Diana Rajchel

differently Wiccan: Contemporary, Urban, Integrated

Your Pagan Blog isn’t going to Change the World

July 12, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in Pagan Culture

It can certainly contribute. But until I can unjam my garbage disposal, change the oil on my neighbors’ car, and get that noisy couple in the next hotel room to shut UP with a single post to my blog (and never have to in any way have a direct conversation or contact with any of these things/people) the blog is really something that will only have power if you have the right people reading it. Note: you need the right people reading it. Not everybody. The right people. There’s a difference.

Heresies, I suppose, to follow. This blog is arguably the voice of a Pagan moderate, especially since most of the time I would rather just toss it all and work some magic.

Since I am a moderate, usually people with more extreme views only receive the parts of the messages I send where I am not on their side. I am absolutely no absolutist – so I guess that makes me a fogey now. Even worse, I care more about solving and resolving than I do about winning. I consider this “only noticing the part that stimulates an emotional trigger” a failure of a maturity and of reflective reading/listening skills, rather than a failure of my own to communicate properly. There have been plenty people every time this has happened that disagreed with me 100% and understood me 100%.

While the Internet has made Paganism more visible, if not more accepted in all geographical areas, it has also seemed to induce a sort of amnesia: people have completely forgotten that talking about what bothers them is necessary – absolutely necessary – but doesn’t actually effect any desired changes, and only in specific forums where someone running it knows how to get people to go _afk for a specific purpose does anything progress. So slapping names onto one branch of a religious movement, or declaring people who practice your religion a way you don’t like not really your religion … just makes you sound like a blowhard or a troll. And in most cases, if you’re doing that, you are.

However, that also means that with all that blowing hard, when you’ve got a legitimate beef you’re going to invest a whole lot of mental energy insisting you’re right as though all the Internet is some sort of competitive game…and only reinforcing your own belief you’re right, and the other person’s belief that you’re wrong. Seriously – there’s scientific research about how pointless carrying on actually is. It actually prevents the people involved from making the changes necessary to resolve the problems they’re living with.

“Wegner and Ward tested this and found that access to the Internet increases cognitive self-esteem. Essentially, using the Internet to find answers made people feel smarter, even when they were answering incorrectly. According to Wegner and Ward, this is not an unusual experience, “the Internet is taking the place not just of other people as external sources of memory but also of our own cognitive faculties…The advent of the ‘information age’ seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before—when their reliance on the Internet means that they may know ever less about the world around them.”

Thanks to the Internet’s neurological impact, no one can see when they’re wrong anymore. If they get it wrong, going online will just reinforce their belief in their correctness even when not factually supported.  Worse, no one understands the purpose of middle ground because no one has been on its metaphorical surface for decades.

There’s just so much forgotten – it’s painful to watch, and occasionally rather insulting to listen to, worse since the people talking about it expect me to passively accept that when they paint a multi-faith group of which I am a member with the same brush, they are directly telling me that I am also that insulting thing with no regard to my behavior and no awareness that not one Pagan alive today has interacted with the majority of Pagans – and that’s especially true of those involved in online communities, where roughly two thirds of modern Pagans refuse to engage, usually after competitive, argumentative, rude treatment that ultimately runs counter to a lot of neopagan spiritual values.

Here’s the thing… there are solutions to this. Some of them you won’t even have to go _afk, though most will be more effective if you actually do.

I am going to highlight a few activities/approaches that can help some of the inner Pagan/polytheist struggles, since most are actually resolvable with fundamental education. Awareness online is certainly step one, but it can never be the only step for sincere change or inclusion seekers.

Here’s a few methods I know of and have used that do help. These are not the only methods, by any means – I’m sure someone out there will have other, better ideas – or they may even have brand new ones that aren’t anywhere in my wheelhouse:

 

Problem: Too many people are assuming your faith, or rituals of your faith, or your values, are aligned with eclectic/populist Wicca.

(I find populist Wicca more accurate than Neo-Wicca, without the implied condescension. Populist Paganism, or Wiccan-centric Paganism conveys an accurate chiding of our collective bad behavior without resorting to aggressive insult. Well, I suppose no thinking Wiccan would like the association with Andrew Jackson but it still kinda works better than what’s used now.)

Online Methods

  • Issue an updated FAQ

the good old days of USENET were a gods-send for those of us first starting on the Pagan path. They were also usually open source, or had their authors names and copyright at the bottom.  If you are a small enough group you can get a single person or committee to write one, highlighting the main points of your faith. Too big a project for one person? Assign a group of volunteers one question at a time, with a deadline. Recommendation: agree on a documentation method before you start, and be sure to archive any online reference materials that you link to.

Here’s an example of the old-school Pagan FAQ. It looks like there’s no polytheist FAQ, nor is there one about indigenous religions. We need those.

Of course, the meta question is: great, how do we get people to read them?

Two ways: first, ask high profile Pagan bloggers to read and/or post.

Second, put it up on a page with low-quality, shady html and mark it “Free downloads!” There’s nothing that triggers a click happy person like the words “free” and “download” together.

  • Do a Google Hangout Panel and/or Podcast

Many are already doing this, but only broadcasting to people that are already in the know. In this case, I’m suggesting a technique that borrows from the convention model: get one person who is a trustworthy moderator. Deliberately get people of different faiths. Give each person a few minutes to talk about their faith practice tradition. Save it to Youtube and allow public embedding, so that lazy bloggers may repost at will. I did panels before the advent of Youtube – it’s pretty easy to do one online, though I doubt I’ll be on one with a Mennonite ever again.

  • Propose an alternate approach or etiquette when you write posts with your complaints about issues at public fests, etc.

 If you’re on a Pagan forum or in a Pagan festival, people are going to assume you’re a populist Pagan of some sort until you speak up. Let’s just operate on the assumption of not-psychic until otherwise embarrassed with non-issued knowledge. Don’t assume they know. Don’t assume that if other person that practices what you do has met them that they will assume it’s the same for you. If that  person is trying to guilt trip you into attending a ritual after you have politely declined, no need to be polite. Free will – and coming freely to ritual – is supposed to be one of those core populist Pagan shared values and the recent violation of it borders on evangelism, another explicitly banned practice. Practice a little empathy for those of us stumbling with cross-cultural rules of hospitality need a little give sometimes: I often invite not as an order but because it’s polite, and so I can let the person know that I support their right to decline. This isn’t eastern culture: invitations are not subvert orders.

Offline Metho

  • Again, do a panel, or teach a short intro class.

Pagan Pride events are great for this. You will get more crossover audience – the outsiders you need to reach – are best gained when you do a multi-faith panel. Always ask for a good moderator, even if you have to host a moderator training yourself to make sure you get one.

  • If you go to festivals, be up front about what you will and won’t do

If you decide to go to a Pagan festival even though you are not interested in the rituals (hanging out is usually legitimate) be polite and assertive. You may need to write something on the form. Unless you are in some way disruptive to the festival there is no reason to bounce anyone out over that. There are some other issues that the festival circuit is working out thanks to the exponential growth of many of the most popular Pagan festivals. A lot of the populist Pagans see festival time as a weird escapist paradise. The presence of a non-populist Pagan or a non-Pagan polytheist messes with that vibe. That’s cool. That vibe needs to be killed because withdrawing into a fantasy world is just bad for everybody.

  • If you’re in a tradition that allows it, and it’s compatible with festival or convention policy, offer to host a ritual of your tradition

Tip: only allow people to attend the ritual if they go through a ritual etiquette course first. You will have a lot less problems if you walk people through it step by step before you do it. I would suggest merely doing an etiquette workshop or a comparison/contrast event focusing solely on ritual practices if you are, on the other hand, consciously exclusive.

  • If you need to take your toys and go home, do it unemotionally unless you are in actual danger.

Want to know why 2/3 of the Pagan community is offline and about half doesn’t go in for festival culture? Because we don’t fit with it, even if our spirituality might. The appeal of Paganism to some is the coming home, but for many of us it was finally finding somewhere that at least at one time took “no” for an answer. In my experience, festival culture people suck at hearing that “no.” I’m not asking festival culture to change – it obviously works for a lot of people. But I would like it if festival culture quit asking me, someone who is a populist Wiccan, to change, and would strongly advocate that festival enthusiasts start realizing that non-populist Pagans and polytheists that have drifted outside the tent should have their boundaries respected when they visit these fests.

I also want to add this: as in favor of free love as I am, when it comes to group identification or non-identification, there’s a point with non-populist polytheists where you do need to shit or get off the pot. If you want to be part of the overarching Pagan community, that’s OK – just understand that the Pagan community has always been a cultural one, not a religious one, and when discussing the problematic ways you’ve been treated, you need to talk about the specific behaviors, not construct overarching terms that willfully ignore entire diverse religious groupings.  If you’re tired of all of it, just tap out all the way – you won’t lose real friends over this, even among Pagans, and if you are a real friend, you shouldn’t need to dump anyone over this, either.

Problem: Your personal sexual values conflict with the sexual values of others in your shared Pagan community.

This one is arguably resolvable wholly online:

  • State your boundaries. Keep stating them. If you need to, state them and reinforce with a water gun.

I refer back to my “ask before you touch” policy. It may even be wise to ask if someone is OK with polyamory or prefers monogamy before asking for a date.  True Platonic friendship is pretty cool – I recommend it.

Problem: Your organization or group has again tried to build a New Alexandria Library and had it fail or it is still struggling to get off the ground.

1) Stop naming these places New Alexandria library. I’ve seen at least four come and go in the past twenty years and I swear they’re all destined to go down in metaphorical flames the way the original library at Alexandria did in physical ones.

2) Get some advice from Library of Congress and the Rosicrucian Museum about building such a center and making it sustainable. Maintaining buildings and group continuity are the real mysteries of ceremonial orders we all want to attain.

3)Make sure you have one visionary, one task master, and one person who understands the necessity of reward – and make sure each one tutors at least three to five people in their skills along the way.

 

To speak to the things you might have to deal with along the way:

 

Manage Your Expectations

  • Don’t expect everyone to participate, ever

One of the most ludicrous moments I’ve had in recent years was when I mentioned I’d like to start a multi-faith Pagan fundraising foundation and I was greeted with, “Well, everybody won’t do that!”

…when did I say “everybody?”

Anyone who has done large or small group organizing already knows that there is a core group that participates and then there’s the majority, which will have people that drop in once in awhile. You don’t need everybody to get something done – you just need to work with the people that want to show up.

Meta Discussion:

I had already discovered that the more shocked or outraged someone looks at a change I propose, the more likely I am right, especially among Pagans. I was also vastly amused – I know from years of organizing that there is no cause, ever, that gets “everybody’s” participation and endorsement. That this woman assumed I would expect that was so hilarious to me that I had to go off the camera hangout to laugh.

Again, since I am actually in the majority of Pagans that stay offline except for basic relationship maintenance and employment,  I had no idea that there was real context to her statement. There have been over the years a lot of projects that have sought funds solely because they are Pagan. Most did not have a clear mission statement, plan of execution, or serve a purpose that provided needed infrastructure based services to Pagans such as psychiatric counseling, emergency care, or elder care. Instead there are fundraiser to “help a Pagan family” (that often fail to explain why standard emergency services are not applied to) or to “help this Pagan center get built!” that does not have a plan and often turns into a glorified hangout for massage therapists and Reiki healers. You see, that’s a problem – what she didn’t understand because most Pagans don’t think like this, is that my idea of starting a foundation would solve exactly this problem. Organizations apply for grants from charitable foundations – grant requests are essays that include solid business plans, vision, purpose, etc. Anyone running a foundation would know that to give a grant, you would have to do one hell of a lot more than just be vaguely Pagan.

  • Be up front on whether you are an inclusive or exclusive group

Paganism is coming to a schism that I can’t really think of a way to avoid. Some religions within it wish to be inclusive and others exclusive. I subscribe to the belief that our complex neurology influences our religious tendencies or lack thereof, and so I am for the time being assuming that this is not a situation that needs to be helped. There are some traditions that will exclude – and some that will include. Now, with that exclusion can, will, and has come injustice. You can’t – and absolutely do not have the right to – control what someone else believes, how they practice that, or whether someone else consents to practicing spirituality in that form. You can, however, ostracize any group that upholds unjust/hate based practices.

Meta: In one case I experienced myself and in another a woman related to me, she was interested in learning about Wicca and the group immediately wanted a dedicant commitment from her, including coven participation. She wasn’t looking for that level of engagement – she wanted something with less exclusivity. Be up front if you’re looking for dedicants and make it very clear what you’re expecting. This woman had answered an ad for a Pagan seekers group. Coven admission is not the same thing as a seekers group.

  • Don’t speak authoritatively about a group of religions you have had no contact with and/or have no interest in

In the world of mature people, it’s OK not to be an expert on everything – and saying so earns you respect. Until you have interacted closely with a group or made a strong study of it, you can’t assume it’s the same as any other group. Stereotyping isn’t quite the right word for this behavior, but it’s very close.

  • Always thank people for doing their jobs

It matters. So do you, so do they.

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Controlling behavior: exhibit 1

June 25, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in Activism


The behavior can come from men or women – but this type of violence is socially encouraged in men, which is likely why it’s a male actor in this video. Remember what I’ve said in previous posts on this topic: violence starts long before it gets physical.

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Calming Down

June 24, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in the Big Picture

This helped:

For me, some of my super-loving very well meaning friends that really want to see me living in San Francisco (some from a lack of being informed/absence of curiosity about how much Minneapolis/Saint Paul really has.) Other equally well-meaning loving friends want me to stay. We’ve made the decision – Mike and I both go. He functions better when I’m around to kick his ass and get him off multi-player games.

So now I’m sitting back and looking at how this could be good for me. But this means I first have to acknowledge the real problems: San Francisco is Silicon Valley now – it doesn’t cater to me. In fact, I’m exactly who it’s tried to get rid of. I just happen to be married to exactly the kind of person the area is now trying to attract. I’m extremely put off by how young the area is collectively – when a place that expensive has that many twenty-somethings roaming around, something is wrong. There’s overprivilege stinking to the high heavens. I saw a five year old wearing Google Glasses and that’s just one example of how the place is proportionately out of whack. Stuff like that kills kids’ capacity for empathy. Just look at what it’s done to adults. When was the last time you actually looked another adult in the eyes? Probably before you bought that SmartPhone.

So here is what I know is good:

  • the historical society. Any group that does suffragist speech re-enactments is inherently awesome. Mike trundled me off for fear they’d recruit me on the spot.
  • the YMCA Bay area membership means I can get in pretty much all the types of physical activities I want in a sort-of no-pressure environment. There’s even a bellydance class But there’s the negative weighing on me: larger women aren’t common in San Francisco at all. Exactly how much time am I going to spend batting off people making idiotic, entitled comments about my body and by inference, the rest of me?
  • Berkeley and Stanford both have really appealing continuing education programs for writers. Berkeley’s is online – meaning no one will be reminding me every ten seconds they went to Berkeley. Stanford’s is tempting, but it requires that I go to Palo Alto. Palo Alto is not a place for decent, humane people – or for me. On the other hand, most universities are a separate universe from the towns that have them. So that could be an unknown, even if I would dearly love to repeatedly slap the one current Stanford student I do know.
  • There are multiple writers’ collectives and programs out there. None are quite as  solid as the Loft but most are much more affordable.
  • I have heard that the Pagans of the Bay Area are awesome. I have liked the one person I met from there. I will see. There are plenty of metaphysical shops. I already spotted the hole in their organizing techniques and it comes from old school thinking that was new school three years ago. (So it’s not a terrible thing, but it’s a thing.) What is that thing? At least one major “meet the Pagans” site neglects to mention any specific locales. Bay Area is a colloquial expression – people moving to the area or visiting it aren’t going to know to call it that. It will help, given how transient the area is, to actually list the areas “Bay Area” refers to on the site.
  • I did email and mention this would help searchers like me. We’ll see if that helps.
  • I am, in fact, less fearful walking around San Francisco than I am Minneapolis. It’s extremely difficult to express why without sounding like I’m blaming a person for a situation – or excusing a person when there’s no excuse. Misogyny is far more rife in Minnesota than in California. Of course, body judgment is pretty much there so that’s a whole other problem I’ll have to develop yet more tools to handle.
  • Panhandlers. I hate them everywhere, so that’s equal.
  • California is really pushing the electric cars. San Francisco does not have an electric vehicle organization the size and strength of Minnesota’s. Transience? Passivity?

I am told everyone kind of sticks to their city out there. It is kind of true here but not really, not exactly. I wander to both sides of the river pretty easily and regularly – of course, the population and land mass is significantly smaller so that’s easier to do.

I think this has been what’s bothering me about all this Bay Area stuff – the community feels kind of weakened. I should love it. I should. I love Portland, I love Minneapolis. What is my problem with San Francisco aside from my perpetual fear that my body will divide me from human decency again? I know why on the surface – but does that mean that there are people with strength and interest hiding in the more affordable suburbs?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jumping to the Conclusion

June 21, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in the Big Picture

So, without diving too deep into it, Mike and I are moving to California. I can’t say I’m 100% thrilled. I’m not even 50% thrilled. While I did enjoy lunch with one awesome person out there, for the most part this is going to be a period of my life that involves a lot of grit teeth. I don’t do anything without four or five reasons – and the reasons are good, and I have to grudgingly accept them, even though not a single one involves me in any way shape or form. So I will move while thinking all sorts of bitter things about big companies being so big they feel entitled to fuck up little lives. But then, I’m not a person to Mike’s coworkers. That was obvious when he arranged for me to be right in front of them. I’m an obstacle, an inconvenience, someone to babble at about biking and hiking and all sorts of things I never asked about that I may myself do that I DO NOT want to have long conversations about…because they’re boring and more about showing off than about being.

But I’m stuck with it and so I’m kind of withdrawing and handing over to Mike. Maybe I’ll be happy there but probably not. I’ll be a beautiful fat woman near an ocean surrounded by a very shallow pool of humanity. Mike’s “smart” friend out there is an ass; I suspect he’s typical.

So happy face time. It’s not like I really have a choice, not in my financial situation. I have no independence. I’m stuck with this.

So sorry San Francisco, I’m going to be the newest addition to your gentrification problem.

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Rajchel-Gonzo Frisco Night 1

June 12, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in Travel

San Francisco, night 1.  Actually, staying in a suburb. Millbrae is to San Francisco as Bloomington is to Minneapolis. It won’t be the only parallel, I’m sure.

Impression 1: litter. Litter on the roadside. Litter in the brush. Litter used to obviously make someone’s home on a patch of busy highway. The litter stops abruptly when we come to the hotel – literally, at the gates, as though some mysterious repellent fends off windblown bits of paper and tubes of random hardware adhesives. They need to share this spray.

I suspect this spray is paying someone to clean that shit up.

Mike took me to Mission District for dinner; for some reason I thought he’d already been on one of his trips out here in early spring. The BART line seemed OK, a little old, but well-kept, but on the walk to the station again with the garbage everywhere. The sun had just started to set when we boarded the train; we passed through a tunnel still in twilight and came out the other side with the sky dead black. It startled me – and also answered my eternal question about Buffy the Vampire Slayer of why California?

I realize that landfills are a lousy solution and incinerators the worst possible idea for this state. But jeez, there was a lot of compostable stuff I saw lying along the roadways. I began to look around a little desperately for an Adopt-a-Highway sign. Roads in California are all orphans in need of care. There must be some urban spirit, some mother Theresa of roadways, to invoke in these situations.

My first impression of Mission District was to turn around and get back on the train. Garbage everywhere. Restaurants opened sporadically – it looks like many people in San Francisco, like the people of Paris, eat only after the sun sets. Mike brought me into one café that is supposedly “very Mission.” It paralleled the Hard Times Café, with the Hard Times coming out superior – truly an unexpected win.  It was entirely too small. It was only white people there, in various phases of hippie and hipster.  People peered into my face, looking for something – perhaps because I was definitely not a regular, perhaps something else. There’s always a certain amount of staring when I travel and I ignore it but something about this combined with jet lag set me off.

I told Mike harshly on the way out that based on the impression I had of San Francisco so far there is no way in hell I would waste my energy living in such a place. We then turned a corner and lo – barely a single piece of garbage touched the ground. We started across the street to a tapas bar, went into a French restaurant instead and I got to enjoy service from a French Waiter who did not argue with me about the order in which I received my coffee. I just had a three cheese platter with fruit and pistachios – light and refreshing. Mike had a burger and got embroiled in a text discussion where all sorts of interesting things were said about me based on my being white, female and of “lesser” education than the men discussing me. I drew from my “lesser education” to make my opinions known and there was a backdown. But the underlying attitude is there – and my memory is long.

Mike took me on a way out of the Mission District that was less littered. I counted 7 churches very close to the severely littered streets, and noticed a K-12 school. All that church and education – and a supposedly dense environmentally focused population – and no one thought to clean things up?  Bored kids in need of an Earth Day project? Churches, seeking to teach their congregants through practice the art of true service to the community? I saw none of that and could only pose one question to the universe before me: What the ever loving hell?

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a Walgreen’s as I forgot to pack my very depleted rescue inhaler. Alas, I will almost certainly need it here. There is both pollen AND not enough oxygen produced by plants to filter it here. We will have to call in the morning – the pharmacist did his best but could not fix the problem. A friendly chat with the store clerk revealed that alcohol may be sold until 2 am in California; that sales taxes are obscene on a Chicagoan level and that he seemed quite versed in the features of our hotel.

Mike decided to try out the Lyft service; it was quick, the driver was friendly and amused in a detached way at my jet-lagged insistence I was going to find a way to get San Francisco and the California highway department on this whole litter situation. Gangs, whatever, there’s no great solution yet. But c’mon, litter is a controllable issue.  So now Mike and I are confirmed mustache riders.

We made it back to our rooms, Mike to do whatever it is he does so much of on his computer and I to take a shower, try to stretch out my sciatica issues and to layer on as much lotion as the desert will allow.

Too tired for now and will need room to think.

 

This is the core conflict of this trip: it’s not for pleasure. People keep asking me for the pleasures I plant to partake in and the truth is none. None of this trip will please me and I am not obligated to be pleased, though Mike is hoping being here will persuade me. Our calendar has already filled with acquaintances of Michael’s; I am hoping to find time to meditate, separate my ego and set it down somewhere so I can deal with what comes my way from the best place possible. There are just too many pressures this time.

No, this is a fact finding trip, the facts organized according to what I consider important. Mike has done his fact-finding. To his credit, he has brought me here to do my own. But how I go about this is intrinsic to me and utterly foreign to just about everyone who has attempted to talk to me about this.

The popular vote is that we move here. I had not set out a ballot.  I have had many an unsolicited opinion. I have not said to anyone “What do you think?” or “Where should we go?” If I’m going to live here, I alone should be asking myself those questions.

I have learned that when something is popular, it is probably wrong. Everyone has a context for what they’re saying to me; perhaps this is payback for the many times I have waxed rhapsodic and pushy about hidden features of Minneapolis.

And here I pause to allow the one piece of genuine bitterness I have in me to flow out – I am forever the person designated to make hard decisions between right and popular. While I know yelling “it’s not fair!” is a useless act, sometimes a little fist shaking loosens some knots in the back.

We’ll see if I can get conversant with the land that is California and the city spirits of the Bay area tomorrow evening. That, and I’ll see if I can get some fucking time to work.

Also, I am still recovering from US Air keeping us on a plane for two hours while they fixed a broken chair. Those of us in front seats were just kind of stuck there.

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All this Artist’s Way stuff: here’s the payoff

June 4, 2014 by Diana Rajchel | Comments Off | Filed in Creativity

So I started the Artist’s Way in 2008, mostly as a sort of me-too with Xiane and Cassidy and Angelique, two being women in the Etsy beauty products guild I was in. It’s one of those situations where life definitely has a purpose – the beauty stuff was a huge diversion from what I knew I was supposed to be doing.  This 12 week series turned into exactly the kind of guidance I needed because it made me pause and look not just at my creative habits but at my entire life.

The Artist’s Way proved so helpful I moved on to Finding Water. Then on to Walking in This World. Then I just kept going…and only this year have I sort of caught up, with the Artist’s Way for Parents sitting on my Kindle despite my not having children.

The small steps, the daily work, the wisdom – for me, it helped. Because now I have my first published book to show for it:

darw_book_cover

At last, it’s out – and it would never be finished without my adherence to the Artist’s Way path. You can get your own copy at Amazon or any other bookstore your heart desires. You may want to ask your favorite indie bookseller to order a copy.

But… it’s out. I did it.

And after I post this I’m going to work on the next two books I have contracted.


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the Sacred Mystery of Denial #paganvalues

June 4, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in Pagan Culture

The agrarian mysteries conferred the secret of the vine. Ecstatic mysteries the secret of sex and reproduction. The Mystery of the 2 x 4 is when the universe clobbers you after trying to show you gently what you needed to know several times. Sacred consent, sacred sex, love, joy, passion, death, survival, healing, sharing, compassion – we’re all about it.

But there is another mystery. It’s actually a Mystery of light – but we have come to treat it like a shadow.

It is no shadow.

The Mystery of Denial is how we keep light when dark would overcome us. It is how we choose dark when our life is spent and we have no more to give to the light.

It is how we are able to change paths and pursue our truths – rather than be overwhelmed by a truth that isn’t ours to live out.

Denial is our gods-given right to refuse. It is the manifestation of free will; saying no is how we know that we are free.

We may choose to live when we are given a crippling disease that removes any quality of life. But our choice to refuse to is also sacred.

We may be offered the pleasures of the flesh – but we are meant to be free to refuse them. We may have those pleasures requested of us, for selfish or shared pleasure – and it is a sacred duty for the asker to accept a refusal, as this is the play of free will upon the earth.

We may be asked for money, for food, for shelter, for things trivial and significant. We may give and this is sacred. But refusing to give is, too, sacred.

No is not the enemy.

No is simply our guardian, our tool to mark what is ours upon our person.

The word no causes the mind to cloud and the throat to tighten. But it should not.

When you master this mystery, you will relax upon hearing it – because no simply means to take another path, until such a time as your path is also to say no.

This is the sacred Mystery of Denial; if we are truly life affirming, we must have room for this negative.

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Remodeling the Witch’s Pryamid #paganvalues

June 3, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in Pagan Culture

To many, the very idea of recalibrating "ancient wisdom"  must really hit the heresy bone. But really, if Wicca and other Pagan religions that draw from the tenets of Wicca are non-dogmatic as they claim, then it’s high time to walk that walk. The very point of being non-dogmatic is that when we find ourselves in situations where our stated values perpetuate evil instead of good, we change those values. Any values system worth adherence must stand up in the real world and to do that long term requires change.

 

And this is why I am suggesting that we alter the Witches’ Pryamid/Pillars of the Magus just a little bit.

 

For those who may not necessarily be familiar, the Witches’ Pyramid is a call to magicians of any faith to master  the following four qualities/practices. In Wicca, each is assigned to an element, alongside the Greek humors and many other associations.

 

They are:

To Know

To Will

To Dare

To Be Silent

 

The one which merits revision at this point is To Be Silent. This is not because silence is wrong; it’s because as recent sex scandals in the Pagan community have revealed, it is much too easy to interpret this too literally and under the wrong definition. The Burning Times misinformation led many 20th century witches to shape their modern beliefs in reaction to a time that did not really exist (heretics were burned. Witches – i.e. herbalists, usually Christian, were hanged. The Inquisition did other things.)

 

Silence has become a deadly tool of evil, though when it was brought into Wicca it was meant as a way of preserving the good. The intent of silence was to first of all, honor the secrets of others. Those secrets meant names, the identifying details of lives of coven members and people that came to us for help.

 

It did not mean the Mysteries – that ban was lifted when Gerald Gardner was called to publish his books. I have deep quibbles with Gardnerianism, Alexandrianism and any asshat that throws around the term "NeoWicca" as though the Gardnerian and Alexandrian labels don’t make that clear enough. But even so, Gardner is, albeit very indirectly, a spiritual ancestor to me the way Mary Magdelene and John Calvin are to Protestants.1  Mysteries have a way of being self-protecting as they are things you only get by living them, agrarian and bodily Mysteries alike. It did not mean magic, per se. Sharing magic and magical techniques is no different than teaching a person how to clean a gun or handle a knife. What that person shoots or cuts with it is in fact not connected to your karma and to think it does suggests a God complex. If we have free will, so do the people we teach – and controlling them rather than observing whether they live the path while using the skills is in itself an ethical violation.

 

Silence meant knowing when to hold the tongue, when to listen, when to observe.

Instead, it has been used to keep secrets for the sake of power alone, or to say nothing when evil plays out before your eyes.

 

Silence is now a tool of oppression when it was meant to be a tool of wisdom.

 

It is not the fault of silence, of course. The fault lies with our shared understanding of it.

 

So I propose a change to the pyramid – not in intent, but in word choice. Words, after all, have power and sometimes words change meaning and thus their powers change. So it is with silence.

 

Instead of To Be Silent I propose the Witches’ Pryamid say To Discern.

To Know.

To Will.

To Dare.

To Discern.

 

Discernment does what silence once bid: observe first. Understand. Recognize differences subtle and overt. Make decisions based on careful distinction, on an understanding that absolutes only work well in fiction.

 

If you see a violent situation play out before your eyes, discernment bids you to understand it. Is this a repetitive situation? The first time its happened? Is this merely the first time you have seen something happen? What were the circumstances? How will strangers be affected by your decision to act or not act?

 

If you are unconcerned with how people you don’t know are affected, why? Is that really a functional moral system? What if you replaced the word "strangers" with "innocents?" How does it look to you now?

 

Discernment will help you consider the consequences of your actions and the actions of those you observe; it is applied with a commitment to the greater good.

 

Ah silence, you are not at fault. But because we so little understood you, it is time instead to Discern.

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  1. I am not saying I am lineaged from Gardner. I am adding it because someone always on the alert for ways to injure their own butt will misconstrue the statement if I don’t footnote it. []

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All Acts of Love and Pleasure #paganvalues

June 1, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in Pagan Culture

So, for those of us that are Wiccan1  we often refer strangers to the Wiccan Rede as our expression of a moral system. Except it’s not; in practice it’s more PR tool than guideline. Either it’s treated too casually with more focus on the “do what thou wilt” than the “harm none” or it’s  taken too literally. I’m pretty sure the original author of the Rede would be horrified to hear one man I knew took a beating because he applied “harm none” without further discernment.

The ultimate Wiccan values statement is not the Rede, it is Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess2 Yes, it is referenced as liturgy and used in one the heaviest of the heavy coven-based Wiccan rituals that is, but, outside of circle, it is just as powerful: it is a description of how Wiccan adherents should conduct themselves.

I’m going to go through this phrase by phrase with my own understanding of it.

1)Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who was of old also called Artemis; Astarte; Diana; Melusine; Aphrodite; Cerridwen; Dana; Arianrhod; Isis; Bride; and by many other names.

Aside from an introduction, for now I’m going to set this one aside. It’s a complex issue and I am heretical in that I don’t believe all the Goddesses are as one Goddess – but a few are comfortable forming a union, or maybe a social sports league. This is an expression of my personal experience with the divine and most certainly not specific to Wicca. Just me.

2)Whenever ye have need of anything, once in a month, and better it be when the Moon be full,

First, it suggests religious gathering/ritual once a month. It also recommends asking for help with your needs once a month. That seems about right – in a give-and-take relationship once a month is a reasonable exchange for help on both sides. The full moon is preferred. It doesn’t need to be at night, just during the full moon. Night just cooperates with most people’s work schedules. Since this itself is derived from a passage from Aradia where similar words were addressed to slaves, the implication of night would also be about safety in secrecy – which, in a society where slavery is mostly metaphorical is not necessarily the case.

3)then ye shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of me, who am Queen of all Witcheries.

So there does need to be a bit of worship worked in. It’s a give and take – but to adore someone, you generally need pretty words and pretty things, whether it’s a libation, a spritz of perfume or a lot of sincere if horrible poetry. (Valiente was a wonderful poet. I am speaking of what the poetic average just is in general.)

The location, according to this, should not be public. This is an area with rich possibility for exploration and debate. Some read this as an edict to stay in the broom closet (keep it unknown that you are Pagan.) Since this text is itself a derivative work, inspired by Charles Godfrey Leland’s Aradia factors into the shape of this intent.

Since Aradia is the tale of an oppressed population in Italy saved by the Goddess Diana, led by a female Christ3  named Aradia, it makes sense that these oppressed people would be admonished to hide their doings. It seems possible that there may have been some sort of culturally required break in work patterns at the time of the full moon as well. An enslaved population most certainly needs to keep any organizing and educating doings a secret. So for those that subscribe to the Burning Times motif, secrecy intended steps to avoid persecution.

There is yet another perspective on this, and one I am more inclined to in terms of what is current in society. This admonishment for secrecy aligns with a little-practiced Christian value expressed in the gospel by that more famous Christ: praying only in secret.   From Matthew 6:5-8:5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

While some Wiccans believe God/ess is ominpresent but not omnipotent, requiring prayers to actually be spoken, most likely appreciate treating faith as something very intimate between the self and the divine, rather than a decorative accessory of public morality.

4)There shall ye assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet have not yet won its deepest secrets: to these will I teach things that are yet unknown.

This is a little more complex. Certainly those who practice Wicca or other forms of the Craft learn plenty witch-to-witch. But this line also suggests why Wicca is a Mystery religion. Direct contact with the divine is often instructive; since most rituals involve some sort of direct communion/interaction, it also results in information imparted to that person about how to better practice magic, or how to solve one of life’s vexations or simply how to heal a wound. Miracle healings, while not unheard of, are fairly rare in the Craft; however, understandings of steps needed and work required to heal being acquired in a vision or similar spiritual experience during Wiccan ritual are very common. These visions and information sessions do seem to come over the strongest signal during the full moon.

5)And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye are really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise.

By the time Valiente wrote this slavery had already disappeared from the United Kingdom and the United States. Again, because the Charge is itself a derivative work it’s necessary to look at the conditions of the feudal peasants to whom the charge of Diana to Aradia is addressed. Feudal peasants were bought and sold with the land they lived on so yes, they were fundamentally slaves.

But who might Valiente have spoken of? While some might well argue women, bucking against the restrictive conditions of the 1940s and 50s, it’s important to remember that she wrote this for use by both men and women. The question is raised then: who back then saw themselves as slaves? What do we consider ourselves enslaved by now? Given that slavery and human traffic is as virulent as it has ever been, what does the spiritual practice free us from?

The way this is phrased, it suggests that we are most enslaved to our social statuses. It’s not just the wealthy among us that cling to those identities. There is a certain fierce pride to those who wear symbols of poverty, whether it’s shabby clothing or “ghetto” whatever. By shedding the clothing we are no longer influenced by those social symbols.

But that’s only for those of us willing to shed clothing. This is also why the pseudo-choir robe is so popular among Wiccan covens that don’t go skyclad. A single garment that looks like it came from the church choir bad boy is uniform enough for other coveners not to be able to identify telltale signs of social status – in those robes your best guess as to how much power a person has comes from the manicure and that’s easy to fake out by anyone with skill and an emery board.

For those of us, like myself, that eschew both nudity and choir robes… eh, we’re bad Wiccans, I guess. But I feel a lot more free in my jeans than I do with my rear hanging out or wearing a robe that I will set on fire in 3…2…1…

For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and mine also is joy on earth; for my Law is Love unto all Beings.

The simple explication: worship of the God/dess is supposed to be fun. This concept may be the most anathemic concept of all to conservative religious believers.

It also means that the Goddess wants us to experience happiness, rather than providing constant, loud demonstrations of pious misery. The God/dess loves us and loves all beings – not just the ones she has issued the charge to – and she wants everyone to be happy, not just her chosen witches. This is an artfully crafted statement – it embeds happiness as the highest value, while making love for those different from ourselves – or at least, recognizing her love for them – as equally important. The God/dess doesn’t care if someone is one of her witches or not – she loves that person all the same.

Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever toward it; let naught stop you or turn you aside.

Shakespeare, Hamlet: “To Thine Own Self Be True.” But this does level up on the idea that it is important to know yourself and act in accordance with your own interests. This also levels a powerful edict: do everything you can to be your best self, always. If you say you have a system of moral values, live them. Life will challenge these values all the time – live them anyway.

For mine is the secret door which opens upon the Land of Youth; and mine is the Cup of the Wine of Life, and the Cauldron of Cerridwen [sic], which is the Holy Grail of Immortality.

This is where Valiente veered away from the Aradia adaptation, calling upon Celtic and British mythologies. Whether or not it was her conscious intent she did make Wicca explicitly Celtic with this line. The Land of Youth is a specific epithet for a sort of Celtic heaven known as Tir na Nog. It was believed that in that land everything was youthful and abundant forever. The Cauldron of Ceridwen refers to the Cauldron of a specific crone goddess -  in that cauldron boils all wisdom. Whatever goes in the cauldron is changed forever. The Holy Grail is, in this case a dual Pagan and Arthurian/Christian reference: while Christians see the Holy Grail as the cup Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper, Wiccans see the cauldron as an embodiment or perhaps aspect of the grail.

I am the Gracious Goddess, who gives the gift of joy unto the heart.

Again, this suggests she just wants everyone to be happy. Also, that happiness is sacred. If she is the source of good in the world, then seeking real happiness is also a source of good in the world.

Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and

I think “eternal” is a later addition. But knowledge of the spirit in this case refers to two things: self-knowledge, an understanding of the self so that you know what your best path to happiness is and also knowledge of the human nature, that you become aware of the maladies of body and mind that keep others from their own true paths.

beyond death, I give peace, and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before.

Yes, this suggests an afterlife and the way it suggests it effectively differentiates Wicca from other types of Paganism and polytheism. Wicca believes in a pleasant afterlife and in a reunion with loved ones. This implies a meeting with ancestors but it’s kept vague. Other Pagan and polytheist beliefs tend to have unique takes on an afterlife from none at all to very specific realms of reward and punishment. This makes no mention of the Summerlands, the popular term for Wiccan “heaven” though that’s a fit, too.

Nor do I demand sacrifice,

Sacrifice is one of the most discussed concepts in all of Paganism and again this is what makes Wicca different from other Pagan and polytheist religions. Before I go further let me make this clear: these are not the sacrifices of horror movies. The majority of sacrificial practices today strongly resemble backyard barbecues. Think about that when enjoying some grilled chicken in a backyard. Wicca explicitly does not engage in sacrificial rituals. There are no animals offered, nor is anyone required to abstain from any pleasure for any reason.

Sacrifice is, however, different from offering. Offerings are routine and good manners in general. As we offer drinks to our guests so we pour libations, or burn incense or candles, or put out small pieces of food for the God/dess. It’s an extrapolation on the concept – and it’s also an important anchor to Wiccan religious ritual.

for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.

It’s unclear whether Wiccan environmentalist consciousness was sparked by this. That seems like something that came along later on. This does make it clear that all living things are her children – not just the witches – and “my love is poured out upon the earth” suggests that all living things have some of her essence upon them. It could be argued that all living things are actually the God/dess. as her presence infuses absolutely everything with no regard to what humanity considers good or evil.

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven; whose body encircleth the Universe;

This is still interpreted as the same Goddess or simply another aspect of the same Goddess. That perspective is part of Wicca’s liquid monotheism/duotheism. It is arguable that the Star Goddess is part of a double or triple pantheon and is actually a separate Goddess altogether.

I, who am the beauty of the green earth, and the white Moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, and the heart’s desire,

This is a reminder that the God/dess is all of nature – and makes it clear that yes, that means she includes us. She is the force that gives us desire, that is what is behind our state of constantly moving on to the next want once the last one has been sated.

call unto thy soul. Arise and come unto me.

This is an interesting ritual trick – yes, it calls coveners to stand up if they are not already. But it also turns the invocation of the Goddess into an invocation of the Wiccans present.

For I am the Soul of Nature, who giveth life to the universe; from me all things proceed, and unto me must all things return;

The God/dess is everything and is in everything. This line suggests both animism and gnosticism at the same time. Even the heaven/afterlife she promises is her – to die is to be in her because she is all.

and before my face, beloved of gods and mortals, thine inmost divine self shall be unfolded in the rapture of infinite joy.

What the Goddess wishes for most is to see each creature attain its bliss – and that bliss is again promised in the afterlife. “Beloved of gods and mortals” is curious – it seems to acknowledge that there are other gods outside of the Goddess. She has stated that she is all living things; this suggests that the gods are included in that as much as the mortals are and in much the same way. So the gods are not aspects of the Goddess but they are made from her (and yet, paradoxically, they ARE aspects of her because they are made from her.)

Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

This may be the single most upheld line of the Charge. It is the reason that Wicca has come to welcome all sexualities and all acts of consensual sexuality. There is a powerful moral key embedded in this seemingly permissive line: love and pleasure are not separate concepts: to be a ritual to the Goddess, love AND pleasure must BOTH be present in all parties for the act to qualify as sacred. The love need not be the romantic love of popular conception but it must be at minimum a cherishing and appreciation of the lover at hand.

And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

This is a call to balance with the intent of preventing a dogmatic approach to spirituality.

And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou know this mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

The path to the divine is an inner path, not an outer one. As you know yourself and come to recognize yourself as sacred, as part of the Goddess, you will also come to connect to the Goddess and actually recognize her outside of yourself.

For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.

 This is both the beginning of an individual’s life and the beginning of all that is and ever was. When you stop desiring you will come to the Goddess, but in an “embrace the desires” way rather than in the Buddhist “rise above your desires” sort of way.

This is poetry, yes, but this is also the original Wiccan values statement. Every line is packed with meaning and that means every line may have a different interpretation from what I have set down here. But it is important to understand it, because it actually has more explicit calls for pleasure-loving moral behavior than the Wiccan Rede itself does.

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  1. eclectic Wiccan, not NeoWiccan, asshole []
  2. used per the Creative Commons license issued by her foundation. Pretty sure it’s far too late for no derivative works, says one of the many poets that have indeed derived from the Charge. Does a blog post discussing it constitute derivative work or academic discussion? []
  3. the literal meaning of Christ is “anointed” and thus in this case it is a generic term for a mythologized savior []

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Win a Free Copy of Divorcing a Real Witch!

May 27, 2014 by di | Comments Off | Filed in Divorcing a Real Witch, Writing

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Divorcing a Real Witch by Diana Rajchel

Divorcing a Real Witch

by Diana Rajchel

Giveaway ends May 30, 2014.

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at Goodreads.

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I am giving away two copies of Divorcing a Real Witch on Goodreads – sign up to see if you win!
Don’t want to take any chances? Pre-order your own copy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your favorite indie bookstore!

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