despite that, we had a full room with lots of folks up and dancing with great crowd response.  The sound guys rocked too :)

Monday finally started off at a fair space and we were busy until the end as folks scooped up last minute items and finalized large purchases they'd been pining over all weekend.

Over the course of the event, I sold over a dozen originals, most of my jewelry stock, a ton of prints and cards + band cds + dance dvds.  Presenting my work there (and the band) far exceeded my expectations, and I'm still a bit in shock over it. (Thanks again to Thalassa for accepting me as a vendor and for a great spot!)

Alas, I didn't get as much time as I would have liked to catch up with friends and network more - I think I managed to only get waves in at Macha, Thorn, Oberon, Jason P, and many others. Some folks I only saw once for a few minutes and not again all weekend.  But what time I did get to spend talking with folks was glorious.  I love hearing what people see in my work, how it makes them feel, talking with them about their work, and sharing ideas.  I love to see folks get inspired, to see the lightbulbs turn on, and a whole new level of excitement come upon their path.  It's wondrous.

I didn't happen to experience or overhear any of the unfortunate situations/events that transpired for some (as shown in many a blog aftermath) - and sad to hear about it.  But I am also heartened by the response of the community.  I feel that PantheaCon is a special event that IS very welcoming. Everywhere I went, I was met with many genuine smiles and good cheer.  With any convention (as with any segment of the human population), there will be some assholes - but the majority of folks are really awesome and positive.  Next year I am hoping to make more events, which means bringing a few more helpers along to watch the booth. I will definitely be back!