Giving Thanks 2015


(These beauties aren’t for eating)

I wrote about Thanksgiving a couple years ago, and I still agree with my sentiments from that time. I believe in the “giving thanks” part of Thanksgiving, even if I don’t support some of the history and traditions.

I am keeping a gratitude journal this month in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. It is a powerful exercise. Even if it is sometimes repetitive. Home, friends, family, health, food, job, culture, freedoms, support – these things show up again and again, and with good reason. The shades of meaning often change as time passes.

This year, as my father becomes increasingly frail and slides further into dementia, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my sister, who is his caregiver and who has made incredible sacrifices to keep him as safe and healthy as possible under the circumstances. I am always grateful for family, but this specific gratitude is central to my mind this year.

If am grateful to my neighbor who allowed me to use his yard for a garden. The experience of working so intimately with the plants that give us life is a pleasure and privilege for me. Living in a city, I’m often disconnected from the source of my food, and I love this opportunity to watch it grow, and to learn how to help it along. I am a beginner in this process, but my neighbor’s help has meant so much to take these steps.

I am grateful for the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, which has given me a spiritual home and made me a part of a community. This year, I was elected to our council, received training to become a celebrant and to aspect and manifest the gods of the order. They have provided mentorship and support and they have added depth and resonance to my spiritual practice.

John Beckett wrote a piece about being thankful for the Pagan community this week. I want to echo that, too. It can be frustrating in its contentiousness, the cluelessness of some parties, the lack of cooperation about important issues, but I’m so glad that the “big tent” Pagan community exists. The very diversity of paths and traditions within this group means that there will rarely be agreement, but the visibility enabled by the combined community gives it strength and holds a beacon to those who seek these paths. It is also a network to rally together when any of us are in need or under attack. It is a source for news beyond the biased and ignorant media outlets.

I am grateful for so many other advantages that I have and positive things in my life. Some days it is hard to remember these when the list of tragedies and threats fill up our minds. But it’s important to take a breath and recall the gifts, the abilities, the strengths, so that we can continue the work of living and helping the world around us.

Respecting Self-Identity

When I was in college, it was a common topic of conversation among my gay and lesbian friends to gossip and guess about which other students were really gay. Since many of us had gone through a coming out process, it was probably a natural part of this to wonder who else was keeping a secret, and who was going to come out next. Certain friends would become somewhat obsessive about a particular person that they were sure was ready to come out. They may have even tried to make friends with them, not from a genuine interest in the person’s friendship, but from a more missionary intention to make them come out.

Another aspect of this was that when a person came out as bisexual, there was an assumption from many people that they were really gay or lesbian and that the bisexual identity was a stepping stone to coming out as gay or lesbian. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that sometimes this idea was true and that in many other cases, people were truly bisexual – attracted to both women and men.

For a while, I was one of the coordinators of our campus gay and lesbian group, which functioned as a combination of support, social, and activist purposes. We often had confidential “coming out” sessions where people came together to talk about their experiences and challenges.

One of the changes that I helped to initiate was the inclusion of Bisexual into the name of the group, and to make sure that those with a bisexual identity were included. I wish we were more aware of trans issues at the time, but it wasn’t on the radar, so to speak, in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

It became clear to me that the habit of speculating and gossiping about whether someone was really gay or lesbian was a useless exercise. We don’t really know what is in someone else’s heart and mind. For me to say that I do know is simply hubris on my part. It is no achievement for me to “trick” someone into coming out. It is my part to respect their identity and respect their process of self-exploration. It is my part to be honest about who I am, and through that maybe communicate that it’s OK to come out. And maybe, if they have it in them, and if they feel comfortable, they can challenge their own identity and become honest with themselves.


It seems that sexual and gender identities are now acknowledged to be far more complex than 25 years ago. There are trans, intersex, and genderqueer identities. There are pansexual and asexual identities. There are different flavors of kink and polyamory. All these variable also interact and intersect with racial, ethnic, class, religious and other cultural identities. It’s not just a question of straight vs. gay, and not even the question of the Kinsey scale. Identity politics today include shifting spectrums in all directions.

And I think my personal lesson about self-identity is as true now as ever. I let people identify themselves. It doesn’t do much good to anyone involved if I am stuck on my understanding of their identity, when theirs is quite different. This will never lead to a relationship of trust or respect. This will never lead to honesty.


We had another instance this week of a Pagan elder who is being called out for transphobia. This has happened periodically in the past few years. A few years ago, there was a stir because a famous Dianic priestess excluded trans women from their women-only event at a large Pagan conference. The trans women were not “women-born women”. Of course this came off as a statement that they were not “real” women, so they were excluded.

This time, a well-known priestess in a Yoruba tradition reacted to this false news story by saying “Bruce Jenner is an old drag queen” and “Bruce Jenner get over your self. You can dress in all the fabric you want and you will never be a real woman.”

I understand the outrage at the derogatory comments about Serena Williams that were attributed to Caitlyn Jenner. It is racist and misogynistic that people insult Serena Williams for not being feminine enough or even calling her a man. She has a woman’s body – the body of a strong, accomplished, athletic woman. The gender-shaming aimed at her in the media is ridiculous.

But the story is false. Caitlyn Jenner never said anything like this. Caitlyn Jenner didn’t claim to be more feminine than Serena Williams. Even after this Elder knew it was a false story, there was no real apology for the personal insults to Caitlyn Jenner and the online comments (in a public Facebook post) were not taken down.

In some circles, there does seem to be a pressure to universally praise Caitlyn Jenner. I am not quite in that camp. She has some political views that I find very problematic. I can’t say that I’m a fan of the type of reality television has kept her in the spotlight over the last number of years. The presentation of her “coming out” as trans was very focused on a change in appearance – one that is the result of expensive surgeries and the best makeup artists, stylists, and photographers that money can buy.

On the other hand, her transformation has brought light to trans issues and identities in a broad cultural context. She has sometimes shown herself to be thoughtful about what a trans identity means to those who don’t have her advantages. A lot of good has come from her willingness to take the spotlight.


But whatever you think of her personally, I come back to my lesson. Caitlyn Jenner has the right to choose and to explore her own identity. It is not our place to second guess it or pretend that we know her identity better than she does. We do not know what is in her mind and her heart.

By calling her by her old name, by calling her a “drag queen” (by definition a man dressing in women’s clothes), by saying she will never be a “real” woman, this Elder asserts that she knows this person’s gender better than she knows it herself.

This lesson is equally true of all people who are exploring and redefining their sexual and gender identity. We must respect others and their process and their identity. We will never arrive at respect if we think we understand better than they do. We will never help them with their own process. We will never encourage honesty and self-discovery.

Can We Find Hope?

I am a few days from my 46th birthday, and some rather unsettling news stories have emerged about my demographic cohort. White Americans aged 45 – 54, in contrast to nearly every demographic group in the US and Europe, have had a significant increase in the death rate in recent years. Much of this has been driven by those with a high school education or less, and admittedly, I don’t fall into that category (I have a bachelor’s degree).

The researchers’ findings indicate a huge spike in causes that sound to me like they are closely related: Alcohol and drug poisoning (accidental and deliberate overdose), Liver failure (likely related to substance abuse) and suicide. People of my age and background have basically given up on reality, the future and – let’s face it – hope.

My earliest political memories are of my parents and other adults talking about “Tricky Dick” Nixon. Distrust of the government is deeply ingrained in many people my age. We’ve been soaked in constant rhetoric about soaring government debt and a fear that the social safety net won’t be in place when we get old. Corporations have now had decades of downsizing, moving jobs to other countries, and slashing worker benefits. Neither government nor employers seem likely to provide a safety net for the years when we will need it.

For many of the people I knew in grade school, family provided no sense of stability or safety. The 70’s were the age of the “latchkey” kids, who came home from school to empty houses while parents were away at work. Parents going through divorce was common, and it often played out in strained and bitter ways. Children today often have “helicopter” parents, who constantly monitor and over-protect their children. Children 35 years ago were often pretty much on their own.

In the last decade, many of the hallmarks of American middle class prosperity have slid into oblivion. Jobs have been harder to come by, and often pay less in real money than they did in the past, particularly for those without higher education. For those of us who bought homes in the early 2000’s, the housing crash gutted the equity, taking a huge bite out of net worth. Ages when we might be eligible for retirement benefits are being pushed back – from 65 to 68 or further. Employers offering pensions are almost unknown today.

Personally, I took a major hit with both income and home value during the most recent recession, and my financial position in 2015 is still far below where it was in 2008. I am in better shape than most, but still, my financial fortunes are not improving, and don’t look likely to do so anytime soon. For those working physically demanding jobs, these prospects must look even dimmer, as age takes its toll on the body and the ability to work will be diminished.

All the things that were supposed to give us stability and prosperity have been sliding away.

Researchers also found a high rate of people in this group reporting constant pain, inability to walk short distances, or socialize with people. Frankly, our quality of life is declining.

So we escape – into drugs, into alcohol, into video games, and TV. The more we escape, the more disengaged we become, and the farther we are from some solutions to make life more fulfilling.

The major news media lies to us to make us angry, reminding us of the “promises” we were fed when we were young and how far we are from those times today. The mass media doesn’t sell empathy – only outrage. And it creates yet another reason to tune out and retreat into our isolated and isolating worlds.

Post-apocalyptic fantasies have been popular for decades now. Mad Max and Terminator are still going strong. Meanwhile Hunger Games-type stories have multiplied and there seems to be a new zombie-infested movie every other week. It seems difficult to imagine a world where the current crises are overcome and a new, sustainable world results. At least to our story-telling mind, our current events will almost certainly lead to a massive disaster and the best we can do is survive.

It’s not at all unusual for my friends to express a desire not to grow old. The idea of not being able to care for yourself, but having no resources or support to depend on is terrifying.

I know a lot of people my age who drink heavily. I’m sure some of them are on their way to join that liver disease statistic. I’m not aware of friends who use heroin, but I know it has become far more common in recent years. I know of many people who don’t take care of their health on the one hand, or people who have serious health issues now and have fairly burdensome health regimes to try to manage it. A heavy regimen of prescription drugs can also lead to liver failure, and pain-killer use is noted as a gateway to opiate abuse.

Perhaps we can say that our group should take better care of their own health, but honestly, poorly educated people don’t have the tools to sort through the nonsense the media feeds them, and the media is full of contradictory and misleading nutrition information. A lot of us live off convenience foods – take out and pre-packaged foods that are high in fat and sodium, low in fiber and micronutrients.

So what is the way out? How do you sell hope to a group that only sees the future as a slide into misery? There’s no golden retirement with golf courses and Caribbean cruises. There’s just working away at a menial job until you’re so sick that someone shoves you into whatever nursing home will take your Medicare and Social Security (if those programs aren’t bankrupt in 25 years).


There are a few pieces of advice for my peers. This is all very imperfect, and every single day, I have to talk myself into this.


Shed Expectations and Entitlements

A big part of why we’re having a rough time, even compared to other groups that are less well off (but still improving), is that we have had expectations set – by parents, by schools, by media.

Supposedly, America won the Cold War and is the world’s only Superpower. We’re supposed to be the wealthiest, freest and most open society in the world. Yet, somehow, incomes are sinking and good jobs are hard to come by. Health care is more expensive than anywhere in the world, but is far from the most effective. We have a massive proportion of our population in prison, and yet we live in the most violent society in the industrialized world.

The country is not on a road to prosperity and we can’t just ride the wave. Resources are shrinking. We depend on finite resources like petroleum, and even though gas prices have eased off the record highs of a few years ago, obtaining fossil fuels will only get more expensive and more environmentally destructive as time goes on. Easily drilled oil is dried up. It only gets harder from now on.

So, let’s be real. The expectation that we’ll live a life better than our parents is gone. What we do with that is up to us. And wasting time moping about how we’re screwed isn’t making anything better.


Build a Better World with Your Own Hands

Learn to cook. Plant a garden. Take up knitting. Do a woodworking project. Take up painting. Build a doghouse. Build a picnic table. Make a quilt. Sew a tote bag. Sew a new shirt. Bake cookies. Learn how to pickle. Learn how to home brew beer.

Make something real and concrete that you or someone you love will enjoy. Do it with your own hands and make it your own. It will probably take practice to get it right.
If you’re more ambitious and/or skilled, fix up your home. Get a do-it-yourself book from the used bookstore and take on a project. And finish it. Take your quality of life into your own hands.


Join Multi-Generational and Multi-Racial/Ethnic Groups

Sometimes, it’s nice to hang around with people who know our pop culture references from childhood, and who know what it was like “back then”. But there’s a huge value in being with people who are older and younger and getting to know their experience. There’s a great value in being with people who have different cultural backgrounds. It gives us perspective about what we have and what we don’t.

Here’s the thing – it’s not valuable if you don’t pay attention to them. Listen. Notice what is different in their perspectives and think about why yours is different. You don’t have to deny who you are or your experience to acknowledge another point of view.

Examples of these kinds of groups are religious and civic groups, volunteer organizations, places where different kinds of people come together for a purpose.


Eat More Vegetables

Seriously, you’ll be happier and healthier. Raw in a salad, roasted, or boiled – they’re full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Try different ones that you haven’t had in years, or that you never tried. Your adult palate may surprise you. Think you hate Brussels sprouts, but haven’t tried them since you were eight years old? Give them another shot. And, if you can, prepare them yourself. Again, it’s part of taking your health literally into your own hands.


Be Outside in Nature

Stop to smell the flowers – literally, smell the flowers. And feel the tree bark. Watch the squirrels. Listen to the birds chirping. Find a park and walk. If it’s windy or a little cold, find a good jacket. If it’s muddy from the rain, bring out your oldest shoes that you’re not afraid to get dirty. It will connect you to the  world that we came from. It provides an experience that no TV or video game can match.


Try a Life-Affirming Religious or Spiritual Practice

Some people meditate. Others try Yoga. Some people try Bible Study. Others volunteer to help those in need. I know it’s not for everyone, but for a lot of people, religious and spiritual practices help their state of mind. I consider myself very lucky to have found a spiritual home in the Brotherhood of the Phoenix.

But without telling you what to believe or what tradition to follow, think of finding one that focuses on now, not that preaches about eternal damnation or waiting for your reward in the beyond. Find a tradition that affirms life, that values our world and the people in it, and strives to improve you and those around you.


Practice Gratitude

Be glad that you have what you do – a home, a family, food, friends. Thank people when they help you. Thank them even if they’re getting paid. Saying those words still means something.

Keep a gratitude journal. This is a great time of year for it, since Thanksgiving is coming up. Take the ten days leading up to Thanksgiving and write about one thing each day that you’re grateful about. A person in your life, an experience that you’ve had, a hobby, a gift – big or small, write it down. Really, this helps. Don’t focus on what you feel life promised you. Don’t focus on what your neighbors have that you don’t. Focus on what you have and know is good and helpful – and feel the gratitude.


I can’t guarantee that any or all of these will pull us out of this spiral, but I hope it’s some kind of basis for hope.


As we say in my tradition,

Ta Kya Te

My Heart is Open to You

A Letter of Encouragement

My college gave me a writing assignment. Yes, I graduated long ago, and it’s not for any college credits. It is meant to be kept in a binder in a resource center for the LGBTQ students, to represent the voices of alumni. Here is more about the request. This is what I came up with, and I thought I would share it here.


October 2015
Chicago, IL

Dear Student,

When I started at Macalester in 1987, it was a long time ago and the world was different for LGBTQ people. It was Reagan’s America, with its great cultural Conservative backlash. AIDS was still a virtual death sentence, with the earliest drug therapies just being approved and having imperfect and mixed results. And I had been teetering on the edge of coming out as gay through high school.

Macalester offered me a soft landing as I came out within months of arriving. There was a supportive and active group for LGB people at the time, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be there during that time of my own growth. For that I am forever grateful.

And I love what has happened since then in terms of the ongoing inclusiveness. I love that Queer, Trans and a whole range of different identities have emerged and been embraced by Macalester. I love that the faculty and staff members with LGBTQ identities are visible and part of the institution. I love that LGBTQ People of Color are more visible and their identities and stories are embraced.

Even though I have never seen one at work, I love the idea of the Identity Collectives, which seem to help people talk through challenges and be supportive of one another while they explore who they are, and especially who they are away from family and interacting with people of different backgrounds.

But with the wonderful things that Macalester can offer, it is still a relatively small community, and one filled with quirky and sometimes awkward personalities. Even on the most supportive campus, you are going to have drama, heartbreak, struggles to feel understood. This is part of the process of figuring out who you are becoming. And that is a beautiful thing.

As wonderful as Macalester can be, there is also the idea there is a Mac bubble and that out in the “real world”, people may not be as accepting. I did worry about that when I was there, and I’m sure many students may wonder about that, too. Maybe you’ve figured out your place at Mac, but what happens when you have to face life beyond that.

First, realize that Mac is real life, at least one version of it. And every place you go from now on will have a somewhat different version of real life, each just as real as the other. Gone are the days when everyone had to fit into a mold of getting a job, getting married, and having children to have a “real life”.

If you teach English in Vietnam or you write a novel while you have two part-time jobs to pay the rent, if you go to graduate school or start your own small business, if you work at Whole Foods or Dunn Brothers, if you become a stock broker or a school teacher – these are all “real life” and every one comes with certain advantages and certain challenges. Living on your own, living with a roommate, moving in with the love of your life – these can all be great and they can be a royal pain to deal with.

But my point is, as heavy as it may be after Macalester, you will be the one making the choices – where to live, where to work, what goals are important now, and which ones can wait. Those big decisions force a thousand other smaller ones.
Macalester experience will help you with the process of thinking certain things through. You will be able to recognize when friends or organizations are really committed to diversity or environmental responsibility and when they’re just giving these issues lip service. And hopefully, you will be able to find friends and colleagues who will recognize and support who you are and who you want to become. They are really out there, sometime in the most unexpected places.

When I was a student, I was sometimes socially awkward, often angry, and even went through a couple major depressive episodes. At times, I blamed Macalester for this, or perhaps for not helping me out more than they did. It certainly is true that the mental health resources that the students have today may have benefited me, and they were not in place back then.

Now, in my mid-forties, I consider myself to be in a good place. I have lived in Chicago for over 20 years now, and it wasn’t until I had been here almost 10 years that I found a group of friends as funky and smart, creative and open-minded as the people I knew at Macalester. Maybe I should have been better about holding onto those wonderful Macalester people, but I had to go and figure out parts of myself first before I really appreciated what I had there and what I left behind.

Macalester people may be really different from you, but for the most part, they will take the time to actually listen when you bring a perspective that is different. Appreciate that while you are there, and when you connect with Macalester people after you have moved on to your next place, because believe me, you will find that in many places in our society, people won’t take the time to really listen.

This was supposed to be a letter of encouragement. I hope that it works to encourage you, in some small way, to appreciate what you have at Macalester and to not be afraid of what comes next. My years since Macalester have been filled with things I never would have imagined when I was a student. My career, my main relationship, my friends, and my hobbies are not at all what I might have pictured, but on most days, I count myself happy and lucky.

All my best,

Pagan Spiritual Paths and Men Who Love Men – An Update

A while ago, I wrote a blog post called “Pagan Spiritual Paths and Men Who Love Men” and it has continued to get some slow but steady traffic over time. I looked at it again and figured it was time for an update, to refresh and expand the information provided there. I’m glad that people are finding this information and hope that it is a helpful, if brief, guide to some of the organizations available in this corner of the Pagan world.

In many cultures, there are religious traditions that incorporate deities and worship practices that involve same-sex attractions and relationships, gender-bending, gender switching and many other ideas that we would today label gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or transgender. In ancient Greece and Rome, powerful gods had sexual appetites for conquests both female and male. Zeus/Jupiter was most famous for this, but this was also true of Apollo, Dionysos, and other gods. This, in itself, doesn’t tell us much. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered same-sex attraction a fairly normal appetite, and the gods reflected this.

Many cultures throughout the world have a phenomenon more like the example of Tiresias of the Greeks. Tiresias was the famed blind seer who switched from a man to a woman for 7 years. This gender-switching gave him a unique and powerful perspective: a power to see a more complete picture of the world and of humanity. The Greeks and Romans also had a transgender or, perhaps more accurately, intersex god called Hermaphroditos (Greek) or Hermaphroditus (Latin).

In cultures from the Americas and Africa, from the Ojibwe to the Dogon, gender non-conforming people were considered to have a sacred role, particularly when it came to their connection to the deities and to the other world. They often took seer or shaman-like roles. In Asia Minor and India, there are examples of male devotees dressing as women, sometimes even removing male genitals, all in order to bring their bodies and behavior in closer alignment with a worshipped goddess.

Christopher Penczak has an article here on “Gay Gods” and he recommends Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit. I have not yet had the chance to read this book, but it looks like a great resource on this topic. As an aside, he also has a book about LGBTQ people within Wicca called Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe.

I think it’s difficult to fit some of these beliefs and practices from different times and places into modern understandings of religion and gender. It’s very tricky to try imposing modern Euro/American cultural understandings of concepts like sexual and gender identity on cultures where the thinking on these subjects is so different. But LGBTQ people do find certain inspiration/reflection of paths that may be open to them.

As neo-paganism emerged in Europe and America in the 19th and 20th centuries, many paths creating new traditions such as Gardnerian Wicca were focused on fertility magic that revolves around strictly defined male and female roles. They can have a dualistic God/Goddess pantheon and women and men are assigned to enact only the deity corresponding to their gender in rituals. Same sex relationships were irrelevant at best and sometimes looked at with some hostility.

Since the 1970’s, a number of Pagan paths and groups have emerged with men who love men in mind. The Minoan Brotherhood emerged in the 1970’s as a deliberate reaction against the heterosexism in Paganism and Wicca. They follow a path for men loving men inspired by ancient Cretan traditions. They have expanded into chapters in a number of cities and also there is a Minoan Sisterhood, created as a related organization for women.

Brotherhood of the Phoenix is a Chicago-based neo-pagan order for men who love men. I have been initiated into the Outer Order as a Brother, and I have found incredible value from this group, both in their public rituals and education and with the deeper learning that continues after initiation. Like the Minoan Brotherhood, this group has formed to be a spiritually affirming force for gay, bisexual and transgender men.

The Unnamed Path is another path for men who love men that has emerged in past few years. Founded by Hyperion, a charismatic leader steeped in Hoodoo and Santeria, this group continues his legacy and following the Shamanic path that he established. They are based in Southern California and host a gathering called Stone and Stang.

I just recently learned about a Thelemic order for gay and bisexual men based in Dayton Ohio called Ordo Aeternus Vovin. They are the hosts of a major festival called Coph Nia (see below).

Another interesting development has been the worship of Antinous, the “gay god”, reclaimed from Egyptian/Roman tradition. In life he was the lover and partner of the Emperor Hadrian, but due to the manner of his death (drowning in the Nile), he was deified. In the late Roman Empire, his worship spread throughout the Europe, the Near East and North Africa. The Ekklesia Antinoou or Via Antinoi has emerged as a revival of the worship of this god. A key figure in this revival has been P. Sufenus Virius Lupus. The group does not limit worshipers to men who love men (or even to men), but is open to all. That said, it is clearly another emerging tradition that affirms a men-loving-men perspective.

A big part of neopagan culture for the past couple decades, especially in the United States, is the festival culture. These festivals provide gathering places for people to come together to share rituals, learn from one another, listen to music, share stories and to generally be together in a place that is away from the mundane cares in their daily lives. A few of these festivals are geared toward pagan men who love men.

Between The Worlds is an annual gathering for men who love men in southern Ohio that started in 2002. It takes place in a campground for 5 days and embraces many different Pagan traditions.

Coph Nia is an annual mystical gathering for gay and bisexual men held in Pennsylvania. It is also a 5-day festival held in a campground that includes those from many different traditions within the Pagan community.

Gay Spirit Visions is an organization that encourages spiritual exploration for men who love men. They host several gatherings each year in North Carolina. They are pagan-inclusive, but not pagan identified.

Easton Mountain is a retreat center in rural New York state which hosts retreats and workshops for gay men (and others) often with spiritual themes. They are also pagan-inclusive, but not pagan identified.

Many other more recent neo-pagan traditions have become more welcoming to diverse sexual identities, especially those that emerged from the feminist spiritual movements of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The Reclaiming tradition is certainly welcoming to diverse sexual identities and even Druidry and traditional Wicca have become more open around these issues. As Paganism can be particularly attractive to women who sought out an opportunity for representations of the divine feminine, so it is for LGBTQ people who seek a reflection of their own sexual and gender identities.

There are many great resources such as blogs and podcasts that are created and hosted by pagan identified men who love men (and of course, some that are well, you know… it’s the internet). Trying to create a list would be a huge project which is beyond the scope of this post. In the meantime, if you’re looking for that kind of resource, just reach out, I’m happy to recommend some.

What is ours to give?

Many pagan and polytheist practices are based on offerings to gods and goddesses and practitioners have many different traditions in making offerings to their deities. One aspect of my path lately is an interest in devotional rituals – a practice based on giving something to a god or goddess. I love the process of researching what foods and herbs are associated with a deity, what colors to use for candles and altar cloths, what incenses to burn and what drinks to use to pour libations.

I have also been interested in a certain anti-Capitalist bent within certain corners of Paganism and Polytheism. There is actually a wonderful website called Gods & Radicals with this very theme. They have collected a talented group of writers who post there and the content is often thought-provoking and challenging.

So my thoughts have been wandering down these paths and they have come to an interesting intersection, one that brings up many questions.

In Marxist thought, the capitalists are the owners of the means of production – both in terms of raw materials and of machinery, factories, etc. The workers supply their effort, their Labor. The raw materials are transformed by the labor of the worker and the worker increases the value, the usefulness of the material. The raw grain becomes bread. The cotton bales become a shirt. To grossly simplify, one of Marx’s critiques of Capitalism is that the worker’s labor is owned by the Capitalist, since they own the final product, and the worker is not given a fair share of the increase in value that the labor provides. Marxists advocate for a shared/collective ownership of the means of production, so that workers can have a more meaningful benefit from the increase in value, and there’s no cut “off the top” for the Capitalist just because they own the factory/machinery/raw material.

When we challenge the ingrained ideas of personal property, as anti-capitalists do, we arrive at some questions about what and how we give a offerings to a god or goddess when our ownership of an object is conceptually suspicious. If the people whose labor has gone into a product were not fairly compensated, is the product really ours to give to the gods?

Is it “ours” if we have reserved it for our personal use? When we share a bit of a meal we’ve made for ourselves and our family, that seems like we are giving of something that is truly our own. But what if that meal is something that was just warmed up from a package purchased at the grocery store? We may not even know where the food was grown or what mystery additives it contains. Is this an acceptable offering to our deity?

If we have put our own work into it, does it then become our own? If we have carved a statue or woven a cloth, if we have grown a meal in our garden or cooked it ourselves, if we painted the picture or made the corn dolly – are these truly our own? Intuitively, it seems right and these seem like fitting offerings. They are from ourselves and not a gift that we have simply taken from someone else.

Then there are more abstract sacrifices – prayers, habits, meditations, speaking up for a cause, giving healing energy. It’s easier to say that we own these things. When give an action rather than giving an object, it is easier to say that it comes from our self. The gift to the god is not borrowed or stolen from another. It is clearly our own to give.

To me, live animals are not objects – they are conscious beings that think, feel pain and exist for their own purposes. So how could I conceivably give the life of an animal to a deity? It’s not mine to give. Even the act of taking a life does not mean I have ever owned it – I have only destroyed it. I know that in many traditions, the killing of an animal is the most valued offering, but to me I can only give it if I have stolen it – it is never truly mine to give freely.

Sometimes a god or goddess asks for something specific or has a particular traditional affinity for a particular kind of offering. If we do not make it ourselves, but we go out of our way to acquire it, if we use our money we have earned through labor in exchange for this offering – is this sufficient to make it our own gift to the deity?

In our culture money is supposed to be a stand-in for value we’ve earned, but often it doesn’t take much to realize that’s not true. We can buy things on credit card debt. We can gain and lose money through the almost hallucinatory trading of commodities, stocks, options, bond, derivatives and derivatives of derivatives. Fortunes are gained and lost on trading bubbles and market fluctuations that have nothing to do with anything we have earned. Money is increasingly abstract, and unrelated to actual work. If something is bought on credit, inherited from another, gained through a financial trick – is that something that is worthy to offer to a deity?

This is a wandering set of questions without many definite answers. I am still working it through in my own mind. But it is not a subject I hear discussed very often. I would love to know other people’s thoughts on this, particularly if your practice includes devotions and offerings.

Chicagoland Pagan Pride 2015


This past Sunday was the Chicagoland Pagan Pride event at Pleasant Home/Mills Park in Oak Park. Oak Park is a leafy suburb just west of Chicago known as the place where Frank Lloyd Wright started his career and Ernest Hemingway grew up. The park itself is in a turn-of-the-last-century mansion with a surrounding garden. There has been a Pagan Pride festival in Chicago since 2002. There’s more about the history of the event here.

The event has grown significantly even in the years since I have attended. There are hundreds of people who attend and dozens of vendors. There are several entertainment stages and several workshop spaces. In addition, a rotating list of local pagan groups host the opening and main rituals. I participated in the main ritual last year, led by Earth Traditions, and my own tradition of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix is scheduled to lead the opening ritual next year.


There is also a service aspect of this festival in the form of a food drive, which is donated to a local food bank. There is no other admission charged – just the encouraged donation.

When I first attended a number of years ago, I went to see Terra Mysterium perform. They are a theater troupe whose show I had enjoyed, and I very much wanted to see them perform again. I hardly knew anyone, and felt quite apprehensive. I’m not a fan of crowds, and didn’t really have any sense of my place in the Pagan community at that time. Now that I’ve been involved with the Brotherhood of the Phoenix and The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment, I knew a lot of people at this event.


One of the main reasons I went this year is because one of the members of the Brotherhood was doing a workshop on our unique cosmology. George, our Herald, did a great job explaining some of the emergent philosophy that has come out of our tradition, and the group reacted well to the presentation, particularly the guided meditation/visualization.

Visualizing cosmology as a kind of landscape is powerful tool. It allows us to see and feel abstract concepts and bring underlying structures to light. It’s empowering to think about these ideas and to try to understand and shape our conceptions of the structure of life and world around us.


I did some “window shopping”, and I now do regret that I didn’t buy a particularly interesting moonstone that I saw. The price wasn’t really in my budget, but I don’t think I’ll have another chance to see that particular one. Well, I do think that there is always another lovely thing in the world that will come across my path, and I don’t need to hoard every pretty thing I see.


There were a number of well-known personalities there. Selena Fox from Circle Sanctuary was probably the most well-known “BNP” (Big Name Pagan). Blogger, artist and teacher Shauna Aura Knight was there and the podcaster Fire Lyte. Unfortunately, I missed the band Cheshire Moon perform, who I have enjoyed in the past. I did have the chance to enjoy several other bands including Secrets of the Beehive and a wonderful Irish folk group.


It was a wonderful day, and it’s a great event, since it brings together a community that is typically so disparate and independent. There are flavors of Wicca, Heathenism and Vodou as well as dozens of other traditions, and people are able to explore and cross-pollinate under the generous shade of those glorious old trees. Bravo to the organizers! May this festival continue for many years.

“Forest bathing” to soothe the soul

The Forest Path

The Forest Path

This August was a spiritually enriching time for me. I took a weekly class with the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, which has given me new experiences and given me tools to enhance my devotion and connection to the Gods of the Brotherhood.

In addition, I have had a garden this summer, due to the generosity of a neighbor who is letting me use his yard. I have profoundly enjoyed this regular connection to the earth, to growing plants, and to the cycle of growth and decay. I am not a great gardener. I am too new at it for that. It’s a skill that takes years to develop. I’ve had a number of successes, though, and the garden has provided me with abundant tomatoes, radishes, swiss chard, and lettuce, as well as some cucumbers, squash, broccoli, peas and carrots. I hope to get cabbage, turnips and kale before the end of the season. Even with a violent hailstorm in the middle of the summer, which was a setback, the garden has been a success on many levels, not the least of which has been deepening my own spiritual connection to the Earth.

In spite of all this, I realized that I have been missing something this year which had been a larger part of my spiritual practice the past few years. I have not been walking in the woods very much.

Where I live is a fairly densely developed urban area and there are not wooded areas in walking distance, aside from the thin strips along railroad tracks and small corners of nearby parks. There are definitely not the kind of wooded areas that are completely out of the visual line of streets, buildings or other signs of human development.

Wild flowers in the woods

Wild flowers in the woods

Fortunately, the County Forest Preserve has areas that are within a half hour drive from where I live. Many of them are along the branches of local rivers (the Chicago River, the Des Plaines River), so they are riparian forests. The terrain around here is fairly flat, and we are prone to periodic heavy rain storms so many of these are managed wetlands and flood plains. There are also prairie preserves, but I have to say that the prairies never speak to my soul the way that forests do. Prairies are fascinating and alive, but they don’t calm me and envelop me the way a cool, green canopy does.

North Branch Chicago River

North Branch Chicago River

I believe in the intrinsic value of wild places, but I also believe in their profound value to humans and animals. Obviously, they harbor and encourage a biodiversity of plant and animal life far beyond what developed areas have. They allow natural processes of decay that nourish the soil and encourage new life. They are vital for cleaner air and cleaner watersheds.
Exposure to wooded areas also provides specific benefits for humans. Research for this has been conducted in Japan, where they have a practice called Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) that is prescribed as a stress-reduction therapy. We are creatures of nature and even though we have adapted to life in cities where nature is mostly excluded and very tamed, we have great benefits when we see, smell, hear, and feel natural places from time to time.

Skokie Lagoons South - Cook County Forest Preserve

Skokie Lagoons South – Cook County Forest Preserve

I was drawn to a specific place this weekend to go for a walk in the forest. It’s north of me, along the North Branch Chicago River. In a certain sense, it’s a place that has been shaped by human hands, since my favorite stretch of trail is along a levee next to the river, and the river is controlled by a series of dams just north of there. On one side of the river is a paved trail, which is extremely busy with bicyclists on warm days, and sure enough, that trail was a constant swarm of people is plastic helmets whizzing past on brightly colored metal contraptions. I think biking is great, but it’s not exactly a great way to connect with the Natural surroundings.

Wild Flowers

Wild Flowers

On the other side of the river is the levee with a gravel trail on the top. These trails are far less used, so I can take my time and really look at the trees, the river, the different plants, and if I’m lucky, the animals that cross my path. The forest is a soothing canopy of green, but it’s also so much more to it. There are wild flowers of various shapes and colors. There are tree barks that range from almost black to silver and green. The shapes of leaves and textures of barks vary widely. Sometimes vining plants wrap around trees, adding interesting patterns and making me wonder if the trees mind this extra burden. Fallen trees are a bonanza of gorgeous mosses and lichens, mushrooms and other fungus in wonderful shapes and colors. This time of year, duckweed covers the river, and I might catch sight of a ducks and even an egret. I hear birds calling in the trees and squirrels and chipmunks rummaging through the fallen leaves. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to see deer.

The river through the trees

The river through the trees

This is all magical to me. It fascinates me and nourishes me. And I wonder why I don’t live in a place where I can have this closer to my home. Why do I live my life in a way that is so removed from this?

A shock of red - an early sign of Autumn?

A shock of red – an early sign of Autumn?

At home, I may see squirrels and songbirds in my neighborhood, but I’m just as likely to see scavengers like rats or gulls picking through trash. It’s not exactly the same kind of wildlife. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things about where I live. It’s a neighborhood full of cultural diversity and cultural resources. It has good access to public transportation, and it’s close to Lake Michigan. It’s also more affordable than many parts of the city. But it is missing this experience of a connection to nature.

Wild flowers along the river

Wild flowers along the river

I can almost forget how much this kind of connection means to me sometimes. If I don’t get my shinrin-yoku for a while, I don’t remember how fantastic I feel afterward. And frankly, that’s a sad thing. I need to remember to keep this as a part of my life.

The Place of the Gods

I have been reading an interesting exchange of posts between John Beckett and John Halstead on Patheos Pagan, and today I read a post by Mark Green of Atheopaganism in response to this.

John Beckett: “The Future of Polytheism: Keeping the Gods at the Front”

John Halstead: “If It Doesn’t Help Me Save This World, I Don’t Want Your Polytheist Revolution”

Mark Green: “Castles in the Air”

John Halstead and Mark Green represent an atheistic branch of Paganism. They value the Earth-centered approach to Paganism and they think of Gods and Goddesses as mere ideas, or perhaps archetypes. On one hand, I have some understanding of this point of view. I did go through a phase of a kind of Pantheism myself a number of years ago, but where I am today, and with the experiences that I have had, I am having a hard time understanding how this view has religious value.

Let me explain what I see as the purpose of religion, and why I have to agree with John Beckett’s point of view that we must put the Gods first when it comes to religion. This does not minimize the problems of the world, the environmental crises, the violence, and the social disparities. These are huge issues that must be addressed. We must focus on them and take action in our own life to save our world. But I believe that is true for people of all religious persuasions and is not exclusive to Pagans and Polytheists.

The purpose of religion is not to provide morality. It can, but I think that’s a slippery project. The whole discipline of Ethics built on Reason (and not instructions from a God) comes directly out of the Polytheist traditions of ancient Greece. I am completely in agreement with the common Atheist saying that if you need the threat of eternal punishment to prevent you from being a bad person, then you are already a bad person.

The purpose of religion is not to provide answers about the afterlife. Again, it can, but I also find this slippery. There is certainly no consensus among Pagans or Polytheists about what happens after death. I don’t think agnosticism about what happens after death is incompatible with Polytheism. My general view is that we should concentrate on the world at hand.

When it comes to morality and afterlife concerns, keep in mind that Polytheists don’t believe that their Gods and Goddesses are omnipotent or omniscient. Their powers are greater than humans and their vision goes beyond what we know, but that doesn’t mean they infallibly know the future or even that they can be trusted in all things.

Religion may foster communities, preserve traditions, provide support to members. All these are great, but they’re not essential or exclusive to religion.

What religion provides – and no other institution provides – is an encounter with the Divine. Not the “idea” of the Divine, but the actual Divine. If you think Gods and Goddesses are “ideas”, you clearly haven’t met one. Anyone who knows a God or Goddess, who has had an actual encounter with one, knows that they are not just an idea. They are individual, unexpected, and specific. Encountering a God is not abstract. It is not really otherworldly. It’s immediate, specific, and real.

To encounter a deity, a power greater than oneself, does not require or imply that the God or Goddess is eternal or otherworldly. Gods and Goddesses can and do die in many Polytheist traditions, and they may or may not be reborn. I have encountered and very much believe in genii loci (spirits of place) in beautiful natural places. I encounter them in forest preserves and lakes not too far from my home. If these places were destroyed, bull-dozed, polluted, paved over, I think these spirits would be gone. There’s nothing in a parking lot to nourish them, and they would no longer exist there. They are immediate and of the world, and my concern with preserving natural places and the larger environment is absolutely one with my concern for them. This is not “other-worldly”.

I happen to have had many other encounters with Gods and Goddesses, and this is what keeps me connected to my religious path. It seems to me that atheist Pagans miss the most essential part of being a part of the religion (or the religious tent) of Paganism. If the Gods and Goddesses are just “ideas”, then perhaps they can just be dismissed. But if you only encounter them as ideas, you have missed the unique and powerful experience that Polytheist practice can provide.

Polyamory and Polytheism

When I first think of polyamory, like many others, I think of polygamy traditions in Mormonism, Islam and in other cultures. This consists of one man with multiple wives. It seems like the height of patriarchal thinking. The Alpha male gets multiple partners to make his babies and maintain his multiple households. As a feminist, it’s hard to see the appeal of this arrangement. More troubling still, this is often associated with child brides – marriages arranged for young teenage girls (or even younger) with much older men. This is absolutely not consistent with a culture of consent (as I discussed in a previous post).

But there is a different kind of polyamory, or rather, a broader type of polyamory, because it opens up possibilities for many different shapes of relationships. I have been looking into and educating myself about this lately. It is not especially easy to do. Much of the coverage is sensationalized or judgmental in nature, and much of the dynamics of a relationship are considered private by those taking part.

A number of people have referred to Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land as an inspiration for polyamory. I don’t actually know the book, but I do have my own Sci Fi inspiration for a polyamorous model. It was in “Caprica”, the short-lived “Battlestar Galactica” prequel series. We see Sister Clarice Willow (portrayed by the wonderful Polly Walker) at home with her polyamorous family. She is in bed with two husbands and one wife, and there are multiple others in the household. It’s not fully defined. It is just presented as a normal part of the culture – which happens to be a pagan culture. Sister Clarice is, at least on the surface, a priestess of the pagan pantheon and a school headmistress. She appears to be the height of respectability, and this family structure is a part of her respectable life.

I think that there is a certain sense that paganism, and polytheism in particular, are congruent with a polyamorous way of thinking. As we can be devoted to many gods and goddesses, we can be devoted to multiple partners – without diminishing the value of any. I have been observing lately that many Pagans do embrace polyamory.

It seems to be a value to polyamorous people (of this more modern type) that honesty, consent and respect are necessary to make relationships function.

There are multiple structures of relationships with this new kind of polyamory. It may be couples who have open relationships in which each can pursue other partners. It may be a couple that sometimes has a third sex partner with them both. It can be two couples that switch partners. It can be two or more partners involved with one person at the center, as with the traditional polygamy, but without the strict gender definition. It can be a full triad, where each partner is involved with other two. Or, like on “Caprica”, it can be a larger and more complicated structure.

As I follow these possibilities to their logical conclusion, I have to say that I see a definite value and potential in all of these types of relationships if they are handled with respect, compassion and consent. Families with children may be a complication, but frankly having multiple parents in a family seems like it would be a benefit to the children. Child care responsibilities can be shared in a more flexible way. Although I think that most places recognize only two legal parents and that can be a limitation. The moralistic judgments of outsiders can obviously be a problem. Children could be taken away from homes where unusual family structures could be considered “immoral”.

I ended that previous post about consent with a reference to a slippery slope about same sex marriage, and that if we take consent seriously, there is no slippery slope toward pedophilia or bestiality. I do, however, think that polyamory does challenge definitions of marriage in a way that is conceptually similar to same-sex marriage. If a marriage contract is between two consenting adults, is there a compelling reason that it cannot be between three or four consenting adults? Wouldn’t the inclusion and legal acknowledgment of such relationship and family structures provide more security for children and stability for surviving partners?