Not all giants are ancient

There is something in Pagan cyberspace that has been niggling at me for awhile like one of those little parasitic worms that got under my kid’s skin a couple of summers ago after she went dipping in a scummy pond.

That is the fad of dissing hippies.

OK, I’m ready to duck already .But this has got to be said. Gerald Gardener may or may not have started a modern witchcraft tradition and a lot of other big names contributed to the nice wave of Pagan-friendly public sentiment and popular trendiness we now enjoy, but without the counterculture movement, the New Age, and yes, the hippies, we would not be experiencing a western world in which Pagan spirituality and culture are both widespread and generally well-accepted.

Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

Without the cultural developments of these movements that are so widely ridiculed among Pagans, Wicca would most likely have remained a tiny fringe interest of a few wealthy eccentrics. Traditional witchcraft would have stayed where it was for centuries, losing ground and scrambling to preserve shreds of knowledge. And non-Hindu, non-indigenous Paganism would have remained in the history books.

Don’t get me wrong. I am as irritated by “fluffy bunny” New Age platitudes as any hard polytheist.. Yes, we intersect with the New Age sometimes and it can cause a bit of friction and some eye-rolling on both sides. But let’s face it. Other movements have impacts on the social environment we live in and even on us.

The New Age not only sheltered a lot of early Pagan, Wiccan and witchcraft books and tools in bookstores for several decades. It is only in the past twenty years that a meaningful line could be drawn between modern Paganism and the New Age.

I will grant that New Age spirituality has little directly in common with modern Paganism outside of a few visual trappings. But many people came to Paganism through contact with New Age authors, stores, publications and events.

Beyond the New Age movement, the wider counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s had an even deeper impact on society, opening up the possibility of acceptance and widespread information on small and growing spiritual movements of all kinds, including ours.

That brings me to my own background. My parents and most of the adults I grew up around were on the rural, financially poor fringes of both the counterculture and the New Age. They didn’t have the connections, wealth or geographic positioning to be part of early Wicca and other more recognized Neopagan groups. Instead they were what are today (usually disparagingly) called hippies.

Specifically, my father and mother arrived on a rocky piece of land in Northeastern Oregon shortly before I was born with little more than a broken down old truck to their name. There was a weathered one-room school house on the property, which they shared with another family—until it burned to the ground one November night, while they were out, due to a faulty DYI woodstove.

My folks were left in the snow with my two-year-old brother and my mom pregnant with me. My dad built our first house—often referred to as a “shack” by outsiders—around and over the old truck, which no longer ran. That’s where I grew up, learning to grow food, pay attention to natural cycles and call the quarters on important occasions.

We weren’t Pagan in the ways most widely recognized today, but we were in the ways that actually matter. And we were not alone.

As I traveled around the world as a journalist, I met countless adult children of the hippies—some better adjusted than others. Some adopted their parents’ values and some rejected them outright. But they all share a new kind of cultural assumption of fluidity and diversity—whether they like it or not—that has fostered the modern Pagan and witchcraft movements.

Why do I care if Pagans make fun of hippie names or other symbols? Can’t I just take a joke? Lighten up?

It bothers me. Maybe it is because it is part of my own roots. Maybe I’m not pure enough in my rejection of all things New Age. But there is something here Pagans should pay attention to. These too are our ancestors. They are the ones on whose shoulders we stand. Not all giants are ancient or even very tall. They sometimes just muddled through harsher times so that we can have what we have today.

Think on it the next time you laugh at a hippie name or a fluffy bunny chant.

Why do we strive to live morally and ethically?

“Why can’t I have all the presents?” one of my kids shrieks.

The tone isn’t joking the way you might think. She is demanding, furious, her face red and sweaty. For a moment, she is overcome with that primitive urge that seems to defy all ethics. I call it the “me-want-now” urge. We all know it, though we don’t always admit it and some of us bury it deeper than others.

“I want everything! They’re mine, not his!” She kicks toward her brother but I pull her away. He is often ready with sibling comebacks, but this one of those moments when his older sister shocks him into silence.

Some kids seem to be born with a moral compass on the most basic level. They have the urge too. but they also get that other people have it and that we’ve got to meet somewhere in the middle. Fair is fair. They can be persuaded to see the logic of “How would you feel if someone did that to you?”

But this is by no means a universal trait. And unfortunately, my kids aren’t among the budding saints of the world.

Creative Commons image via Pixabay

Creative Commons image via Pixabay

I not only have kids myself, I also teach preschool and early elementary ESL students. Two sisters ages 5 and 8, who I teach, are always cuddling. The older one looks out for the younger one—making sure she gets the colors of crayon she needs and that she’s dressed warmly to go out—but then insists on winning all the games in recompense. And most kids aren’t even that nice.

Between the current wave of right-wing, anti-compassion politics and my struggles with my own little humans, I have been thinking a lot on ethics lately..

We blithely talk about teaching children to know “right from wrong,” but increasingly it seems like adults in our world don’t know or at least wildly disagree on the subject. OK, most people—at least publicly—get behind the rules of not killing or physically harming people or stealing.

But every week I come across at least one online post declaiming on how wimps who are hurt by verbal bullying should grow a thicker skin—i.e. exclusionist opinions in direct opposition to what I know of as ethics. And clearly, while most of us think it isn’t okay to kill or steal, we go on buying products the production of which requires killing and stealing from the poorest people in the world.

What is it we really believe? And why would we strive to live morally and ethically even if we could agree on what it would entail?

Abrahamic religions have an answer that is so widely disseminated in the world today that I doubt there is a fluent English speaker who isn’t well versed in it, regardless of whether or not you follow one of those faiths. There is the carrot of Heaven and the stick of Hell. And each particular religion or specific sect has its set of commandments or moral rules saying what will be grounds for sentencing you to Hell or rewarding you with Heaven.

For those who believe literally in this Heaven and Hell thing, the ethical life may seem relatively simple. Follow the rules or you will suffer. It’s a fear doctrine with a bit of a possible reward held out—not unlike my methods with my children. “Stop kicking your brother or you will lose your video privileges and be banished to extra chores-ville!” I’m less eternal about it, but only because I—unlike the Abrahamic God—can’t manage to hold grudges and don’t have guards to enforce my Hell while I am otherwise occupied.

Another popular method is the Hindu concept of Karma. Some more sophisticated versions perceive Karma as primarily about providing specific lessons that one needs to learn. But there is always an element of “If you behave unethically, you will suffer as a result, possibly in another life, but eventually you will suffer.”

This may be conceived of as learning a necessary lesson in order to be more enlightened in a future incarnation or as straight-up karmic punishment, depending on who you listen to, but either way, it’s a method of enforcement.

My parenting often has a Karma-like element too. “If you break your toys, you won’t have them. If you use up all your time fighting, you won’t have time to play. If you break someone else’s toy, you’ll have to work it off.”

In parenting circles, we like to call this “natural consequences” rather than punishment. Just like we like to call the Heaven and Hell version, “reward-based discipline.”

Every reward entails the possibility of its denial. And every natural consequence that a parent enforces is only one step removed from punishment.

It may be that immaturity leads many of us to require this kind of external moral compass. As children we almost all need it to some degree. Many adults still appear to need it. Without constraints, most humans don’t act particularly ethically. This is why we have law enforcement after all.

Some people will argue that morality and ethics are nothing but social constructs, and thus somehow suspect and questionable. Many animals don’t appear to have ethics, these ethics deniers argue.

But that is a belief primarily espoused by those humans who spend very little time with animals or in nature. In fact, very few animals kill beyond self-defense, the need for food or competition for procreation, i.e. beyond absolute necessity. Some do but most do not. Many animals respect the territorial rights of others with only exceptional outbreaks of violent struggle. And recent research is showing a remarkable number of animal species that are capable of compassion, loyalty, empathy, revenge, community cooperation, communication and occasionally even heroism.

So it isn’t really possible to say that ethics is a merely human conceit.

A secular, humanist perspective acknowledging this science often simply claims that we want to do “what is right” without any basis for it. And perhaps those young children and animals who act ethically—seemingly without threat or reward—may be proof that this principle has some traction. This reason for ethics is pleasingly uncomplicated, but often there are hidden reasons.

My extraordinarily well-behaved eight-year-old student wants the approval of adults. She is highly motivated for approval and enjoys being praised more than most kids. She also enjoys winning though, which is why she insists on winning every game over her younger sister.

There is a reward being sought and a consequence being avoided. The reward of praise and approval and the consequence of disapproval. The fact that her reward and consequence equation is a bit less tangible and forceful than that required by some kids does not negate the fact that it is still there. She glows under adult praise and so pursues it.

It is still an external reward but perhaps it is easier to transition from such a non-tangible reward to an internal reward and thus to ethical independence. That is why parents often try to motivate children through praise alone, hoping that our children will not always need a carrot or a stick.

As a follower of Pagan gods and a seeker for spiritual insight in ancient traditions, I am often fascinated by the ethical systems of ancient cultures. Many do not appear particularly moral to us today. The concepts of ethics were different and some ancient cultures were quite hierarchical and ruthless. But the deeper you go into tribal, hunter-gatherer traditions, the less hierarchical and the less external reward-consequence thinking you find.

It is not that there is no possible reward for ethical acts but in these ancient cultures there is a heavier reliance on internal rewards, those we give only to ourselves in the form of self-respect and s healthy self image.

This is what I am interested in. Whether we call it enlightenment, awakening or honor, it all comes down to one thing—self-respect.

Within reason, children need consequences and rewards. And in law enforcement, these mechanisms seem necessary as well. But when it comes to most ethics and my own deepest beliefs, I want to live my life ethically based not on a hoped-for reward or a feared consequence from outside, but rather because my self-respect demands it.

Unless I am within a specific tradition that uses a different term to mean the same thing, I use the more universal term ‘self-respect” because that most clearly gets at the meaning. My goal is to live well, ethically and morally in such a way that I can feel unreserved self-respect.

This is one reason I follow an earth-centered spiritual path with ties to ancient cultures. This spiritual approach lends itself to the ethics of self-respect. I strive to teach my children these values as well. It is not easy in a world filled with instant, external gratification from consumerism and passive entertainment. But when they do well, my first response is not a material reward or even my approval, but a comment to notice how they feel inside.

When you call yourself a "gypsy"

Pagans, new agers, beautiful beings or spirit and creativity, all of you, hear this.

I have done some very silly things in my time. When I was a young teen and I desperately wanted to be a beautiful and wise Pagan priestess and herbalist healer from Middle Earth, I mixed up inedible brews of random leaves from around my house. I forced my best friend (a boy) to sit facing me and hold a crystal on his forehead in lengthy tests of our telepathic powers.

I also talked him into training to be a "knight" by whacking a tree endlessly with a wooden sword. This last was not just silly but ultimately destructive and cruel. My friend, trying to win his medieval wannabe lady's favor, knocked all the bark off of the tree in a ring all the way around the trunk. And the tree died. 

My friend went on to learn to use a sword skillfully from martial arts teachers in Japan. I spent the next twenty years learning which plants actually have medicinal properties and which are poisons or will just give you a stomach ache. Fortunately, for me and my friends, I stopped short of being stupid enough to get anyone to drink my early concoctions. 

The fact remains though that we do silly things when we are inexperienced and uniformed. Some of those things are not just silly but stupid. And some of the stupid things end up hurting someone. 

Creative Commons image by James Saunders

Creative Commons image by James Saunders

There is one silly thing going around in Pagan and other spirituality circles that I want to warn you off of. I say it as a fellow silly person. I don't come from a high preachy perch, but rather from the earth-bound, true-hearted path of one who did not always know better.  

Please don't call yourself a "gypsy" unless you really are Romani. Please don't even name your pets, children, homes or objects with "gypsy" as either a noun or an adjective.

I get it. The word sounds fun. So many people use it and they mean no harm. At worst, it is silly to you in the places where you live. 

I, however, live in a place where the word "gypsy" Is as harsh and dangerous a racial slur as the N-word is in the United States. In Central Europe where I live, eighty percent of Roma live in poverty, often the absolute poverty rarely seen outside of the developing world. Thirty percent of Roma in the wealthy European Union live in households with no running water.

It was only in 2008, that the schools in the European country where I live began to desegregate and Romani children started attending real schools. We are otherwise a wealthy and highly educated country, but discrimination against the Roma is still pervasive and hate crimes, both violent attacks and threats, are widespread. 

Earlier this summer, a gang of ten men armed with knives attacked a Romani community in Western Ukraine, a few hundred miles from where I live. They killed one person and injured four others, including a child. When the Romani residents fled the area, journalists found bloodstained clothing scattered amid children's toys and other household items.

Where I live in the Czech Republic, 65 percent of Roma report discrimination when seeking housing and 55 percent of the non-Romani population openly say they wouldn't want a Romani neighbor, which shows that the Romani reports are probably not exaggerated. In addition, more than 50 percent of Romani children reported racist harassment and bullying in school in a European Union survey published earlier this year.

I know that people who call themselves "gypsies" in fun or even in a belief that they are thus "honoring" the free spirit and beauty of the Romani people don't mean the term the way those who attack Romani people using that word do. But it is still a mistake. It is one of those silly things that actually hurts people by accident. 

Just as Native American indians do not appreciate people dressing up with feathers on their heads and waving their hand in front of their mouth to "be like Indians" even when this is meant positively, Romani people are hurt by the stereotype of the "free-spirited, sensual and cleverly tricky gypsies." They are harmed in spirit and in heart, but also eventually harmed in body as well because these stereotypes contribute to international silence and indifference when gangs of thugs attack the Roma and bureaucrats block the doors of schools and apartment buildings. 

I knew much of this when I first came to live in the Czech Republic. Fortunately, I did not fall victim to this particular silly thing as a young person. I spent my twenties writing for international newspapers and magazines, often about the Roma, racism and ethnic violence in Central and Eastern Europe.

Creative Commons image by Pablo Segade 

Creative Commons image by Pablo Segade 

But of course, a journalist doesn't experience these events the way those targeted do. After I had lived in the Czech Republic for ten years and was married, I adopted a child. My husband and I couldn't have biological children and we were open to adoption. As it often happens in this country, the child the orphanage placed in my arms was a tiny Romani girl. 

The first weeks with my daughter were some of the happiest of my life. I remember the spring rain and sunshine of that April with misty-eyed joy.  

Then a month later, Neo-nazis threw three Molotov cocktails through the windows of a Romani home and one landed in the bed of a two-year-old girl. The beautiful little girl, who looked very much like my daughter, suffered terrible burns over 80 percent of her body and lost three fingers but survived after months in an induced comma and fourteen major surgeries.

The violence, discrimination and structural racism that the Roma suffer cost my daughter her first family and ended that month of naive bliss for me as well. Two years later we adopted a little boy, also of Romani background, who had already suffered racism from caregivers at an orphanage, where they told me "nobody really liked him." He was ten months old and already deeply traumatized.

Today my children are seven and nine years old. They are largely sheltered from the harsh realities of racism. My daughter once panicked when kids at school called her "black" because she thought they knew something she didn't and that she was going to turn the color black. She has a light olive complexion which is here sometimes called "black." She does love to wear flamboyant dresses and flowers in her hair, but so do many non-Romani little girls playing princess. 

My son's friend from school recently told me that some boys teased my son and called him "gypsy." My son reluctantly confirmed that it was true. He looked terrified as he waited for my reaction. 

My children don't really understand the many uses of the word "gypsy" yet. But like many other Roma, the first place they hear it is in the schoolyard as a racial slur. I will try to explain to them when we visit our family in America and hear people use it in a much more silly way that thee people do not mean to be hurtful. Maybe they will understand but maybe they will just learn to be quiet and keep their hurt inside.

Regardless, the silliness that accompanies the western use of the word "gypsy" spreads unhelpful stereotypes about the Roma, who are called Gypsies because historically some people believed they originated in Egypt. (They actually originated in India.) 

Pagan friends, I ask you not to do this silly thing. Don't misuse the word "gypsy" with a small "g" and don't use "Gypsy" with a big "G" as an insult either (obviously). The former may seem like a minor issue to many but it would help as a show of support for the Romani people who remain one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Thank you for understanding. 

Of Lughnasadh and solidarity

Over a plastic table at the university grill I laid out my case to two prominent members of the student government counsel about why we should show solidarity with low-income students as drastic cuts in federal financial aid were proposed. 

"That's exactly the problem!" one of the young men glaring at me across the table snapped. "That word."

Solidarity and harvest meme.jpg

What word? I combed back through my carefully prepared argument, trying to figure out what faux pas I might have committed in word choice. 

The other young man must have believed my expression of blank confusion. "Solidarity," he said. "That word makes you sound like a communist."

That was more than twenty years ago and it was the first time I heard that "solidarity" is considered a bad word. Unfortunately, that has not changed over the decades. 
 
Even today as progressives are making the word “socialism” halfway respectable, I still don’t hear this more personal term.
 
Solidarity isn’t charity and it isn’t socialism. It is much closer to the Pagan concept of hospitality. It means aid and comfort offered to the cold, the hungry, the wounded, the outcast and those whose harvest was poor last year or for many years, not out of pity but out of a deep understanding of our interconnection.
 
We are always saying that earth-centered spirituality is a big tent and we have very little if any common ground to base any solidarity on. And yet we all recognize "Paganism" when we see it, so there must be something that binds us.
 
Is it our acknowledgement of multiple gods of many different names and conceived of in as many different ways but still with suspiciously similar attributes across the world? Is it our yearning for something authentic, ancestral and rooted? Is it our understanding that the earth, not some man on a cloud, is the true giver of our daily bread?
 
Many of us with European roots wish to be acknowledged as a tradition en par with Native American, African or Hindu traditions that share these bits of common ground with us. But at the same time so many Pagans insist that politics and with it all social justice concerns have no place in our faith.
 
How so? What of that hospitality you speak so highly of? What of gratitude for your metaphorical harvest? What of your desire for native peoples around the world to acknowledge you as honorably seeking out your own ancestral connection?
 
What could the values of Lammas and Lughnasadh, the gratitude and the hospitality toward others possibly mean in today’s world that has been divorced from the land and agriculture, if not solidarity with those who have had hard luck, whether that meant being born in a war-torn and impoverished country or having less opportunity to obtain a secure living in our own country? What could it mean if not sharing what we have to ensure that the earth survives for another cycle of time?
 
You can claim with truth that we Pagans all believe different things. We do. We are vastly different. The words, the traditions and even our core beliefs diverge.

But if you hold some tradition of Lughnasadh or Lammas or even one comparable under some other name, then it is time to match your deeds to  your prayers and libations. Paganism is either real beyond your ritual circle or it is merely the teenage game some have accused us of.

I offer a poem for Lughnasadh and Lammas on the subject of solidarity:

Not to bow to sloth and greed
Nor to build walls of hate
Did Lugh ensure the seed
Or the Norns weave our fate.
You who claim the gods of old,
Who were silenced by crime,
Can least afford to turn cold
To those outcast in our time.
Honor you call for the great,
The ancestors of your blood,
And yet will you rise too late
To stand for right and good?
Odin wandered as it's told
In the guise of hard luck.
And Brigid of flame and gold
Always for justice struck.
Maybe tales are just that,
No more firm than mist.
Old warriors grow fat
And children are mere grist.
But if you call them sacred
And mean your oaths sworn,
It is time to battle hatred
And face the coming storm.
Hospitality for those in need.
Solidarity for those who fight.
The call of the heart’s creed
Is ringing in the night.

What I learned from Christians and Muslims about sharing one's identity with assholes

A few years ago, I attended the concert of a local Pagan band which was heralded as the Pagan event of the season in our area. The music was OK, but then half-way through the concert, the band started making the Nazi salute and yelling "Hail!" 

I grew up in one of those earth-centered families where we didn't call ourselves Pagan, but we read the stories of Norse, Greek and Native American gods, called the elements to start rituals, did Tarot and read the Runes... you know, all that good wholesome Pagan stuff. When I discovered the modern Pagan movement as an adult, I was delighted. There was suddenly so much more information and a whole world of potential community. 

Creative commons image courtesy of Novak Hunsky

Creative commons image courtesy of Novak Hunsky

The days of avoiding the pesky "What's your religion?" question in public were forever behind me.

Or so I thought.

I moved to Central Europe twenty years ago, following my journalism career. And there are many positive things in my new country, but racism isn't one of them. To say that I was upset to find neo-fascism spreading its slimy tentacles through the local Pagan community is an understatement. I was devastated. My experience with the band was, unfortunately, not an isolated incident and I struggled to find Pagan friends.

I set out for an international Pagans and Witches conference with high hopes of finding a more open-minded atmosphere in an international group. My children were little more than toddlers at the time and I wanted them to grow up the same as me, except better. I wanted them to have all the comfort and wonder of earth-centered spirituality AND a vibrant and friendly community where that spirituality is wholeheartedly accepted. 

I enjoyed being part of a large group ritual and found many of the discussions at the conference interesting. But several prominent persons at the conference made neo-nazi references and while some people seemed uncomfortable, no one said anything. As the only person there who didn't personally know anyone, I was hesitant to speak up, and when I did, I was harshly rebuffed and told to keep to my own business by one of the organizers.

I left the conference early. My mission had failed, since my children aren't white and I could see that even at an international gathering, they wouldn't always be truly welcome.

As a result, I was aware of the insidious creep of white supremacist groups encroaching on Pagan circles long before it became big news in the United States. Now with prominent white supremacist leaders claiming to be Pagan and alt-right demonstrators carrying Pagan symbols it is no longer so easy to admit to being Pagan in public. 

I have written about this scourge before and urged fellow Pagans to stand up to the abuse of Pagan symbols and groups by supremacist ideology. But for a long time, I struggled to make peace with the issue within myself. Should I abandon the term "Pagan?" I grew up without it after all. I could live again with a nameless identity or find a different term that might fit better.

Should I try to promote understanding of the Runes and other symbols as Pagan spiritual symbols, risking being painted as a racist bigot myself, or cede them to the Neo-nazis, allowing them to become public symbols of hate without a fight? There are certainly enough internet discussions on these issues and I've heard passionate and thoughtful arguments on both sides of that dilemma.

I have heard Pagans of Jewish and Native American background say that we are obligated to stop using the Runes and other symbols stolen by racists. I have also heard people from the same backgrounds argue that white Pagans have no right to just gift these symbols to white supremacists and hide from the problem, that we are obligated to publicly denounce the racist use of these symbols and advocate for their true meanings.

It seems that whichever we choose, we can't just blackout the assholes and go on with our merry lives in peace. At first, this seemed terribly unjust, and in fact, free fodder for the alt right--you know, white people being denied the right to their own cultural symbols because they "offend" someone.

Creative commons image courtesy of Shadowgate of flickr.com

Creative commons image courtesy of Shadowgate of flickr.com

But then I got some perspective from a surprising source.

"Now you know how we feel," one Christian friend mentioned while I was in the middle of this lament. 

I stopped. "What?"

But of course, progressive Christians have to deal with being associated with conservative Christians and fudnamentalists all the time. They've had a racist, sexist, homophobic, hard-right side of Christianity dominating their image in the United States for decades. They have cults, politicians, sexual predators and profiteers all leaching off their identity.

Many Pagans like the idea that because we have no central authority, we are fundamentally different from other identities. Paganism isn't even a religion, the say. We are just spiritual and we aren't going to say it in polite society but we believe we're more enlightened than Christians. 

As it turns out, we aren't all that different. Our beliefs may differ and our relationship with the gods may be radically different, but in some ways it really is the same old story.

By the time my Muslim Palestinian friend chimed in, I got it. Yes, I can imagine how irritating it would be to have your identity associated with the likes of "the Islamic State." 

As much as I would love to have an identity term that encapsulates only open-minded, diversity-loving, tree-hugging polytheists, I don't. All kinds of people on the Internet will tell you that they are Pagan and then drive a jacked-up truck with a bumper sticker that reads "F--- Mother Earth" without seeing any hypocrisy in that. There are Facebook-feed-loads of self-described Pagans who think one of the best things about their ancestral past was its mythical--and much overestimated--racial purity. 

So I got a little more humble and decided to look at how other spiritual groups have handled this kind of honor bruising. Certainly, there are plenty of authoritarian religions who have taken to declaring who is out of their religion for various transgressions. But this didn't seem like an attractive option.

I took to reading blogs by progressive Christians protesting the hateful and harmful practices of fundamentalist Christians. I found some very passionate denunciations, tough questions and calls to reexamine both the scholarship and basic values behind bigoted words and actions by other Christians. But after about two months of research, I was surprised by one thing I did not find in the posts of progressive Christians. 

I did not find any disowning, excommunicating or banning statements--no cries of "Those are not Christians!" 

Not one of the dozens of articles I read, as critical as they were, tried to say that fundamentalist hate-mongers aren't Christians. It isn't so much that I want to follow their example, but that I am surprised to see it. Some fundamentalist Christian denominations do claim that they are the only true Christians and refer to anyone else, including all Catholics, as non-Christians in Sunday School materials. I would expect that eventually progressive Christians would reciprocate. But for some reason they don't.

And the other thing they don't do is bequeath their symbols and terminology to hate-mongers. These progressive Christians don't turn belly-up and cede public views of Christianity to fundamentalists. Similarly my Muslim friends and several well-known Muslim authors, despite being slandered and attacked worldwide, continue to calmly repeat that Islamic fundamentalists don't represent them. 

I may not take my cues from other religions, but I am smart enough to learn from history. This is apparently the price of having that wide and inclusive community, full of new information and potential support which I was so delighted to discover. Soon enough someone hateful is going to claim that identity and abuse it for aims that appear to desecrate everything it stands for. 

That does not mean that we are implicated automatically or that we cannot use our own symbols. It does mean, however, that we have to stand up and face this. We may not have caused it, but at the same time we have a responsibility to speak out against those uses of our identity which are abhorrent.

I, for one, believe we should still use the Runes, but we must also acknowledge that when we take them up, we take up the burden of fighting racism and xenophobia as well. We don't get to just have our identity and remain silent believing that the injustices perpetrated in the name of that identity don't reflect on us.

Like everyone else, this is part of our story.

An earth-centered spiritual perspective: Why is there undeserved suffering?

When I was twenty-three, I traveled around Bangladesh and walked alone into a slum where a million people lived in cardboard and tin shacks on a plane of mud. There I met a woman who was little older than me but looked like she was 80. She was born there and lived her whole life in extreme poverty. She broke bricks with her bare hands for a living. I met this woman because her eight-year-old daughter rescued me from an angry mob. 

Creative Commons image from the Department of Foreign Affairs of Australia

Creative Commons image from the Department of Foreign Affairs of Australia

I found my new friends to be incredibly hard working, compassionate and all-around good people. And I was forced to consider the question of why they lived such terribly hard lives, amid constant misery and sorrow, while I lived relatively easily and had many things handed to me, even though I was born in a shack without an indoor bathroom myself. 

In Bangladesh, they had an explanation. Bad karma. Supposedly the little girl who rescued me--a complete stranger--from a crowd of men demanding to know why I had come into their slum, even though I had tried to dress modestly according to local custom, had been naughty in a past life.

Though her eyes shown at me with kindness and innocence, that is one accepted explanation. There was very little chance she would ever be able to go to school or eat a decent meal and if she lived to be 30, she would be haggard, old and fortunate to still be alive.

And something in my spirit rebelled. This idea of karma was no better to me than the talk of hell fire, I heard from Christians back home in America. I was brought up with an alternative spirituality, but I had not been given an alternative explanation of suffering. 

Even in much less extreme situations, good fortune appears to be random. I grew up among relatively poor people in rural, remote Eastern Oregon but I managed to travel to five continents and forge a good life for myself, partly because my parents, though poor, were fairly well educated and did not harbor the hopelessness of generational poverty. My experience, moving between many different social classes has shown that there is little correlation between hard work and financial success. The poor are every bit as likely to work hard as the rich, if not more so. Laziness, apathy, depression and addiction happen among the rich and the poor. 

Today, as the political battles over things like food stamps, universal health care and free education heat up in the United States, I constantly run across arguments, in which one side claims that poor people aren't committed enough to earning a good living and they just need to work harder or smarter. And the other side claims that the economy is rigged against them or that health, family or other circumstances made a higher income unreachable. Rarely does anyone in the verbal sparring stop to acknowledge that hardship is mostly random and the only real question to argue about is why that is and what, if anything, we wish to do about it.

Spirituality arose among the first humans for two reasons: first, to discuss what happens after we die and whether or not we are just meat with neurons; and second, to answer this question: why do bad things happen at random even to good, hard-working people? 

Modern earth-centered and Pagan paths have various but fairly standard interpretations of the first question. As for the second question, it is worth some thought.

If you are the kind of person who believes in gods, whether a primal earth mother, a vague universal spirit or a whole pantheon of gods, then you have to confront the question of whether those gods have any power to affect our lives. Many people today believe that gods are beings that only act through our connection to them or our enlightenment, whether they just all "in our heads" or not. Others believe that spirit or the gods pervade the natural world and are part of us and everything else in the world. Some believe in gods or spirits who are specific beings with relationships to specific humans and that they can give aid, withhold it or even cause harm as they choose.

Either way, it seems like spiritual beings should have some justice to them. What would be the point otherwise? Modern Pagans mostly don't beg their gods for favors in prayers. But we do--well many of us do--ask for help sometimes. And even if you believe that it is only in reflecting in prayer or magical work that you help yourself, you either believe that is beneficial or you're just fooling around with candles and pretty rocks.

And if you're a pantheistic sort of spiritualist, who does not believe in gods per se, but believes that divine energy infuses everything, that nature is filled with sacred energy, then you also must believe there is some reason to acknowledge that creative force. You may not believe that the universe is either benevolent or malevolent. But you still must wonder if there is any point to the randomness of misfortune in our world.

There are also humanists, who do not believe in gods or divine powers or believe that if they do exist they have no power or desire to intervene in our affairs. Humanists may subscribe to the traditions of a spiritual path whether Pagan, Christian or otherwise, but they believe that humans have to deal with our own troubles on our own. While these humanists may not have to deal with the question of why gods let good people suffer, they must in the end discuss the randomness of hardship as well.

It has taken me many years of study to arrive at my own answer to this question, but when I found it, it turned out to be incredibly simple.

Suffering and hardship are random, whether the gods willed it to be that way or not, in order to give us compassion.

I do not believe in karma in the sense that you are punished for some sin in one life by being born to hardship in another. Nor do I believe in divine punishment either in this life or in an afterlife. Certainly we can make our own hardship at times, but the greatest suffering that humans endure is usually acquired at birth and is non-negotiable. 

And here's the crucial point. If we truly believed that everyone deserved what they got, either by karma, sin or sloth, and that the world gives everyone an equal, fair shot, then you would have no compassion. And you would be justified in that. It would be correct to have no compassion. It would be foolish and enabling of wrongness to have compassion.

The only reason for compassion is the understanding that much of the pain, hardship, loss and suffering of others is not a result of their cruel, stupid or lazy actions or inactions.

It just is. 

No god, goddess, spirit or karma put them there and none will rescue them without our energy and intention. Prayer matters. Physicists can demonstrate it. My personal polytheistic belief is that our gods do care about suffering and may in fact give solace or aid when our intention is strong and positive, but it is not in their nature to banish all suffering. And I am not sure that they would if they could.  

When I come closest to my matron goddess at moments of despair, I feel great compassion and caring from that source. But I also have heard a signular message. No one with the power to stop all undeserved suffering in the world would use it. Suffering is terrible, but it is not as terrible as a world of entitled, compassionless light without any understanding of darkness would be.

The Hawaiian goddesses of the Egg Moon: International Moon Circle 10

The energy of spring is a welcome boost to activism and social justice movements. We need the joy of dance and flowers, the breaking free and the energy of fire. 

Creative Commons image by  Steve Corey

Creative Commons image by  Steve Corey

Though ancient Hawaiian culture was quite formal, it gave us some of the most inspiring goddesses for social justice. It is to these women of joy, freedom and fire that I devote the month of April, the Egg Moon. 

It takes a while for spring to make it all the way up through Central Europe to our Bohemian valley. February is long and frigid. March is usually gray, muddy and lashed with chilly rain. When spring does come it often brings sudden, wild color and light to our area. The shift usually happens in early April and I have chosen to focus on the colorful and sensuous goddesses of Hawaii for this moon. The Maiden is Laka, the Mother is Hina and the Dark Goddess is Pele--goddess of fire, destruction and anger.

The Waxing Moon

Laka is the Hawaiian Maiden Goddess of the wild wood, dance and gifts. Her energy is that of pure joy and the colors of the natural world. She embodies joyful wildness, the innocence of young things full of promise and delightful movement. (Andersen 2011) This is what happens in April when flowers burst forth and the first green is brilliant. Laka's symbols are flowers, dance and the color yellow.

Creative Commons image by Crishna Simmons

Creative Commons image by Crishna Simmons

The energy of Laka is a glorious gift. She reminds us to bring play into our lives, to dance, to make fun gifts for no particular reason. This type of connection to a childlike joy is also a way to honor her. This is a great time to make a dandelion or buttercup crown or bouquet and to dance with no one watching.

The Full Moon

Hina is the female generative force of Hawaii, the ancient creatrix. She leads other goddesses and breaks free of male domination. She takes on many different identities, including that of trickster. But she is always tied to moonlight. She represents the rainbow array of women’s experience and the mother beyond stereotypes.

The stories of Hina are full of action, adventure, dragons, flamboyant tricks and colorful mist. One important myth of Hina is about how she made the decision to leave her husband and find a new home. She has the power to create and the strength to call an end when needed. (Monagham 2014) Her symbols are dragons, rainbows, tricks (such as April Fools day pranks) and dance. Reading stories of her adventures would be a good way to honor her as well as making dragon and rainbow decorations.

The Waning or Dark Moon

Creative Commons image by Ron Cogswell

Creative Commons image by Ron Cogswell

While Pele is the goddess of volcanoes and anger, she is treated rather nicely by the popular media. There was even a club founded in 1922 for people who had looked into her volcano in a Hawaiian national park and made offerings to her. (Nimmo 2011)

Images of her often emphasize her joyful side, which does exist. But she also truly represents the intensity and quick temper that often make strong women intimidating and gain us the labels of “hysterical” or “raging.” Half the time this intensity doesn’t even come from Pele’s anger. Like many emotionally intense and expressive women, she just is that way. She may be expressing joy but it comes with fire and spitting lava.

A way to connect with Pele is to release your inner intensity, express emotions vehemently, even if only in private. Fire is her primary symbol, though dragons may also be appropriate.

Bibliography

  • Andersen, J. (2011). Myths and Legends of the Polynesians. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
  • Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
  • Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
  • Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
  • Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
  • Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  • Nimmo, H. A. (2011). Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai’i: A History. Jefferson, NC. McFarland & Company, Inc.
  • Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
  • Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
  • Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Of Beltane and earth warriors

Pagans and earth-centered people, even if you consider only those who celebrate Beltane, are wildly diverse in worldview, beliefs and lifestyle. We don't all teach our children the same things. It has often been said that there can be no Pagan politics, because we never agree on anything.

Be that as it may, it is not difficult to see connections between earth-centered spirituality and the movement for social and environmental justice. If you have a strong spiritual path and you also feel strongly about protecting the earth, there is no doubt that these two parts of you will be intertwined. Likewise, spirituality and social/ethical values are interconnected for most people, whatever their spiritual path.

Creative Commons image by Francesca Ubliani 

Creative Commons image by Francesca Ubliani 

We follow an earth-centered path because we resonate with a way of being that is concerned with interconnection, natural cycles and a sense of the divine in many parts of life. We are concerned about the environment for the same reasons - interconnection, natural cycles and a sense of sacredness in the natural world.

Many also translate this into social justice. We are interconnected. Injustice anywhere is my business, because I'm part of the weaving. Natural cycles and the freedom to be close to nature is crucial. All beings have a part in the divine. Wildly diverse Pagans--just as people of other faiths--are going to translate these abstractions into concrete reality in all sorts of ways.

But in the end, the point is that we cannot actually separate spirituality from social and environmental concerns.

Beltane is a time when that connection is even more apparent. As the veil between the worlds thins, so does the separation between the spiritual and the social, the personal and the political.

Beltane is most often associated with sexual energy and passion. It represents the vibrant maturing of the youth phase in most cycles, that stage in which energy is moving upward and outward.

But it is difficult to ignore the other side of this coin of passion. There is love and sexual passion, yes. There is also the passion of the warrior. The Lovers card in the Tarot is followed immediately by The Chariot. And there's a reason for that.

Beltane is the celebration of passionate union. It is also the celebration of unity in struggle. It is no coincidence that movements for social solidarity adopted May 1 early on as May Day. Like everything sacred throughout history, that connection has, of course, been used and abused by those seeking control and power. But that doesn't negate the foundation--the energetic connection. Earth day is also close by on April 22.

When the body and spirit feel oppression within our human and non-human family or destruction of our home (the earth) happening all around us, warrior energy rises within us and demands a greater channel. 

This is a season when our warrior energy is demanding a release. In times of peace and tranquility that energy can be channeled into dance, love and other energetic, expressive pursuits. But when the body and spirit feel oppression within our human and non-human family or destruction of our home (the earth) happening all around us, warrior energy rises within us and demands a greater channel. In such dangerous times, the denial of warrior energy leads to predictable results: anger, fury, conflict and further destruction.

Anyone who has been in close contact with teenagers (the human stage closest to the energy of Beltane) knows that sexual energy is powerful. Suppression and silence only lead to unhealthy results. That is why we give it expression in healthy ways, learning how to channel it.

Creative Commons image by sammydavisdog of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by sammydavisdog of flickr.com

Warrior energy is the other side of that coin, the shadow in the spring sunshine. And its suppression is no more possible. 

The Warrior

Human society relied on literal warriors and hunters for the vast majority of our genetic history. In recent centuries, we have shifted our social organization from tribes to nations and tried to relegate warrior energy to defensive armies and law enforcement.

I'm for peace as much as anyone, and I have huge respect for professional police officers and soldiers. Their channeling of warrior energy for the protection of all is part of what is needed.

However, the warrior energy does not simply dry up in the rest of us--the civilians. Modern society attempts to suppress it for the sake of the status quo, but when we see and feel injustice, it erupts. If not given a legitimate outlet, that eruption is often self-destructive or harmful to others.

This should not actually be nearly as much of a problem as it has become in our modern world. We try to force warrior energy to conform to sports competitions or try to drug it into submission with video games. But neither of these truly satisfies the need at a deep level.

The most basic reason for this lack of release is that injustice and the destruction of our earth is all around us. And as long as there is such a threat, our warrior energy will not rest.

Yet there is something constructive and positive that can satisfy it. Instead of suppression, professional armies, sports or video games, we need to recognize that the incarnation of the warrior today is the activist.

Creative Commons image by Greenpeace Polska

Creative Commons image by Greenpeace Polska

As such, Beltane is the natural celebration of activism and resistance to tyranny. In this year when much of our environmental and social fabric is threatened, the celebration holds particular meaning.

The Activist

You may not like the word "activist" because it has been  used as a pejorative in recent years--to mean someone with a selfish agenda. But a person who is pursuing an agenda for profit is most often simply a business person. A person pursuing a profitable agenda for some other entity is just an employee. These are not activists, but rather people working at a job, whether you like their agenda or not.

Calling anyone with an agenda an "activist" Is a trick of those seeking power to suppress the warrior energy of those they want to control. 

Activists, on the other hand, are in the most clear definition of the word not paid and not working for any specific personal gain. Instead their motivation is that of the warrior--protection of home and family, protection of the tribe, defense of the interconnected reality that allows the self to live and thrive.

This is the other energy of Beltane, the shadow side.

The opposite pole in the dance with the lover is not the hater. It is the warrior. Union is the natural partner of protection.

In the past year, the brave people of Standing Rock helped other people all over the world realize the fundamental link between the ancient warrior and the modern activist. While there are activists of many types, fighting in defense of home, family and tribe in a myriad of ways, the activist most easily connected to the warrior tradition is the environmental activist.

From Standing Rock campers to alternative energy innovators, from animal advocates to investors in rain forest reserves, earth warriors share the energy of Beltane. That is why for me this is a celebration of environmental activism and interconnection around the world as much as anything else.

Children and warrior energy

Now that I have children, this topic has become critical for me. I see them pulled--by peers, media and society--toward frittering their life force away with video games or allowing it to be suppressed. I realize the need to awaken that warrior energy for appropriate modern activism. 

I have been an earth warrior from an early age. I spoke up in defense of Greenpeace activists when a teacher at my conservative middle school denounced them. I wrote letters to the local newspaper when I was fourteen to protest clear-cut logging practices. I marched in anti-nuclear protests when I was much younger than that and protested the 1990 war in Iraq, at a time when few others did.

The book Shanna and the Water Fairy is children's fiction but its writing was informed by these experiences. I know from my own childhood that children often feel the pull of warrior energy. And if given access to information about the issues, they are often passionate earth warriors. This book is first and foremost a gripping story that kids love to read or hear read a loud, but it also has the capacity to give hope to the spirits of young earth warriors, who may be beginning to feel that the struggles are too big for them.

The spirit of Ostara: the cycles of the earth as a guide to good living

Sometimes I am asked why I celebrate the Pagan Wheel of the Year with my family, even when there isn't a fun community event to attend.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Why do you need special words for season celebrations? Why do you need to complicate the dates of school holidays for your kids? There isn't definitive proof of the ancient origins of celebrating eight solar holidays, so isn't it partly made up?

As with most things connected to spirituality, there are several levels to my answer.. On the surface, the answer is simply that these celebrations ring true to me deep inside. And second, I want honesty in practice, I suppose.

Growing up in an earth-centered family that didn't use the Wheel of the Year, calling our celebration "Christmas," while  acknowledging that we were really celebrating the Winter Solstice, I always felt a disconnect. If we're "really" celebrating the winter solstice and we know historically that Jesus Christ probably wasn't born on December 25 and he isn't our main focus anyway, then why don't we just celebrate the Winter Solstice and cut out the middle man? 

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

I felt like kids in real Christian families had it better because they had a tradition, something meaningful in their celebration. And ours felt truncated, damaged... even, yes, stolen. This was not an intellectual thing. I was too young at the time to know the history but that was how I felt.

And I wanted a sense of authenticity for my kids.

That was essentially my motivation in the beginning for celebrating the Wheel of the Year. But lets's face it, it's a hard thing to keep up year after year--a holiday every six weeks or so, that begs for specific preparation, attention and connection. If it were only a matter of principle, I might not have lasted thirteen years and counting. Many people don't.

What keeps me strong and passionate about celebrating the Wheel of the Year is it's practical usefulness. 

Yes, practical, real benefits. Let me explain.

We all tend to get stuck at some point in our lives, either in depression or being a workaholic, being young and isolated form what isn't in our generation or being old and feeling like our life is over. There are many places to get stuck and those stuck places can last years.

And that is a large cause of misery. 

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

The Wheel of the Year essentially ensures that I don't get stuck. The celebrations in are in alignment with nature and thus objectively "true" or "real." Even deep depression eventually has to at least acknowledge the fact that spring came again. 

And better yet, the Wheel of the Year is a spiritual teaching in a nutshell. Within it there is pretty much all you need to meditate on spiritually. Each celebration calls up specific important values and themes and taken all together they are a code of spiritual being. 

People sometimes ask how I teach my children about Pagan beliefs and rituals. The primary answer is that I celebrate the Wheel of the Year with them. There are other things, like learning herbcraft, grounding meditation, prayers of gratitude for food and a little simple candle magic, but mostly it's about the Wheel of the Year for my kids. The earth is our textbook and the Wheel of the Year is our lesson plan.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

It isn't just as simple as learning the cycles of the seasons though. Okay, sure, everything dies in the fall and is reborn in the spring here, but in some climates that isn't entirely true. That isn't really the point anyway. Each celebration has particular themes that feel connected to the earth and sun at that time and therefore are easily understood at that point in our journey around the sun.

At Imbolc we go within and delve into dreams and intuition. It is the time in the belly, before the birth of new plans, activities and projects. At Litha (the summer solstice) we are full of life, bounty, energy, pride and expression. We are often hard at work and celebration comes amid many other activities. At Samhain, we are drawn back to the earth, there is a feeling of old sorrow, of things coming to necessary ends and a tendency toward memory. It is the natural time to be reminded to honor our ancestors. 

If you celebrate Imbolc, you will not go a whole year without remembering to focus on your inner world. If you celebrate Litha, you will not go a whole year without expressing yourself with energy and pride. If you celebrate Samhain, you will not go a whole year without honoring ancestors.

And each celebration has a similarly crucial point. I will be writing more posts about the spirit of each celebration, but the celebration at hand is Ostara, so I'll start with that.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Ostara

Ostara is the European Pagan term for the spring equinox and it is celebrated much like Easter. The appropriate symbols are eggs, sprouting plants, rabbits, hares and babies of all kinds. The obvious themes are renewal, rebirth, the beginning of life and expression, new beginnings in general and children. 

As a mother, it is very important to me that my children have a lovely time at Ostara. It is a time to honor and delight in them. They are the future, our new beginning as a species. Their joy in the springtime is a blessed and righteous thing. So, more than any other time they get to eat a lot of candy. They fully enjoy scouring the yard and back woods for treats and eggs. We make pretty colorful crafts, many of them egg-related. 

But when I started to contemplate exactly how to convey the concept of rebirth and new beginnings to young children, I realized that the spirit of Ostara goes much deeper than that. If this is a celebration that also honors children, that necessarily implies the protection and valuing of that which is vulnerable. New life is inherently vulnerable and we can see that protection of vulnerability in all of the ancient symbols of this celebration--particularly the egg.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

We know that in our modern world the worst abuses of human rights are suffered by children. Children are more likely than adults to live in poverty or to be in need of basic necessities like food, water and shelter. Children are often the first to suffer when societal racism or other prejudices rear their ugly heads. There are obvious reasons why the protection of children is connected to human rights in general. 

The protection of new life extends, of course to the protection of the vulnerable among other species. The concept of both biological and cultural diversity is implied in the rainbow colors of Ostara. This is not only a celebration of one rebirth but of all the colors and miraculous diversity of life--human and otherwise. 

This realization has deepened my experience of Ostara. This celebration of renewal can be a great help in overcoming a stuck place in myself. If there is some lingering depression, hurt, resentment or stagnation, the return of light to our northern latitude does wonders for it. The necessity of getting outside and tending vigorously to the spring needs of our urban homestead is invaluable in getting past blocks. 

But more than that, the celebration of rebirth, color, diversity and the protection of the vulnerable is what the heart needs at such times. It is a shot of clear-eyed idealism., regardless of how bleak things may seem in the outside world.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

This year, many of us are exhausted from a long winter that did not seem to be as restful as it should have been. We have been struggling to retain the way of life we and our ancestors fought for--the rights and freedoms that often came at great cost. We are also contemplating that now when we should be working primarily for a sustainable future, environmental concerns have taken a back seat to the immediate needs of vulnerable people in our society.

Plenty of us are already experiencing outrage fatigue. And it is just early days yet.

And here is Ostara, the celebration of renewal, a time to warm your heart and think of fluffy and bright colored things. It may be hard to grasp when things are hard, but this is what we actually need right now. 

Stop a moment, ground yourself in the earth. Remember that the earth's rhythm does matter. Let the energy of renewal and new life flow into you. Focus your energies on protecting those most vulnerable, both human and non-human. Celebrate the rainbow of diversity in languages, cultures, colors and species.

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Illustration from Shanna and the Raven: An Ostara story

Break free.

 In my quest to teach my children these values of eternally resilient life and hope, I wrote the Ostara story Shanna and the Pentacle. This is a story for all earth-centered, goddess-oriented and vaguely Pagan families. It isn't a "teachy" book, but rather a story that grabs kids' attention, especially if they are growing up as a religious minority.

In this story about new beginnings, eleven-year-old Shanna and her eight-year-old brother Rye move to a new school. At first, that seems like challenge enough. New beginnings are exciting but not always easy. Amid budding flowers and preparations for their Ostara celebration, Shanna runs into a real problem. Her teacher and some of the kids at her new school object to a pentacle necklace that her best friend gave her.

When her family moved Shanna had to leave her best friend behind and that is part of the difficulty of this new beginning. When her teacher demands that Shanna stop wearing her pentacle to school and the principal confiscates it as a suspected "gang symbol," the young girl feels the sting of prejudice. 

Shanna is at the same time learning to accept others who are different from her. One of the new things about her new school is the greater cultural and racial diversity of this urban school over her previous one. Shanna soon discovers that friends come in many varieties and it is through a surprising friendship that Shanna gains the courage to stand up for her own identity as a Pagan girl. 

This story not only embodies the crucial messages of Ostara, but it is also filled with beautiful paintings by Julie Freel that evoke the season and the story. This is a story for Ostara, though one that will show that new beginnings aren't always easy. It emphasizes the importance of standing up for one's own identity, the great advantages of diversity and the need to protect the young and vulnerable. With this story, these values are not forced on children but delivered in a way that makes them as natural as the fact that the sun rises earlier every day in the spring. 

I hope you'll enjoy this story and share its fun and themes with children in your life. Many people have asked when there will be more stories in the Children's Wheel of the Year series and I am delighted to tell you that the Beltane book is very nearly ready to be printed and will be out well ahead of the holiday.

I hope you will support our endeavor--which is still non-profit due to the costs of the illustrations, materials and books--and share these stories with others. If you are eager for more stories about the natural themes and values of the Wheel of the Year, spreading the word about these stories is a significant help in our efforts to keep them coming. 

Happy reading and blessed Ostara to all!

Dedication to Brigid

This Imbolc, after thirteen years of searching and a year and a day of study and devotion to Brigid, I have chosen my specific path and made my dedication. This has come at a time of great injustice in the world. Brigid is in her warrior guise and rides to protect outsiders, refugees and children. Healers are needed. Poets and writers are needed. Warriors for justice are needed. I do not know all the twists and turns of the path ahead but I have faith in her guidance.