Friday, January 30, 2009

California Cosmology: A Quick Look At My Own Checklist

I did a brief review of Alston Chase's checklist of California Cosmology, Chase appearing to be the source for the term in thinking about today's Paganism.

I grew up in the rush and swirl of California Cosmology as it was taking shape in the post-WWII San Francisco Bay Area. My appreciation of Neo-Paganism and my own Craft practice draw deeply from California Cosmology.

But I think that California Cosmology incorporates plenty of elements that Chase doesn't mention in his checklist. What's more, I soaked up California Cosmology not simply by learning about grand concepts such as Zen Buddhism or Hinduism or self awareness exercises or ritual magic but also through experiencing specific places, people, processes, movements, and events. When I was growing up, the San Francisco Bay Area had a vibrant, creative, experimental, distinctive, and influential local/regional culture that not many years later ended up being submerged by an emerging national culture. The San Francisco Bay Area revealed--and reveled in--a world view very much its own.

Here's my working check list of the elements of California Cosmology [in no particular order of importance]--

  • Ralph J. Gleason
  • Herb Cain
  • Ramparts magazine
  • 1959 Shinryu Suzuki sits zazen; 1962 SF Zen Center founded
  • 1954 City Lights founded, Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  • Kenneth Rexroth
  • San Francisco Renaissance and Beat poets
  • Bohemianism
  • Josephine Miles
  • Elsa Gidlow--Druid Heights, Marin County
  • Ansel Adams
  • Free Speech Movement
  • Lenore Kandel
  • Dan O'Neill
  • Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan
  • John Muir
  • West Coast labor movement, ILWU, Harry Bridges
  • William O. Douglas
  • The San Francisco Sound
  • The Folk Revival
  • International Workers of the World
  • KPFA, Pacifica Foundation, Lew Hill
  • Alan Watts
  • San Francisco Mime Troupe
  • North Beach nightclubs, comedy
  • Human Potential Movement
  • Environmental impacts of human activity
  • Lively local radio and TV
  • Latham Foundation for Humane Education
  • The sciences of Biology and Ecology
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Notable ethnic diversity, the presence of immigrant communities
  • Family organic gardening
  • Local bartering of goods and services
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • The Anti-Vietnam War Movement
  • Large universities and national research laboratories
  • Landscape and geography of the region
  • Gary Snyder
  • Malvina Reynolds
  • Companies sustaining technological innovation, e.g., Hewlitt-Packard and many others
  • Mohandas Ghandi, Ghandian pacifism in politics, nonviolence in political action
  • Zen Buddhism
  • Hinduism and Yoga
  • Lively and diverse popular occulture and esoteric community
  • I AM Movement and other spiritual and/or occult communities
  • UFOs
  • Emerging Gay/Lesbian Rights Movement
  • Renaissance Faire, Society for Creative Anachronism, medieval revivalism
  • Critical examination of Christianity and many of its denominations, often by adherents
  • Overall world view sustaining creativity, experimentation, wholism, systems thinking, and, probably, overconfidence in human abilities

And I could go on listing elements of California Cosmology as I, growing up, soaked it up. The challenge, for me, is trying to sort out which elements influenced me more and which influenced me when.

I have, for instance, written several blog posts about some encounters with living beings that happened to me at a very early age, long before I had any awareness of something I'd consider a cosmology or world view. These encounters had a telling influence on my later Neo-Pagan practice and outlook. But they were unique events.

Other experiences were not unique, yet they were limited as to time and place. The ways that Mare Island Naval Shipyard and the part that it played in my developing awareness of the human world and how it works is a good example. Other experiences were shared much more widely.

I think that California Cosmology has played an important part in the development of American Neo-Paganism. But I know that California Cosmology embraces a range of elements that go beyond a checklist like Chase's. California Cosmology has a distinctive political, economic, and technological dimension. Concern for well-being, reverence for life, and psychological/emotional/spiritual wholeness--plus an ambiguity or uncertainty regarding just how things fit together--influence the metaphysical dimension of the California Cosmology.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

California Cosmology: A Quick Look At A Checklist

Over at Blog O'Gnosis, Anne Hill quotes a checklist of elements of California Cosmology offered by Alston Chase. As part of my own ongoing project How I Got To Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--California Cosmology beating at the heart of it--let me take a look at Chase's checklist. In particular, I'll add a brief comment vis a vis the element's influence on the youthful me, growing up and getting Neo-Pagan in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For Chase, California Cosmology is a flowerbed of exotic religions and an eclectic cornucopia of offbeat ideas-

Tao--was an influence, mostly thanks to Alan Watts and KPFA radio; San Francisco had an active Taoist community

Hinduism--was an influence, mostly thanks to Alan Watts and KPFA radio

Zen Buddhism--was an influence, mostly thanks to Alan Watts and KPFA radio; San Francisco had a small and active Zen community

Hua-Yen Buddhism--I don't recall this as an influence distinct from Buddhism in general

Mahayana Buddhism--was an influence, mostly thanks to Alan Watts and KPFA radio: San Francisco had an active Buddhist community

Gnosticism--was an influence, mostly as part of popular culture

physics--University of California, Berkeley/Lawrence Laboratory vs. Stanford in the arena of particle physics was an influence

Heideggerian phenomenology--not much of a distinctive influence on me until college days

Jungian archetypal symbolism--not much of a distinctive influence on me until college days

Yoga--not much of a distinctive influence on me until college days, when I began to do it; I was aware of Yoga thanks to Alan Watts

biofeedback--not a distinctive influence on me, although I did have several EEGs

Transcendental Meditation--not a distinctive influence on me

psychedelic drugs--in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the 60s? yes, they were an influence

self-awareness exercises--yes, a distinctive influence

psychotherapy--apart from popular culture, not a distinctive influence

pre-Socratic philosophy--not a distinctive influence

the 'Inhumanism' of Robinson Jeffers--not a distinctive influence on me

Gandhian pacifism--yes, a distinctive influence; in particular, I paid attention to the then Institute for the Study of Non-Violence

animism--not a distinctive influence, apart from popular culture

panpsychism--not a distinctive influence, apart from popular culture

alchemy--not a distinctive influence, apart from popular culture

ritual magic--not a distinctive influence on me, apart from popular culture; I probably starting thinking of ritual magic as something that it was possible to do when Anton LaVey's Church of Satan caught the public's eye

What Chase's checklist reminds me is that there are lots more elements that could be added to a checklist of California Cosmology. And that California Cosmology--for me--was and continues to be lived rather than listed. Growing up, I participated in California Cosmology as a holistic process, not as a tally of elements. That participation in a holistic process--in which different elements took on varying importance at this moment or that one--and in relation to events that provided contexts--is one reason that it's difficult for me (and others like Anne Hill) to untangle all those elements.

Well, I'll Keep On Truckin'!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Learning About Our Environment--Muir

One of the major values that I hold is a comprehensive and abiding appreciation of our environment. Or, maybe better to say, a comprehensive and abiding appreciation for our environment as it may once have been with a lot less human disruption and as it might become again when human disruption is dramatically and tellingly reduced. It's a major reason that I'm a Neo-Pagan.

Growing up in the Northern part of San Francisco Bay, California, I learned about our environment from all sorts of experiences and resources and disputes and discussions and concerns. What I learned shaped my world view and my active relationship with the environment. Over a few blog posts, I'm going to take a look at a few of the things that I learned about our environment early on.

Here's some, linked by John Muir.

John Muir is probably California's most noted environmentalist. An inspiration to generations of people with a concern for the environment.

He hoped to preserve regions like Yosemite as pristine wildernesses. He pretty much got the National Park system going. He founded and led the Sierra Club. He held that wilderness offered a path to some sort of spiritual wisdom, different from and better than whatever human civilization was up to. His last home, now a National Historical Monument, was few miles southeast down the road from mine.

His last battle for preserving the environment was over Hetch Hetchy. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Hetch Hetchy was a beautiful valley on the Tuolumne River, within Yosemite National Park. San Francisco wanted water. Congress passed the Raker Act. O'Shaughnessy Dam got built. The Hetch Hetchy got flooded. San Francisco got water. Lots of folks, including me, are still upset by this disruption of our environment. Lots of California politics is about water, who gets it, where it goes, and what we'll do to have it. California is a very thirsty region.

A little ways the other direction from my home town is Muir Woods National Monument, an enchanted grove of old-growth Redwood trees that were preserved by other folks with an eye and heart for natural beauty.

So a good deal of my early learning about our environment revolved around John Muir, one way or another.

John Muir:

Hetch Hetchy:

Muir Woods:

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Friday, January 16, 2009

They Call It California Cosmology--I Call It My Own!

Over at Blog o' Gnosis, Anne Hill talks a little about what and where we both have our roots--something that some folks call California Cosmology (although I don't like this term and don't think that there is one but a constellation of them!) Anyway, she writes:

California cosmology is what I grew up on, catching glimpses on the radio, tv, and on the streets as a Bay Area youngster in the 1960s and 70s. It was wild and free, challenging, esoteric, erotic, and hinted of a grand future for humanity.

Most of my blog posts have something to do with this California Cosmology and how the challenges, opportunities, and possibilities of growing up in this heady Witch's brew of esoterica, erotica, creativity, defiance, and--importantly--regional culture made me the practitioner that I am today.

Look, as a young teen aged boy in junior high school, no matter my science and science fiction fannishness, I had no intention of becoming a practicing Neo-Pagan Witch. I was interested in technology and sensible meaning and learning about the palpable world and ways to comprehend it. I was not interested in doing real magic. I did not believe that real magic was possible, only something to fantasize. I played at working magic, mostly to discover how others responded to play acted magic.

I liked the landscape and the climate of the San Francisco Bay Area. I felt comfortable on that landscape and within that climate. But I did not consider the land itself as a living being. And I did not recognize the roots and ties that had already grown up between me, the land where I lived, and the life of that land.

But--what do you know?--a speech therapist passed along to me, a clumsy 8th grader, a deep and sound instruction in magical practice and metaphysical wisdom. Without saying a word about it. So I was doing real magic long before I realized it. And by the time I did--I had already experienced the alchemy. It had already transformed me--profoundly.

This all worked for me the way it did, and probably the same is true for Anne Hill, because, within California Cosmology we grew up in, nothing-- nothing --appeared a strange to us as it did, and would have, to folks in another of America's then still vibrant regional cultures.

Every day, I saw world destroying weapons systems, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, being built more or less in my backyard, and others, bombers, flying overhead. Down the road they were poking around into the nature of matter and building big machines to do it. Russian bombers and missiles had us targeted.

Let me tell you, after this, seeing flying saucers is not so strange. Why wouldn't ufo aliens visit Mt. Palomar?

Let me illustrate this another way. George Lucas, who also grew up amidst California Cosmology, made American Graffiti and the Star Wars saga. California car culture is not so far away from California space ship culture.

It all grows out of the same hyper-fertilized ground. The vision that created custom cars is the same one that created space ships and star voyaging. UFO aliens crossed paths with hot rodders in the Mojave Desert.

There's a lot of currents flowing within California Cosmology. One of the dilemmas I face when I blog about becoming a Neo-Pagan Witch is how to identify them in their distinctiveness yet activate them in their simultaneity.

For instance, what does topless dancing have to do with it?

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is Changing A Pagan Trad Affiliation Like Changing Out Of Paganism?

Thanks to the interesting blogging going on about coming in to Paganism, hanging out within Paganism, then departing from Paganism for some other spirituality or world view, I've been mulling over things like conversion and changing Trad affiliations.

Folks come into Paganism from other spiritual backgrounds all the time. That's how Paganism has grown so much in the past several decades. Folks do depart from Paganism, sometimes in order to return to their previous spiritual background. Pagan folks do change their Trad affiliations, yet retain their Pagan identity. And some folks come in to Paganism, hang out, change Trad Affiliations, depart Paganism, return to Paganism again, hang out, and change Trad affiliations again. Aidan Kelly's biography is a useful example of the process.

What's got me scratching my head here is: Is changing a Trad affiliation within Paganism like coming in to Paganism from a different spiritual background or departing Paganism for a different spirituality or world view--one that's not Pagan?

I don't have any answers here.

But it's pretty clear that changing Trad affiliations happens within Paganism. I'd suggest, in fact, that it happens a lot. Most Pagans that I know maintain affiliations with several Trads--Craft, Reconstuctionist, Druidical, Indigenous, Western Magical, Eastern spiritual, New Age, and such like. It's not unusual, at least in my experience.

Whatever is going on, I gotta say that it's always interesting trying to adapt to our ever-changing world.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Do We Want To Call PAGANISM? Solar System Imagery

In my previous post--What Do We Want To Call PAGANISM? How About A FANDOM?--I used Solar System imagery to account for some of the more ore less distinctive features of Paganism. More to the point, I used the imagery of the aggregate of the Solar system's minor bodies.

What we want to call Paganism both reflects what we imagine Paganism to be and promotes what we want Paganism to become. Right now, Paganism is way varied and made up mostly of small localized groups and individuals. Paganism is, I'd say, the opposite of one big wide-embracing thing. Paganism is an over arching term for a legion of things that do not always resemble each other or agree with each other or even care to be in the same space with each other.

What Paganism often starts with is what it's not. Paganism is not Abrahamic. Paganism is not the main religions of the world. Pagans are not present day monotheists. Paganism is not the religions we follow.

Religious Tolerance provides some useful definitions that I've played with:

Paganism, in my Solar system imagery, is not the major bodies of the Solar System. Not the Sun. Not the planets and their orbiting moons.

But there are different sorts of minor bodies in the Solar System. Dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, Kuiper Belt objects, trans-Neptunian objects, Oort Cloud objects, bits of dust, cloudlets of gas, little bits of stuff. For all we know, tiny fluffy bunnies hopping in the outer darks. But all of this aggregates is relatively small in scale compared to the Solar System's major bodies. But present in numbers.

Take a look at this plot of the Outer Solar System provided by the IAU Minor Planet Center:

It's just how I visualize Paganism. (Click to the animations and see things move!)

Just to show that we Pagans aren't the only ones who can't figure out what to call things, look at Crazy Names: The Solar System's Nomenclature Wars

Maybe we ought to consider a term like Pagan-wano?

Lots of small interest groups or spiritual outlooks or trads or people in action scattered around a common focus. All in motion relative to one another and to others in clusters. Some of a different kind or quality or attribute set than others. None of them able or likely to coalesce into a major Solar System body yet on occasion influential on those major bodies.

So, what's the common focus?

I'd like to say that it's the metapantheon of Paganism combined somehow with what it means to all of us to be human beings on a planet shared with other living things. But I can't be sure of this.

But Paganism does orbit around a common focus of some sort.

As far as what we want to call Paganism, this Solar System minor bodies imagery does not offer much. In some way, it's not human enough. I can't, for instance, even half-seriously call myself and my co-practitioners trans-Neptunian Pagan adherents--even if, during some rituals, we may briefly be just that!

So I'm still rooting for a FANDOM!

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Friday, January 9, 2009

What Do We Want To Call PAGANISM? How About A FANDOM?

Over at Chas S. Clifton's Letter from Hardscrabble Creek, there's an intriguing discussion about just what, exactly, we ought to call Paganism--Pagans are not a Community nor a Tribe -- Not Yet. Clifton's discussion itself takes off from another intriguing discussion over at Jason Pitzl-Waters' The Wild Hunt about folks coming into and later departing--Outgrowing Paganism?

It's obvious that a lot of us Pagans are both interested in these things and thinking about them. It matters what we call ourselves. And it matters when good folks are stopping by for a visit with Paganism, then journeying on to another spirituality or world view. At least to those of us who still regard ourselves as Pagans and good folks and wonder about matters of hospitality.

The most talked about terms from Clifton's blog post are: community, tribe, movement, and network. All of these are useful terms for talking about some features of Paganism. I've certainly used them all at one time or another. And I've certainly felt little qualms and hesitations and I-wish-there-was-a-more-suitable-term when I've used them.

So, yes, I've been one of those Pagans who've mulled over what we ought to call ourselves and what others do call us. Seeking a good, useful, and pretty accurate description.

My term of choice, one that gets at a bunch of the postmodern characteristics of Paganism that make these other terms a bit shaky when we contrast what the terms suggest versus what we know from experience and often can't quite pin down with words is--FANDOM.

Paganism is a Fandom. As a Fandom, I think that Paganism is itself made up of a bunch of sub-Fandoms, all of them orbiting around a shared focus, but each of them somewhat different and each one distinctive.

The image I have is of dwarf planets, asteroids, the Kuiper Belt, centaurs, comets and the Oort Cloud within the greater Solar System. All of them orbiting the Sun. All of them having some characteristics and qualities in common. Each of them going, gracefully or obstinately, its own way.

That's Paganism described as a Fandom.

I think that talking about Paganism as a Fandom does account for the relative newness of Paganism within popular culture, the coming/hanging out/departing, the not-quiteness or just-aboutness of Paganims that lots of us feel and some of us talk about, the enthusiasm for Paganism and the quick loss of it, the efforts to refine and historicize and hit a target and experiment and yet not experiment, the widespread hope or need for outside--often entertainment subculture based--affirmation and legitimacy, the ongoing spellwork and divination to grow taller and stronger, the sometimes brittle ties, the self-helping, the Witch wars, the collecting of magical and metaphysical stuff, the obtuse humor, the nerdiness, the techno-magic, and lots more.

A Fandom.

Trouble is, calling yourself a Fandom when you also consider yourself a spirituality and/or a religion undercuts the gravitas of the spiritual/religion claim. Fandoms are, in our pop culture, held to be on the light side. Not something that deity-minded folks would embrace vis a vis their spirituality or religion.

Contrast: I belong to Pagan Fandom to I belong to Pagan Religion/Spirituality. It sounds do lightweight and flossy to claim to be merely a Fan!

But I think that Paganism looked at as a Fandom does work from the psychological, the sociological, the cultural, and the metaphysical angles. Better than most of the other terms that we tend to use.

For a useful description of--Fandom (from the noun fan and the affix -dom, as in kingdom, freedom, etc.) is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest--try Wikipedia at:

Pagans are not a Community nor a Tribe -- Not Yet

Outgrowing Paganism?

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