Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Release the Bunnies!

So I haven't been very active on this blog in a very long time, a while back I started taking my own advise and started unplugging the the matrix more and more.

The secret has been turning my laptop off and leaving it off.

So with the exception of checking Facebook and reading The Wild Hunt on my iPhone, I'm unplugged. While I openly I admit I'm fairly addicted to Facebook, I can justify my addiction the the Wild Hunt as staying in touch with current newsworthy events.

One of my regular Hunt favorites is the "Release the Hounds" articles. This is my fluffy bunny version.

  • I've been living in the real world and thoroughly enjoying myself. Life has been more than great and busy in the best ways. The Foedus Veritas Covenant is in high gear, we meet and work on a weekly basis. Our community rituals are growing in size, participation and activities.
  • While I've spoken publicly for years at different events and venues like Fresno State, the Department of Corrections and the Pagan Conference, this past weekend I presented at my first Paid speaking engagement at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Visalia.
  • The Central Valley Pagan Pride community has been working hard to perpetuate the momentum of a successful PPD event earlier this year. Leaders of Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield has begun hosting Central Valley Sabbat gatherings to celebrate the wheel of the year together. CVPP event organizer Audra hosted this seasons gathering Saturday here in Visalia, we had a good turn out and great time.
  • My favorite HooDoo chick in the whole world just started her own blog titled California Conjure, and I invite you to check it out, I'm looking forward to future posts. We had a great conversation at the community ritual where she shared about her experiences on the coast, where she was chastised for using the term "fluffy bunny." (hence the title) The chastiser said that calling someone in the Pagan community a fluffy bunny equates to calling an African American "the N word"................. ummm no.
  • After taking the summer off to play with my kids, I have resumed my prison visits, but now I've got help! A very good friend has joined my prison program, I am happy for the help and the company. This last Friday after our services the Community Resource Manger took us out to lunch to show his appreciation for the assistance we provide. It is nice to be appreciated.
  • And a friend on the inside passed my card to staff at another local prison looking start a Pagan religious program. She sent me an email heads up and I received a call less than an hour later, and they seem very serious. I'm looking forward to visiting my first supermax and I'll post here as it unfolds.
Happy Holidays and Bright Yule Blessings everyone!

Thank you Lord and Lady for all the Fuzzy Fluffy Bunnies, Blessed Be!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guardian of the Temple

This is another card from the Joe Tarot, a card that has always had a special meaning for me, and I have been waiting a very long time to talk about it. A few weeks ago I posted a status update of Facebook about how after five years of dedication, commitment, blood sweat and a few tears I officially received my Third Degree.

I received over 45 responses to that statement congratulating me. Some assumed it was related to Freemasonry, but some Masonic brothers were confused because we are 32 degree officers in the Consistory of the Scottish Rite Temple together.

While a few other were confused because I am the founder of my Coven and our tradition. There has always been the assumption that I am a third degree, especially since I started my tradition, naturally I proclaimed myself Grand Poobah. Apparently that's just how it's done(?).

But like much of our tradition, that is not the case.

Our tradition has three degrees, and each one contains grade work, and I would think it incredibly hypocritical to require anyone to complete any task that I myself have not done, especially within my own system. Moreover I would strongly recommend avoiding interactions inherent in a Coven atmosphere with any would be Grand Poobah that does. It's a big red flag. So I placed myself accordingly within our system, as I still had a lot of grade work to do myself.

That being said, how does one lead a Coven in a Tradition one has created and developed ones self, without being the Grand Poobah? That's part of the work. For over five years I have been the "Prius." No, not like the car, more like the student leader who leads in the absence of a teacher.

But just before this past Samhain I completed the largest, longest and most difficult portion of my work. You know you're in a special Coven when the members seem more excited for you than you are for yourself. They met without my knowledge and agreed to cancel a long scheduled out of town group event in order to perform my Lorica, the obligation and ordination ceremony for my third degree. I was especially moved, because I knew how much everyone was looking forward to the scheduled event.

It could not have happen better if it was orchestrated by design. The Samhain season plays a significant role in the ambiance. I paused to gaze at the night sky before I entered the Zotheca and noticed the waxing crescent moon overhead, just like this card. I got goosebumps. Seated there with my arms crossed, my hands clutching those handles I was nervous for the first time in a very long time.

That night was incredibly fulfilling; not because I was being elevated, but because I saw the fruits of my labors being harvested by my Coven. I was not proud of me, I was proud of them, I was proud of us. Six years ago I started a small local tradition in southern California, two weeks ago we established a lineage. I can't wait to see what we do next.

Thank you Lord and Lady, thank you so much.

Blessed Be.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Coolest Wand Story Ever Told

In our tradition we perform most of the Obrussa (first degree grade work) in a Table Lodge setting. It's appropriate and comfortable, yet formal. And unlike the Masonic form, there's no alcohol. But at least once a week a few members of our Coven gather together at a local Coffee house for "Coffee Table Lodge," where we spend the morning talking about our Craft, the state of our union and the latest Wild Hunt Hot Topics. A few weeks back at one such coffee table, I was told an intriguing story about how a Coven-mate happened upon his Wand.

He told me about how he frequents a special place in the Sequoya National Forrest, and how one day he was inspired to take a healthy walk in a new direction. After some time at a quick pace he felt drawn to a particular spot near a log to rest. He sat for a time in silence as he enjoyed the morning air, until his attention was drawn back beside him where he found the small branch pictured above. He picked it up and his first though was that this would make a fine wand.

As he looked it over he realized that the wand had already been worked smooth, and a closer look revealed tool marks. As he expanded his examination he found strange characters inscribed into the handle. He left me on the edge of my seat when he told me that he had taken it home that day months ago, only to lay it to rest on a shelf over his altar. That was the end of the story.

Oh no, this would not do.

I begged, pleaded and insisted that he bring it for a show and tell to our next meeting as I had to see this wand for myself. Sadly he was feeling ill and couldn't make it to that meeting. But his wife did, and she brought it. We all hovered over it, all trying to get a good look, all at the same time. I vaguely recognized the characters and asserted they be either Japanese or Korean. There was some discussion, then I remembered, I have the internet!

I Googled for Japanese Kanji images and blew through a few sets until I found the first symbol. Then another, and another. I made the mistake of thinking the second and third symbols were two separate symbols, but later turned out to be a single Kanji. Once we had each of them decoded, I went to Google Translate and entered the syllables. I added and removed spaces between the syllables until the GT asked me if I meant "something" and when I clicked yes, guess what it turned out to be...

Go ahead, guess...

The kanji on the wand actually literally translates to "Magic Wand." How cool is that? I mean what are the odds that a Wiccan goes for a hike in a National Forrest, sits down to take a rest less than a foot away from a cool magic wand looking stick, that actually turns out to be a Japanese Magic Wand. A fine Wand indeed.

Thank you Lord and Lady for cool stories of serendipity. Blessed Be.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My AREN Interview

"The Vision of the Alternative Religions Educational Network (hereafter referred to as AREN) is to promote education on the Positive Nature Based Religions devoted to deities of either or no specific gender or attributes. This would include most Pagans or Neo-Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, and many others.

To develop materials to be used for such purposes, including education of the general public and government and law enforcement officials. To sponsor programs devoted to these purposes.

To investigate religious discrimination complaints and, if found valid, try to help in obtaining aid in solving the problems. This includes, most of all, education for the alleged discriminatory persons or agencies and also the forwarding of valid complaints to other organizations, agencies, and legal advisers for direct action if this becomes necessary." (this vision statement taken from their website.)

A while back I was contact by Christopher Blackwell of AREN about doing an interview for their newsletter ezine. I was flattered and excited, who wouldn't be? But what makes this interview different was the topic. Almost everyone wants to talk about the prison ministry and my Spells for Cells (free book) program. But Christopher actually wanted to know about our tradition, which is in fact my favorite subject.

But I don't speak about it often simply because no one ever seems to ask, and talking about it unsolicited smacks of proselytizing or at the very least,
bragging. If and when we do mention our tradition, it's always bragging. But its bragging out of a profound pride we have for our tradition, and a believe that self esteem, even a magical self esteem is healthy. So here is my interview with Christopher Blackwell, and HERE is the link to the whole newsletter, there are five other great interviews in this Samhain issue, please enjoy.

Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary
Interview with Joseph Merlin Nichter
By Christopher Blackwell

A friend suggested that I interview hereditary Pagan, Wiccan Priest and founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. So I got in touch and received permission for this interview.

Christopher: Could you give us a bit of background about yourself?

Joseph: I am a happy husband to an amazing women and a proud father of four incredible children. I grew up in central California where I’ve lived most of my life except for my ten years of military service. After Iraq I discharged from service and returned home to California where I now work as a residential care facility administrator. I am very active in the Pagan community and serve as a volunteer Pagan prison chaplain

Christopher: How long have you been Pagan? What variety of paths have you studied & practiced?

Joseph: I was lucky enough to have been raised Pagan; my mother is a gifted Witch and an extraordinary woman, needless to say I had an amazing childhood. But it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be, the down side is I never got away with anything, [laughs] Ever.

I am defiantly a product of my mother’s magic; from Shamanism to Rosicrucianism she was always studying something and teaching me. That really fostered my interest in the alternative spirituality and I started getting into indigenous traditions while still very young, so have been study- ing and practicing some form of magic most of my life.

Christopher: How did you come to form the Mill Creek Tradition? How did it start and what has it become? What is unique about it?

Joseph: What is now the Mill Creek Tradition began years ago as a Handfasting. That’s right, I said Handfasting. My wife and I had been practicing together for some time and had developed a nice system for ourselves. We invited everyone we knew to our Handfasting, and it was the first time we ever included anyone else in any of our rituals. Afterwords several people remarked on how much they enjoyed the ritual and suggested that we use that format to do full moon rituals, to which I replied “We do.” Within a month a Coven had formed, centered on our system of Witchcraft, which slowly grew over the years into a tradition. Not long after that our Coven filed for and received our 50c3 church status. Not for taxes, but in order to protect and ensure our religious rights when it came to our activities.

I first began working in the prisons with Patrick McCollum and later started my own Carcer Via prison program at a lo- cal prison; soon after its inception I turned it into another recognized non-profit. I’ve
been going every week for almost four years now. Not only do we provide religious services to Pagan inmates but we assist in the facilitation of religious accommodations’. Simply stated, most prisons don’t know what Paganism is or how to meet the needs of the inmates, and we help them out with that.

In addition to the private Coven and the prison ministry we also host several public community rituals and events each month. When we first started that it was Mill Creek Church, named after mill creek that runs through the entire length of the city.

For those who don’t know, maintaining a 50c3 requires a lot of record keeping and paperwork. And we were running three. So last year we just combined all three of them into Mill Creek Seminary. And the paper work is so much easier [laughs]. So we started out as a Handfasting and have become a Seminary, which is a good word to describe us.
We teach and train our tradition of Witchcraft, ordain legal clergy, we provide a variety of religious services and even have a very successful prison ministry. But I think what makes us unique is our tradition itself, we offer ourselves as a secondary tradition. Meaning whatever you are personally doing alone at home is the best path for you; we are offering an additional system that facilitates group rituals within a diverse group of Pagans.

I have often described us as an “assembly of solitaries” [laughs]. I am very proud of our origin; our tradition is the product a marriage, a divine union.

Christopher: What services can your tradition provide the Pagan community?

Joseph: Our little campaign slogan is “Teaching Traditions of Celebration and Fellowship.” That’s what our tradition is really all about, bringing the Pagan community together in celebration and fellow- ship. I have always been fulfilled spiritually by my path and being a solitary has its benefits but it can be very lonely, and who wants to celebrate the wheel of the year alone? Our tradition prides itself on providing quality religious services to the community that focus on celebration and fellowship.

Christopher: What about the Mill Creek Seminary?

Joseph: We as a seminary provide a large variety of services; as I mentioned before we’ve been hosting public community rituals twice a month for about two years now. This includes Sabbats, usually held in the park complete with a barbecue and potluck. You can’t have celebration and fellowship without food! In addition we also provide rites of passage services such as legal Handfastings, the Carmenta which is a baby blessing, puberty rites, and The Nenia which is last rights, funeral and memorial services. Sadly, we’ve done them all.

We also consider the prison ministry to be a community service, to the free world, the inmates, as well as the state agencies. We do a annual lecture at Fresno State University, Pagan Orientation classes for the uninitiated as well as orientation classes for people interested in prison ministry.

Christopher: Don’t you have a book of shadows available?

Joseph: Yes we do, it’s called “The Auguris: The Mill Creek Book of Shadows.” Our book of shadows is just as unique as our tradition. There are no pages numbers, instructions or narration, just five sections. Our system is known as the Five Labors of Witchcraft; purification, adoration, observation, divination and incantation. We work our way though these labors in the process of our ritual. Each section begins with the portion used in ritual and is accompanied by additional information relevant to that labor, such as rites for the wheel of the year and a large collection of original spells by our Coven. You can order it on Lulu and remember all money goes to fund our Spells for Cells program were we send books and materials to inmates for free.

Christopher: Do you have any upcoming events?

Joseph: Oh yeah, we’re Pagans, we’re always celebrating something [laughs]. We just did Central Valley Pagan Pride and MCS was one of the primary sponsors.

It was a huge event that included Pagan communities from three major cities and drew attendants from as far as San Francisco and Los Angeles. After that event the organizers from the three primary cities are planning Wheel of the Year Ritual events to be as large as Pagan Pride Day. In addition our Mill Creek group has started a Border Morris Dance group; we’re still in formation but plan to be performance ready by Beltane.

Christopher: Where can people learn more about the Mill Creek tradition?

Joseph: Ah good question. I wrote a book that we provide free to inmates, “Carcer Via: An Inmates Guide to the Craft,” which teaches the fundamentals for our tradition through the ritual journey. But other than that we really don’t have any material available online or through correspondence. But I am working on another book and we are considering developing a correspondence program. Until then, you just need to come visit us. Link

Christopher: What work are you doing California Prison System and the California Mental Health Department?

Joseph: I do a lot! [laughs] The State of California only hires religious representatives for the five majority faiths; Protestant, Catholic, Islam, Jewish and Native American. So if you’re not one of those religions there is no one to provide your religious services or even speak on your behalf. This really complicates things for inmates trying to pursue rehabilitation through a spiritual path because in prison you can’t even order religious supplies of materials without a chaplains’ approval.

So I’ve been a volunteer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for about four years now. I do weekly visits to local prisons where I conduct Pagan interfaith rituals and assist the CDCR in facilitating religious accommodations for minority faith inmates. This includes advising staff on those spiritual purchase requests and explaining the need and use of various religious items, serving on religious review committees and providing resources and materials to help educate staff on different minority faiths. I have even given Pagan Sensitivity classes during new employee orientation in an effort to expand awareness and understanding of minority faiths. That’s what Mill Creek Seminary’s prison ministry is all about.

I began doing the same thing for the Department of Mental Health, but then my supervisor there suggested I submit a proposal for a 2 week Pagan religious program. I did and although I am probably the most optimistic person on the planet, I never expected it to get approved. But I was happy to be wrong, my course was added to the curriculum and I taught for six semesters until I took this summer off to focus on my kids while they were out of school.

Christopher: Don’t you have some interesting extra pastoral training?

Joseph: No, but you should [laughs]. I know some Pagans who have rolled their eyes at the term pastoral training, but being a Pagan chaplain requires a lot more than candle colors and directions.

I personally have gone through great lengths to acquire proper training. I have taken many classes at Cherry Hill Seminary, including Patrick’s Chaplaincy course. I’m a graduate of the Law Enforcement Chaplains Academy and I am back in college, nearly finished with my degree in religion.
Early this year I was even allowed to at- tend the annual state chaplains training. I was the first and only volunteer Pagan chaplain ever allowed to attend, it was educational and insightful as well as a huge honor.

Christopher: What can you tell us about the Crystal Barn?

Joseph: The Barn is our local meta- physical shop; but it’s so much more than that, it’s the hub of the community here in my town and we are lucky to have such a place. People come from Fresno and Bakersfield to attend our rituals and first timers are always blown away by how huge the store is and the large volume of products and services they provide. I have been to hundreds of shops and the Barn is definitely the biggest and best of them.

We have a large meeting room there and I can’t express how amazing it is to have a dedicated ritual space for the Mill Creek community.

Christopher: Does it have a web page?

Joseph: Yes they do, but it doesn’t do them justice! You can find them online at http://thecrystalbarn.com/

Christopher: Is there anything else that you might like our readers to know about?

Joseph: Yes there is, thank you for asking. Earlier I mentioned the Central Valley Pagan Pride event we were involved in. At that event I finally got to meet Crystal Blanton, we had been friends on Face- book but never met. She had driven all the way down from the Bay Area with her family to be a presenter at our event.

We shared booth space and talked shop while we tried to sell some our books. Not only is she a great person but she’s a great writer, and her book “Bridging the Gap” tackles the tough issues we all experience within the Pagan community. I would like to strongly recommend her book to everyone, especially those Pagan community leaders and organizers. We all need to read this book.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Survivor, a Card from the Joe Tarot

Like all Pagan communities, ours is composed of a diverse group of people and paths. One of the sweetest members of ours is "Jedi Kim," who is one of the coolest people you could ever have the pleasure of meeting.

We call her Jedi Kim because she is a Star Wars fanatic. But no worries, she's the good kind. She goes to the conventions and sends us cool pictures of her in outfits I saw on the big screen when I was little and have wanted ever since. Last time it was the bright orange jump suit with the cool white helmet they wear when they're flying around in those X-Wing fighters.



Kim has been coming to our Mill Creek rituals for years now, she has become family and we are lucky to have her.

A few months ago, just seconds before the ritual began Kim pulled us aside and told us she just found out she had uterine cancer. We were floored. It was difficult to focus on the opening ritual because I had to pass by her several times during the process. The first labor of our ritual is purification and I found myself wanting to linger with her each time I passed.

The second labor of our ritual is adoration, we called to the elemental spirits, we call to the God and Goddess. I fought the urge to plea for an instantaneous miracle. But it would come later. During the third labor, observation, we call for Craftwork and people share their magic with the group. My wife did a presentation on Garlic.

It took guts, but she gave everyone the full story of how she had gotten a yeast infection, how she had gone to the pharmacy and bought a real expensive medication that did nothing, and how she went back and bought another even more expensive medication that did less. She explained how she went online and studied different home remedies and eventually tried one that used garlic.

She passed around a large full clove of garlic while she explained how she broke off a small peace, ran a thread through it and inserted it like a tampon. There were giggles and grins and she laughed as loud as they did until she told them the infection was gone in less than three hours. That got everyone's attention. Results always do. Then she shared the spell she wrote to go along with it and everyone had a really really good laugh.

Before we conclude our ritual we open the floor to communication and announcements, it was then that Kim made her announcement to the group about her condition and explained that she wouldn't be coming for a while. We offered to do an impromptu group healing then and there and she accepted.

I called her to the center of the circle, I knelt down and slowly waved my hand over her pelvic area like Ben Kenobi as I said "This isn't the uterus you're looking for," handed her the garlic and explained that she would need to do this part herself. We all laughed so much we almost cried as we gathered around her closely and offered her our healing energies. Afterward she said that she already felt better, that she was going to beat this thing and when she did she was going to get a tattoo of the Jedi symbol. I took her up on her affirmation and promised that when she beat it, I would take her and pay for the tattoo myself.

A short time later my wife joined a Relay For Life team that another Mill Creek friend had started. My wife crocheted a king size afghan to raffle off as a fundraiser. It took her over fifty balls of yarn and three months of nonstop work, I missed her. My family rode with Jedi Kim to the relay last Saturday where the first lap is reserved only for cancer survivors, and I am happy to say this picture of Kim was taken on that first lap.

Kim will continue to come to Mill Creek rituals for years, she will always be family and we are STILL lucky to have her.

Thank you Lord and Lady for the Force and the Garlic, we will be heading to the Tattoo shop very soon. Blessed be.
Align Left

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Drummer, a Card from the Joe Tarot

I first met the the drummer at a CVPP presenters meeting in preparation for the event. Although at first glance he may have seemed out of place for some indiscernible reason, he was confident and comfortable. The great ones always are. He sat quietly, calm and relaxed.The first thing I recognized was the smile.

It was a good productive meeting which served as a precursor to the event. The meeting concluded as Pagan events often do, with many introductions after the fact. Someone asked me what I did for a living and I said, "...I live..." The Drummer over heard my response and joined the conversation. As it turns out, he works in the same field.

Our Coven had the honor of conducted the opening ceremony for Pagan Pride Day. Moments before we were to begin I was informed that the Drummer had offered to begin the ceremony with ritual drumming to the four directions. It was an offer which I enthusiastically accepted without a moments hesitation.

The Drummer opened up with a drum beat I interpreted as an "announcement," and it worked well in getting everyone's attention and drawing all those present towards the circle. (so if you run community rituals, take note.) After a brief solemn pause he spent time drumming to each of the cardinal directions. To each direction he offered a transmission, each completely different in speed, rhythm, tempo and spirit. It served as a personal confirmation in my beliefs that we're all doing the same things for the same reasons, it's mostly the culture that is different. Barely.

Later that day I took a break from cooking hot dogs long enough to listen to his presentation. He spoke with a passion and energy that few speakers have and all speakers envy. He spoke of simple, profound truths that made sense and made you laugh at the same time, another rare talent. He is someone you want to know so I made sure to reconnect with him, we spoke for a while, talking shop about our related field and exchanging contact information.

The other night just before bed that classic default setting tone notified me of a text message. It was from a number neither I or my smart phone recognized. The message gave the time day and location of a meeting called the "Communication Circle." Although the name was meant to clarify, it only confused me more. I sat staring at the phone trying to figure out who was on the other end when it went off again. (I spooks me every time.) The second message added that the sender would be at COS (Collage of the Sequoias) the next day for a Multicultural Day event. Signed the Drummer.

Suddenly "Communication Circle" made sense, I have been attending drum circles for many years and have come to learn about the magic communication of percussion. The next day at the event we sat, watched and listen to his performance. He told a story about Africa while he drummed. Then without warning he began inviting people from the audience to join him. My Wife and I were among the first, hoping to sway others to join in we took to the stage and selected instruments from the large selection that was made available. Soon we had a crowd, and the Drummer began giving simple impromptu instructions to the participants and before you know it we were rocking out like a folk symphony orchestra.

The Drummer broke off the session for a moment and acquired more reluctant volunteers, again he gave them a quick impromptu lesson in African dance and told them to listen to his drum for their queue. We seemed to resuming the music without any difficulty, and we were rocking out again when the Drummer pounded out a distinctive beat which set off the men tribal dance. I don't know who was cheering louder, the audience, the volunteers or me. I'm sure no one in the audience that day had come prepared to perform on stage, but they did. The Drummer took nearly twenty random people, threw them together without warning and got them all to play instruments, together in successful unity. Now that's Magic!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Power of Three


Sorry about the kitschy Charmed cliche, but I admit it's a guilty pleasure of mine. I love that show, in its proper perspective. I always mention it in my annual lecture at Fresno State University to put things in proper perspective for the "uninitiated." I tell students that "Charmed" is to Witches, what "Star Trek" is to Scientists.

For a few hundred years we've had a pretty negative stereotype, but that tends to happen when everything written on the subject is the product of those who venomously oppose and your existence. I remember reading somewhere that Gerald Gardner's book Witchcraft Today was the first or one of the first books written about Witchcraft BY a practitioner. That really wasn't that long ago.

When I was growing up there were actually several books on Witchcraft in the local library, each of them graphically depicted Witches kissing the devils ass, having sex with goats and boiling infants for their baby fat, which apparently is the main ingredient in Flying Ointment.

But Look how far we've come in such a short time. I saw on Facebook today that my friends book shelf completely fell apart for the weight of her books. I'm very confident in my speculation that they were all Witchcraft, Hoodoo, and an Alchemy book I'm going to want back someday.

I believe that this years Central Valley Pagan Pride Day was definitely an accurate temperature gauge for the State of Our Union here in the central valley. Earlier this year I spoke at the Convention on Current Pagan Studies, the theme was sustaining Pagan communities and it was an invaluable experience. I came back rejuvenated and inspired by the spirit of the event. (I'm an Aquarius so that's not hard to do.) That's when I first got the idea for Central Vally Solstice. My idea was for an event something like PPD, but not. Geared more towards a huge multiple Pagan community interfaith ritual, a Mid-Summer Mega Festival Extravaganza!

A few months later my friend Audra at St. Brigid's Academy started the groundwork for Fresno Pagan Pride and I jumped on the bandwagon. We spoke about our ideas and plans, I got peanut butter all over her chocolate, and Fresno Pagan Pride became Central Valley Pagan Pride.

It only takes a single grain of rice to tip the scale.

I am happy to say the event was a huge success, largely due to the abundance of organizational skills. The core of the event was the unification of the Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield Pagan communities and their organizers, I have no doubt this solidified the event and attracted participants from the Bay area as well as LA. It was an awesome day, we all had a blast and our booth made enough money to fund our seminary's prison ministry program through to Imbolc.

I was honored to share my booth with Crystal Blanton, who gave a great workshop of Witchwars and kept it real. She wrote about CVPP here and here for the PNC, and The Provocation did a nice piece here as well.

The spirit and success of CVPP has promoted new growth towards a real grassroots movement here in our valley, and the Power of Three is looking to tip the scales again soon.

Thank you Lord and Lady for letting me be a grain of rice, please let me do it again. Blessed Be.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

CENTRAL VALLEY PAGAN PRIDE DAY

There comes a time within our tradition when one must select a "toast." Similar to the motto of other traditions, however our toast does not serve as an identity, but rather something you say in Latin before you partake in the Cakes and Ale portion of our ritual. Mine is:

Aut viam inveniam aut faciam

"I shall find a way or I shall make one" which is attributed to Hannibal, although I'm sure he didn't say it in Latin.

I first moved here to the Central Valley about six years ago and hit the holy ground running, getting active in the Pagan community. But I was in this funny little blind spot called Visalia. There was a large Pagan community in Fresno (just north), and another in Bakersfield (just south) but not much here at home. Mostly online discussion forums and yahoo group covens (remember those?) There was only a single small group of Pagans meeting here in town, and for the most part it was identified as a "study group," but it turned out to be a personality cult which disqualified me from membership and I was excommunicated within the first month. I was hurt and angry, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, because it made me do my own thing, make my own way.

That way became a Coven, that Coven became a Tradition, that Tradition became a Pagan Prison Ministry and that Ministry became my first book, and that book was blessed with a fore word from Raymond Buckland. I consider it to be a high honor, I'm very proud of that and I have a right to be, I did the work, I earned it.

But I am not alone, my friend Derick is to his community in Bakersfield what I am to mine, and Audra from St Brigid's Academy is for Fresno. We've all come a long way since then. The Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield Pagan communities are interconnected and networking. Our Coven hosts an open community ritual on the first and third Sundays of the month, and on the others we often do "field trip" activities . Our group has loaded up the Mill Creek Mobile and road-tripped to visit the Kern County Pagan Circle in Bakersfield and many of them have come up to attend our rituals. Who knew earth-based religions were prone to grassroots?

When I was young my father would tell me there three kinds of people, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. He said it enough to have the lasting effect he had hoped for. It is in that spirit I raise my cup and toast to those who have come together to make things happen.

I am happy to announce Central Valley Pagan Pride Day!

Here is the event schedule with Facebook links for more information.
Mill Creek Seminary will be doing the opening ceremony,the ritual has been modified to accommodate goals of this particular event: Mill Creek Seminary will perform the “opening” ceremony marking the beginning of the event, Kern County Pagan Circle will perform the “closing” ceremony marking the end of the event, whereby making the whole event one large daylong community ritual.

Come join us and help us make it a good one!


Thank you Lord and Lady for all the Pathfinders in the Pagan Community! Blessed Be.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Castaways, a card for the Joe Tarot

My first though was to use IX card from the Rider-Waite deck and title this post The Hermit, but I felt that it would be inaccurate. When I think of the Hermit, I think of the wise old sage living a reclusive spartan lifestyle up in the mountains. I often associate it with religious/spiritual immersion and meditation. A Holy Man on Hiatus.

I have three poster size cards from the Rider-Waite deck framed and hanging on the wall over my bed. The Fool, who reminds me to be playful and never be afraid to fall (innocence). The Hanged Man, who reminds me that everything is revealed by doing the work (fortitude). When I wake in the morning and look up at him, he smiles. And The Hermit, who reminds me that the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know much (humility).

I realized the difference between The Hermit and The Castaway is the company. By Ostara this year I had taken on more and more, filling my plate, and found myself getting extra plates until I had a full table. Over the years my prison visits had increased in both frequency and duration. Then I began to make visits to a state mental hospital, soon those visits increased until I found myself teaching 12 week courses. Then I was contacted by another prison, then another...

Then there's my overdue homework, memos and minutes for the non-profit, Coven craftwork, the community circle contact list, the Sabbat flier, my PPD workshop, the university lecture, the pile of inmate correspondence, not to mention my day job as a facility administrator preparing for Cal Osha visits, annal audits and quarterly reports.

I forgot what I was actually looking for when I went digging through the pile(s) on my desk, whatever it was it had to be in there somewhere. But what I did find down under all that mess was an old tattered and stained sticky note, it got my attention because it was so hard to read. I squinted and realized I'm supposed to be wearing glasses now, maybe that's what I was looking for, but It read:

"When was the last time you put down your magic and played with your kids?"

I stared at it for a while, I remembered that this had happened to me before. I was angry that it had happened again. I walked though the house, slowly and quietly and just watched my kids. I realized that my oldest daughter would soon be starting her senior year, we hadn't seen "the twins" (as we call them) in person since we gave them iphones, and my Mini Me wasn't so mini.

I notified the prisons that I wouldn't be coming in for a few weeks, took the semester off from school and put everything except the absolute necessities on the pack burner. It felt very uncomfortable at first, doing nothing. But I got the hang of it. My kids taught me how to play video games, (Black Ops Rules by the way) stay up late watching adult swim, and sleep in until it was absolutely nessissary to wake up. We spent a lot of time up at Amahi in Three Rivers, its literally a spiritual retreat for our family. Spearfishing, (caught three) white water body surfing and cliff diving was a great way to spend the summer with my fellow Castaways.

We made a trip down the Bakersfield to attend a Lammas ritual hosted by some friends, I love going to other peoples rituals for many reasons: 1. I'm not running anything, which is always awesome. 2. meeting old friends 3. making new friends 4. "Borrowing ideas for rituals 5. FOOD. The ritual was awesome because I completed all five. While I was there I hung out with The Holy Idiot who helped me to realize how lucky I was to be able to drop everything and spend some time with my kids. This was a very large reality slap that left me dizzy for a few days. Thank you Robert.

The whole summer was a blur and their all back in school already. I'm preparing to return to the prisons, I didn't think I'd miss it so much and I cant wait to get back to it. The VA glitched my tuition so I'll be taking one more semester off, but that's ok, I got lots to catch up on, a whole new book to write and a bunch of blog entries too. I kept a list of topics I wanted to write about once the summer was over, but some of them I can't remember ans some I cant read. But here's what I've got planed for the next few weeks:

  • Feathers
  • Power of Prayer
  • Azoth
  • Russel's Music
  • "something" and the beyond(?)
  • Rev. "something"(?)
  • More about (our) Tradition
  • "I have no idea what language this word is supposed to be in"
  • and a doodle of something that looks like a pig's tail.
Anyway, much like Tom Hank's character, I speared some fish, got smashed on some rocks by the water, hell I even screamed "Wilson!" a few times, and now I'm sitting here with ice in my glass.

Thank you Lord and Lady for the Summer, the River, the Memories, and the Reality Slap. Blessed Be.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Sword of Solidarity

People have always gone to extraordinary lengths for their religious freedoms, the majority of the early colonists came to this continent to escape religious discrimination and persecution. They risked all, and took the leap of faith into an unknown world so they could practice their religion.

I always found it ironic that they went on to found a country that now perpetuates the same cycle of discrimination they sought to escape.

For over a decade now Patrick McCollum has led the charge against religious discrimination and has inspired many of us as Pagan Prison Chaplains. It was Patrick who took me to my first prison visit, an experience that has changed my life forever. Patrick has carried the torch of illumination from the prisons of California to US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, DC, and fought a long hard and expensive legal battle with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

I was both saddened and angered to learn today that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the earlier ruling, that Patrick's suit held no standing. Win or lose, Patrick has served a large part in the Big Picture, he has made the religious needs and rights of Pagan inmates and their chaplains undeniable. While Patrick has fought in the courtroom many more of us fight in the trenches at local correctional institutions around the country, feeding the needs of inmates for several years now we have seen the Pagan population and its needs grow.

There has been a lot of controversy about the term "Pagan" lately and I've tried to ignore it. But it comes into play here. We spend so much time arguing about things I consider petty, so much time being way to self involved. We need to stop worrying about what to call or not ourselves, we need to stop focusing on the issues that divide us and start focusing on the ideas that unite us.

And unfortunately religious discrimination unites us. It is time to unite under the banner of "whatever-ism," pick up the sword of solidarity and join the fight for religious pluralism!

I am eagerly awaiting Patrick's response to the decision and what further action will be taken. Will he push forward to the supreme Court? Or will he start over with a new suit, with a new strategy?

Whatever he does, he needs your help and support. If we can raise over $30,000 for Japan, what could we do for one of our own, who's fighting for us?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Brutal Truth

Wow, I can hardly believe its almost Beltane. Even more, I can't believe I haven't posted since Ostara. But life is what passes you by when your too busy blogging, and I'm not going to miss anything.

I keep a sticky note on my desk that's says "When is the last time you put down your magic and played with your children?"

A while back I found it, and didn't know.

That's not going to happen again, and it hasn't happened since. I've been pretty busy since then, but a good busy. I been investing time in my son's boy scout activities and enjoy spending the time with him. I hope he keeps it up, but I don't think he will. But I don't need the scouts to spend time with my boys.

People often ask me what it was like growing up Pagan and a have a few good stories. But lately I wonder what my kids will say when they get older. I had one of those moment today when I see the difference in mentality between my family and others.

Our tradition is the called Veritas Wicca. Veritas being Latin for truth, many assume we mean to say we are the true Wicca, but they would assume incorrectly. It comes from the motto "Veritas Pro Re Natura" or Truth Through Nature.

I have long made the assertion that gender is the natural polarity of things; male and female, not good and evil. That there is no all good god and all evil devil. As a Pagan we don't have a written sacred text like the bible or Koran, we have the unwritten Gospel of Nature. And in that gospel, there is no devil. There is no Good or Evil, there is Male and Female.

When a shark comes up from the deep to eat a baby seal, it's not evil, it's hungry. It takes no perverse sadistic pleasure in the death of the seal, save perhaps for the taste. But when that great white come up from the deep after you, it was SATAN HIMSELF come to claim your soul!!!

It is our perception, that makes things good or evil. What we like is good, what we dislike is baaaaaad. That's "morality, " and nature doesn't do that, we do.

Today a lady was over doing my absolutely gorgeous wife's hair, they were in the kitchen near the sliding class door. Our cat Mojo caught his first bird. It was a unable to fly away but otherwise unharmed. Passing through my wife remarked about the successful hunt, and we watched for a moment as Mojo caught, released and re-caught the bird several times.

We were so proud of Mojo.

But the hairdresser thought that I should go and save the bird. So did the visiting friends of my children. But I never got a chance to say a word. It was my wife who explained to the hairdresser and my daughter who explained to her friends that we don't do that. What the cat did was natural, like the shark. They explained that the catch and release was not a cruel game of torture, but how animals of prey like our saber tooth kitty practice and develop their survival skills.

We do feel bad for the bird, we're humans, we do that. But nature doesn't work that way, and neither do cats. You can take the cat out of the hunt, but you can't take the hunt out of the cat and it would be wrong to try. We acknowledge that a little bird gave his life in service to the Gospel of Nature today, but that wasn't a bad thing unless you're the bird. Or was it?

Either way I am proud of my kids, they have shown me today that they understand and accept the brutal truth. Thank you Lord and Lady for blessing me with children who can teach me about life. Blessed Be.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Rabbit & The Reaper

A few months ago I took part in the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. The topic was sustaining a Pagan communities and I gave a presentation which focused on Rites of Passage.

I made the assertion that if we want to sustain ourselves as a Pagan community, we need to sustain the individuals that make our community. I also made the point that the future of the Pagan community is with our children.

One of my favorite things about Paganism is our holidays. We have more than everyone else and ours are better, IF you take full advantage of them. You get out of Paganism what you put into Paganism.

Twice a month on Sundays, the Mill Creek Pagan Community meets in dedicated space, indoors. The other two Sundays we do outdoor activities. We had been planning our Ostara celebration for a good long while. We were all looking forward to getting back out to the park, we hadn't been there since Samhain.

We always rent an arbor for the Sabbats, complete with a BBQ and potluck. A full moon on a Sabbat is always a good omen and the Super Moon promised some extra juice, we were all looking forward to. We had boiled eggs and coloring kits ready, and a few other things planned.

But to simply say it rained would be an understatement. There was a moment of hesitation, the thought had crossed my mind that all bets were off. But my wife wouldn't hear of it, "We will make it work," and I snapped out of it. One of my favorite quotes is from Hannibal:

"I shall find a way, or I shall make one."

Over a year ago I wrote a post with the spoof title "If you cast it they will come." And as cheesy as it sounds, it has come to pass. Within twenty minutes the phone tree system went into effect, and everyone was successfully rerouted to our normal indoor meeting place.

In the old days, one of the things our Pagan ancestors did to celebrate the rebirth of spring was to kill death. They would parade through town to a bridge, with an effigy of the Grim Reaper leading the procession. Then they would throw him in the river, throw flowers and sing farewell hymns to him. We have a nice full creek running right by our arbor and a bridge to throw of Grim Reaper off, but that was at the park. So we passed around his sickle, each person took a turn charging the sickle with what they wanted to let go of before crossing the threshold into spring.

Every year I braid Bridget's Belt from fresh mulberry limbs, into a giant wreath. Every year the branches sprout bright green buds just in time, that's how I know its Ostara. One by one each person steps through the porthole into spring then turns to assist and greet the person behind them as if they haven't seen them in years, it's the little things...

As always the food was great, everything from Pizza to stew and lots of Goodies. We are lucky enough to be blessed with to very gifted bakers. Food and friends, that's my favorite part of Paganism, or at least our tradition. The Harald always begins every ritual with: "Hear ye! Hear ye! All those who have gathered here for the noble and glorious purpose of celebration and fellowship..."

Celebration and Fellowship.

I think once we stop focusing so much on candle colors and direction, or degree and titles, and start focusing more on celebration and fellowship, we will have a better chance of sustaining our communities. The phone tree thing works well, even Lepus the Sabbat Rabbit showed up to visit the kids, pass out some candy and pose for a few pictures. He took the Reapers sickle with him when he left, I last saw him heading for the bridge.

Thank you Lord and Lady for all the extra juice.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Pagan, The Press & The Prayer Vigil

One of the events I regretfully missed at Pantheacon this year was the Pagan Leadership Panel. Hosted by Devin Hunter of the Modern Witch Podcast. The panel included Hyperion of The Unnamed Path, Ms.Rabbit Matthews of CAYA, and Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt Blog.

It was an impressive round-table discussion about pagan leadership in the 21st century, and I'm sorry I missed it. But luckily we have YouTube and we can all watch in a series of seven segments.

I found all of the discussion topics relevant and intriguing, I also found the the panelists very intelligent and appreciated their answers and their point of view. Of all the insights, I found in Part Four Jason's answer to dealing with the mundane media really resonated with me. He said what we really need too consider is whether or not we actually need to speak to the media.

I have had more than my 15 seconds of fame being in the local papers and on the news once or twice, but when I have been contacted my immediate response has always been concern. The panel validated my concerns during their discussion, and I found these concerns validated yet again in light of the Charlie Sheen Vs. The Warlock fiasco. Because when we speak publicly as Pagans, we end up speaking for Pagans, wither we want to or not. This is not a responsibility I want. So when I do speak publicly, I try to focus more on my Chaplaincy rather than my Pagancy.

This past Wednesday I was contacted by an enthusiastic community organizer who was trying to manifest an interfaith prayer vigil ad hoc. He explained what he was trying to do and asked if I would be willing to speak publicly on the matter along side other religious community leaders. I told him I needed to conform my availability and would call him back shorty. I knew my availability, but didn't want to make an ad hoc decision because there would be media coverage. I sough counsel before calling him back and agreeing to participate.

We met face to face later that day, and after meeting him and talking more in depth about the vigil, I felt very confident about the event and my participation in it. The speakers included a local Baptist minister, a Sihk community leader, a Catholic priest and your friendly neighborhood Wiccan WitchDoctorJoe. But fortunately I was introduced as a Minority Faith Chaplain and managed to squeeze a piece of that into my speech:

As a combat veteran I served my country for almost ten years. During my time in service I was deployed to many foreign countries and experience many different cultures. I took those opportunities to explore those cultures and their religious beliefs and practices. While I recognized many differences, I also identified many similarities.

For the past three years I have served my community as a religious volunteer, working with the California Departments of Corrections and Department of Mental Health. I serve these agencies as a Minority Faith Chaplain. And usually when I introduce myself as a “Minority Faith Chaplain,” most people are prompted to ask what exactly that is.

Currently the State of California only employs chaplains for five mainstream or “majority faiths,” which are categorized as Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Native American. My purpose is to assist state facilities with the religious accommodations of everyone else, the “Minority Faiths.”

This purpose continues to provide me with opportunities to explore a broad range of religious beliefs and practices, where I continue to identify those differences and recognize our similarities. The similarity I find most inspiring is our humanity.

In all the countries I’ve been to, all the religious beliefs and practices I have experienced, the single greatest commonality is the focus and topic of prayer. I recognize that despite the diversity of our religious pluralism, we’re all praying for the same things. We all pray for prosperity. We all pray for the health and safety of our family, friends and community.

We share these prayers because poverty, sickness, disease and disability does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race or religion. Therefore, nether can we. We are obligated by our humanity as well as our faith to provide care for those who are in need of it. We have a covenant, we have a contract.

In these unstable economic times our federal, state and local leadership is faced with a budget crisis which is forcing them to make some difficult and challenging decisions, decisions which affect us all. Decisions which could potentially cut funding to essential services that provide vital and necessary care to the poor, the sick and the disabled.

Not only would these cute affect my family, my friends and my community; they would affect the clients in my care. I am a fourth generation care provider. For over fifty years my family has operated residential care facilities for the developmentally disabled. I have shared my childhood with them and they have had a significant influence in shaping the man I have become.

They are amazing human beings, but many of them do have the opportunity for gainful employment, due to no fault of their own. These cuts would not only affect my ability and capacity to provide residential care, it would also affect their basic health and medical benefits, which would severely diminish their quality of life. A quality of life we have a social contract to provide.

I ask that we all join together in prayer for our leaders. Let us pray that our leaders would open their hearts and seek aid and guidance from a divine counsel, let us ask that they would open themselves to an indwelling of compassion for those who need it, and for the strength and courage to make wise decisions on our behalf.

Blessed Be.

There was media coverage, the local news station was there to interview all the speakers on the matter, and I got te see myself on the TV again. Thats always cool, as long as its for the right reasons.