Columbia the Forgotten

Columbia

The Goddess Columbia on the 1860 U.S. Seated Liberty Dollar

“If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not Conservative by 40, you have no brain”. ~Winston Churchill 

I think it’s fairly safe to say that generally Pagans aren’t members of The Tea Party here in America, or even  Republican these days. This isn’t to say that there aren’t conservative Pagans out there, and being conservative in and of itself is certainly not a bad thing. I always used to consider myself to be more conservative than not. I believe in a limited federal government, individual freedoms, personal responsibility, free markets and that the people should hold the overall power of the country (these are all things that The Tea Party says that they’re trying to bring back right now according to www.theteaparty.net). While I was always socially liberal, I also believe very strongly in my second amendment rights.

And then G. W. Bush happened, and the Republican party decided to completely lose its mind in regards to religion and their treatment of women. Not that there weren’t always some elements of these things drifting in the background, but that was not their focus. I think one of my defining moments of realizing that I could never be a Republican was when my mother and I argued over Sarah Palin. I think Palin is a nutcase, my mother thinks she’s amazing. I still can’t understand how someone who protested for women’s rights by burning her bra in the sixties and seventies could possibly like completely Anti-Choice Sarah Palin!

This crop of Conservatives like to conveniently forget that our Founding Fathers went out of their way to ensure that the government was secular and not religious. This isn’t to say that many of our founding fathers were not extremely religious men, but they had already seen the dangers of allowing one religion to rule a free nation. So when I see the conservatives trying to force our country “back into it’s Christian foundation”, it scares me.

Being both a woman and a Pagan, I see that our country is currently facing huge dangers in relation to religious freedom and gender equality. The nation itself seems to be dealing with a huge divide between Christian morals and our modern day lifestyle. As my S.O. says, our morals have not yet caught up with our technology.

The Wild Hunt did a fabulous article about this called Caught In Another Faith’s Crisis. As Jason Pitzl-Waters poses:

“What about us? What about the 22% or so of Americans who aren’t Christian? The “others” and “nones” on those surveys. How do we live in a society where the dominant faith is experiencing a crisis? How do we make our voices heard in a landscape that has devolved into “Democrat Jesus” vs. “Republican Jesus,” where all moral arguments are couched in the language of Christianity?”

It seems like these Christian morals are in almost every law that comes up these days, especially in regard to women’s rights. Arizona recently passed a law where conception is recognized two weeks BEFORE insemination occurs. My own state is trying to pass just such a law. How scary is that? Where is the line that we cross before we lose all of our rights as women? When do we become just like Iran in 1979?

In the end, its all about balance, and we, as Americans, seem to have lost that.

So I find another discussion that has been going on a lot lately to be extremely interesting when looking at the overall picture of our country right now. As the article In Goddess We Trust: America’s Spiritual Crossroads posits: “Perhaps what is needed is a reaffirmation of allegiance not to our nation’s God, but to our nation’s forgotten Goddess: Columbia, the Great Dove, the Maiden Martyr.” We have certainly leaned so heavily into the male side of thinking that women are being left behind in all things. The article goes further to say: “So then, we must change the medium, if we wish to change the message. And thus, the IMAGE of the Great Goddess must come back to the forefront if we are to reform our social, civic and educational institutions in meaningful and productive ways.”

This is not the first time that the American Goddess has come up lately. A few months ago I noticed a Facebook group called “Hail Columbia”. This group was formed in response to the DC40.

“In particular, the DC40 have decided that Columbia, a personification of the United States (much like Britannia for the UK and Marianne for France), is a face of this demon, as are female representations of Liberty and Freedom. Since they are obsessed with legalisms, they have issued a faux-legal “divorce decree” to separate the country from Ba’al (another name for a related demon – it’s hard to keep track) and assert that they have used their spiritual authority to rename the District of Columbia as “the District of Christ.”

While the DC40 were working actively with prayer to force America into being a land of Christ “once again,” the group “Hail Columbia” wants people to pray to counteract this movement, fighting prayer with prayer. “The change DC40 wants to make is electing leaders who fear the Christian God and “find that compromise is not the way” as it is impossible to “compromise with unrighteousness.” “Hail Columbia” wants Pagans to actively petition Columbia to intercede on our behalf to stop this.

So who is the Goddess Columbia?

Columbia is the feminine personification of America, who first appears in the poetry of African-American Phillis Wheatley in 1776 in a letter to George Washington during the revolutionary war. This in and of itself is interesting; Phillis Wheatley was a slave, she herself didn’t have any rights.

Throughout the Revolution, the image of Columbia was used all over the new America: cities were named for her, songs were sung about her, and her image can be seen throughout the architecture and art of the period.

The Goddess Columbia

A replica of the Goddess Columbia from atop the U.S. Capitol Dome, Columbia appears all over architecture in the Capital.

She is often closely associated with Lady Liberty. Some like to tie her to the Masons, which is not unreasonable, considering how many of our Founding Fathers were Masons. Others take this even further. It is common knowledge that the capital was built on Masonic principles. And doesn’t it make sense to have a goddess in counterpoint to the God/s of the masonic orders? And as my S.O. points out “Be aware that until 1932, the United States had a Goddess depicted on nearly every coin minted; the Goddess of Liberty. She was the focus of the Morgan Dollar, the Peace Dollar, the Seated Liberty dollar…the dime that people refer to as a “Mercury Dime,” was actually a “Goddess of Free Thought,” designed by Mint designer Adolf Weinman. France and England continue to depict Goddesses on their coinage; in the U.S. collectors may purchase (very expensive) limited mintage silver and gold coins from the Mint, both depicting the Goddess of Liberty: neither coin is currently in circulation.”

Columbia by the United States Mint

The American government has always sanctioned Columbia, even putting her on our coins.

Columbia grew out of early depictions of America as the Indian Queen. The Indian Queen was the original personification of the New World. She was a bold figure wearing little more than feathers. This personification was slowly transformed into the proud Indian Princess (of which many often show Pocahontas as a portrayal), until Greco Roman images slowly replaced that of the Indian Princess. Much of the early American republic was depicted as a sort of neoclassical revival and they probably wanted this Goddess to reflect that as well. Columbia became America’s spirit of nationalism, being depicted in the cap of liberty (a cap worn in Classical Rome by emancipated slaves), draped in the colors of the flag.

Columbia seems to have a much more passive role as the goddess of our country, seen as the mother of the nation who watches after her children from afar until there is such a time as she is needed. Until this year, I had never heard of the Goddess Columbia, but she makes perfect sense to me. How could a nation like America not have a personification like Columbia? I think she is especially interesting because of how a new nation seemingly birthed her to represent them. Columbia herself is a new goddess who still has an opportunity to grow into something even better. So then how do we ignore her so much? How has she been forgotten?

Needless to say, these days I consider myself to be moderate and try to remind people that without balance, we lose our spiritual healthiness as well. Maybe if more people begin to remember Columbia, the feminine can be brought back into the language of American democracy. We live in a changing world. As a society, we are on the cusp of great change. The way we actively pursue that change will forge our future. If we’re to have a bright future, we need to bring the balance of Columbia and the feminine back.

I know that I come across a lot of new Pagans who haven’t yet thought about what being Pagan means in the larger sense of the word, the sense of what it means for an individual standing in the greater society. I know most people think about how their family and workplace will react and there is still a great fear of being “outed” and being persecuted for being Pagan. But I also know that a lot of Pagans become so wrapped up in that, they forget to think about the larger politics. Someone like Herman Cain isn’t going to get your (Pagan) vote if you aren’t looking for a Christian society.

So don’t forget her. Remember all of the ideals that the Founding Fathers originally used her to symbolize. Don’t let a small group of fanatics overwhelm those of us who don’t agree with them. Especially when we are slowly losing so many of the rights that those in our past fought and died for. Especially right now, right before International Pagan Coming Out Day on May 2nd. Bring Columbia back into the conversation.

To His Excellency, General Washington

Columbia

Columbia

By Phillis Wheatley

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and veil of night!

The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel bind her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou know’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honours,—we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.

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And now…CHICKEN DRAMA!

Murder! Mayhem! And…Chickens?

Here’s a sad story that all begins with my trip to the Lower Ninth Ward.

This afternoon I went with my S.O. to one of his rehearsals down in the Holy Cross, which is a pretty little area in the Lower Ninth Ward here in New Orleans. I generally tag along to these things because I enjoy listening to the music, I enjoy the company, and I always enjoy an opportunity to sit in a back yard on a pretty evening somewhere and maybe…just possibly, get to see feral chickens.

See, I have a confession to make to you all. For all of my Wiccan, gothy, black-hearted tendencies, at heart I’m a country girl from Ohio with a thing for chickens. Seriously, if I didn’t studiously watch myself, my house wouldn’t hold a witchy air. There would be chickens EVERYWHERE. I know, I know…its an addiction. One that I’m ashamed to admit to, but there you have it. I laughed over the Bloggess’ five foot metal chicken post for days.

Hi, my name is Owl, and I am a chicken addict.

I love the fact that I live in a city where you can actively find not only domesticated chickens in people’s yard’s, but where wild fowl roam freely in the streets and alleys. It makes my whole day every time one of those ridiculous birds comes flapping over one of the neighbor’s fences and scares off the feral cats. (You do NOT want to mess with a feral chicken, they’re a tough sort of bird.)

But, as I’ve mentioned before, I always forget that I also live in a magical town. A town where chickens have SIGNIFICANCE.

In Voodoo, chickens and their various and sundry bits and pieces are used for many things: chicken feet are used for protection, the whole chicken is used in sacrifices to various members of the loa, eggs are also used as offering and symbols, chicken heads are cut off as a threat or retributive magic, feathers are used for all sorts of things, chicken blood is used for spells and magic and of course, Chicken is always just plain old good eatin’. (Though I don’t know that Voodoo in and of itself has anything to do with that aspect).

In more mainstream witchcraft, chicken bones are used a lot, for both spells and to divine. Eggs also play a large roles in holidays such as Ostara. (In my particular tradition we throw eggs into the river to send them back to the Underworld as a reminder for the dead crops and game to be reborn.) As the article “Some Notes on the Folklore of Poultry” by L. F. Newman states, “One of the oldest and most respectable survivals met with is the belief in the efficiency of ceremonial magic in love affairs. Eggs take a prominent part in such divinations and, especially among gypsies, have generally formed the material for divination rites as to the future, particularly as regards the birth of children.” (Folklore) I mean, seriously, what culture doesn’t have chickens? (Ok, maybe some of the island cultures, but even they have slowly been overrun with chickens.)

And let’s not forget to mention all of the superstitions that involve chickens. A chicken crossing your path will bring you bad luck. If your chickens gather together on your porch you have company coming. Roosters crowing before midnight is an ill omen. If you bring eggs into the house after dark, you’re bringing bad luck into the house. Keep a black chicken in your front yard and you’ll never have bad luck. (It seems like luck and chickens are pretty intimately acquainted…)

So, having no other plans than maybe getting to see A feral chicken, we made our way down to one of the most superstitious neighborhoods in NOLA. (We stopped and got fried chicken on the way too…what else do you eat in the South?).

I had no idea though, that there was CHICKEN DRAMA occurring in the Lower Ninth Ward!

Apparently it started out with someone actively sitting up in one of the abandoned schools in the neighborhood and assassinating the neighbor’s chickens. (It’s  been six, nearly seven years, since Katrina, and it seems that the city has only just now started rebuilding our public schools. If you have children, they generally go to charter schools or Catholic schools…which all probably have a feral chicken infestation.) Apparently this personal attack wasn’t enough though. Now, as our friend put it, there happens to be a chicken serial killer running around Holy Cross, and people have gotten really touchy about any attention paid to their chickens by outsiders. Whoever this is, they are no longer content to passively pick chickens off from a great distance. Now s/he sneaks into people’s yards and sneaks off with the chickens, which are later found mutilated and thrown under the Lower Ninth canal bridge. The neighbors think it’s someone with a grudge against them and have taken to staking out their yard all night to watch their chickens. But no one can decide if it has any magical significance or not. Now think about that, a place where the whole neighborhood is actively contemplating the fact that their chicken murderer might be using chickens for black magic against them. Is this a great place or what?! (Not that I’m condoning the murder of marvelous chickens, but I think you see what I mean.)

Also, I now have this image of a chicken Jack The Ripper stalking though the Lower Ninth Ward cloaked in the fog from the Mississippi. Apparently even the ASPCA has become involved, actively investigating whatever is going on with the Lower Ninth Ward’s feral chicken population, sending ASPCA agents to investigate the chicken-knapper.

Will the chicken murders stop? Who knows, but needless to say, I am delighted by the things that people are coming up with.* Maybe my inner country girl was goth all along, but sometimes my morbid sense of humor just can’t stay hidden.

 

*To clarify, I’m not delighted by the senseless killing of helpless animals, I am however delighted by the response of the neighborhood that immediately turns its mind to a magical explanation. And by the fact that we have feral chickens.

Lost Chicken

Actual sign found on a corner near my house.

Tradition

Having been an eclectic for a very long time, I finally chose Wicca as my path. But going from being eclectic to being Wiccan has made me contemplate a lot of what a tradition is and what it means to be a part of one. Why is being a part of a tradition worthwhile? Here are some of my thoughts on the pros and cons of being a part of a tradition.

Pros for being a part of a tradition:

1.) A tradition offers a structured support group. Delving into spirituality brings up issues for a lot of people and it’s good to have support. You have other people around who have walked the same path and have had similar experiences. While people won’t have had exactly the same experience, similar experiences can help guide you through what you’re experiencing on your own path to deity. It essentially makes your life easier and a little clearer.

2.) A tradition has a set syllabus. You’re learning things in a tried and true order which gives you the best experience of learning what can be powerful, difficult and confusing material. In an established tradition people have worked on the syllabus over time and have refined it. They can help direct you toward your goals and give you the tools you need to search on your own.

3.) A tradition provides a lineage, which I know some of you will pooh pooh, but there really is a good reason for having a lineage. Having a lineage gives you credibility. If people know that you learned from credible sources, who in their turn learned from credible sources, they know that you know what you’re doing. You become a much more trustworthy member of the community. You’re also standing with numerous other initiates who have come before you…think of the potential behind that! A lineage gives you unity. When you belong to a tradition, you can travel halfway across the world and still go to a familiar ritual. Religion in a large part is about comfort. How often do you feel uncomfortable when attending a ritual in a different religion or tradition?  When you belong to a tradition, the tradition’s lineage gives you access to other members all over the place. I know I can go to Europe and find other Blue Star people to worship with! How awesome is that?

4.) One of the things that strikes me about groups just starting up (and who often have some idea about what they’re doing), is that they really have to struggle with figuring out how to go about things. Established traditions have tried things and figured out what works and what doesn’t; essentially you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In traditions, there have probably been a few generations who have already figured these things out, so you don’t have to. This give you the freedom ti learn a good fundamental basis to work on, and then if you like, use this knowledge and experience to work things your way, without reinvention of material that has been there all along.

5.) If you find a tradition that you trust, generally speaking you can trust its initiates, which is important because you don’t have to vet them. You’re not walking into a situation with someone that you don’t know at all.  It essentially gives you a qualified clergy. In Paganism, we don’t have a central authority. For example, in the Catholic world, the Pope is the head of the church and oversees all church issues. If something is going wrong (technically speaking), the pope has dominion over dealing with it. In Paganism, you don’t really have that, so how can you figure out if a priest or priestess is a good one? This is not to say that bad apples don’t pop up, but…it’s at least a little less likely.

6.) An established tradition has a body of clergy, so if you don’t like one priest or priestess, but like the tradition, there are others out there. There are several priestess in Blue Star that I don’t want to work with for personal reasons, but that’s OK, I’m not stuck with them because there are many more out there.

Cons of being in a Tradition:

1.) By nature, traditions are staid. They look down on people who rebel against their teachings. People who look to forge new paths are not tolerated very well. Traditions have worked out what works for them, they don’t like change, even if it’s productive. You can break tradition, but you will most likely get flack for it. Still, after initiation, you are a free agent, and can do as you like.

2.) One bad apple can really spoil the whole bunch. If the tradition misses the fact that they have a bad priest or priestess, (either morally or as just a bad teacher), that person can initiate a whole lineage of people improperly trained or with dubious morals antithetical to the rest of the tradition. Which of course causes much upset and confusion down the line when other people in the tradition meet up with them and realize what’s going on. This in turn causes a lot of drama. (And aren’t Wiccans known for their drama?)

3. Traditional often equals fundamental, and fundamentalists are never lovely to be around. I don’t feel this one needs much elaboration.

4. It seems that a lot of people who become a part of a tradition, do so not for their spiritual selves, but for the “power” that such a structured hierarchy brings. The high priestess of a coven usually has the final say in all things and this can bring about much abuse of power. This can also engender a certain “snobby elitism” towards the rest of the Pagan community that most people I know, can’t stand, neither can I for that matter.

Wicca seems like it has become the dinosaur of the Pagan world. I avoided Wicca for a long time partly do to the fact that I saw it as being the fundamental side of Paganism and having left Christianity, I wanted to avoid that at all costs. It took finding a Wiccan who not only knew what he was doing, but who was responsible and drama free, that I was able to see past some of Wicca’s bad and even obnoxious reputation.

When I’m in circle with my Blue Star coven, we do ritual nearly weekly and we do it the same way each time. Each action causes a reaction and another action. We change details for what we are doing (esbats vs. sabbats, ect.), but the main part of the ritual stays the same. The idea behind this is that if you do something the same way so many times, you don’t have to consciously think about it and your subconscious can come out. I personally find Blue Star ritual to be both beautiful, moving and practical. It’s not the most elaborate ritual I’ve ever seen, nor is it the longest, but it creates a circle with power and great respect for deity behind it. As an eclectic, I always had trouble with ritual (and have gone through a number of just terribly done rituals), so after having been in ritual several times with Blue Star people, I was more easily seduced away from my eclectic practices. If this was what a tradition was about, than I wanted to be a part of it!

When I decided to ask for dedication, it was also because I agreed with the ideas behind the tradition. I never would have started this process towards initiation if I hadn’t agreed with Blue Star practices and principles. The idea of becoming a part of a tradition was a big deal to me. While I never felt that being a part of a tradition was vital to me as an eclectic, the older I get, the more I appreciate the resources and support that a tradition can offer.

So why do you join a tradition where the ideas and practices behind it are clearly laid out, if you don’t agree with it? One of the things that still bothers me about Wicca, are the people in it.

I was discussing this with another coven member and as she pointed out to me, “why worry about everyone else in the tradition? Why not enjoy the people we have and the way we do things?”. And to a certain extent, she’s right. There’s no point in worrying about the stupidity of other people. But then, what’s the point of being in a tradition anyway if you can’t depend on everyone else in it? As I pointed out above, that’s part of the point of a tradition! Why go to all this bother and work if everyone else in the tradition isn’t there to support you in it?

Even as a dedicant who is nowhere near my own initiation, I’ve already had a few run ins with other people in the tradition that have left a sour taste in my mouth. It’s also been pointed out to me that I don’t always bring up “positive issues”, even if they are valid ones. Which I take as diplomatic speak for the fact that people see me as a Negative Nancy. But there’s so many reasons that I avoided Wicca for as long as I did and even though I’m glad that I’ve come to it and have found joy in my own small, fledgling coven, there are still so many issues out there that I can’t ignore.

While I know that a lot of people see Wiccan’s as being elitist snobs, as an insider these days, I sort of get it. Wicca in general has worked for years to put together a religion that gets things done that a lot of eclectics can’t manage without years of study and training. But if Wicca and it’s traditions can’t get their acts together, how can they possibly survive and do they deserve to? That would be a blog for another day…

Gerald Gardner

Gerald Gardner

Alex Sanders

Alex Sanders

 

Heebie Jeebies in the Swamp!

I had the surprising pleasure of spending most of the weekend at a small Louisiana Pagan festival put on by the Coven of the Gryphon Wiccan Church in Springfield Louisiana (i.e. out in the middle of freaking nowhere Louisiana…aka, the swamp). It wasn’t surprising in that I didn’t realize I would be there, we had known for several weeks. My S.O. was going to perform and we wanted to check out local Pagans.

I had absolutely no idea what sort of festival we were going to walk into. In Ohio, I was spoiled with a plethora of extremely well-known and very large Pagan festivals. Louisiana on the other hand, isn’t known for its Pagan festivals. You can see where I might have been worried; I had horrific images of your typical stereotype Rednecks gathered with their beer cozies, talking about the Goddess as they cleaned their guns. (Not that there is anything wrong with gun ownership! I am, after all, a lifetime member of the NRA myself!)

On Facebook I asked, “Question of the night: What do Louisiana rednecks wear to a Pagan festival?”

The answers that I received were: “Camouflage ritual robes with alligator boots…” and “Overalls with pagan flare buttons”.

And as I was only semi kidding, I think they were only sorta serious too…

Luckily, I found the complete opposite. It was a wonderful little festival all around. It was one of the most beautiful and well cared for camp grounds that I’ve ever been on. The festival itself, held at the “Gryphon’s Nest”, was very small. But the man who ran the event, who had been described to us as the “nicest Pagan you’ll ever meet”, turned out to actually BE the “nicest Pagan you’ll ever meet”.

Mama Madison was there, along with several other Voodoo Houses. Oddly enough, considering that I live in New Orleans, I forget about the prevalence of Voodoo down here. I forget that a majority of the Pagan community here is probably Voodoo. My impressions of the New Orleans Voodoo community is that they do their best to keep the stupid tourists away, at least away from actual Voodoo gatherings. And who could blame them? I’m sure a lot of the people who visit us want to see “real” voodoo, and that they drive our Voduns up the walls, literally and figuratively.  So it’s not often that I am confronted by actual Voduns. Unless you are a member of the community here, you probably aren’t just going to find yourself in a gathering of real Voodoo practitioners in New Orleans itself. (Again, this is the view of someone who hasn’t sought out the Voodoo community here at all.)

I really don’t know much about Voodoo, but then it’s a practice that I’ve never been called too. To me, Voodoo is extremely visceral. When I’m around practitioners of Voodoo, my skin crawls, though not in repulsion. The sort of magic that they seem to practice is always right there. In Wicca, most people seek out their Gods. In Voodoo (from an outsiders perspective at least) this isn’t always the case. It is a very alien culture from what I’m used to. On many levels, because it makes me so uncomfortable, I avoid it.

But let me tell you, when you are out in the middle of the Louisiana Swamp, in the extreme darkness of a hot, muggy Creole night, and Mama Madison’s voice is wailing through the darkness, there is no way to avoid the knowledge that Voodoo is alive and well in Louisiana and is still, very much, a living, breathing, growing religion.

There were a lot of other things going on at this little festival as well. Paul Beyerl, one of the foremost experts on magical herbalogy presented workshops, as did Amber K and Azrael Arynn K, who have written a lot of books on Paganism and Wicca. In fact, Amber K was the first officer of CoG for three years, a major Wiccan network.  Kenny Klein, well-known Pagan musician and author presented a concert and a workshop. Louis Martinie was also there, well-known drummer, tarot card creator and voodoo author. Mama Madison and Spiral Rhythm from PA performed the big concert Saturday night.

Overall it was a wonderful little Pagan festival that deserves much greater attendance. If you get the opportunity, you should definitely check it out.

And P.S. – Always take bug spray with you to the swamp! I learned this one the HARD way.

Louisiana Swamp Sights

These are things you find in Louisiana swamps...an alligator eating a smaller alligator at the Jean Lafitte National Park.

Give Freely What Was Freely Given

I was reading an article that’s being thrown all over Facebook as proof of how mainstream and accepted that Wicca/Witchcraft is these days. The article is “Spelling Lessons: Wiccan Studies Is on the Rise” from the Village Voice. It talks about the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies in New York and how it’s openly teaching the community about Paganism.

One of the main themes of the article is money; how the students of the Academy have been hit hard by the financial times, and about how the Academy has had to raise their tuition.

I have a lot of issues with this. This is supposed to be a Wiccan school. In every Wiccan tradition that I know of, one takes an oath at initiation not to charge students for being taught the craft.

No one that I’ve known personally who teaches Wicca charges for the learning process towards initiation. In all the learning circles I’ve been a part of, students have helped pay for supplies and chipped in money if needed to rent a space. But they have never paid the priest or priestess who is teaching them.

When I posed this question of paying to learn the Craft on another forum, I was blown away by all the responses I got that all agreed that one should have to pay to learn the craft. You pay for your education in an academic setting, don’t you? Why would learning Wicca be any different? You buy books, don’t you? Obviously people don’t appreciate something unless they have to pay for it.

Huh?

One woman said “We do realize that this is a profound taboo that we are violating, but it’s worked for us and we’re glad we did it, although we do understand and accept that most people in the Craft cannot and will not violate this taboo, and we don’t expect or want their choices and decisions to be the same as ours.” She also went on to explain why they had made the decision and explained that she asked for fifteen dollars a lesson. Fifteen dollars is not unreasonable and she was very upfront about why she was doing it. She also said that as soon as a student got past the dedicant stage (or the Wicca 101 stage), the fee was dropped. This I can respect.

Someone else said, “My current course I am doing via correspondence, and it is on the high end $50 per lesson, but it comes with over 25 pages of written text, and a long distance phone call. I really don’t think she is making much on me at all, and the little she might be im glad to give.[Sic]” While she may be glad to give this money, whoever this teacher is, is definitely making a lot of money off of her and whoever else is enrolled in these classes. This is an ethical issue to me. I have a great job and make a decent living, I don’t know that I could afford to pay fifty extra dollars a week to pay for learning about my spiritual path. And no one should have to.

I think Jason Mankey summed it up pretty well (and if you’re not familiar with Jason Mankey, check out his blog Panmankey) in his response: “When teaching a specific tradition, it’s much easier, ‘this is a part of our tradition, I’m not charging for it’. Honestly, the idea of anyone charging for information specific to a tradition is rather revolting, and in my mind it instantly screams ‘unlegit trad’. However, getting paid to teach ‘Newbie 101’ doesn’t bother me so much, and even with the great amount of books out there it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a teacher around to ask questions. The moment you bring that student into the circle though . . . then the questions start.”

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

This Academy is clearly making people pay for the privilege of being initiated. And it certainly doesn’t sound like they’re teaching responsibly either. The article states, “Wicca is an open religion that prides itself on acceptance, drawing inspiration from Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Native Americans—any and all spiritual practices may be included in Wiccan worship. Thus, religious tenets are widely interpreted, with each high priest and priestess changing spells to fit their needs”, which is patently untrue. Wicca is extremely codified, while different Wiccans may worship different Gods and Goddess, and traditions do handle those things differently, within the Wiccan traditions (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Georgian, Feri, Blue Star), ritual is very specific. The article continues to say, “Although Ravenhawk doesn’t say it outright, her students might also be leaving to get their educations elsewhere”.

And maybe that is also a part of this issue. I don’t see how you can really teach the Craft to more than a few people at a time. So much of it requires intense focus and hands-on learning. Most of the teachers I know refuse to take just anyone who wanders in off the street. Most students have to prove their willingness to learn, that they want to be there…and maybe paying for lessons is one way to do that. But I have a whole body twinge when I hear of someone charging students this way. Wicca 101 is one thing, you can get that from any Llewellyn book you care to pick up, from the internet or from other less than scholarly sources. Initiation though? That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms right there.

In Blue Star, drawing down is literally invoking a god or goddess into your body. Do you really want someone who doesn’t actually know what they’re doing trying that? When you’re initiated into a tradition, you’re usually working with powerful magic and with the Gods themselves. This is not Wicca 101. Everyone I know that’s tried this stuff before they were ready had terrible things happen to them…in one case a house burned down. The teachers I know work very closely and very personally with their students. It’s the only good way to teach this stuff. Most of the teachers I know also refuse to teach over the phone, realizing that there are some things that just have to be shown. Some schools are very responsible in what they teach…others, not so much. But when you have a school that has questionable teachings and they are charging large sums of money for the privilege of being initiated, and that is what the media is focusing on to bring a positive view of the Wiccan community, we have a problem. Is this really how we want our community represented? Even if it is with a positive attitude?

In addendum: To clarify the quote above, “My current course…i’m glad to give.” the author added: .”Let me clarify. It is $50 per lesson, not per week. 25+ pages per lesson for 12 lessons, 3 cds, and a OVERSEAS long distance phone call and postage from the UK………Just thought you might want to amend your blog so it is accurate. Sorry for not being more clear.”

Boundaries

This week marks my year anniversary for living in the amazing and wonderful place that is New Orleans.

Last year was my year without boundaries. I was in love with someone who was too hurt from their own issues to be able to clearly see me. At the time I thought that I could put my feelings aside and just live in the moment. This had horrible consequences for my physical, emotional and spiritual selves. In the end, I walked away without saying anything. I knew he wouldn’t understand where I was coming from and I felt too stupid for having let myself get to that place to achieve anything productive from it. He has his own healing journey to follow and sadly, I don’t think that I’m a part of that. While I wish him well, in many ways I have been regretting the experience. I was never the sort of girl to have ridiculous crushes on people. I think the gods decided that it was time that I had just one. I think it was meant to teach me several very hard lessons and to put me on the path that I was meant to be on. The Gods are not always kind with their lessons.

I was lucky. I walked away from the whole experience in much better shape than I should have. I found someone who gave me the strength to recognize what I do really need and a city that I love dearly. My feet have been clearly set on a different spiritual path, I have a much better job and am much more financially stable, a man who I’m ridiculously in love with, and I am just in a better place in general.

The one thing that I regret in all of this, is that to find where I was meant to be, I had to move away from the Pirates. While becoming Wiccan has been a spiritual growth that is furthering the tools I have at my disposal, the Pirates were my first Pagan family and will always remain my family. The Pirates are a group of eclectic Pagans who identify as pirates in dress and manner, who practice Paganism, and being pirates, who steal from whatever Pagan source they see fit. While they’re probably a part of the reason that I wasn’t much more greatly hurt by last year and were part of the vehicle that brought me to New Orleans, alas, moving away from them was also the part of my process.

This year has been rough in its own way. If last year was my year without boundaries, this year has been my year to once again set those boundaries that I had always lived with. I’ve found it necessary to be more confrontational this year. It has been a year of recognizing a lot more of my warrior side. This has been my year for being an “aggressive, territorial bitch” (yes, this has been thrown at me several times). I’ve decided to embrace this aspect of myself and go with it. I refuse to be cowed again by the ridiculousness of other people’s behavior and to let myself get back to that place without boundaries.

This weekend, my best friend and sister Pirate, MadmadmadMadame Magda, ship’s scribe, came down to visit me. In the course of her stay I went and had my septum pierced. I had been thinking about getting this piercing for a while and figured that while my best friend was here to hold my hand, I might as well go and get it done. (For someone as covered in tattoos as I am, the piercings still get to me…ironic, no?) Later, we were sitting on my front stoop drinking mead and she asked me if I knew anything about the history of the septum piercing, which I don’t. She told me that she thought it was interesting that it was the body modification that I had decided to go with next since it was a symbol of warrior cultures and the closed ring was used to symbolize the code by which they lived their lives.

In the end I think this is a good thing, I’ve never thought of myself as someone that wouldn’t stand up for myself. In some ways, this has been something that has always defined me. But I was never someone who wanted to have the actual confrontation. I’m a very polite pirate at the end of the day. Confronting someone about something and getting things out in the open is much healthier, usually, than keeping it all bottled up inside of you. I think that having lost sight of that, I also lost sight of some of my spiritual practices. Maybe this is partly the reason that Wicca has come into my life; I’ve needed that more disciplined practice to pull myself back to what I was doing before the insanity of last year.

In the end, the Gods knew what they were doing, even when I didn’t. While last year certainly wasn’t a good year, it was the catalyst that brought me to my true place in life and for that, I am grateful. I am also grateful for the people around me who share their insights. Sometimes life lessons aren’t easy, but they serve a purpose and that, at the end of the day, is what counts the most.

Pirates

Pirates hanging outside the galley at Earth Warriors Festival 2010 (I’m the redhead in the back), if you would like to meet the pirates they assist with the Earth Warriors Festival and perform at Wisteria Summer Solstice.

Pirates

MadmadmadMadame Magda, Dirty-Dirty Alice and Me (The Luscious Lead Boots Lea)

This morning I was reading another blog, Writings of a Pagan Witch. The author does twice monthly interviews of witches (and you should definitely go and check it out, her blog in general is great). When she asked the lady that she was interviewing what else she would tell the world, one of the things she said was “Well, that and quit fawning over “Big Name Pagans” – most that I’ve met have been total assholes who are so full of themselves that they’d float if you tossed them in water.  If you want to join a coven and they charge for lessons, leave, because they’ll just keep pressuring you for money that you may not have”.

Which of course got me to thinking.

One of the things that I see as a problem when people are first trying to figure Paganism out, they don’t know where to look and they don’t know what sorts of questions to ask. It’s a lot easier to get yourself into a bad situation, as in all things in life, if you don’t have the right information.

Here then are a few suggestions:

Always research the local community first; we are lucky enough to live in a day and age where we have the Internet. A lot of Pagans that I know tell me that as they came to learn about Paganism they forget about the Internet. Big mistake: The internet provides some great resources and information about your local scene.

 Witchvox is an excellent site. You can check out local groups, and see what people are saying about them. You can look up the local clergy, shops, events, news etc. There are even personals. Witchvox in general has a lot of good resources available to its users. It’s free, you don’t even really have to sign up for an account, though I certainly recommend it. The site itself is not the easiest to navigate, but if you have a few minutes, you’ll figure out how to wade through its various pages to find information.

See if your city has a local meet up. Meetup.com is a free site that creates local groups of like minded people for pretty much any sort of hobby or interest. A lot of cities have pagan meet-ups. It’s a social gateway to your local scenes. New Orleans has a fabulous meetup group that addresses different paths, traditions and ideas within the local pagan community. If you’re interested in paganism, but don’t know where to start or who to talk to, this can be a great place to start.

Circle Sanctuary is another good resource. Lady Liberty League is also through Circle Sanctuary. Run by Selena Fox, she was instrumental in organizing and implementing this legal service that exists to help Pagans who are victims of religious discrimination. Need help with a custody case where the judge wants to take away your children because you’re Pagan? Have you been discriminated against at work for being Pagan? These are all issues that Lady Liberty League handles. It’s an amazing group and more pagans need to know it exists. Circle Sanctuary also puts out a guide to Pagan groups, Circle Network News, and many other resources for people who are looking into Paganism. They also run a large yearly festival, PSG. More on that in a moment.

Pagan Space is a Pagan Social Network (think Facebook or Myspace, but Pagan). This is not the best resource, but it can at least introduce you to other Pagans. Check out your favored social networking sites and see what other Pagan groups you might find. Many Facebook groups cater to local Pagan scenes.

The Wild Hunt and other blogs at Patheos are also good sources. Find blogs to follow and read; Blogs can introduce you to the many different traditions and practitioners out there. If nothing else, you can find people to email and ask questions of. While you might find a lot of people you don’t agree with, you will probably find a lot of people that you do, and these people are excellent sources of basic info.

If nothing else, get out there and socialize with people. There’s been a growing trend to have “Pagan Pride Days” in a lot of major cities. Google this and see if there is a local Pagan Pride Day in your community. Usually the people who put these things together try to make sure that the traditions in the area are present and available. A lot of local vendors come to these “Days” and in general you can start to meet the local Pagan community.

When looking for a teacher, use your gut. A lot of people who have terrible experiences have told me that they didn’t listen to their gut feelings because they assumed that negative responses were to things that were “just a part of Paganism.” If you get into a group and something is telling you that this situation is not ok, don’t go back. Most groups won’t dedicate you or initiate you until you’ve decided that they are actually where you’re supposed to be, and there is often an introductory period to initiatory groups. If you get into a group that just wants to throw you into things immediately and you’re not feeling good about it, take a step back and ask yourself what’s wrong.

If you’re getting involved with Wicca, no teacher should ever ask you to pay them. When one is initiated in a Wiccan tradition, one takes a vow not to charge to teach the craft. (This doesn’t mean that other services, such as readings that a Priest or Priestess can give you, are free. These people do use these things to make a living, so don’t assume that because they aren’t charging for teaching, that they won’t charge for other services. They should, however, always be upfront about those charges and not cover them up.) Also, if they are renting a space for an event or something similar for the group and ask you to chip in, that’s not charging for teaching. Ask yourself if you think the money is appropriate and if you can afford it. Usually in these situations, if you don’t have the money, your priest or priestess isn’t going to have a problem with it and may ask you contribute in another manner such as helping set up or helping with organization. People want to make sure you’re involved, and if money becomes an issue, there are usually other options.

Paganism is a fertility religion. Sex is something that is very present within Paganism. A lot of groups work “Skyclad”, which is working in the nude. To those who are not used to hanging around with nudists (I live with one, it always makes life a little more interesting) being Skyclad is not about being sexual; it’s about presenting your true self to your gods. Sex between student and teacher is frowned upon. If any teacher you come into contact with tells you that they won’t initiate you unless you sleep with them, leave that group immediately. That is an abuse of power that is never acceptable. Most teachers won’t even consider having an actual relationship with any of their students, unless pre-estabished, because they see it as any other teacher/student relationship. A lot of scandal that the media likes to dig up on Paganism usually deals with unethical teachers taking advantage of students in sexual situations. No teacher should ever require that you sleep with them (and I would say that this is a good lesson for life in general anyway). Blue Star unfortunately had a priest who was doing this. As soon as other initiates figured out what was going on, they banned him from teaching. Traditions are usually pretty good about cleaning up their own bad apples. Every group has them, but if the overall tradition is responsible, they try to make sure these people are not set loose on the public.That doesn’t mean that one of these bad apples hasn’t managed to escape their notice; always use your common sense. If you get the feeling that an initiate is abusing their power, they probably are. There are usually avenues within a tradition to address this as well. Get to know other people in your tradition, get to know the elders who are available. If you like a tradition, but don’t particularly care for the coven or group within that tradition that you’ve found, there are usually others out there, though they might not be as convenient to get to.

Unfortunately for those of you who are underage, while you may know that Paganism is for you, due to the sexual nature of the Craft, most groups won’t accept you until you’re of age (whatever that might be in your country of origin). This is unfortunately a legal issue. Groups can get into a lot of trouble if they are working Skyclad or discussing sexual issues when a minor is involved. I love that Blue Star is open to children, but if someone who is underage and who is not already associated with the coven through a family member wants to be involved, they have to have written consent from a parent or guardian and be accompanied by a parent or guardian. They also won’t be initiated until they are of age; it’s a matter of life experience. Most teenagers don’t have the experience to handle the rites of passage that lead up to initiation. While Paganism is a wonderful path for those of any age, the initiations, secrets and leadership skills are honed and developed over time. Anyone who is younger than twenty five probably won’t have a achieved the life experience to deal with initiation, most responsible groups won’t initiate anyone who is too young. And you should always be suspect of someone who is under twenty five and is claiming a high level of initiation. While it is possible to achieve initiation at a young age, most people don’t.

Just because a teacher doesn’t charge you money doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to work your ass off to be taught and initiated into a tradition. Organized traditions have a syllabus of study: the student is told what they will learn and how they will learn it. In Blue Star, students are required to help with setting up rituals and assisting with feasts. There is homework and reading assignments required. There is a lot of responsibility put on the student to actually take what the priest or priestess is teaching you and use it. While I’m not involved with the Voodoo community down here, I’ve been told that a lot of the Mambas will make you help with cleaning the temple and other tasks that need taken care of to make sure that you’re really serious about learning from them. Again, in these situations, use your common sense. If your priest or priestess is asking you to help clean your ritual area, that’s one thing; if they are telling you that you have to come over and clean their entire house and serve their dinner, that’s another issue entirely. Look at the situation realistically and don’t let people take advantage of you. Again, these people should be upfront in the very beginning about what is going to be expected of you as a student.

What are the priest or priestesses doing with their regular lives? Do they do things that you respect? If their daily life is something that you can respect, it’s probably a good sign that they are at least trying to be the best teacher they can. (If you see their personal life and don’t agree with it, should this person be in charge of your spiritual life?)

On what terms did former members of the group leave? Did they leave in anger and mistrust, or did they leave because it was their time to move off and start their own group? Is there still goodwill between former members and the old group? Does the group tell you to not talk to other members of the tradition or members of other paths? There might be moments of study where you shouldn’t be studying other traditions just so you can focus on what you’re learning, but you should never be cut off from talking to other people to get second opinions.

The worship in the group should be about the gods, not the leaders. If you get into a group and it seems like ego takes precedent, you should probably find a new group. A lot of drama and upset occurs when priests and priestesses lose sight of what they’re doing and are seeking their own personal power.

Do your own research before you join any group and if the leaders of this group seem to do things that run counter to what you already understand about Paganism, ask around to other locals or others in that particular tradition to see if there is a known problem with this group or its leaders.

Ask questions! If you’re a new person in a group, the leader of the group should never be upset about answering your questions. This is your spiritual path, you have every right to ask about everything that this particular teacher is going to teach/require of you as a student. In many groups, long time students are in charge of making newcomers feel comfortable and fielding reasonable questions: if you are a guest or a newcomer to a group, you should never be made to feel uncomfortable for asking a reasonable question.

There are also a lot of major Pagan festivals out there. A lot of the Pagans that I know have no idea that there is a larger pagan community out there that is pretty accessible to everyone. If you can’t afford the price of admission (usually @$150 – $200) for a week, many of these programs have financial assistance or work study programs that you can do to go. You might end up helping take the trash out for a week, but that’s a pretty good bargain for a week of workshops, classes and concerts from well known and respected teachers. For a list of pagan festivals, just go google “pagan festivals” or “pagan events”. My personal recommendations are for Brushwood’s Sirius Rising (New York/PA area), Wisteria Summer Solstice (Ohio), and Pantheacon (San Francisco), but there are festivals in all regions of the US and Europe. (Most festivals, unless explained otherwise, are family friendly. A lot of families go to festivals and there are a lot of children around. There is usually child care available, though you should research what a specific festival offers. Also be aware that most festivals are clothing optional, if you’re new to Paganism this can come as a shock.)

As to those Big Name Pagans, don’t use blanket statements for them. Some of them are nutcases, but some of them are Big Name Pagans for a reason. Again, use common sense; most of them are willing to sit down and talk to you and you can get to know them. One of the great things about the Pagan community is it’s actually pretty small. If you’re interested in something one of those Big Name Pagans are doing, email them. You might be surprised by the response that you get. I live with one of those Big Name Pagans and he’s a pretty amazing person. He loves it when people email him and friend him on facebook. He loves it even more when people find him at festivals and actually try and get to know him. He sees teaching as one of his first and foremost responsibilities and since he has been in the Pagan community for over twenty years, he has a wealth of knowledge to impart. I’m not saying that the crazies aren’t out there,  but our community should take advantage of learned people and their knowledge. Just remember that some of them are considered to be rock stars in the community and are overwhelmed by their correspondence, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a response. This doesn’t make them terrible people.

If nothing else, get out there and do your research. There is no excuse not to utilize all of the amazing resources available to you. Use your common sense and if you find a group that doesn’t work for you (for whatever reason), thank them for their time and move on. Don’t feel stuck with a group just because its the first one you’ve found, and you don’t think that there aren’t any others out there (another common first timers mistake). Have some patience, do the research and for the most part, you’ll get lucky and find some amazing people who will help you with whatever path that you’re meant to be on.

Information and Resources for New Pagans