Happy Beltane!

Are you celebrating today? Dancing the Maypole? Leaping the fires? Just listening to some JoCo?

I’d love to hear about it.

Here are a few lovely words from T. Thorn Coyle:

Today, I stand for beauty.
I stand for apple blossom and finch.
I stand for sun, and wind, and sky.
I stand for the shaking of the fig tree,
And the growing of the lettuce and the pea.

Today, I stand for beauty.
I stand for music to lighten the soul.
I stand for healing balms to comfort wounds.
I stand for kind words in the tempest,
And a scrap of bright cloth in the mud of war.

Today, I stand for beauty.
Heart open to the world.
Today, I conjure hope. And strength.
With the courage and the love to carry on.
Leap the fire with me,
In Beauty’s name.

Blessings be upon you. Blessings, all.

What’s Utopia Got to Do With It?

I’ll give all the talk-talk-talk about utopia a rest after this, I swear.

A busy few days here. In the main, I went camping for the weekend with my son’s newly formed Earth Scouts troop, and on Monday gave my first lecture on women’s utopian narrative at Florida Southern College.

Related, how?

Earth Scouts is kind of like Boy/Girl Scouts, except instead of fundraising, its program is designed to further the goals of the Earth Charter; namely, social justice, sustainability, and peace. The program doesn’t just educate about these ideas; kids are encouraged to take specific action to change the world for the better. Lofty vision, to be sure, and it sounds worthwhile.

However, at the parents’ meeting I found myself wondering how to teach these values to young, squirming kids (who spent the larger part of the weekend running full-tilt until they dropped instead of, say, playing video games). I know there are ways, but overall I was skeptical. Creating meaningful change in the world is a big charge to put on tiny shoulders. Plus, I find these concepts are synonymous with a Unitarian Universalist education, which most of them are getting already.

Heck, I just wanted to go camping, watch kids roast marshmallows, bang some drums around the campfire, and we did all those things, too. But it got me thinking.

The campground itself is an experiment in peace, sustainability and justice, rooted in a cooperative tradition that may seem a little hippy to the rest of the world. My favorite part is the bathhouse, built several years ago and covered with constantly updated art and slogans promoting peace and pagan culture.

The campground was a good space for me to think about what brings me peace, how I can cultivate joy in my life, how I can be true to my ideals. But it’s not enough to contemplate, to wish and dream. Like the Earth Scouts, I have to take action to reach those goals knowing they may be just beyond my grasp. I may have to accept that my dreams are too big, my aspirations too lofty. I may have to accept failure while acknowledging the attempt as worthwhile, even vital.

To me, striving is the essence of utopia, not reaching a state of perfection. It’s the “no-place,” after all. If it was easy to get there, it wouldn’t be so fascinating, so tantalizing there on the horizon. It wouldn’t be worth the risk.

On Monday, I tried explaining this to a bunch of sleepy undergrads. Some of them grasped the idea, went along with me for the ride. I had carefully prepared notes that I essentially ignored, and plowed right into explicating the thrills of speculation and world-building, the social ramifications of utopian dreaming, the influence of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics, the fuzzy line demarcating the boundaries of utopia and dystopia…

Until the brightest bulbs began to glaze over, and I released them into the world. I can hope they took some of my dreamy utopian striving along with them.


Disaster and Heartache

I’ve haven’t been able to form a response yet to the disaster in the Gulf. It’s easier to ignore disaster when it is taking place in some distant place. This is not so far, really, and it’s coming closer every moment.

Today, the outer edges of the spill hit the Louisiana coast, in some of the most pristine wildlife areas in the country, as this aerial photo from the AP shows.


My family plans to go to Anna Maria Island in a few weeks, and I’ll pray there at the edge of the Gulf. I wasn’t sure what I would say until I read this over at T. Thorn Coyle’s blog.

As a pagan (not to mention a human with a pulse) who reveres the earth and the ocean, I feel horrified, numb and angry. However, I’ve been taught to channel feelings like these into positive ends, whenever possible.

To keep from crying about it, I’m trying to DO something, which a feeble thing in the face of the trauma the earth is facing. There’s this effort you may have read about, where people are making these crazy-looking things called “hair booms” to soak up the oil. I’m just calling different salons and asking them to participate in the hair collection. One place so far said “yes,” the Fantastic Sam’s in my town. They have a designated collection bin for hair, so I took my Mr. B there to get his hair trimmed, and made sure he knows that his hair will go to help clean up the spill.

The crummy thing is, while salons all over the country are collecting the hair, BP hasn’t agreed to use them in the cleanup). These booms have been shown to work; why wouldn’t BP let the people help clean up this horrifying disaster?

Today, I channeled my inner crazy-lady and contacted the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, where a woman named Jody was very nice but couldn’t tell me why the governor’s office isn’t pressuring BP to approve the use of the booms, in spite of the fact that there aren’t enough of the ineffective plastic ones. It seems strange and outrageous to me that BP has so much control over the cleanup. I called the local paper in Houma, Louisiana, which has recently covered the story about hair collection, and asked a reporter there to pursue it further. We had a effusive conversation, and she agreed to follow up and press the issue (there’s a BP response center in Houma).

Then I read that BP may be reconsidering, probably in a PR move.

Makes me want to holler, but maybe some good is coming.

EDIT: Later, when I tried to call the Coast Guard Gulf command office to confirm that BP is waiting for their approval (and to advocate for said approval), they just passed me off to BP Operational Command in Houston (read: nice PR ladies). They had no clue what I was talking about, even though it’s been in the news already that they’re considering the possibility.
image from www.matteroftrust.org, the organization behind the effort

Happy Ostara, Everyone!

Today is the Spring Equinox in the western hemisphere, also known as Ostara. One of the aspects of Earth-based practice I enjoy most is the idea that for half of the year, we are celebrating growth of the new (including ideas) and harvest, while the other half we are letting go of that which does not serve. It’s a good, balanced philosophy that works toward wholeness and always inspires me as a writer.

Here’s a meditation in observance, from T. Thorn Coyle.
“We are the coming together of disparate things.
We are the opening dawn of a new spring.
Oh radiant light that burns in each heart, fill us with the power of desire. Oh radiant light, that burns in each mind, teach us to know, clearly, what we seek. Oh radiant light that burns in each now, show us how to lead the way to justice and to beauty. Let us be on fire, like burning suns and stars. Let us shine, giving glimmering hope to that which has been heretofore obscured.
The fertile darkness opens to receive the sun. Something new is growing, bursting through fresh earth.”

More on Pagan Clergy

A little while back, I mentioned my interest in seminary training, and last week I had the opportunity to speak at the UU on the topic after another speaker canceled.

Not like I’m an expert or anything, but the idea that the diverse and independent family of earth-centered traditions could use some educated spokespersons is not new. It is, I think, getting more attention lately as the population of folks identifying as pagan grows.

You can listen here if you’re interested in pagan ethics or my opinions on the need for clergy.

Alive and Humming

Back from FPG, and as usual, humming with extraordinary amounts of energy to DO something, almost to the point of being pained by it. I attended some amazing workshops and went to sleep at decent times, foregoing the crazy all-night pleasures of drum circle, at least for this festival. I enjoyed lots of intelligent conversation around the campfire, and I let my cellphone die (even while others were using theirs to obssess over Facebook and incessently check email). We roasted marshmallows (a lot), I unplugged! Except for the little bit (wah) of writing I did on the laptop, I didn’t miss being plugged in.

I didn’t take any pictures because attendees are really not allowed to, but you can see the photos the camp photographer took in Spring at the website; the ones for this past weekend should be up soon. Click the left scroll to see my ugly mug. That picture in the slide show is not the worst ever taken of me, but it ranks up there for my menfolk. That’s the joy of dancing all night, sleeping on the ground and walking around with bedhead (uh, sleeping-bag-head) because you left your hairbrush at home.

Part of the reason I enjoy this festival so much is the escape it provides from daily responsibilities. I can think better, more clearly, I can just BE, for hours on end. This always leads to some change in my thinking and my life, which can probably be seen in the posts related to the Spring festival. This time, I came back with a strange desire to attend seminary (really!), a more grounded sense of what it means to be a parent, and more insight into how I can better serve the pagan community. Makes me wonder what insanity/brilliance I could get up to if I had more opportunity for solitude/reflection.

Anyhow, I wrote something like 240 words the entire weekend; in spite of all the personal progress and relaxation I experienced, this sucks. I knew it would be tough to miss that many days during NanNoWriMo, but I thought I’d write more at camp. Wednesday through Sunday night was shot as far as NaNoWriMo goes. Strangely, I don’t feel too freaked by that, though. I spent some time working on the book last night and easily wrote over 400 words in about 45 minutes. It’s a passage I feel good about, so it’s not completely an issue of quantity over quality. For me, some words are better than no words.

At least I rounded the 3K mark! 47, 000 more to go. I’m doubling up this week to catch up.

This I Believe

I spoke about this recently at the UU in my area and thought other folks might find it insightful.


Have you ever been asked what you believe? It’s not a very easy question answer. Before I came to this church a year and a half ago, I identified as a pagan and Wiccan, and I was asked about it frequently. People are generally curious because they’ve seen too many bad movies and TV shows about teen witches; many of these use pagan terminology like “rule of three” and “craft of the wise.” It’s also difficult for many people to imagine a religious life outside of their Christian upbringing, an upbringing I lacked. The most common question was, “SO, do you believe in God?”

I developed a rehearsed sort of answer that explained what paganism isn’t (for example, not Satanism). Or I explained traditional pagan holidays and rituals, and that, YES, I do believe in god (just not with a capital “G”), and that to me, god is female and male, named in ten thousand ways across cultures, and present in all matter in the universe. That god is present within me, and that salvation, heaven and hell don’t make a lot of sense to me. I explain that I think the gods love us and they’re waiting for us to express our own divinity. That WE are the creators, who create ourselves in the world, everyday, and we are always evolving, whether we realize it or not.

Now I’ve become a UU because its principles align with my beliefs. This is also confusing to people, so I have to explain THAT, especially since I can be a UU and a pagan at the same time. But these explanations I give are pretty much everything a person could just as readily obtain by searching for the terms on the internet, if they cared to.

So I don’t want to talk about what paganism is, because the definition of a faith or an explanation of its practices is not the same as what the individual practitioner feels inside.

And I feel connected, I feel alive, I feel joy. Most of the time, I feel the absence of fear. When I came to it, paganism was a homecoming. Wonder, if we welcome it, is a revelation, and the natural world presents so many opportunities for wonder. Scientific understanding of nature doesn’t dampen my sense of spirituality, it heightens it. Matter is in motion, from the spiraling of the galaxy, to the revolution of our planet around a life-giving sun, right down to the motion of cells of our bodies. It’s thrilling to know I’m a part of that.

We also have so many everyday gifts and wonders. I’ve read somewhere that Benjamin Franklin said that existence of “beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.” Well, I would amend that to say that the existence of bananas, black beans and avocados is proof that the gods want us to be happy. We’ve evolved in conjunction with so many delicious things.

I don’t have to believe a literal truth like explicit creationism to appreciate it and learn an important lesson. I guess you could say I believe in conscious evolution. We call the earth our mother, and we call the goddess our mother, we call the sun our god, but we know it’s a ball of hot gas. Without it, we would not be, and that is enough reason for reverence.

What should I read now?

What should I read next? I’m a picky reader, but I’ve taken some risks this summer and tried books and authors that I knew little about.

I’ve recently put a few down after struggling through four or five chapters, notably Greg Bear’s City at the End of Time. Feel free to chastise if you liked this book, but I can’t get into a novel that deliberately keeps the reader in the dark about almost everything. I like a puzzle, but this was too convoluted for my tastes.

I just finished S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire, and I was pleasantly surprised. A good post-apocalyptic yarn hooks me every time, and while some of his dialogue falls flat, the man can write some action scenes. Sword fights, brawls, archery and battles were nuanced and knowledgeable. I may have actually learned a bit reading it. The big surprise was Stirling’s interesting attempt to use Wiccan culture as a major part of his story. He doesn’t always succeed (characters say things like “Well, Goddess bless me!” far too much), but it’s one of the more even-handed and realistic depictions of pagans I’ve read in fiction. Nobody pulls out a fireball or some “secret knowledge,” talks to animals, or anything like that. He also demonstrates some insider knowledge of the pagan community (lingo, religious activities) although I’m unsure if he’s pagan himself. Anyhoo, I liked it well enough, but not necessarily for that reason. I’ll resist the urge to read the sequels, at least for now.

Help me decide what to read now! Pick a random unread from my bookcase or suggest something different (I tend toward “classic” sci-fi, the post-apocalyptic, first contact novels, and “sociological” sci-fi such as Ursula K. LeGuin).

Any thoughts on this greatly appreciated. Happy reading!

Proud Pagan

I’ve spent the better part of the week trying to hold onto the sense of peace and purpose I gained from attending Florida Pagan Gathering this past weekend. It’s a twice-annual festival which always inspires me to better my life and take action.

I attended great workshops with cool presenters. I learned some absolutely beautiful songs for groups from Margot Adler (yes, the journalist from NPR). With my family, I learned about incorporating spiritual practice into daily life as a “family coven” with Lydia Crabtree. I gathered a good amount of perspective on the future of paganism as a growing world-wide religious movement, with folks like Gavin and Yvonne Frost (who are, BTW, very anti-Christian while I am not) and T. Thorn Coyle. Best of all, I watched my husband and child jump the Beltane fires and dance around at the fire/drum circle. Amazing levels of joy.

It’s hard to come home after that, although finding ticks in your clothes and scorpions in your campsite are enough encouragement to leave! I have a refreshed appreciation for creature comforts and a renewed spiritual bond with both family and friends who attended with us.