Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens


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Finding the Hook in your Heart and Soul

I am an unabashed lover of all things Peter Pan.  Aside from the sheer brilliance of the story itself, a tale that speaks to both children and adults, I have always been fascinated by the many permutations and iterations the J.M. Barrie’s convention-breaking stage play about a flying child.  It is a mark of great literature that many readers over multiple generations can find new and interesting angles from which to approach an old story, and Peter Pan may have more retellings and alternate approaches than just about any other story.  Through these retellings, a story stands the test of time.  And time, in the form of threatening adulthood and the deadly Tic-Toc Croc, is the principal antagonist in the story of the Boy Who Never Grew Up.

Finding Neverland is one of the most interesting incarnations of the beloved story.  Based on a play by Allan Knee, the 2004 film presents the story of how the Scottish playwright Barrie dramatically altered his life, challenged London’s strict social norms, befriended a family of young boys who inspired him, and ultimately penned this enduring classic in the face of deep resistance.  It’s a lovely, touching movie.  

In 2015, the story hit Broadway as a stage musical.  Music is a powerful way to touch at your heart, and the show pounds its way into your senses near the end of the first act and never lets go.   

If you know the movie, then you know that the London theater establishment resisted Barrie’s fantastical idea of a children’s play not necessarily for children.  A nanny dog, flying children, and non-verbal fairies seemed like a terrible stretch to the minds of straight laced Edwardian England.  They were right, to an extent.  In the show, Barrie gets called out on his over-exuberant fantasy at the cost of anything interesting:

“You don’t even have a villain,” Barrie is told.  From there, he suffers the loss of all that is important to him.  He is alone.  In his outcast mind, struggling with how to achieve this play that will eventually make history, he is confronted by the darkest part of himself.  James Barrie comes face to face with his shadow self and his iconic villain: James Hook.  Barrie’s alter ego tells him:

 

“No need to be afraid

Every little shackle deserves it’s praise

Time to unshackle all your chains

Don’t be so cowardly I’ll change”

 

In a dark and scary moment for both Barrie and the audience, Captain Hook tells his creator

“You have to look in your heart in your soul

You must find a hook in your heart in your soul

ANd search every nook in your heart in your soul

Don’t live by the book in your heart in your soul

We live by the hook!”

finding neverland

“Stronger.” Source: nytimes.com

It was the conflict that was necessary to make a classic.  With the darkness, the conflict, Peter Pan blossomed from a limp fairy tale into a robust and enduring classic.  Peter Pan is made what it has become not by its fun and frolic, but by the creeping crocodile threat that contrasts with Peter’s playful denial:

  • Peter Pan almost dies to end the first act.  We go to intermission with our hero proclaiming, “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”
  • Tinkerbell sacrifices herself for Pan and her light fades toward death.
  • The Darling children are captured by pirates and threatened with their lives.
  • The Darling parents spend the entire story sick to death at the loss of their children.

Tic Toc.  Tic Toc.  

Our lives and our magical practice are the same.  We may prefer the easy moments, the fun and frolic of living in a state of Neverland-ish denial, but on its own that has no meaning.  We must face the Hooks in our own heart and soul, for it is our struggles and painful moments – and perhaps ultimately our victory over them – that give our lives greater meaning.  They create the awfully big adventure.  Barrie needed his hook.  Peter needed his shadow reattached.  We need our pains to know how we’ve triumphed.  They help us define ourselves and learn how to be, in the words of the first act finale, Stronger:

 

“I can run now so much faster

Now defeat won’t be my master

I will conquer the demons

I won’t have to wait any longer

I’ve got to be stronger”

There will always be difficult times ahead, but if classics can be written under adversity, we can also become stronger from that which does not kill us.  Our Hooks give our lives meaning if we can find them.

 


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Virtues of the Goddess: Mirth

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is Part 4: Mirth.

Mirth seems to explode around us as we approach the season of Beltane.  Nature seems to be slipping on her best dress and looking for a good time.  The flowers burst open with their colorful and aromatic call to be pollinated, and here in southern California, the eye-popping purple blooms of the normally unremarkable jacaranda tree light up our sunny days.  The birds sing beautiful songs and flutter about in elaborate dances to win a chance for love.  Thrilled with the longer, warmer days, humanity also begins to migrate from indoors to outdoors as we wear more revealing clothing or head to the gym in our quest for that perfect summer beach body.  After all that darkness, we’re all looking for a little fun right now.

mirth jacaranda

Jacaranda tree in full bloom

Jacaranda Mirth

The annual SoCal spectacle of Jacaranda.

The virtue of Mirth is unique.  The other virtues advised by the Charge of the Goddess can be claimed in some form by most mainstream religions.  That’s trickier to do with Mirth.  Mirth is a traditionally secular value that is somewhat opposed to most religions.  In some religious circles, the Mirth appears to celebrate THIS life and to turn attention away from the divine.  The Puritans even outlawed Christmas because people were having way too much fun.

 

But that really shouldn’t be the case.  For Pagans, especially those who identify as Wiccans or Witches, our bodies, this life, and the Earth are sacred.  In the tradition of “Remember thou art Goddess,” this physical world and this current life are expressions of the divine, so why not have just as much fun as the gods do?  Why not celebrate them?  As far as I’m concerned, that should apply to all faiths.  I’m not here to tell other religions what to do, but it seems to me that if your God created you as well as sex, dancing, wine, and other sources of fun, then it’s probably alright if you utilize His creation.

 

“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

– Benjamin Franklin

 

I recently ran across a new style of mead called “Mirth in a Bottle.”  We, of course, enjoyed it with our Beltane ritual.  I could go over the tasting notes, but that’s not the point.  I love the idea of this mead because I believe there’s a greater truth to that name.   In everyday life, it’s all too tempting to avoid mirth.  To keep it bottled up.  Our jobs are stressful, our obligations close in on us, our lives are busy.  As a society, we often put our own needs – especially our own fun – last on the list.  That means it never gets done.  We often keep our mirth tightly corked.

Mirth Beltane Mead

It’s a shame.  Whether we have one life or many, we still have a limited time to enjoy the wonderful sensations and experiences only available to spirits in bodies.  On the cosmic scale, our chance to enjoy the wonders of physical incarnation, from laughter at silly pun to the ecstasy of amazing sex, is limited.  And yet, we squander that time doing work we often don’t like and performing the joyless chores that we place as a higher priority to the enjoyment of life.  We feel guilty when we take some down time for ourselves. We’re bottled up.

 

Have you seen that commercial that begins with the words, “When did leaving work on time become an act of courage?”  That ad expresses an unfortunate truth about our society.  We don’t allow ourselves enough mirth.  We bottle it up for the sake of the next promotion, peer pressure, or some other excuse. To me, that means we don’t value our lives enough to enjoy them.

 

Mirth is an expression of gratitude to whatever gods you believe it.  It is enjoyment of the gift the universe has given you.  To ignore it is to waste that precious gift and thumb your nose the gods, God, the Universe, or whoever you believe gave it to you.  In this way, mirth may be the highest and most spiritual virtue I can think of.  So dance, sing, feast, make music, and love.  For the sake of the gods, open up a bottle of mirth any time you can!

 

 

 

 


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Why this witch still celebrates Christmas

When the calendar turns to December, I often remember back to a discussion I had with the first pagan I ever met. I had never heard of any of that “Earth-based” religion he was talking about, and the idea of a Goddess sounded shockingly revolutionary to me at the time. It all sounded pretty nice, though, except I had trouble getting one thing out of my head: Christmas.

“Do you still celebrate Christmas?” I asked him.

“No. We have Yule, but that’s a minor holiday,” he replied.

…And my interest in Paganism went back onto the shelf. I wasn’t raised in the Christian church. I never really understood Easter, but I always loved Christmas. It had no sacred meaning to me at all, but I knew it was a Christian holiday. Although I was fascinated by my friend’s religious ideas, I couldn’t conceive of giving up that most wonderful time of the year. My desire to learn more about this “Goddess” he talked about took a back seat to my enjoyment of plastic trees, pretty lights, and fudge.

Obviously, things changed. When I first began to seriously study the Pagan path, the Wheel was just turning toward the winter solstice. The stores were beginning to fill with those same pretty lights and plastic trees. Holiday music was already piping through the speakers. Family dinners and office Christmas parties beckoned. Again, I had to ask myself: What do I do with Christmas?

I did struggle with Christmas that year, but the struggle dissipated rather quickly from my mind. After that one Holiday season, I realized that there were many reasons for Pagans and Witches to celebrate this holiday that is sacred to another faith. I wanted to share those reasons here, even though the first one may seem to contradict what I just said about the day being sacred to Christians…

Christmas is as secular as it is sacred

Christmas may have begun as a religious observance, but it hasn’t always had a comfortable relationship with Christianity. The Puritans banned the holiday. In 1659, the Court of The Massachusetts Bay Colony called Christmas festivities mere superstitions and described the celebration of the holiday as a “great dishonor to God,” mainly because of the drinking and merry-making people engaged in for the holiday.

Of course, that has all changed and most Christians eagerly celebrate the holiday, but it shows that Christmas has a long history as an uneasy mixture of the sacred and the secular, a blend of quiet holy observance and loud, cheerful revelry.

The modern Christmas continues that tradition. Blowhards on TV pontificate about a “War on Christmas” when store clerks wish their customers “Happy Holidays,” but then they break to commercials which beg their viewers to engage in the modern version of excessive revelry: rampant consumerism. Look around you in December and you’ll see more trees and Santa statues than crosses or Nativity scenes. Listen and you’ll hear Silent Night blend seamlessly with Jingle Bells as beautiful hymns announcing the Christ child mix in with spunky songs about enchanted snowmen and a reindeer who gets bullied. At this time, the secular and sacred coexist.

Christmas is not inherently nor exclusively a religious holiday. Anyone who wants to can celebrate it. Many atheists still celebrate. I’ll happily celebrate Christmas for the same reason I celebrate the Fourth of July.

Christmas brings the family together

There are people of all kinds in my family. We range from at least three kinds of devout Christians to diehard agnostics. We have a practitioner of Science of the Mind and a few who identify as “Spiritual but not Religious.” Then there’s my wife and myself, the real weirdos at the table. Pretty much no two people in my family completely agree on anything spiritual, but we have traditions and we enjoy spending time with each other. My Christian brother-in-law mixes up a fantastic Manhattan and his mom puts on a lavish spread for the Holidays. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

Further, as a practitioner of a minority religion that carries some negative stereotypes, I feel it’s my responsibility to put a sane, kind face to Witchcraft. When you announce to your family that you’re a Witch, you get odd looks from the Christians and the atheists alike, and probably plenty of whispering behind the back. But if, rather than being oppositional, you continue to be grounded and loving, you break down those stereotypes as you live your truth. Avoiding my family at the holidays would only ostracize us from our loved ones. If we want our family to respect our religion, then we need to respect theirs.

Sure, not everybody’s family get-togethers are so pleasant, but the magickally minded are supposed to be able to manifest what they desire. It starts with us.

Christmas brings its own history

If you grew up celebrating Christmas, then you probably have some fond memories of the decorations, sweets, and traditions of the time. Partaking in them once a year can bring a feeling of happiness to this season that the songs keep telling us is a joyful one.

I have Christmas decorations from long before I was a Witch. They reach back to my college years and even farther back to my wife’s childhood. Since the mid ‘90s, we have purchased one ornament per year that signifies the major events of that year. These ornaments have spread across our tree over the past 20 years.

xmas tree

The current year’s ornament is front and center while the other special ones radiate out from that point. The result is a Christmas tree (or Yule tree if you prefer) that is a living record of our relationship. It’s a very special piece of our year, one that helps us review our time together and set our goals and intentions for next year. It’s a piece of magick.

xmas tree 2

‘Tis the Season

Part of following the Wheel of the Year is attuning to the natural energies of the season. Those energies are more than just the interaction of sun, moon, and earth. They also include the egregore formed by the activity of the overall society. Fighting that energy would be like swimming upstream. It defeats the purpose. Witches flow with the energy around them, so grab your cup of eggnog.

Besides, for most of us, Christmas is fun if you let it be. It’s the time of year when the society around us encourages to dance, sing, feast, make music, and love. The Puritans may have once outlawed such things, but to us they are sacred. In many ways, celebrating the season can be an act of worship.

It serves no one to act like the Grinch up alone on his mountain top.  The Grinch was lonely, cold, and heartless as he fought the seasonal celebrations.  That’s definitely not something to strive for.

 

 

 


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On Pimples, Spells, and Doubt

It’s good to get out of your bubble sometimes. A few days ago I was listening to a podcast called “Sawbones.” It’s a humorous take on medical history hosted by a Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin. The episode was on the history of acne treatment, and boy was there some crazy stuff people used to do to get rid of their zits.

Sawbones acneRub baby urine on your face? Check.

Abstain from sex? Yep. Indulge in sex. Yep, that too.

Long, supposedly medical treatments involving multiple rounds of cutting into and scouring the skin with various instruments that seem much worse that just allowing your pimples to run their course? That was in there too.

I was laughing along with them, and the hosts came to a treatment that they called a “Wicca chant” to get rid of zits. I don’t know the original source of the spell they described. It may be from one of the many books on teen witchcraft, but I did find it posted here. The mockery of the hosts was only barely hidden as they described this supposed magickal working that instructs facially disadvantaged teens to rub dirt and vinegar on their faces and chanting these words:

Cure my skin of zits and rash,
And make it smooth in a flash.
Blemish vanish, pot-marks too,
Magic make my skin anew.

This one hit me from several angles. I was outraged that anyone would instruct a person suffering from acne to rub dirt all over their face. I suppose the idea was that the receptive Element of Earth would receive and transmute the infections that fuel the pimples, but there was no discussion of that. Plus, rubbing soil all over your face is a pretty good way to make your acne much worse.  This was no ancient working from a dusty grimoire; this was a modern Internet user knowingly posting a “spell” that would only worsen the condition.

Then there was the misuse of magick. The author of this spell not only has people smearing potentially infectious dirt onto their sensitive faces, but also chanting some pre-written spell without any real understanding of what they are doing and why. It’s completely out of context, which is why the hosts of the show were so derisive. There’s no talk of magickal philosophy or a discussion of the components; there’s just: rub this on your face and say these words. I can just imagine some poor, desperate kid dutifully slathering their face with dirt to cure their current breakout then arriving at Prom with the worst facial condition of their lives.

And, of course, this was targeted at teens. Acne is generally a teenage condition, and the teens are also the time when children begin to question whatever faith they were raised in and explore alternate spiritualties. Wicca and other forms of Paganism look attractive because of their counter-cultural vibe. What better way to flip the bird at your parents? Unfortunately, this little spell ends up hurting the poor trusting kid who tries it.

Sometimes trusting is a problem. Sometimes we need doubt.

Doubt Faith

The word has long placed fear in the hearts of mankind. The world’s most dominant faiths got to where they are by suppressing and even executing those who openly doubted the tenets of their faiths. Severe punishments are listed in each of the three major monotheistic religions for those who doubt the truth of the scripture.

Those who come to the Craft are often fleeing the mainstream religion in which they were raised. In the process, certain elements of what it means to have religion tend to make the crossover. One of them is the idea that doubt is bad. We must have faith in what we are told; we should never doubt, for doubt reveals a lack of faith.

But this is not a mainstream religion. Doubt. Please doubt.

Doubt makes you stronger. Doubt allows you to look at a statement, spell, or argument squarely in the eye and decide if it is either physically safe or magickally effective. Doubt spurs research, which makes the practitioner smarter and smarter. Doubt gives us the presence of mind to question even our own thoughts and ideas, thereby refining them and coming up with the best possible product, whether it is the wording of a spell or the quality of your most recent homework assignment.  I work with teens every day. I see them turn in big tests after 20 minutes and fail them – all because they were so certain of their answers they refused to go back and check them. A little doubt could raise a lot of grades.

Doubt helps you clarify your intent. The key to any spell is a clear intent, and the more your doubt your procedure for setting that into the world, the more you will question and sharpen your method.

Doubt encourages testing. Scientists doubt everything they hypothesize and try to prove it wrong. If they fail to do so, they can conclude that their hypothesis is supported. Magick is the same way. Keep track of the details of the work you did and the results. Over time, you can get to know exactly what works for you and what doesn’t and come to a clear, effective practice that goes beyond just The Power of Positive Thinking. In this way, doubt leads to greater knowledge for everyone. We question, we test, we learn from the results, we learn more than we knew before. Without questioning, that progression never occurs. Doubt is a natural part of being a functioning human being, and where other religions and societies have suppressed it over the centuries, pagans should encourage it.

Doubt protects us from abuse. Charismatic leaders from just about every Western faith I can name have taken advantage of gullibility to manipulate their followers, and this does not exclude modern Paganism,  Leaders should be respected, but should also be open to penetrating questions. The questioner should decide for him/her-self if they are satisfied with the answers. Questions are the use of the rational mind, the Element of Air, and are to be honored. Doubt is sacred.

Skepticism breaks us out of old paradigms and opens up new pathways. Doubt is a beautiful thing. It leads to greater understanding and more effective practice. Honor it. Listen to it. Answer it.


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Returning to Jurassic Park

I saw the first Jurassic Park movie the day it came out. We spent hours waiting in line to get into the special midnight showing at a theater that billed itself as the “largest screen west of the Mississippi.” The anticipation was palpable as we played cards, read books, and talked to our fellow moviegoers about what we were about to see. Some had read the book and knew what to expect. I hadn’t, but their excitement served only to pump up my own even more.

Watching that film on that screen with a house full of excited fans, all of whom were viewing it for the first time ever, was one of the greatest movie-watching experiences of my life. We were all shocked together; we all screamed together; we all felt the constant rise and fall of tension together. The climactic sequence in which the two velociraptors hunt Lex and Tim through the park’s kitchen, nearly killing the children over and over, was the tensest few minutes of film I’ve ever felt. There is no doubt we were all in a group mind by that time, entranced after two hours of thrills and kills.

It has been over 20 years since that night, and after a long hiatus, the series is making its return to the big screen. Obviously, I have very fond memories of the first movie, but I hadn’t seen any of them in well over a decade. So my wife and I recently did a little binge watching of the trilogy to catch ourselves up and prepare to see Jurassic World when it comes out this weekend. What I found this time was that I’m older, and the movies are no longer just about dinosaurs and danger. There are some deeper threads running through them that speak of real problems we humans have in our relationships to each other and, more pointedly, to the natural world.

The first thread involves our relationship with money. In every film, there is someone who trusts in his money to protect him through the dangers of the park, and that trust propels the death and destruction that ensues. John Hammond, the park’s creator, repeatedly uses the mantra “spare no expense” in describing the electrified fences, security precautions, and scientific advancements that he intends to use to keep visitors safe. Of course, he is frightfully wrong about each and every one.

The Lost World features Hammond’s nephew, Peter, who uses “Site B” as his own personal big game hunting ground and seeks to exploit the dangerous animals for the sake of his shareholders. He loads the island with all he can buy- more weapons, more vehicles, more equipment. The third movie brings Paul Kirby, who uses his savings to fool the experts into helping him save his son. In both movies, money saves no one, and its misuse leads to disastrous consequences.

There is a hubris suggested by the films, a hubris fueled by a fat wallet. These men expect their profligate spending to keep them safe and to place them somehow higher on the dinosaur food chain. Even the “nice” ones still expect their funds to elevate them, and they find out that carnivorous reptiles have very little respect for your bank account. It suggests that our relationship with money in our society is out of whack, that we believe that having money makes us superior to others. You can see this vividly in Lost World, when the group is separated from its leader. Wealthy Peter, the financer of the expedition, tries to order his group to get up and move. Nobody listens. It is only when Nick, who has earned the team’s respect, asks them to move out that they comply.

There is nothing wrong with money, but the trap comes when we feel it elevates us above others. The events of Jurassic Park are an extreme example, but they ring true. Wealth becomes dangerous when people will stop at nothing to achieve it or exploit it. Much like breeding dinosaurs, wealth demands responsibility.

Another thread that winds its way throughout the franchise is a trend of anti-intellectualism. As soon as the scientists realize what is truly going on in this new amusement park, they begin to sound the warning bells. The park establishment laughs them off. The same is true when the mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm urges caution based on chaos theory.

In every case, in each film, scientist characters are called in for their expertise. And in every case whenever they issue a warning – and they do this often – those who hired them completely ignore what is actually very sound advice. Their academic, research-based knowledge is ignored, mainly because these intellectuals are a bunch of Debbie Downers.

This is a constant theme in society. Scientists state their conclusions, but no one listens to them. The most obvious real world example is climate change. Researchers have been sounding that alarm for decades, and yet we still have people in power, usually motivated by the hubris of wealth, who refuse to believe the overwhelming evidence. I see it every day here in California, where we are under the weight of a severe drought, yet every day I see lawn sprinklers sewing their precious liquid all over the sidewalk.

Where scientists seek objective evidence for the truth, the public wants to hear whatever supports their preexisting biases.

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was blessed with the gift of perfect prophecy. What she predicted always came true. Yet she was cursed so that no one would ever believe her. In Jurassic Park, much like in the real world, scientists become the world’s Cassandra. They keep screaming at us to change our ways, but that’s way too hard, so we harm ourselves by continuing our unsustainable patterns. The monster that gets us may not be as dramatic as a T-Rex, but it could be much more devastating.

But maybe the most important thread in these movies is humanity’s profound separation from nature. Historians like Ronald Hutton have suggested that one of the reasons neo-pagan religions developed was because industrialization alienated humanity from the natural world and its cycles. Over 100 years after the Industrial Revolution, we find ourselves even more divorced from the natural world.

Since we live in concrete oases and buy our food from packages in supermarkets, we have little connection to how our actions affect the planet. A couple months ago, I wrote about how the destruction of wolves in Yellowstone caused a chain of events which threatened to destroy the beautiful park. Shortly afterward, this touching video began circulating around Facebook:

It shows how just the re-introduction of a small pack of wolves to the park caused a “trophic cascade” which improved multiple ecosystems within the park. This is the kind of thing the Ian Malcolm character warns about in both of the first two films. You can’t fuck with nature. You can’t underestimate it. You can’t control it. Small alterations cascade into huge problems. The changes caused by everyday human actions may be imperceptible, but they add up over time, and the Jurassic films hit that note repeatedly.

We get enamored with our ingenuity, but we often don’t see the eventual damage. As Malcolm says in Lost World, “Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.”

These three films came out in a different time. Much has changed since part three was released in summer, 2001. And yet, these three problems are still around. If anything, I fear they have gotten worse. Wealth is still abused. Scientists are still ignored on issues that are vital to our very survival. The average person’s connection to the earth’s natural cycles, where their food comes from, and the effects of their own actions is still woefully inadequate.

We have more distractions now, though. We have more to divert our attention from any of these issues. I don’t know if the upcoming Jurassic World will continue to explore these themes. I hope it does, but I also hope it modernizes them. The story is supposed to take place many years after the first three films. I hope that it gives us another chance to look at ourselves over the past 20 years and find our priorities. Like Lex and Tim fleeing raptors in the kitchen, we have a maze to navigate in our world, and we may be out of our depth. We need to avoid the running and the screaming.


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The (Baseball) Wheel of the Year

When we met in nineteen thirty-eight, it was November
When I said that I would be his mate, it was December
I reasoned he would be the greatest husband that a girl had ever found
That’s what I reasoned
That’s what I reasoned
Then April rolled around…

April has rolled around once again, and with it comes a tradition that has been part of the background of American life that stretches even farther back than 1938- it began almost the very day in 1845 when the Knickerbocker Club of New York City took on the New York Nine in the first organized game of “base ball” ever played.  Since that day, as Meg laments in Damn Yankees, baseball has been a part of American life for “six months out of every year.”

Base ball

In modern life, baseball often takes a back seat to other sports.  It moves slower than most sports, scoring is more rare, and there is very little physical contact between players.  The game brought its pace and schedule with it from its 19th century roots.  Born in New York, where April was the first possible time the weather would allow an outdoor game to be played, baseball offers something special for Pagans that no other sport can: it follows the Wheel of the Year almost perfectly.

Just as the light is beginning to return to the world in February, pitchers report to practice.  Slowly over the next month, players begin to gather and the team begins to take shape.  In March, the clubhouse is filled with many more hopeful players than the final team will be able to accommodate.   In Spring Training, each player looks to show his stuff and the team truly begins to take shape.  By late March, a team has been born.

Then comes the magical month of April.  The season begins full of potential for everyone.  Every team is in first place.  Every team has a chance.  The weather is still cold, but fans and players are full of optimism, hoping that “maybe this year” will bring home a coveted championship.  Even notoriously unsuccessful teams like the  poor, beleaguered Chicago Cubs have hopes and dreams.  Whatever disappointments linger from the previous year disappear in April and the baseball world looks toward the future.

In May, the season is in full swing.  Even the worst teams still have energetic fans.  The weather is nicer and, with the growing sun, the energy of each game begins to build.  Players have shaken off their winter rust and their talents are displayed at full strength.  The energy of the season continues to build as the weather heats up.  The first half of the season is about planting your team’s seeds, establishing your position in the standings, and setting your intentions for the fall.

As summer begins, teams have established themselves.  We start to know which teams will bear fruit.  Fans relax and begin to enjoy long, lazy days.  Families spend the day at the ballpark enjoying hot dogs, peanuts (and Cracker Jack, of course) while watching their favorite teams take the field under the summer sun.

Just when it seems like everything is on summer cruise control, the energy peaks at that All-Star Game.  Positioned exactly halfway through the season, and only a few weeks after Midsummer, the All-Star Game is an all out celebration of the game where the skills of the very best players are on full display.  The host city holds a week-long convention for fans.  The night before the game, the sport’s biggest sluggers slam a parade of balls out of the park in the annual Home Run Derby.  Smiles are shared all around during the game as even rival players greet each other in an atmosphere of fun and friendship.

But then everything changes.  After their three-day rest, teams get down to serious business.  As the days begin to darken toward harvest season, every team starts to take stock of its crop.  The trade deadline is Lammas – July 31 at midnight.  A rushed feeling sets in as teams who believe they have a chance look to acquire the perfect players while less successful teams seek to dump expensive players in an attempt to cut their financial losses before it is too late.

The tools prepared and the field ripe, harvesting begins on August 1.  Races heat up.  Successful teams solidify their position.  Other teams fight to achieve their goals, reaping whatever they can from what they have sown.  In September, the harvest takes on a fever pitch.  Time is running out and the value of each game increases as the sun sinks toward equinox and eventually sets on the regular season.  At this point, the dross has been removed and the very best of the league has been harvested for the playoffs.

A second season with a more dramatic harvest occurs in October.  As darkness sets in, teams fight to stay alive in the playoffs.  One by one, they drop off until eventually – sometime near Samhain – someone wins the World Series when the final team is vanquished and the season dies for good.

But baseball is a cycle.  The game is even played in a circle.  Things don’t end in October.  In November, a time of rest begins for players.  It’s a time to rejuvenate their bodies after a grueling 162-game season, but it’s also a time where the action moves inward, behind the scenes.  The dark time of the year – and of the baseball cycle – is an active time for team executives as they look to make trades, hire new players, sell new advertising, and sign new TV contracts.

During the winter, the front office does what it can to get its financial ducks in a row, often exchanging players like gifts sometime around Yule.  They look for holes that need to be filled and negotiate the best deals to fill their needs.  In no small way, the off-season is just as important as the regular season.  It’s less glamorous, but if the executives make the right decisions they can acquire exciting new players or powerful veterans, giving hope to fans for a successful season to come.

If well spent, off-season trades can give fans hope, justifying the age-old mantra of baseball, one that echoes the cyclical nature of America’s Pastime as April inevitably rolls around again and hopes spring up again: “Maybe next year.”


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Learning From Pagans of Color at Pantheacon

I’m still trying to wrap my head around Pantheacon 2015. It was a very different con for me, a strange mix of ups and downs. It started off incredibly when I got to watch my wife present for the first time. She got wonderful feedback on her work as a hypnotherapist. Throughout the con, and even after the con, a number of people expressed their appreciation for her session and for the work she did for them.

I got to help Shauna Aura Knight in her ritual facilitation workshop. By simply repeating a chant about Air as three others chanted the other elements, we raised some pretty amazing energy in a small space. I got a tiny glimpse of her ritual skills, and it left me wanting more. Much more.

I was the bad kid in a class on knot-tying, that poor student who wants to learn but needs the individualized attention from a teacher too busy to give it. There was important lesson there for this high school teacher to learn. My fellow witches and I sent protection to the witches of future at Devin Hunter’s Rite of Grand Convergence, and I worked to restore order in the world with Christopher Penczak. I met with men about men’s issues, talked with David Salisbury about establishing a Pagan lobbying day in the nation’s capital, and had the opportunity to meet Krampus, who was taking a break from his holiday season duties.

KrampusThose were the ups, but then there were the downs.

My new friend Krampus had some bad children to flog at this Pantheacon. As you may have already heard by now, PantyCon, the satirical newsletter that always appears at Pantheacon, published an Onion-esque blurb that was aimed at the recent failings of the Covenant of the Goddess and other groups to adequately address the fact that Black Lives Matter, but the language frightened and angered Pagans of Color. Here is what it said:

Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans
Large Umbrella Pagan Group

Isn’t all this talk of social justice and racism just tiring? Don’t you wish you could just ignore it and put out meaningless statements of pure pablum? We’ll discuss how to ignore requests for consideration by pagans of color, cover up racist actions of high-ranking members, and pretend that you don’t understand the resulting outrage. Remember, #AllLivesMatter, except when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient.

Large Umbrella Pagan Group has been around for long enough that they think that they can get away with this stuff.

Like many others, I found it kind of funny. I thought it was clearly aimed at CoG and other organizations who stumbled around trying to find the simple words to say that racism is wrong. I’m sure that is what the author thought too. But it failed to take into account how people of color, who it was supposedly supporting, would feel. Jonathan Korman at the Miniver Cheevy blog has done a wonderful job of examining this angle on the issue.  I encourage you to sign on to his letter if you choose to.

It hurt people. It hurt in a way that I, as a white heterosexual cis-male can’t really understand. Worse, there were reportedly people who expressed that they would have liked to attend this session if it were real. To me, that’s the real concern. Satire forces out truth, and the fact that some convention attendees expressed a desire to attend a session that worked on ignoring the rights of people of color validates the concerns expressed by the Pagans of Color Caucus.

On Monday morning, a meeting was organized to air out concerns about the issue. I attended, but stayed back, knowing that my role was to listen, not speak. My job was to listen to people of color the way that they have had to listen to others over the past 300 years.

There was a lot of that went on in that session, but one single piece of pain stuck with me. From what I saw, it also struck a chord in other white allies. I learned that Pagans of Color have an entire back channel of Twitter hashtags and private messages meant to ensure that they can safely walk the halls of the con. They need this feed to create a buddy system to ensure that they are safe as they navigate the halls.

Part of me rebels at that. I want to say, “Of course you’re safe. Pagans aren’t racists. We’re all minorities.” But then I remember that there were Pagans who said they’d love to come to that satirical pro-racism session. My thoughts seem pointless. I have much more to learn.

I think that’s the big recognition out of all of this. We all have more to learn. There will always be more to learn. Diversity and opposing, even shocking points of view force us out of our ignorance and into an ever more real world of pain, struggle, and truth. It’s not pleasant, but it’s real. When we listen with our hearts, without the walls of protection we so naturally seek to construct, we learn from the lived experience of others and begin to understand how we can move toward true equality. We leave provincialism and move toward true community. It’s not about shedding tears; it’s not about defensiveness. It’s about helping everyone thrive.

Update: the authors of PantyCon have posted a thoughtful apology to the comments of Jonathan Korman’s blog.