Friday, October 30, 2009

Say Cheese...

Last week I wrote about my Involvement with the Tulare County Paranormal Society. I started out just teaching a class for them and ended up joining their team. I am not an "Investigator" but I serve as an adviser and Chaplain.

Often times when people think their homes are haunted they want the home cleansed and or blessed. This is the type of service I provide, I pray for people.

When you get into the realm of Ghost and Spirits, Death comes along for the ride. And with Death comes religion. And so I follow closely after.

Last week my friend Anne who founded the TCPS was interviewed by the Fresno Bee. She called and invited me to the photo shoot for the article, wanting to include me in the hubbub. I was again honored by the invitation.

We had fun, the Photographer was a professional who made us look really good, despite the fact that a few of us showed up in black to be photographed at night *Oops*. He took lots of pictures warning us that he had no control over what they would decide to use.

So low and behold first thing this morning we found my mugshot on the front page of the Talk section. I felt bad that the long standing group I just joined got jilted out of their well deserved moment in the spotlight of acknowledgment. But thankfully they were happy with the article and thought I did a good job of representing the group, as it turns out they were quite proud to have a priest and professional Chaplain within their ranks.

My only hope is that my photo (click on it) captioned "Minority Faiths Chaplain" sparks some interest in my own personal campaign for religious pluralism. More to come on that soon.

Trick or Treat!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Feast of Felons

I was blessed with a great childhood. I was raised Pagan, and what could be better? Mom was a Rosicrucian and studied under a few others like the Avatars and the 11:11 group.

This all made for a really cool childhood full of Tarot, Meditation, Creative Visualizations, and Reiki. Except way back then it was not commonly known as "Reiki" everyone just called it Energy or Aura Work. I liked to call it using the Force.

The upside was the open mindedness of my parents, Sex was a beautiful, natural thing, nothing to be ashamed of and I was taught respect and responsibility, instead of suppression, shame and guilt.

The down side was Mom planting "programmed crystals" everywhere, my friend once found one in the glove box on my car when I first got my license. She had hidden it there to "make sure I keep my eyes on the road and my hand on the wheel", she insisted it would make me a better driver. The worst part of having a Witch for a Mom is that you never get away with anything, EVER!

So I was given books through the years, that passed Mom's scrutiny and were intended to elevate my conciseness. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman was a big one that changed my life. Later when I was in the Army she mailed me another called The Four Agreements by Miguel Angel Ruiz, and this one had anther profound impact on me, still to this day. The four agreements are really pretty simple:

  1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
  2. Don't Take Anything Personally.
  3. Don't Make Assumptions.
  4. Always Do Your Best.

Each one the Agreements are much harder than you would think. But number three has always been a bitch for me, always looking forward my assumptions grow and blossom into expectation which bare fruit that leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Assumptions and expectations are easier for me to curb, the less I know. When I went to the State Hospital for Samhain services last Friday it was easy not to assume or expect, as I didn't have anything to go on except my few introductory visits, which taught me it was nothing like Prison.

But it is so difficult not to assume of expect when I go to the Prisons because I've been going there so long, and I think I know how things will be. But I have been going on the same days during the same times for over a year steady, this time I went at night.

I assumed no one would know me, and I expected a lot of complications and resistance to what we were doing, and to my surprise I was wrong. Everyone knows about me, apparently a "Wiccan Chaplain" makes for good gossip. But most haven't seen me yet. So when I came out onto the yard I saw basically the whole shift come out to watch me. I was met at the door with a firm handshakes, genuine smiles and good eye contact.

I wear a Combat Veterans hat, and someone made the comment that "he's a Vet so he can't be all bad..." then someone else said "wait, what branch where you in? Not the Air Force I hope..." I responded with "Haha no, the Air Force aint even IN the military" (no offense airmen) And that was all she wrote, I was in like Flin.

The guards helped me out with what I needed, and were nice about it. It has taken me a year and a half to this far. It start out pretty rough, they gave me hell. But I took it, I never complained. (See rule #2.) In the Army its called "keeping it in the Ranks" it might sound primitive and dysfunctional but that's the way we roll. So I've kept in in the ranks, and earned some respect from some of the guards. I just never realized how much until tonight.

The Momentous Meal went off without a hitch, first Pagan Holiday meal in the Prison ever, but not the last, we got three more scheduled. I hope that they go as well as it did tonight. Those four agreements are incredibly simple but incredibly difficult, if your strong enough, they are incredibly powerful. Look what I did with them.

Proof that it can be done.

Blessed Be.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Stir of Our Echos

Wow, the last few days have really been crazy. But there's bad crazy and good crazy. I am blessed with lots of good crazy.

The Tulare County Paranormal Society has been sponsoring a series of free to the public classes all though the month of October.

Each class have been focused on a different aspect of the Paranormal. Everything from Psychics & Mediums, Witches & Witchcraft, to Spirits & Ghosts. I was honored to asked by a friend to be a guest speaker and shed some light on the false stereotypes of the Wicked Wiccan Witches.

As it turns out I had stereotyped "Paranormal Researchers" just like the mundanes have stereotyped me as a Wiccan. So I began attending their meetings to get to know them better and get a more educated understanding of what they do. I was pleasantly surprised by their approach to subject of the Paranormal.

As we explored the open discussion in a warm group setting, I realized how much we all have in common. Their are just as misunderstood as we Pagans are, they are stereotyped as inaccurately as we Pagans are and seem to attract a lot of unique people for all the wrong reasons.

I deeply respect the care & respect these people exhibit when approaching "Ghosts" and the professional and scientific manner in which they attempt to document activity. They explained how many times, "certain people" are attracted to places that are believed to be haunted and often times perform ceremonies or rituals there, leaving behind candles and strange markings.

They mentioned that knowing someone with a knowledge in these areas would be nice. I felt compelled to mention that this was not my area of expertise, but rather my area of study. I don't think I would be able to analyze a scene and interpenetrate or read the symbolism used, but I do have every confidence that I would recognize it and be able to find out. In fact I would enjoy it. Magical Detective. That would be fun.

So I have joined the team, and am honored again to have become the Chaplain and spiritual adviser. The lecture went well, there was a good turn out and everyone was very active and receptive. Probably one of my favorite crowds yet. And Friday night we dawned our new TCPS t-shirts and met in old town Visalia for a photo shoot with a Fresno Bee photographer, we're gonna be in the paper next week.

But Friday morning started out bright and early on my way the State Hospital. I have been a Volunteer Prison Chaplain for almost three years, but Friday was my first day in the service of the Department of Mental Health. I must say I enjoy volunteering for them, they have been very warm in their welcome and extremely accommodating in meeting my needs and desires for services.

They had asked me too prepare a syllabus of my scheduled services and was happy and proud to say I already have one ready. I was even happier and prouder to see their surprised response, they seemed impressed with the "application of symbolism" used in my services. I applied that symbolism in my first service there Friday morning.

I brought a bag a leaves that my daughter and I had collected from the local cemetery. I shared my childhood memories of my Grandmother and the special story she shared with me. We all selected our own leaf and wrote the name of someone special on it and each took our time sharing it with the group. These men I had only known for a half an hour or so shared their personal grief and for a few, acknowledged the death of a loved one for the first time.

After the bag of leaves was passed around, a small marker followed so that everyone could write a name on their leaf. This is an important part of the craftwork, it turns the leaf into someone. It is interesting to watch the way different people hold their leaf. Some cradle it with both hands and speak directly to it, while others hold them down at their sides not looking at it.

Once they have said what they have to say they, place their leaf on the Altar. Some kiss it goodbye and have a hard time letting it go but enjoyed the opportunity for visitation and closure. I have been providing this service at Samhain for a few years now and it never fails, every year at least one person writes the name of their victim, and shares something powerful. I can't imagine the courage it takes to do this.

Some people think I am nuts for volunteering to work in the Prisons and even more crazy for working in the State Hospitals, but like I said, I blessed with a lot of Good Crazy. Blessed Be.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

First Suppers of Samhain

It is amazing how difficult it can be, to be silent. At the Chaplains Academy we were taught the "academics" of chaplaincy rather than the religion. It us up to us to be "all prayed up".

We were taught the Mechanics of doing death notifications, we were taught how to administer first aid for Critical Indecent Stress and we were taught the legalities of pastoral counseling, privileged communication and disclosure.

There are so many things I cannot say.

In Freemasonry we are taught to use the Compass to circumscribe ourselves, to stay in due bounds with all mankind. This training helps, a little. In Veritas Wicca we are taught to use the Athame "to cast circles to better contain our own energies". This helps, a little more.

I often sit here contemplating what I can include in a Blog and what is or may be outside those boundary lines. How much can I say about any one person or does changing the names allows me to include more otherwise private things? No, it does not. I always error of the very far side of caution, so rest assured, your secret is safe with me.

It helps in my personal life and it helps in my professional life as a Chaplain a lot more. Yesterday I spent the whole day there, going back and forth between the walls. I performed two religious services which was the easy part, and spent the rest of the day facilitating diplomatic negotiations between the inmates and the office that controls their religious practices. Run by a good man, whom I trust and who has come to trust me. That's Magic.

Inside the Prison I often serve as his representative, communicating on his behalf and returning to his office to represent the inmates and communicate on theirs. This is where personal boundaries are really important, I do not, I can not, choose a side. I am only the translator, so my only boast is that I have successfully translated a great deal, literally.

The Prison has approved religious meals for the Pagan inmates! It will be the first time it has ever happened at this prison. And I am very proud to have brokered the deal. We will be having four separate Samhain Feasts for the different yards. Don't worry about your tax dollars, the religious meal cannot exceed the cost of a normal meal. Besides it really more about the idea of it, the importance of acknowledgment, and the impact it has had on the inmates, which is well... I can't say. *Grin*

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Samhainophobia Vs Samhainsensationalism

This is a picture I took of a house in my neighborhood. I walk by here almost morning every when my dog walks me. This Monk statue is always in the current season of fashion. Bunny ears for Easter, a summer hat till near Mabon, this Conical, then a Santa cap and a party hat on new years eve. I love my neighbors.

Yesterday Jason of The Wild Hunt wrote this article about Samhainophobia, and how the media is using this new angle to sensationalize Halloween. But I don't think it's new, but rather re-used. Regardless, "it" seems to manifest every year in some form.

My mother warned me about becoming successful, she said you could tell when you begin to become successful, because people will start to attack you. She said people will tell you that your can't do it, even people who you thought were friends will go after you. She was right.

She said some people don't want you to succeed because they want to be first and you are competition. Others don't want you to succeed, because they can't. But the worst ones are the lazy ones. They wait till there's a crowd and go after you publicly. They wait, letting you do all the hard work of getting somewhere we'll call "successful" and then jump on your back once all the work is done. Then they gain attention by simply apposing you publicity. She was right again.

This is why people go after Halloween, to get their ten minutes of fame. Easy money. And Halloween is a safe target too, Halloween does not defend itself or file a law suit against you for slander, so you can say whatever you want about it. My favorite are the ones who say "I know because I used to be one of them..." Well that's all I needed to hear, preach to me brother... and go ahead and make some stuff up to really hype it up, lets get everyone wound up nice and tight. Fear and Guilt makes for big business.

But I see the complete opposite thing happening at the other end, everyone is a Witch this month. And they all pour on a few extra helpings of *Mystique* because Halloween is the most holy sacred spiritual divine day of the year when the Vail between the living and the dead is soooooo thin that it's almost dangerous.... but they can't answer a single question about factual Samhain. Sigh.

But as I said before, things are changing. The tide of social acceptability has changed. When I first moved here a few years ago my children were not given "excused absences" for a few days of the year that we kept them home, but last year that changed. Last year my daughters came to me with big grins on their faces and asked if they could stay home since Halloween was a holiday.

Hmmm that's a good question.... "but why should you? What are we celebrating on Halloween? Why do we call it Samhain? What language is Samhain? And what does it mean?" I sat back closed my eyes and enjoyed the silence. Later I provided a pile of books and told told them each to do a lengthy report on the Sabbat. They stayed home, all of them. The two older ones read their reports to the two younger ones and we sat a talked about it for a long time while we made crafts and decorations.

My wife is Mexican and she is the only member of her family who still practices El Día de los Muertos, so after the book reports we all pick up the family pumpkin, go to the cemetery and decorate the grave of her Grandmother in the traditional style. We clean the grave marker and decorate the rose bush growing there with bright pastel colored skulls and skeletons, burning a little incense and leaving small offerings. The pumpkin is there and we ask for a blessing as we take it home to carve.

It's my right as man of the house to carve the pumpkin, but more importantly to count the seeds. I clean them and bake them a bit before I count and recount them a third time. The seeds are placed in a glass mason jar and placed on display accompanied by a small pad of paper, pen and another jar containing folded bits a paper. Every one stares long and hard trying to guesstimate how many seed there are. Because everyone wants to be this years coveted "Pumpkin Seed Prophet". For the honor, for the glory and for first prize, because there is no second.

Everyone brings a nice framed picture of someone who has passed, usually a Grandfather, Great Grandmother or someone who just left us too soon. We greet and hug, they show us the photo and there is a silence, a smile and a nod. The photo is taken out to the Altar and a special place is arranged in honor. Decorated with do-dads and bobbles, a lighter or pocket watch. Cigarettes and small flight bottles are common, every family had that one who lived a lot.

There is a story that is told, and a song that is sung, and there are a few parts that are private and a few words that must be left there where they were spoken. They are no longer for the living. Each one of us take our turn introducing the person in the picture, we tell their story, we remember them, and they live on.

Trick or Treat.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Within The Length of My Cable Tow...

So to counter balance the challenges of my Biblical scholastic endeavors I took up a book that caught my eye weeks ago and finally started reading it. You can click on the cover picture to learn more about it.

If your a Mason and you don't own it, shame upon you! If you're in anyone of the numerous orders which have sprang from the loins of Freemasonry, go get it now or shame upon you!

The foreword is written by Reynold E. Blight, 33', K.T. and I must say it is quite eloquent. My favorite part of his forward is this nice gem.

"...So wisdom drapes her truth with symbolism, and covers her insight with allegory. Creeds, rituals, poems are parables and symbols. The ignorant take them literally and build for themselves a prison house of words and with bitter speech and bitter taunt denounce those who will not join them in the dungeon..."

Just like Masonry, the Matrix is a movie filed with Religious and Philosophical symbolism and I often find myself using using Matrix metaphors. The last time I did was in a conversation about my Witchvox article Kangaroo Magic. Someone replied to my Matrix comment with the snide rebuttal "so I suppose you think that makes you Neo then huh!?"

My response was no. Not at all. My beliefs and practices would paint a picture more to the likeness of Morpheus. Living in the real world, trying to free people, with a paintball gun full of Red Pills.

Now do me a favor and hold still...

I've been an active student of Masonry for over ten years, which when compared to the Hermits beard is merely stubble. But I have learned quite a bit in that short time and have applied it to a great many things including my life and my Craft. It's no coincidence that there are so many "similarities" between Masonry and Wicca, after all Gardner was a Mason too. Its a fact, and any Mason who looks at Wicca can see it as plainly as I do. But that's a whole other post altogether.

The Wiccan Cingulum has been the topic of conversation within our Coven. It is of little surprise to find that ours bares a striking similarity to the Masonic Cable Tow. Bearing in mind that neither the Wikipedian article, nor myself give away anything considered "oath bound" it still leaves lots of elbow room to write within.

When I began my first degree, the first thing I learned was the Cable Tow. There was a group of us going through together and we were taught that together we formed a Cable Tow. Everything was done with and within our Cable Tow. Later I learned more about its symbolism, and the importance of its length.

As Masons we are taught that we should attend lodge regularly, if it is within the length of our Cable Tow. Later we become obligated to assist a worthy fellow brother Mason, if it be within the length of our Cable Tow, meaning I should help, or give aid to a worthy brother if I am able to do without injury to myself.

One of the things Masonry has taught me is to appreciate the proper use of words, word craft is a beautiful thing. It is important to note the use of the word "Worthy". It functions as a virtuous clause implying a status that is not freely given, but earned. Because sadly, not all Masons are worthy of our fraternal assistance. But for the great many that are, how far do we go? How long can we stretch our Cable Tows? How long and how far should we? What is the limit of our obligation?

There is an unwritten rule of thumb within all lodges: "...You don't have to like any or everyone in your lodge, you just have to get along long enough to get the work done..." and sadly I agree.

But that's where Wicca is different; we must like each other, we must care. Perfect Love and Trust is not just another magical cliche, it's the secret ingredient to life altering rituals, and the simple secret to our magic.

The length of my Cingulum far outstretches that of my Cable Tow. Because the Masons may be my Brothers in the light, but it is my Coven that is there for me in the darkness. And I have stretched my Cingulum to amazing lengths for a Worthy Wiccan Brother because there are so precious few so deserving.

When I fulfill my obligations to the Craft (people, place and thing) I do so without conditions, expectations, or requirement, I do so not because of some external requirement, but because of an internal desire. That's why we use the word "Perfect".

So what about you? What Cable Tows do you bare? How strong are those straps, how tight those chains, to what length would you be willing to stretch them? Can people count on you, who can you count on? I bet one of them is a Mason, a Wiccan, or if your lucky both.

Blessed Be.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Compassionate Release?

Spent the day at the prison. It was nice to be back on the yards again. There have been two separate incidents in the last few weeks, but I get courtesy notifications via email from the Community Resource Office giving me a heads up when the Prison went on Lock Down, saving me a long trip.

Once the Lock Down was lifted on the prison, the yard where the incident took place remained on Locked Down for an extended period. So it has been hit and miss with services, and I haven't been able to get on a certain yard for over two months, until today.

Now I am NOT a "Bleeding Heart" by any stretch of the imagination, I think that inmates get things they shouldn't have, and don't get thing they should. And I am very aware that our tax dollars pay for all of it, in fact I get to see it all first hand.

But, when I get these courtesy notifications I can't help but worry about my guys. To be honest I don't remember half their names, but I know their faces. I remember there words in circle, I remember their prayers for the outside world. Yes, they pray for you. Some of them are Lifers who mentor newbies and short timers and I worry about them all.

So I find it more than kinda funny that the Department of Corrections has a Facebook, which I am wired into and receive all the notifications which are generated by the CDCR STAR, the media engine of the prison system. So when I see my prison on a headline, yes I want to read more, *click* which takes you to the newspaper that wrote it which just like my Blog, allows for comments.

Someone somewhere sometime said something to the effect of "a civilization can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners or enemies, or both." I really thought about that after reading these posts...

This is from the LA Times, the comments are disturbing, but this one comment by MWalters really stuck with me..

"Give a man a mask and you will soon see the true man."

I think about this a lot now. I remember a post I did when I first started writing this blog, something about "technology divorcing us from our humanity", it all comes flooding back and I ask myself what the hell is wrong with people?

One of those guys they spoke of was Paroled yesterday. I have known him for almost two years, he made a mistake and he has paid his dept. I took and active part in his "Parole Blessing Ritual" and I speak with his Mother often. He spent quite a while inside and is now exploring a strange new world as you read this. I wonder what he would think if he read those messages. I wonder if those people would feel that way if they met him, or had someone inside. I wonder how long it will be until he asks "what the hell is wrong with people?"

Welcome home Jesse.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

For Better or For Worse

I stole this picture from another blogger today but it's cool because hes a Mason too, so special thanks to the Widows Son. I have loved this picture ever since the first time I watched the movie Dogma. I am far from being a cynic but that's why I love George Carlin so much, he was my sacred Clown.

Wow, where has the time gone? The last few weeks have been a blur, I passed my first midterm exam (sigh) and I must say I don't feel as though the course work prepared me for the test, but now I know what to expect for the final exam, and I may light candles next to this picture cause Bible class ain't no joke.

We conducted a Handfasting this last weekend, I say "we" because it was a Coven ritual and everyone took an active part in the ceremony, which really takes the pressure of me. They were already legally married by a justice of the peace a few years ago so there was no need for marriage consultation or counseling and we were able to focus of the speculative aspects of marriage and had a really nice wedding.

That's my favorite part of everything, the ceremony, the ritual and the beauty of a graceful act of magic. The Zen of Wicca. Those rare moments when a large group is gathered, creating and sharing a moment of group consciousness. A Divine Union. It makes it all worth while, and I was happy and honored to have been asked, and have the highest hopes for the re-newed bride and groom.

Every time I mention doing "marriage counseling" it seems to spark conversation and conflict, so let just jump straight into that fire while we're here...

No, I do not have any degrees or credentials in counseling. Although I am in the process of obtaining them.

No, I am not a certified or licensed therapist. But again, that's not what I am doing, or talking about here. Yet, what I am doing can only be described as counseling, "Pastoral Counseling", it seems that religion is the back door into everything. Please allow me to explain...

"With great power comes great responsibility..." Stan Lee

My wife is currently working an internship as a Paralegal at a Family Law Facilitator, this is the place you go get a "Do it yourself divorce". They show you which papers you fill out and point you in the right direction. They also cover child custody and its the place we went to when I adopted my Daughter. The saying there is if you had to go through the same amount of trouble to get married as you do to get divorced, well there would be less of both.

Anyone who has experienced divorce knows how incredibly ridiculous it is. Enough Said there. So I have known many people who have become "Legal Pagan Clergy" and perform marriages for various reasons.

#1. Money, like a drug dealer they rationalize with the mantra "if they don't get it from me, there just going to get it from someone else" "I am providing a legal service, like a lawyer" The truth is often subjective, but there is a difference between what is right, what is wrong and what is legal. And that's what's wrong with our country today.

#2. Ego Gratification, most of these types do it for free because its another notch in their belt. "I am a Pagan Priest and I have married sixteen couples..." But they didn't know them before hand and haven't seen hide nor hair of them afterward and have not taken any opportunity to review or critique the influence they have had in the lives of their customers.

Myself, I have been married twice, and both times I have fully embraced the "Sanctity of Marriage". It is with this same conviction and virtue that I consider uniting lovers. I have had several young couples request a Handfasting in the past, during the first conversation I ask about their Wiccan faith, how their Mom, Dad or other relevant family feel about the marriage and the nature of their Wiccan Faith and most often the family does not know about either one...

So when two very young people (18-20 something), who don't live together but still live with their parents, Who have little or no prospects for independent living, but are madly in true love and will never never ever ever part, come asking you to marry them, what do you do?

I take responsibility for my actions, and I must look myself in the mirror every morning. It's kind of important to me. So in cases like this I DO counseling. In a Rites of Passage class I took at Cherry Hill Seminary, we covered this topic and there was a list of interview questions you should ask the bride and groom, separately. They were questions that these young couples have never asked themselves because they were way too busy being madly in love.

But when you ask them separately and their answers to these small questions about children, disabilities, death and other worst case scenarios, and all there answers conflict, well it seem to me they've got a lot more to talk about, don't they? I already know what some of you are thinking, I've heard it all before and Yes, it is my business. It is within my power, therefor it is within my responsibility, isn't it?

Sometimes "No" is the best service we can provide. Don't you think? Let me know...