Thursday, August 30, 2012

Needing the Forest....

I just returned from an impromptu 24-hour camping trip in the Columbia Gorge. Sometimes you've just gotta get the hell out of the city. I took the dog and enjoyed twenty-four hours of being unplugged; of sitting by the fire, bundled against a chilly night; of camp coffee and a gorgeous dinner of wild salmon cooked over the coals; of hiking and birdsong and the river....

Like everyone else these days, I get wrapped up in daily life and schedules and to-do lists, and I forget how much I need my trees. Just saying.... There is magick and restoration and clear-headedness to be found in the forest, and for me, the Columbia River Gorge is sacred space.

Monday, August 27, 2012

How is Human History Like Parenting?

A Facebook friend posted this cartoon (from

I replied that history reminds me a lot of parenting. We parents tell our kids stories and share our experiences and wisdom, hoping to help them forestall having to learn "the hard way." But humans learn through doing, not listening.

I remember back when I was involved in Boy Scouts (in the days before it became a publicly homophobic, religophobic organization) and was teaching boys to tie complicated knots: they could follow the steps in a handbook, and they could watch me demo a knot-- but until they picked the ropes up in their own hands and tied the knots themselves, they couldn't learn.

Likewise, our kids go out and do and learn the hard way, even though we parents have tried to furnish the handbook to keep it from happening. 'Seems like human history is much the same....

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thinking About Neil Armstrong

The waxing Moon hangs just outside my office window tonight, and I'm thinking of Neil Armstrong. 

I remember watching the Apollo 11 landing.... I think I was maybe 15-16. Have you seen the film, 'Apollo 13'? The scene where they all watch the landing? It looked just like that at my house. My parents threw a barbecue, and at THE moment, everyone gathered around the console TV, drinks in hand, to watch. The picture was grainy, and at first I couldn't figure out what I was seeing. But my dad showed me where Armstrong's legs were and where the ladder was and the spacecraft and suddenly, I was watching a fellow human step onto the Moon 240,000 miles away. We heard him speak those forever words.... "one giant step for mankind," and everyone fell silent. 

Thirty-four years later, I would work on a NASA-funded research team that placed experiments on a decade worth of space shuttles; I met several of the shuttle astronauts and was even able to meet John Glenn prior to his famous STS-95 flight. Even so, those in-person meetings never surpassed that day in 1969 and those grainy images of Neil Armstrong leaving his famous footprints. What a wonderful, courageous man. 

I'm grateful for those memories and grateful that when I look at the Moon, so much, thanks to Armstrong and his fellow astronauts, seems possible.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

eBay's Recent Decision: A Ban on "Selling Speech"?

Recently, eBay updated its terms of service. That in itself isn't unusual, but one of the newest edicts was:
The following items are being added to the prohibited items list: advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic; prayers; blessing services; magic potions; healing sessions; [and] work from home businesses & information.
The full eBay update may be read here.

An editor-friend from a good-sized publishing company said,
"It's one thing for towns and cities to legislate this type of thing, but an entire user-to-user based selling engine to ban it? This is insane!"
I had the same reaction, at least initially. My first thought was that the new ruling seemed to discriminate against a specific religious group, i.e., Pagans, by denying the saleability of many items and processes that they/we often consider an important part of our spiritual practices. "Makes me wonder if other religious/spiritual items are verboten, e.g., rosaries, christening gowns, mezuzahs, prayers, etc.," I wrote on my Facebook page. I even tagged a Pagan friend, Charlie, who I know makes a lot of sales over the Web and through eBay. Her response surprised me. She said,
"It's been a long time coming. Too many charlatans out there spoiling it for the good ones, as usual."
I hadn't thought of it that way, and this was a point worth considering, particularly because this woman is both very savvy in conducting this kind of Internet business and also works as a professional psychic.

Another magickal friend chimed in, backing up Charlie:
"I think it's good that e-bay is banning this because as Charlie said, there are a lot of charlatans out there. In the FAQ section . . .  it answers the question of why these are banned with, "Transactions in these categories often result in issues between the buyer and seller that are difficult to resolve." I don't see how this is discriminating."
A third FB friend offered this:
"I'm guessing the market for such things will expand widely on Etsy as a result."
Which is true.... People are going to find a way, a work-around, and keep doing what they do. Alas, this includes both the honest folks and the charlatans.

A fourth Facebooker said,
"It seems to me that what they're upset about is the question of affect versus object. Notice how they're also prohibiting business advice, not simply metaphysical/spiritual exchanges. Rosaries will be fine, partly because Christianity, but mostly because rosaries are a physical object. Charms/amulets will probably still make it up there because they are object-based. That is, assuming they're not promising to deliver David Tennant right to your doorstep. But if anyone's got a charm or spell for that then we should work something out."
By this time, I was enjoying the exchange and happy to be hearing a number of varied thoughts on this topic I had little experience with. But the whole thing still bugged me. Yes, eBay is a business, and yes, they can make the rules for their business and the ways people interact with it. But it still seemed discriminatory to me. It didn't smell quite right.

And then, the Wild Hunt posted an interesting compilation post about the issue. Wild Hunt blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters began by summarizing the issues and then pointed out that most tangible items would still be on safe ground:
"It’s important to note that items that have a tangible value for the item itself and may also be used in metaphysical rites and practices (ie  jewelry, crystals, incense, candles, and books) are allowed in most cases."
The WH then took me in a new direction, though, raising a disturbing question. With this, the threads came neatly together for me, and I realized why the topic had bothered me. Pitzl-Waters pointed out that in recent court cases, magickal services and divination have been classified as "protected speech" under the Constitution. He considered whether eBay's decision was interfering with free and/or protected speech, and wondered why this didn't actually discourage eBay from making these changes. Interesting, yes?

The WH also expressed concern over a potential domino effect, affecting other providers or supporters of magickal exchange like PayPal or Etsy and having a significant impact on Internet commerce. (This is close to invoking a slippery slope fallacy, but it's still a point well taken.)

The replies to Pitzl-Waters' post were fascinating to read, and many continued to echo my concern over possible "discrimination," as in this reply written by Tau'ri:
"In the news article, it was pointed out that Ebay would NOT be banning things like "holy water" and a commentor [sic] wanted to know why this was different from potions. Good point. If it's a Christian "potion" its okay, but if it's a NON-Christian "potion" then it's banned? If that isn't discrimination, I don't know what is."
So, there we are. The free speech issue is what still bothers me most, although I remain concerned about the potential for religious inequity and bias. I understand why eBay may have made these changes, but I'm still skeptical as to the underlying intent, i.e., I wish I could have heard those boardroom discussions. I imagine we'll be hearing and reading lots more about these issues in the months to come. Since we magickal folks have embraced the Internet and digital world as a key functional aspect of our culture and communication, I think this is going to be pretty interesting.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Grey School Urban Conclave!

For those who aren't aware, the Grey School is on online school of magickal studies and arcane lore. We teach practice and knowledge in the GS-- not religion. In addition to the Pagans you'd expect to see in a magickal school, we also have Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other practitioners of "mainstream" religion. In fact, this is one of the things our school prides itself on, i.e., honoring diversity via a shared, respectful understanding. We even ask new students to take classes in magickal ethics, focusing on these ideas.

The school itself is pretty cool. We have an international student body of around 800 and an international staff and faculty of some three dozen. Students can study virtually any magickal topic in the Grey School, from herbalism to astrology to the Tarot to magickal toolmaking to lore and comparative mythology to archaeology and archaeoastronomy. As part of a class, a student might create a labyrinth; make, consecrate, and use a set of runes; study Latin or another foreign language; explore ancient texts; build a sundial; or learn to brew herbal infusions, dedoctions, and tinctures-- and these are only a few examples of what the school offers in some 450+ classes.

Although the GS is an online school, students and faculty assemble at times for "Conclaves," in-person gatherings typically held as group camp outs. They're lots of fun, giving us all chance to meet and hang out together "in person." Some of us have been Conclaving together since the summer of 2006.

This year's most exciting Grey School Conclave was held in France. I'd hoped to go, but a series of unfortunate circumstances not only left me unable to make it (insert tragically sad face here) but also faced with having a Conclave-free summer for the first time since 2006! (insert tragically sad face here) That just wouldn't do.... So, I chatted up with some fellow GS Conclavians, and we tossed together the first-ever GS "urban Conclave," with home base right here at my house.

It was a blast! People arrived on Thursday or Friday, staying here, in hotels, or in tents in my yard. Our activity schedule included classes, a campfire, great food, and lots of time to talk and share. Having Saturday lunch at the local Cartlandia food carts gave us some additional urban street cred, as did trips by a few members to Powells Books and the Willamette Jet Boats on Sunday. (The Jet Boats turned out to include a mini ghost tour. Who knew? Plus you get to go really fast and get wet!) All in all, it was a great time and fulfilled my need to Conclave. Even more important, it's always fun to hang out with my fellow/ette magickal beings, where it's perfectly normal to talk about astral travel or work with a new divination deck or practice telepathy. Good times....

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Blessed Lughnasadh!

From "Wild Celtic Rose" (
Most Pagans, Wiccans, and Neo-Pagans today mark Lughnasadh (a.k.a. Lunasa; pronounced LOO-nuh-sah or loo-NAH-suh; also sometimes called Lammas in Christian use for "loaf mass") on August 1 or August 2 in the northern hemisphere and on February 1-2 in the southern. Some eclectic Wiccan traditions mark Lughnasadh according to the full Moon that is closest to August 1.

The roots of Lughnasadh come from old Celtic traditions, i.e., the Irish, Scot, Manx, Cornish, Welsh, and Breton peoples. Celtic polytheists (a.k.a. Celtic reconstructionists, or CRs) follow traditional agricultural markers (based on extant records, folklore, etc.) rather than calendar dates when timing celebrations. Those practicing CR Druidism may locate Lughnasadh according to the appearance of the first late summer fruits or the first grain harvest in their home area. Here in the Pacific northwest, we use the blackberries to time agricultural Lughnasadh, while CRs on the east coast tend to use blueberries. For CRs, the emphasis is on the rhythms of life in one’s home area rather than on the calendar. (For instance, rather than marking Beltaine on May 1, most CRs celebrate it once the hawthorn—or a local white-flowering tree—blooms.) In CR practices, the sacred and mundane are not separate, and the most mundane daily activity can be every bit as sacred as the carefully planned “high ritual.” Daily life is a form of spiritual practice, and hospitality is one of the most highly valued of these expressions.

According to Irish mythos, Lughnasadh marks a funeral celebration and feast thrown by the God Lugh (pronounced LOO) in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu. Legend claims that she cleared much of Ireland’s plains to allow for farms to be started, after which she collapsed and died. (Yeah—I’d be tired, too.) The funeral games were subsequently called the Tailtin/Tailtiun games in her honor.Interestingly, because so many hot young people appeared for the games, Lughnasadh also became known as a prime time to make matches-- of the romantic rather than the gaming time-- with many handfastings following.

In folkloric terms—and those of traditional calendar customs—Lughnasadh more or less always marks the harvest of the local berries and of the first ripening grains.

Celtic reconstructionists may celebrate Lughnasadh in several ways:

1. The celebration is invariably communal. It was typical of the ancient Celtic peoples to gather as communities or even come from distances for major celebrations, and this was often especially true at Lughnasadh as the weather was better in summer than at the other cross-quarter holidays (however, the needs of one’s farm or animals may have limited long periods of travel). The celebrations included feasting, games and tourneys (esp. horse racing), and ritual fires.

2. The ancient Gods are appeased and thanked with offerings from the first harvest and with ritual. Lugh and Tailtiu, in particular, may be honored. Danu, the Irish mother goddess, is also well honored at Lughnasadh, for she is the benefactress of all.

3. Prayers are offered for success and bounty in the coming year. Prayers may be made in the fields—among the crops—and offerings made to the land.

4. CR Druids mark the four cross-quarter holidays, but generally not the quarters (the solstices and equinoxes). Lughnasadh and Imbolc stand opposite one another in the agricultural year. For the ancient Celts, Imbolc was a festival of sacred fire, so Lughnasadh is viewed as a festival of sacred water. On Lughnasadh, it is traditional to dress wells, bathe oneself and one’s animals in wild water, and to make offerings and prayers to sacred wild water. Silver and flowers have long been considered appropriate offerings to water. Today, though, that many of us modern CR Druids do not believe in putting silver in water because of contamination, etc. We stick to flowers and shiny pebbles.

5. CR Druids also honor standing stones as guardians standing between land and fields, and traditionally do this at the cross-quarter days. At Lughnasadh, the stones may be dressed with wreaths of flowers and with effigies of cornstalk or wheat.

Photo by Sue Pesznecker.
6. CR Druids celebrate the grain at Lughnasadh. The most traditional approach is to grind one’s own corn and use it to bake a corn bannock—a flat, round, unleavened loaf. However, any grain and any baked grain product honor the custom. The bannock is traditionally carried around the place of celebration—or around one’s home bounds—three times, deosil (sun-wise). After the third circuit, the bearer stops in front of her home or garden, breaks off a piece of bannock, throws it over one shoulder as an offering, and names a thing she wishes to appease or propitiate in the coming year. The remaining bannock is then shared and enjoyed.

As for me? I'll be making a couple of handpies using local Marionberries-- combining wheat and berries in one tasty package. Oh, yeah....

7. And, of course, it’s appropriate to celebrate the fruits, too, for these are also a symbol of the holiday. Berries tend to be regarded as solar symbols, which bring even more oomph to the celebration. Ideally, the community comes together, picks the berries on Lughnasadh morning, and works them into the collective celebratory feast.

8. For CR Druids, Lughnasadh is also a festival of the high places. After the main celebrations were held, the people would visit a mountaintop or other high place and would honor Sun, Moon, lightning, and wind with fruits, grains, and sacred poems. Lugh is also a god of Sun, storms, wind, and lightening (rather Thor-like, yes?) and so is often honored in the high places. The Cailleachs—the storm hags—were also typically appeased on Lughnasadh. Such rituals were believed to strengthen the people and to keep the Cailleachs from damaging dwellings and farms.

Note 1: The weather on Lughnasadh is believed to portend the Gods’ favor (or lack thereof). Mild weather—soft sun, gentle rains—is seen as a good omen, while stormy or excessively hot weather is not and may indicate risk to the harvest.

Note 2: This is a good place to mention that CRDs are polytheist, believing in a number of Gods and Goddesses, each with their own personalities, appeals, etc. This is in contrast to being monotheist (believing in one God/dess), pantheist (believing that all God/desses are manifestations of one source), or atheist (not believing in a God/dess force at all).

9. Finally, divination is a common part of any CR ritual. Typically, offerings and appeals are made and then a divination is made—or an omen read—to assess the Gods’ responses. In this way, those performing with works enter into a dialog with their Gods. If an unfavorable reading is obtained, additional offerings or appeals will be made. As a cross-quarter holiday, Lughnasadh is a prime time for divination.