Gods that championed the poor

When the person formerly known as Teo Bishop felt his spiritual calling pulling him away from Paganism and towards Christianity, he wrote a beautiful essay (that I can’t find for the life of me here in 2016) on what  made Jesus stand apart from Pagan gods and why that was important to him. His especial trait was that he championed the poor, and this set him apart  from other gods in other pantheons. This is a wonderful feature of Jesus, one entirely too overlooked by modern political candidates claiming to be Christians and those members of certain churches that think their positions of privilege are some cosmic reward for being so good that they no longer have to try.

But it is not true that he is the only deified figure to actually fight for the poor. Some of this is a matter of timing: most Pagan gods popularly worshiped did come from agrarian cults. They didn’t come from worlds of rich and poor – they came from worlds of survive/die. What affected the harvest affected everyone. Only after cities and land ownership became concepts did poverty and wealth become concepts, and concepts as we know them has changed drastically in the last 200 years.

Rather than poor or rich, ancient Pagan gods that were beneficial served who we would now define as poor: the enslaved, women, and the conquered.

Aradia, the legendary daughter of a more recent goddess Diana, also fought for the poor. While mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess, I’ve never been involved in a ritual that invoked her((though I may have done it and forgotten during my early experimental years.)) But in the history(?) left us by Leland, she also stood as a figure of salvation and a champion to the oppressed – and like Jesus, she had the anointed qualities required of a Christ.

From Aradia, Gospel of the Witches:

I wish we knew more about her.

Dionysus was ultimately a god of the disenfranchised. His cult – including maenads, who I believe to be real people and not fictional characters, included slaves, women, and the extreme poor. While the methods of the cult did not necessarily alleviate poverty, the orgiastic rites were a form of relief. Enough so that I look at modern BDSM culture and wonder if there is a Bacchanalian/Dionysian difference in the menu selection of activities and intent within the subculture.

The entire Orisha pantheon is a source of strength under the oppression of slavery and its modern police abuse equivalents.  They are the living preservation of ancestral memory, of who their descendants were before they were kidnapped and forced to come to the Americas.

Perhaps most famous of all of these is Prometheus, daring to give humanity fire and thus their first step out of enslavement to the vagaries of night and day, cold and raw:

With digging there are likely many other gods across other pantheons; I gravitate to Greece and Rome because that’s who I know and feel comfortable calling upon.

Pantheacon 2016 Report

obligatory pose with Krampus
obligatory pose with Krampus

Stats: second year going to Pantheacon
Differences: Presenter this year. More sleep had. Stayed in Fairfield – frequently confronted obnoxious assumption “everyone has a room at the DoubleTree” when that has become well-nigh impossible.
Crisis of 2015: Partner transition and new polyamorous relationship
Crisis of 2016: Best friend had died on Saturday of con
Companions of 2015: Wife, boyfriend
Companions of 2016: boyfriend (wife stayed home), new friends from Emperor Norton Pagan Social

Compliments: I found myself surrounded by support when I got the news about Joe, from boyfriend, friends, wife via text, and total strangers. It almost restored my faith in social contracts. The Llewellyn author parties were fabulous; I got to catch up with Nels and Judy as fellow Midwestern Pagans, I finally met Kat Sanborn face to face after years of handling book reviews for her, I found Tomas Prower, author of La Santa Muerte a delight, and I finally got to meet Judika Illes, Ivo Dominguez Jr. and his husband. Took malicious glee in telling people who I was and pretending I expected them to know my name. Absolutely loved the nagas ritual.

Usual complaints: Room lotto sucks. Assumptions suck. People assuming I’m in my 20s when I’m in my 40s sucks because it’s even more patronizing now, and I wasn’t exactly blind to the condescension when I was actually that young.
Pagan fame chasing is gross.

Specific complaint: Someone actually identified herself as part of an “entourage.” To be fair, this happened after I’d heard about Joe and my polite switch had gone dormant. I think the words “toxic” came out at one person and “your spouse is a freaking grownup,” at another.

Can’t say I’m sorry but it really WASN’T my best moment. …and I kind of do know a thing or three about functional marriages vs. co-dependence.

I didn’t make that many official events besides the one I taught. I was full of nervous energy, and a guaranteed target for Pantycon newsletter as it was. (Pretty sure the “break up magic” indeed referred to the divorce and handparting workshop.)

I’m sure my head was just full of fascinating spiritual insights and exciting adventures at the time. But the combo of con overwhelm and a huge personal loss kind of knocked all that out of the running.

16 Pointers on Visiting or Living in San Francisco

  1. Just go ahead and buy the Doctor Scholl’s gel inserts when you buy new shoes. Expect to replace those insoles often if you do any walking at all.
  2. Join a gym – you’ll need to lift weights to relax after your exertion getting from point A to point B.
  3. Carry cash. This may be Silicon Valley but a lot of the small business owners here don’t give a damn – many won’t even use Square. ATMs are every few feet, most easily spotted in bars, convenience stores, and coffee shops. The ATMS are not, however, well-maintained – part of the underlying technological resistance that is part of old-school San Francisco. If you can, sign up for a membership at one of the credit unions that forgives all out of network ATM fees. Otherwise paying those fees is well-nigh unavoidable.
  4. DON’T use Air B&B when you visit. It may look cheap and easy, but you are screwing someone out of a place to live and quite possibly contributing to your host’s inevitable eviction. Seriously, there are entire buildings of people that have been thrown out of their homes so the landlords can run de facto hotels.
  5. The tourist attractions have all the mediocre food. Go where locals live and work (everywhere else) and you’ll be hard pressed to find something that isn’t awesome. There is a health rating system that is especially helpful – a green card placed prominently shows the restaurants health rating. Anything above a 90 is generally OK, and just about  any hole in the wall has amazing food. Also, refer to #3.
  6. Fuck Yelp. No, really, when it’s as popular as it is in San Francisco, it’s actually useless because it’s the cacophony of the lowest common denominator. One chiropractor I visited due to the high praise on yelp a)had Scientology stuff on the walls b)had anti-vaccination pamphlets in the lobby c)had some really transphobic doctors in the practice and d)never actually treated me for what I came in for. This has not been my only Yelp-fueled error. At this point Trip Advisor is actually more useful for local life information. There is one exception; finding places that deliver. Then Yelp is awesome.
  7. There’s a Reddit for everything.
  8. Craig’s List was born here – and it’s used for just about everything if you’re over 35. The younger set, however, seems a trifle less engaged.
  9. When someone asks you how you find the city, all they really want to hear is how much you love it. If, like me, you find it troubling, just keep it to yourself and pick one or two more-or-less positive things, like the fantastic quality of the cheap food or the ridiculously affordable massages and manicures. Any response that suggests you are anything but madly, uncritically in love with this place is taken as a person affront or a reason to feign concern for your mental health.
  10. The cheap manicures and massages are all located in Outer Richmond
  11. There is always parking in the Presidio.
  12. Unless you’re under 35 or over 60, you’re going to have one hell of a time meeting people for stuff besides sex. Age segregation to unnecessary extremes is the cultural norm here. Most of it is because apparently sex is the most important of all social activities in San Francisco. This is closely followed by politics, most of which involves people under 35 an people over 60 screaming at each other and blaming one another for the appalling state of housing and the cost of living in San Francisco. Somehow the landlowners and exploitative landlords, who foment and encourage this divisive hatred, only remain a focus for nanoseconds. No one has commented that this is fishy.
  13. For some reason, it’s acceptable to advertise events in private homes on Meetup.com. Apparently stranger danger is not a concept out here, because from the looks of it many people actually do go to these. San Francisco Parks and Rec does seem to offer plenty of affordable spaces, as do various dance studios, etc. but no one seems to be interested.
  14. There’s going to be a huge wave of anti-technology activism from the children born after 2002 and it will start in the Bay. Why? Because their parents don’t ever look up from their SmartPhones and it’s the ultimate in absentee parent. Around 2018 start short-stocking Silicon Valley.
  15. Cheap haircuts are a little harder to come by. There’s two on Geary that are under $20. Otherwise you need to go to Cinta Aveda or the SOMA beauty school – and it could still cost you.
  16. This is an allergy sufferer’s hell. MORE POLLEN YEAR ROUND.

This is what i have gathered in roughly a year of observation. Perhaps next year I will have a more nuanced view.

Selfies seem suddenly important (RIP)

From the front of Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis, MN pic by Diana Rajchel

One of the reasons promised Pantheacon updates have yet to appear here is because on Sunday afternoon of said con, I got word that my best friend had died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was 34. He had moved west shortly after Marie and I did, and we had a loose plan of having him move in with us. It didn’t work out that way – he decided to stay in Portland and we found a roommate with a much more indirect Minnesota connection.

He and I had become quite close right before our big move, and he asked that we make an effort to continue the relationship. He was a big support for me, as San Francisco has been hard, hostile, and what counter-culture remains tends to alienate me with their bigoted attitudes towards all things Middle America. When my wife began her transition, Joe was the first of our friends she came out to. We were close. I didn’t know every secret, but I knew all the big stuff.

The last time I saw him was about a month ago. He had packed his bags and suddenly headed to MN, and I convinced him to stay with us an extra day since he was about to take on a good chunk of the US in wintery weather. We enjoyed each other, had a kerfluffle with my jerky next door neighbor, and parted with lots of love and hugs.

photo shot for me w/my phone by Elysia Gallo at Pantheacon
photo shot for me w/my phone by Elysia Gallo at Pantheacon (I wrote the Samhain book)

The last message we exchanged I complained about some housing circumstances. The last message he left for me – the night he died – was under a picture of me holding up the cover of Llewellyn’s fall catalog – that had the title of one of the books I wrote for them as the cover. It said “Awesome! So proud of you Di!”

For a last living message to a friend, that’s a damn good one.

I got through the funeral. I became the inadvertent eulogy-giver, but I think even Joe liked what I said.  I passed out mini-bottles of Jameson “like an Irish Santa Claus” according to another fellow mourner.

I am glad things were good between Joe and I when he died, but right now I think my biggest regret is the complete absence of pictures of us together. His mother knew me the moment she saw me – evidently she did look at my Facebook pages. She told me how Joe had come home one day and said “Mom, she’s like us!” and told her how calm he felt around me and in my house. He loved to housesit for us when Marie and I traveled. We did a lot together, much in a very short time. Some did merit pictures.

But I have social anxiety, making cons and crowd events too hard for me to endure for long. We did spend a lot of trivia nights together, but even though we both had phones, at least I had a certain derision for people that stop every thirty seconds to take selfies – those were the people that walked into our club and confused Star Trek with Star Wars in front of us. I was often to shy, anxious, unsure it was appropriate to ask for a picture together, even though for those of us with SmartPhone privilege it’s absurdly easy now.

After my dad died, Christmas cards took on a weird importance. It was a way of keeping touch while allowing distance. I made it about a year before that slipped through my fingers in the chaos of a San Francisco holiday season with a hyper-socializing wife. I am going to revise that card list and do something. It seems important all over again, not to mention people I’d like to add.

With Joe’s death, suddenly selfies with friends seems one hell of a lot more important. I always had an envy of the people I knew in college and high school who had framed pictures of besties taped to their walls. I didn’t really have any besties, or a camera, or someone interested enough to take photos back then. I was smart, outspoken, and terribly shy – a combination that kept people from knowing how deeply isolated I really felt most of the time.

Joe was the first person I ever met who understood it instinctively because he also had a rich inner life that was hard to corroborate with the demands and expectations of the outside world. When I spoke, he understood me…on the first try. The last time he visited, the day after I was surrounded by wife and boyfriend and roommate and I burst into tears because Joe was gone and that meant that I’d have to go back to struggling all the time to be properly heard and understood.

Looks like it’s going to be like that  for a lifetime now.

Another aspect of Joe’s death that MUST be discussed – because he was young and had few assets, he didn’t have a will and testament that anyone knows of. His mom was unprepared for this, and so there is a fundraiser to help pay for his funeral costs. The cost of a funeral is typically $6000, and the fundraiser has yet to hit $3K. No matter how young you are, as soon as you turn 18, get a will written. There are several places and ways to do so that are affordable and legal. Yes, it is morbid and unpleasant to think about you gone from this earth – but once it’s done, you don’t have to think about it except for brief moments when you get married or divorced, move to a new state, have a partner transition genders… you get the idea.

I’m not ready to say Rest in Peace, really. I am still angry, demanding answers, saying unfortunate and tart things on Twitter that probably need to be said but not by me. But I recognize the gift of an amazing friend, and that keeps no matter how long anyone lives. I finally got to see a funeral where people cried, and talked about their loved one, and acted like human beings about the whole thing. (My birth family frowned on crying at funerals and that’s the tip of the fucked-up iceberg. So, as much as seeing my best friend in a coffin sucked, in that way it was refreshing.)

I just really wish I’d taken some selfies with him.


Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers

Some people fall into the “shut up and kiss me” category of prurient interest. These people have plenty of their own good (or bad) stuff to enjoy. For people that have a love affair with the English language itself, who find textures in words coursing over their skin, who cannot even consider the act of sex without preceding it with an act of wit – this book belongs to them.

This book has inhabited my bedside since September 2014. In some ways, it reminds me of a self-discovery I encountered during a brief period in my 20s when the cable company saw fit to provide me a sample of the Playboy channel. I learned then I cannot eat and watch porn. Sex and food do not go together for me – and bad dialog turns me off so hard I might as well be smelling hot garbage when it happens. Perhaps, in restrospect, if the dialog on the cheesy semi-consensual both couples did it, all parties were willing, but the couples didn’t tell each other about their shenanigans making it an unnecessary consent fail couples-swap movie had improved itself I might have plowed through that tuna sandwich.

This book does not have that problem – each story is submitted by a master of the art, and each one is masterfully erotic, an altering of mindset into an experience shared. Things that normally do not turn me on turned me on as I read this.

But it did lead to my latest discovery in my personal relationship with erotica: I can only read it in small doses. A story or two a night is as much as I can do before it wears me out, and sometimes I had to take a night off to see my partner, or other suitors eager for my literary desires. Suitors that are less handsy, less demanding, that don’t want me physically tired when we finish. It’s not just the slicks and tightenings that wore me down – it was the skillful binding of mind to language, the way language itself could stick to my body. I would love to write like that, but I’m not sure I could get anything done – surely what happens to the reader must also happen to the writer as it’s created.

If looking for highlights, the book included a variety of pairings, all of the cisgender variety but otherwise deeply varied in age, cultural background, and yes, even education. From wordplay as foreplay to an object displacement disorder that eroticize books, the tales themselves surprise and delight with twists and turns on the way to their erotic inevitability. It’s worth reading as much for the creativity as it is for its prurience.

I dare you to propose this to your book club.


Paganism without Winter

It’s impossible not to compare – go from the #2 largest Pagan population in the country to the #1 largest, and you notice a few things. Especially as your context for a place builds, and your understanding deepens.

photo by Diana Rajchel
photo by Diana Rajchel

I think that the mild climate makes Pagans in the Bay area more organizationally permissive than the Pagans in Minnesota. This is a change for Minnesota: we were sort of a colony sent from California; Isaac Bonewits moved out to the Twin Cities with his wives in the 70s, and Llewellyn in the 80s tried to make Minneapolis a mecca for occultists including a convention on par with Pantheacon. I only know this happened because people who were young Pagans during that time told me about it. Once Llewellyn moved out to Woodbury (a far suburb, past Saint Paul) and Utne Reader pulled up stakes, all that really remained of that California-seeded Pagan front were the Pagans with roots to Minnesota, and the people who drifted west in the 90s looking for a place more welcoming to witches than the Bible belt… like me.

The Midwest grows a different breed of Pagans from the Bay Area folks, and from sitting on the sidelines of both communities, I think I see the difference. The magic ingredient is winter. The second magic ingredient is smaller. The third is that Minnesota Pagans are more politically diverse…but far less culturally/racially diverse.

pella in winter

It’s much easier to understand the merits of a more conservative world view when resource abundance expands and contracts from year to year; it’s also easier to understand why liberals act as they do when too much stinginess results in a spate of exposure deaths. Also, because the community is enough smaller enough of us have to see each other face to face that it’s easier to simply focus on the good food and beverage than it is on whether or not your candidate of choice is OK with vibrators. (We all sort of know not a damned one is qualified on the issue.) Harsher winters mean more intense spring and summer festivals, often in harsher circumstances as well. It also means that Midwestern Pagans have a time, assigned by nature itself, to take stock of what worked in years prior and to look to what may be in the year to come. It’s easier to organize tasks when your decision making tree includes a pin for “too cold to do that right now.” Midwesterners know they will get extra breaks, miraculous pockets of time to think more deeply, look more critically, and sometimes even crochet (or something else like it.) They have less resistance to technology – no tech giants are bringing in workers that are prompting landlords to throw their longtime tenants out on their asses – and so sometimes things like vendor forms and credit card readers are a bit better handled.

The west coast – the Bay area – can’t rely on weather disruption to catch a break. If a weather disruption seriously happens, we’re talking best case scenario a six month clusterfuck since earthquakes count as weather. Even though the new moon is ostensibly the time folks here stop to reflect, most of it is still a relentless onward hurtle. In a way that constant sense of forward explains the progressive politics, and the way those politics can consume everything a person is out here. No one here is just a person. If you are a Pagan, it is implied you must be a Tradition. If you are a magician, you must come from a School or Lodge. If you are Pagan, you must have a Political Position. Your Political Position must in all ways filter into your family life, choose your friends for you, and organize your social calendar. This isn’t always bad – I’m perfectly happy to route out the racists and misogynists from my social media streams, echo chambers be damned.

This identity politics in excess is starting to manifest a great deal more among the Midwestern Pagans I know. Except for those of us with one foot in or out of one closet or the other, it’s all out on any side.

The Bay is certainly bringing things out in my partner and I – despite the constant rush here, I am looking for a way to Be, rather than to Do, remembering both wisdom from my partner and from someone I had a great deal of affection for in my mid-20s. It’s hard to just Be in it here the way you can in Minnesota, where you bond by complaining about the bitter cold and also, as you stand still in the ice, turn your attention inward. That inward attention is hell for a lot of people – but it also prompts changes come spring. Here if you want to turn inward you have to just take it.

I will add the caveat that my experience is colored by the drought. There has barely been rainfall for years now. Since there is a turn towards colder temperatures – perhaps not cold as I typically knew it, but cold all the same, there is the hint that slowdowns are possible. They all require precipitation. Rain is the signal to go inside, to go within. That has only fallen about four times since I moved here a year ago.

Pantheacon Schedule 2016

It’s been awhile since you’ve seen me. This is how I look as of two days ago.

This week I am escaping Superbowl madness by hunkering down in a co-working house in Portland. My wife’s foresight, when she uses it, is AMAZING. We took the Amtrak through the mountains – gorgeous trip, but the heater was out in our sleeper cabin so there was a downside that meant “no sleep” and my track record with stern Scandinavian travel hosts continues. This time it was socks and not seatbelts at least.

Next week is a more familiar madness in the Bay Area – Pantheacon. Last year was my first year attending and this year will be my first year presenting.  The following is my schedule. Since Divorcing a Real Witch is apparently not included in the Ancient Ways distributor catalog, if you want to purchase a copy you will need to buy it directly from me. The Llewellyn Sabbat books (Mabon and Samhain) will, however, be available.

My schedule for the time being is as follows. If you would like a private reading, to buy me a drink, or to take me dancing, look for the times I’m not scheduled. :)

Itinerary for Diana Rajchel at Pantheacon

Check-in Thursday after 3 pm
I do plan to meet some earlybird friends for dinner and drinks, maybe give myself some rehearsal time at the hotel

130 – 545 Divination – book a reading with me!

My rates at Pantheacon match my rates at the Mystic Dream. You can also always book me on my readings page.

11am – 12:30 Transitions: Preparing for Divorce and Handparting – bring a notebook for this one. It’s intended for people going through it, and can help those of us priest/essing others going through it.
12:30 – 12:50 Book Signing/Table outside room
1:30 – 2:00  –  Book Signing in Vendor Room
7:30 pm –       Llewellyn Authors Launch Party

Pantheacon at large

Pantheacon at large; taking my tired cookies and going home to prepare for Paganicon in Minneapolis.

At some point I will most certainly be at the Green Fairy Party. I had better not have someone kissing me without my consent this year!

Tarot Readings! From Moi!

If you have been thinking, “Gee, I really wish Di did tarot readings again,” you’re in luck. You don’t even need to live close by to be in the kind of luck you want to be in.

tarot cards

I am one of the new readers over at The Mystic Dream in Walnut Creek, California. ((Disclosure: I am a student with their Modern Conjure school there.))

The especially good news? I also do readings by phone, and it is possible for the right people – say clients from previous years – I can do readings by Skype. I’m in every Friday. You can get the phone number from the Mystic Dream website – book me in increments of 15 minutes, half an hour, or a full hour. It’s always a good idea to call in Wed or Thurs to make an appointment for me on Friday, but when possible I do take walk-ins.

My style is fast and skeptic friendly. While I do believe in psychic things and all things woo, when I work with someone with the cards, it is mainly about working with the beliefs of the person asking the questions. I see my practice as less “tall dark handsome stranger” and more “cosmic to-do list.”  I consider tarot a means of pattern recognition – based on your own behaviors that you may subconsciously recognize, where is your life headed? What pieces can you turn around for the best possible outcome? Where are you slamming your head into a wall?

I like to make sure my clients walk out with an action plan. Sometimes the plan involves magic, and using ritual practices to open new pathways or heal damaged ones. Sometimes it involves library visits, calling a career counselor, or having a heart to heart with a loved one.

Also, if you’re in the East Bay, this shop is a must visit. It’s artfully selected material for any magic worker of any path, and the other employs are diverse and incredibly fun, down-to-earth people.

Coming soon: details on my creativity coaching practice.