Hello Llewellyn…

I am very pleased to announce that Kenny Klein and I will be writing a book about fairy tales together for Llewellyn! The book will be a follow up to Kenny’s last book, Fairy Tale Rituals. This book will focus on fairy tales NOT collected by the Grimms: tales from England, France, Russia and more!

We signed our contract today. The finished manuscript is due in June so stay posted for updates!

This will be my first book, but Kenny’s fourth. If you want to catch up on what Kenny has already had to say on fairy tales, check out two of his other books:

Through the Faerie Glass

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and…

Fairy Tale Rituals

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A Mask Comes Together

And now for something completely different and on the lighter, nerdier side…(also including some bad pictures of me).

It’s that time of year that all New Orleaneans wait for with baited breathe…that’s right! Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras starts on Twelfth Night and ends the Tuesday before Lent. Carnival is a Catholic celebration of sinning that is followed by repentance during Lent. What better way to sin than to revert to Paganism?

This year I started the season with a bang and walked in my very first Mardi Gras parade. I had the honor of rolling with THE Wookie in The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus! And when I say THE Wookie, I mean Peter Mayhew himself.

This was Chewbacchus’ third year and it was a COSMIC TRIUMPH!

A few months ago, I talked about Masking, and this was the night where I put this years’ costume all together. . .

I decided to mask as Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Original Sally:

First I bought a dress, but found that it was pretty awful…

Worst Sally Dress Ever

Worst Sally Dress Ever, or, in hindsight, don’t buy cheap costumes.

So, I decided to sew my own. I used the terrible costume dress as a pattern and made my own.

Step 1

At least it was useful for something…

Step 2

Now for the sewing…

And then for a short break with Thunder Cake…

Make-up!

Make-up!

Almost...

Almost…

Final Touches...

Final Touches…

And…

The Parade! My friend E and I. E was dressed as Quaithe from Game of Thrones.

The Parade! My friend E and I. E was dressed as Quaithe from Game of Thrones.

At the end of the night, I was exhausted but completely satisfied. So far this has been an epic Mardi Gras and it can only get better!

After 4 miles of walking, copious amounts of drinking and much hard work...so worth it!

After 4 miles of walking, copious amounts of drinking and much hard work…so worth it!

Why I Like Codified Ritual

Generally speaking, I do not attend public rituals.

It started when I began attending rituals outside of my own little group, and had some really terrible experiences. In one ritual, the ritual leader was encouraging people to become warriors for mother earth and he proceeded to have each of the 100 attendees come up individually, take a hold of a machete, and stab viciously at the Earth. I was flabbergasted and more than slightly disturbed. I know what the ritual leader was trying to do (well, maybe, I think I do) but was horrified by how he chose to go about it.

In another, I was dragged across an unknown piece of property at night in 20 degree (F) weather for four hours. By the end of it, I didn’t know which way was up or had any sense of having accomplishing anything. My poor feet didn’t warm up until somewhere around noon the next day.

I had another friend who went to a public ritual recently and ended up laughing so hard at what was happening that she had to leave. She felt terrible about it, but even while telling us about her experience she couldn’t stop giggling as she described the ritual, which was pretty outlandish.

The last public ritual I went to was led by a Voodoo House here in New Orleans, and it was lead by a very established priestess. She also made it clear that it was going to be a codified ritual done by her House. The public was invited and included in the ritual, but the bulk of the ritual was done by the Mambo and Mamba of the House.

Now that was one of the most profound rituals that I have been a part of. But it was because the House did their ritual, the way they would have done it had no public been attending. And they knew how to do ritual!

If you think that you’ve had a bad ritual experience, you probably have. I’m sure it’s happened to most of you. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was when it was appropriate to remove myself from a ritual that was not right for me.

After being Eclectic for so long, one of the big things that convinced me that Wicca was right for me was the codification of the ritual itself. The ritual that I found in my Blue Star Circle had an amazing impact on my ritual experience. I had never before realized what was really supposed to happen in ritual. Having a codified ritual to do every time allows me to know several things.

A. I know what to do: I know where to stand, how to move, what actions to take at specific times, and what words to say. Because of all these things, I can actually focus on the ritual itself. You may think this is funny, but because I’ve got the these physical things down and don’t have to think about them, I can actually get my mind into a ritual mindset, ignore the details of the mundane world and focus on what I am doing spiritually and magically. I’m not standing there worrying about how I’ll respond if the priestess asks me to do something (yes, this has happened to me as a first time guest in a ritual). My mind can just be there, in the moment.

B. I know what to expect: I understand the mindset I need to bring, the deities that I will be working with, the names of the various entities that are called, and that I’ll be working within a Pantheon that I’m comfortable with. I heard a story once from a Priestess of Blue Star’s sister lineage who attended a ritual for feminine strength. They ended up calling Lilith, and the priestess painted everyone’s foreheads with menstrual blood (without explaining this ahead of time). I’m all for feminine strength, but Lilith is not a Goddess that I want to call on, and I certainly do not want some strange woman’s days old menstrual blood on my forehead!

C. I’m working with traditions that I’m comfortable with and that I understand. One of the things that I dislike about general, Eclectic ritual, is that I never know what traditions are going to pop up. I prefer to understand the background of the things I’m doing in ritual so that I know that I’m not upsetting anyone or anything. I also feel extremely uncomfortable when a ritual leader starts trying to call on every God/dess out there without thought to how those deities might get along with each other. I somehow doubt that the Egyptian Sekhmet really wants to have anything to do with the Welsh Henwen. In most public rituals I’ve attended where this has happened, I realize that the ritual leaders were trying to make sure everyone was represented. For me this doesn’t work and I stand through ritual waiting for lightning to strike (which my S. O. actually saw happen once). I like understanding the things I’m doing in ritual. Another friend was telling me that her group said “Thou art Goddess, May you never thirst”. “May you never thirst” comes from the Church of All Worlds. The Church of All Worlds is based on the Science Fiction novel Stranger in a Strange land, so “may you never thirst” is based on the fact that Mars has no water. Why would I care about Mars? I’m working here on Earth. And “Thou art Goddess”? You’re going to call Hekate into your ritual and try to tell her that you, puny mortal, are a Goddess? Really? I know this has become a common practice, but I do not like trying to convince the Goddess of the crossroads that I’m just like her. I’m not.

D. And most importantly, I know exactly what I’m walking into. A usual Blue Star ritual takes about an hour. Depending on the work we’re doing, it might be less or more, but I know that I’m not going to be standing there for an unreasonable amount of time. Anything more than an hour and a half and you probably aren’t paying attention anyway. You can only really focus for so long. And if a ritual leader can’t get the work done in an efficient amount of time, I don’t have much faith in the work they are doing. Yes…there are long and involved rituals out there, but…unless you’re working with an established group that knows exactly what they are doing and know how to work together after doing so for a long period of time, I don’t have much faith in the fact that whatever you’re trying to accomplish is going to get done. I know I could do a long ritual with my coven. I know them and trust them. I don’t think I should be doing rituals like that with strangers. Everyone says that you should enter a Circle with Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, how can I do that with people I don’t know?

The goal of ritual is to put your conscious mind at rest and to bring your unconscious mind forward. This has never happened to me in a public ritual. Usually public rituals just make me cringe and feel uncomfortable. Religion is personal. While I like what most people are trying to do with public ritual, for me it’s just best to avoid them.

So it’s extremely ironic that I will be priestessing our community’s Oestara ritual this year (blame the S.O. on this one!). I will be doing a Blue Star ritual, not an Eclectic ritual. But I hope that I don’t forget my own experiences and that I can make it as worthwhile a ritual as the Voodoo ritual that I went to last year.

A Blue Star Altar

A Blue Star Altar

Right Brain and Left Brain

This is a TED Talk discussing one brain scientist’s experience of having a stroke…but I also thought it was a fascinating scientific explanation for why we are so connected to this plane and how we really are just one small piece of a Whole.

Maybe this is what we are doing in ritual…setting aside the left hemisphere to focus on the place that our right hemisphere can bring us. Maybe this is where the Gods truly reside.

In conclusion: Yay Science!

 

My 2 Cents

So, like many of you plugged into the “Pagan Blogosphere”, I’ve been keeping my eyes on the Pagan-Polytheist Controversy of 2013. If you haven’t been, you can catch up with The Allergic Pagan’s blog post Your One-Stop-Shop for Pagan-Polytheist Controversy. (Be warned, it will take you more than a few minutes to read through it all and more than a few good dollops of patience, no matter which side of the argument that you fall on).

I thought I would take a second to chime in. (I blog, it’s sort of what I do).

Of course, I live with Kenny Klein, so I’ve been listening to his narration of the different points of view non-stop, sort of like a spectator at a very complicated, community wide tennis match all week. Yes…popcorn was involved.

Throughout the whole thing the main idea I’ve seen raging through all of it is “how dare you try to define me!”. And that isn’t new, I’ve noticed that a lot lately. In some ways, it’s intrinsic to this community.

I’ve also been saddened to see a lot of people throw out “Pagan doesn’t mean just Wicca!”. Seriously guys? Aren’t we past that yet? I’m Wiccan and when I tell you I’m Pagan, I am not telling you that I am Wiccan. And when you tell me that you’re Pagan, I’m not assuming you’re Wiccan. Usually I’m wondering what sort of interesting other flavor of Pagan you are. Yes, we all know that Pagan does just not mean Wiccan, get over it.

I think that we can all agree that the term “Pagan” is a pretty big Umbrella term and that’s fine. Where I get lost is when people are unwilling to define themselves as Pagan because they disagree with other peoples’ broad definition of the term. The gist of the argument is this: the broader the term becomes, the less meaning it actually carries.

Several people have pointed out that this is a stage that our community has to go through: the feared “bratty teenager” stage where we have to all run off shrieking about our own independence so that we can reach adulthood with a certain level of personal understanding. This, conventional wisdom says, will allow us to all become healthy adults.

Honestly, I think the whole thing can be summed up thusly:

In the end, if we want to be a community, we do have to define ourselves. Definition does not mean that we are turning into the organized religions that I think so many of us fled and fear. But if we want recognition and equality within the greater community, which so many of us are striving to do, we need to be able to tell that outside community, “Hi! This is who we are”. So many people are trying to define the word “Pagan” that no one knows what it means. This seems to be a sort of “Too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario.

And in the end, “Words are all we have to go on” and if we want our community to go anywhere, we need to come up with a few that all of us can agree on.

Jeanne D’Arc Rides in New Orleans

Last night I went to one of the first parades of the New Orleans Mardi Gras season, the Krewe de Jeanne D’Arc Parade.

Joan of Arc is the patron saint of New Orleans; that should come as no surprise. She was the Maid of Orleans, after all. New Orleans is a very Catholic city, and St. Joan is one of my favorite parts of the Catholic mythos. Joan of Arc’s birthday is January 6th, which coincides with Twelfth Night; a very important night for any city that celebrates Carnival. (This year marked her 60oth birthday).

Joan of Arc statue in the St. Louis Cathedral, NOLA

Joan of Arc statue in the St. Louis Cathedral, NOLA

So why talk about a Catholic saint on a Pagan blog?

Joan of Arc has always fascinated me. Unlike many other feminist icons, it’s impossible to rewrite Joan of Arc as anything other than Catholic. And unlike many other religious icons, we have  many primary sources available to us to tell us the details about her life and death. But what I find the most fascinating about her is the fact that her faith was what allowed her to do the things she did. She was a Believer. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter what religion she was practicing, or of what entities she was having visions. She did what most Pagans hope to be able to do: She used her visions and discussions with the divine to help her change the world.

Think about it: an illiterate 16 year old girl convinced a King and his veteran generals to allow her to lead their army against an enemy they had been fighting for over ninety years, in a time when women were not allowed to be part of martial life at all. All of this under the religious auspices of a faith that gives very little power to women, even today. And unlike many powerful women of that era, she was not burned at the stake because she was accused of withcraft, but because she was accused of Heresy.

One of the most powerful things I’ve seen done by Priests and Priestesses is the Drawing Down. Invocation of a God or Goddess is an intense experience. When my partner draws down our patron God, his eyes change color, he smells different, and it’s obvious that he is no longer “at home”. This is one of the penultimate tasks of (at least Wiccan) Priests and Priestesses. As a Wiccan, I get to talk directly to my Gods, and this is one of the major things that separate us from other religions. This is, of course, not the only way, and certainly not the easiest, but it is a major part of the spiritual experience of being Wiccan.

Jason Mankey wrote a great blog with his own experiences about this here. He says in the blog:

While drawing down the moon is practically the most awesome think I can conceive of, it’s often absent from a lot of Modern Pagan Ritual. There are certainly groups who still make it a central part of their rites, but that seems more like the exception these days. There are a lot of reasons for this. Drawing down the moon is hard work, a lot of people aren’t ready to do it, and it’s not something you generally see at (open) large rituals. It’s also such an overwhelming experience for everyone involved (Priestess and circle-mates) that it’s generally not a good idea to do in certain (most) circumstances. By its very nature it’s something that requires a well trained clergy.

This is is one of the “secrets” of Wicca that will be lost if we continue to “learn” Wicca from books. This is something a book just can’t really teach you and it is definitely not something I recommend you try if you haven’t had years of training. I’ve only started to learn the very basics of what leads up to this and it is not the sort of work you do lightly.

While Joan of Arc may not have been Drawing Down the way Pagans, do, she was certainly having her own direct experience with deity through her religious tenants. I think anyone who can do this is pretty amazing. And the fact that her story has stood up to the test of history, and is still very present today, is a pretty powerful message about the the need for people who can speak directly to the divine and who can take the message they hear with them out into the world. In this modern era of science and technology, the divine is still with us, and people like Joan of Arc and our priests and priestesses help remind us of our connection to it. I’m glad that I live in a city that celebrates her.

Here are a few pictures from the parade:

Warrior Joan

Warrior Joan

St. Joan and Queen Yolande

St. Joan and Queen Yolande

Joanie on a Poney

Joanie on a Poney

One of the Saints who visited Joan.

One of the Saints who visited Joan.

The Wheel of Torture

The Wheel

Random Dragon

There were many people who carried banners with actual quotes from Joan of Arc

There were many people who carried banners with quotes from Joan of Arc, she said this right before they burned her at the stake.

Angels

Angels

Founder of the parade

Founder of the parade

Random Passerbye

Random Passerby

At the end of the parade, candles lit in front of the cathedral doors after they blessed St. Joan's sword

At the end of the parade, candles lit in front of the cathedral doors after they blessed St. Joan’s sword and moved on down to Chartres to get to the famous statue.