Struggling to Make Sense of Racial and Religious Violence

Real Paganism is so rarely covered in the mainstream press, and sadly, when it is, it is usually because someone who has been identified as Pagan has done something controversial or unpleasant. So it begins again. Frazier Glenn Cross, the alleged shooter in this week’s Kansas City murders, has been identified by CNN as an advocate of Odinism, a form of reconstructionist Heathenry which is sometimes associated with white supremacist ideology. I wrote previously about my view on Racial and Ethnic openness in modern paganism and rejecting the racism and ethnic exclusion in some of the corners of our community.

The shooting was apparently targeting Jewish identified institutions, although the 3 people killed were actually not Jewish. Cross reportedly said (yelled, even) such things as “Heil Hitler” upon his arrest, and he seems to have a long history of anti-Semitic and white supremacist activity.

A CNN religion blog quotes from an autobiography written by Cross in 1999 in which he advocates Odinism. It’s unclear to me if Cross still has these beliefs. Other internet sources have called him Christian and Atheist. Whether or not Cross is currently an adherent of Odinism, it is clear that many white supremacists, including white nationalist gangs in prisons and various other racist groups, have adopted a kind of Heathenry or Odinism.

The Wild Hunt blog has some good coverage here of the initial reactions from some members of the Heathen community.

There’s a very informative panel on Thorn Coyle’s podcast about the tactics and psychological tricks sometimes used by these groups to bring Pagan-curious people into their fold. Chose Podcast #67 here.

I am not an adherent of any Norse practices, although I enjoy Norse mythology and learning about the pre-Christian religious traditions of Scandinavia, Germany and the Anglo-Saxons. I have friends who venerate Norse gods and goddess in their religious practice.

I don’t believe in or experience the idea that deities discriminate based on race or ethnicity. I am primarily influenced by the multi-cultural Religio Romana (which Cross specifically condemns as decadent).

I have a hard time putting myself into the mindset of someone like Cross, but his targeting of Jewish institutions is particularly nonsensical is for the racialist Heathenry agenda. In a twist of reasoning that tries to answer accusations of racism, racialist Heathens often say that the old religion of Northern Europe is for those of Northern European descent and that others should follow the religion of their own ancestors. By this logic, they claim to be preserving cultural diversity and preserving the unique cultural flavor of each tradition. It is a “separate, but equal” argument, which is deeply problematic in our eclectic and dynamic society.

But what’s interesting is that Judaism, particularly in its Orthodox forms, follows a similar thought pattern in a way. Judaism is primarily aimed at the descendents of adherents to Judaism. Converts are rare and not sought within most Jewish communities. Unlike Christianity and Islam, there is no push to proselytize or spread their religion. Jews quite specifically do what the racialist Heathens claim that they want non-Heathens to do – they follow their own path without trying to impose it on others. They “stick to their own kind”. So what could the logic possibly be for an Odinist to target Jewish institutions with violence?

But why do I even try to apply reason to the thinking of someone whose actions show that they are beyond reason? Why try to find a justification for actions which seem borne out of irrational hatred? I think we can all agree that this is a tragic incident for both the actual and intended targets. Only an unbalanced and disconnected mind could come to the conclusions and take the actions of a man like Cross.

Saints and Heritage

My heritage a mixture of various northern and western European nationalities, but the largest part is Irish. I have always had somewhat mixed feelings about my Irish heritage.

Growing up in a community without much real Irish culture (German heritage was dominant in that area), the Irish American culture seemed to largely be either kitschy manufactured junk or Catholic religious materials. My Irish ancestors had been in the United States since before the Civil War, so there was no living memories or even much in terms of oral family traditions about the Old Country. There’s always a cultural undercurrent that the Irish left to escape poverty, war, alcoholism and squalor. The green land was beautiful to look at, but couldn’t feed her hungry children.

The one aspect that seemed to stick through the generations, on my Mother’s side at least, was Catholicism. There were always wishes that roads rise to meet you and that you’ll be in heaven for a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead. At the center was always Saint Patrick, the man who brought Christianity to Ireland and drove the snakes out.

In my teens, as I rejected Christianity, treating Patrick as a hero didn’t seem to make much sense. Ireland had been at war for centuries over different factions of Christianity, and that war was alive and well in Northern Ireland when I was young. It didn’t really look to me like it had been much of a gift.

Oh, and there were never snakes in Ireland, by the way, so that part of the story is just fabrication.

I also started to discover some parts of Irish heritage that were far more appealing to me, such as Ireland’s fantastic tradition of writers and story-tellers. I was much more interested in Yeats, Wilde and Synge than the likes of Frank McCourt, whose work seemed to just reinforce that poverty, alcoholism and squalor storyline.

It was through Yeats that I finally heard about some of the rich culture of pre-Christian Ireland. He has references the Tuatha Dé Danann and the hero Cuchulain. I began to learn about Brigit and Lugh. At some point these stories and deities belonged to my ancestors, but somehow, somewhere, this heritage was lost.

I puzzle over this. Ireland seems to have turned to Christianity voluntarily, and though vestiges of the older culture survived, much of it was whitewashed, co-opted or suppressed. Churches were built on top of ancient ruins. Brigid turned from a goddess to a saint. Some parts of the old culture were kept, if in a new form.

Still, why did they reject the gods and goddesses of their land and their ancestors and adopt a foreign religion that instructed them to reject the divine world they knew? It wasn’t an addition to the landscape; it was a bulldozer that aimed to flatten what was there before so a different belief could be built.

This is a puzzle I have never quite worked out.

I have gained more knowledge about Irish history and the complications over the English domination of the land and how that conflict brought about much of the poverty as well as the civil wars. It is really only in the last few decades that those struggles have truly been overcome and peace and prosperity have taken hold in Ireland. But understanding later history still doesn’t explain the earlier rejection of a cultural heritage with regard to religion.

I have much to learn about ancient Irish religion. Sadly, little was written down before the Christian period, so reconstruction has some challenges. I know that there is a devoted community of reconstructionists, though, who have done great work to reclaim what was lost.

Invocation for a College Event

One of my activities is an involvement with my alma mater, Macalester College in St Paul, MN. I am an organizer for the local alumni group. I have been on the Alumni Board for the past 3 years. I am about to make a trip there for a meeting. In many ways, it is a community that supports diversity. It was a great place to come out as a gay man in the late 1980′s. They have always highlighted a large international student population and they strive for diversity among domestic students.

In some ways my spiritual path into Paganism takes me beyond the circle of their typical diversity. The college was founded as Presbyterian, but has not had any affiliation for decades. Still, mainline and liberal Protestantism dominate, with Catholicism, Judaism, Agnosticism and Atheism well represented. There are nods to Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. There doesn’t appear to be any presence of Paganism today, though. I found some evidence that there was once a Pagan student group, but it seems to be gone now.

As with many places that believe that they embrace religious diversity, there’s a watered-down monotheist wash that says “Don’t we all believe in the same God? Why can’t we all just get along?” I’m all for getting along, but honestly, I don’t worship the same God as Christians or Muslims. My Polytheist spirituality involves connecting with various Gods and Goddeses, genii loci, and spirits. They all have personalities and identities and they don’t just fade into some amorphous blob of a God.

Anyway, I wrote this as a sort of fantasy that there would be a college event that opened with a different kind of prayer – a Pagan prayer. I seriously doubt that such a thing would ever happen, but I can dream a little, can’t I?

 

Invocation

 

Spirits of this place

Spirits of those who have been here before us

Teachers, builders, open young minds, travelers from near and far

Those who came as children and left as adults

Those who ushered generations into a new reality

Midwives who gave birth to a young person’s purpose

Ancestors who know the secret alchemy of learning how to learn

Be here with us

May your purpose be our purpose

Whisper your wisdom in our ears

Infuse this place with the magic of education

 

Let us breathe together

Inhale the air of knowledge shared

Feel the warmth of purpose and passion

Drink in the feelings of community and friendship

Feel the commitment to our Earth and its diverse people

 

Look at the faces around you

This is our community

These are our supporters, our friends

We share a bond with each other

And a bond with the spirits of those who came before us

From the wild Dionysian dancers at Springfest

To those who reached out to the world and flew the flag of the United Nations

To those caretakers who watched the students’ P’s and Q’s in an age with far more rules

To the native people who walked this land before this college was even a dream

We are all here together at this moment

 

Let us dream together

And make a new world

Pagan Thoughts on an Oscar Night Speech

Lupita Nyong’o is a lovely young actress who gave a powerful performance in the film “12 Years a Slave” She won a well-deserved Oscar as Best Supporting Actress on Sunday night. She is an articulate person, even at that emotional moment, and there was something in her words that jumped out as resonating with my own spirituality.

“Thank you to the Academy for this incredible recognition. It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own.

Steve McQueen, you charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position; it’s been the joy of my life. I’m certain that the dead are standing about you and watching and they are grateful and so am I.”

The idea of the honored ancestors is a powerful one that is woven into much Pagan thought. Many practitioners feel the presence of the ancestors, both blood ancestors and, in a broader sense, ancestors who have walked the path before us.

Lupita was speaking in this spirit, when she acknowledged those ancestors. Her performance was an act of connection to the pain and strength of a remarkable woman, and she gave her voice and body to make Patsey’s story live again. The act of portraying a real historical person may be one of the most direct ways to honor their memory, and I respect the actors who do this, especially when they convey messages so desperately needed in our time and when they bring forgotten voices to the surface.

I know nothing of her personal religious views, and I don’t even know if she meant her words as a spiritual statement. That’s the way that I heard it, though. I was so happy to hear this next to the oh-so-common thanking of a Christian God. I don’t doubt for a moment that many people gain strength from their faith in a Christian God, but I also like the acknowledgement that the world has many powerful entities, many spirits that can inspire, and many voices that should be heard.

Pagan Institutions vs Counterculture

There has been a lot of discussions lately about whether the Pagan community should develop institutions or whether larger, permanent institutions will tend to make Paganism lose what is special about the movement. The topic is not exactly new, but the recent activity was spurred by Jason Pitzl-Waters in his article on The Wild Hunt. I am coming into this particular round of conversation very late, but since it is an ongoing topic, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Many strands of modern American Paganism (and this is likely true in other places as well) grew up in the counter-culture of the 60’s and 70’s and the feminist movements of the 70’s and 80’s and a distrust of institutions is ingrained from this heritage.

Like John Beckett’s response on Patheos Pagan, I want to see both institutions and plenty of room for the wild mystics and visionaries. I see a lot of wild mystics and visionaries. I see a lot of groups built around a charismatic individual, and often wonder if that group would collapse without that person’s presence.

There are precious few Pagan temples in this country, in the sense of actual permanent buildings that are dedicated to religious and spiritual practice. There are a couple of Pagan seminary/higher education institutions, but they are small and operate largely online. I’m not sure about libraries (sadly, physical libraries of any kind appear to be on the wane, so perhaps it’s understandable that these are a rarity). There are a smattering of other types of institutions larger than local groups or internet followers of a particular person.

At some point in my path, probably in 2012, I came across an article about a Celtic Reconstructionist temple that built a building in Minneapolis. I was thrilled about it, and since I travel to the Twin Cities 2-3 times per year, I was going to make a point to visit. My path does not center on Celtic Reconstructionism, but I was so excited that I may be able to actually visit a permanent structure dedicated to modern Paganism. After a little more research, it turned out the Temple closed less than year after it opened and the guiding force behind it sold the property and left Minnesota for Louisiana.

I was stunned and hurt. I felt like a fantastic project had been abandoned basically in its infancy. I felt angry that the priest who had spearheaded the building and who owned the land it sat on would so hastily dump the whole project in the scrap heap, after clearly it had been a labor of love for so many, and it seemed like a beacon to others, like me, who dreamed of Paganism with real infrastructure, sacred spaces, institutions that would last for generations. My emotional reaction to this was, frankly, a little out of proportion to the actions of a small religious group, none of whom I had met, that had all happened at least a year before I found out about it.

Since then, I have read various blog posts from Drew Jacob, the priest in question. It seems pretty clear that as a man in his 20’s with a yearning for travel, he probably wasn’t the best choice as the cornerstone for a permanent institution, and sadly, it doesn’t appear that anyone else (or group of others) in the group could take over when he let it go. His path kept evolving and he is clearly not a strict Celtic Reconstructionist as that group was (he mentions Hellenic and Vodou deities in recent blog posts).

I would apologize to him for my over-reaction if he ever reads this, since I was laying some kind of expectation on him that was clearly unfair. But I think my own emotional reaction was telling of something bigger. I want, sometimes desperately, to have institutions in Paganism to hold on to.

We have annual festivals and even some conferences, but that’s not the same. That doesn’t feel right to me as an expression of my spiritual path. I do feel the sacred out in the forest and I know the power of group rituals, but somehow those two don’t translate into me wanting drive long hours to camp out in the woods with hundreds of strangers. I want places that I can walk into and know that the gods and goddesses have visited there and been with their people. I want a place that has been cultivated for the purpose of meeting the divine and being together in community. I want a place that has been created as sacred by the will of a community over generations.

I grew up as a Catholic, and that has given me an appreciation for the use of architecture and art to create sacred places and perhaps it has colored my understanding of sacred places. I am not saying that Paganism should ever try to imitate the giant, bureaucratic, top-down monster that is the Catholic Church – clearly not. There will never be a Pagan Vatican City (although it would be nice if they would give some of those ancient statues back to the temples where they were pillaged). Paganism could never be anything like that kind of institution, and thank the gods for that.

But I would love to have temples, libraries, colleges, shrines, charitable foundations and other institutions along with the stable, multi-generational knowledge that goes with it. I suppose this hasn’t been much of an argument, has it? It’s just the statement of one Pagan’s desire, perhaps even need, for something more.

The Mourning Dove

I was unhappy that it was snowing again, and I that I had to go out and clear it. It was a light snow, but I have been so overwhelmed with one snow after another over the past few weeks. It has been a rough time lately, with illness, harsh weather, financial stresses and other worries, as well as more than usual frustration over how deeply inconsiderate certain people in my life can be.

But I opened the door and all the sadness and frustration burst forth. A mourning dove, a bird that I love, was laying on the ground next to my shovel. The poor bird had died in this extreme cold. And I felt like he had chosen my door, somehow knowing that I was the only one that would care on this harsh block, in this cold, harsh city. And I do care. I care deeply.

I cried with the tears freezing to my face for the lovely, graceful bird with a mournful voice. My mother taught me to love mourning doves. They have beautiful, subtle coloring to their feathers, and a distinctive, plaintive call. They build rather shoddy looking nests – virtually a pile of twigs, as opposed to the nicely constructed bowls some other birds build. Sometimes it seemed like the eggs would just roll right off. The poor things are not that smart to be perfectly honest. Perhaps they need just a little more looking after than some of the other local residents.

It makes it all that much sadder to me to find this bird at my door. Could I have helped him, given him shelter? Was it all just too much? Too cold, too harsh, too much to cope with? I understand, my little friend. Even though I have a heated set of rooms to hide in, the harshness and the cold is wearing me down.

I found some fabric, an old sheet, and I wrapped up the dove. I set him in an out of the way place, where no one is likely to notice. I want to take him somewhere more natural than my concrete slab of a backyard. Someplace away from the cars and the yelling idiots on my block. I definitely don’t want to put him in a trash can. I need to find the time and the place to give him back to Nature.

Why was this sweet, vulnerable bird in this harsh place? And, really, what am I doing here?

I have always wanted to live in the city for the culture, but lately, it seems to only mean that I’m living in very close proximity to selfish, noisy and obnoxious people. The weather and my being sick has made it all the more clear that I am surrounded by people who will mow anyone down for the slightest convenience or advantage. Life is a constant struggle just to maintain what little we have. Nature gives and Nature takes, but lately it seems like humans give very little and take a great deal.

Good bye, my lovely friend. I will mourn for you.

Pagan Spiritual Paths and Men Who Love Men

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 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. Here is an article showing some examples of gender non-conforming behavior around religious practices in various cultures.

I think it’s difficult to fit some of these beliefs and practices 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. As I have mentioned, I have attended their rituals and their novitiate training and I have applied to be initiated. Like the Minoan Brotherhood, this group has formed to be a spiritually affirming force for gay, bisexual and transgendered men.

The Unnamed Path is another path for men who love men that has emerged in past few years. I have only recently been aware of this path, and sadly just as the charismatic leader Hyperion died at the age of only 38. His background with Hoodoo and Santeria has colored this tradition. I hope that the leadership of that group has the strength to continue in spite of this stunning loss.

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.

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.

2013: A Year of First Steps

The end of the year is a time of reflection.  We note what we have accomplished; what we tried to achieve but didn’t attain; what boxes we stepped outside; what lives we impacted; what goals were set aside; what new dreams we cooked up.

This year, I launched this blog in May (ta-da!) I meant to write more frequently than I have, but it has worked to keep a journaling mentality and some writing discipline present in my life.

I have continued to be involved with The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment, which is an absolutely delightful group of Steampunk occultists.  I started going to the meetings in 2012, but their importance to me has become greater in 2013. My connection to The Owen Society inspired me to open my home twice to parties, something I always enjoyed, but hadn’t done in several years.

The Owen Society was also the occasion for me to try my hand at public speaking for the first time since college, when I did a presentation for the group over the summer.

In 2013, I finally attended several public rituals hosted by The Brotherhood of the Phoenix, and I have just recently completed and submitted my application for initiation (completing that process will one of my 2014 goals).

I have seen a reawakening of my own spiritual path and my communication with the gods. I am still in the process of working through what that means for me in my daily life, and I do anticipate new things on that front in 2014.

The process of learning about, weeding through, and understanding the Pagan community has been a project in 2013.  I have been much more connected to Pagan media and stories.  I have discovered blogs and podcasts and tried to understand some of the many paths that are covered under that umbrella.

I also went to Teslacon, my first Steampunk convention in 2013, and it was a marvelous experience.  I have already committed to go next November.

I continue my commitment to my family, especially to visit my father on at least a monthly basis. He faces some serious health issues and my youngest sister has really taken on the burden of his care.  It’s exhausting for her and I try to give her help, even with my limitations of budget, distance and time.

I am in the 3rd year of a 6 year commitment to the Alumni Board for my college.  It has been great in many ways to connect back to the college.  One of my goals is to bring about an LGBTQ reunion, and that is scheduled to happen in 2015.  That is an upcoming project for me.

I am lucky and privileged to have a decent job and home, and a solid relationship with my loving and supportive partner. I live in a culturally rich and diverse city with good public transportation. I am privileged to have many great friends and to have met a number a wonderful new people over the past year. Some of my past friendships have faded away, but I think that is sometimes for the best as well.

I sit here writing this as I recover from bad cold which has kept me feeling pretty awful the past couple days.  I am glad to look back at the year and see so much that I have accomplished and so much abundance. My aches and cough might have colored my view of the year and giving me a negative view, but that’s not at all true.  The wonderful things have shone through.

Thank you, readers, for following my thoughts. May Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings and endings, look kindly upon you and grant us all a happy 2014.

Miss Rabbit and the Snow Queen

On the coldest night of the year, when everyone who was wise was inside sipping hot tea next to the fire, young Miss Rabbit decided to go out to look at the stars. Her mother had always told her that if she went out on a night like this, the Snow Queen would find her and send white bobcats to snatch her up, but Miss Rabbit didn’t really believe this tale. She didn’t know anyone who had seen the Snow Queen or a white bobcat. Even if they really existed, why would they bother with a little rabbit like her?

So she put on her warmest coat and scarf went out on the still and brittle night. The snow crunched under her furry feet and her breath seemed to turn into ice crystals before her eyes. But the sky seemed twice as dark as usual and there were twice as many stars as any other night of the year. Young Miss Rabbit stared in wonder at the vast and sparkly dome of the sky.

Then she heard the sound of a great sled and the sniffing of great cats. The Snow Queen had come, along with her white bobcats. Miss Rabbit stayed perfectly still, but the cats had smelled her and they were closing in fast.

“Young Rabbit”, said the Snow Queen “I see that you are enjoying the night air. Don’t you know it’s dangerous out here for a creature such as yourself? You had better come under my protection. I can always use an extra servant.”

“No thank you, dear Lady,” Miss Rabbit said in her most polite but firm tone. “I was just going back home.”

The Snow Queen moved closer and looked Miss Rabbit in the face and touched her long, elegant finger gently to the top Miss Rabbit’s head. “Ah, but you don’t understand little Rabbit. If you are out on a night like this, you belong to me. It will be wonderful for you. I will turn your fur to pure white. You can ride with me in my sleigh.”

“No thank you, dear Lady. I do not belong to you. I only belong to myself.”

“I disagree, you tiny little pest. I can do with you what I like, and if you resist, my bobcats will make short work of you.” The Snow Queen’s bobcats growled softly and bared their pointy teeth for emphasis.

“No thank you, dear Lady. Good Night!” Miss Rabbit said and launched into the fastest sprint of her life, headed directly for her comfortable rabbit hole, where a cup of tea and a warm fire awaited her.

The bobcats gave chase, but they were not quick enough for her young legs. She bounded over tree roots and under bushes, bounded through snow drifts and skittered across and icy pond. She made it back home and slammed the door tight. The bobcats were far too large to get into her snug rabbit hole.

She peeked out a few times, but didn’t see the Snow Queen or the bobcats. Eventually, she relaxed and had her cup of tea by the fire and fell asleep.

In the morning, when she woke up, she thought she may have dreamed it. But she looked in the mirror and there on the top of her grey-brown furry head was a shock of pure white fur.

An Exercise in Love and Magic

Magic is often called a technology and a tool of transformation.

I play a certain game. Perhaps it is more of a mental exercise than a game. For me, a person who is naturally critical and introverted, who nonetheless has chosen to live in a large crowded city, I find this enormously valuable. It almost always works to transform my state of mind from a grumpy, irritable and worried state into a more open, accepting and hopeful mindset.

It can take two different forms depending on the context.

The first is if I am in a very crowded place or walking down the street, and people are streaming past me by the dozens or hundreds. I try to look at each and every one and say silently to myself. “I love him” or “I love her” and at least in that instant, I try to mean it and summon up some love within myself for that individual, essentially a stranger, but each with a mind and heart, hopes, sadness, talents and struggles. Sometimes, if I’m in a particularly grumpy mood, summoning that love can be a challenge, but I try. In crowded places, it becomes a kind of mantra as I say it again and again. I keep saying “love” and trying to feel the power of it. Eventually, I somehow always end up with a smile on my face, and some people look at me almost as if they have heard me say it.

The other form is when I am in a place surrounded by strangers, but like a train car, restaurant or food court, when they aren’t rushing past. Again, I look at each stranger and say to myself “I love her” or “I love him”, but I go a little further. I say to myself “I love him because…” and I come up with something that I love about this person. They’re typically superficial reasons and often based on assumptions, but I allow the positive feeling to flow.

In both cases, I am looking at and mentally engaging with a wide variety of people – all ages, ethnicities, professions, financial capacity and social status. I include white-haired ladies and screaming toddlers, people who look like they haven’t bathed in weeks and people dressed in their finest. It’s about seeing something good, something worthwhile and lovable in every person, even with a brief, superficial view.

One interesting thing is that I often find qualities lovable that seem to be directly contradictory.

She has a wealth of experience and stories to tell. He has a fresh innocence and wonder at everything. She looks like she just spent hours at the salon and has polished off every detail. He looks like he rolled out of bed and is pulling off a grungy nonchalance. She gets her complicated job done with an elegance and ease. He looks like he’s trying his darnedest and not quite making it, but you have to admire the effort. She reminds me so much of someone I knew years ago. He has a completely unique and unusual look.

We have the capacity to love so many people, so many ways of being. If we are closed off, we forget that capacity.

Another part of this is that if I don’t recognize love in the way this person makes me feel, I can take a mental step away and recognize them for themselves and not just what they are in relation to me. A man may be talking loudly and endlessly on a cell phone in a way that may annoy me in a restaurant, but perhaps he is so devoted to his wife that he couldn’t get though the afternoon without talking to her. A young woman may be drumming on the table in a way I find distracting. She may be losing herself in a favorite song to block out a disappointment and focus on music that brings her joy. I set aside my initial reaction and think about what it may mean to that person.

Love can be selfish and Love can be empathetic. But Love is a positive. Love gives me jolt of goodness, but an important part of this exercise is that I feel it and let it go. This exercise is not about stalking my next date or finding a new friend. It’s not Love as possession or obsession. It’s simply about seeing what’s good in people and letting that resonate within me, even for a moment. It’s a habit of viewing the world and one that I find transformative.

If you are naturally open and trusting, maybe this isn’t so valuable. It is all about balance, and this helps balance something within me.

I started off by mentioning Magic. Is this Magic? Yes, in a real sense, I think it is. I have changed myself and changed my relationship with the world in a few minutes with a mental exercise that came entirely from within. I have changed myself, but it also seems to ripple out beyond me. When I do it, people seem friendlier, happier around me. For a moment, I have changed the space around me by opening myself and my generating positive energy.