Friday, February 29, 2008

I Will Never Imagine Ancient Egypt The Same Way Again!

Over at Entertainmentwise I stumbled across this little bit of celebrity interview/publicity seeking. Honestly, I find it blissfully Pagan, nurturing of my practice, a wonderful poetic description of a deep and dark mystery, suggestive of connections with forces of life and death, and something that, 20 years ago, mostly cutting edge lesbian artitsts were daring to expose.

Speaking to Allure magazine, the Underworld actress reveals: “I've only ever had about three boyfriends. Only a handful of people have seen into the Pharaoh's Tomb!"*t

A tip of the beret to Kate Beckinsale, who has transformed my appreciation of Ancient Egypt. In a very good Starry Wisdom way.

Even so, I still find Denise Levertov's poem "Hypocite Women" more powerful in its description, and more Pagan!

"No, they are dark and wrinkled and hairy,
caves of the Moon ..."

Note: grafik of Nut and Geb from

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Here's a term that I've used for several years in discussing Neo-Paganism and its postmodern tendencies to aggregate deities creatively and usefully from a range of disparate sources.

If you're a Neo-Pagan, chances are that you work with deities or figures from more than one pantheon. These pantheons may originate with a historical culture, a literary source, or with recent and novel inspiration--Greek, Celtic, Norse, Mayan, Iroquois, Sioux, Hindu, Polynesian, Tolkien, Lovecraft, Star Wars, Harry Potter, a local landmark, peculiarities of technology and how we use it, filk, subcultures with interesting slants on the world, poetic inspiration, and a host of others.

But not with each and every deity or figure from each and every one of these pantheons.

Neo-Pagan practitioners (like me) collect together a small roster of individual deities and figures from several pantheons that we work with--our personal metapantheon.

Mine, for instance, includes: Kali, Shiva, Ganesha, Nimue, Morgan Le Fay, Cernunnos, Lugh, Hecate, Aphrodite, Gawain, the Green Man, the Faery Queen of the Border Ballads, the Queen of Night, the Muses, Titivillus patron demon of calligraphers, Coyote, Raven, Odin the Wanderer, Hiiaka, Pele, Ku, Krishna, Radha, a bunch of local mountain spirits probably known to some Native American tribes, Cthulhu, Yog Sothoth, Wile E. Coyote, figures that associate themselves for me with Devil Duckies, tree presences much like Tolkien's Ents, spirits who've found new opportunities for perplexity in the sport of mountain biking, figures something like the Shadows from Babylon 5, and some others.

They all work pretty well together for me, and I expect that more will join as time goes by.

I also use this term metapantheon to mean the sum total of all the pantheons Neo-Pagans work with. Or to refer to any subset of this agglomerate of pantheons that a Neo-Pagan group, trad, or organization works with.

Landscapes--A Synchroblog

Over at Between Old and New Moons, Mahud has put together a synchroblog about Landscapes. Closing on 1 March, Particpants include some interesting bloggers. Take a look!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lefty Psychedelic Spawn Of The The San Francisco Renaissance--Introduction

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.

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.

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.

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 things, 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.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Walking Labyrinths: Learning The Art & Beginning The Practice


Walking labyrinths got added to my toolkit of practice in the early 90s. The Oakland, CA, Parks and Recreation Department commissioned Alex Champion to design and build a small Cretan labyrinth in Lake Merritt Park. Lake Merritt is a large urban lake in downtown Oakland, home to the USA's first national wildlife sanctuary and first theme park, Children's Fairyland. The labyrinth, dug into the ground, was located near a grove of cork oak trees on the northern shore of the lake. The southerly view looked out over the lake into, for a city, fairly unobstructed sky.

An invitation to the opening day maze walking, guided by Alex Champion himself, was posted in my local Pagan shop, Glenn Turner's Ancient Ways, and a bunch of us, including me, turned up that sunny morning to meet Champion, learn how and why he had constructed this labyrinth, and get some hints about walking it.

Alex Champion turned out to be a wise, charming, insightful, earthy labyrinth maker. Although I didn't know it then, he's also one of the world's leading labyrinth designers and builders. Before he puts in one of his labyrinths, he dowses (he's a traditional dowser) for two sorts of energy lines, an kind of earth line and a Water line. He sites his labyrinths to include these lines, their intersections, and where they create eddies and vortexes. This little labyrinth at Lake Merritt certainly did.

After Champion explained his siting and layout plan to us, he offered some guidance on walking the labyrinth. He suggested that we do it several times, as a group, individually, rapidly, very slowly, with eyes open, and with eyes closed. All the while paying close attention both to the movement pattern as the labyrinth wound inward, outward, and, finally, to the center. And paying close attention to the energies patterned beneath and through the labyrinth.

It was remarkable to walk the labyrinth in these various ways. The effect of the pattern and the energies changed according to how rapidly or slowly we walked, according to eyes open or shut, and according to how attentive to the site and pattern we were. We could just walk the labyrinth like it was a plain old path. Or we could walk the labyrinth like it was a gateway into a different and magically illuminating realm.

Over the next several years, this labyrinth in Lake Merritt became one of my regular ritual places. I'd walk it on my own whenever I could. But more tellingly, several groups I hung out with did many working there, mostly at night. Always the effects on awareness were direct and notable. And we weren't the only magically minded folks who did work there, either. This little Cretan earthwork became a city park altar.

The following years, hard use, and weather took its toll on the labyrinth. The flowers atop the mounds died. The mounds get worn by many, many feet walking over them. The stone borders disappeared. The earthwork became plainer. The energy pattern remained, but the earthy pattern faded. It got more difficult to work in the place. At least as far as my working there went.

I learned a lot about place and patterns in places, energies and moving within and through them from Alex Champion and from working with his little Cretan labyrinth. Maze walking has become an important skill in my overall practice. We can get to know the Earth and its wonders quite well by walking in curves, weaving ways, and circles on it, with it.

Here's a link to Alex Champion's web site, Earth Symbols:

Here's a link to a very good article on Champion and his outlook on labyrinths from SF Weekly:

Here's a link to a site with some photos of the Lake Merritt labyrinth:

And here's a link to Labyrinthos, the best overall labyrinth site:

Note: grafik from

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Transcendental Experience Out Of Doors Opens The Gateway To Magic

In his book on nature-poor upbringings, “Last Child in the Woods,” author Richard Louv writes:

“Studies show almost to a person that people with an environmental consciousness had a transcendent experience when they were kids.”

Well, I sure did! Once. Twice. Ultimately, any, many times, as I got used to what being outside involved and how to get along with the little bit of nature where I found myself.

Partly, I built up some skills for moving and not moving and breathing and not breathing so much and watching and listening and keeping attentive to what's happening or likely to happen around me. Partly, I felt the land and what lived on the land around me and how it moved or flowed or rose or fell or changed appearance or turned something up while I was occupied with other tasks. Partly, I learned how, sometimes, in the natural world, to shut up and listen, listen deep inside with serious quiet, the kind of quiet that goes along with awe, reverence, connectedness, vital energies, and inspiration.

I loved--loved--the out-of-doors and doing things, discovering things, in nature. And I liked to imagine that nature, just a little, loved me back. Mostly in the way that nature does let you live, in spite of all the mistakes, slips, falls, failures to notice when you ought to's, and errors of judgment you make.

My earliest connections to magic, to living in a magical world, to experiencing magical awareness, were forged out of doors. Almost all of them involved--powerfully and directly--other living things, not human, but not visionary or spirit-presences, either.

Experiences like looking eye to eye with a real live bobcat. Like wandering through coastal redwood groves and standing within the decaying but probably still possessing a glow of life stumps of sawed down trees. Like watching a raven eat the eyeball of a dead lamb. Like trolling for salmon off the Northern California coast on a gray day and seeing, in a moment, a shark, probably a great white, appear, most of its body above the waves. then just disappear. Like being stuck very near the top of a 50-60 foot high beachside cliff, holding for dear life on to a plant, hoping its roots were tenacious enough to bear my weight until a helpful hand reached down.

In my backyard grew four trees. A kumquat, a pomegranate, a fig, and an almond. In kind of a big semicircle around the edge of the yard. I learned to tell the seasons by these trees and when they fruited, from almond blossoms buzzing with bees in the Spring, through fig and kumquat in the Summer, to pomegranates around Halloween. This little tree cycle offered me a measure of time rooted in living things, different and far more fragrant and, if you liked the fruits and nuts, tasty than the conventional calendar.

The Northern California coast, the surf, enthralled me. Standing on a sandy or pebbly beach, the breakers towered over my head. They crested green, blue, white. They broke and rushed in, in, up, up the beach toward me, promising to take me if they could--beautiful, beckoning, and foaming with peril. I felt the breaking waves move, and I felt them move me, way down inside, with a power and rhythm that I could not, because it was so immensely greater and beyond me, comprehend. Here, on this little patch of beach, was me. The waves breaking in the surf came from everywhere on Earth.

Surf on the sandy beaches was enticing, yet dangerous. Surf on the rocky, rough coast was glorious, magnificent, inspiring, fixating of full attention--and lethal. One wave that looked so quiet in the distance, rising and falling, could rear up in a flash, high and roiling to haul you in, away, never to draw breath again.

And there, in those waves, that surf, things lived. Worms, fish, sea anemones, sea plants that held fast, clams, mussels, shore birds that dived into the waves or ran along the upcoming and falling back water's edge, gleaning their prey. Wave battered, sturdy, daring life.

I felt that I, and all the rest of us humans, were part of all this, but probably the most clueless part. We, after all, pillaged it. Plundered it. Polluted it. Poured our refuse and rot into it. Cared so little for it that we would only preserve it when a profit might be had. Not because we realized that all that it was and could be had value in itself. Not because we understood that we were here, part of it all, not separate and apart from Nature like we kept, crazy for the stuff that goes solely with people, telling ourselves.

Some evenings, I stood on one of the beaches and watched the sun go down. On a few occasions, when conditions were right, the setting sun flashed brilliant green for a second or two. In this green flash, and from it, I sensed that here was a chance of magic, for magic. Later, I did some, and shared it.

Reviewing my early transcendental experiences out of doors, it may appear that all of them were. That's not so. Most of my time passed in nature was just plain, ordinary fooling around, messing with this or that, hiking here to see a pretty place or a sit around with friends. The sort of time that, as you have more and more of it to enjoy, if only in recollection, takes you into nature from anywhere and allows you to be there.

Growing older, if no wiser, I have come to realize that, while there are a number of reasons I've become a Neo-Pagan Crafter and remained one, the most important reason involves how I connected to the out of doors and what lives there and what that connection has brought me, taught me.

The Earth, the planet whole and entire, lives. Living, the Earth provides energies both plain and subtle, energies that we, as living beings may access, direct, and use. We may, by learning to enhance our connectedness to the Earth, become more skillful in how we use these energies, and why, and what we do in using them. We may grow Crafty in our magic, because using these energies is, the way we see it, doing magic. And magic, in the doing and what comes after, carries us to places and to insights and to connectedness and to stillness and to lusty warmheartedness that we wouldn't suspect beforehand, but would never abandon after.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Still More What's My Problem Over Sharing Craft With Christianity?

I begin with a simple observation--real differences exist between today's Christianity and Neo-Pagan Craft. Neo-Pagan Craft is not a movement within Christianity, but a separate movement that holds tenets other than Christian tenets, proposes spiritual insights and transformations other than those Christianity proposes, and offers ways of living on the Earth other than those Christianity offers.

Even when, as is sometimes the case, the two share common ground.

If such differences did not exist, then nobody from the Neo-Pagan Craft side, including me, would bother saying that he or she is not a Christian. Some Crafters, me included, have no affiliations with any Christian denomination or movement. We realize that, whatever a Christian might be, we are not Christians. We are Crafters.

When I try to describe some of the differences that I note, the schema of Christianity compared with Craft is fairly simple. That's because the tenets, insights, and ways of living are fairly basic ones--monotheism vs. polytheism, sin vs not-sin, salvation vs. not-salvation, clergy vs. not-clergy,
mediated experience vs. direct experience. A schema like that will not account for all the variation within Christianity or within Craft. Every Christian denomination or movement may not hold identical understandings of monotheism. Every Craft trad or movement may not hold identical understandings of polytheism.

That sort of thing does not show up in my simple schema.

Still, real differences between Christianity and Neo-Pagan Craft remain. Even allowing for ranges of interpretation and understanding in both Christianity and Craft. Christian polytheism--to the extent that such a notion can be discussed--does not resemble Craft polytheism. Within Craft, some trads may not hold to polytheism, but monotheism, duotheism, or non-theism.

I think that my schema is correct in general, even when it does not serve well in every instance of detailed variation within Christianity and Craft. I admit that some Christian denominations and movements may share more with some Craft trads and movements, that overlaps of understanding and observance exist, and that adherents do mix and blend elements of Christianity and of Craft. And, as I've said in an earlier post, direct spiritual experience and changes it brings about may overwhelm differences in a sense of unity, oneness.

Something I've noted as I've taken part in this blog carnival is that I appear to be less taken by Christianity than many of the other bloggers. My habits of practice do not overlap much with Christian ones. I don't follow Christian history, commentary, or literature closely, and don't see much there to nurture my own spirituality.

I resist assimilation of Craft by Christianity. I think that assimilation happens when many small, seemingly harmless changes, once accepted, emerge as some bigger, harmful ones. So I'm suspicious of small, apparently harmless changes. In addition, I think that if or when bigger, harmful changes emerge, Neo-Pagan differences will be submerged in some sort of Christianity. That Neo-Pagan Craft is in much greater jeopardy from accumulating little changes in its subculture than Christianity is. And that I, a Neo-Pagan Craft practitioner, value the independence and uniqueness of Craft.

Top 10 List About Fundamentalist Christians offers this:

Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian

This list sort of ricochets off several topics from the blog carnival on Paganism and Christianity. I've included one sign below. The entire list is worth a look.

10 - You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours. appears to be an atheist web site. The author is, if I need to say it, actively hostile, in an intellectual manner,  to Christianity. Click on the page Why I Am Not A Christian if you're curious about what strikes the author as deceptive, double-thinking, and dissonant about it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

More What's My Problem Over Sharing Craft With Christianity?

My chief concerns have to do with Neo-Paganism, and with supporting Neo-Pagan Craft as an autonomous spirituality movement. I favor sustaining the distinctive principles and qualities of

In my earlier blog post, I focused on the differences between Neo-Pagan Craft tenets and philosophy and those of creedal Christianity. I think that they are different, and so different that the tenets and philosophies do not mix easily or well. That's an intellectual, discursive conclusion.

My intellectual conclusion about mixing tenets, however, does not address the entirety of Christianity, nor the effects of direct mystical experiences, nor all the ways that folks mix Christianity with Craft.

Coming from the Neo-Pagan Craft corner, I think that it's doable to include aspects of Christianity into a Craft practice. Neo-Paganism offers a meta-pantheon that is, in principle, complete and exhaustive. A practitioner may work with the Deity or figures from Christianity in much the same way as with Deities and figures from any other pantheon.

But I still think that doing this brings along some cognitive dissonance that working with other pantheons probably doesn't. As a polytheist, monotheism in my working meta-pantheon gets scratchy. It hinders my enterprise.

Christianity is such a huge cluster of denominations that an adherent can take up just about anything and still qualify as *Christian* somewhere. So, yes, an adherent could be a *Christian* and a *Witch.* An adherent could put together a framework that sheltered the two together.

But it looks to me like this wouldn't work at all in any of the Creedal denominations of Christianity. And if what I'm reading in this blog carnival about some of the other denominations,
which may give less weight to creeds, identifying as *Pagan* causes difficulties and rejection among some Christian-identified adherents of those denominations. Pagans are not considered adequately *serious* about the *Christianity* they also claim.

There's no answer to this dilemma. Some folks feel strongly enough about holding to the values, practices, or values of these Christian (but not creedal) denominations that they put up with criticism of their sincerity and doubts over their expressed faith.

My only concern in these cases--and it's a minor one--involves what compromises these folks might make vis a vis Craft in order to demonstrate that they are *real* Christians in the eyes of their critics.

Taking part in this blog carnival has reminded me of another dimension where practitioners may mix up Christianity and Craft--direct mystical experiences of Deities or Guardians or entities from the Neo-Pagan meta-pantheon, or of a Deity or figures from the Christian pantheon. (It's tricky for a polytheist to talk about the monotheistic Christian pantheon, recognizing that in terms of that pantheon most entities are not the one recognized Deity but demi-deities or sanctified humans.)

Mystical experiences have all sorts of revelatory, illuminating, wisdom-uncovering, profoundly connecting, or dissolving into oneness effects. In trying to convey these effects, or how they came about, or why they energize transformation, or other qualities and insights, a practitioner may turn to any means to hand. Such a means to hand may be a familiar Christian vocabulary and set of notions. Especially if that practitioner grew up around that vocabulary and set of notions, or if it was an important aspect of that practitioner's spirituality, or if it is currently an active part of that practitioner's Pagan/Christian mix.

In these cases, all bet's are off. It's probably uncharitable to point out intellectual disagreements or philosophical discords when a practitioner is talking about her or hsi mystical experiences. they
are putting a far more spiritual and poetic vocabulary into play, one that hints more and denotes less. They may not care at all that some term they've used to circumambulate ineffable wholeness reverberates with--in a more ordinary language--creedal Christian implications. Implications dissonant to my Crafty Neo-Pagan ears, for instance.

Still, I'm concerned about even a mystical vocabulary drawing on Christian terms whose philosophical implications include references to tenets that don't mix well with Neo-Pagan Craft. Others, reading or hearing those Christian terms may not be moved by the mystical experiences that overwhelmed those implications for the practitioner who uttered them. I favor using a different vocabulary, drawing on terms from sources that don't organize around a dynamic of sin, salvation from sin, and discovering the optimum agency or salvation.

It does matter what words we choose, what they denote, what they imply, and whether we believe that some words advance conversation while others stifle it.


What's My Problem Over Sharing Craft With Christianity?

What's My Problem Over Sharing Craft With Christianity?

To begin, I am not a Christian and I have never been a Christian. I don't know about Christianity or about being a Christian from the inside. Whatever I know about Christianity, about being a Christian, I know from the outside. From reading book sand texts and pamphlets, from hearing sermons, from visiting churches and sacred sites, from attending Christian occasions of worship or celebration, from the realm of interfaith, from conversations with lay folks and clergy folks, and from thinking about Christianity and Neo-Pagan Craft.

I am, however, a Neo-Pagan Craft practitioner. My affiliation with Craft goes back to my childhood, and I learned fundamental skills of practice when I was a young teenager. I realized that what I was doing was *Neo-Pagan Craft* in my early 20's, when I read my first books describing Neo-Pagan Craft. These days, I am affiliated with three Neo-Pagan Craft trads--
Faery, Gardnerian, and Reclaiming--and one not-Craft magical trad--the UnderWorld Tradition.

As far as I can tell, Christianity is, for the most part, different at its roots from Neo-Pagan Craft.
The two hold basic tenets that are opposed, not compatible, not reconcilable, that contradict one another. At least, Christianity that defines its faith according to one of the traditional Creeds holds basic tenets not reconcilable with those of Neo-Pagan Craft.

Christianity is monotheistic. Neo-Pagan Craft is polytheistic. Yes, Neo-Pagan Craft takes in a range of notions about the nature of Deities and their metaphysical number. But it does not insist on one and only one, the rest relegated to inferiority and, at best, partial access to powers of the godhead.

Christianity declares humanity to be sinful, sinful by nature. Neo-Pagan Craft says humanity may be a lot of things, very, very bad among them, but not sinful. Not sinful by nature.

Christianity provides a spiritually beneficial adaptation to being sinful by nature--salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Exactly how salvation takes place appears to vary in a number of details, sometimes hotly argued among adherents of different Christian denominations, but, so far as I can tell, Jesus Christ is the active agent of salvation everywhere and at all times since His incarnation.

Neo-Pagan Craft does not recognize sin, and so it does not provide any beneficial adaptation to being sinful. Not through faith in Jesus Christ. Not through faith in any other Deity. Craft offers
a different adaptation that involves a different relationship of human to Deities. This relationship anchors itself in direct experience of Deities, and it emphasizes changes brought about via that direct experience.

Some denominations of Christianity insist that for most adherents their relationship with Deity must be mediated by clergy. Others do favor direct experience with Deity. Neo-Pagan Craft holds that direct experience is optimum, even though a category of *clergy* seems to be emerging within Craft.

What I find challenging about sharing Craft with Christianity, as some Christians and many
one-time-Christians take up Craft, is the efforts to bring some of these Christian notions and outlooks over into Craft. Because I think that the basic tenets are opposed, I find borrowed Christian notions and outlooks dilute the Craft tenets. Christianity borrowed into Craft makes
Craft less Crafty, more like this or that maybe progressive, post-modern Christian denomination or movement. Subtly, I fret, Christianity borrowed into Craft makes things like clergy more likely and mediated relationships with Deities typical, and looking for salvation from sin possible.

I surprise myself with how crotchety I am over sharing Craft with Christianity. I don't mind a diversity of spiritual traditions and outlooks. I believe that such diversity is good for a community and a culture. But I feel something about Craft that I hold to be its root strength weakening as
notions and outlooks borrowed from Christianity diffuse throughout Craft.