A Dog Really Ate My Homework

For some reason that an astrology chart could likely explain, the last weekend of October in 1995 proved especially momentous for me. It was homecoming at the tiny Midwestern college I attended. My return to the school after summer off had been less than welcoming – I’d been ousted from an editorial gig on the student paper that had comprised my entire social life the year before, the boyfriend that had taken a coward’s breakup with me had spread quite a few rumors about the nature of our breakup angled to make him look blame free when I refused to do things that had high odds of getting me pregnant, and the semester before a friend leveraged my crush on him to drag me into a political situation that cost me dearly – a legacy that was playing out while he remained oblivious, completely unable to process that consequences for a female non-athlete were significantly more dire than those for a male athlete on any college campus. It was also parents’ weekend, and my parents were NOT interested in spending time with me, opting for some bus trip to West Virginia instead when it became clear I wasn’t going to drop out of school because they said so.

Yep, that's Norman Rockwell
Yep, that’s Norman Rockwell

The result was that, on that October weekend, what friends I had were off with their parents or entangled in festivities. I had no car and no means of escape, so I decided to work on a fairly complex project for a mass communications class, one where the professor had insisted on assigning us partners, I suspect out of some patriarchal urge to keep the women in the class from working with the men in the class, all of whom had piercings that made him suspicious. My partner, a very sweet Japanese woman, offered zero ideas on the project; it left me feeling like I had to carry the burden of the work myself. In retrospect, this was most likely an intercultural failing on my part – but ultimately I still prefer to blame the professor’s patronizing micromanagement. Plus, I wanted to work with the guy with the neck piercing. He was hot.

Meanwhile, the friend that had persuaded me to enter political hot water with him the previous semester had a football game that day. Per his family’s tradition, all the ones that could came to cheer him on – including his dog, Tiberius. I’d met Tiberius, a sweet, golden dog that always ran to greet me, tail thumping –  along with anyone else with a recognizable weakness for canines. On game days he had the run of the dorm, and he generally stayed on the first floor, while his family hung out with my friend in the room directly below mine.

The day was unseasonably warm for October, and I had just made a complicated storyboard that involved large amounts of glue. I propped open my door  and window, unusual moves for me thanks to an unexpressed but nonetheless abject fear of most social connection, especially since my immediate neighbors across and next to me were especially toxic. I turned my back for a second to look at my class syllabus and I heard paper tearing behind me. I turned around to see Tiberius, wagging his tail and chowing down on my mass communications project.

That was $15 of art supplies and ten hours of work blown all to hell.

It also forced me to give up on working for the weekend, and with my main focus completely ripped out of my grip, I decided to go hang out at the student pub, watch a comedy act, and when I ran into my friend’s family, I told them about the incident with their dog. Yes, I was mad, but I didn’t blame Tiberius. They stopped bringing the dog around after that, which made me sad. I liked Tiberius. Dogs were safer than people. Fortunately my professor actually believed me when I told him my friend’s dog ate my homework because I was and still am the Person that Those Things Really Happen To and he had already witnessed and heard hearsay of enough ridiculous shit attached to me that he didn’t question me when I asked for an extension.

This also put me in a position to talk to people. It put me in a position to answer my phone, and accept an invite to a Weird Al concert. It put me in a position to ask my yearbook editor (yes, this college had a yearbook, sadly enough) to let me off the hook for photographing a homecoming dance type thing that night. Having nothing else I could do, I got a tarot reading. The tarot reading, given by a friend’s mom, revealed exactly how spiritual my life was about to become, along with all the suppressed love and talent I was haunting myself with. It told me I’d meet a man who was wrong for me that weekend – which I did. The reader also told me that the friend with the dog was “very much in love with me,” (I hadn’t mentioned him, the dog, or the ill-conceived political dabbling to her) and I had her set that one aside since there was no way, especially not at that time.

I never got a chance to do a follow up reading with her, even though she very much wanted to see what was going to happen next with me. Even so – a friend’s dog ate my homework, which got me to leave my dorm room, which got me to have a tarot reading, which got me to open up to new people, which got me to a heartbreaking relationship that changed me for the better and got me out of that tiny school, which got me to start my witchcraft practice in earnest.

My only two regrets are the dog, and leaving his owner behind. They both meant more to me than they know, certainly more than I had the capacity to express at that time.

 

 

 

 

2016 #paganvalues Month Topic Suggestions #pv2016

pagan values logo

pagan values logo

It’s been a crazy month, and with it a necessary pause because of the coincidence of the Orlando attack and gay pride. Our values matter the most in times of crisis – when emotions must reign supreme, a value system allows us a means to moderate until we return to our emotional baseline. There may be no baseline to return to for far too many – and while some must drop out to care for themselves and their losses, I truly feel like the crises of the world is what makes the many topics covered under the header of the month so very important to discuss (or daily life, since most Pagan faiths are a way of life that makes every month Pagan Values month).

Here are some final topic suggestions for what remains of #paganvalues month. #pv2016. Please post your blog posts in the Pagan Values Facebook group, or the 2016 Pagan Values event page. If you prefer to use a social media page such as Twitter, Facebook, or G+, please use hashtags #paganvalues and #pv2016.

None of these are required for posting – if you have your own ideas, themes, or even a moral code to write from (such as Troth, Kemet, the Rede, etc.) then go for it. For those looking for more ideas, here are some suggestions:

1.What honor code do you follow?
2.What is “honor” to you?
3.What controversies seem the most unnecessary?
4.What is your ethically ideal way to handle bullies?

5.Reclaimed artifacts: should mummies be sent home?
6.Including outsiders in your faith
7.Self-defense: what are your parameters?

8. Fight or flight: handling religious discrimination
9. When someone claims psychic atttack

10. The place for magic in your practice
11. Is elevating poverty to a virtue a form of privilege?

12.Is there anything new to say about the environment?
13.Sex and sexuality: ethically handling lifestyle differences
14. It’s like a different worldview: when Pagans meet international boundaries

15. When a famous Pagan quits being Pagan
16. The privacy line: where is it?
17. Personal risk: when is risk worthwhile?
18. Evolution
19. When other faiths face persecution

Faith #paganvaluesmonth #preview

It seems like faith lives in a world of simplicity. “Have faith,” and that’s it, you’re supposed to just reach that weird place between contentment and complacency, a steady not-quite thoughtless state that leads to shelves lined with Chicken Soup for the Soul books and handy little rocks with words like “Laugh,” “Faith,” “Hope,” and “Love,” planted in random, ostensibly inspirational spots.

Right… but what the fuck does faith mean anyway?

How is faith different from trust? I know it is – but why?

I’m supposed to have a lot of faith right now. I keep being told to have faith. My life partner of ten years has dragged me 2000 miles away from our home and is now transitioning to female. I’m supposed to have faith. Apparently faith that it will work out to the good.

I’m supposed to have faith that I am in San Francisco for a reason. This, by implication, means I am to have faith that I am the reason, or that the reason involves me, or if it involves me that it’s actually beneficial to me. I can have faith and still have my assumptions stop long before I get to that beneficial place – and thus I can still have faith, and still feel like I’m getting fucked over.

Since I am myself morally opposed to using my shiny new pink taser on simpering twits just because they simper platitudes at me about faith from a place of zero genuine empathy, I am taking to the page instead.

Even before this latest heap of bullshit came down on me I have been walking around faith as though it’s a three dimensional, somewhat puffy statue that no one has thought to touch. People should touch faith. It’s really squishy.

So, when someone says s/he has faith, it’s often presumed that that person means “faith in God.” Great, but let’s break that down:

“I have faith.”

Can Mean: I believe there is a God/ess and/or a divine guiding intelligent principle to the universe.

This in no ways commits to what that person believes about said God/ess.

“I have faith.”

Can Mean: I have faith that there is a God, and that that God is good.

By “good” I mean that that God deserves my trust, and that even if it looks like God is doing something to be an asshole, there is a Big Picture and screwing me over keeps the earth from exploding or something.

“I have faith.”

Can Mean: I have faith that whatever is happening to me now is at some point either going to a)stop b)reverse or c)turn out to actually be a really good thing for me. Notice the absence of mention of God – it is simple faith in a good outcome.

“I have faith.”

Can Mean:  If I do x, y will happen. It may not happen right away, but it will happen. (Reference: Field of Dreams)

“I have faith.”

Can Mean: I am choosing to believe that the voices in my head/the random occurrences etc. are connection with an external spiritual force/synchronicity and not just random.

“I have faith.”

I have no expectations of this situation outside myself – I just know that everything around me is going to do what it’s going to do because physics.

I often describe myself as a woman of faith. Lately, that definition has fallen to the last one – centrifugal force gonna centrifugate. Once, in a weird paroxysm of calm shortly after my father’s death,  I decided that faith is living free from expectations of God. I’m not sure I’m willing to change that one yet. It relieves a pretty big burden for me to go “OK, something is there…and that’s it. I’m not obligated to attribute anything else. If I doubt something is there, I am not burdened with the responsibility of disproof, either.”

There is a God, in my world view. That’s all faith is – I have faith there is one. All that other stuff about good and reasons and universal balance? They’re pretty thoughts but I feel zero inner obligation to have faith beyond is or isn’t. I don’t know what that thing is thinking or if the thing has a plan. I just know it’s there.

Believing there IS a God/ess is easy for me. Also easy for me is believing that other gods exist, immortals given form thanks to the power of collective belief American Gods style. Faith that magic exists is also a no-effort thing for me, because I think that there has to be something untraceably physical that lets us form thoughts at all, and whatever it is benefits from more and different pathways through our brains.

I need faith. I have faith. I am a woman of faith.

Real faith is not a burden. It just is, like the star and sky and sea. Not everyone needs faith, that “that is,” and I think there is some human distribution thing that prevents people from all having it. I think there is a profound, balance to nature reason that the world needs its atheists and agnostics, that they have a very important place in the universe, and sometimes I envy them since I don’t have the privilege of being one.

I think faith has been coopted by the same people that use “S/he’s religious,” as shorthand for saying “s/he is a conservative Christian who expects everyone else to conform to his/her sensitivities and ego needs.”

I am, as I have said before, very religious. I am just not Christian.

I am a woman of faith. I am just not a Christian woman of faith.

Christians aren’t the only people that inherited faith. That belongs to anyone that faith fits – not just who a group of egoists decide they want in their club.

Do I have faith right now?

Yes – I do have a sense of a divine intelligence. But purpose? Maybe not. I am a priestess and of late I am exhausted by the sense of relentless obligation, often without relief and support, that I suspect besets all women.

Do I think they’re about me – no. What about me says “drop her in the most expensive city in the country?” The intelligence is not looking to my good, or remotely concerned with it.

And I just gotta ride that shit out.

I have faith that something will change because change is oddly reliable.

Keeping Food Cheap in SF

Most people here eat out. Why? Because single, or money, or money plus single. That said, those of us stuck spending 60% or more of our income on rent can still have  night out, or a lovely meal, if we very carefully navigate the holes-in-the-wall that often serve amazing food in huge portions.  Food is an incredibly controllable expense in San Francisco. Any day of the week, any time of the year, you can find food that is fresh, cheap, and delicious. There are of course limits to this – you still need some money to eat well or at all…

Farmer’s Markets

There is a farmer’s market somewhere in San Francisco 7 days a week. Prices will vary by market – the most expensive one is of course the one on the Embarcadero, and often fresh food there goes for boutique grocery store prices. Find the smaller ones, or go to the one at Alemany.

Ethnic Markets

Thanks to spiraling rents and little to no eviction protection for longtime businesses, these are disappearing. Even so, you can still generally find plenty of Chinese markets in the Richmond district, plenty of Latina grocery stores in the Mission, and a small smattering of other ethnicities sprinkled throughout the city – but you have to be willing to look.

Safeway Club

If you want to enjoy Safeway at affordable prices you pretty much have to join their club. It reduces pricing from a direct poke in the eye to bearable, at-market food pricing. That said, Safeway is often used as a sort of meet-market on Friday and Saturday nights, especially in the Marina district. Best in and out fast for most of us.

Google Shop, Safeway Delivery

This is a more expensive option that can, to some degree, save you time or at least limit your human contact. You can, with a little fishing, have just about all goods delivered to your doorstep any day of the week. While it’s not a money saver in terms of availability, if your budget is often thrown by impulse buys this can eliminate the environment that prompts that behavior.

Recipe: Lavender and Rose caramel

In 2012, my partner and I bought a house. Income is wonky for a writer at my level (with my health problems) but I still wanted to invest equally to make it our house rather than the house she bought and I lived in.

Since my cupboards bulged with baking material I didn’t care to move, I decided to use up everything in the cabinet and host a bake sale. A couple artist friends threw in with me and we had a holiday boutique in the common room of my apartment building. The food sold faster than everything else – I wish the ladies had done better, but we had a really squirrelly, nosy apartment manager to dodge so we did as we could.

One of the more popular items at the sale? My caramels. I don’t use corn syrup – it’s unnecessary and we made caramel before that stuff ever existed. I used the following recipe for the lavender caramel:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups lavender syrup – purchased pre-made from Kitchen Window
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups goat’s milk.

You can substitute cream for goat’s milk or even evaporated milk. The syrups you can sub in can be flavored traditional sugar syrups, molasses, honey, maple syrup and the flavored fruit syrups popular at ethnic groceries.

There is absolutely no way around using a candy thermometer mix – the hard ball/soft ball method just doesn’t work consistently in all geographies. The closer you are to see level, the more likely you need everything to work at a higher temperature.

Begin by melting the sugar and butter, then add the syrup and one cup of the milk. Heat to 334 degrees (this has been the optimum so far for me.) When it reaches 334, take off heat immediately, stir in the remaining cup of milk and then reheat again to 334. Once it hits that magic number, take it off heat again and pour into a heat proof container. You may want to have parchment paper or wax paper laid down in it first. Then leave to cool for at least 12 hours.

The next day cut into small slices and wrap into wax paper – et voila, caramel candy!

 

I also made rose caramel although that was a bit more difficult – I’m not obsessed with the possibility of making a rose caramel with coconut milk. The delicacy of it is amazing but I can’t quite get it to hold up as candy – I did however use regular cream on the rose caramel and that worked well. It did, however, confuse some people who aren’t used to floral candies.

 

Uncut rose caramel. #baking

*note: I rarely consume refined sugar because it does terrible things when combined with the steroids I take for my allergies. I strongly encourage you to explore all unrefined sugar options for this and any other recreational food.

Getting Crafty: Elemental Cookies

Elemental Cookies
Elemental Cookies

Every so often, a witch has to get a little bit crafty.

Now that my smoke allergies have progressed to “walk past a barbecue, use an inhaler” I have to adapt a whole bunch of my regular practices. Not least among those is one in which I call upon the elementals and then promptly release them. I used to use a sheet of paper to etch the symbols etc. and then burn it. I then started converting the paper into flash paper – super smokey and satisfying… with the unfortunate side effect that leads to skin hiving.

I tried a few things that didn’t work so well – a bath biscuit recipe comes to mind as a rather famous fail. I needed to use something that could keep the shapes carved into it and that could then dissolve in water. Then I found this recipe for homemade craft clay: it’s 2 parts baking soda to 1 part corn starch. Heat in 1 1/2 parts water over medium heat and stir until it just refuses to stir at all. It comes out white and goopy but perfect. I stirred in some herbs while I was at it and after it cooled I kneaded in a good chunk of uncrossing oil. While pretty crumbly later on, they served their purpose well.

God Is not an Asshole: Installment 1

I’ve always found the idea that religious beliefs require academic backing well, insane.

Religion is the very department of the irrational. By itself that isn’t a bad thing – nor is it a good thing.

It just is.

Some of us believe in a divine intelligence, an intentional organization of the universe, a giant puppeteer making us all crawl eventually – whatever.

But sooner or later some asshole just has to be right and so the quest to “prove” God/ess begins. And it’s always pointless.

We don’t know. The point of religion is to not know.

Seriously, as much as I love my books and random facts, I have always been a religious woman. And that means there’s a chunk of my brain that a)believes something out there and b)is OK with not being too sure. In this context faith means “can function without proof.” It’s not my first priority in life, this state of non-proof. That’s good – it lets me keep friends who believe differently. It lets me put scientific discovery first, or better yet, incorporate that into my faith.  I am skeptical of other people, but terribly skeptical of phenomena. Also, it’s always fun to have an excuse to write “phenomena.”

That’s all religion is. I’m pretty sure it’s a neurological state and not everyone can or should be wired for it.

But because there’s so much “don’t know” the “not –alloweds” that actually do not impact anyone else’s daily lives or practices are a load of steaming hooey.

I think somewhere along the way people have lost their ability to discern the moral difference between “I am going to make stuff up and claim my ancestors did it since I am pretty sure I believe as they did,” “yeah, I made it up and I’m none too interested in my ancestors and as far as a personal operating system goes, it’s not bad,” and “you’re doing what? But I haven’t given your permission!”

The intention of a religion depends on the religion. The intention of faith is to delegate doubt to other places where it can come in handy.

This is the first, possibly only installment of G.O.D is not an asshole series.

Using the Golden Bough anyway

Paganism and academics are fuzzy bedfellows, the type that never will quite satisfy one another. While I often sidestep the issue by focusing entirely on the present – an advantage of journalism – when writing books about a somewhat artificially constructed holiday like Mabon, I do feel obligated to stop and explain myself.

The explanation right now? Why will the book on Mabon be referencing the Golden Bough and the White Goddess when anthropology, history and archaeology have moved far beyond the conventions started by these books?

For me, it’s quite simple: the conclusions in these books – not the facts, the logos of it – but the pathos and ethos are what still speak to modern Paganism. I expect this to change, eventually. I don’t expect this to change soon and to be honest, when it comes to the emotional connection, I don’t want it to change much at all.

I am hoping we can at some point get to a point of comfort with the … “yeah, some bloke or dame made this up…” Certainly Ronald Hutton has done quite a bit of work nosing us in the more accurate direction. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have also been pushing a bit with their disinformation tours, pointing out that claims of sole legitimacy issued by some but not all Gardnerians/Alexandrians is a way to miss the point of the spiritual practice altogether.

Even so, while assembling the book that became Llewellyn Sabbat Essentials Mabon, I drew from the Golden Bough and referenced the White Goddess though not with abandon. While they are not part of deep history – the anthropology and archaeology that stirs our dreams of revival, of finding all that we have ever lost – they are part of modern Pagan history, even if just as a springboard for stuff we collectively made up to get us from point A to point B.

Someone will have academic quibbles with me. Some will have academic  quibbles that it’s not an academic book, it’s a book meant to inform and inspire modern practice.  No matter how good the work, someone will have quibbles intended as preventative that

are ultimately cultural setbacks – and those quibbles are best ignored.

I have made my peace with that.

OK, you can stop messaging me about Marc de Pascale

It’s getting creepy.

Every so often I am getting notes on this book review I wrote in 2010. It was about a spell book  titled Book of Spells that I picked up from Powell’s books.. Since it’s an old school occult book it did not have the “proofs of legitimacy” that modern spellbooks do – i.e. some background about the author, bibliography, etc. Since the author claimed that multiple spells were of Romany origin – almost as popular a claim among American fringe types as claiming Native American heritage – I am obligated by the standards of my day to see if I can verify this. I have been unable to.

Once in awhile, I have been getting emails informing me that he was an astrologer (I knew that… it said that on his books. But was he a FULL TIME astrologer or did he, like most magic workers from now and forever have to work a different job in an additional field for steadier income?) and a recent one stating that he was murdered in 1980.

These tidbits are NOT in any way actually helpful.  Why? You are not giving me anything I can verify through a third party that we both trust. A personal friend also commented that she knew exactly who this guy was – that he was a famous psychic several decades ago.  I can find books on Amazon, Alibris, and so on – but I can’t find any of this once common knowledge about the author. Without that third party verification, it’s not even possible to write a Wikipedia article about this guy.

I am trying to run a responsible blog here. Yes, it’s mostly opinion – but I am still a journalist at heart and in practice. Even those guys are held liable for distributing bad information. (I have often had “opinion” writers argue with me that this isn’t true. This usually happened after they’d done something unconscionable…which, to their surprise, always was legally actionable..)  I can’t just take random email notes at their word. I am much too old to accept any kind of authority blindly.

If there are people who genuinely knew and loved Pascal, who might want his memory preserved and have the news clippings etc. to substantiate his story, that would be wonderful.

My interest in de Pascale is strictly a means of checking the veracity of what he wrote in his spell book. By this time I have used a few of his spells … and I’m satisfied that they are constructed in a sound symbolic system and they do work, even if I am unsure of what culture really originated that system.

So far the most verifiable information I’ve got is that he was murdered in 1980. And I actually can’t do anything with that.

Here’s why:

1)I do not know if Marc de Pascale was this author’s real name. If there is a public record of his death, as there would be in the case of a homicide, I would definitely need that name. I am told by a personal friend that it happened in the Phillipines which may be part of the problem.

2)It has been intimated but not confirmed that he lived in New York City. OK, are there any well known occultists around now that knew him in the day that could confirm this? Someone I could seek out on my own to say “Hey, did you know this author/astrologer?”

3)1980 is not enough data to verify a homicide. Where did this happen? What was the exact date? Without those two data points plus a real name I have no way of checking that information.

Since most data has come from unsolicited emails, I am leery of responding to any.  If you really want me to track this down, please tell me when he was born, who knew him that I might be to speak with directly, the when and the where. I am a stranger to you and you to me – these bits of verification are how we build a bridge.

Please note: this has no relationship to my profound irritation with the “prove you’re initiated enough” crap circulating many Wiccan communities these days. For starters, what I speak of above is verifiable facts – not password encoded human opinion.