Maxim Monday: Educate Your Sons

Yes! A Maxim I am excited about! I agree whole-heartedly agree that our sons need be educated. I believe in education, particularly one that involves wonder, creativity and critical thinking. Lets give our boys sciences, art, music, history, literature, maths, outdoor skills, virtues, and the abilities to express themselves.

And let’s of course give that to our daughters.

Aside from academics, which I believe are for boys and girls, I’d like to talk about some things I aim to teach my own son.

My son is five. I began his education early: I sang opera arias and jazz standards to him when he was in the NICU after he was born. I started reading to him when I breastfed. I’d read whatever I had on hand, which meant he got current events from the Economist and a lot of feminist theological theory. But I also read volumes of poetry as I nursed him down for naps. All of that language was helpful, and I see the fruit in his deep love of stories and his rather impressive vocabulary.

More than that, my husband and I are determined to teach him to think for himself. We don’t have television, primarily because we loathe advertising, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of opportunity to talk about media. At about three my son would look at a sign or a billboard and ask, “What is that sign telling us?” A good question to ask!

We are determined to teach him about his feelings and ways that he can express them safely and clearly. This hasn’t eliminated all the tantrums, but he is able to tell us that feels angry, shy, scared, happy, frustrated, etc. Much of the time, just knowing that he can cry something out is all it takes for the wave of emotion to pass. He also knows that just because some one is angry doesn’t mean that love is absent. He knows that we can express anger and still love and be loved. When he told this to me in the car a few weeks ago, I’d have sworn I’d won at parenting!

We are also teaching him the importance of consent. If I want a son that will respect the boundaries of others at 15, 20, 35 years of age, that lesson needs to start now. There is no ‘boys will be boys’ nonsense in our house. There is only, “did you ask first?” whether that’s a hug or a punch or whatever.

There are other things we educating our son about: he can’t help but have some knowledge of world religions, graphic arts, and the internet, thanks to who his parents are! I also want to give him more of an education of the outdoors. He’s learning to swim.

All of these things we’re teaching our son…… and we’re also teaching them to our daughter.


Feri Freshman Hazing

I talk about the Magic a lot. I also call it the Current. You might call it Flow, God, the Divine, the still small voice within, serendipity – there are many names. Over the years, I have developed a sense of it, when I think I’m pulled by the Current, rather than by just my own whims. Usually what happens is an Idea comes into my or my husband’s head, an idea previously unconsidered. Or an opportunity is presented to me and I am faced with having to choose Yes or No. Most of the time these decisions are not life altering, but when the Magic is involved I know that a Yes or a No will take me down a new and usually unfamiliar path.

The biggest example I have of this in my life was when my husband and I decided to move to Wales. The idea came to him out of the blue. Yes, my graduate adviser was there, but I didn’t have to be. We knew we wanted to leave Oakland to raise our son, who at the time of this decision was only 7 months old. The idea came to us and we said YES. When we started looking into the requirements we were told to expect at least a year to get everything in place. Nine months later we were not just on our way to Wales – we were there. Doors opened. Pieces fell into place. In my experience, this happens when we’re tapped into the Current.

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this spring I was faced with an opportunity and I chose Yes, knowing full well there would be consequences. I felt the Magic, it was strong, and I trusted it.

Oh there were consequences all right.

The last two months have been turmoil. I’ve been distracted, obsessed. My relationship with my husband, Adam, has been taxed, pulled to extremes. In an intimate relationship, large leaps into the Current don’t just affect me, they affect my partner too. What happens when one person says Yes! and the other partner doesn’t even know the opportunity was presented? Chaos. That’s what happens. Lots of tears and fighting.

Just as Adam and I had touched a tip of reprieve my situation blew up again, a gigantic nuclear explosion, with toxic fall out tainting all that came before. It was ugly. I felt used, confused, lied to. Several people were involved. It was drama of the most salacious kind. I didn’t know whom to trust. My reason said one thing one day, and something else the next. My intuition flipped and flopped. I didn’t trust the players involved, I didn’t trust myself, and for the first time ever, I didn’t trust the Magic either.

I was angry. Angry that I was caught in the middle of something so ugly. Angry that other people were unable to work out their own issues. Angry that the situation was provoking my sorest and weakest spots: I take people at their word. Once I choose to trust I often ignore yellow and red flags, a tendency that hurt me deeply over the winter. I am stubborn. I trust myself and my choices – to exclusion of others. I do not tend to take others’ counsel. I ask for forgiveness, rather than permission. All of those things can be positives, but, in situations like the one I was in, all of those things were painful liabilities.

I reached out to a Feri initiate friend. She wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into, but offered compassion. ‘You are on a Feri ride,’ she said. Her words rang true, but filled me with dread. How am I to trust the Current if it is so fickle and hurtful? It’s like I’ve been doing trust falls with the Current, only to have it step away and not catch me on fall #5. Not fair! Not kind! How do I trust it again?

This is the first time I’ve faced a choice of this magnitude since my Feri dedication (not the same as initiation) in January. I wonder if the Current decided to test me. I feel like I’m being hazed. I feel like I’m a freshman who mistakenly signed up for a graduate course and realized it only after taking the first test. Or the beginning swimming student who has been thrown into the open ocean. Sink or swim.

My initiate friend (and every Feri initiate I’ve ever talked to) has a story about getting beaten up by the Current. Relationships ended, friendships broken, jobs lost, families isolated, households moved, and on and on. I relayed this reminder to Adam and he said if this is what we have to look forward to, he’d rather I quit Feri. But I won’t. I never choose the easy path, for better and for worse.

After all that has been said and done, I feel like I’m back to myself. I’ve come up for air. I’m no longer sucked into the undertow. I’m clinging to my basic tools, as to a life raft: sitting meditation, the exercises my teachers have given me, small devotions, and making kala.

Looking at the silver lining in such a dark and stormy time, I see that my choice was a catalyst for deep personal work that was needed. Adam and I are in couples counseling, working out some of the deepest, more stubborn vestiges of our issues.

Personally, I have chosen to let go of my need to understand just what exactly happened in that nuclear explosion. I can’t know and as uncomfortable as that makes me, I’m moving on. I’ve made a commitment to myself and to Adam that I will reach out more often to more people. I will not keep my own counsel, but seek out the advice and accountability of trusted allies. Somehow I will align my reason and intuition, not over privileging one to the detriment of the other. I’m not sure how this is going to happen, but I’m committed to finding a way.

This Magic stuff ain’t for the faint of heart.



Guru Purnima

Today is the full moon and this moon marks Guru Purnima, a day to honor our gurus, or teachers.

As someone who has valued learning and been successful at school, I’ve had pretty good relationships with most of my academic teachers along the way. I am also a self-motivated, independent learner, some one who is confident in my ability to find out what I need to know. I also hate being told what to do. I tend to learn best through brutal experience. I care more about the knowledge than the A grade. These qualities can make having a mentor rather tricky for me.

Today I’d like to honor the many teachers who have left their mark on me. There are many people whose names I don’t remember any more (I’ve got depression related issues with my memory from my 20s), so they will be remembered in spirit when I light my candle and list the following names.

First, there is my academic life and all the teachers I’ve had along the way. I am grateful to most of them. Mr Len Peterson, my 10th grade geometry teacher, immediately comes to mind. He was always available for assistance. Thanks to him I got my first A in math. I am grateful for Sarah Boss, my PhD adviser, for her encouragement and enthusiasm for my ideas.

I spent 20 years studying classical voice. Along the way I’ve had some good teachers, some awful teachers, and some great teachers. I am especially grateful for John D’Armand and Byron McGilvray, who early on gave me good technique and believed that I could do something big with my voice. More recently, I am grateful to Ann Moss who restored fun to my lessons and explored my voice with me when I was pregnant with my first child.

I am grateful for Carolyn Brown, yogini extraordinaire. I am grateful to Mike Miller (may he rest in peace), my swimming coach, for being like a second father to me.

Spiritually, I am grateful to my uncle Jon for sending me my very first Bible of my own, to Fr. Mark Koczak for showing me the beauty of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, to T Thorn Coyle for being perhaps my first Official teacher, and most especially to my present teachers, W & N, who are the teachers I’ve always wanted.

The list could not be complete without mentioning my ever loving husband, Adam, and our two children. Nothing has been more character building and more educational to me than the commitment to life long relationship, and all three of my immediate family members teach me this every single day.

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Maxim Monday

The next two Delphic maxims go together: have respect for suppliants and be accommodating in everything.

Both of these maxims refer to requests. Putting the two together can be trickier than it might seem.

A suppliant is a person who is asking something of you. It seems to have an air of an inferior, implying unequal power dynamics. At this point in my life, I’ve discovered that people who are asking me for something (beyond, hey can I borrow a pen?) are usually taking a step outside their comfort zone. If I didn’t need help in some way, I wouldn’t be asking for the ride, the twenty bucks, the babysitting, the trade, the whatever. The request for assistance in whatever form is an act of vulnerability.

For me, my boundaries around asking for most things are pretty good. People can always say no, but no one is going to say yes unless I ask. However, when the emotional stakes are high for me, I often find ways to avoid asking for assistance. Keeping this in mind will help me to have respect for others who ask me for assistance. In general, I am likely to say yes, if I am able.

Which leads me to the second maxim. I’d like to think I am accommodating in most things. However, I am also as stubborn and intractable as a 3-year-old. If a request suits me – even mildly – I am quick to accommodate. If I have strong opinions about a way to do something or have a different idea entirely, well…… good luck getting your way. This is not the most mature attitude.

My own reactions to the second maxim is to take “be accommodating in everything” to mean “give way in every situation,” but I don’t think that’s what is intended. Accommodating a request doesn’t mean giving in or saying yes automatically.

These are the sorts of times when accommodating someone would mean respecting their request. Can I respond with respect, accommodate their perspective, and maybe find a mutually beneficial outcome?

Orange Alert

A post in which I am all kinds of vague and mangle a metaphor about traffic lights.

Some readers might remember that I had a very, very challenging summer last year. This year is only slightly better. Last summer was far too busy and physically and emotionally overwhelming. This summer is far less physically taxing, but is equally emotionally challenging. I am feeling the emotional fall out – finally – from the heartbreak of the last twelve months. I am in the middle of excavating old wounds and nasty patterns with my husband. I am reaching out to forge new relationships. It’s all hard, but necessary and rewarding, work.

I privilege relationships above all else. What I am finding this summer is that this may not be wise all the time. I also privilege what I call ‘the Magic.’ Other people might call it flow, synchronicity, timing, luck, coincidence, or the Current. Once I started really listening and looking for this in my life, I found that strange and beautiful doors began opening. My life took on even more adventure. Obstacles weren’t as large or as stubborn anymore.

By Wazouille, via Wikimedia Commons

By Wazouille, via Wikimedia Commons

So I’m listening and looking even more keenly these days. What I’m seeing is that the work I’m doing personally around my relationships is necessary, but there are no green lights at this time. What I’m seeing is that the areas of my life that I want to be open and moving forward are not. I’m not getting No’s; I’m getting Not Right Now’s, lots of orange lights. I have to wait. My pushing is not helping; it’s only making certain things worse.

All of my relationships are highlighting things I need to work on: patience, trust, being vulnerable, reaching out. Can I trust the Magic? Can I trust my partner? Can I keep showing up with openness and meet my friends where they’re at? Can I trust the people in my life to show up for me and accept me as I am, mess and all? In addition to relationship stuff, my family is house hunting and having next to no luck. Can I trust here too? Can I trust the spell work I’ve done around it? Can I trust the timing will work out?

Everything is about trust for me right now.

As I wrote that last sentence I was flooded with weariness. I don’t trust very easily. I don’t think the world is out to get me, but I’m always on point, guards up. I’m always showing up for others, not asking -or expecting- others to show up for me. I’m always working too hard: not to be forgotten, to push things through, to make things happen for myself. I have to let go. I have to trust.

The green lights in my life are all professional. I keep ignoring them, because I privilege other areas of my life. I think it’s a human trait to try to avoid the uncomfortable ares of our selves and our lives and stick to what we’re good at. I am not being allowed that right now. For over a year now I have been offered one excellent opportunity after another. I’ve turned several down. The time is come to stop that and to embrace the Magic where it is. Getting more serious about my personal spiritual practices and my writing involves a healthy dose of trust and vulnerability. It’s not just relationships that require these things.

So this weekend, as one thing after another fails to go according to plan (I’m not in Canada, for one), I realize that I’ve been revving to go at lights that, while not red, are merely at orange. I need to focus on the green lights. Orange lights are temporary. Revving won’t make them turn green any faster.

I have to trust that attending to these green lights will lead to more green lights down the road.

Haters Gonna Hate

Yesterday a young, dynamic, new friend of mine posted on his blog that he was done with witchcraft. Definitively and decidedly done. His post is down now, so I won’t bother to link to it. It was a problematic post in many ways, hurtful to his allies and dismissive of his own considerable talents. Yet there were some hard truths about the witchcraft ‘community’ in his post, some of which I want to address here, because he is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to struggle with not feeling potent enough, talented enough or magical enough.

I have struggled with my place in witchcraft for many years. In fact, I am not a natural joiner and generally feel like the odd one out no matter where I am. Over the years I’ve realized part of this is cultivated, as an act of self-protection. For a long time I was too Christian for the Pagans and too Pagan for the Christians. For the style of witchcraft I practice I tend to think I’m too happy, too ‘normal.’ I don’t wear enough black or pentacles or go to Renn faires. Other than children, I can’t grow things at all. I wear jeans most of time, I listen to cheesy pop music and opera, and I watch a lot of cartoons with my kids. It’s not a Dark Pagan Life most days. It’s silly to get hung up on external trappings, but it’s so easy to do.
Albrecht Durer's Four Witches, also known as Vier Hexen, 1497.

Albrecht Durer’s Four Witches, also known as Vier Hexen, 1497.

And then there are the doubts of magical efficacy, or growing understanding and connection to whatever spirits or gods we choose to work with. Feeling as though we have power in this world and can create change in our lives according to our will is, in my experience, an important part of the magical life. Sometimes it feels like nothing shifts, we’re still stuck on the same issue we’ve been stuck on for years, or our spells don’t seem to work. These things can suck the joy out of our devotions and practice.

I think these feelings are normal. I felt similar things when I was singing and when I was in graduate school. I’m going to let you in on a secret: all of the people I know who hold PhDs (and I know a lot of them) have said they have felt like a fraud at some point. Clearly, these doubts apply to the best of us.

That said, there are some serious poseurs and jack-asses out there. The internet is full of them, no matter the community. The wider world of Paganism has a love/hate relationship with exclusion and inclusion. I find Traditional Witchcraft to be particularly persnickety. Some of this is due to the inherent nature of keeping oaths and not passing along publicly information that can be misconstrued or damaging to those who don’t understand. This can sometimes make people feel that they are not ‘worthy’ enough for the ‘secrets.’ Yet some people have a way of communicating arcane wisdom without excluding.

Some Big Name Pagan authors love to write with purple prose and in such a way that any reader not within the author’s immediate circle will be obviously excluded. To those authors I ask, why write at all? Just send out your stuff on email lists and be done with it. But some authors, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold being the first that comes to my mind, have an ability to keep obvious secrets yet write in such a way that any thinking witch or magician at any experience level can access something of worth.

Sadly, there are always going to be people out there trying to keep others down in order to build themselves up. They feel special because they think they have something that others can’t have. I myself have struggled, wondering if I have the Magic or the Juice. I’m only just getting over that. I have long been too up in my head. I still can’t trance easily. I don’t see the dead. The gods don’t talk to me often. I’m more a mystic, a thinky theologian, than a shaman. And right now, shamanism is hot.

But Trad Craft and the public face of it, is not the only kind of magic out there. I am finding my own magic. You, dear reader, have yours too. Maybe it isn’t Traditional Witchcraft. Maybe it’s Buddhism or basket weaving. There is magic in almost anything. That thread weaves and that hum and thrum beats in the trees, in the waves of incense smoke, in the melodies of Schubert lieder. In my eyes, magic is an approach to life. In my studies of religions over the years, I have seen that all of them have magical lines, and those lines share certain aspects or techniques. There are many cooks, painters, singers, gardeners, parents, teachers -anything!- that have that magic in them and their lives. And plenty of Dark Witches and High Magicians that have none.

So here’s my pitch to the struggling: don’t give up on magic. Don’t forget those moments that rang true for you. Don’t discard the experiences that spoke to your soul. Get back before your altar (whatever that is). Get back to your basics. Cling to your truth, your experience, and the Magic will you lead you true.

In the meantime, fuck all the haters and poseurs. I don’t have time for them. I’m too busy living my kick ass life.

Maxim Monday: Despise Insolence

Insolence is defined as rudeness and acts of disrespect. I always picture uptight old ladies clutching their pearls about the insolence of The Youth. I also remember myself at 12, talking back to my parents, and I have my 5-year-old practicing insolence with the best – “Mama, you don’t know anything! You’re wrong about EVERYTHING!”

I find it hard to despise insolence, because that means rejecting myself and my kid. Insolence may be unacceptable in my house, but it certainly is worthy of despising.

When it comes to raising my kids, I find that sometimes if I can probe beneath the insolence, there is something else going on. Five year olds are still learning what they’re feeling and how to express that. My son has a hard time being told what to do all the time (takes after his mother). If I can give him freedom to do his own thing and/or tell stories his own way, that often alleviates his outbursts of insolence. Thankfully, he knows full well that expressing frustration and anger doesn’t mean that love is absent. He also knows that mean spiritedness and name calling (two expressions of his particular brand of insolence) are not acceptable in our house.

There is a place for acts of disrespect, for children and for grown ups. I am thinking of acts of civil disobedience, self-preservation, and some forms of protest. The difference is knowing what is deliberately disobedient (which I suppose shows a measure of respect to what is being pushed against) and what is blatant disregard and often times mere provocation.

One of the areas I am personally working on in this area is not taking the name of Christ ‘in vain.’ He isn’t my god, but he’s a god nonetheless and one that is precious to billions. It is deeply disrespectful to shout ‘Jesus Christ!’ I also don’t want to yell ‘goddamnit’ because – which god? damn the coffee table for getting in my way?

This may seem minor, and also very silly, especially to those who know me. I have the mouth of a sailor. I adore the F word. I use it liberally. But using the names of the gods in this way feels like an egregious act of disrespect.