Tag Archives: Cherry Hill Seminary

Church of Green and Blue

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Church of Green and Blue

Jason’s recent editorial at the Wild Hunt has spurred me to write here, after a three month hiatus. In his article, Jason makes some good points about the growth of Pagan affiliation in the U.S. compared to its relatively small level of infrastructure and influence. On the question of how to create more engagement among the estimated one million or so Pagans, his answer is better funding for more targeted journalism.

In a related post, Thorn does a remarkable job of laying out the numbers involved in making a living as a spiritual teacher. She ends her piece with this insight:

A big fish in a small pond creates ripples that have impact, but they share the same ecosystem as all the other members of the pond. And outside the pond? Probably no one has ever heard of them.

I have been grappling with these issues since I started Serpentine Music in 1992 and began teaching in 1994. In the 1990s things looked very different, as both Jason and Thorn have pointed out. The publishing industry was stronger then and so was the workshop economy, so between big advances and reasonable speaking fees it was possible to earn a decent living as an author and teacher.

In 2000 I had a couple conversations with Carl McColeman (then the music buyer for New Leaf Distributing), about what it was going to take for Pagan music to become as big as New Age music. Carl had just written an article for New Age Retailer on the topic. We both agreed it was only a matter of time before the market for this music grew to something like the size of the market for books like The Spiral Dance.

We turned out to be wrong, partly because we didn’t foresee the tanking of the music industry, but also because we weren’t thinking big enough. The market for Pagan music never grew to the size we had hoped, but meanwhile its lyric imagery and values were absorbed into the musical mainstream quicker than we ever thought possible. From early artists like Sinead O’Connor, The Pretenders, and Tori Amos, to more recent bands like Florence and the Machine and Arcade Fire, popular music has become filled with songs of shapeshifting, of communing with nature and spirits, of the seasonal festivals. To a certain extent, all musicians are Pagan now.

So the current market for books, music and workshops has made a certain kind of leadership and livelihood nearly impossible to sustain. Yet on a cultural level the influence of Paganism in this country is profound and far-reaching. Our small pond is rapidly being absorbed (some may say siphoned off) into a much larger waterway. And here is where I disagree with some commentators: I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as a huge win.

Learn to Breathe Outside the Pond

If anything, this is a time in the U.S. when spiritual affiliations are getting even looser and less important than they have been for the past 40 years. And when people do feel the need for more spiritual support or community infrastructure in their lives, they are likely to either get more training to carve out their own path, or go back to a version of their childhood faith. Soon after our conversations, Carl returned to his roots and became a Christian mystic.

So I don’t think trying to engage the larger Pagan population with more Pagan-focused journalism will work. On the other hand, the mainstream press is full of casual and profound mentions of Paganism, in every conceivable context. Take this recent example from The Guardian, where in an offhand comment about the fashion industry, Glenn O’Brien of GQ says, “Creative people are natural pagans…It’s the only way you get to talk about Venus and Mercury and Jupiter.”

Unquestionably, we need good journalists reporting on every level of society and culture. Just like we need authors and teachers to remind us how to live a good life. But I think we lose the battle for influence as soon as we start pitching things exclusively to a Pagan audience. One million Pagans don’t even see themselves as an audience—they are Iowans, or lapsed Catholics, or doctors, or yoga moms.

If you are a teacher and writer who happens to be Pagan and would like to make a living at teaching and writing, here is your challenge: meet people in other ponds. Develop totally unrelated groups of friends, and figure out how to talk about what you do so that they can understand. Speak at industry events where your religious affiliation is at most a side note. Sharpen your game, retool your ideas, become a better communicator, learn from others who are a few steps ahead of you. If you can translate your spiritual beliefs into a heartfelt approach to whatever else you do, people will listen.

The rapidity with which the larger culture is absorbing Pagan values is very exciting, but it also means that even in our small pond we need to be more ethical and informed. That’s why Cherry Hill Seminary is such a treasure, and why active bloggers like Jason and Thorn who keep raising the level of online discourse are too.

The number of people who read this blog will always be small, but my goal here isn’t to pump up pageviews or even necessarily to reach more Pagans. It is to develop my ideas, to practice different kinds of writing, to share experiences that have shaped my life. And ultimately, to create stories that are good enough to speak to everyone who finds solace and inspiration in the great big Church of Green and Blue.

Two Great Books on Dreams

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I have had the distinct pleasure over the past few months of immersing myself in some wise and erudite books on dreams. Here, rising to the top of the pile, are two books that I consider essential to the serious study of dreams in history and practice.


The first is by Dr. Kelly Bulkeley, former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and author of many worthy books on dreams. Dreaming in the World’s Religions: A Comparative History (2008, New York University Press) is a book that finally answers the basic question: how did people in ancient cultures view dreams?

I call this a basic question, because anyone who spends a significant amount of time working with their dreams inevitably wonders how it was done in the past. In your religion, in other religions; by your ancestors, by other people’s ancestors. Dreams call us to understand our place in the world, and Kelly’s book answers the call because it addresses the problem with both comprehensive scholarship and also a deep love and appreciation for dreams.

In the book’s first three chapters, Kelly covers Hinduism, the religions of China (mostly Confucianism and Taoism), and Buddhism. He then branches out to the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Judaism), the religions of Greece and Rome, then Christianity, and Islam. In the final three chapters, we learn about the religions of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. A whirlwind tour to be sure, but with Kelly’s flair for laying out a clear overview combined with meticulous attention to detail, one is left after each chapter with the feeling of having had an excellent introduction to a fascinating, and ever-changing subject.

This book is required reading for my class at Cherry Hill Seminary on using dreams in spiritual direction. It gives the student of Pagan religions a valuable sense of perspective, and the student of dreams a glimpse at the rich possibilities for dream interpretation and understanding in the continuing evolution of our dreaming minds. I highly recommend it.

childrens_cover2The second book is not new at all, but is certainly new to us. Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936–1940 (Princeton University Press, 2008) is the English translation (finally!) of a seminar conducted by Carl Jung with some of his more advanced pupils, and is the most accessible, understandable presentation of Jung’s dream theories  that I have ever read.

Here we have the master in action, explaining his theories and then showing in great detail how he applies them, using examples of his patients’ earliest remembered dreams. In the first chapter, Jung lays out all of his methods of dream interpretation, which is invaluable in itself but also helps focus the later chapters, as each dream analysis follows the steps first introduced here.

Each of the later chapters include his students (among them Marie-Louise Von Franz, Aniela Jaffe, and Jolande Jacobi) presenting a dream or dream series, then analyzing them using Jung’s rubric. Jung makes comments, clarifies ideas and answers his students’ questions. The conversational style highlights Jung’s skill as an educator, and reading it one has the sense of witnessing the development, there in that room, of the practice of analytical psychology. It is a fascinating and inspiring ride.

This beautiful English edition of Children’s Dreams was a project of the Philemon Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing into book form Jung’s unpublished works. The Philemon Foundation also facilitated the publication of Jung’s Red Book last year; they do beautiful work. Children’s Dreams will make you realize just how much of your ideas about dreams are from Jung, and at the same time will show you just how little of Jung you really understand. I find the combination exhilarating; I am sure you will too.

What I’ll Be Doing Over Winter Break

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I’ve always liked the phrase “Winter break” even though I long ago realized that it is simply a kindly old euphemism for “not really a break at all, plus it’s cold outside.” Winter break always includes some great time with my kids and family, my daughter’s birthday, Solstice, Christmas, delicious food, and maybe a day or two of rest if I’m clever about it. But it also means squeezing in as much work time as possible around the edges of all those holy days and holidays.

This year I have a very big task on the work table, one that looks daunting from the outside but will no doubt become manageable once I dive in. I’ll be getting ready to teach my first class as a faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary.

I’ve known about Cherry Hill for a long time and have recommended it to many Pagans looking for advanced training in public ministry and pastoral counseling. I’ve even hoped to take a few courses myself when I had the time. The faculty is great and the school fills a gaping hole in U.S. Pagan culture. So I was very honored to be asked to take over teaching their course “Children in Contemporary Paganism” this Spring semester.

The course was developed by Brighde Indigo, who brought together some incredible resources and created such a good outline for the course that I couldn’t think of anything to add or change about it at all. But while the syllabus is intact, that still leaves me the work of reviewing all the readings and developing lecture materials for each class.

My winter work is also shaping up to be a deja vu experience. The main class text is one I co-authored about ten years ago, when I had a small house filled with five bright, charming, demanding children on the cusp of young adulthood. Now, with most of those kids safely through their teen years and only one still left at home, I have an entirely different perspective on raising children, Pagan or no, and on what it means to have a community which supports their journeys to adulthood. (I’m also way more relaxed in general.)

So in the weeks ahead I will be a student of my own book, remembering not only the material itself but who I was when I participated in creating it. As I write the class lectures I will once again be mining my own life experience for what may be of use to others in helping raise Pagan children. This process of self-reflection and summation, of zooming back and forth from the big picture to situational specifics, finding the seeds of wisdom in a complex narrative, is thrilling to me. I expect to learn just as much from this teaching gig as anyone who enrolls in the course.

I love teaching, and I find teaching adults particularly rewarding. This position at Cherry Hill is a wonderful way to combine my decades of devotion to childraising in the Pagan community with my love of telling other people what to do. I mean, supporting people in making informed, intelligent decisions in their communities. Yes, I’m sure that’s what I mean. And if you know of anyone who would like to join me in this grand project, registration is now open!