Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Look At All The Pagans: British Traditional Witchcraft

Unlike the Christo-Pagans, I don't puzzle over British Traditional Witchcraft (BTW) at all. BTW makes good sense to me, as far as postmodern Neo-Pagan movements go.As far as me, a generalist Neo-Pagan practitioner from California, recognizing in spiritkinship with BTW.

British Traditional Witchcraft, when I first learned of it from books like Stewart Farrar'sWhat Witches Do, Margot Adler's Drawing Down The Moon, and Isaac Bonewitz'sReal Magic looked suitable in all respects to me. I didn't know any BTW practitioners atthat time nor did I anticipate meeting any. But the approach to polytheistic magic withinthe Western constellation of cultures resonated with my own experience and my own outlook.

I was not, however, convinced that BTW actually represented a relict of a prehistoric, or even a medieval, religion rooted in polytheistic magic. What I figured was that littlebits of lore and custom survived here and there. Antiquarians, folklorists, historians,ethnographers, writers, and others had gathered and preserved these little bits. Somehad looked them over, seeking patterns and clues and grounds for speculation. They hadcome to us re-packaged and re-interpreted in the interests of literate, modern, technologicalcultures. Or in the interests of those who wanted to occupy some new ground in thealleys and by-ways of modern technological cultures.

My concern, mostly, was how BTW promised to help me in adapting, psychologically and spiritually to the circumstances of living in those cultures. The historical claims, while interesting to a playful sensibility, seemed not so important compared to BTW offering a set of tools, skills, and meanings that enabled a productive personal adaptation. To BTWholding out an opportunity to take a path out of alienation into well-being, well-being in the light--or dark--of wholism.

More tellingly, I glimpsed in BTW elements of an emerging post modern spiritualitythat was similar to, maybe even promised to fill out, elements of my own emerging postmodern spirituality.

Here's a description of post modern spirituality offered by David Ray Griffin in an interviewwith Alan AtKisson from Redefining The Divine (I've highlighted some concepts that arecharacteristic of Neo-Pagan Craft as I see it):

There are so many different ways to describe postmodern spirituality. You can say it's pacific,it's ecological, it's a spirituality of creativity, it's a reenchantment of the universe. But perhapsthe best way to get at it, as a summary term, would be pan-en-theism: the idea that the worldis in God - God is something like the soul of the universe - and God is present in all things.As some mystics have said, we swim in God.

I found BTW attractive, in addition, because it was, in the period when I learned of it, a small subculture within the counterculture that I identified with. BTW was most definitelynot an element of the dominant culture. It might, I figured, offer ways to change the dominantculture.

Years later, I did meet BTW practitioners in Northern California, and I took up a BTWside of my practice.

David Ray Griffin interview at:


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Look At All The Pagans: Christo-Pagans

I gotta admit, I find the whole notion of Christo-Pagans puzzling.

I came to Neo-Pagan Craft, the heart of my practice, via a path that did not cross much of the Christian domain. I am not a Christian. What I know about Christianity comes from growing up in a Judeo-Christian culture and from researching Christianity as a religion.

Don't be too surprised, then, if I am, once in a while, clueless from a Christian insider's perspective.

The first time that I encountered Christians who were intentionally non-compliant with the creeds and doctrines and official faith/practice requirements of their denomination was when I met liberal to radical Catholics, usually Catholic intellectuals. They opposed, sometimes adamantly opposed, various important things about their denomination. But they remained, adamantly, affiliated with the Catholic Church.

In all their struggles, they worked to change the Catholic Church from within.

Even though I understood this stance--from a mostly political outlook--I was perplexed.

What, I wondered, were they trying to preserve or to foster within their denomination, when they so thoroughly and strongly opposed keystones of its creeds and doctrines and faith/practice requirements?

But, then, I figured that political change was, well, more changeable than religious change.

Political faith was, probably, not so obvious to me compared to political enthusiasm. As for political doctrine, I imagined that it was more or less a matter of appropriate analysis and honest ideology.

Hey! I never claimed that I was all that politically savvy! I embraced Utopian political visions and backed away from lots of down and dirty political doings.

American political subculture, after all, begins with the promise of revolution. Throw the buggers out! And start over from pretty near to scratch!

I sorta imagined changing Christian denominations using this same simple political rule of thumb.

So I mulled over how come these Catholic intellectuals, intelligent, able, articulate, held to this Church that they so much disliked.

From my outlook as a non-Christian, as a Neo-Pagan Craft practitioner, I guess that I mulled over Christo-Paganism as, more or less, something similar. Disagreement with key creeds, doctrines, and official faith/practice requirements; an impulse to change from within; reluctance, even reluctance against what seems to me clear self interest, to depart the fold.

And, intellectually, spiritually, a persistent sort of cognitive dissonance and self deception.

(A keystone of my own Neo-Pagan practice and my tattered political outlook involves reducing cognitive dissonance and self-deception, so I--on principle--favor things that point that way. How much these things actually get reduced by practice is a different question.)

One other thing. My own working metapantheon incorporates pretty much no Christian deity, deities, angels, guardians, or guides. I work with a Pagan metapantheon, and I work in a Pagan manner. The Neo-Pagan Craft that I came into was not Christian or very interested in Christianity.Reconciling my Neo-Pagan practice with any aspect of Christianity is a non-issue. I practice my way. Christianity, including Christo-Paganism is over there somewhere, at best for me a matter of occasional curiosity and reflection (like in this post).

All of which brings me to the rather late realization that, maybe, there's more going on with Christo-Paganism than how I am accustomed to think about it. There appears to be some spiritual fruitfulness in itself to Christo-Pagan practice and world views. Spiritual fruitfulness that serves within a somewhat more extensive domain of Christianity than the total of creeds, denominations, requirements of faith/practice defines.

Let me add that Christianity's ability to hold within itself movements and and views that contradict both one another and, often, some to almost all of the keystone tenets of Christianity's creeds, doctrines, and faith/practice requirements is a frequent stumbling block for me.

I am, every once in a while, astonished to learn of Christians who, to my outsider's eyes, do not hold to what I imagine Christianity to be. (The Sea of Faith movement is a good example.)

Probably a matter of All constituting more than the sum of it parts.

Rather than change from within, I am starting to think that movements such as Christo Paganism bring about change at the edges.

That makes a different kind of sense to me, one that even makes some sense to me in regard to my experience of political movements moving towards changing the world.

Christo-Paganism is itself a diverse movement. My brief look around web resources turned up a lot of different aims and outlooks and accounts of what Christo-Paganism is up to.

I found The Esoteric Theological Seminary's web page Christo-Pagan Information useful.


For more about the Sea of Faith movement, look at:


Finally, I'm still puzzled by Christo-Paganism. But I'm puzzled from a different Neo-Pagan Craft outlook. Maybe Christo-Paganism is a little less disagreement with Christianity and a little more agreement with a different facet of All as we may know it.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

How I Got To Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--Part 6, Lefty Psychedelic Spawn Of The The San Francisco Renaissance

[a revenant post with additions & edits /// I put up a version of this post earlier; I'm leaving it up; but, hey! things change!]

Planning out the series of posts about how I learned magic, what led me to sink my roots deep in Neo-Pagan Craft practice, and why I participate in the world this way but not that, it became obvious that my spending teen aged years in the San Francisco Bay Area, immersed in its vibrant local culture, accounted for a lot.

But that it was going to be difficult to describe. I was in the middle of these many important influences, and they were pulling me one way and another all at the same time. Plus, they were happening, and they had--and were sometimes making--history.

What's more, today many of these then new and vital influences have lost their luster, been turned from their once daring origins to the ends of marketing and weary recitations of the old days.

As a sort of introduction to themes and subjects that I'll return to in later posts, here's a bare bones introduction--Lefty. Psychedelic. San Francisco Renaissance.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area when I did helped make me the Neo-Pagan Craft practitioner that I am today. I am a lefty psychedelic spawn of the San Francisco Renaissance, shaped by a diversity of local and regional cultural influences that may have culminated in the 1960s and faded away by the 1980s.

Strictly speaking, the San Francisco Renaissance generally refers to a group of avant garde poets active in and around San Francisco from the immediate post-WWII period through the 1960s. They were active presences in the local Bay Area culture, and their influence went beyond the poetic and literary into the overall popular culture.

Newspapers wrote stories about them. Radio and TV news reported on what they were up to. You could go to the art studios, galleries, lecture halls, and theaters to look at their works, hear their opinions and ideas and stories. You could even bump into them at the coffehouses, clubs, bookstores, churches, streets, beaches, forests, of buses. Local popular culture acknowledged them, even regarded some of them as notable characters, even celebrities. They made the Bay Area more interesting to live in, and the Bay Area valued them for it.

The San Francisco Renaissance, more broadly, encompasses a number of currents and movements in poetry, literature, music, studio and performing arts, philosophy, metaphysics, environmentalism, humanistic psychology, print and broadcast media, science and technology, cross-cultural awareness, and progressive politics.

Again, the Bay Area acknowledged all this, talked about it in public forums, kept itself interesting, even distinctive, with the diverse currents of the San Francisco Renaissance.

Avant garde. Innovation and experimentation in art, politics, and culture. That's what the San Francisco Renaissance meant to me. That's the seed that the San Francisco Renaissance planted in me. Make it up. Test it out. Learn from what works. Or from why it doesn't. Go on based on what you've learned. Try again. Try different. Try together.

Creativity is better than reiterating received custom. Change may be better than abiding by that legacy of tradition, particularly if that legacy squelches things to retain its dominance. Wholeness is better than separate things, separated places, people in parts. And it's worth making the effort to regain wholeness and to keep it whole.

Psychedelic . In the 1960s altering ordinary consciousness, often with drugs, gained in popularity. Musical forms and styles and modes of presentation came into being to sustain, or to promote, the insights and obstacles altered consciousness encountered. So did art styles, fashions, eroticism, politics, criminality, and other aspects of life style.

My consciousness got altered.

Lefty. The San Francisco Bay Area has a history strong in progressive politics. So does the region of the West. I thought then, and continue to think now, that a good deal of this grows from the character and the beauty of the Land. The mountains, valleys, rivers, sky, and what lives there want to be free. They want you to be just as free.

Looking back, I think that I had a predisposition towards participatory democracy and the common sense of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, plainly read. I liked Liberty. I still do. (I organized my first political action in

7th grade. I'm not saying this to brag, but to suggest that something within me, within my world view, moved me to live my beliefs.)

By 10th grade I was active in environmental causes, civil rights causes, and the peace movement. In small ways, to be sure, but active.

I got bulletins in the mail from The Institute for the Study of Non-Violence. Even though I resided in a military town, I resisted the military's grasping of my life and the lives of my friends and schoolmates. Right up the road, at UC Berkeley, a student political movement that favored most of what I did was taking shape. And taking to the streets. I felt myself a part of it.

To be clear, I didn't imagine myself politically precocious or socially visionary or any sort of leader, organizationally or ideologically. Holding these views, espousing these values, making these criticism, looking for and trying out these alternatives, taking these little steps to make a better community--just seemed like the right things for me to do.

Here I am, then, a Lefty Psychedelic Spawn of the San Francisco Renaissance, all prepared to step--reluctantly--into the realms of Neo-Pagan Craft. Or, more correctly, to be yanked in. By a Goddess.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

How I Go o Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--Part 5, 8th Grade--I Learn The Fundamentals Of Meditation & Magic

[a revenant post with edits and additions]

My 8th grade English teacher decided one day that each of us should stand up in front of the class and give an impromptu speech. Yow!

Some students gave passable speeches. I did not. I did not to the extent that my 8th grade English teacher, perhaps in consultation with the school counselor, decided that I needed to go to a special school-wide speech therapy class.

I resented this decision, since it singled me out as somebody who had to take a special class. But I went along. I attended the classes. And, reluctantly, I did the drills, exercises, and homework.

Not surprisingly, early puberty racked my body and my sociability.

What's more, I believe that I was still experiencing some minor neurological impairments as I continued to recover from my car accident (although there's no clinical evidence, since I passed the slate of reflex and response tests.) I had uncertainties in my fine motor control. My hands exhibited constant tremor. And I had some hitches in my articulation.

Maybe, I thought, this speech therapy class would help, somehow.

The class consisted of a group of six or seven students and a teacher. We met for several months one or two times a week, while school was in session, for a regular 50 minute class period. The teacher, whose name I don't remember, was a middle aged woman, a speech therapist. I believe that she had some background in meditation and the occult, and perhaps in the emerging human potential movement. But she never mentioned anything.

The class met in a small classroom with standard school furniture--student desks, a larger teacher's desk, some chairs, a window in one wall.

We did a variety of drills aimed at easing some of the hitches in our articulation. The ones I remember best had us say tongue twisters. She gave out a bunch of several page mimeographed collections, and one homework assignment was to say each one several times, speaking faster each time.

But the exercises that I remember, the ones that made a life long impression on me, revolved around relaxation and awareness, energy and intentionality, creative imagination and living with some skillfulness. Some of the fundamentals of meditation and magic, if not the whole of them.

I'm cataloging these exercises here, identifying them with terms that I learned years later, describing them according to notions and theories that I never knew at the time.

Yes, I learned a complex of practical skills of meditation and magic. But, no, I did not know what--in words--I was doing. I just did it. Because what I was doing had some benefit, I kept on doing it.

My first teacher gave me practical instructions, but she made no reference to any ideology or world view explaining these practical instructions. She instructed me and the others to carry out actions, not to think about anything or to believe anything.

The only context was the little speech therapy class.

The only touchstone was a change for the better in my ordinary life.

Did my hand tremors diminish? Could I articulate words more easily and clearly. Did I gain in self confidence? Could I cope better with strain and stress?


The exercises that I learned in the beginning focused on more or less simple relaxation. Simple bodily relaxation linked with steady breathing. I just sat comfortably in the room, darkened as if for a movie or slide show, relaxed as best I could, and breathed steadily.

I did not learn to count or time the inhalation, the exhalation, or the periods in between. But I gained some ability to breath more deeply, taking longer to inhale, exhale, and, here and there, to hold my breath between.

My teacher passed along two further skills next, and I don't recall which came first. But because the class was limited in time, she did give instructions about one skill at a time. Both are fundamental skills.

The bodily technique that she taught me is called *Progressive Muscular Relaxation.* This involves alternately contracting muscle groups and relaxing them for increasingly long periods, beginning with the hands and feet and top of the head, incorporating more and more muscle groups until the entire body is tensing and un-tensing. This technique leads to deep whole body relaxation.

The psychological/spiritual technique that she taught me was how to locate or to create a perfectly safe place, how to access it and exist within its protection, and how to, at need or at any moment of threat or difficulty, to go to that place at once. She convinced me that this was possible to do, and that I, with some trying, could do it. She was right.

Then she taught me a cluster of techniques revolving around imagery and journeying and visualization. The basics of guided visualization, active imagination, and awareness of other worlds, inner planes, enchanted realms.

Learning this cluster of techniques put me in touch with the land, the things that live on, in, and above the land, and with the land's story, past, present, and to come.

She then taught me about energy in the body and beyond the body, how to access it, cause it to act according to my intention, how to move it within my body and beyond my body for nearly any distance, and how to use this energy in healing.

Healing myself, for the most part, but without excluding the possibility of healing others using this selfsame energy.

The techniques of energy management that I learned involved different color qualities. No particular color qualities, however, necessarily linked to any certain event or condition. Rather, color qualities offered a means to manage energies according to the needs or preferences of the exercise or whoever was moving the energies. No mandated tables of correspondence.

In later years I discovered that post WWII occultism had changed its notions of energy sources accessible via meditation and magical work. Earlier notions led practitioners to draw upon their own inner, bodily sources. Later notions pointed toward outer sources in the land and sky. I recall my teacher talking about sources in the body, being careful not to exhaust them. But I also recall tapping sources in the land and sky.

Now this speech therapy class was just one among several regular school that I was taking.
I felt some changes for the better as a result of the practical exercises and drills that I had learned. I kept on doing them, on and off.

But I was much more strongly interested in other subjects and in improving my competence as a creative intellectual. That's, to the limited extent that I had a notion of my self and what I wanted to do, how I saw myself. Participating in the creative culture of poets, novelists, critics, thinkers, writers, people of ideas who knew the ins and outs of our historical culture and other historical cultures.

What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that if anybody had announced that they were going to teach me fundamental techniques of meditation and magic, I would, as an 8 grader, have balked. I had no interest in meditation or magic then, except for how it functioned in the movies I watched and the science fiction and heroic fantasy books that I read with fannish avidity. I didn't want to do these things. More correctly, I didn't want to do those seriously.
I messed around with these notions for fun.

They didn't suit my nascent self image as a reasonable, rational, creative person.

Some years later, at university, I grew curious about Buddhist and Hindu forms of meditation and spirituality. I was majoring in cultural anthropology and South Asian studies. Such things offered useful ways of understanding other cultures, other religions, as well as possible new personal insights.

As I read texts and commentaries, as I undertook practical exercises suggested by Buddhist or Yogic schools, I found, to my surprise, that I was already quite familiar both with experiences being described and with techniques intended to bring them about.

I had, it appears, been meditating all along, without even knowing that I was. What's more, I had, without paying much attention, gained some skill sets and had gone through many of the experiences described in the texts.

A little less surprisingly, the same turned out to be the case when I investigated the relatively new and growing Neo-Pagan Craft movement. Lo and behold, I could do a lot of the things described as magical, I had been doing them since the 8th grade, and I was pretty good at some of them. What's more, I had quite a similar world view. I was a Neo-Pagan Witch, although a solo one, which at the time posed a greater challenge for me than it does these days.

To sum up. I learned fundamental techniques of meditation and magic in a speech therapy class offered over several months in a public junior high school. My teacher skillfully passed along a constellation of practical techniques and doable exercises that have served me fruitfully for a life time.

But she did not offer any concepts, theories, or ideologies to define what we did or to locate what we did in a metaphysical or spiritual system. The only test that mattered was change for the better in ordinary life circumstances. There was no examination by school officials, and we received no grades.

Because my life circumstances did change for the better, I continued to do these exercises I'd learned, build on the practical skills that I'd learned. I did so without a clue at the time that I was meditating, that I was doing simple but powerfully transformative magic, that I was building a secure and solid foundation for a practice to come. Only five or six years later, in the course of my anthropology studies at university, did I realize what I had been doing all along--meditation and magic.

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How I Got To Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--Part 4, Early On, An Accident & What Came After

[a revenant post with edits and additions]

When I was in 5th grade, I got hit by a car. As part of a school/community project, a bunch of my schoolmates and I were riding our bikes, visiting fire stations. On the way from one station to another, I ended up unconscious on the asphalt, the back of my skull cracked open.

In the short run, heroic surgery saved my life. In the long run, I learned a lot about life and death, getting better and getting worse, consciousness and coma, passing tests and failing them, and cruelty and kindness.

When I came back to myself, weak and shaky, two days or so after the accident, I found myself in a hospital room. Thick bandages covered the back of my head, and my face was stuck--nerve damage. I probably had some scrapes and bruises, but I didn't notice. After two days or so passed in coma, I was too weak and baffled.

I had almost died. But, so far, I had not.

To stave off any possible infections, my doctors administered a course of penicillin injections. Lots of penicillin, often. My backside turned into one big bruise. No infection developed, but my recovery slowed and my health slowly declined. I might, it appeared, have developed leukemia.

Certainly, the ratio of my red to white blood cells was skewed considerably beyond normal.

For a while, blood tests were a regular aspect of ordinary life. Needle in, blood out. Depending on who was taking my blood and how they did it, it could hurt not very much or hurt big time. Once or twice, the person taking my blood ripped the needle out of my vein, leaving my bleeding. I still have a couple little scars on the inside of my elbow.

And I learned to complain vigorously about getting treated like this.

And I have a life-long aversion to having blood taken from me. I cannot, for instance, participate in blood donation drives. I cannot watch the process of blood drawing, even by finger prick. I do not want needles in my veins. It creeps me out.

My doctors decided to send me to Stanford Hospital in San Francisco. I ended up in the critical kids ward. Other patients included kids with cancer and kids who had undergone one, or maybe several, open heart surgeries.

Most of them, as I recall, died, either in the hospital or not too long afterward, because they grew strong enough to go home for a while. Dying made me uneasy. I was saddened when one of these kids died. But I didn't really want to be around dying, be part of this group of kids who were dying.

I, body and mind, wanted to regain my health and rejoin the world of the living.

Meanwhile, my treatment regimen had changed. One of the doctors stopped the penicillin. It turned out that the antibiotic treatment that had staved off an immediate possible infection, continued over a longer period, began to kill me. To kill my red blood cells and prompt my body to grow white blood cells. When the penicillin stopped, I recovered from its effects fairly quickly. I also got to go home.

They told me that I had, quite likely, developed an allergy to penicillin because I had been dosed with such a large amount of the drug. But they were unwilling to risk testing for the allergy. Wisest to just assume that I was, and avoid penicillin altogether. I have.

In addition to the blood stuff, however, remember that my face was stuck.

I had some neurological injuries, and these had to be examined, tested, to find out whether my face would end up stuck, permanently. Fortunately, my face gradually came unstuck. Nerves recovered or found new pathways. Muscles relaxed from long time spasm, my face settled back into a normal look.

What I ended up with at an early age is a deep set of creases on my brow.

Still there.

But there were other neurological injuries not so apparent as a stuck face. During my stint at Stanford Hospital, I took lots and lots of reflex/response tests, when I was scratched, stuck, pinwheeled (a rotating ring of sharp points), stroked with soft things, tickled, and poked, asked questions and gave answers, given pages to read aloud, and watched while I interacted with other people--family, friends, patients, medical staff.

I learned things. When the bottom of your foot is stimulated, it's good if all your toes curl up in the same direction and not so good if your little toes curl one way and your big toe curls the other. Its generally good if your skin turns red when you get scratched. It's not so good if, getting scratched, your skin does not turn red at all. Some things taste sweet and other things taste bitter and doctors are not supposed to put their fingers in your mouth when testing your sense of taste. It's easier to talk when all of your tongue and lips move freely.

You often possess no memory of severely traumatic events. I only know that I was hit by a car at a certain place and time because other people tell me so.

For a time, I believed that lack of memory was itself a kind of memory, but then I accepted that it was just a lack of memory. You cannot grasp what you do not know, cannot recollect. You can, however, make up stories to fill in a lack in contiguous memory, so that traumatic events may be localized, put into life perspective.

For a while, I got EEGs. My doctors watched my brain functions. I did not enjoy having EEGs. I had to sit quietly for long stretches with wires attached to my head. I worried that my brain was not working right. And I wanted to do other things.

I did not suffer any long-term neuromuscular damage. I could move my arms and legs, walk, that sort of thing. My vision was relatively good. My thinking was clear. My memory, for the most part, operated in the short term and the long. I could, once my face came unstuck, speak clearly and understand what people said to me.

I wasn't aware at the time, but my family and the doctors had real concerns about neurological consequences of the head injury. I was a bright kid. I had, it seems, done quite well on those IQ tests that they gave us in school. They were worried that, recovering, I'd end up a lot less bright. But as I healed, I regained more or less all the brightness I'd enjoyed before.

What the car accident took from me permanently, I discovered years later, involved the tastes of some things and the smells of some things. I had a friend who was a perfumer. With her assistance, I smelled lots of different things. Or tried to. It turns out that there are certain strong scents that I cannot register. When I learned to cook more or less seriously, I discovered that there are certain taste notes that I also cannot register.

The body, living and growing, adapts and compensates. I don't sense gaps in my senses of taste and smell. My sensate world comes whole to me. I do not know what I'm missing.

Now my family was not religious, and neither was I. But my mother came from a family of Irish Catholics, and she had once been active in the Church. When the accident happened to me she, for good measure, called in a Catholic priest to say Last Rites over me. The priest did.

I wasn't a communicant of the Church in the first place, but I think that Last Rites ritually separates a person from the world, preparing him or her to cross over.

In any case, I never took any steps to rejoin any Church that I had not been a communicant of in the first place.

Once I returned home, I received a couple months of education at home. The school district sent a teacher to give me lessons. My strength and health and vigor gradually returned. Finally, I went back to fifth grade, but I had missed almost all of the school year.

Once I'd recuperated from my injuries, I could do what kids did. The most significant effect of my car accident involved restrictions on my physical and recreational activities. I was prohibited from a number of risky sports, in which there was a chance of re-injuring my head--football, baseball, soccer, swimming and diving, water skiing, rock climbing, and a few others.

I did, however, keep on riding my bike.

How did my accident and recovery help me become a Neo-Pagan Witch?

I think these days that the accident prepared the way for me to travel the Neo-Pagan Craft path later.

First, the process of recovery mobilized a variety of energies and inner energy flows.

Second, I had encountered both my own near-death, including a period of coma, and the death of others near to me in age. I came very near to the threshold, and I saw others who might have been me cross it.

Third, whatever vestigial ties I had with Christianity were formally, ritually, severed. Growing older, moving forward in a spiritual or metaphysical sense, I was utterly free, fully at liberty to choose a path for myself. And to follow it in my life.

Fourth, as I recuperated and rejoined the ordinary world, I was compelled to think as deeply as I could about health, illness, physical suffering, psycho-emotional distress, chance, and how I hoped to live in the world as an intelligent and capable person.

Fifth, I learned about honesty and communication and participation and what tends to make some sorts right and good and other sorts wrong and bad. Later, when I had to figure out communication with the Other Worlds and their denizens, I'd had some serious practice.

After going through this accident and what happened after, Witchcraft didn't strike me as so strange or uncanny. I could do it.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Neo-Pagan Craft Values Are Green Values

From The Green Parties of North America web site, here's the list of Green values. Links on the Green values page take you to a variety of descriptions of these Ten values created by various regional Green Party organizations.

I particularly like the long description done by Charlene Spretnak
for the Green Committees of Correspondence, available on the
Green Party of California site.

The Ten Key Values of the Greens

  • Social Justice
  • Community-Based Economics
  • Nonviolence
  • Decentralisation
  • Future Focus/Sustainability
  • Feminism
  • Personal and Global Responsibility
  • Respect for Diversity
  • Grassroots Democracy
  • Ecological Wisdom


The Green Party of California version:


In my eyes, these Green values encompass my values as a Neo-Pagan Craft practitioner.

Why do I acknowledge a polytheist meta-pantheon?

To live these values.

Why do I work magic, and work via magic?

To live these values.

Why do I want the world to change and do what I can to change the world?

To live these values. To enjoy an opportunity to live these values in community.

I am a registered member of the Pacific Green Party.

Let me add that Charlene Spretnak did influence my early involvement with Neo-Pagan Craft.

Her book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths suggested to me ways of knowing Goddesses and of working with Them, with Their guidance, that other collections of stories and studies of mythology and historical culture had not. In particular, Spretnak nudged me towards a life-long relationship with The Muses best summed up by my invocatory poem--

Drink Her wine!
And have courage!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A Marvelous Photo Of The Milky Way Reveals Four Vernaculars Of Magic

Award-wining photographer Wally Pacholka has taken a stunning
photograph of the Milky Way. I find it inspiring the way it combines
the Earth and its sacred practices with the enchanted expanse of
the galaxy!
Pacholka took it in Utah, at the site of "The False Kiva," a stone ring.
It's a relatively long exposure photo incorporating some episodic
area lighting of the cave. Altogether, we behold from the inner Earth
a desert landscape, the bright planet Jupiter, a starry sky, and a majestic
Milky Way.

Look at this photo here:


Also available here:

To my eyes, this photograph reveals four vernaculars of
magic in both their contrasts and their unity:

1.) The Cave--The Underground Realm

2.) The Stone Ring--The Earth
3.) Jupiter--The Planetary & Solar Realm
4.) The Milky Way--The Stellar & Celestial Realm
What I mean by vernacular of magic is an overall approach to practice and an outlook on living in the various worlds of imaginationand experience. Each vernacular addresses magic and practice distinctively.

Together, the four vernaculars comprise an intelligible language
through which we may carry on a range of magical discourses.

A tip o' the beret to my pals who hunted up additional links to this
photo when the first one got taken down.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

How I Got to Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--Part 3, The Shipyard, The Ships, Living At Ground Zero

[a revenant post]

Part 3, The Shipyard, The Ships, Living At Ground Zero

I was born in Vallejo, California, a small post-WW city that grew in extent and population as I grew older. During WWII, Vallejo, home to Mare Island Naval Shipyard, had boomed to over 100,000 people, but had then busted back to about 25,000 right after the war's end. By the time I left town for college, the population had climbed back to around 70,000, and lots of new housing developments covered once open, oak savanna hills.

Between Vallejo and Mare Island Naval Shipyard, the Napa River flows into San Pablo Bay just West of the Carquinez Strait. Two bridges and a little flotilla of small wooden ferries joined Vallejo to the shipyard across the wide section of the river called The Mare Island Strait, or The Channel, about a half mile wide, dredged to a low tide depth of 40 plus feet. Deep enough to float the ships.

Vallejo was then the federally-owned and operated counterpart to the company towns serving a variety of privately owned heavy industries--steel, petroleum, chemical, automotive, equipment manufacturing, and the like. The industrial complex was about 3 miles long, and housing, administration, and school buildings occupied additional space. A series of large cranes, building ways, dry docks, barges, sheds, and docks dominated the shipyard waterfront. Larger buildings rose inland from dockside.

The city revolved around the shipyard, its schedule, its needs, and its economy. When, for whatever reasons of efficiency or bureaucracy, the shipyard changed the start and finish times of its shifts--day, evening, graveyard--the whole rest of the city shifted its business and play times.

After WWII, the U.S. Navy found itself with a lot of ships on its hands, many more than the post-WW II navy could crew and use. The Mare Island dockside included a mothball fleet, ships and submarines modified for long-term storage against future military need, whose numbers gradually shrank as new ship classes replaced the old and the old were given away in foreign aid or expended as targets or test beds.

But there were always flotillas of mothballed ships--the medium and smaller classes of blue water warships--destroyer escorts, destroyers, the odd cruiser, and lots of submarines--floating across the channel. All painted some shade of grey, all slightly rusting, all carrying the bright aluminum bubbles that sealed away their guns, all reminders of WWII naval combat that ravaged the Pacific.

And combat that ravaged the lives and bodies of the parents of many of my friends and schoolmates. Some bore scars. Some had lost family or friends. Some had fled their homelands for a new chance in America. Some had nightmares, recurring terrors, wounded souls painted over by postwar prosperity and the hope of a better world for the next generation.

The combat, in the form of the Cold War, took on a new and more haunting form.

Mare Island Naval Shipyard was a high technology heavy industrial enterprise whose purpose was to build warships. When I was a little kid, not much ship construction took place, only a few small mine warfare vessels. A lot of shipyard activity was FRAM--fleet rehabilitation and modernization--work on WWII vintage destroyers and GUPPY--greater underwater propulsive power--work on WWII vintage diesel powered submarines.

Then, as the Navy's submarine force changed, as new missions, weapons systems, ship designs and technologies emerged, Mare Island became one of the few shipyards in the world building the new subs, both attack and missile carrying. Almost all of them nuclear powered.

A hoary old make-out excuse goes: We were out watching the submarine races! I am one of a relatively small number of people who could honestly talk about submarine races without stretching accuracy very much. On any given day, I could go down to the waterfront and watch submarines being built on the ways and submarines being repaired or fixed or stocked up at dockside.

Me, the FBI, various intelligence agencies, and a host of Russian observers based in the San Francisco Russian consulate. (Taking local reality for reality across the country, I imagined that all small U.S. cities had their own FBI office. Not until I got to college did I get that this was decidedly not the case, that the FBI was in Vallejo because the subs, hence the Russians, were.) We all ate hamburgers and fries at the same shore side restaurants, looking out the same big plate glass windows, watching the subs.

In addition to rubbing elbows with Russian spies, (to be clear, I did not know who, exactly, was a Russian spy, but I knew that Russian spies were almost always around watching the subs) my friends and I used to row kayaks across the channel and in among the moored subs. Sometimes a pair of subs would be tied dock/sub/sub with enough space between the ships for a small boat like a kayak to go right between the two hulls.

The Navy wasn't too happy with kids rowing up close to the subs, but they never took any serious measures to stop it. Whoever noticed us would just yell and get us to move to a greater distance from the subs.

When submarine construction resumed at Mare Island in the mid-1950s, the first, the Grayback, was diesel-electric powered, designed with a large hanger forward to carry Regulus cruise missiles. It had a streamlined hull yet looked much like older WII submarines overall.

The next submarine, the Sargo, and subsequent ones were all nuclear powered. The Sargo had a streamlined hull, but again looked more or less like the WWII subs in mothballs moored up channel.

The next Mare Island sub, the Scamp, and all the following ones, had Albacore-style hulls, long streamlined cigar shapes with a sail and a single propeller at the very end. The attack boats were small and sleek compared to the ballistic missile subs, which had a long superstructure behind the sail, part of the housing for the 16 missiles in the silos, each missile armed with a nuclear warhead (or, later, more than one).

All of these submarines were painted black. Their black color added something to their sinister appearance. Even tied to the dock, Cold War vintage nuclear subs look fast, deadly, and destructive. Like outer space ships, they venture into dangerous environments. With powerful weapons.

It was complicated growing up at ground zero. Mare Island Naval Shipyard was a primary target in any foreseeable nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the U.S.A.

I did not live each and every day in constant dread of nuclear attack, but did live with a nagging awareness of the chance, however slim, of nuclear attack.

During my elementary school years, when fleets of Soviet bombers posed the greatest threat, we students were advised to duck-and-cover under our school desk, to stay far away from windows during an attack, and to wait for our parents to collect us after one. Officials developed an evacuation plan that would have had us forted up in the Sierra.

Good on paper, doable as a mostly imaginary sort of drill--we did drill evacuations!--but preposterous in real life. The evacuation route, I 80, goes from military base to government center to military base on its way to the Sierra, from target to target to target.

Another reminder of the nuclear threat--The entire San Francisco Bay Area was ringed with Nike anti-aircraft missile sites. Nike sites consisted of a tracking radar installation located on hilltops paired with a launcher installation, usually located on lower ground a mile or two from the radar installation. The radars were quite prominent features of the skyline, their construction sometimes taking dozens of feet off the peaks and the radar domes futuristic in appearance. Plus, we school children got tours of the sites.

Later, when guided ballistic missiles with a perhaps 30 minute flight time became the nuclear weapon of choice, even token efforts at fleeing and surviving were tossed aside. Drills ceased, and the Nike air defense sites were closed up.

Even though I did not think that a Soviet attack was all that likely, I did not want nuclear warheads to detonate over my hometown. I did pay attention to whatever I could learn about nuclear blasts and their effects, radioactivity and its effects, and what happens to survivors. I started to think about who the mass was in the term weapons of mass destruction, and it seemed to be, mostly, the ordinary, civilian world.

Then there was the other funny side of preparing for nuclear war.

My father worked at the shipyard, helping to build these submarines. My relatives worked there. Fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters of my friends and schoolmates worked there. Each made a contribution to the construction and operation of awesomely destructive weapons systems.

Some of the missile submarines were commanded by the fathers of my friends and schoolmates. These polite, pleasant, professional men who told us about submarines at school assemblies and cooked up hamburgers at backyard BBQs were, equally, the ones who, were going to launch the missiles intended to turn targets in the Soviet bloc into radioactive hell holes.

I had a difficult time reconciling these roles. Who wants to see his father, relatives, neighbors as making nuclear warfare possible? Who wants to see a schoolmate's father as a conscientious destroyer of cities, worlds, even?

I didn't have a good answer then, and I suppose that I don't even now. A military technology came into being that, if we were to survive, mandated that it not be employed. Yet it appeared culturally, socially, politically imperative that the technology be developed and held against possible need. This required, among other things, that for ordinary people, doing a shipyard job brought into being a chance that many of the world's jobs and much of the world's population could disappear in a nuclear cataclysm.

A practical demonstration of the creepy doublethink of nuclear warfare. In order to remain safe from devastating attack, ordinary workers must help make possible equally devastating attack. The ordinary civilian world must be hostage to nuclear cataclysm--in the name of national security.

Growing up with Mare Island Naval Shipyard has left me with some ambivalences.

Submarines, for instance, are a life long hobby of mine. I find the technology and the entire submarine subculture fascinating. I'm proud that my father, my relatives, and neighbors built excellent ships, many of which passed the severest tests of combat with distinction. I'm pleased to have met a number of brave, even heroic people, who lived and worked in or around Vallejo.

At the same time, a large high technology industrial complex has great effects on its surroundings, often polluting them. The waters of the Channel were always dirty and oil slicked. Building and repairing nuclear submarines brings along the dangers of radioactive contamination. Each and every one of these submarines could fire torpedoes with nuclear warheads, and the missile boats could take out cities, each sub more than one. And the Shipyard, a primary nuclear target, brought me and my little world into ground zero.

Some of these nuclear submarines were crewed and commanded by the fathers of my friends and schoolmates. The men who were going to turn huge swathes of the Warsaw Pact nations into radioactive hell holes were, equally, guest speakers at school assemblies and hosts of birthday parties and neighbors and generally pleasant, polite, professional people. It was difficult to reconcile the two roles, for me, certainly, and for them, maybe.

Science and technology, even big science and high technology, made itself well known all over the San Francisco Bay Area. Mare Island with its nuclear subs, nuclear power school, and cutting edge materials and assembly techniques was just a part of this, but a part that spread itself through ordinary goings on in Vallejo.

Lots of people who worked at the shipyard were highly skilled in a range of technologically advanced endeavors that they carried over into their hobbies, garage businesses, and personal education. Others, like my father, took up innovative-for-the-times projects in order to take advantage of some of these high tech, advanced materials opportunities.

The backyard of the house where I lived included some fruit and nut bearing trees--kumquat, pomegranate, mission fig, and almond. Plus, several vegetable beds, a camellia bush, and a number of decorative shrubs. It also included, for many years, a substantial compost pile and a very productive earthworm farm.

The shipyard supported a vigorous underground trading network, moving stuff and services among workers and their families. My father, although a pretty good all-around handyman sort, did not have the high tech skills or access to the advanced materials machining to participate from that side. So he turned to advanced backyard organic agriculture, trading fruits, nuts, and earthworms for shipyard-related goods and services.

The across-the-street neighbor, in contrast, was a welder. In his garage he had the same high tech welding rig that he used on the shipyard to weld advanced metal alloys. He traded in welding services.

My father liked trolling for salmon. So we had a small fiberglass 14 foot runabout powered by an outboard motor. I learned just about everything I know about small boat handling piloting this little runabout. I learned a lot, enough many years later to surprise a Navy jet boat skipper with how well I could handle his craft.

Anyway, in order to troll for salmon, which swim at some depth and so place a considerable strain on the fishing gear and the fisher person, a boat requires a set of fittings--very strong rod holders, holders for navigational equipment and a spare motor and odd gear, a bunch of stuff that didn't come standard with the boat.

The fittings on our little runabout were, thanks to this underground trading network, all made of HY 80 steel. I didn't think anything of it at the time, HY 80 steel just being a material that a lot of trade goods were made of. But HY 80 steel was, in fact, an advanced steel used to make very strong submarine hulls that could endure the pressure of deep dives.

Looking back, one of the chief motivators for me to take up Neo-Pagan Craft had to do with this unusual (in that most of my cohort did not grow up in and around ground zero as everyday life) stew of marvelous, complex geography, advanced technology heavy industry, nuclear submarines, nuclear warfare in both the here and now, pollution, and commonplace uses for advanced, maybe even classified, materials. the world that I grew up within nudged me to think about creating, sustaining, and destroying on a global scale.

Magic is, after that, no sweat!

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How I Go To Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--Part 2, Early On, The Coastal Redwoods

[a revenant post]

Part 2--Early On, The Coastal Redwoods

My father liked to troll for salmon from a small power boat. That's why I spent a lot of summer vacations camping on the Mendocino Coast of California and met the Coastal Redwoods. As well as a lot of other things, living and historical, that goes along with Coastal Redwoods. Lumbering, for one.

For the most part, my family camped at Van Damme State Park. It's a good-sized, popular park just South of the town of Mendocino. Most of the park runs Eastward up the Little River valley to Fern Canyon, with campgrounds here and there off the park road. Across California Highway 1, the Little River pools and drains into the Pacific across a nice sandy beach.

The Mendocino Coast is renowned for its rough, spectacular coastline and ancient beach terraces rising into the forested mountains. Among its other attractions, a forest of pygmy Coastal Redwoods grows on one ridge there, naturally bonsai-ed trees no more than 6 feet tall.

When I was visiting as a kid, the region was changing away from a remnant lumbering economy toward a tourist/recreation economy. Then, Caspar, CA, was still a company town with a company store, and Fort Bragg, CA, supported a sawmill. The Redwood forest was littered with the industrial trash of about a century of timber felling and extraction. And the stumps of the first growth forest that the lumbermen took. The Redwood forests we camped in and hiked through were almost all forests of large trees that had regrown.

A Coastal Redwood forest, even a well-established second growth forest, pretty much takes your breath away. Coastal Redwood trees are tall, ranging up to 380 odd feet. And they big around,12 foot diameters not unusual, 15 to 18 foot diameters not unknown.The first set of big branches grows from the main trunk high up from the ground, so that the trunks look like columns. They grow for a long time, and some individual trees are older than 2000 years. They have rough, shaggy, thick bark colored from a sort of cinnamon red to dark grey-brown. Often, the bark is charred in patches from ground level to some distance up.

Coastal Redwoods grow in places where its foggy and moist. When the sunlight comes through the branches, dust, pollen and such help define the shafts of light. Coastal Redwoods grow in groves. Because of their habits of growth, Coastal Redwood groves may take a ring form, or a line form, or a series of either form. The individual trees may not appear to stand haphazard, as other kinds of trees in other forests might.

In addition, thanks to their fire resistant character, Coastal Redwood may acquire some interesting and unusual characteristics.

Take goose pen trees, for instance. Circumstances around one tree may allow a fire to hollow out a chamber into the base of the trunk, sometimes several feet in. Later, erosion may lower the ground level in this chamber a few feet below the surrounding forest floor. What results is a stepped down chamber with charred walls within a large living tree, suitable, among other things, for holding a small flock of domestic geese--hence goose pen tree.

About that industrial trash littering the forest.

Coastal Redwoods are big trees, cumbersome to fell by human-powered means and difficult to move without big machines. Back in the day, when lumberjacks used large man-powered saws to cut Coastal Redwoods, the logs were typically skidded to a stream or river and floated down to a sawmill on the coast. A few operations built narrow guage railroads.

Coastal Redwoods are exceptionally dense nearby the ground, and the section of the trunk from ground level to maybe 12-18 feet, depending on the individual tree, generally does not float. So the back in the day practice was to cut the trunk up high, above this dense section.

Leaving big stumps.

A common way to move logs involved the use of a static steam-powered donkey engine and a system of steel winches and steel cables an inch or so in diameter. Big redwood logs got tethered up and hauled to the waterways, then floated away to the saw mills.

That was the industrial trash that I found all over the Coastal Redwood forest when I was a kid. Pieces of donkey engines, reels and tangles of large steel cable, large winch wheels, twisted railroad tracks. All of it rusty and wrecked and just plain dumped when the logs ran out.

Big beautiful second growth trees. The remnants of first growth trees. Rusty industrial trash.

Now, over to the Navarro River valley.

Van Damme State Park was a popular campground, and sometimes all the available sites there would turn out to be full. When that happened, my family would go to Paul M. Dimmick (now Navarro River Redwoods) State Park, camp there for a day or two, then take an open site at Van Damme park.

The Dimmick campground was close by the Navarro River, actually within a stand of second growth Coastal Redwoods, beneath which also stood a bunch of stumps left when the first growth trees had been logged out.

Big stumps. 10 to 15 feet high, 10 to 12 feet across. Solid at the outer shell, but slowly rotting and disintegrating inside. The solid outer shells formed walls a foot or two high around the the inner areas.

Just splendid forts.

All the kids played in these stumps, and had for years, and continued to for years, until the park authorities removed them, maybe for safety/liability reasons. I enjoyed climbing up into the stump, being on and a little within the stump, feeling a little like I was sinking into the stump. Because the inner wood was soft and spongy and gave underfoot.

Plus, Dimmick park had several really nice goose pen trees that I as a kid could climb down into. Standing inside a big living tree was a true marvel, and a bit scary.

All in all, though, Coastal Redwoods thrilled me. I could feel their living presence, and, in a sense, I could hear them talking to me.

Let me make an important point about these essays here.

I'm talking about--and will be talking about--my childhood and early adult years from the outlook an experienced practitioner. I'm describing a lot of things that happened using notions and terminology that I knew nothing about when they happened to me as a kid or young adult. I'm not trying to recreate the look and feel of a kid's experiences and world. I'm trying to offer an account of events and intimations that led a kid into the realm of Neo-Pagan Craft.

I did not then and do not now consider myself any sort of a psychically sensitive or magically gifted child. To the contrary, I was pretty much down to earth and commonsensical about things.

I did not aspire to conversations with trees, spirits, the dear or untrustworthy departed, elves, sprites, faeries, ufo pilots, or the sacred spirits of animal totems. I was, in total, unmagical in activity or enterprise. I liked that things made sense. I liked that there was a more or less logical, scientific, or, maybe, grammatical order to the world and me in it. I liked less that there were illogical, unscientific, and ungrammatical qualities within and, perhaps, around, this order.

I didn't, in any sense, want to become a witch or a wizard. I didn't look to the occult for anything. I was not religious or prayerful or any sort of believer. I did not go to any church, nor did I want to. Christianity didn't hold any attraction for me, and, at best, I was only dimly aware that other religions even existed.

So in saying that, as a kid, standing in the decaying stump of a logged out first growth Coastal Redwood tree, I could hear the trees talking to me, I don't mean that I heard words spoken by the ancient and mystical spirit of the trees. But I did understand that I made a contact and connection with the Coastal Redwoods, and they, with me, in part because I played in those stumps and in part because I, vaguely, did not like what lumbering had done to the once pristine Coastal Redwood forest.

Coda--In the Navarro valley, upriver some of Dimmick park, I first encountered a raven. The North Coast counties, Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, are sheep herding counties. The raven I encountered was standing on the ground in a little meadow, plucking the eye out of the head of a dead sheep, eating the eyeball.

Later, it became clear to me that both of these experiences, as well as my earlier encounter with the Bobcat, impressed me powerfully with both the living spirits of these living beings (and their species) and with some specific sorts of recollections and awareness. All of these are for me, in Neo-Pagan Craft parlance, totems.

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How I Go o Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--Part 1 Early On, The Bobcat

[a revenant blog post]

Part 1--Early On, The Bobcat

The early events/experiences that ultimately turned me into a Neo-Pagan witch involved encounters with living and deceased things in an out-of-doors, more-or-less natural environment. In parks and open land, not in a backyard or a city.

I was born in Northern California, at the North edge of the San Francisco Bay-Delta region, Vallejo, CA, to be precise. Vallejo was a Navy town, home then to a large, active shipyard that during my early years specialized in the construction and upkeep of nuclear submarines, attack and missile carrying.

What I'm getting at is that as a child I enjoyed access to a complex inverted river delta, rivers, bays, the Pacific coastline, hilly oak savanna, redwood forests, the Sierra, and lots of other outdoor places. Plus, plenty of technology. Not just technology, but the technology of nuclear warfare.

Thinking back on things that happened to me that nudged me toward Neo-Pagan Craft, the earliest ones involved encounters with living things or with relatively recently deceased things. Each of these encounters made an impression on me, left me with something that, later on, turned out to play a part in how my practice grew and prospered.

Although, let me emphasize, I didn't realize it at the time.


My family used to go on camping/fishing trips. On of the first ones I remember was a trip to Bodega Bay, CA, netting for surf fish. We camped in a tent on a beach South of the mouth of the bay, probably private land. There was a road down a bluff to a fairly flat area back of the beach. The campsite was, as I recall, close by the bluff. I recall that we could hear the surf but not see the surf or the ocean.

Early one clear morning, right about sunrise, I awakened in the tent and went outside. Maybe I heard a noise, I don't recall. But I do remember walking up to the camp table and meeting a Bobcat.

The Bobcat was crouching on the table, eating a lump of butter, which, before folks got careful about leaving food unprotected in campsites, was left out. I was 6 or 7.

I knew nothing about Bobcats. I moved up close to the Bobcat on the table. The Bobcat looked at me. I looked at the Bobcat. We were probably only a couple feet apart, pretty much eye-to-eye. I looked in the Bobcat's eyes. The Bobcat looked in mine. For a long time, perhaps 4 or 5 minutes.

Neither of us moved. The sun was rising. As the morning light brightened, the details of the Bobcat grew clearer and clearer to my eyes. Looking into the Bobcat's green eyes. I guess that I was transfixed.

As a grown up with a fair bit or outdoors experience, I would not expect this sort of behavior from a Bobcat. I'd never figure on getting that close to a Bobcat in the wild, let alone spending minutes looking eye-to-eye from a distance of a couple feet.

Then something happened. And the Bobcat was gone. Up the bluff, out of sight in a flash.

Crouching Bobcat, Hidden Magic...

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gremlins: A New Function For Faery Beings?

While riding my mountain bike out in the open spaces and the woods here on the West Coast of North America I've encountered three faery beings who function something like gremlins--they do mischief to mechanical systems, arrange accidents for the unwary or careless, and make riding more eventful than it otherwise might have been:

Caughtapedal--in general, this entity plays tricks with the bike's propulsion and control systems, as well as with the rider-trail interface (as when a pedal catches on a rock or stump).

Wheelzipochtli--in general, this entity plays tricks with the bike's support and suspension systems, as well as the rider-trail interface (as when a tire goes flat way out where from the trail head or a shock fails on landing a jump bigger than any other during a ride).

Omehurtsteotl--in general, this entity play tricks with the rider, leading to painful body english, slips, falls, sprains, scrapes, breaks, blood loss, and other such things (as when a tree branch jumps suddenly on a rider's head, cracking her or his helmet and making the return ride both very slow and quite memorable, in a keen, nebulous sort of way).

I don't think that they are actual gremlins, even though they do stuff that gremlins do. I get the sense that they used to do other things in the past, but took up this gremlinish activity because changed circumstances kept them from doing what they used to. Their names have an Aztec resonance.

Gremlins appeared on the scene during the early part of the 20th century, mostly around aircraft. So maybe all gremlins are faery being who changed areas of activity in response to more and more human technology whirring away. Maybe their earlier functions got displaced, or suppressed, or extinguished. Maybe the historical cultures they used to have close links to were altered or disrupted or came to an end. Maybe these beings found something new to do that paid humans back a little--or a lot, depending--messing with human aircraft technology. Later, with all kinds of our human technologies.

A few more comments:

1.) The mischievous names--These Somewhat Aztec sounding names are ones that these faery beings have taken specifically in relation to mountain biking and how their activities mess around with mountain biking. The names that they allowed me to know. I got, as I realized the names, that the faery beings had other, older, and probably more telling names, names that linked to the historical cultures and functions that had somehow been lost or barred to them.

They did not allow me any clue about that. In fact, it was pretty clear that it was none of my affair and that I better not go poking around after such stuff.

Let me add that a quick search reveals that, included in the Aztec pantheon alone, are lots of potential candiates to take on a gremlin function.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that these gremlins used to belong to the Aztec pantheon. There are a range of pantheons some or all of whose members could have gone gremlin. These three just identified themselves to me with Aztec sounding names.

They chose to reveal only the names that linked with a particular somewhat prankish function and limited sphere of enterprise.

2.) The activities that they have undertaken--even though disruptive and sometimes leading to injury--are not "chaotic," if that's the correct term. Mechanical breakdowns, component failures, malfunctions, friction and obstruction, lack of appropriate situational awareness, poor judgment, profound fatigue, lack of suitable skill sets, escapes, falls, sprains, bone breaks, and such like all occur within the ordinary domain of riding mountain bikes.

What I'm getting at is that these three beings--and gremlins in general--do not seem to do much of anything extraordinary. They may take a technological system, or a technological system plus humans interfaced with that system beyond the envelope of reasonable, safe, comfortable operation. They may cause components to break, or systems to glitch, or riders to brag to themselves about their skills--trying what they shouldn't--or riders to lose situational awareness, or other stuff.

Gremlins playing tricks with mountain bikes and bikers don't break Murphy's Laws. They stick with them. Gremlins urge things that can go wrong to go wrong.

But gremlins do not, say, convert complex components into pebbles or riders into jellyfish or swoop bikes and riders up in to ufos. Their mischief has to do with the world far more than other realms or dimensions. They don't go outside the greater world and bring back anything beyond the pale.

3.) In my eyes, these faery beings are not "harm-doers." They are not horrible shamblers or beings to be feared or shunned or exorcised. Rather they are one more aspect of the living Land that we take into account as we go about doing things--an aspect of the living Land deserving of our respect.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

On The Content Side: Revenant Posts

Some revenant posts will be making their way from a blog that's gotten more cumbersome for me to use and joining this blog. Mostly, they will tell some stories about how I became a Neo-Pagan practitioner.

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On The Technical Side: I'm Trying Zoundry Raven

I decided to try out a desktop blog writer, mostly so I could write draft posts, edit, and upload them all within one application.

Previously, I wrote drafts with a word processor (AbiWord), then copied them into Blogger to edit and post them there, plus copied them into Tribe.net to edit and post them there. It was getting somewhat disorganized and a little glitchy. I was sometimes putting up two different versions of what I imagined was an identical blog post.

I found two desktop blog writers that looked interesting, Qumana and Zoundry Raven, so I downloaded both. After I'd installed them and tried each one out on a blog post, I decided to go with Zoundry Raven. Probably because of the way it archives my blogs on my computer. It's a bit easier for me to use than Qumana. (Frankly, I'm not a code guy when it comes to layout and appearance. I'm a WYSIWYG guy. Zoundry Raven is a WYSIWYG editor that I can use they way I like to do layout and appearance stuff.)

Neither blog writer seems to work with Tribe.net. I'm mulling over how to do those blog posts.

Since I'm trying to manage my writing better, I'll probably start up a new blog on a platform that Zoundry Raven supports, then end up migrating some of the Tribe.net material to that blog. Tribe.net will become a relict blog.

Well, I did begin a new blog on Live Journal--Pitch's Occasionally Post-Modern Gallimaufry!


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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rumpled Foreskin: Latex & Rayon Spun Into A Precious Fold!

The Boing Boing title to Cory Doctorow's post about the artificial foreskin is:

Artificial foreskin lets you keep your sensitivity AND the covenant of Abraham!

Posted by Cory Doctorow, October 6, 2008 3:10 PM |


According to the Covenant of Abraham, Abraham and his descendants get circumcised as a sign of their covenant with God.

As a life-long and bedrock Neo-Pagan, this has no significance for me whatsoever. I'm not interested in observing the Covenant of Abraham, and I'm not interested in using an artificial foreskin to cover up the body mod that indicates observing the Covenant of Abraham. I don't think that Neo-Pagans have really worked out a Pagan outlook around circumcision, but I myself oppose the practice. That strikes me as natural and actively "Pagan"--go with what the deities gave me!

What struck me about the Boing Boing title was that it hinted that a man who had been circumcised for the sake of observing the Covenant of Abraham could now--using this artificial foreskin--look like a man who had not been circumcised for the sake of observing the Covenant of Abraham. And perhaps undo some of the personal consequences, as far as sensitivity and appearance go, of observing that Covenant.

Why, I wonder, would a covenanter make some sort of effort to fool or deceive the God with whom the covenant had been pledged? Or, maybe, make some sort of effort to cover up the indicator of pledging the Covenant of Abraham? As a Neo-Pagan, this is not a course that I'd recommend, the deities and guardians as I've come to know them not liking to have covenants disguised or shape-shifted. Even though it does occur to me that this wearing of an artificial foreskin is a novel manner of "having one's religious cake and eating it, too!"

Plus, I never envision the Pagan Gods & Male Guardians as circumcised. To my eyes, They are always grand and powerful in Their natural foreskins.

I'm not sure just how this links up with Neo-Pagan magical practice. But, I do look at this artificial foreskin as a potentially useful sex magical tool, one that would look intriguing on an altar. Neo-Pagan magical practice in general involves recovering a range of diminished or lost sensitivities, after all !

Much more information about the artificial foreskin and its potential benefits to male health and erotic pleasure can be found at the Viafin-Atlas web site. Testimonials from wearers suggest that a man can regain sensitivity and erotic pleasure and body image confidence via using an artificial foreskin.


grafik--a tip o' th' beret to Jeff Bucchino, The Wizard of Draws!

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Balance & Imbalance--Situational Awareness In Magical Practice

From my first teacher of magical endeavors on, all have agreed that a practitioner must sustain a balanced awareness in the face of events and experiences that will unbalance awareness. Most would insist that seekers needing therapy in the broader sense should undertake that task before they took up a course of inner work. Some have referred seemingly unbalanced seekers to therapeutic modalities, conventional or alternative. Some have shared techniques to heal some sorts of pre-existing unbalances.

One of the first skills that my very first teacher passed on to us young teenagers was the skill of finding an absolutely safe place for ourselves in the inner realms and working out a way to go there at once when we encountered something likely to unbalance us.

Looking back, I gotta say that this little skill has kept me from tumbling into dissociation many, many times.

I think that it would be far more dangerous to venture into inner work if a seeker were unable to sustain a balanced awareness, no matter how acute her or his perception might be, or how extraordinary her or his sensitivity, or how how marvelous her or his reports of the paranormal.

Here, I think that we need to distinguish among a variety of character faults and personality dysfunctions. As well as take into account changes that occur as a result of esoteric practice as opposed to faults and dysfunctions that pre-exist beginning a course of practice.

Let me add that each of us follows the path that we pick. It's certainly possible to pick a path that favors one's character faults or exacerbates one's dysfunctions, yet gain some success and reputation as a practitioner. Sometimes notable success and reputation.

Are The Gremlins Messing With Tales Of Their Origins!

It's clear that the term Gremlin came into use during the early 20th century, even though earlier lore about the broad category of fairies includes beings with particular affinities for technology, making, and handicrafts. And it looks like the term arose somewhere in the community of British military pilots and/or those with ties to that community. The term seems first to have appeared in print in an April 1929 number of Aeroplane published in Malta.

At first, gremlins concentrated their activities on aircraft, breaking components, interfering with good operations of vital systems, altering the equilibrium of aircraft in flight, and beglamouring or distracting the awareness of air crew. Later, gremlins extended their activities into a host of different technologies, so that we may talk about gremlins afflicting trains, bicycles, cars, ships, computers, and devices using a variety of other technologies.

Later, during WWII, the term and the notion of gremlins was disseminated widely through popular culture mass media. Roald Dahl, having heard of gremlins during his early R.A.F. war service, wrote a children's story, The Gremlins. Dahl tells of gremlins appearing first during the Battle of Britain, but clearly some pilots knew of gremlins years before then,

The full text of Dahl's story with the accompanying Disney Studios artwork is available online at Roald Dahl Fans.com:


In 2006, Dark Horse Books reprinted the book. More books featuring the Dahl/Disney gremlins are on the way.


That story led to cartoon art from the Walt Disney studio, including a variety of unit insignia designs. For example, the Minnesota Civil Air Patrol had a Disney deigned patch with a gremlin as their mascot. So did the Women Airforce Service Pilots, whose patch featured the female gremlin mascot,fifinella.



In addition, Warner Bros studio produced well-known animated cartoons featuring gremlins. Both Falling Hare (1943) and Russian Rhapsody (1944) were produced by Bob Clampett. I probably first learned of gremlins when I saw these cartoons on TV.


Plus, the large and active military organizations of WWII undoubtedly developed or elaborated lots of organization/office folklore all on their own. Look at the efflorescence of aircraft nose art during this period. And this Royal Air Force Journal article The Gremlin Question by Hubert Griffith provides plenty of information about gremlins, including a poem filled with details.


About the possible origins of the term, The Online Etymological Dictionary offers:


"small imaginary creature blamed for mechanical failures," oral use in R.A.F. aviators' slang from Malta, Middle East and India said to date to 1923. First printed use perhaps in poem in journal "Aeroplane" April 10, 1929; certainly in use by 1941, and popularized in World War II and picked up by Americans (e.g. "New York Times" Magazine April 11, 1943). Possibly from a dial. survival of O.E. gremman "to anger, vex" + -lin of goblin; or from Ir. gruaimin "bad-tempered little fellow." Surfer slang for "young surfer, beach trouble-maker" is from 1961.
--The Online Etymology Dictionary

Lycos iq offers:

Although today's word first emerged during World War II, evidence suggests a predecessor was in circulation among the RAF a bit earlier. In the 1920s it was used to refer to anyone saddled with a menial task but that sense never quite caught on. Charles Graves wrote in 'The Thin Blue Line' (1941) that the word referred to goblins that clambered out of Fremlin beer bottles, a popular beer among RAF pilots in India and the Middle East before World War II. Get it? Goblin + Fremlin = gremlin. No one has proposed a more convincing or authoritative explanation.

--at Lycosiq beta

From: http://www.yourdictionary.com/wotd/wotd.pl?date=2005-12-0

Alternatively, there's a story that the airman who came up with gremlins was drinking Fremlin beer and reading, (or at least thinking about, if he was flying) Grimm's Fairy Tales at the time.

--Jacqueline Simpson, personal communication

Yes, this Lyco iq origin is persuasive, not conclusive. There is a rare English surname, Fremlin. They were brewers before and during WWII. According to The Directory of UK Real Ale Breweries, Fremlins Ltd was located in Maidstone, Kent.


This page from the Royal Engineers 37 Armoured Squadron web site provides some photos of the Fremlins Brewery building, beer labels, and coasters. Fremlins featured an elephant called Noddy in its graphics. To my eye, there's nothing about the graphics that would inspire gremlins as they're described.


Coining a new term by combining part of one that rhymes with the corresponding part of the other and maintaining the second word part is typical, a portmanteau word. Frem shifts to Grem, keeping the lin. (Or Grimm shifts to grem.)

Interestingly, gremlin inspired another portmanteau word which has itself become recognized in popular culture--Femlin.

The Femlin is a character used on the Party Jokes page of Playboy magazine.

Femlins were created by LeRoy Neiman in 1955 when publisher/editor Hugh Hefner decided the Party Jokes page needed a visual element. The name is a portmanteau of "female" and "gremlin." They are portrayed as mischievous black and white female sprites, apparently ten to twelve inches tall, wearing only opera gloves, stockings and heels. They are usually drawn in two or three panel vignettes, interacting with various life-sized items such as shoes, jewelry, neckties, and so forth.

Femlins have appeared on the Party Jokes page in every issue since their creation, and were featured on the magazine's cover numerous times, either as drawn by Neiman or in photographed tableaus which utilized sculpted clay models


So what have I got here?

Gremlins were first recognized by name early in the 20th Century by British airmen as unusual beings who did things to hinder aircraft operations and flight. The term may have come from an Old English dialect survival or an Irish word. Or the term may have been coined as a portmanteau word tying together the name of a popular brewery and a diminutive. (For no particular reason, except that I like good beers, I favor this origin story.)

The functions that gremlins perform, however, involving handicrafts, technology, and trick-playing reach back further into old lore. Elves, pixies, sprites, dwarves, goblins, imps, and other mythological beings took an interest in human technologies and makings. So while gremlins fiddling with aircraft strikes us as a new activity, maybe its more our human new activity that called forth the gremlins and gave us that term. And a little later, a popcult term for a sexy magazine mascot.

Maybe gremlins are beings we earlier called other names.

A tip of the beret to The Academic Study of Magic list for sharing some gremlin lore!

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