Author’s Notes

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.

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.