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.