Monday, September 1, 2014

Jeff Rosenbaum, 1955 - 2014

Some may not know, but my old friend Jeff Rosenbaum has suffered a rapid onset brain-cancer which ended his life yesterday afternoon. Listen to this while you read, if you like:

It is proper, now, to speak of my old friend Jeff Rosenbaum, a man who was like a like a brother to me, over many decades. Sometimes closer, sometimes less so, but always loved as family. He has passed far too soon, his work still in progress, but he has left a legacy that continues to bring joy, wisdom and art to the world.

I met Jeff in the mid-1970s, through the Society for Creative Anachronism. He was, at the time, living as an Orthodox Jew, and was the baker of bread for the wonderful medieval feasts that the Barony of the Cleftlands (SCA in Cleveland Oh) put on. Jeff’s golden challah loaves won him the honor of royal baker to the king of the Midrealm.

But Jeff enjoyed baking more than bread, we soon found ourselves part of a circle of friends interested in experimental consciousness exploration, using methods ranging from those of Aleister Crowley to those of Timothy Leary. Many an evening was spent in contemplation of such things as the football-shape that the universe must assume when you look at it as a cross-time object, or discussing whether the Abyss was really as close as that tree’s shadow.

Jeff remained a student and advocate of traditional Judaism and Jewish culture all of his life, but his personal devotion didn’t survive his consciousness studies. Jeff participated in our late-70s experiments in eclectic Paganism, but in general he was more of a scientist than a religionist. While he surrounded himself with students and teachers of a variety of esoteric spiritualities he never personally identified as anything in particular except, perhaps, as a fellow traveler on the great voyage.

In the spring of 1977 it was Jeff who convened the meeting that founded the Chameleon Club and, later, the Association for Consciousness Exploration. The Chameleon Club was brought together by a mutual interest in mind arts and sciences and a quiet revolutionary optimism that we could make a corner of the world a cooler, freer, sweeter place. With an agenda drawn largely from “Cosmic Trigger” we set about hosting events as simple as showing movies at a Case Western Reserve University venue and as major as bringing Dr. Leary to Cleveland for the first time as he returned to public speaking in the late 70s. By 1980 we had bought into a house in Cleveland Hts. and were keeping an office as well, all managed by Jeff’s hard work, supported by the Club.

Tim Leary, Robert Shea, Pat Monaghan, Jeff, Gillie Smythe
In 1980 the Club made a road-trip to the Pan-Pagan Festival. Pan-Pagan ’80 remains a historical moment, when 500+ Pagans and Witches gathered to share community. From that festival were born the majority of the round of “national festivals” still in business today. The Chameleon Club came home and immediately began working on what became the Starwood festival. Thirty-five years later that festival is still rockin’ on.

Starwood became Jeff’s love-child, his farm and his factory. It is a festival that drew on the Pagan community, yet included new science, environmental and political activism and performance art along with anything else cool we could drag into the woods. With Jeff’s guidance over the years the festival grew to provide inspiration, pleasure and learning to thousands of people. Generations of children have grown up with Starwood as their ‘church camp’, bands have been born, religious systems invented, all brewed in the bright, faceted jewel cauldron of the Starwood Festival.

It is entirely likely that none of that would have occurred without Jeff’s vision and direction, but he wouldn’t want me to give the impression that he did it alone. The Chameleon Club, and our later allies and heart-kin, were the family that made Jeff’s plans materialize. Yes, when our lives became busy and balls were dropped it was usually Jeff getting them back into the air. If no one else did it, Jeff did. His personal time, talent and treasure were devoted to making the Starwood community, and promoting Starwood’s ideals of beauty, freedom and growth. However he did it for and with others. Jeff never promoted himself overly. He never wanted “the credit” for the wonderful thing he helped to build, freely sharing that with the many staff and volunteers.

Jeff could be counted on for his enduring care and loyalty. Those of us from the old Chameleon Club are Chosen Kin, mostly as inescapable to one another now as any big ethnic clan. Jeff was one of the Old Uncles, as alternately beloved and annoying as any. He could be counted on for a good joke, a weird movie, a cool new band, a bad joke (did I say that?). He could be counted on by his friends when times were hard, his quiet charity a boon to several over the years.

Jeff’s life can serve as a lesson that a devotion to ideas, to manifesting dreams, to serving a community can be fulfilling, and leave a lasting legacy. The Starwood Festival will continue, rolling on the solid chassis of Jeff’s old bus. The enchantment he helped to weave is only made the wilder by Jeff’s transition from at-the-desk manager to his new life in story and memory. May his atoms make new beauty, may his work grow new wonder, may his spirit find joy in its fate.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

New Nemeton Report

Regular readers will know that we're building a new ritual space here at Tredara. Following Celtic (at least Gaulish) tradition we refer to these neo-Celtic ritual spaces as a 'nemeton'. While the form of that word clearly indicates its Gaulish derivation, the root that produces the word also produces a complex of words in Irias, such as 'nemed', indicating both 'noble' and 'holy' in different examples. So a nemeton is a noble place for sacred work, and that's what we're trying to build.

We just finished another work day, with several of our Grove mates showing up. The crew was about right - we were doing more detail work that grunt work, and we had some skilled help.
Here's where we left off. Looks good, but the salvage brick at the fire altar just wasn't going to make it. Also, the first big rain caused erosion in some of the brick-work on the eastern porch that holds the Well and Tree, filling the offering shaft with sand and collapsing some of the brick deck. So our job yesterday was to finish the firepit with the proper new brick we found, and repair the deck and offering shaft.

The Fire altar turned out to be easy. We started early, before the heat had grown too oppressive. AJ has actually mixed mortar, and we had three hands (two and half - AJ's in a cast) working it, so placing the brick went easy. We tried a trick on the top course, to create better ventilation and, hopefully, a neat light effect as the fire shines between the bricks.
The finished brick-work
and filled with dirt,
to raise the fire properly into the air

The traditional Euro-Pagan fire altar is a raised stack of brick or stone, with the fire on the top. The word "altar" means 'high place', and the central porch and fire-altar are, in fact, the highest spot in the nemeton's meadow.

The east porch and offering shaft were a more complicated matter. We needed to seal the lip of the actual pit to prevent erosion from filling it, and provide a solid base for the brick deck.
So we started here, mortaring a collar
of 'castle wall' salvage brick. this

We don't know much about ancient Celtic ritual, but we can be pretty sure that they made 'deposit offerings' into shafts dug into the earth. Archaeology has found gigantic examples - we commemorate the custom on a smaller scale. The 'shaft' receives offerings to the Underworld powers, and is part of the symbolic complex we call 'the Well"

We wanted a collar of brick to bring the shaft-top
up above level. Our skilled help was able to cut a proper
frame of brick, which I love.
Finally cementing the whole thing in place,
and ready for the capstone.

Finished East Porch, with cap on the shaft.
By the end of the day we had built the fire-altar, fixed the shaft, and even filled the holes on the new processional way. We should be ready to consecrate this baby at Fall Equinox which, come to think of it, is the Grove's birthday.

The view from the processional way, on entry.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sacrifice, Reciprocity, Gods, and Spirits

I encountered a discussion on-line concerning the idea of reciprocity between Mortals and spirits, anchored from John Halstead’s excellent article in two parts ( here and here). John is a humanist and atheist, though perhaps not a materialist in the most reductive sense. He strives for a Paganism that does not depend on a relationship with non-material intelligences. Regular readers will understand how different that is from my own interests in spirituality and sacred occultism. Let me say that I have covered a lot of my background opinion on issues surrounding sacrifice in an article here.

As I read John’s well-reasoned paper, I find that it is his original assumptions that make it flawed for me. Like many humanists he seems to have skipped the step where one discards the common monotheistic notion of God, and addresses the persons of the divine as specific, limited beings. Whether or not one ends up at pantheism or monism or even atheism (as many polytheists over the ages have done) I see value in moving from the idea that ‘gods’ are cosmic creator-owner-operators-of-existence, or cosmic background-principle-of-existence, to a model in which the divine is expressed locally and specifically. I think that is invaluable in reclaiming the essence of what pre-Christian religion was about, which is a goal that is still at the heart of my idea of Neopaganism. It seems to be a step that many Humanists simply don’t see, or decide to avoid.

Of course the Universe doesn’t give a crap about the horn of ale that I spill. I don’t worship the universe, and I don’t see what the point of doing so might be. To me, worship is a social exchange, and that makes sense only with beings that can know and respond to my worship. It makes no sense to me at all to ‘worship the divine in the sunset’ unless one understands the sunset to be a person who can respond to one’s worship.

I note that some branches of traditional Paganism, such as certain Buddhisms, reject such personal worship in favor of a discipline of contemplation and self-refinement. This seems to be a natural path for some folks, though the folk-religions that have been made on the Buddhist base almost all return to the core tradition of offering-and-asking. That tradition is so central to world non-Abrahamic religion as to be an identifying marker of religion itself. I understand, I think, that John isn’t trying to be rid of the practice but rather is reaching for a rationale that satisfies his humanist leanings. Nothing wrong with that.
Finding the living intelligence in the awesome beauty of
the land is rather the point for me. Why stop at the material?

Somehow I suspect that Humanist Paganism is no more likely to be interested in direct dealing with spirits of the Dead, or local Landwights. In my opinion traditional Paganism (which is my model) does not limit its religious work to the gods. There is no notion that only gods are worthy of worship in the ancient model – local spirits of the Dead and of natural features had at least as much to do with one’s fortune and life as did the poet’s gods. While any small worshipper might wonder whether an offering to the Highest Queen would be noticed the blessing of one’s lineage of ancestors, or the local Chief Tree is a much more intimate thing.

I suppose that a symbolist, materialist rationale could be devised for reciprocity between the idea of the Ancestors or local land-features. That is simply unsatisfying to me. I don’t bother with religion for the sake of community building or personal aesthetic satisfaction – I could get those without religion. I do magic and religion to engage with mythic reality (to use a rationalist description). I consider mythic reality a part of the natural world, and consider that to ignore it is simply to ignore part of the natural world in a system that takes nature for our revelation. So, whatever my own little philosophical opinions, I address the gods and spirits as the gods and spirits, and have repeated the experiment many times over the years because I have been pleased with the results.

Finally, let’s directly address some of John’s concerns. (John in italic):
The notion that the gods will grant worshipers material well-being assumes certain things:
• that deities exist (whatever that means) in some sense independently of you (whatever that means),
Good, as below we’ll take that as given, especially with the “whatever” tag. But I’d like to reduce this from ‘deities’ to ‘spirits’ if I can do it and preserve the sense. The divine is not expressed as deities alone.

In general, the culturally-universal history of human interactions with spirits, which has never ceased except in the more repressed segments of western cultures, makes me unwilling to replace mythic and traditional narratives with those of modern scientism.

• that your deity is aware of you,

Here, again, we have a difference of type and degree in a polytheistic or spiritist system. To get the attention of the highest gods, Olympians, etc, was always a Big Deal. The notion of getting on one’s knees and ‘praying’ to Athena seems silly to me. Why would such a great being notice such a small deed – unless the worshipper has come to the god’s attention through a more serious effort. Not all deities are aware of me, I suppose, but my formal efforts make me comfortable in assuming that my local deities are.

My Ancestors are linked to me much more intimately, of course, and I make some effort to enter relationship with the strange non-humans of my area. While the latter are quite local, they seem more alien in their way than the human-shaped gods we usually deal with. There is never a lack of Mystery.

As to how I know they’re aware, I trust both the results of my own technical vision-work, and the results in my life. They respond to me and stuff.

Even if we take #1 for granted (that your god exists), I just can’t see how you get through the rest of the assumptions.  Even if you have had an experience of a powerful personal presence which you identify as a god, how do you infer the rest of the assumptions from your experience?

• that your deity cares about you,
“Care’… I don’t concern myself with their emotional response. You functionally mean ‘will respond to customary approaches’. As long as they ‘keep the Old Bargain’ I don’t ask them how they feel about me.

• that your deity has the power to alter your life circumstances,
Here again we rely mainly on the testimony of tradition, though each practitioner will get results according to their effort and skill. We seek that general luck-splash blessing through community religious work, and that can be enough for most people. Some religions provide more technical methods of getting spirits to aid one’s work, and some systems call that ‘magic’ while others just call it part of religion. Magic, in general, relies only partly on the power of ‘gods’, often being more involved with non-deity spirits, and with the ‘occult powers of natural things’.
An altar arranged for a technical spiritual experiment.

Humans have the power to alter our life circumstances. With the aid of beings whose perspective and ability is different from ours (I think ‘greater' is fair) we can alter it more. Nothing is omnipotent - no spirit can bring that Palace of Gold (probably) but it is good to have strong allies.

• that your deity has more power than you alone have to alter your life circumstances,

Any two beings have more power than any one being. That one’s easy.

• that your deity will chose to help you under certain circumstances (i.e., in exchange for offerings), and
They have always done, and always said they will. There’s no reason to set aside the planet-wide pattern of traditional religion because it offends some philosophical position.

• that your deity’s influence on your life circumstances will be greater than other influences working in the opposite direction.
That’s a crap-shoot. Nothing is omnipotent. My allies and I forge ahead with skill and strength.

As to whether reciprocity ‘works’ when deliberately used for material benefit, I’d say that such experiments depend on a number of variables. We know that in material science an experiment will only work replicably if all the details are performed correctly and all the variables are controlled for. In general, if an experiment fails it must be because the operator ‘hasn’t done it right’. In art there is rather more leeway – a familiar melody can be approximated and result in a successful performance. Still in general an artistic effort must be ‘done right’ to achieve any specific effect. To wish there were a system that could work by wishing is merely… wishful. (sorry…)

It seems to me that John wants to measure religion by a different standard than material nature. Why doesn’t it make entire sense, in a model in which nature is our revelation of the divine that religious practices meant to produce specific material effects would be subject to some of the same rules as other types of human effort? Traditional Paganisms generally include a body of formal method by which devoted and skilled operators can get results beyond those of a dabbler. I suspect that dropping one’s silver in the wishing-well works as well today as it ever did – unless one has built a specific relationship with the spirit of the well, perhaps.

I don’t want to go too far into mythic psychology and the relationship between one’s chosen worship and one’s psychological condition. I’ll say that polytheism (as opposed to pantheism or other monisms) offer a menu of human potentials to be awakened through the long list of gods and spirits. I hold with “as above, so below” – when I bring a mighty power near me, the microcosmic mirror of that power lights up in me. If I need Motherliness, or Loverliness, or Coachiness I can get it. It is not regressive to make allies and to interact with them to improve and direct one’s life. My theism does not lead me to make the gods the big actors in my life’s story. I am the big actor in my life – the gods have stories that converge with mine, like any other being.
Here's a nice roadside shrine.

Here’s the deal for me – I want to bring the divine down out of the realms of Great Cosmic Wonder to where the rubber meets the road. I love those moments where I look out into the world within my heart and just Dig it All, for the sake of digging it, but I don’t consider that to have much to do with religion. I do religion to bring the power of the spirits (whether conceived as psycho-linguistic bundles or ethereal wights) into the common world, for the blessing of mortals. Again, for me, that means engagement with the mythic, regardless of whatever ‘rationalist’ discourse may say. I’ll always be more interested in the roadside shrine than in the mystic’s suggestions of natural wonder, but that's just me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Cleansing Blessing

Public Purification Rite, Summerland Festival 2014

For many years L and I have attended the Summerland Festival, organized by our ADF kin of Sixth Night Grove in Dayton. Held at a pleasant 4H camp in the woods, the event features high-quality program, good fellowship and an excellent Saturday music night. This isn’t a full review of the event, but I want to tip my hat to the fine group of bards working in our region. Talent is best graced by skill, and the increases in skill and confidence to be seen are marvelous!

Our shady glen

 Summerland has given me the chance to do some of my favorite experimental magic over the years. I did early Core-Shamanism-style ally rites, introduced the 9X9 divination system and did the first Court of Brigid rite in the ritual space (actually the ‘camp-fire circle’ of that 4H camp) there. Not being an organizer leaves my mind available for real magical work – something I just can’t manage at, say, Starwood any more.

This year our program piece was a rite of cleansing and purification, based on work I wrote last winter. It is part of an effort to devise ways to use magico-religious work to affect change in the hearts and spirits of people.  I’m more of a teacher than a healer, by inclination, but the work of priesthood in our time seems to demand some degree of work focused on the ‘cure of souls’. In our time people come to spiritual work seeking personal healing, comfort and restoration. Maybe they always did, but I think that in ancient days they didn’t expect to get it from priests of the gods. However they did expect priests (loosely defined) to be able to relieve “ritual impurity” (See my previous article here). When life brings us into contact with traditional sources of impurity it is traditional ritual that relieves it. The script for the large rite I composed is here  .

Approaching performance of the rite our primary concerns were adapting it for a larger-group performance. The rite is really composed to be worked by an operator on an individual or small group of clients and their witnesses, and in that form the ritual gestures would be able to proceed smoothly and rhythmically. However we were mounting this for 30 – 40 people (final # about 36, if I counted correctly).
The Three Blessing Cauldrons, ready.
Most central, the rite calls for the hands of the clients (i.e. everyone, in this case) to have their hands laved with water from the blessed cauldron. My first inclination was to do the old receiving-line, and have folks parade past the big ritual cauldron to receive their cleansing. Boring. Finally we decided to set three Blessing Bowls up the center of the seating area, and hallow each of them with the blessing.

We decided that the clients would actual cleanse one another, grouping around the three cauldrons. To do this we would give each of them a spoon. My reading has taught me that traditions that cleanse with water frequently do not use their hands to do so – most usually a ladle or spoon is used to dip water cleanly from a sacred pot onto its source. So it was clear plastic spoons for all.

The rite also calls for the clients to cover their heads in a simple white cloth for a section of the work. For the larger audience this was reduced to 2” strips of cloth, draped over the neck. Both of these adaptations were a little scary – to me the risk was tipping over into silliness. Fortunately the real cooperation of the ADF audience prevented that from happening… much…

The offering table. Ritual waters on top, deity images, spoons
to the left, cloths to the right, offerings, and the set-up for
the three blessing fires.
The final adaptation of the original script was the choice to sing the two key incantations. My goal in the work was to induce trance with a minimum of spoken guidance, allowing the crew to find their own requirements for purification, and to focus solidly on the mechanics of the rite as conveying the blessing. The litanies of water and fire in the text seemed long to me – induction through boredom is doable, but doesn’t get return trade. So I decided to add intonation and a mantric chorus-sing to the water-blessing, and to sing the fire-blessing as a hymn.

We worked the rite on Friday afternoon, and the shadows of the trees had perfectly covered the seating area we were using for the rite. We encouraged the crew to group around the blessing bowls, and distributed the spoons and cloths. L and I opened the work with a simple offering to the Three Kindreds (Land-spirits, Ancestors and Deities, for new readers). In this we honored first the general category of each Kindred, then added a more specific call to beings proper to the intention.

In this the Landwights was the most difficult, and a contemplation of how they may relate to ritual impurity and purification might be proper. I note that I might have offered to the spirits of the material water and fuel which we used in the rite, had I thought of it. Along with a general call to the Ancestors we called to Grandmothers and Grandfathers, understanding them as keepers of custom and rule surrounding purity – ‘reproving and compassionate’. Along with calling to the Gods in general we asked Brigid and the Dagda to aid us. This choice will be obvious enough, especially given the core fire-and-water symbolism of the rite. In parsing the sources of power for the rite, I go first to the innate power of water and fire, to which are added various natural-magic components. Secondly the consensus and cooperation of the community empowers the purification and return to normalcy. To these are added the special blessing of the Kindreds, brought through sacrifice.

All in all, the performance went well. L and I were pretty well in-tune, and our ritual performance partnership is a reliable support. We worked the initial sacrifice unscripted, then resorted to scripts for the detailed invocations. All in all we could have used more hands. I found myself sitting down to drum and lead the intonation, and still required to speak parts. In terms of my own trance I was able mainly to channel intent into the singing of the choruses, my attention otherwise divided between aspects of the progress of the work. I was forced to rely primarily on the design and execution – I wasn’t pushing a lot of juice myself.

The scrum around the blessing bowls was not too bad. Everyone got their nine lavings accomplished in just a little longer than the performance of the Hymn of Cleansing. Perhaps having operators at each of the bowls would be helpful, but I do like the mutuality of the community cleansing one another.

The second phase of the cleansing is the purification by fire. In the Two Powers analysis of the rite’s formula, the Underworld Waters are first used to dissolve and wash away impurity. The Fire of the Heavens is then used to restore original pattern, empower the target’s system, and to ‘purify by sunlight’. So we prepared small, portable fires, by simply lighting very fresh incense cones and not blowing them out. My experience has been that this will produce a 5-minute, sweet-smelling flame that, even if it goes out, will produce a pleasant cloud of smoke. In this case we got all three flames back to the work-table intact, so that worked just fine. So did singing the entire Hymn of the Flame, though I could regularize the verses a little more.

The original script called for blessing and passing a cup on completion of the Water and Fire. We were afraid of going too long, and excised it. In the end the working took about forty minutes. That tells me I could leave that module in place – I like the idea of the newly-purified folk sharing a cup.

Oh, one radical element of the rite was the Confession. In keeping with what I have discovered about purification work, a Hymn of Confession was recited prior to the cleansings. This led the crew to admit to a series of abstract errors or failures of virtue, and provided a moment for each to contemplate what impurity they might bring to the work at hand. This feels controversial, and the final text was the result of some discussion here at home. In the end the folk made no objection, and it seemed a fit and useful part of the formula.

The feel of the rite by the end seemed properly blessed and joyful and, as we burned the cloths in the ritual fire, it seemed to me to lighten. The emotional responses in the crowd were varied, from obvious delight to some examples of tears and obvious introspection. Several folks took occasion to say that the rite had pushed some of the buttons that were targeted, and all in all I consider it a good first performance of a fairly complex rite with fairly complex goals.

I want to thank the Summerland folks again for the opportunity and support (and Sai for building and tending the Fire), and thank all who participated. May we grow in wisdom by the work.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Starwood 34

Starwood comes, and Starwood goes. The most wonderful event of my summer, every summer, has ticked by thirty-four times marking my life through my thirties, forties and fifties. Pardon me – I don’t mean to pick up that earlier post’s themes, but Starwood is a real part of my own process of living and aging.

This is our fifth Starwood at our new home, Wisteria Campground in SE Ohio, and things felt well re-rooted from the move. The staff (i.e. us) knows how to approach the grounds, our plans are arranged, our execution adequate for a gang of volunteers that really only goes to work once yearly. I must make a special mention of the Wisteria staff. The hippy-hearted combine that has kept that scene running for nearly 20 years now has had plenty of its own interpersonal drama, but when showtime comes they smile and roll it out. They have been a pleasure to work with in every way.

One bit of good news for me this year is representative of a larger trend of good news for the event. After most of a decade of managing either set-up, take-down or (shudder…) both I was officially off duty for those physically taxing jobs. Both were handled by younger folks, part of our new wave of volunteers and organizing associates.

In the past several years our central crew has recruited as many as 20 new folks, and many of those have stepped right up. Set-up, take-down, on-site registration and a couple of new departments were handled by newer organizers. I don’t mean to be technical, but organizers reading this know how much work is in those three departments alone.

The event was plainly filled with younger faces this year. At opening circle I asked how many folks present were younger than Starwood’s 34 years, and over half the folks raised hands. This is a trend that we’re so very happy to see – it will be young folks who keep the fire burning into this century.

Nellie, Gnorm, Liafal, me, Vickie, Oberon
Having relieved myself of some manual labor, this year I did considerably more program. A high point for me was the Pete Seeger Singalong. Several people came prepared, including our beloved Uncle Gnorm with lyric-sheets, and we spent an hour in music-nostalgia-land. More than that, there were a lot of kids at the show, and passing along such classics as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” seems part of a bard’s duty. I surely learned that song at Camp Christian, where I spent a week for most of my childhood summers. This decade, dozens of kids, maybe hundreds across the country have their ‘Summer camp’ experience at places like Starwood or Pagan Spirit Gathering. My by-word on the topic: “Church camp is different for some kids…”

L. and I did a set as well, accompanied by AJ Gooch on didge and drum, and by his son Madoc on drum. Madoc will turn 18 next year, and has become one of the crew, as well as a competent drummer - more multi-generation fun. My voice was crushed early this year – my allergies combined with party-roaring and outdoor living, but I can usually sell a song in whatever condition I find myself, and the set was good, especially with help.

For some reason I committed myself to a lot of teaching this year. I planned to teach the Nineteen Working, and knew I’d be managing the ADF ritual. Doing the latter meant that we ought to do an ADF info workshop and pre-ritual briefing, so I signed myself up to do that. That meant I had program duties three days out of four, on top of singing and organizing. So, a busy year, even though I ditched the physical labor. Next year I must get ADF to send a team to do the org program…

My teaching was moderately attended, and my voice was badly wracked at the outset, but it generated some deep responses in some attendees, and produced good comments. I think I’ll be doing that work more often as a public teaching. The ADF ritual went well, thanks almost entirely to the reliable skill of our ritualists. Druids from three or five Groves came together and produced a strong rite of blessing for the land and the folk. What we can manage when we don’t even know what we’re doing is pretty cool – next year, a plan!

Personally I loved this year’s music. Starwood delivers one of the most unique and diverse line-ups on any Pagan festival stage, and this year was a wonderful combination of psychedelic world-music with modern rock. One of the big surprises to many was the metal set performed by Deadiron a Viking Metal band fronted by Starwood kid-village alumnus Alex Van Ness (who happens to be an active Troth member). The machine-tight riffs, vocal range and positive message of Deadiron’s music made them a hit among the tie-die-and-sorcery crowd. Telesma are another band that began their life through Starwood, and their blend of world-music and electronica turned the house at right angles to itself… or was that just me? We were very pleased to welcome Tuatha Dea to their first Starwood. They are a travelling family of musicians, and they brought a merchant booth and several workshops. A lot of bands are tightly scheduled – they arrive, play their set and depart. Tuatha Dea made themselves a part of the festival, (just as Telesma has always done) and this we like.

It was my personal pleasure to have Jeff “Magnus” MacBride back at Starwood after a decade’s absence. Magnus is one of the world’s great stage magicians, from his home-base in Las Vegas to the White House, China and various world capitals. He’s also been a Pagan festival attendee since the early 80s, when I met him at a Rites of Spring in New England. Magnus brings occult and magical concepts to his stage act, and the skills of a stage performer to his ritual work. His love for the drum-and-fire circle has led him to devise the Alchemical Fire, an all-night rhythm and trance experience that has been transformative for many folks. My organizer duties sent me to bed early the night he held his Fire at Starwood, but I’m told it was beautiful and powerful.

In general the atmosphere at this year’s event was sweet and cool, a rainbow ice-cream despite some summery heat. Artistic expression, naked frolicking and focused ritual all were up this year. On the latter I’ll mention the sweat-lodge prep and work, the Labyrinth Walk, the full Druidic sacrifice and blessing, and the O.T.O.’s Gnostic Mass. A full card of women’s spirituality program and ritual was also presented at the Red Tent. Next year we’re hoping to actually get traditional Wicca back in the mix somewhere.

I came out of this year’s event refreshed and optimistic. Starwood abides. Make your plans for next summer now! If you haven’t been yet, or haven’t been in a while, this is a great time to get on the bus.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Spear of Lugh - Tredara Tornado Drill #1

 Lughnasadh was exciting.
                Now it had been an exciting week leading up to the last weekend of July. After years of hemming and hawing we had finally called the county storm-water managers, and arranged to have the old drainage ditch re-dug. This turned out to be a Giant Project, and all week long we were semi-supervising the county crew as they tore through our woods to cut the ditch. The final result will be a new road through the woods, connecting the old half of the property with the new, along with vastly improved drainage, woods no longer turning to swamp, etc. It still feels a lot like we summoned a crew of moderate-sized demons to help us build out new temple…
                Fortunately the new barn cleans up easily, and actual prep for the gathering went smoothly. Saturday was moderately attended, but the evening musical sets were very nice, and the fireworks and laser (yes, my kin, laser) show in our backyard was a real treat. As a side bonus we met more of our neighbors, and found them to be young, open and unconcerned about our brand either of fun or of religion. On we go toward that scary moment when we hang up a shingle on our road.

Two contestants strive at Staff-wrestling

To review, our Lughnasadh customs include a five-game competition, the winner standing as the Champion of the Grove for the coming year. The new Champion and the old face off in the rite, in a dance of spear and bread-loaf commemorating Lugh’s defeat of the Old Giant. The five games are 
• Rock-Toss: as titled, thrown for distance
• Loggets: a lawn-bowling game in which an irregular stone is thrown at an irregular stand of logs, across an irregular lawn. A combination of skill and luck…
• Board-game: varies from year to year. We’ve done Morris games, Othello, Brandubh, and this year another variant of fidchel, or the tafl games.
• Staff-wrestling: Opponents stand in a narrow court, each holding one end of a staff. Goal is to move the opponent out of the court, or make them release the staff. As close as we get to grappling.
• Poetry: Contestants must write nine lines of poetry in any style, on a topic chosen at the moment, in nine minutes, then read them to be judged by a panel.
                The exciting part, for me, is that I won! Well, I split the win in a tie with one of our newer folks, so I’m co-champion for the year. I’ll admit, after whining about feeling old, that I’m pleased. I placed first in Loggets, first in the Stick, and third (damn their eyes) in poetry, so a nice well-rounded skill-set to finish my boast.
The Spear and Loaf dance from a previous year.
               The other end of the excitement began when the radar and local forecasts made it plain that we were about to get hit with a wave of severe weather, just in time for Sunday’s ritual. I can count the number of times we’ve been rained into the barn for ritual on one hand, even now, but this was one of them. There may be an occult angle to that as well.
                We are working to move our spiritual work on this land from the small nemeton that has served us for some twenty years into a new glade with new structures up the hill. Since before Solstice we have been building, making offerings and doing divinations. While public omens have previously been lovely I’ve had a couple of private concerns that I have attempted to mitigate by offerings.
                Arriving at Sunday, we had decided to make-do in the admittedly unfinished new nemeton, hallowing it as part of the Lughnasadh rite. This was not to be. Driving rain sent us under roof. Fortunately we have a nice fire, well and tree available in the outer room of the barn, and we had a cozy and well-seated rite. The omen, drawn in the ogham letters, was
Ceirt, Fearn, and Huath.
                ADF druids may wonder why we didn’t call that an ill omen and call for more offerings, as is our custom in such situations. First, I don’t consider Ceirt particularly ill. Second, the ‘terror’ of Huath, in my opinion, is in some ways the experience of meeting the Other Crowd. Having these two centered by the protection and strength of Fearn was reassuring. Also specific to our case is that the apple-meadow at Tredara is in one corner, while the Hawthorn-hedge property line is in the other. One very local way of reading that omen is that Fearn protects, from apple to hawthorn. Thus the seer and I looked at each other, and decided to accept the omen as a blessing. Some blessings, as we teach, include lessons.
Generic lightning, but it
was like this...

                The company was feasting in peace, rain heavy but not frightening, when cell-phones lit up with a tornado warning for our small county. Now, until recently, a warning meant that a funnel had been sighted, so folks began to get worried. Recent tech advances means they issue the warning (as opposed to a watch) if radar sees clouds even beginning to form certain patterns, so it isn’t quite as dire…
                Then the area tornado sirens went off. Once again, this generally only happens if the status is ‘imminent threat’. I’ll admit that the combination of the networked warnings and local siren scared the crap outta me – that ‘terror’ promised by the Huath blessing, I might say. We had a barn full of friends and their kids. The only real shelter choice if a funnel had marched in to that very meadow would have been the nice new ditch now filling with water. After a moment’s pause to calm ourselves, and a sky-watch that revealed no immediate threat we made the dash to our back porch, where access to our basement would provide at least provisional shelter. It also provided access to radar on TV and real-time local coverage, which revealed that our neighborhood wasn’t in line for the 80+mph wind events that were hitting a few areas, and that no funnels were in the air. We brought everyone into the house and Thexalon (the retiring Champ) told a story to calm and center the kids. Twenty minutes later the active warning was over, and radar showed the storms moving out.
                Despite our terror (which, to our credit, never turned to panic) the worst that our patch saw was heavy, straight-down, pounding rain, and lots of it. We might say, in fact, that we were protected from south to north, as our omen-reading suggested, as no damage was sustained. However, it is plain that the new nemeton was not ready – the hard rain washed away some of the support of the new eastern porch, causing a small section to collapse. Plainly we were premature and Those watching over the process schooled us to that effect. We will proceed, more deliberately.
                I have occasionally allowed myself to think I know what I’m doing in terms of such things as establishing a new nemeton. Yeah, well…

                However it generally was a lovely weekend with tribal peace, revelry, cheerful striving and bardic delight. The Spear of Lugh was over us in every sense, and may his blessing be upon you all in this season, dear readers, if not quite so literally.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


I’m getting old. I’m not totally old yet – I still rock on with what needs done, my brain generates material and I’m staying on my feet. Still, I can tell I’m slowing down. My beard is elder-gray; my more-tenaciously-dark hair is graying (and fleeing). The aches and pains that were a cliché are now a reality.

As I usually say, if one is lucky, one gets old. One of the goals of traditional magic has always been to extend life. For a Vedic yogi “immortality” meant a lifespan of 100 years or more, as average lifespans of 40 or 50 years rolled on by. For many of my generation, and many more of those just following, 100 years will be achieved by the magic of modern culture and scientific medicine, far more effectively than it was ever managed by sorcery or alchemy.

But, as they say, “Eat right, achieve wisdom, die anyway.” Our spans are not determined by our effort, but by the capricious (or sneaky) cutting of the thread, the song ended in a half-measure, the nail-flick of a passing giant. To this annoyingly unfair reality, we can only respond with resignation. Our fate is not in our hands.

I’m a young boomer, and my generation is beginning to fall to those thousand natural shocks one hears of. People I have considered my elders have passed. Funny, my life of magic and religion has led me to understand their death as a rising in glory, a lift from illness and failing flesh to a spiritual presence. Isaac, Morning Glory, Don, Sparky, more – it would be a bitter season if I didn’t treasure their spirit in death as surely as I did in life. Nevertheless, I love life and the world very well indeed, and intend to get as much out of this ball of nerves as my time allows.

“Youth is wasted on the young” dem say. I say “Wisdom is wasted on the old” – once you know what you should have done, the time, or ability, has passed.

What have I learned as I have grown older? First, I learned that life is hypnotic. The tick of routine, the enchantment of the habitual patterns of thought and image in one’s mind can allow the days and weeks, even the years to roll by. Once again the cliché becomes reality – the subjective time between Samhain and Samhain has become an hour where once it was a decade. At that pace, my kin, you can bloody well miss something! Like, say, your 40s – especially when the added pressure of establishing full-scale adult life is added to the mix.

That’s my message to youth – pay attention, and go for what you want! Examine your heart, and go for what really moves you. So many elders return, in their later decades, to the dreams they had when they were young. Don’t wait! Try now, when you’re young and strong. Strive, fail, strive again; change directions, win, gain, strive, fail, then win. 

Watch the days as they happen – don’t patience your way through shit you hate to get to the weekend, if you can help it. Make sure there are things in your days you love, as well as the things you decide you must do anyway. And when you have time for yourself, use it. Read, motherfuckers. Make a pact with yourself to read a book a month for life – nothing relieves ignorance better. I suspect many readers here are occultists of one sort or another. If you’re a young occultist, get busy – start now and use the time. Likewise, meditate. Stop whining and just do it. You don’t even have to get off my lawn, if you’ll meditate…

Most important, spend time in your body, in the real world of flesh, and not just in the contents of your head (this may well be me advising my own younger self, here, ymmv). My third cliché that happens to be true – stop and (smell) the (roses) (insert fave activities…).  Slow down for a few minutes a day to just dig something cool. You know what ‘dig’ means, my kin  –  it means to get down in it. “I wanna get my hands dirty with that…” Getting down into something – even for a few minutes, slows time again, makes a moment like a week, and adds years to your conceptual lifespan, in retrospect.

Finally, to readers who are Pagans I’d say we have more reason to be happy with our situation in N America than at any time since the beginning of our movement. The first wave of our founders is passing, though it is not past yet. Nevertheless if the work is to continue we need those who are 20+ and 30+ now to step up for 20 years of solid organizing. There’s no help for it – this is different from the work of one’s spiritual path, more like a combination of politics and drudgery. Nevertheless, if we are to establish social institutions to support modern Paganism, that’s what will be required. I hope that the first wave will leave some solid inheritances for those who come after.

If I’m lucky I’ll get a couple more decades of useful work out of this lifetime. By that time these young button-pushers better get in line…
But by all means, enjoy the lawn.