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

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Virtues of the Goddess: Mercy

In October 2014, a podcast called Serial was released.  Hosted by NPR’s Sarah Koenig, Serial tells “one story, week by week.”  That first season told the compelling story of Adnan Sayed, who was convicted during his senior year of high school for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in 1999, but who has long maintained his innocence.  The use of Sayed’s voice, intriguing plot points, and the brilliant weaving together of all the aspects of storytelling made Serial an instant smash hit.  It was the first podcast to reach 5 million downloads.  Serial was an overnight cultural phenomenon.


Which is strange.  Here was a show that, while officially objective, was sympathetic to a convicted murderer.  Here was that murderer’s own voice, not a secondhand caricature of him.  The gripping story and questionable evidence helped spawned multiple spin-off podcasts, all of which examined the details of the trial and advocated for the overturning of Sayed’s conviction.

Source: Flikr, labeled for reuse

Source: Flikr, labeled for reuse

Somehow, by painting the picture of a real man suffering for a crime he may not have committed, Serial turned “tough on crime” America into a merciful nation of podcast listeners passionate about righting an injustice.  Not only that, but Sayed is Muslim, and much of America was being kind and merciful to him, and that’s not something often seen in the media.  We have that that quality in us, somewhere.


As the Fall Equinox approaches and we look into the time of darkness, it can be important to remember that many people’s darkness is deeper than our own.  While many of us watch the sunlight slip away as we sink into winter’s coldness, others don’t have homes in which they can take shelter from that cold.  Others, like Sayed, who may very well be innocent, don’t even have the freedom to leave the walls that surround them.   To me, the way we treat those people, people over whom we have much power, is the essence of the virtue of mercy.  And who has less power than prisoners?


Helping prisoners is hard to swallow for some.  Despite the reaction to Serial, many in America still have a “throw away the key” attitude toward the incarcerated.  There’s still an attitude that prison should be for punishment, not rehabilitation.  There is still a clear lack of mercy toward prisoners.


Leslie Hugo, the Lead Capricorn Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, would disagree.  She has been doing prison ministry, mercifully reaching out to the least powerful people in her home state of Utah, for almost three years.  She explains that, “Most of the over 200 inmates I work with are under 30. They made mistakes when they were young, usually still teenagers, involving drugs or gang related activities. At this point, they want out of the lifestyle they had been involved in. Many have expressed their dreams and desires to get out of prison, get married, find a good job and raise a family.”

Leslie Hugo [Courtesy Photo]

Leslie Hugo [Courtesy Photo]

Counterintuitively, mercy toward the incarcerated may actually help society in the end.  Once someone has experienced prison, they usually don’t want to go back, yet recidivism rates are high.  One possible explanation for that is the lack of monetary, spiritual, and physical resources for released prisoners to make a life for themselves. By helping to provide them these things- spiritual training, job training, education- we help ourselves.


Hugo emphasizes that, “more than 80% of these inmates will be released, and they will be living and working in a community side by side with us.”  With that in mind, it makes little sense to take all spiritual and societal resources away from them.  “It is in everybody’s best interest that these individuals have a strong spiritual path that can help and give them support when they are released,” she said.



Thanks in large part to Serial and the effort of its listeners, Adnan Sayed’s conviction has been overturned.  He will get his day in court again, and it all came about because millions of people took mercy on this one unlikely person.  Others, both behind bars and on the outside, don’t have that same opportunity.  Homeless people suffer in America every day.  A racial divide still eats away at our country.  There are opportunities for mercy all around us.


If you think about it, human beings are the only animal that truly demonstrates mercy.  It’s not easy for us to do.  It’s often not our natural reaction, but we are capable of it. That puts us in a unique place.  Think of what society could be like if it were structured around mercy for those who struggle rather than turning a blind eye.  We are special.  Mercy does exist within us.   It can make the world a better place, but only if we all find it within us.  If we can’t, we will never find it outside us.


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 7: Mercy.

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Virtues of the Goddess: Strength

Strength may be the most misunderstood of the Goddess’ virtues.  She advises us to be strong, but the tricky part is what exactly is strength, and how can it be used appropriately instead of abusively?

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is by pushing down, the other is pulling up.”

-Booker T. Washington

 When animals are attacked, they often react with a show of strength.  Dogs growl and bear their teeth.   Cats arch their backs and hiss.  Humans brandish weapons, puff out their chests, and lash out at others in all caps over social media.  It’s natural.  It’s automatic.  And it’s usually false.


Photo Credit: Prevetz Partensky, “Don’t Know What’s Comin'” [Source: Wikipedia]

These are instinctual reactions usually meant to scare away a threat by showing it how big and tough they are, but the point is to scare the intruder away by pretending to be strong.  If an actual fight ensues, the big scary animal often backs down.  These are natural reactions to threat – meaning that the bear on all fours or the hissing cat are actually feeling frightened, not strong.  In an attempt to avoid a fight, they make themselves look scary and aggressive, when really they are feeling insecure.

Humans do it too.  How often have you seen an argument devolve into a personal insult match, either in person or online?  It’s the same thing: a person feels threatened so they lash back with belittling ad hominems or long strings of paragraph-free text filled with ALL CAPS instead of defending their position.  It’s not real strength; it’s insecurity. And it’s the sign that your argument is weak.  It’s the opposite of strength.



Blowfish [Source: Yahoo Images]

To put it in a more practical light, imagine a teenager coming home late from a big party.  Instead of listening to her child’s side, the mother leads by confronting her/him at the door and accusing the teen of all kinds of offenses (shades of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” are ringing in my head. If you know the song, you get it).  Her daughter isn’t going to back down.  She’s threatened, so she launches right into her own argument, and things escalate from there.  It’s the easy, natural road to take, but the escalation leads only to a painful outcome.

Instead, what if mom listened to her daughter?  That doesn’t mean let her get away with it.  It means to lead from the heart with how concerned she was, and the two move toward a discussion of the offense.  Punishment still happens, but it’s a measured punishment that fits the crime, coming from a strong position rather than the excesses of anger, and the child fully understands what is behind it.  In psychology, this is called an Authoritative style of parenting.  It has been shown to be the most difficult, yet most effective method.


“It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate,

It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”

-The Smiths

Strength is doing what is right, despite your fears of the outcome.  It’s doing the right thing, even when it is hard.  In the Wheel of the Year, Lammas is the time where the God is seen as sacrificing himself for the good of the community.  Acting with strength often takes some form of self-sacrifice:

 When we listen to opposing arguments without attacking the opposition personally, and we take the time to deliver a measured response.

When we ignore trolls.

 When we apologize for something we did wrong and accept the consequences.

 When we calmly and reasonably stand up to someone who has wronged us.

 When we see injustice on the internet and do our research before unleashing our inner hissing cat.

The list could go on and on.  These all take some form of sacrifice, and in each our natural reaction is to puff up like a frightened blowfish.  Doing what is right is difficult, especially when you are being asked to act against your own self-interest. One of the things that make humans special is our ability to overcome our instinctual fight-or-flight response, and it is in exercising this ability that we show our greatest strength.


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 6: Strength.


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Pokemon, Privilege, and Pagans

Two trends rolled over the Internet last week.  One involved people striking out into their world to capture things that no one else could see and displaying them to a disbelieving world.  The other was Pokemon Go.


At the same time that the wildly popular Pokemon app was inspiring children of all ages to brave the world outside the confines of their homes, a real struggle was gripping the country as the Black Lives Matter movement was handed two more obvious examples of why their movement must continue to have a voice.


Two more examples of the normally unseen were blasted across the web, and these two horrible incidents made the issue even harder to ignore.  Their names were Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  They forced anyone with a modicum of paying attention to acknowledge that, yes, there really is something going on beneath our very noses, and it’s not the presence of a Rattata.  It’s a very real and very insidious privilege that is burning away at society.  It may be harder to see than a Pikachu lurking in your closet, but it is much more dangerous and a lot harder to capture.


The Pokemon Go app advises its players to be “constantly aware of your surroundings.”  That’s good advice, but not just in the game.  Here IRL, we also need to be actually aware of what is going on around us.  When the black community takes to the streets to protest the killing of yet another innocent young man, it’s not the whining of “thug.”  They are not claiming that only their lives matter.  They’re not asking for special treatment.  They are crying with their whole souls: “Look at what is happening to us!  Please acknowledge the value of our lives!”  They are begging those of us outside the community to see what is occurring right before our eyes.  If we can do it to capture a venemoth, surely we can do it to facilitate the survival of our fellow human beings.


Those of us in the Pagan community tend to believe in the reality of that which is unseen.  That should apply beyond believing in the Otherworld and extend out to a different reality experienced by our brothers and sisters of color.  It may be difficult for us to see personally if we are not people of color, but we have enough evidence, littered on the streets in the forms of a slew of dead black bodies, to know it is real.


One of the hallmarks of Paganism is the belief that all in this life is sacred.  We don’t believe in a fallen and sinful material world.  We believe that this life, and all that is in it, is sacred.  It’s time to actually live up to that belief and to honor and support the innocent, sacred black lives that are lost every day.  To honor black lives is not to dishonor any other life.  Rather, it is to acknowledge that those lives are just as sacred as any other life and should be treated with as much respect and reverence.  When they are suffering, we support and help them.  Those of us who are not of color may not fully see and understand their experiences, but our sight is limited.  As Pagans, we know that no single perspective is correct, so if we open our minds we may be able to capture all sorts of monsters that we had never seen before.



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Virtues of the Goddess: Power

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 5: Power.


Early in college, I took political science from a strange professor.  He was large and blustery, with a beet red face and an intense stare.  Although he identified as a Libertarian, he would often quote Adolf Hitler to us in German, then take pains to shame us for not understanding the subtle differences between the Fuhrer’s native tongue and the English translations of his speeches.  

As part of that class, we read A Parliament of Whores, an irreverent take on the U.S. government by Rolling Stone humorist P.J. O’Rourke.  O’Rourke’s political views differ from mine, but his book was funny, light, and mostly enjoyable. One particular section, however, still sticks with me.  While contemplating the nature of power and the type of person who seeks to hold political power, O’Rourke wrote:

“Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history, mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power.”

Parliament of whores o'rourke

To a young college student, not yet of drinking age, right at the height of the dramatic Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush election, this passage hit me hard.  “But,” protested the young idealist in me who kind of liked that cool Democrat who wore sunglasses and played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show, “some politicians really want to help people!”  O’Rourke had an answer for that too:

“Politicians are interested in people. Not that it is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.”

Is it any different now?  Look at this year’s downright frightening presidential race, and you almost prove O’Rourke’s points.  Both sides of the political spectrum have included a battle between candidates who swim in political power vs. candidates who tap into large groups who feel disaffected and alienated by existing power structure.  There is a large element on both sides that sees establishment power as the scum and the fleas that O’Rourke called them so many years ago.  Certainly, they all claim to be fighting for the people, but you have to wonder if their interest in the people is sincere or whether, as O’Rourke believed, they are simply looking to siphon a little blood off their hosts.

So how can power be a virtue, as the Goddess tells us it is?  We all have some relationship with power.  On the various stages on which we act throughout our lives, some have power over us, and on other stages we have power over others.  At work we have bosses and subordinates.  In school we have teachers and peers.  The police officer who pulls us over may have temporary power over us, but once she’s off duty, our powers are equal.  In social groups, covens, groves, or other voluntary groups, we often voluntarily recognize a leader.  Power is a part of our lives.

The problem is more about who seeks it and how they express it.  As we near the Summer Solstice, we come to the time of the Wheel when The God’s power is at its strongest.  He is sovereign at this time, but he uses that power to be a steward of the Earth.  Solstice rituals often involve a theme of standing in our own sovereignty.  Yet, with the God as well is in our lives, the king must be in harmony with the land he rules as well as its people, or his power will fade.  Just ask King Arthur.

The God’s sovereignty becomes a symbol of our own control over our lives.  His example helps us take charge of our own intentions, hopes, and dreams.  With his reminder, we are able to “manifest our change according to our Will.”  We can’t be true magicians unless we stand in our own power, in harmony with our gods and our lives, and the Green Man at the Solstice helps us do that.

It sometimes becomes fashionable in religious communities to deny your own power, to “give it up to God,” or “trust the universe.” Pagans don’t have to do that.  On the contrary, for Witches, “To Will” is one of the four base points of the Witch’s pyramid.  We don’t give up power over our lives to others; we strive to control our lives and manifest our intentions.  You can’t do that without accepting your own power. We can acknowledge our power to work with the universe or the gods and manifest the lives we wish for ourselves and our loved ones.  We can help others do the same.  

Witch's Pyramid

We can hold power without being fleas.  We can use our power to help others find theirs.  We can focus our power in ways that help us live better lives.  Power is dangerous, but so is electricity.  It can still benefit our lives,and the lives of others, immensely.


La Santa Muerte: An interview with author Tomás Prower

The worship of La Santa Muerte, Mexico’s iconic Lady of “Holy Death,” is blossoming throughout the Americas.  Much like death itself, the hauntingly powerful skeletal figure of Santa Muerte is maligned and feared by the powerful, but loved and venerated by the desperate.  Millions of faithful throughout Mexico, the southwest United States, and all of Latin America, most of whom identify as Roman Catholics, flock to her temples to venerate the Lady of Death who holds the entire world in her hands.



La Santa Muerte

She gained television fame in English when  Breaking Bad’s hardcore Cousins lowered themselves to crawl toward her temple to petition her favor in their quest to destroy Heisenberg.

She guides the everyday tortilla vendor, the vicious drug lord, and everyone in between.  Here in the Los Angeles area, thousands flock to secretive nighttime masses in her honor.  Her followers are passionate, her dissenters resolute, and more and more, the Pagan community has felt her call.  

So who is Holy Death?  I recently interviewed Tomás Prower, author of the new Llewellyn book La Santa Muerte.  Prower is a devotee of the La Santa Muerte, and his book unveils many aspects of Her worship and details about working with her magickally that were previously difficult to find in the English speaking world.  In our discussion, he offers background, ideas, and inspiration for Pagans and polytheists on bringing this powerful Lady from the Catholic world into our spiritual practice..


Tomás Prower

Tell us about your personal and spiritual background.

PROWER: “My spiritual background, for most of my life, has been Roman Catholicism. I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, but I was fortunate to have a very liberal, “West Coast” Catholic high school. Part of the curriculum included classes on other world religions and on the fact that the Bible should not be taken literally and only be viewed through the lens of the cultural-political atmosphere of the times. So, I never came to hate the Catholic faith, but by college, I became bored from overexposure of it and began “trying out” other religions. It didn’t take too long to realize that, at their core, everyone is essentially saying the same thing, and so I became a sort of “eclectic spiritualist,” though if I had to label myself, I probably have more Taoist tendencies than anything.”

How did you become interested in/devoted to La Santa Muerte?

PROWER: “On a dare. I had just moved back to Los Angeles, and my best friend took me around town for some fun. On our journeys that day, we drove by a Santa Muerte temple near Downtown L.A., which sounds grandiose, but it really was just a small store in a strip mall.  Anyway, he commented about how sometimes at night, he’d see through the storefront glass Death worshipers praying to a giant skeleton statue amid candlelight. Since we both came from a Mexican Catholic background, which is heavily steeped in magic and mysticism, we felt that this was some serious brujería (malevolent magic) stuff going on, and he dared me to go into that store/temple. I went in, and immediately felt an indescribable, dark presence akin to what you’d get at a funeral home except without the somberness.


Obviously looking like “outsiders,” no one would really talk to us, but the shopkeeper gave us the store’s self-published newspaper to read. In it, there were testimonials on La Santa Muerte’s magic, and I became fascinated by how these people, who by all accounts are so beaten by life, find hope and the will to go on vía their belief in Death. I wanted to understand, and from there, my intellectual curiosity led me to become a practicing devotee.”


La Santa Muerte is often associated with harmful people and sensationalist images, from gang members to drug lords.  Her reputation in some circles is questionable.  What more should people understand about her?

PROWER: “People, in general, seem to have a hard time comprehending moral ambiguities. They like to see the world in absolutes; this is good, that is bad, and so on. Which makes sense since that kind of outlook allows the world to “make sense” and gives them clear guidelines on how to live their lives.

However, La Santa Muerte is the epitome of moral ambiguity. She helps good people do good things, and she helps bad people do bad things, so people don’t know what to make of her. It’s far easier to write her off as “bad” since her more negative associations are much more scandalous and interesting to read, but really, she can be likened to the “Tao” since she is neither good nor bad, yet both. The simplest way I like to explain her is to think of death itself. Death comes to all regardless of gender, wealth, age, morality, etc. Death doesn’t judge, and as the embodiment of death, itself, neither does La Santa Muerte.”
La Santa Muerte has clear associations with the Catholic faith.  What does she have to offer the polytheist, pagan, and witchcraft communities?

PROWER: “A comfortable bridge to understanding the Catholic faith. At its core, the cult of La Santa Muerte is really just Roman Catholicism except more openly magical and without all the dogma. Since traditional Catholicism tends to be too off-putting to many polytheist, pagan, and witchcraft communities, they don’t take the time to go past all the pompous B.S. and learn about Catholicism’s universal mystic practices. Such a divide prevents mutual understanding, which only maintains the status quo of mistrust and deep seeded tension. La Santa Muerte and her infamously liberal devotees are a good gateway into the more “accepting” roots of Catholicism and the revelation of just how much in common each side has with one another.

On a more practical level, she offers another ally and Latin American-flavored magical force to add to their pantheon and arsenal of spellwork.”    

From Hades to the Morrigan, many Pagans work with deities who are associated with Death.  How is La Santa Muerte different?

PROWER: “La Santa Muerte is different in the sense that she IS death. Most other deities have an association with death, whether it be the physical act of dying, the afterlife destination, or just the more macabre aspects of piercing through the veil and straddling the physical and spiritual worlds. La Santa Muerte has no dominion, she isn’t in charge of anything, and she isn’t concerned about human affairs. She is death, personified. Devotion to her is ultimately devotion to Death, both our own and its place in the natural order of things as a necessary force in the world.”
The Catholic Church has expressed disapproval of the veneration of La Santa Muerte.  Most of her worshipers identify as Catholic.  How do they resolve this seeming paradox?

PROWER: “It is an odd paradox, isn’t it? But it totally makes sense why the Catholic Church would disapprove. On a practical level, devotion to La Santa Muerte is growing exponentially and gaining “converts” in Spanish-Speaking countries which are traditionally Catholic strongholds. So there is a threat there. And on a more fundamental level, it throws a wrench into the most holy and paramount event in all of Catholicism, the resurrection of Christ. You see, according to Catholic doctrine, when Jesus rose from the dead, he “conquered” death, thus proving his divinity and paving the way for the rest of us to also “conquer” death vía the everlasting paradise of Heaven. So, by venerating Death, one is venerating Jesus Christ’s ultimate foe.

Nevertheless, if you were to ask a devotee of La Santa Muerte what their religion is, 90% of them would say “Catholic” and do so with utmost sincerity.

The consensus among Santa Muerte devotees (not all, but a good many) is that when Christ died, God entrusted Death (aka: La Santa Muerte) with his only begotten son, and during this time, Jesus completed his Earthly/mortal education by learning all the he couldn’t while he was alive. It all makes sense if you consider that the Divine could never truly understand or relate to humanity if it did not experience death, the very thing that makes mortals mortal. And it shares similarities with the “Harrowing of Hell” stories that are found in religions the world over wherein the divine travels to the Underworld and returns stronger and/or wiser because of it: Hercules, Orpheus, Osiris, Inanna, Odin, Pwyll, Izanagi, Kuan Yin, etc.”   


You write about the veneration of Death and about the Magic associated with Death. How is this magic different from other types of devotion and spellwork?

PROWER: “In regards to spellwork, it’s not very much different. Magic, essentially, is the manipulation of natural energies in correspondence with one’s will. The spellwork to do that varies based on one’s cultural outlook and the tools available to a particular culture during its history. But the mystery school of La Santa Muerte does have a uniqueness in the fact that many of its spells are designed to aid in morally ambiguous and even outright malevolent actions.

For example, prostitutes will pray to her to have a safe and profitable night since Death doesn’t judge. Is this good or bad? Well, it’s both, and it’s neither, all depending on how you want to look at it. And she’ll also help guide a bullet into the brain of an innocent man if the assassin so wishes. Again, death doesn’t judge. Of course, there are more nuances that make devotees think twice before petitioning anything, such as cosmic reciprocity and the Law of Equivalent Exchange, but the details of that are a bit more involved for this interview, though they can be found in detail in my book.”

What should the Pagan community know about La Santa Muerte?

PROWER: “Other than her supreme neutrality in regards to “right” and “wrong”, the Pagan community should know that she is already at work in their lives whether they acknowledge it or not. Sure, she might not be called “La Santa Muerte,” but death is all around you, both literally and figuratively. Our modern world is so sanitized; we live in crowded cities where people are dying every day, but we don’t actually see it. Mortuaries, hospitals, and too many state laws are so good at hiding death that not only does it not seem real, but when it does happen to someone close to us, it comes as such a shock, as if dying is somehow unnatural, when it is the most natural thing in the world.

This death denial cuts us off from reality. La Santa Muerte is an affront to all that. She’s ultra punk rock and transgressive in the sense that her very existence goes in the face of something that the establishment is trying to make us forget. The Pagan community should know that La Santa Muerte is a Latin American force that it actively trying to shock us out of our comfort zone and into the real world where death is actually a thing that happens.”

What would you suggest to a Pagan who would like to begin working with La Santa Muerte?

PROWER“I would say, “Start at home.” By this, I mean, before jumping into the devotion and magic of La Santa Muerte, make a strong connection with the deity of death from your own cultural pantheon, and if you do not subscribe to a particular cultural pantheon, take a more humanist approach and look at death’s role in the natural world, how destruction is the necessary precursor for all creation.

After that, start thinking of your own death, not in an existential or nihilistically depressive way, but in a way that allows your acceptance of it as a reality and an inevitability. After all, you can’t partner with Death if you spend your life ignoring it or pretending it either doesn’t exist or won’t happen to you. It’s strange how Pagans are so in tune with the natural world, yet many of them shy away from one of, if not THE most natural force in the world: death. And how can one become a complete, well-rounded worker of magic if they ignore or deny this essential energy? Nothing is to be feared, just understood.  After gaining a familiarity with your own deity of death and coming to terms with death, then go ahead and make contact with La Santa Muerte.”


As Pagans and Witches, we talk a lot about honoring the dark just as much as the light. The cycles of the year remind us that all that grows will one day wither and die.  We enjoy all the creepy fun of the Samhain season.  Yet, how many of us are truly at home with Death Herself?  How many of us are at peace with this natural process enough to venerate its power, make intentional contact with it, and call it Holy?  We may all want to consider developing a healthy relationship with La Santa Muerte.  After all, as Prower reminds us, “you’ll meet her one day anyway, so why not start making friends with her now?”

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Footloose: The Musical Cuts Loose at Mysterium

If you’re of a certain generation, they you are very familiar with the 1984  movie Footloose.   Just the mention of the title immediately brings the film’s high-powered and iconic title song directly into your head (you gotta cut loose).  Images of Kevin Bacon punchdancing and tumbling his way through a flour mill soar into your mind.  It’s classic 80’s music video fun, so much so that in 1998, the film was adapted into a rockin’ stage musical.

I had seen the stage version once before, but my reaction was mixed.  The dancing was fantastic, and of course the music from the movie brought back wonderful memories (Let’s hear it for the boy!), but most of the supplemental music kind of slid through one ear and out the other.

But that was in a huge auditorium.  I was very lucky to get to see it again, this time in Mysterium Theater’s smaller, more intimate space.  Footloose is very different when the anger, pain, and conflict that drives every character is plainly visible from the first note to the last.  The musical format works especially well with this show because, as characters sing we get a window into their deepest thoughts, which helps us gain a better understanding of the complex motivations that drive their behavior.  It’s easy to look at Rev. Moore as the “bad guy,” but the more we hear him sing about his theological and parental conflicts, the more we understand that he is just another misguided soul just trying to do what he believes is right.

Footloose the musical at Mysterium Theater

In case you are unfamiliar with Footloose (hard to imagine, but I’m sure it happens), it is the story of city kid Ren McCormack who moves to the small town of Bomont to find that dancing and rock music are strictly prohibited by city ordinance.  At the top of the town’s power structure sits Rev. Shaw Moore, who controls the city council with faith-inspired iron fist.  Ren’s presence shakes up the town, and soon the local teens start a movement to hold a prom within the city limits, all while Ren falls in love with the preacher’s daughter.  It’s Romeo and Juliet meets Rebel Without a Cause, set to pop rock.

It’s simplistic to boil Footloose down to a battle stupid country bumpkins puritanically fighting against change and anything that smacks of fun vs. good-looking, hormonal teenagers who need a trickster form the outside to come in and change the system.  There’s more.  It’s about repression and renewal.  While we want to see the Reverend’s Christianity as the villain there’s more to it than that.  His religion is not the problem; his own self-imposed, unrealistic expectations that he must control everyone in order to usher them into heaven are truly the issue.

It’s really about small-mindedness, the anxiety of change, and the need for all of us to search our beliefs honestly and make those painful decisions to recognize that sometimes, we are wrong.  One look at the political world we live in today displays those themes in spades.

Mysterium’s production is full of some excellent talent.  In the lead role of Ren, Edgar Torrens tears up the stage with his energy and honesty.  He meets his match, though, with Meredith Culp’s glittering portrayal of Ren’s love interest, Ariel (the preacher’s daughter).  Culp is a magnetic performer who easily accomplishes Ariel’s multiple levels of conflict and expressions of joy while layering on wonderful singing voice.  The stage lights up when she walks on.

Ray Buffer is the central pin in this production in two ways.  As the overly paternal Rev. Moore, Buffer delivers with his booming voice and his quiet, vulnerable strength.  Buffer is also the show’s director, and in this capacity he has done a wonderful job of staging a big musical in to a small space.

Another strong performance is turned in by Andreas Pantazis as Ren’s friend Willard.  At first, Pantazis seems to be portraying just another country hick, but his performance becomes a metaphor for the town’s growth as Willard slowly opens up and blossoms as repression is removed and he is allowed to flower into his full self.  This Willard truly displays his transformation in Pantazis’ carefree and animated rendition of “Mama Says.”

Also impressive are Ariel’s three girlfriends, Rusty (Emily Curington), Wendy Jo (Danielle Goupille), and Urleen (Ariel Infante).  The three act as a sort of Greek chorus, narrating through song and participating in the action.  Their presence is particularly keenly felt in the number “Somebody’s Eyes,” in which they explore the frustration of small town life, where each action you take is catalogued and gossip powers the cogs of existence.  It’s hard to “cut loose” when everything mistake you make is held against you.

Mysterium’s production is both high energy fun, but it also explores some of the deeper layers at work within the town of Bomont.  It sympathetically emphasizes the very real concerns of responsible parenting while also celebrating youth and joy.  And if you come from the 80’s, it’s really hard not to sing along.


WHAT: Footloose, The Musical

WHERE: Mysterium Theater

311 Euclid St.

La Habra, CA 90631

WHEN: Thursdays – Sundays through May 29

8:00 pm;  Saturday and Sunday matinees at 4:00 pm

COST: $15-$30 in advance, $30 at the door

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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!