Witch at Large: Ruminations from a Grey Perspective

Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form
Aline "Macha" O'Brien

Aline "Macha" O'Brien

Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com

My Take on the Kenny Klein Affair

If you’re one of those Pagans who socialize on the Web, you’re no doubt aware of the current shitstorm in the wake of the arrest of prominent Pagan musician Kenny Klein for possession and distribution of child pornography.

The way I see it, this occurrence has brought out the best and the worst conduct on the part of Pagans.

Among the worst are (1) screaming for his head; (2) protesting in his defense because there’s been no adjudication yet, just an arrest; (3) dredging up all manner of rumor, founded and unfounded, from the past; and (4) untenable ad hominem attacks on other prominent Pagans.

...
Last modified on
9
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Deb Snavely
    Deb Snavely says #
    http://adainitiative.org/2013/08/conference-anti-harassment-campaigns-do-work-three-existence-proofs-from-sff-atheismskepticism-an
  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    As a general rule, please don't post links without any accompanying commentary. It's a way for us to help avoid spam. From Articl
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Thank you, Macha, for your wise and balanced words. Your observation that nobody in the media has so much as mentioned Mr. Klein'

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Judy Harrow

Judy Harrow
1945 - 2014

I've just learned of the passing of my old friend Judy Harrow.  Her health had been fragile for some years now, so her passing is not entirely unexpected.  That said, it is a great loss to American Witchcraft and the Pagan movement in general.

Last modified on
4
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Thank you, Macha. This is lovely.
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Hi Terence, Thanks for your kind words. Judy's birthday was March 3, 1945.
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    Macha, This post brings together a confluence of forces in my life. For one, I knew Judy Harrow, but only for a few short years,

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
On Veils, from PantheaCon

Picking up where I left off my previous blog about PantheaCon –

On Saturday evening I went to a workshop called “Taking Up the Veil,” with Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdaughter.[1]  The description in the program intrigued me:

 

...
Last modified on
0
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    Sometimes this topic makes me upset, and sometimes it doesn't. I've deliberately gained weight at certain points in my life in or
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Thanks for your comments, Constance. It's a complicated issue. As you said, the choice must always be that of the wearer.
  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler says #
    Dear Aline, Part of my religious past was spent in the Hari Krishna Movement and we where expected to have our heads COVERED. It w

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
PantheaCon upon Reflection

Thursday Night thru Saturday Afternoon

To avoid the hassle of driving busy Bay Area freeways during the day, and because I’m not an early riser, I drove down to San Jose late Thursday evening.  I anticipated that this would allow me a few more leisurely visits with other early arrivers, especially those from afar, before the Con got nuts.  I was right.

I had printed out schedules of the events I was most drawn to ahead of time, together with some hospitality suite schedules and meal dates made in the previous weeks.  Over the years I’ve relaxed my schedule by not applying to do a presentation of any kind, rather only sitting on panels now and then when asked, or performing a ritual role when invited to do so.  I try to get to the most appealing presentations, but some of them are too crowded.  I know that some of them I can see at other venues.  If I happen to get involved in a compelling discussion or a tête-à-tête and miss something I wanted to attend, I can follow where I’m drawn, or I can break away if I absolutely have to be somewhere.  This year I played it loose.

...
Last modified on
0
Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    I'm sorry I missed Sabina's presentation. I've been a fan of her "Witching Culture" for some time. I chose a different event at th

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
PantheaCon Book Purchases

Although I’ve been trying to lighten up the bookshelves in my home by donating some books to Pagan libraries, loaning out many (which seldom seem to return home), and simply putting some books I’ve read “in circulation,” such as leaving them at my gym or giving them to someone else to read with no expectation of getting them back.  However, that doesn’t mean a bibliophile such as me has ceased buying books altogether.  In spite of limited funds for non-essentials, I do consider books to be essential to my life, so I still buy them, albeit much more selectively than I’ve done in the past.  I especially tend to purchase books of poetry, even more especially if I know the poet, and/or anthologies in which their work is published.  I feel strongly about supporting the arts as much as we can; this is one of my ways of supporting the arts.

I returned home from PantheaCon with only two new books; I restrained myself. 

One is Gus diZerega’s Fault Lines: The Sixties, the Culture Wars, and the Return of the Divine Feminine.  I’ve been reading parts of earlier iterations of this work, and, having lived a life that fits into the title, I’m eager to read it when I don’t have plenty of reading piled up that pertains to projects I’m working on.  The cover is jarring, perhaps as it should be considering the subject matter, but it’s not appealing to me.  As they say, “you can’t tell a book by its cover.”

...
Last modified on
1

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Institutions

As a product of the counterculture, I tend to mistrust and avoid institutions.  I suspect this is a common attitude among “first generation”[1] NeoPagans in the U.S.  We found existing institutions, be they religious, educational, or governmental, to be oppressive, unfulfilling, and irrelevant to the conditions of the world in which we found ourselves.

Let’s face it: established religions such as Christianity in its many forms, were created and gained ascendency in other times and places.  There was no threat of nuclear annihilation, no looming environmental degradation, no water shortage, no organ transplants, no vaccinations against such diseases as smallpox and polio.  Those religions addressed the concerns of the peoples in other times and places.  Further, few of these religious institutions adapted to changing circumstances.  Nowadays some are trying to be more relevant, often by adopting practices, such as involving lay people in their rituals and dancing during worship. 

In the years since Paganism has become visible, particularly in academia and interfaith, we have gained credibility in the wider world, and although we remain a religious minority,[2] we have not done much in the way of establishing lasting institutions.

...
Last modified on
3
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Marissa  Bomgardner
    Marissa Bomgardner says #
    Are the inmates allowed the fake tealight candles that are battery operated? That's what my group used on the carrier (USS John C
  • Samuel Wagar
    Samuel Wagar says #
    I believe that people vote with their wallets. They vote to buy Pagan bling and to go to short-term Pagan communities / festivals
  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling says #
    Institutions are important and Pagans need to raise their collective "self-esteem" and step out into the world holding their heads

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
One Real Gripe, Two Frustrations

My gripe-du-jour is about people who volunteer to take on a task or role and then disappear.  I know it’s true that with all-volunteer organizations such as most Pagan groups are that the out-of-site-out-of-mind rule applies.  A volunteer leaves a meeting or gathering or festival full of zeal and ready to take on the work of whatever project(s) the group is planning.  That person may even have been provided with documents, mailing lists, etc. with which to accomplish the task(s).  He[1] may even have taken on the responsibilities of an officer within the organization.  Then he gets home and more immediate concerns distract and derail him.

This phenomenon was more damaging to Pagan efforts at organizing prior to the advent of the Internet.  For instance, within CoG, source of most but not all of my experience, membership applications must be timely processed or the applicant will wonder if her papers were even received.  And when a newsletter published eight times a year is the primary, and only official, vehicle of communication within the organization, getting every newsletter to the membership is critical.  Of course, today we can renew memberships online, and the newsletter editors of recent years have done a splendid job.  But back in the day such lapses in accomplishing volunteer tasks could have a negative impact on the group at large.

So although the matter of disappearing or non-performing volunteers does not have the same consequences today, it does affect the organizations on whose behalf one volunteered – negatively so when tasks are not fulfilled.

...
Last modified on
1
Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    I definitely read -- and write -- posts that are shorter, and I harbor no guilt about that whatsoever. I've read hundreds of page

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Tyranny of Secrecy

I don’t think that secrecy is a good thing.  I don’t think it’s healthy and I don’t think it’s beneficial to anyone.  Secrecy is a condition that allows all manner of malevolence to thrive.  Secrecy allows wounds to fester in the darkness and spread infection throughout the family system.

I’ve heard 12-steppers speak of the ways in which their families are affected by keeping secret the alcoholism of one or more family members.  Keeping that afflicted family member’s secret adversely affects everyone in the family.  One rationale for keeping such secrets is shame. 

The same is true of families in which there is physical, mental and/or emotional abuse.  There is shame attached to allowing domestic abuse to continue.  More importantly, there is the very real danger of serious injury or death.

...
Last modified on
4
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    The isolation that secrecy fosters is like a poison-tipped arrow. Metaphorically speaking, far more damaging than the wound itself
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Please, please, please leave comments here rather than on FB! If they're here, their available to other readers and don't become
Boundaries & Permeability, Inclusivity & Exclusivity

From a cursory scan of several Pagan blogs, it appears to me that lots of Pagans have been devoting their thinking to the notion of inclusivity.  Who is welcome in whose circles?  How Pagans can demonstrate their love for all humankind by rolling out the welcome mat to one and all?  In principle I agree that our groups should be welcoming to all who are called to a Pagan path, although we all know that there are many Pagan paths and not every one is suitable for every seeker.

Exclusivity

There are men’s circles and groups,[1] gay men’s circles, circles of men with mixed forms of sexual expression.  There are women’s circles, teen circles, children’s circles, crones’ circles, as well as groups especially created for LGBTs. 

...
Last modified on
3

Earlier this week The Wild Hunt blog featured a report on CoG’s recently concluded MerryMeet/Grand Council, complete with photos of the new National Board.  What a change from my day!

There was a time when Witches (and Wiccans) kept deep within the broom closet, for all manner of reasons, most involving fear of discrimination at work, school, or housing.

I remember the first MerryMeet held on the East Coast in the mid-eighties, at Rowe Camp & Conference Center in Massachusetts.  That was when I first met some of the wonderful folks at the then-Northeast Local Council: folks from NECTW, EarthSpirit, and the then-Lone Star LC from Texas, among many others.  At that MerryMeet I saw my first tea dance.  It seemed to have a very New York flavor, especially with BrightShadow[1] in leathers. 

...
Last modified on
3
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Robert Scott
    Robert Scott says #
    Well put, and thank you for sharing.
  • Richard Daley
    Richard Daley says #
    We can only hope that this trend continues.

b2ap3_thumbnail_altar2_20130816-083942_1.JPG

An Altar at Lucky Mojo Curio Co., Forestville, CA

This post I hope to be another of a series of writings about magical objects, tangible items that have meaning to and are used by Pagans of various stripes.  I’ll work from the more immediate (altars, clothing, incenses, masks, etc.) to the broader (temples, nemetons, sacred spaces).

...
Last modified on
3

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

Coven Trismegiston Lammas Altar 2013

At a recent seminary graduation ceremony I attended I noticed the altar.  It wasn’t an altar like the altars I’m more used to seeing. 

...
Last modified on
2

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mummers-parade.jpg

 

 

...
Last modified on
0
Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    Agreed! Without (preferably torchlit) processions, you don't have a real religion.
Interfaith, Multifaith, Interreligious, Intrafaith, Spiritual/Spirituality – What?

For some years now I’ve been active in organizations and projects that are called “interfaith.”  For instance, my own local group is called Marin Interfaith Council, and is comprised of individuals from a wide variety of religious persuasions, as well as people in social service and social justice organizations, such as hospice, advocates for the homeless, LGBT activists, “soup kitchens” and the like.

I’ve represented the Covenant of the Goddess in most interfaith situations, including as a representative in the academic world by virtue of my membership and participation in the American Academy of Religion.[1]  This is my favorite.

...
Last modified on
1
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Patrick
    Patrick says #
    Thanks for the pointer here from the morass of WH comments. I've done some of what has been labeled interfaith work, mostly relat
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Dear Aline, Chas, Ian and Joseph - Some of us are syncretists who see human spirituality as an ever-evolving experience which can
  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    Ted, I disagree that the presence of syncretic or eclectic faiths in any way invalidates my point. Indeed, as with Ian's point ab
Reflections on "The Union of Earth and Sky"

In the process of designing and teaching a course called Ritual Theory & Liturgical Design at Starr King School for the Ministry (UU), I was digging through some of my old materials and found this reflection from 1999.  I'd been thinking about some of the things I learned from this particular ritual, "The Union of Earth and Sky: A Ceremony for Thor and Freyr," created by Sparky T. Rabbit.  I was really glad to have found this because it's much fresher than anything I could write from this distance in time.

* * * * *

We five in red and gold proceeded through the encampment to a drumbeat.  Activity ceased and all became hushed at our approach.  Step by step, we walked up to the site of the sacred circle.  We turned deosil just inside of the Guardian of the North, and dropped out under a tree, facing inward, behind Cloud, our Eastern Guardian.  As we turned toward the center, we saw following us the Man in the Moon and the Night-Time Stars, who proceeded to the West to stand behind that Guardian.  Behind them mighty Thor and his petite, black-gowned rune-bearer, followed by beautiful Freyr, his rune-bearer sister to Thor’s.

...
Last modified on
0

Many Pagans use ritual and magic with a therapeutic focus.  I've found this to be more prevalent in some traditions than in others, and more common among bootstrap and eclectic traditions.  Those kinds of traditions tend to be more fluid and less conventional in the kinds of ritual they perform, which perhaps accounts for their tendency to be more daring in the kinds of work they do.  The use of ritual for or as therapy is especially common in the tradition from which I arose.

I heartily endorse creative ritual in fostering health and healing.  Ritual performance can enhance therapeutic efforts.  Therapy can be reinforced by the use of ritual supportive of its goals.

Calling upon the help of a deity or deities, of power animals and birds, of ancestors; using cleansing scents, healing herbs, the powers of stones and other natural objects -- all can have therapeutic benefits.  Acting out or engaging in dialogue -- with self, with disease or injury, with another human in ritual, with spirit -- can also be therapeutic. 

...
Last modified on
4
Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Macha -- a good reminder, but I'd love to see more depth based on your long experience. How about a more detailed piece, like the

My friend Peter Dybing has posted this blog, "Killing the Big Name Pagans," at Pagan in Paradise.  I tend to get more inspired when writing something responsive to the ideas of others, which often means I just post a long response.  When I do that, my thoughts don't make it beyond that feedback form.  So today I've decided to post my full response here:

I agree with the opinions expressed in earlier feedback at Pagan in Paradise by Thorn, Peg and Elizabeth. Here are few factoids that inform my opinion:


*  How one conducts oneself is more important to me than how high one's public profile is.

*  Leaders happen. Some people have leadership qualities, like initiative, and others have less or none at all. And just because someone takes on a leadership role doesn't mean that others have to follow. With no followers, one is not leading anything or anyone. But the emergence of more informed and/or influential and/or accomplished individuals is natural. Nature, is Nature not our teacher?

*  There is a big differencebetween those who see an opportunity to be of service, to do something worthwhile and that probably benefits many, and those who are building a career out of being some 'Pagan personage.'  Whether it's selling books, acquiring teaching gigs for money, whatever, that's somewhat different from leadership, per se. Which is not to say that one cannot be and do both -- be of service and sell books. My point is that motivations may be different. If you have to make some money to pay the rent and what you do to earn money is sell books and give workshops, you have a different motivation from someone who's just doing some kind of labor-intensive and responsibility-laden Pagan-oriented work (like organizing a festival or keeping the account books) that I would also view as a leadership role.

*  Lastly, we live in a culture of celebrity. No matter how 'different' and unaffected by mainstream mores we may claim to be, every one of us lives within, and is affected and informed by, the overculture.

Having said all that, I will conclude by mentioning that when you see Pagans doing work you consider beneficial or worthwhile, it's nice to give them some word of appreciation. As a sometime-recipient of words of encouragement, I can tell you it really feels good. Conversely, it doesn't feel so good to be overlooked.

By the same token, if someone is doing something publicly on behalf of Paganism and you think what they're doing is not good, it's appropriate to address the things you think are problematic or those with which you don't agree. To hold that person accountable, at least to the community/organization on whose behalf that person acts. That does not mean trashing the person. It only means speaking to specific issues.

And if you really hate what someone is doing in the public forum, you really disagree, well, jump into that sandbox and build your own castle; put your own ideas in motion.

...
Last modified on
1

Peter Dybing gave Sunday's keynote speech, "Stirring the Cauldron of Pagan Sensibilities."  A worthy pursuit to my mind.  In an animated talk, Peter emphasized that Paganism was not a monolithic institution.  He also spoke of the need for boundaries, avoiding what he called "the 2 a.m. crisis."  During feedback, I reminded folks that one of the required courses for degree-seeking students at Cherry Hill Seminary is Boundaries & Ethics.  I took the proto-class from Cat Chapin-Bishop back around 2000 and found it one of the most valuable classes I've ever taken.

He itemized several issues and then compared the attitudes about them of older Pagans and to those of younger generations.  He said that older Pagans generally held tightly to beliefs whereas younger ones welcomed debate.  I think this is true of any social phenomenon when it achieves some years; however, I don't think it's universal.  I count many Pagans, myself among them, as being open-minded, adaptable, and willing to engage on current issues, far from being hidebound.

It was helpful for me to hear, even though it's obvious, that we bring with us the cultural attitudes of our times.  I know that the feminism that underlies my being, religious and otherwise, has informed my views and practices.  I know that my experience pre-Second Wave Feminism is very unlike the experience of women who, for instance, grew up in a world where reproductive choice is a given.  And that's just on one issue.  I know that the zeitgeist of my formative years differs from the zeitgeist of subsequent generations.  Sometimes hearing something stated clearly from another person gives the fact a more crystalline ring.  Thank you, Peter.

...
Last modified on
0

Day Two, Session Five, was a panel on Bringing Pagan Sensibilities into Classroom Pedagogy, and featured Zayn Kassam, Jennifer Rycenga, and Dorothea Kahena Viale. 

Jennifer Rycenga's talk, "Richard Jeffries and F.C. Happold: The Presumption of Nature's Naïveté," introduced us to the work of English nature writer and mystic Richard Jeffries.  She quoted some beautiful passages of his soul's awakening from The Story of My Heart. available online at Project Gutenberg.

Dorothea Kahena Viale described her current teaching innovations at Cal Poly-Pomona using art, movement, and rhythm in "Drumming, Dancing, Masks and Circles in the Academic Classroom"

Last modified on
0

I join the chorus of voices reporting on the general wonderfulness of the 9th Annual Claremont Pagan Studies Conference.1  I found the overall quality of presentations exceptionally high, as they were the last time I attended two years ago.

I arrived Friday night after a long solo drive from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles, through rain and the hairy Grapevine Canyon through the Tehachapi Mountains, stressed and with intense pain between my shoulders.  Cranky, in other words.  Soon Lauren cheered me up.

Saturday morning's first session consisted of four speakers.  Joseph Nichter, an Iraq war veteran, spoke of using Tarot in healing PTSD.  I loved his ideas about what he calls "peripheral exploration," wherein the querent draws a single card, places it on a larger sheet of paper, and draws a scene that embeds the image in the card in a larger picture.

Last modified on
1

Additional information