Monthly Archives: May 2006

The Shifting Balance

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Some years ago, my wise friend Cybele gave me a sacred challenge: to meditate on the Wild and the Domestic, and write a poem about each. Cybele has a well-deserved reputation for going right to the soul’s questions, and offering challenges which bring that material to light. Her challenge to me was no exception.

At that time in my life, I held the currents of wild and domestic in a very strong grip: I was mother of two young children, soon to have a third, and focused a lot of my energy on creating eddies and swirls from those universal forces that would best serve my little ones growing up. My magical life coexisted uneasily with what I felt I had to do for the sake of my young family. The domestic was always a struggle for me, though I did it very well.

Now that balance is shifting radically for me, as my children are growing up and my marriage is ending. Though there is a great deal of pain and heartache accompanying this shift, I also feel a deep sense of relief, as energies long held in check are able to move where they will. I don’t know what balance these two forces will next settle into, but I have found myself over the past couple days remembering both poems, and thinking about the effort it took at that time to bring each force into consciousness enough to write something about it. Here they both are. See if you can spot which is which. (Both have been published, both are copyright by me.)

Conception Song

That day I called to you, with wild
grass seed in my hair, I was
hoping you would follow
me into the thicket. There
we feasted on green acorns,
and feathers from the red
tufted woodpecker, and we ended
up tangled in a sweaty
mess outside that small
round door in the ground. You
left an offering, said I looked
eighteen again, and I
laughed at you, the way the bees
buzzed around your shoulders.
The door opened and your gift
was dragged inside by the crazy-haired
lady who lives there. I hear her
cackling in my sleep when
the crickets are silent, she is mixing
our hair together again in her deep
pot. Root stew, baby greens,
pond water: it will be our breakfast
one morning. We will feast
for days on that small mystery,
like a footpath strewn with flowers,
a print of blood on the ground, a door
which opens once and then disappears.

Starlight

The path is cool, sand sticks to the soles of my
feet, slightly damp between the toes. To each

side the dune grasses brush against my legs,
a sound whispered, heard only between the

crashing of waves off shore. I am caught
by the smell of drying kelp, and a wind which

blankets me, wanting me to lie down
with it. All I see is a thin line maybe just

ahead of me, maybe this path which traces
the dunes for as far as I know. A faint line

is enough, this late, and twenty stars
make a basket of light to walk by.

Keeper of the Light

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Saturday I was in Berkeley attending the Pagan Alliance Festival, where I was an honored guest. I’d been nominated as grand marshal for the year, a position they call “Keeper of the Light.” It was completely unexpected and I was deeply honored to be recognized by so many in the extended Pagan community of the Bay Area.

It was a beautiful day in the park, as my friend Victoria Slind-Flor covers very well in her blog. The organizers really did a wonderful job putting the whole thing together, from the parade through downtown Berkeley to the all-day festival with vendors and performers. I was asked to say a few words to the crowd, a wonderful opportunity to convey my thanks as well as express some of my observations and suggestions about Paganism as a whole. What follows is an extended version of my speech; the theme of the event was Spirits Evolving, so I focused on issues of leadership and the directions for growth that I would like to see Pagans take in the years to come:

Thank you Shay for the introduction, and thank you to all the members of the Pagan Alliance for bringing me here today. I was very surprised to be given this honor. It’s true that I have been active in the Pagan community for a long time, but I have never been very comfortable in the spotlight and don’t see myself as a leader in that sense. On further reflection though I realized that may have been the point: not all of us are comfortable taking center stage, yet all of us have ways that we exercise leadership in our communities. All of us have ways of bringing the light of our spirituality to bear on the world around us.

I am lucky to have found ways to contribute to Paganism that also feed my own interests. Serpentine Music grew out of my life as a musician and my appreciation for the musical liturgy many of us were creating. I have been able to serve the community by recording this material and by making old, rare recordings available that otherwise would not be.

My involvement in writing Circle Round with Starhawk and Diane Baker grew out of the natural concerns I had raising five children. I was constantly searching for ways to impart the values of a Pagan worldview and help develop their magical skills, while at the same time teaching them how to get along in mainstream society.

Both of these efforts have reached a vast number of people while also encouraging my own growth and feeding my own curiosities and interests. I think this is the key to having a long-term commitment to service work: to find something that feeds you as well as your community.

Even with all the work we do fostering our own traditions, I believe it is essential for us to be active participants in our democracy as well. Pagan culture has come as far as it has in the United States because we live in a tolerant society. Now we are facing the greatest threat to our freedoms that I have seen in my lifetime: the attack on our Constitution and Bill of Rights by religious fundamentalists in this country.

The challenge here for Pagans is that our political work tends to focus on opposing the destructive powers within our government: fighting against habitat destruction sanctioned by the Department of Forestry; working against the INS; protesting the regressive thinking coming out of Washington. We have stood against the government for so long, and have been so hurt by the cynical use of patriotism in support of its destructive policies, that it makes us cynical about the country as a whole and prevents us from leaping to defend it from those who would destroy it from within, in the name of their faith.

If we want to help defend our way of life from this deadly assault by the religious right, we need to allow ourselves to be pro-America in some way. I know this must be about the most radical thing anyone could say standing on a stage in Berkeley, but we must find a way to balance our outspoken criticism of the things that are wrong in this country with outspoken pride in the things that are right. We simply cannot cede the ground of patriotism to those who would destroy our country in order to “save” it.

This is important for Pagans because we understand magic and symbolism. A flag is an important magical symbol. Voting is a transformative act. It is a trap of hubris for Pagans to think that our Gods will protect us from the baneful magic of those in power, and that we need not participate in the national ritual of voting. Particularly as women in this country with our right to safe and legal abortion under attack, there is no excuse for abdicating our power to vote in favor of performing arcane rituals to bind our oppressors. Our feminist foremothers would be rolling over in their graves to see what we have done with the rights they fought so hard to secure for us, in the name of our faith.

Pagan culture in this country is strong and vibrant. We need days like today, where we can celebrate who we are with pride. We need rituals like the one Joi just led, that add energy to our vision of birthing cultures of Beauty, Balance and Delight. We need to vote, to let our voices be heard on every level. And we also need to reach out to our neighbors of different faiths, to search for common ground and create the understanding and compassion that is the bedrock of a tolerant society. Learning to create alliances in spite of religious, cultural, or lifestyle differences is essential to all the good things that our country stands for.

That is why the interfaith work done so tirelessly by my predecessors here — Macha NightMare, Rowan Fairgrove, Don Frew, Patrick McCollum — is so vital for our current and future freedoms. That is why raising our magical children to be conversant in mainstream culture is so important. And that is how each of us, keeping the light of our culture and belief alive in whatever ways we can, will contribute to not only the growth of Pagan traditions but the vitality of this nourishing land we live on, this rich stew of cultures that we call home.