Thursday, May 31, 2012

K is for Keeping Silent

My last post was about an achievement in our prison ministry, and I received a good n' provocative question regarding my experiences serving as a Minority Faith Prison Chaplain.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
"The link to corcoran prison lists some infamous inmates. Have you ever worked with any of the more noteworthy inmates or celebrities?"

This is a really good question because it gives me the means and opportunity to jump up on my soapbox and shout at the top of my lungs "NO COMMENT!" Why? Because as a professional (volunteer) chaplain I consider it an ethics violation to say yes (if I had) and /or identify anyone, famous or not.

It's funny, just the other day I read somewhere online about some self proclaimed spiritual guidance counselor to the stars, who's made some public claims and dropped some big names. I about chewed my own neck off. I'm normally not one for personal attacks, especially public ones, but what a hack!

To publicly advertize that you're a personal spiritual counselor for [insert insanely famous celebrity name here] for self promotion and validation is pathetic. I suspect serious embellishment, and smell something else.Okay, there, I feel better. Had to vent, and in my defense, I don't do that often if ever. My point being that there are some important legalities such as privileged communication and confidentiality. But moreover there is something else called respect; respect for your client, respect for your craft and the essential self-respect.

I do not in any way mean to exaggerate my role, but prison chaplaincy is not for the faint of heart, and Corcoran State Prison is a high security correctional facility with a significant reputation, so there's not really much room for exaggeration, but this is the big leagues and we take it pretty seriously. I would argue that all those who would shoulder the title and responsibility of Pagan clergy respect their clientele, preserve their privacy, their anonymity and their trust. Because one of  the most powerful and profound things we can do for some people is not talk about them.

Thank you Lord & Lady for my Trap-Jaw. Blessed Be!

PS and for those who were interested in hearing the rest of the Fijian Kava story, I was reminded that I wrote about it back in 2008, you can check it out here.BB

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Good Dry Run & Proof It Can Be Done

I first began this Blog over four years ago as some sort of Journal for my Joe Tarot project. But I spent a lot of time writing about my experiences as a volunteer chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Over the years I have written about Carcer Via Prison Ministry, My Four Swords, another Four Swords, Milestones and Making Milestones and the Many Fruits of My Labors.

But I am both happy and proud to announce the this weekend we finally made our first trip to Corcoran State Prison. We were first contacted late last year and received our Brown Cards this past January. Since then we have been waiting for the administration to approve the our required documentation. And it only took them six months

When I say "our required documentation" I mean the documentation that we as volunteer chaplains require them as a correctional institution to sign. Primarily our Faith Kit Memorandum, which itemizes our required liturgical artifacts. We as clergy have the same rights and benefits as clergy of any other faith. They are allowed to bring in their required religious objects for their services and so are we. But we're not unrealistic about it, its not like we're trying to take an Athame, Boline or other bladed objects inside. Our list of items is minimal and has been approved by other institutions.

During the past six months we have been discussing the possible reasons for the delay. Chaplains from the prison would call every few weeks to set up and schedule our services, we would remind them that we were still waiting on the approval of our Memo, and they would say they would look into it and get right back to us. We must have had that same conversation at least six or seven times and we can only speculate why.

But Temperance and Fortitude have finally paid off. They finally approved our Memo and this past Saturday we provided Pagan interfaith services on two separate yards. The day went off without a hitch. We arrived an hour early in anticipation of the usual complications that usually come with the first visit to a new prison. We have come to call the first one "The Dry Run" because we never expect a dry run to flow fluidly. But flow it did, the paperwork was done and waiting for us when we arrived, our security clarance and brown cards were processed and filed, right when and where they were supposed to be.

On the yard custody staff was friendly and professional. We had absolutely no problems  getting inmates released for service and when the service ran slightly over the scheduled time the correctional staff were patient and respectful. Since it was the first visit, allowances were made. But it wasn't just our first visit, it was the first time Wiccan services have ever been performed by Wiccan clergy at Corcoran State prison. This is a bitter sweet fact as it is frustratingly sad that it took this long for it to happen, much like it took six months to sign our paper. But it did finally happen, it's another small step forward in the fight for religious equality and pluralism, and for that we are both very honored and proud to say once again that we are Proof that it can be done.

Thank you Lord & Lady for Not-So-Dry-Runs. Blessed Be.

Friday, May 25, 2012

K is for Kava

K is for Kava, or rather KK is for Kava Kava. The drink so nice you need to say it twice. Egypt is not normally the country that would come to mind when hearing Kava mentioned, but it is a place of fine memories for me. My first real world deployment while serving with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) was to the Sinai Peninsula. We were part of the Multinational Force & Observers. The MFO is a joined task force composed of twelve military units from twelve different countries.

We were there for the Millennium, and the Big Memo! It's all old news nowadays, but it was a pretty big deal at the time. I worked in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) which is kinda like in the movies when the Generals are in that big control room with all the computers, maps and communications equipment, except in reality it's not actually anything like that at all. It was a very small room only big enough to fit about four at a time, there was a Microwave radio, an antique short wave (that only I knew how to use because of a non related hobby) and a few old rotary phones, one of which was red, and only received incoming calls from [this designation has been intentionally left blank]. What really sucked was having to put up and take down all twelve of those damn flags Not shown in the picture!

We were stationed in South Camp which is nestled between Sharm el-Sheikh and Naama Bay. Which is not really a bad place to be as both of those are primarily tourist traps for divers. South Sinai has a cool coastal reef, which makes for very cool diving. I spent every free moment of time snorkeling along that reef and saw some amazing fish, a few reef sharks, came face to face with a Lion fish which I didn't know could have killed or seriously injured me, saw a HUGE Moray eel, and had a close encounter with a Barracuda, and I'm not ashamed to say I peed a little when it made eye contact with me.

But I wasn't alone. After the Barracuda made me realize how small, slow and tasty I was, I headed to shore to smoke a cigar (Cuban!) and I was followed out of the water by about half the the Fijian Army contingent, who also need to calm there nerves. We sat and smoked, talked about the big fish with the big teeth, then the conversation moved in to tattoos which was inevitable as we all had about twenty different tats each. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew I got invited to their party. That's when I had my first drink of Kava.

I had to admit that the obviously big cheesy grins on those really big huge guys made me a little nervous, but I didn't pee, I swear. The roots were mashed in a giant mortar and pestle that was made in a welding shop. The first drink is always the worst, but it kinda numbs your mouth, tongue and throat a bit, which really makes communication fun and entertaining for everyone! The guys were pounding them out (literally) and I was knockin'em back. I still don't know how many I had after the first five or six glasses, or how I got back to my hooch that night. But I do remember them teaching me this really cool tribal dance where we sit on the ground in a line and play the drums on the back of the guy in front of you. Which is really fun, after a few cups of Kava.

It was a really cool/weird kind of euphoric body drunk, but my mind was still crystal clear. I remember having so much trouble trying to turn on a light switch. It was like holding a 2x4 between your neck and shoulder like the original hands free phone pose, try to turn on a light switch that sometime! Whats most remarkable was the clarity of what I DO remember. Those deep, profound, spiritual and philosophical talks that we all have when we're drunk, yeah not only did they actually make sense, I still remember them to this day. Perhaps that's what my second K post will be, a Part Two, and I pull a Paul Harvey, and tell..............the rest of the story.

Thank you Lord & Lady for Diplomatic Relations. Blessed Be.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

J is for Junxit

J is for Junxit, which is Latin for Unity. If you Google it, it will come up in numerous hits regarding Latin mottos, most notably: virtus junxit mors non separabit (whom virtue unites, death shall not separate). 

But as I've said before, we commit blasphemous acts in our Tradition such as giving new meaning to old words. But to be fair, these terms with their new assigned correspondences are only used within the Tradition. And in truth the terms keep their original generalized meaning, we have just attached a very specific context which is relative to our Tradition. 

While junxit continues to mean unity, we use it to infer a very specific kind of unity. The Judgement card is an excellent allegorical illustration of that unity: There are those who have heard the great trumpet sound and have been resurrected or awakened from a state of spiritual death or unconsciousness. They have risen from the caskets of dogmatic theology and they rejoice in their new ecstatic state.

Thank you Lord & Lady for the wake up call. Blessed Be.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

J is for Jousting

Recently I realized that I have lived an extraordinary life, so far,  in a relatively short time. A few days ago there was a discussion on Facebook about Lilith, and in one of my responses I shared the fact that I have actually been to the ruins of Babylon, climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, Swam in the Red sea and been to the Great Pyramids.

My parents said they have never been surprised by any of the things I have done as an adult because of what I did as a boy. Climbing to the absolute top of every tree I could find, cliff diving and the like, all of which my Mother strongly asserts were designed to gray her hair. But in my defense, I grew up in the back woods of California, with 500 acres of hills and forest for a backyard, what was I suppose to do?

One of the cool things back wood boys did for fun in those days was Jousting. We would steal acquire long white thin plastic tubing used for irrigation and such, and head up to the "Lane," which was a straight and wide open length of trail up in the back wood.

Most of us had dirt bikes, and we all left the yard wearing our helmets, but usually ditched them once we hit the trails. Jousting was the one time we always wore them. Of all the Full Contact Sports, Jousting is the most brazen. There is no where to hide. There is no way to avoid contact, accept not to play. There are factors of strategy, but in the end it simply boils down to two factors: How hard of a hit you can Give & How hard of a hit you can Take. It is a test of both mental and physical endurance, and I learned a lot about myself in those woods.

I still find myself Jousting now and then, but when I do it's not on a horse or my Harley.  No, nowadays I tend to go Tilting at Windmills. Not of purpose of course. Its not in my nature to be mean for the sake of meanness, but if provoked I can get pretty aggressive pretty quick. A lot of that is PTSD, I have been working on it for years now and I have made great improvements. The Tarot had a big hand in that, and so did this blog. I haven't benefited from reading nearly as much as I have benefited from writing.

But every once in a while I find a rare jewel of profound words. Recently I came upon a small treasure trove of wisdom. For several months now I have been following Buddhist Boot Camp on Facebook. Timber's daily posts have always been inspiring and have had a noticeable influence on my attitude and perspective. So I was happy to hear that he published an eBook which I strongly recommend here! I  found the chapter on Anger to be particularly insightful and has shed some light on my Windmills.

Thank you Lord & Lady for the Helmet. Blessed Be.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I in for Inclusion

It never fails to amazing me when I shuffle through my Rider deck I always find a card to illustrate the topic of my post. Over the years I have appropriately use a single card for a variety of topics. As they say Context is King. Given that the general topic of this post is LGBT, I had no problem selecting the Ten of Cups based on the prominent rainbow and the happy traditional family, but on a whim I decided to make a slight alteration to the scene. I like to think of it as an advocacy poster for the LGBT Magical Community. 

A few weeks back I received an email inviting me to a gathering of community religious leaders to hear Dr. Caitlin Ryan speak on The Critical Role of Families in Reducing Risk & Promoting Well-Being for LGBT Children & Youth. Dr. Caitlin founded the Family Acceptance Project. The event was held at the Congregation B'Nai David (Jewish Temple). I was honestly surprised to be included on the list of invited religious leaders and don't exactly know how I got on the list at all.

When members of our Tradition act, perform or appear publicly as representatives of our Tradition, we have a dress code. So I attended in uniform. It is common to be mistaken for a Catholic priest, but while socializing around the refreshment counter someone asked if I was from the Armenian church. I said no, that I was from "Mill Creek" And the nice lady whom I have never met said, "oh you must be Chaplain Nichter, right?" Someone else said, "oh aren't you the Wiccan priest who does the prison ministry?" Shaking hands, I confirmed this, and another person told me that he thought it was really good that I was there. I still don't know any of these people, or how they know me, but I was happy to be known, and very happy to be included.

The talk Dr. Ryan gave was both academically impressive and emotionally persuasive. She spoke about (homo)sexuality and sexual identity in children. Not about when they came out as an adult, but about how they began to realize they were different both before puberty and when they first started having those special feelings. This usually takes place before the age of ten. She spoke categorically about how the families reacted, and then statistically about the relationship between family reactions and suicide rates. She spoke about the critical difference between acceptance and support. She spoke to conservative religious leaders about how to support without condoning or condemning. This was a big issue and a great discussion. It was a great speech from a great speaker and I was honored to be included.  Two of our four children are gay, and it was sad to hear that my wife and I fell into the smallest category of responses: complete acceptance and celebration.

I have always admired our Pagan community for being so inclusive to LGBT, it has always been such a normal presence at all our events and I am very proud of that. But seeing and hearing how adversarial so many people are, I realized how awesome we are as parents and how awesome we are as a Pagan community.

Thank you Lord & Lady for including so much diversity. Blessed Be.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I is for Infusion

The major portion of our second degree craftwork is called the Fuscina, which means trident or tri-tip, what we refer to as the "Third Fold."  It consists of thirteen grades, each grade in composed of a task (homework) and a project (more homework). One of those grades deals with infusions, and that's what we're working on today kids!

During the aforementioned Medicinal Plant Hike with the Good Doctor, I eagerly asked him where I could locate some Plantago Major. I have been on the lookout for Plantain ever since the day I moved here eight years ago this July. The reason being that I learned a valuable lesson about plantain back in my Army days. After considerable Conservative Evangelical Red Tape I was able to take my Pre-scheduled and Pre-approved leave in order to attend the annual Sun Dance. I hitched a ride with the Pipe Carrier I was squiring for at the time and lived out of my ruck sack and military issued field gear the whole time I was there.

It was during that amazing spiritual pilgrimage that I received the blessings of time, attention and wisdom from one of my greatest teachers. It was then that among other things, I was taught the medicines of the local plants, plantain being one of them. We were talking about my impending return to the Army and how my unit and lots of creepy crawly critters would be out in a month long Field Training Exercise waiting for me. It was then that I learned about the Magic of Plantain. It keeps the critters off. I mean, no chiggers, no ticks, no mosquitoes, and even the flies alter the trajectory to avoid you. I was the ONLY man in my unit to never suffer a single insect bite throughout the entire training exercise.

So needless to say I have made a habit of keeping my self well versed and well vested with my good friend Mr. P. Major whenever I relocate. But have yet to find it around here. Its like an Urban Legend every time the subject comes up, someone knows where some is, but can't seem to actually find any. So when I was face to face with the Good Doctor he turned me on to a local park where "it really thrives."

Thrives my ass. We spent half the day there and to no avail. But the trip was not a total loss, We found a large deposit of Wormwood, Jimson Weed (am I the only one who thinks the lilies in the Rider deck really look like Jimson Weed?) and Bitter Dock. Bitter Dock is said to be the next best thing, and we shall see. We left the Wormwood till the Mid-summer and harvested a nice large bushel of Bitter Dock (in perfect season). Brought it home, and Mama processed and jarred it. Tomorrow we'll get a nice bottle of 80% proof and My Wife will start her first Tincture! It takes six weeks so it should be ready in time for a summer test. I get to be the Guinea Pig.

Thank you Lord & Lady for Natures Little Pharmacies. Blessed Be.

H is for Herbalism

A while back I read an article online about Ten Things To Do to Get Ready to Join a Coven. Along those lines there are lots of subjects one could (should) study in order to improve the quality of their Craftwork. Subjects that don't actually have anything to do with Witchcraft.

Herbalism is one the the top five on my list. We all have or have read books on Witchcraft that tell you to use Lavender for love or Ginger for money, but what works for common acne? (witch-hazel) I first mentioned medical herbal Craftwork in this post back in 2008, and again in Carcer Via where I share the Magical and Medicinal relationship of Bitter Dock and Stinging Nettle.

I learned that lesson while living in Portland, OR. and serving in Americorps, which is a domestic peace corps. Our particular division was EnviroCorps, and we focused in wetlands conservation and restoration. It was some of the hardest physical labor I've ever done, and I was in the Army almost ten years. But it was some of the most rewarding. I produced a planting plan, implementation plan, and management plan for the Blue Lake wetland which is still there today. That's Magic.

But learned the local plants. I learned them by Genus and Species, as well as their legend and Lore. I learned how the local indigenous used them. For example,  I learned how to make cordage out of nettle that has a tensile strength of over a hundred pounds. That's Craftwork! But a lot of that knowledge does little good so far south. But luckily I Forrest Gumped my way into a Medical Plant Hike at our very own Kaweah Oaks Preserve here is Visalia. I'm quite familiar with the preserve and visit frequently. But this time I was in good company, a local Dean of Sciences, who specializes in Botany and  the Local Indigenous.

I filled a notebook with enough information to fuel my medicinal Craftwork for at least a year and possibly more. My plans are to field test medicinals myself in order to best develop an accompanying SpellCraft. The results will be included in my next book, which should be ready and looking for a publisher in late 2013. (Fingers Crossed)

Thank you Lord & Lady for introducing me to the local WitchDoctor (Ph.D)

Blessed Be.