A Prayer for Restraint

Hear me, powers that inspire human hearts.
Hear me, powers that influence human minds.
Hear me, humans, who control their own hands, who decide what is purchased, what is eaten, what is saved, and what is thrown away.

See the wild forests and prairies
See the savannas and the deserts
See the flowers and the mushrooms
See the grasses and the reeds
See the mosses and the trees
See these beauties and restrain the urge
To chop them down
To plow them up
To spray them with herbicide
To plant monoculture
To pave them over

See the rabbits and the deer
See the wolves and the bears
See the frogs and the lizards
See the eagles and the songbirds
See the beetles and the butterflies
See these beauties and restrain the urge
To shoot them
To trap them
To poison them
To take their food
To destroy their homes

See the mountains and the cliffs
See the hills and the valleys
See the lakes and the rivers
See the marshes and the reefs
See the glaciers and the icebergs
See these beauties and restrain the urge
To explode landscapes for coal
To spill oil onto land and water
To dump toxic mining waste
To poison ground water by fracking
To tip our climate’s fragile balance

Reflections on Paganicon 2018

Paganicon was my first foray into hotel-based Pagan conferences. Overall, it was a positive experience. It took place at the Doubletree Hotel in St Louis Park Minnesota over three days. It included workshops, lectures, book signings, demonstrations and panels. There was a vendor room and two evening entertainment events.

There were something like 750 people in attendance or more. Apparently, the conference has grown in recent years, because they appeared to be at the limit of what this venue could accommodate.

I was very pleased to sit in on a workshop lead by Ivo Dominguez, Jr. on Political Magick. I also had a chance to meet and talk with Ivo afterward. I found him warm and generous, and it was wonderful to meet him in person after years of being connected online.

I had the chance to catch a Sigil Magic Workshop with Laura Tempest Zakroff, which was very inspiring. In spite of the room being packed and a bit overheated, the audience was very engaged. At the end of the presentation, a woman in my row turned to her companion and said “I can do this!” That’s pretty great praise for an instructor.

I had a chance to sit in on Diana Paxson’s talk on the various natures of Odin. Diana is a very well-known author and was one of the guests of honor. I enjoyed this presentation too, particularly when Diana sang the runes for us.

On Friday evening, there was a performance by SJ Tucker, who put on a great show. She is well known and loved as a performer in the Pagan community so it was no surprise that it was an engaging performance. I particularly liked “La Sirene”, which is not yet on any of her albums.

Saturday night was the Equinox Ball, which featured a fun funk/pop cover band called TTime Machine, as well as a costume contest. Many of the attendees were creatively dressed, in everything from Viking attire to something that looked like Dr. Suess characters. There were kilts, flowy goth dresses, wizard capes, and more than a few sets of horns. Lots of people enjoyed the dancing, and it was a joyful event.

A few general observations:

There were a lot of Heathens in attendance. I don’t know if this is just part of the character of the conference in general, or if this was because several of the featured guests were from Heathen paths. Next year the featured guests will be Druids so I wonder if that balance will change.

A large bulk of the guests appeared to be locals, coming from within a few hours drive of the Twin Cities. Several of the panels that I sat in on had a very localized flavor, to an extent that I felt very much an outsider to the discussion.

They have already announced that they will be moving to a larger venue next year which is good since both the vendor room end the workshop / panel spaces would benefit from more space.

Paganicon Conference 2018

I am diving into the world of Pagan conferences next month when I attend Paganicon

I considered both ConVocation in Detroit and Paganicon, since both locations would be manageable for travel, and I have heard good things about both.I decided on Paganicon, simply because I am more familiar with the Twin Cities.

I am not entirely sure what to expect, but I am looking forward to seeing and hopefully meeting some writers and entertainers such as Ivo Dominguez, Jr., SJ Tucker, Diana Paxson, and Laura Tempest Zackroff. There are also panels and presentations on the schedule that sound promising.

I will share my thoughts on the experience after I attend. If any of my readers are planning to attend, I would love to connect!

The Shape of Water – movie recommendation

The Shape of Water works on many levels. It is an adult fairy tale. It is a dark romance. It is a sumptuous visual feast, with excellent writing and performances. The frankness of the sexuality from the first few minutes tells us this is not a Disney story, and it does not shy away from scenes of bloody violence.

The setting is Cold War-era Baltimore. It takes visual cues from classic Hollywood – from horror like the Creature from the Black Lagoon to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, along with echoes of the Bioshock video games.

But I wanted to highlight a certain theme in the movie, which is of interest to Pagans. Trying not to give too much away, the creature at the center of the plot was brought from the wilderness of South America. The man who brings the creature to Baltimore, a stern paragon of American Imperialist virtue, says the natives worship the creature like a god. So from the beginning we begin to wonder what powers are contained here. And we are not disappointed once we see them in action.

We see the modern reductive reaction to an encounter with something divine – to dissect and destroy in an attempt to understand the new power. But our heroes are open-hearted and open-minded enough instead to the experience of encountering a god and his power.

Guillermo del Toro has beautifully woven in pagan and supernatural elements in his previous movies. Pan’s Labyrinth famously gave us mandrakes prescribed for healing, and a visual feast of fauns and monsters. The Devil’s Backbone was another of his films that is possibly my favorite ghost story – both ominous and beautiful.

I highly recommend The Shape of Water for everyone, but especially for Pagan audiences, who I think will appreciate this magical story.

Update for November

I wanted to pass along some recent developments and upcoming events.

Fellowship of the Phoenix continues to be my biggest spiritual project. In many ways, we are still digesting our recent changes.

The most visible change from the outside is the opening our order to LGBTQ+ people of all gender identities, and that process has worked surprisingly well. A number of members who had questions and reservations about those changes have remained connected and are working through their own process of acceptance.

We’ve also been going through some internal structural changes that are less visible to those outside our organization. Some of the internal hierarchy has been dismantled, and hopefully this will free the channels of engagement. This has provided some challenges to me, as a leader within the group, as I figure out what my role is in the new structure, and as I help others to understand their own roles – and what opportunities the changes afford.

Ultimately, I think we’re on the right track, though, and I’m really pleased with the way we’re embracing changes. There seems to be more freedom and energy coming into the organization, and I hope this trend continues.

 

So, I want to share a few upcoming Fellowship of the Phoenix events. In Chicago, November 18th, we will have our ShadowDance event. One of our clergy members is Rev. Chris Allaun, who just had his second book come out on the subject of the Underworld and Ancestor work. He will be hosting a workshop on the topic and leading the ritual. As usual, it will be followed by a potluck.

More information is here:

ShadowDance 2017 – Chicago

 

Outside my role in Fellowship of the Phoenix, I am also taking some personal initiative to connect magical Queer people. I have created a Queer Magic Bazaar on November 16th.
From the event page:

“Queer Magic Bazaar is an event for Queer Magicians, Witches, Pagans, Occultists, and all those with interests in related topics.

This is a meetup for interested parties and a chance to make connections in our community. From beginners to adepts – be welcome to this gathering!

There will be vendors with magical items, divination, and other things you just may fancy.”

This is my first venture into creating this kind of event, so I’m hoping for a good response. There has been a lot of interest on Facebook, at least.

Queer Magic Bazaar

Divine Parents – Do we ever grow up?

Parents have a job that ends.

Unless something doesn’t go according to plan, and then sometimes a child may remain physically or mentally dependent on someone to care for their basic well-being. I can’t imagine any parent hopes for that kind of scenario. And, realistically, even that job ends eventually, even if it is by the death or disability of the parent, rather than the child growing out of the need.

Many young people, and even some who are not so young, speak of the challenges of “adulting”. This may mean that they did their own laundry or paid their own bills. It may mean something more advanced like signing a lease or buying a major appliance. It may even mean buying a home or getting married.

It essentially means doing something that they would not have been expected to do as a child. It means maintaining one’s own life without the intervention of a parent. And claims of “adulting” are often followed by “adulting is hard!”

On some level, being taken care of is profoundly appealing. Tuning out from the daily frustrations and concentrating on TV or video games, hanging out with friends – who wouldn’t want to avoid being the adult.

But parenting ends. The child grows up and takes on the practical reality of managing their life, and most parents realize that one of their goals as a parent must be to enable that.

 

For all meaningful purposes, my parents are gone. My mother died over ten years ago now, and had been far too ill for years before that to do any physical care for any of her children. My father is still alive, but has slid so far into dementia that his ability to care for himself is long gone.

So I am feeling acutely the reality that most of us will eventually no longer have a parent, and that loss can be difficult even if we are reasonably competent at “adulting”.

 

So now I wonder about divine parents. Many traditions see Father gods or Mother goddesses. This is probably one of the most common conceptions of deity. But what does that mean to have an eternal parent when the goal of parenting is for the child to stand on their own? Does the Father want you to grow out of dependence? Does the Mother want there to be a day when you figure it out on your own?

Or are we as humans doomed to never be spiritual adults, never really taking on responsibility for our own maintenance?

Or is there something wrong with the metaphor of calling them Mother or Father?

Does their divine parenting end? Do we ever grow up?

Paganism is free? I disagree.

Emma Kathryn wrote this piece for Gods & Radicals When is Paganism not Paganism?” and I agreed heartily with a part of the message. Being Pagan doesn’t require collecting the most tchotchkes, especially if that means items manufactured in China or ecologically destructive items.

But the line “Paganism is free” made me stop. This statement seemed utterly incorrect to me. In fact, it seems badly misleading, even destructive.

I agree that many of the most rewarding parts of a Pagan path do not necessarily come at a monetary cost. Connection to natural places, connection with other people – these can be gained in ways that don’t take much or any money. We may be able to make offerings, divination tools, or ritual items out of items that are found, scavenged or gifted to us. We may even be able to get books from libraries or friends without exchanging money.

We can also take modest ingredients and add our work to make them valuable. Art, crafts, cooking – these are all tools that can make modest materials into beautiful and worthwhile items to share and to be offered.

But to think that you can get a spiritual path without paying a cost is incorrect. Even if money is scarce for you, you must be willing to make payments in terms of your time and effort in order to gain something in return. And if someone else is paying a cost for your gain, you need to be aware of this and have gratitude.

For those of us who live in cities, just a connection to nature may require some cost and effort. Getting to parks or natural places may take an investment of time and often, money. And shedding the cares and stresses of the modern, disconnected world takes an effort as well.

Finding other Pagans can take significant effort, depending on where you are and what kind of network you have. Even looking up groups over the internet takes the money involved in having an internet-ready device and connection. And many times, Pagan events and groups have costs just to operate public events – space rental, ritual supplies, speaker fees, etc. You may be able to find those that don’t require an admission fee, but you need to understand that someone is paying those costs, and without that, the event or group would not exist, or at least it would not be open to the public.

Even reading a book, given to you or purchased inexpensively, requires your effort and concentration to learn its lessons.

To end on a theological note, Paganism is not like Calvinist Protestant Christianity. Belief is not enough. Faith is not enough. You have to “do” Paganism, which requires effort on your part. And effort is not free.

Trans People and the Military

I fully support the right of Trans people to have the same rights to employment and housing that everyone else has. No one should lose their job due to their gender identity. No one should lose a promotion or not be considered for employment due to the particular health care needs that gender transition might require.

But, I have to admit that I kind of hate the fact that this issue has to come to a head – thanks to the President’s Twitter declaration this week – over the military. I had a similar mixed feeling over the fight by many Pagan and Polytheists over the right to have their religious symbols used in military cemeteries.

My reaction is “I support your equal rights, but…”

I have a lot of problems with the US military. I am not strictly a pacifist, and I see the value of having some kind of national defense. But, in my lifetime, the various involvements of the US military have gone so far beyond defense of the US homeland that it almost seems laughable to think about that as their mission. Vietnam and the second Iraq war are just the two largest examples of long US military engagements that had massive costs in terms of lives and fortunes and it’s difficult to see how US citizens benefited in any way.

Our military intervention around the world has largely been to advance and preserve the US economic hegemony and the global economic systems that are the very ones that are damaging the environment and propping up deep inequality. We send bombs across the world to keep up our way of life, instead of questioning whether we need to change our way of life to live in a more reasonable way, in better balance with the resources that we have available.

I do not support the US military as it exists today. And while I understand that these large strategic decisions about where we go to war are not in the hands of the regular soldiers and personnel, the choice to be a willing and obedient cog in the system is the choice of the individual recruit – or at least it has been since the draft ended.

I am very uncomfortable with our culture of obligatory vocal gratitude, bordering on worship, of those who have served in the military. They are people who made choices and took risks, certainly, and I hope they feel that what they have gained is worth the risk. But I often think this feverish rhetoric around revering those who served in the military is an attempt to avoid thinking about how fruitless many of their sacrifices were.

So, I’m sorry if I didn’t jump on this issue instantly, decrying the unjust treatment of trans people in the military. I do think the President’s proposed policy shift represents injustice, and it’s awful. I’m just having a hard time advocating for anyone to have that particular job.

How many colors in the rainbow?

There has been some controversy recently in some corners of the LGBTQ community when group in Philadelphia introduced a new variant on the rainbow flag. This time there were 2 new stripes added – a black one and a brown one.

Morecolormorepride.com

I don’t object to this addition by any means. There have been a lot of variants on the rainbow flag over the years. And in light of how in many cases LGBTQ people of color are less visible than white people – particularly cis white gay men – I understand the desire to add those extra colors as a way of adding visibility.

It surprised me though – and not because I think of the rainbow flag as a symbol of something colorblind. Quite the opposite. As I have been reflecting on it, I had specific experiences around the time that I came out that very clearly cemented the rainbow flag in my mind with inclusion of people of different races and ethnicities.

My coming out process proceeded quickly after I arrived at college in 1987. Being outside my parents’ house and on my own in a liberal environment meant that within 2-3 months, I was coming out to many people in my daily life and learning about everything involved in embracing my identity as a gay man, including the ideas behind the rainbow flag.

Another major cultural force in the United States was using the rainbow as its symbol at the time – the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. Jackson had run in 1984 for the Democratic nomination and again in 1988. In that second campaign, he was the second-highest vote getter for the Democratic nomination, behind the eventual nominee, Mike Dukakis.

Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition (later merged with PUSH to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition) was a politically inclusive movement built very explicitly on racial and ethnic diversity. And I believe that Jackson was the first and only major party nominee addressing LGB audiences around the country (sadly, I can’t vouch for the inclusion of Trans people at this time). I saw him speak at the MCC (Metropolitan Community Church – an expressly LGB Christian denomination) in Minneapolis. And he was standing underneath a giant rainbow flag. The symbolic power of this candidate combined with this rainbow was huge – even if ultimately the Reagan/Bush version of conservative America was the one that voters chose.

Since these two uses of the symbol of the rainbow were combined in my consciousness, the Rainbow flag has always been – without any doubt – a symbol of inclusion of people of all races and ethnicities, as well as being a symbol of inclusion of LGBTQ people. And I think I’m just realizing that maybe that strong link is more personal for me than anything that is communicated to most people viewing the rainbow flag today.

Let’s be honest: there is a huge problem with racism within the LGBTQ community. Of course there is. There’s a problem with it within our society, and LGBTQ people are raised in and exist within our society. We learn all the underlying racist attitudes and bias that everyone else does. They don’t just go away. They need to be challenged all the time – by ourselves and within our communities.

Here in Chicago, for example, some of the most visible gay neighborhoods are largely white. This is a very segregated city. There have been longstanding tensions between white property and business owners in these neighborhoods and young LGBTQ people of color who are seeking out a community that purports to welcome them. Unfortunately, many of these young people of color are met with suspicion and prejudice instead of a welcoming attitude.

If adding a couple stripes to the flag address this in some way or help to bring awareness to the lack of representation of people of color in the LGBTQ press and within our community organizations, I will welcome it. Sorry, if it’s going to just take me a minute to get used to the fact that I see a meaning in that rainbow that nearly everyone else doesn’t.

Brotherhood, Fellowship, and Transformation

As my readers know, I have been involved with the Brotherhood of the Phoenix for a number of years and I have recently been in positions of leadership – Magister (President) of the Chicago Temple and Bursar (Treasurer) for the national organization.

We have had some major changes bubbling inside our Order for a while now, and they are just starting to break the surface, so I think it is time for me to start writing about them here.

We were founded in 2004 as a neopagan order for men who love men. Since I have been involved, that has meant inclusion of gay, bi, trans, and queer male identities. Our cosmology, our deities, and our rituals specifically avoid the forms of heterosexual male-female duality that is common in many Pagan traditions. Some of our Brothers have had a strong interest in “male mysteries” and explorations of masculine sexuality as it relates to and embodies the sacred. To be honest, this aspect has not been central to my experience of the Brotherhood.

It has become increasingly clear to us that many people who don’t identify specifically as men are interested in our tradition. Women, non-binary, and genderqueer people have been supporters and close allies. At the same time, many of us have become uncomfortable with drawing the line which leaves these seekers outside of our group. There is a value in exploring and celebrating the spiritual dimension of male sexuality – but the mission of our group is larger than this. Many of us have experienced this message from our deities. There are even those within our group who have stepped away from identifying as “men”, which has brought the challenge of inclusion to the fore.

At the same time, two of our long-time Brothers recently moved to Seattle and are dedicated to expanding our group there. However, they wanted to start that group without the gendered limitation that we’ve had in Chicago. They wanted to be – from the beginning – open to LGBTQ/Queer people of all gender identities. And with a lot of discussion, the national organization is supportive of that. But it meant, among other things, figuring out a name for the organization that doesn’t limit/define gender.

So, the first announcement is that our national organization will be changing its name to “Fellowship of the Phoenix”. It is going to take some time to figure out all the official things that need to be changed in order to make that happen. The Seattle group will be using that name from its inception. Their first public ritual will take place on August 19, 2017.

For the moment, our Chicago group is still processing this – the cauldron is still bubbling. We will have a vote next month about adopting both the name change and changing our definition of who is invited to all public events, our novitiate program, and to apply for membership. I don’t want to tell you that Chicago will definitely adopt all these changes. It will be the decision of the group. But I do know that many of the active members are ready for these changes to be adopted. Others feel like there is something special that we will be giving up by changing our focus and broadening our target audience. Emotions have run high at times. Letting everyone have a voice in the process can be frustrating, but it’s necessary.

So, for now, we will have a “Seattle Fellowship of the Phoenix” and a “Chicago Brotherhood of the Phoenix” under a national umbrella called “Fellowship of the Phoenix”. At least for the moment.

The Phoenix is a symbol of transformation. This concept is central to who we are. I am personally happy that this transformation is finally starting to manifest. It will take some time and processing for this phase of transformation to be complete.