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New Site Launch Complete!

Well, friends, after 6 years on wordpress.com (and a bit of time on blogspot before that), the time has finally come: journeythroughtheobsidiandream.com is live!

No more wordpress branding.  No more ads based on wordpress and google analytics (one friend of mine told me that there were actually ads for Herr Pumpkinfuhrer during the campaign season … ugh.).  I’ll still try to pitch you to buy my stuff, but … well, y’all have other artist friends, and you knew that would never stop.

As we gear up for the Heartland Pagan Festival season, I’ll get super talkative in March and April, then vanish off the face of the earth for much of May, then come out screaming in June.  Y’all know what to expect.  And now y’all know where to look for it.

This blog, and it’s blogspot predescessor, will be deleted for good in the coming weeks.  So I really hope you all will follow me to my new home.

In the meantime, thank you all for your love and support.

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Apolitical Paganism Must End

At its inception in the first half of the 20th Century, modern neo-Pagan witchcraft was inherently political.  It was a new religion for a new age.  Disdaining the One God for a Goddess and her consort.  Challenging mainstream religion with (then new, albeit now discredited) interpretations of historical fact.  Giving religious authority to individual worshipers and, more frighting, to women.

In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, Pagans of all stripes were closely allied with the environmental and animal rights movements.  Witchcraft traditions, in particular, were almost synonymous with feminism.  The Feri and Reclaiming traditions, just to name two, were political protest organizations as much as religious ones.

When I joined the movement in the mid 1990s that was still the case.  The Satanic Panic was “officially” over, but the echoes had not yet died down.  We were fighting for the right to serve openly in the military.  Every Pagan web page on the internet had a link to, or the full text of, Isaac Bonewits cult identification rubric, and/or a disclaimer addressing law enforcement, assuring them that we did not believe in Satan, curse anyone, or perform human or animal sacrifices.  A presidential hopeful (who went on to win) scored points with his base by condemning us as “not a real religion”.  There were an increasing number of people who resisted calling any of that “political”, but that didn’t change the reality that it was.

In the 1990s and 2000s, though, an underlying current of assimilationism made its way to the forefront.  I don’t know, exactly, what happened.  Perhaps, like we’ve seen in the Gay Rights movement over the last few years, those with the least to lose decided that they had won enough recognition that they are prepared to throw everyone else under the bus in order to keep it.  My own belief is that, in the wake of, first, the Satanic Panic, then the 9/11 attacks, fear and nationalism took over: “we’re just like everyone else” stopped being a strategically deployed shield, and became a goal.

People stopped looking quite so askance at Neo-Nazi Norse Pagans, and that – combined with the spikes in racism and sexism in mainstream society – backflowed into the Pagan mainstream like an overflowing sewer, reinforcing the underlying racism and swank pedestal sexism that had always been a part of the movement.  Explicitly nationalist (and often implicitly heterosexist white supremacist) reconstructionist Paganisms emerged in both Europe and the United States.

Now event organizers pride themselves on their political neutrality.  When Pagans discuss what they need to to to achieve greater “mainstream acceptance”, more than half will tell you that Paganism needs to keep out of politics.  When trans folx demand to be included in gendered rites, half the opposition is from pole who don’t want their religion politicized.  When others among us demand un-gendered spaces, or try to complicate gendered archetypes, we are accused of “overthinking things” or dismissed as having “an agenda”. When some of us point out that Native Americans have asked not to be counted among our number, have asked us to stop stealing their language, to stop aping their their rituals, to stop copying and selling their tools, we are accused of being too political.  When some of us speak up against police brutality, against war, against rape culture, we are shouted down as being too negative, too divisive, too political.

That doesn’t work.  Literally everything is political.

For Paganism to stay out of politics, it must become empty and meaningless.  And, even then, it’s still political: it’s become a product to be sold, a lifestyle to be aspired to, an aesthetic without ethics or ecstasy.

Politics is ethics in practice.  If our religion does not inform our ethics (and vice versa, for that matter), then it is nothing.

Paganism must be political.  Pagans must take public stances, as Pagans, on the issues of our day.  We must agitate.  We must argue.  We must take action.

 

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What is the Work?

Again again again I come back to this question.

What is the work?

Simple question, on the face of it.  So many dangerous non-answers.

I ran into an old friend over the weekend.  She said some things to me that made me want to scream.

“It sounds like you’re exactly where you need to be,” she said.  Then ahw proceded to tell me what I needed to do instead of what I’m doing now: find a new home festival, if Heartland has become all work; go to other festivals to see how they do things (how are those two not murually exclusive?).  I asked her how her life was going, and she changed the subject.

Running into D struck me as an omen of sorts.  There’s a conversation we get stuck in every time we talk about life: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” she’ll say to me; I’ll respond, “What do you want?”  We didn’t actually have that conversation this time — or perhaps we did, obliquely and by inversion — but I couldn’t not think on it.

Since the end of the Ceremonial Experiment and the decomissioning of the Sunrise Temple, I have been spiritually adrift.  My magical practice has ammounted to repeating the Experiment in miniature —  powering through RO’s Seven Spheres when it came out last year; attempting to code-switch planetary conjuration into the language of Witchcraft at the beginning of this year.  My spiritual practice has consisted solely of orchestrating the rituals for Heartland Pagan Festival — playing priest to the community, a role to which I have long aspired, but somehow to the exclusion of my personal spiritual pursuits.

I keep coming back to the same to questions.  Where do I go from here?  What is the next phase of the work?  The blog has suffered for it even more than my life.  Existential angst is not the writing mode that I do best.

I have been seeking teachers again.  But there are a number of reasons that so many of the books on magic are exclusively 100-level beyond the obvious American (and, perhaps, to a lesser degree Anglophone) prefference for shallow knowleged.  At a certain point you must cross the line from the techniques of magic into the experience of the Mysteries.

I have found some inspiration in the recent works of Gordon White and Peter Grey.  But Peter Grey, however brilliant his writing, is too much the cishet fuckboy: for every brilliant illumination he provides, there is an overlong passage of literary masturbation wherein he gets so caught up in his own language that he forgets his point, on the one hand, and some casually awful straight man bullshit on the other.  And Gordon White, for all his Chaote brilliance and animist awakening, is too comfortable with the lingering structures of empire and his emphasis on ancestors is a place that I have not yet been able to follow.

And there, of course, obvious directions that I could go from here.

Going back to basics (again) would probably serve me well.  Struggling to meditate means you need to meditate more, right?

Leaving my body was my greatest aspiration when I fist began practicing magic.  I never quite got the hand of “astral projection” techniques, but I am unconvinced that the shamanic visionary techniques I did, once, excell at were taking me to a fundamentally different place.  And yet… I have let htat practice slip.

I have a small cadre of familiar spirits accumulated throughout my visionary and ceremonial practices, all of whom probably have something to teach me if only I were talking to them.

 

I have a collection of masks, maked in frantic, mantic fever, each of which has some purupose that I have not yet unlocked, and which is probably more subtle and potent that the production of occult art.

I have drawn Powers and spirits into the bodies of others, almost too casually, but I have only experienced trance-possession, myself, and handfull of times: once Death, once my Natal Demon, twice a Sun God, all by the aid of masks, and, most recently, the Nine Muses followed by Typhoeus as a part of the Air and Water rituals this year’s festival.  And yet, it was long considered the defining feature of moder neo-Pagan witchcraft.

There are gods and powers I have encountered in my practice whose interest in me I never managed ot understand.  The Intelligences of the Moon.  The Witchmother and Witchfather — the latter possibly Lucifer, the latter whom I never idenitified.  The Queen of the Deap Water.  Certain Solar powers.  Rhea Cybele.

And Dionysus, who has shown me small favors yet always remained aloof.

A clever reader, of course, sees not an overabundance of options, among which one cannot chose, but rather an escalating programme that I should be pursuing.

And yet … the dillema remains.  How do you meditate when panic rises every time you try to still your mind?

This is the work.

 

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Death and Violence

I spent the last two months lost in the woods.  Tragically, while true, this is not a literal statement.  I lost the entirety of April and May to preparing for and putting on the Heartland Pagan Festival.  In those months, I did not engage with social media except to shout into the void.  Since I have come back from festival, and started checking in, I have found a number of clusterfucks waiting for me, and I have struggled with how to engage with them.

And then the last week happened.  Yesterday morning, I struggled to write something relevant about Ruth Barrett, her heinous anthology, her history, and Cherry Hill Seminary’s inadequate response.  This morning I struggle to address the violence in Orlando, and the routine, inadequate, responses to it. There are things I want to say.  There are things that might be useful to say.  I’m not sure how much overlap there is between those things.

I am not the only one who predicted this attack (or, rather, something like it) in the hours after last year’s supreme court ruling by which marriage equality was made national law.  I must admit that that I, at least, expected it to come much, much sooner.  Instead there was the long litany of murdered transwomen, mostly women of color, which grew steadily day by day.

Watching people blame “radical Islam” for the Orlando attack, when I have spent my entire life listening to mainstream Christians advocate similar violence, is sickening.  I remember the mainstream gay bashing of the 1990s.  I remember when, in the 1990s and 2000s, ultimately 4/5ths of US states decided that the federal ban on same-sex marriage was insufficient and passed state laws and constitutional amendments to the same effect.  And I know my history.  This shit isn’t new, and it’s not Islam.  Or, not just Islam. Nor was Orlando the only attack this week, just the most successful.  There was also the Target bathroom bombing in Evanston, IL, and the shooter arrested on the way to the Los Angeles Pride Parade.  And probably a half-dozen more I haven’t heard about yet.

Meanwhile, I watch the slow rise of pro-gun and anti-queer paganism, and wonder how much longer it will be before I’m staring down a barrel at festival. There was more casual homophobia among Pagans in the 1990s, but I don’t remember people fighting this hard to kick us out.  I do remember Heathenry rejecting the Pagan identity as a whole precisely because the larger movement was, among other things, more accepting of queers than they wanted to be. (Which is why I was so surprised and suspicious when people I knew started getting involved with the Norse gods.)  That Cherry Hill Seminary would continue to employ Ruth Barrett after her repeated attacks on the transgender community, culminating in her TERF anthology project, tells me that her views are actually becoming more mainstream in the pagan community as a whole, despite being pushed to the margins of the festival circuit.

Paganism is not immune to the over culture: as queer rights progress, those who oppose us will continue to become more violent. And telling us to “embrace our own second amendment rights” in self-defense is basically telling us to violently secede, because there is no place in society for us.

Don’t look to me for a conclusion, here.  Now is not the time to ask me about solutions, either.  I am angry and afraid, and the only paths that I can see from here are defensive separatism or answering violence with violence, neither of which, statistically, pan out well for us in the end.

The one thing I am absolutely certain of is that assimilation is worse than death, and I will not no more conform to the heterosexist dualism of my fellow Pagans than to the white supremacist cishet patriarchy and materialist nihilism of mainstream American culture.  I will not give up the magic.  I will not give up the ecstasies.  I will not conform to the prescribed roles for my sex, gender, or class.

I am a witch.  The war is on, but I will not submit to a fair fight.

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HPF 2016: Skidding In Home

A week ago yesterday, at almost exactly midnight (and about twelve hours after we had intended), Aradia and I disappeared into the woods for the thirty-first Heartland Pagan Festival.  Last night, just an hour short of a full week away, we pulled back into our driveway.

Last year, I found myself spearheading the ritual crew for the thirtieth anniversary extravaganza.  It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but it was an amazing experience.  Then some cruel bastards decided that I should be in charge: first they put me in the chair of my committee; then, when someone stepped down, I let them put me on the Board of Directors.

A year as ritual crew lead did not prepare me in any way, shape, or form for the amount of work I found waiting for me as Chair of the Sacred Experience Committee.  The decision to put on four workshops (three of which were interconnected and had to happen the same day) didn’t help.  And it turns out that coordinating with guest speakers to participate in the main rituals is hard.  And where the FUCK did all the Heartland drummers go?  (Seriously, you used to trip over at least two drum circles on the way to any given port-o-john; now I struggle to recruit three drummers for ritual.)  Oh, and that whole near-miss-with-the-tornado thing?  Yeah…. that happened.

I’m still processing.  There was a lot of really good stuff that happened.  There was some really shitting stuff that happened.  There was just a whole lot of STUFF that happened. And the weather.  Did I mention the tornado?  I’ll be processing all week.

And if you’re in St.Louis this coming weekend, you should come process it with me, possibly over beers or coffee, because I’ll be wearing my PR hat and schilling for the festival at St. Louis Pagan Picnic.  And, speaking of Public Relations, if you were there at the festival with me, please fill out our post-festival survey!  The survey is anonymous, and you will have the chance to enter for a free pass to next year’s festival!

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Beltane Epiphany

beltane-1

Aradia and I celebrated Beltane this year with a brief but much-needed retreat to Camp Gaea at the beginning of last week.  Our ritual was small and private: the ritual burning of the leftovers of our magical practice since Samhain — sigil sketches, expired maeteria, and the like — and the detritus of the job I was let go from at the beginning of the year.  There was a great deal more of the latter than the former — despite the planetary witchcraft experiment, which has yielded largely negative results, the majority of our magical energy over the last year has gone toward the coming festival — and I believe that I got a great deal more out of our ritual than she.

That night and in the morning, I was struck by an epiphany of sorts.   It came to me in the form of one of the first lines I wrote for the Earth Ritual, with which we  will open HPF 2016: “We are of the Earth, upon earth, and, in the end, below the Earth.”

Two nights later, when I performed the Stele of Jeu for the Dark Moon — my first return to that ritual in many months — the power came, as usual, but to little effect.  Previously, when I have performed the Headless Rite, the power has rushed out into my Kingdom, opening fissures in the landscape of my life even as it filled others.  This time, however, it merely rippled out over a smooth plane, affecting nothing except perhaps to burnish the already polished surface.

For three solid years in the Sunrise Temple, and more haphazardly since coming back to Kansas City, I devoted myself to courting the spirits of the Upper Worlds — spirits of the stars and planets, of the Heavens Above.  When I tried to bring my practice back to the home-place of Witchcraft, I tried to do it incrementally.  My first forays back into witchcraft merely changed the means by which I sought those starry powers, re-callibrating my rites into things that would make sense to witches who, eclectic though they may be, had never dabbled in the Legemeton or the Golden Dawn.  I didn’t want to just abandon all that I had learned.  I wanted to, somehow, bring back the wisdom and the power I had learned among the stars.

This, I believe now, was precisely backwards.  Someday, I will write my book on planetary witchcraft.  But first I must make myself, again a witch, rather than the sorcerer I have become.

What I need to do now is resume my former devotion to the gods and powers . This will, of course, almost certainly prove to be a false dichotomy in the end. But I must follow the path where I see it.

 

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Adrift

The Empress, according to Jessa Crispin, is sometimes an indication to do more rather than less, to revel in your fecundity, to make use of your resources as diversely as possible.[1]

The Empress has featured prominently in my readings over the last quarter, but I did not learn this about her until this last week … mere days after I was let go without notice from my position at the jewelry repair shop where I have worked, now, for just over eight years.  My position was eliminated to make room in the budget for another sales person, a decision which speaks volumes about the company they were becoming.  That sort of decision making is, of course, why I was already looking to leave, albeit on my own terms.  The decision having been taken from me, I find myself feeling liberated rather than diminished.  I am now free to embrace the empress.

This is not to say that I have not spent a great deal of the last week reeling.  Even welcome change can be a shock.  But, more than anything, I have spent the last six days working diligently at my art, my obligations to the HSA, and the maintenance of my home.

In the month since my last post, there have been so many things which I have tried to write about, but found myself wordless for a variety of reasons.  But they all come down, I think, to this: capitalism is torture.

Yes, I am a historian.  And, yes, I do know how hard people in pre-capitalist societies had to work to put food in their bellies.  Frankly, that’s the point: most of what 21st Century capitalists know about the world before before 1865 is the lies they commissioned to make the past look nastier.  Before our current level of labor specialization, before the theft of the means of production, peasants were oppressed but rarely starving, and they had the tools to grow their own food and manufacture their own goods, and sufficient surplus to trade for what they could not make.  And let’s not even get into what a bad deal the agrarian revolution turned out to be, ten thousand years before the rise of industry.

Work is toil.  Capitalism is torture.  And in the week since I was “terminated” (think really hard about how fucked up that metaphor is for just a minute), I have been physically and spiritually healthier than I had in months.  My allergies are receding, despite the early onset of spring.  My sleep has improved in quality, and though I haven’t gone to bed a minute earlier, I’ve been getting up earlier and more energized.

I am adrift, now.  My circumstances (fortunate in so many ways, compared to so many others, a fortuitous intersection of luck, privilege, and preparation) are such that I must find new employment.

But I am not rudderless.  I have a trade.  I have a number of other skills.  And I am always willing and able to train.  And, with a little bit of luck and maybe a bit of help, I might just be able to leverage myself into my own employer.

A few short pieces of my fiction will be available for sale, soon, as ebooks.  And I’m going to keep submitting my novel for publication until I have the means to open my own publishing company(only about $500 with careful use of print-on-demand services).  And my photos are even now for sale.

Expect to see more art here in the near future.

And expect to see more magic.

In the meantime, my apologies for my unreliable posting schedule.

  1. Crispin, Jessa.  The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life.  New York: Touchstone, 2016.  pp43-44

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In Defense of Negativity

Negativity gets a lot of bad press in the modern neoPagan movement.  “You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.”  That’s not a terrible idea, you’re just being negative. “Negativity.  It can only affect you if you’re on the same level.  Vibrate higher.” Depression isn’t real, you’re just being negative.  Sexism and racism aren’t real, you’re just letting other people’s negativity get to you.  “Negative Nancy gained an electron or lost a proton.  Either way she’s unstable.”

Fuck y’all.  Eat urinal cakes and die.  The fuck even is negativity?

I’ll tell you what negativity is: it’s dogwhistle code.  It’s code for experiencing an emotion that makes other people uncomfortable.  It’s code for not laughing at oppressive jokes.  It’s code for holding people accountable for their actions.  It’s code for not accepting apologies.

Damn right, I’m negative.  I’m too emotional to be butch.  Too large and hairy to be femme.  Too young to be an authority.  Too old to be relevant.

My first impulse, of course, is to just blame the New Agers and be done with it, but that would be oversimplifying things.  The poison actually comes from the well of mainstream culture.  And there’s this whole awkward parallel with the fundamentalist Christian mad on against “bitterness” (here code for “not submitting gracefully”).  But that’s another conversation.  When it comes right down to it, I don’t give two wet shits where the admonition against negativity comes from.

I’m here to speak in defense of negativity.

Firstly, I wish to speak in defense of emotional negativity.  You have the right to be sad.  You have the right to be angry.  You have the right to be depressed.  Each and every damn one of us have the right to our mental illnesses and to the full range of emotional states.  Can we have  conversation about how our resulting behavior effects others?  Sure.  Some other day.  Because “don’t be so negative” isn’t saying “please don’t treat me badly”, it’s saying “your emotional state is inconvenient for me so straighten up”.  I’m sorry my lack of constant joy is inconvenient for you; you being an asshole about my depression actually does me structural harm.

Emotional policing and concern trolling is abusive behavior.  Fucking quit that shit, you damn assholes.

Secondly, I wish to speak in defense of negativity in a more general sense.  Pointing out the bad behavior of well-loved people within a community is often dismissed as negativity.  So is pointing out that a practice or policy is either unhelpful or actively harmful.  Often, advocating for any change whatsoever is dismissed as “negativity.”

Can someone please explain to me what’s wrong with getting shit done?  Or how you’re supposed to fix problems without first identifying that they exist?  And if I have to tell you six times that a window is broken, I may be less polite the third, forth, and fifth time.  and I may just yell at you the sixth.  That doesn’t magically mean the window is just fine and that there was nothing ever wrong with it and maybe there wasn’t even a window there in the first place.

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Elemental Excursions

So it seems that, in all the alternating depression and excitement of the last month, I forgot to announce some fairly important and amazing news!

My artwork was selected to represent the theme of this year’s Heartland Pagan Festival!

elemental excursions art

My formal Artist’s Statement reads as follows:

The image is constructed of circles interlocking in the manner of Celtic knots.  The outer four circles contain the traditional alchemical symbols for the four Classical Elements: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire.  The central circle reveals a landscape at sunset or sunrise, with a road stretching from the foreground plains to the sun-topped mountains in back.  The plains are marked by a lake on the left and a tower on the right.

The symbolism may feel familiar to students of the tarot, particularly decks descended from the images of Pamela Coleman Smith, and this is no coincidence.  The tower by the lake and the road evokes The Moon, which challenges the practitioner to face their fears head on.  The tower, on its own, evokes The Tower from which the unwary fall when they cannot overcome those demons.  The Sun shines down over it all: the mountain cliffs from which The Fool threatens to fall, the road The Chariot traverses, and the field where Death reaps. This is the magical and material World made up of the Elements which we must explore and master.

But here, in this public yet intimate space, I’m just going to come out and say that I’m fucking ecstatic.  Seriously, I cannot even begin to articulate how happy it makes me to have my art representing the festival that has been such a significant part of my life.

Moreover, between my position as Chair of the Sacred Experience Committee, my committee’s close work with the Speakers and Bands Committee, and now the official festival artwork, I have a hand in most of the most visible aspects of Heartland Pagan Festival 2016.  And just to be clear, this is not a power trip.  This is me nerding out hard core.  This festival has been a huge part of my life since I was eighteen years old.  I have attended more festivals than not since 1999 — twelve out of sixteen, if I recall correctly.  And now, just by virtue of having shown up to do the work, I have a significant voice in how this festival is going to be experienced and remembered by everyone who comes this year.

So please, allow me to invite you to join the festivities.  Come to Heartland Pagan Festival 2016 and explore the four elements with me.  (Please forgive the current state of the web page; we’re suffering some technical difficulties, but the registration system DOES work.)  When you get there, look for the long haired, tattooed, hippie fuck in too much eyeliner working the Sacred Experience Committee booth, and tell him you want to throw back some mead with your favorite satyr.

And, if you live close enough that you’d like to get involved, don’t hesitate to member up at the same link.  There’s a lot of work to be done to put on a festival, and we’ll be glad to have you.

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Heartland Pagan Festival Sacred Experience Committee Survey

In keeping with my duties as chair of the Sacred Experience Committee, I’m trying to find out what, exactly it is that HPF attendees want out of the main ritual arc.

Would you lovely people who attend the Heartland Pagan Festival be willing to fill out a survey?  We ask a couple questions about your attendance history, your personal practice, and what you think is important about a public ritual.

We have also made a facebook page to make ourselves easier to find.  We are here for the benefit of festival attendees.

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