The Nonpublic Public Group

One of my issues with many Pagan groups is the mixed message they send on public presence. Some groups have a highly obfuscated public presence. They run open classes, do workshops, and hold regularly scheduled public rituals several times a year. These may be advertised in the old-fashioned way–flyers in metaphysical shops and word-of-mouth–or they may not be advertised at all. This group may even have a public name, but if you google it you won’t be able to find up-to-date information very easily.

There are a couple of problems with this scenario. One of the most major is that a lot of people who might want to see your public rituals or who have been to a public ritual and want to know more… can’t find out anything. They can’t even contact your group for more information without playing a game of associations and asking “do you know who I can contact in order to get in touch with this group?” They may want to come to your next public ritual, but can’t figure out when it is, where it is, or if it is even happening. Or they may simply be curious and came to your workshop and now want to know more about what you do, but they can’t even figure out when the next one is or what topic is being covered.

For example, there is a local group that hosts regular public rituals. Recently, we were trying to find information on when their open Samhain ritual is (which is always run by the same group, every year, and has a large turnout), and it turns out that it is virtually impossible to get information on when and where it will be. You can spend an hour of searching online and not find the specific information you need if you want to attend the event.

That’s ridiculous.

It is simply no longer enough to pass out flyers at the local metaphysical store or even a yahoo group, facebook page, or a witchvox listing: these services are simply not as searchable or indexed as they need to be for people to get useful information out of them or to find them in the first place. The current way that the world is moving, if you want to be public–even as so much as to run the odd public ritual or class–you should have at least the following information in a readily accessible location online:

  • Group name
  • Who you are
  • What you publicly offer
  • Calendar (or, realistically, an up-to-date list of things you are doing, where to find them, etc)
  • An email address

That’s it. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be a single page on the internet. It can be at a domain that ends with .wordpress.com or .blogspot.com, the email address can be an anonymous or group-run email address from a free-provider. None of this is difficult to learn how to do, but it needs to be done.

Privacy Concerns

The Pagan community still has significant concerns about privacy and anonymity. Pagan names are quite common, and are frequently kept entirely distinct from a person’s mundane identity. There is still a great deal of fear–possibly justified–about backlash from employers or family.

It’s not that these are not valid concerns, but the important thing to realize is that they are manageable concerns. The name/email address that you use do not have to be the same as the ones on your LinkedIn profile or Facebook page, not every member of the group needs to be (or necessarily should be), and you don’t even need to have a single member of the group listed so long as there is a place to get in touch with the group as a whole.

On that note, just to flip the concern slightly: I shouldn’t have to give up personal information–including email address or facebook profile–in order to know when your open public ritual is. So I shouldn’t need a filled out yahoo profile (especially when I’ve caught yahoo giving my email to spammers) or have to sign up for your mailing list, or join a facebook group. If it is a truly public ritual, then I should be able to find the information through a google search and be ready to go.

Conclusion

The easiest route from here is to honestly evaluate yourselves as a group: do you want to be findable, or is what you are doing such that people could reasonably want to find you? If you are running public rituals or workshops, the answer here should most likely be yes, even if it is in a limited sense and under a separate group name. If you are only-semi open, working off of invitation-only word-of-mouth networking, then the answer is not as clear cut and maybe a yahoo/google group or a facebook page are sufficient. If you are mostly private and don’t want to provide public information in any sense or have any designs on a significant public presence, then the answer is going to be probably not.

From there, if you decide that you should have one, just assign someone to take point on figuring out how to do it. It really doesn’t need to be fancy, but the more sites we can get out there that help people with finding these resources the better. If that person leaves the group for whatever reason, have them transfer ownership to another individual so that someone is always in charge of it. This helps keep it from becoming a dead listing without of date information, which is a topic for another time.

This is one of the areas where we cannot have our cake and eat it too: Decide if you want to be public, and if you do, do it right. You can change your mind later and post something to the effect of we have no future public plans at this time on your website or take it down entirely, but if you have a public presence in the moment, have the resources so that people can actually see it so long as it is up.

We need to face that as a community we have become sufficiently widespread that it is not enough to depend on word of mouth. People can get their occultism-related supplies online, take classes on the internet, and even do some of their rituals online. While there is still a great deal of value in working in-person, we as a community need to start adjusting to the realities of the community we are serving.

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A Note To Spammers

Since I’ve seen a sudden increase in attempts to spam this site, I’m writing a note on what we do to protect against spammers. I don’t think any of the spammers read this site before sending their automated bots, but just in case, here you go.

  • There are safeguards in place to help prevent automated spam systems from being able to post. These don’t impact normal posters, but do impact software which scans for wordpress-powered blogs.
  • All comments on this site require approval. So even if you get through the first tier of protection, you then have to get past a human. We don’t just automatically approve every “usfil blog, thx” post, especially if it links to a spam site.
  • All comments, as per standard practice these days, get a nofollow tag. So even if your comment gets through with the link in place, you won’t help yourself with SEO.

We also use a captcha on our comments page, though I’ve been hesitant to include one for posting comments to entries.

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In the Frustrating Season…

Politics is not one of my many personal foci.

I am a social liberal(very liberal) and a fiscal liberal to moderate(I’d like some accountability for where my tax money goes, thanks!)

I find the mudslinging, dirt digging, stump shouting of the frustrating season all very, very tedious and exhausting. The fear mongering and the blatant stupidity that comes from what at other times are reasonable, intelligent people is worthless. The lies and the “he said, he said” crap is annoying. And the level of negativity is toxic.

Extensive fact checking is necessary to find out what the real issues are.

Many years ago I read a suggestion in the Rocky Mountain News(it was back in the late 80’s, early 90’s and I don’t remember who wrote it), that said, forget all the campaigning, forget the debates and television ads and people coming to your door. Let’s have all political candidates fight with hand to hand weapons in death matches in Bronco stadium, with the last person standing getting whatever office they were fighting for. Sell tickets, put it on pay per view, and eliminate annoying campaigning and the state budget deficit at the same time.

I love this idea. I don’t see it catching on, but it would be satisfying to watch.

This years frustrating season is even more strident, more fearful, more, well, just more frustrating than usual. With Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch, I’m just like you.” campaign, like witches are NOT just like every one else, with mortgages and family concerns and money troubles.

Or the racist/sexist/fundamentalist accusations against the Tea Party. I don’t personally know if these are true, but I’ve heard some pretty outrageous things about a woman’s right to choose, rape cases and homosexuality come out of our local Tea Party candidate, Ken Buck. To be fair, I’ve also read endorsements of the Tea Party by respected Heathens in other states.

But despite my distaste/deep disgust for the people playing and how they play, I always vote.

I get involved in my local politics, I go to school board meetings and city council meetings.

Because to protect my rights, and your rights, and everyone else’s rights, even if I don’t agree with them, is a civic duty.  And like a muscle, if you don’t exercise your rights, eventually you can’t use them.

So go out and vote.  Be part of the change you want to see in the world.

Isaac Bonewits wrote a great article about fundamentalism, politics, and why we should care. Read it, think about it. Because if you don’t change things, someone else will.

http://www.neopagan.net/ReligiousReich.html

Of course, your mileage will most certainly vary

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30 Days, Day 10: Taking Action

One of the common things that I see on Neopagan mailing lists and in Neopagan circles is a call for energy where someone asks for energy either on their own or someone else’s behalf. We see similar things in people calling out to sign this [internet] petition to show your support, or to wear a color in solidarity. We see this sort of thing regularly with events such as Earth Day, Spirit Day, and the like.

Functionally, these all boil down to the same thing: A remote show of support, generally in an indirect manner.

I don’t have a particular problem with these activities so long as they are kept in perspective. They are a mechanism for the participants to feel like they are doing something in a tragedy where they feel helpless, and they are a mechanism by which those on the receiving end can see that there is support out there. The best of these situations is when the person or people who are the target are the ones asking for help: Asking for prayers/energy for yourself, for example. Ultimately, both of these are valuable results, the problem that I have is that they frequently are not enough by themselves, and it feels like people participate in them as a way to feel good about themselves without doing something more directly impacting.

So people send energy to Haiti instead of donating to relief organizations. They sign internet petitions and send energy to residents of New Orleans after Katrina or the recent oil spill instead of donating time or money or writing their Congressional representative or the President.

There is certainly nothing wrong with signing those petitions or joining such campaigns, keeping people in your prayers, or sending energy. Sometimes, a show of solidarity or a reminder to yourself is all you really can do. Most of the time, however, that’s only where things start. As the old joke goes: Pray to God and row for shore. Doing the latter doesn’t mean you just forget the former, necessarily, but you can’t get away with just doing the former either unless that really is all you can realistically do.

So in matters of environmentalism it isn’t enough just to buy things with a green label: seriously evaluate your buying habits, your travel/driving habits, and what you are realistically doing to help the environment. If you replace every bulb in your house with CFLs, great, are you properly disposing of them after they burn out and are you turning them off when they aren’t needed? Do you buy local and/or organic? Do you need to drive as much as you do? Are you recycling–or at least properly disposing of–your electronics? You don’t have to do everything possible (becoming a hermit is more than most are willing to do), but mindfully evaluate what you are doing and what you are realistically able and willing do.

Want to help restore the Gulf coast? Go ahead and sign the Be The One petition. It’s a great idea and maybe enough signatures will get someone to take notice. Keep the fishermen in your prayers and send energy as you will. But don’t stop there. Volunteer time or donate money to one of the various organizations that are helping out if you can and write your Congressional representative or write a letter to the President.

Want to help stop bullying and discrimination? Go ahead and wear purple on October 20th or sign with the It Gets Better Project, but remember to stop it when you see it as well and consider writing letters to emphasize the importance of it to your children’s school, to your local government, or to your Congressional representative. Donate to organizations dedicated to stopping suicide. Start a Stop Bullying Now! campaign. Let’s start treating bullying as a national concern rather than as an afterthought or something that is just part of childhood or something that builds character.

None of this is meant to discourage people from showing support. Showing up at rallies, showing solidarity, etc can be beneficial for our own mental state when we feel that it is all we can do, and I smile (as a Hurricane Katrina survivor) when I see t-shirts that say Make Levees, Not War.

Just don’t let it stop there.

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30 Days, Day 9: Beliefs -– Holidays/Wheel of the Year

I have never been a big holiday person. I am the kind of person who winces slightly when I see holiday decorations going in months early, and while I may look forward to a specific ritual, it tends to be for reasons that are internal to the ritual instead of reasons that are associated with the time of year. When I have been in a group, I tend to recognize the importance of group-rituals for reasons of Frith or for reasons integral to the rituals rather than feeling any strong connection to the time of year or specifics of the holiday.

I wonder if part of this is my connection to cities and urban environments. I may try to eat seasonally and love the weather in certain seasons (spring and fall in particular), but my existence does not feel as integrally tied to the land as it was for my ancestors, many of whom were farmers in rural areas. My connection is to places where seasons matter, but not in the same way that they used to.

That said: Ritual to me is very important. It helps binds groups together and creates a shared acknowledgement of things that are important. I simply have never felt a strong connection between seasons or times of year and the specific rituals being performed. So while I find deep meaning and connection Yule as a renewal of oaths and as a welcoming of the new year, the specifics of it laying on a solstice are mostly symbolic to me and I don’t connect as strongly with the symbolism.

My group works with eight seasonal rituals:

  • Yule
  • Charming of the Plough
  • Ostara
  • Walpurgisnacht
  • Midsummer
  • First Harvest
  • Second Harvest
  • Remembrance of the Fallen

Of these, the one that is the most important to me is going to be Yule. I find that the meaning of Walpurgisnacht and the Remembrance of the Fallen are very important to me as well, but when they get celebrated varies (I have a tendency to observe them around Samhain out of habit and because that seems to be when most others in the pagan community observe them).

Coming as a shock to no one who actually deals with me, the ones that tend to speak least to me are the fertility rituals. I acknowledge their importance and they can be a lot of fun, but they don’t call to me the way the rituals of the dead do.

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30 Days, Day 8: Beliefs –- The Power of Prayer

I was surprised the first time I heard the expression that “Heathens don’t pray.” The idea, it seems, is that prayer is something “those Christians do” and not something for those who are strong enough to stand up on their own.

There are two basic problems here. The first is that simple empirics show us that historical Heathens did pray. Sigrdrífumál–Sigrdrífa’s Prayer–is a surviving example of a prayer and is not dissimilar from many Christian prayers:

Hail to the Day
Hail to Day’s Sons
Hail to the Night and her Daughters
With loving eyes look upon us here
And bring victory to those who have gathered

Hail to the gods
Hail to the goddesses
Hail to the mighty, fecund Earth
Eloquence and native wit bestow on us
And healing hands while we live

(Translation adapted from the one that Galina Krasskova uses in Sigdrifa’s Prayer: An Exploration & Exegesis)

We see other clear examples of various historical Heathens praying. In Risala: Ahmad ibn Fadlān’s Account of the Rus, we find the following:

When the ships come to this mooring place, everybody goes ashore with bread, meat, onions, milk and intoxicating drink and betakes himself to a long upright piece of wood that has a face like a man’s and is surrounded by little figures, behind which are long stakes in the ground. The Rus prostrates himself before the big carving and says, O my Lord, I have come from a far land and have with me such and such a number of girls and such and such a number of sables, and he proceeds to enumerate all his other wares. Then he says, I have brought you these gifts, and lays down what he has brought with him, and continues, I wish that you would send me a merchant with many dinars and dirhems, who will buy from me whatever I wish and will not dispute anything I say. Then he goes away.

So not only do we see examples of Heathens praying, but we see them engaging in ritualized offerings while asking for assistance. Not dissimilar from certain forms of structured Christian prayer.

The second prayer that I see is that a lot of modern Heathens seem to not understand the purpose of prayer. Prayer is, in short, about connection to the Divine and to our higher selves. It is challenging and difficult to pray well, and the state of mind that we cultivate while praying is useful throughout our lives. It is not about surrendering your will, bringing up a grocery list of things you want but don’t need, rote recitation, or merely cultivating a specific mood or feeling. It, properly, uses focused attention and absolute presence in the given moment. I find that there is a lot of wisdom in what C. S. Lewis writes in Screwtape Letters about Christian prayer, speaking from the perspective of a demon:

The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently re-converted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray “with moving lips and bended knees” but merely “composed his spirit to love” and indulged “a sense of supplication”. That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.

Prayer doesn’t have to be structured, it doesn’t have to be vocalized, and it can be treated as a supplemental part to a meditation routine (as it is treated in certain branches of Buddhism, which does it without supplication). What it does have to be is dedicated. It can be part of the meditation practice itself (similar to the Christian practice of Centering Prayer). It can be used as a form of contemplation: What does each line of the prayer mean and why do we recite it?

There are numerous forms of prayer, and what is a good fit for one person may not be a good fit for another.

Prayer, for me, is a necessary and vital part of my practice. I engage in contemplative prayer, not so much to ask directly for things as to listen and to remind myself of who I want to be.

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Bullying

“When you recognize evil, speak out against it, and make no truce with your enemies” Havamal, verse 127

When I made the choice to practice,  I made a vow before my gods, allies and  ancestors to  to “bring light into dark places, uplift the weary, teach those that ask to be taught, defend the defenseless and be the voice for the voiceless.”

On this day, there is an amazing outpouring of love and support for our LGBT brothers and sisters. I add my own love to this, I am truly blessed by the LGBT people in my life.

On this day, there is an equally amazing cry for bullying to stop. And I add my cry to this, because this is an epidemic that kills our young people, across ethnic, religious and sexual orientation lines. It is an epidemic that hurts people for the rest of their lives.

Bullying is not a strengthening or toughening experience. Bullying does not make a person more masculine. Bullying does not teach you survival skills for your future.

Bullying is a vicious activity that blights the soul of both the bully and the bullied.

Teach your children to deal with and learn from their feelings of rage, pain, envy and hatred.

Teach your children that you are there for them, that you will help them no matter what.

Teach your children to be responsible for their own behavior.

Teach your children to be self-confident.

Teach your children to control themselves, instead of trying to control others.

Teach your children to defend themselves, both physically, mentally  and emotionally.

Teach your children love.

If your child or any child comes to you and says they are being bullied, take them seriously. Investigate. Address the issue openly and honestly. Insist that other parents, schools and law enforcement react immediately to the threat. Help them heal.

And if your child or any child is accused of being a bully, instead of falling upon them with blame or shame, ask yourself, “Why would this child be bullying others?” Help them understand what frustration or pain or hatred or resentment is driving them to hurt others and themselves. Help them heal.

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In Memory: Spirit Day and Bullying

Justin Aaberg, 15 (July 9th)
Cody Barker, 17 (September 13th)
Asher Brown, 13 (September 23rd)
Raymond Chase, 19 (September 29th)
Tyler Clementi, 18 (September 22nd)
Billy Lucas, 15 (September 9th)
Seth Walsh, 13 (September 26th)

…and for all those whose names we may never know.

In Memory

There is a deeper issue in the US of bullying in school that these incidents have been bringing more into the news. Bullying is not something that we should just accept, it is not something that builds character and, simply, it needs to stop.

CNN’s Stop Bullying: Speak Up

HRSA’s Stop Bullying Now!

The It Gets Better Project

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Gender in NT practice-Women, Men and Seidr

“If women deviate so far from custom and tradition that they wear men’s clothes or adopt any male practice whatsoever in order to be different from others, and also if men adopt any female practice of whatever kind, then the punishment will be banishment for the person, whether man or woman, who does so.” Gragas Law, paragraph 155.

In American society, gender is a fluid concept.

Everywhere you see women with short hair wearing pants, next to men with long hair wearing skirts (not just kilts anymore). Some women are the primary economic power in their households and some men are the primary caregivers for children or aging parents. It’s an exciting time.

In the saga era, there are examples of Icelandic women who held great power. They were often the driving force behind feuds, which if you’ve read the sagas is a constant source of power wrangling in the Viking world. They are the driving force behind battles, like Freydís Eiríksdóttir taking a stand against Native Americans in Vinland by putting a sword to her breast. They were also the mistresses of peace, while used in marriage to make alliances with other families, they were the ones that did the work to make sure those alliances stayed strong. And they were powers in their own right, such as Unn the Deep-Minded, who sailed to Iceland in command of her own ship, claimed large tracts of land, and was known for her hospitality far and wide.

“Femininity was not acted out in the way that it was in some other cultures- women labored hard and had little time for beauty and vanity. Strength and independence were simply the best qualities to possess if you wanted to survive well in Iceland during the past.” Charley McCarthy, Gender Roles in Medieval Iceland.

And in saga era Iceland, women primarily practiced seidr.

The practice of seidr was done by both men and women, but when men did it, it was seen as “unmanly”. “But after such witchcraft followed such weakness and anxiety, that it was not thought respectable for men to practise it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art.” Ynglinga Saga Ch 7.

Even though by myth, Freya taught Odin how to do seidr magic.

So here’s the thing, do we as NT practitioners need to be constrained by medieval gender constructs?

I am always surprised at the number of people that say “yes” to that question.

Because in the lore, seidr is unmanly.

But in American society, with its fluid gender roles, manly and unmanly are not longer measured by the same yard stick.

Of course, your mileage will most certainly vary.

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30 Days, Day 7: Beliefs –- Magic and Spellcraft

One of the earliest definitions of magic that I came across is one that I still like the best. Crowley’s definition states that it is:

[T]he Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.

This means that magic is all-encompasing to one who acts deliberately and mindfully. To one, in Buddhist terms, who is Awake. This is a common theme when looking at occultists of various practices: the emphasis is not, truly, on what people think of as “magic” but rather is focused on what many would consider mundane. Bear Heart talks in The Wind is my Mother about the importance of essentially mindfulness and paying close attention to all that happens around you. Dion Fortune in Trance-Portation relates an exercise in paying attention based on Kipling’s Kim’s Game, working with mundane objects. Crowley goes on to emphasize in Magick, Libra ABA, Book 4 that “Every intentional act is a Magickal act.”

One of my continual frustrations with modern occultism is our focus on the spectacular and people’s seeming belief that magic really must mean something fantastical. That they are an Elven Princess, that they have numerous past lives with this one person, that they can send energy to help a situation remotely, that the shared feeling in the pit of their stomach indicates “trouble brewing in the Force.” Admittedly, any of these things may be true, but that’s not the point: it doesn’t need to be for magic to be a real and potent force in our lives. Bear Heart talks about fantastical things, but his process of getting there talks about many things that don’t involve throwing balls of energy around.

Really, what should you focus on to get better at magic? As the koan goes: Drinking tea, eating rice.

Meditate, work on visualization, work on mindfulness, work on memory. Work on seeing the world as it is, and trying to understand what you see.

That is magic.

This isn’t, of course, meant to deny the working with energy or spirits. That is all part of it too. Techniques such as pathworking, journeying, and energy play are valid and useful mechanisms as well. My point is not that these are not valuable, but that they are not the whole of magic and that the basic skills–such as learning to pay attention–help augment those abilities in incredible ways. That in the process of learning to pay attention, learning to pay attention to energy is a natural extension.

That these are, in essence, the fundamentals that we should return to again and again in our study of magic, the things from which everything else derives.

There is more that I want to write about later, but I want some more time to put my thoughts in order around it first.

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