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.