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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 What is fire? A science-backed guide to flames, and how we've made them. -  Vox


I gaze into the heart of the fire. I can't say I'm not feeling a little nervous.

It's my first conversation with N since, under my direction, we enacted the Men's Mysteries, the secret rites of initiation by which the tribe's boys become the tribe's men.

From my perspective, things went well. To judge from the shine that's been on this year's initiate ever since, they went very well indeed.

Still, N is something of a senior statesman among us: a man of unquestionable integrity, my elder in age, experience, and wisdom. He never speaks anything less than the truth, and what he thinks, matters.

Slowly, he nods his head.

“Well, I'd say that was a good one,” he says, “Just the way we've always done it.”

He pauses.

“And if it wasn't, it's how we always should have been doing it.”

Somehow, the fire seems to burn a little more brightly.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs



Interesting Writing Assignment


Well, now: there's an interesting writing assignment.

A brief autobiography for a forthcoming volume about pagan elders.

Flattering to be asked, of course. Everyone's favorite subject: me, me, me.

Still, there are good bios and bad bios. What makes one biography worth the reading—memorable even—and another not?


The Life and Times of Lord Moonwhistle


“Lord Moonwhistle was born in Peoria in 1942 and graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1960.”

Gee: do you want to read more of that? No, of course you don't.

What makes the story of a life worth reading? Not just the facts, oh no my precious.

What you want is a story.

You want a story that gives you a sense of encounter with someone else. You want a story that amuses, entertains, and is about something larger than just another person and their experiences.

Really, what you want is myth.


My Big, Fat Pagan Career


So I wrote a biography. I started by leaving a lot out.

For the biography of a pagan elder, non-pagan data can be of only tangential interest, insofar as it relates to the life's larger pagan trajectory. So you won't learn much about my career(s), degrees (or lack thereof), or relationships. Those things all happened, and they're all of formative importance, but not here.

Stylistics: I decided to go with third, rather than first, person narrative. When someone is the hero of all his own stories, I usually think: Gods, what a stuck-up jerk. (Cp. AC's "autohagiography.") Somehow or other, a “he” narrative sounds more objective than an “I” narrative.

Yes, it's all smoke and mirrors—in effect, a con job—but that's show bizz, folks.

What you will learn about is my pagan career.

That's way more pertinent than all that other (secular) stuff.


A Good Biography Is Like a Necklace”


Surely a good biography is like a necklace: not just a collection of beads, but of beads arranged into a larger whole.

What we have a right to expect from a good pagan bio:

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The first time I heard N say, “I'm always so surprised when I hear people calling me an elder! I certainly don't feel like an elder”, I can remember thinking, You and me both.

I've been doing this for a long time and, I think, can claim to know as much about it as many, if not most. Nonetheless, I still not infrequently find myself feeling like a beginner. That's the burden of being one of the new pagans, a community without experienced elders.

The second time I heard N make her blithe little declaration, I thought: I've heard this before.

The third time, I thought: Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Devious: You lay claim to an identity by denying it yourself, but having others attribute it to you. Hey, those anonymous others—assuming they exist, anyway—couldn't possibly be wrong, could they?

Any real elder, of course, would know that other people—other elders, anyway—are smart-cum-experienced enough to see through this kind of smokescreen.

All elderhood is relative, of course. If I've been doing this for three days, and you've only been doing it for one, in one sense that makes me your elder. Your senior, anyway.

Yet, in another way, it doesn't. You may be more thoughtful and natively gifted than I am, in which case our temporal inequality becomes virtually meaningless. If your understanding is deeper than mine, who now is the elder?

Being old doesn't necessarily make you an elder except in the most general of senses. N is old, certainly. An elder? Sorry, N, we've got a lot of shared years in this community, and I need to tell you: from what I've seen, I am not impressed.

I'm an acknowledged elder in my own community. Don't take my word for it: ask around. Even those that don't like me or think I'm an arrogant f*ck will still admit that I know what I'm talking about. For myself, I view other elders as my peers. They're the ones that I go to when I have a question, or when I'm thinking something through and need other perspectives. My friend Volkhvy, an elders' elder if ever there was one, always says: Elders tend to ask more questions than they answer.

Funny: I can't recall ever having heard N ask anyone else a question. Why ask questions when you've already got all the answers?

The fourth and fifth times that I hear N's smug little bon mot, the withering replies line up in my head.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Robert Graves - Novelist & Poet |


How do you tell when you're in the presence of a pagan elder?

Hear what biographer Richard Perceval Graves has to say of his uncle Robert Graves (1895-1985), author of The White Goddess and prophet of the Return of the Goddess:

Graves's dedication to the Moon Goddess meant that at times...he had seemed to bring with him a breath of the ancient world, and in his presence Deyá [RG's longtime residence in the island of Mallorca] itself would sometimes appear to be a land of ancient days.

There it is. A pagan elder is one in whose presence—at least sometimes—you gain the sense of an older world, a pagan world, the way things once were.

Note also the corollary: that this elder's presence transforms his—or her—very environment.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Ask an Elder

Even in a community as richly endowed with characters as Paganistan, my dear friend “Granny” Ro Nicburne stands out.

At Twin Cities Pagan Pride last fall, she set up a shingle.

Ask an Elder

Free Advice

(And Worth What You Pay)

All day long, she fielded questions.

Some—from wise-asses like me—were joke questions. To these, she replied with the answers they deserved. Nobody does wry like Granny.

But there were real questions, too. If you build the candy cottage, the kiddies will come.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Remembering Father Pagan

His parents named him Richard, but he called himself Gandalf.

We knew him as Father Pagan.

He'd been a Catholic priest for decades, but late in life he studied his way out of the church and into the Craft.

Being a man of integrity, he went to his bishop and offered to resign.

“Look,” said the bishop, "There's a shortage of priests anyway, and you're just a few years from retirement. Why don't you hang on for a little bit longer?”

So that's what he did. He lived a life of service to others all his life, and priesthood, after all, is priesthood.

In those days, here in the Midwest, the Craft was a religion of the young. Gandalf was one of the few elders that we had.

At his first pagan festival, a young woman approached him one night after the big ritual. “Can I talk to you in private?” she asked.

Gandalf was amazed. He'd heard stories about wild pagan women, but this seemed pretty direct.

Together, they went off to the woods.

“Can you hear my confession?” the woman asked.

Gandalf laughed.

“I don't really do that kind of thing any more,” he explained, “but if there's something you want to get off your chest, I'll be happy to listen,” he said.

She was only the first. Down the years, his gentle humor and quiet wisdom would enrich, and deepen, us all.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Passing of a Crone

For the past year, my father has been on my mind.  He died 34 years ago on October 25.  Whenever someone is on my mind like this, it usually means I need to do something for them.  No matter what I did, what conversation I had, I felt him hovering.  

I realized on the date of his passing, he was waiting.  My mother became ill after heart surgery November 2017.  At the time, we talked about end of life issues while she was in the hospital, nursing home, and even at the assisted living facility.  I took over her finances and while all six of us discussed health care issues, I took the lead with her care.  

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    My heartfelt condolences. I recently lost my parents.
  • Eileen Troemel
    Eileen Troemel says #
    I'm so sorry for your loss. My father passed away 34 years ago in October as well. So on top of dealing with the anniversary of

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