Theurgy presentation notes

Last night I gave a presentation on theurgy to Horizon Lodge. The audience was generous and attentive. The writer’s life is isolated and it was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the work that I am doing. I also find it critically important to discuss the ideas and rituals I’m working on with live people, it makes the work better. If you were there, thank you!

Several people asked about the initiatory order of reading Plato’s dialogues. The blog Practical Theurgy lists them: Reading Course of Ten Platonic Dialogues Devised by Iamblichus.

I also promised a link to a bibliography and the names and dates I reviewed: Pagan Theurgy notes.

How to Write a Book in Six Months, part two: dictation

Usually it takes me a year to write a book. So when my publisher and I agreed I would write a book in six months, I knew I had to step up my game. I had read a book called How to Write a Book in a Weekend in which the writer outlined this process: first he gathers research on a topic, then he spends the weekend dictating the book, then he sends the book out to be typeset and then copyedited.

I thought I might as well give dicating a try. Did anyone else besides Vic Johnson write this way? I found that the fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson dictates novels into a tape recorder while taking hikes. He says it makes writing landscape descriptions easy! Keeps him in shape too. However, he too has his material transcribed. Kobo Writing Life, “It’s Okay to Talk to Yourself”

I didn’t want to spend the money on hiring a transcriptionist. Instead I explored dictation software. I’ve been following the Dragon company since their very first product. Voice recognition took longer than the industry expected to become reliable. However I’ve started using voice recognition for phone texts, and these turn out to be pretty good, so I figured Dragon surely had caught up by now. Dragon Naturally Speaking v.12 got very good reviews. I bought the premium version to get recording transcription functionality.

I spent some time figuring out which microphone to buy. I finally settled on the Logitech H800 as it got the highest reviews for accuracy. It fits over the ears rather than in the ears and has an adjustable mike.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the process turned out to be. It was harder to get my Windows 8 computer to recognize the microphone than it was to train Dragon to understand my speech. The book I was writing has a lot of philosophical technical terms and proper names that the software couldn’t be expected to understand. However, once I discovered that I could train Dragon to recognize a specific word as I spoke it, I found the software handled those terms gracefully.

I was also interested in the idea of dictating while walking. My writing process involves lots of walking to clear out my thoughts stimulate ideas. After a walk I will spend time rapidly scribbling the ideas that came up. Also, the drive home from my writing retreat location takes about an hour and a half, and I often think the whole time I’m driving about the writing. When I come home the family turns out to greet me, people, cats, the dog, the chickens. This tends to wipe out everything I have been thinking. If I could capture the thoughts in transit I could increase my productivity.

When I started researching recorders I wondered how you get the data off the recorder. I found a YouTube video that demonstrated exactly what happens. It turns out that little portable tape recorders these days have a USB connection you can just plug into the USB port in your computer. Dragon has a function that allows you to pick “transcribe recording” and then select the recording straight off the device. It’s magical to watch it happen.

I settled on the Sony ICD-SX733 mini handheld. It wasn’t incredibly expensive and Dragon rated it among the top recorders for transcription accuracy. Using a handheld is tricky while driving, so I only turn it on when I’m on straight roads with no other traffic, which does happen quite a bit between Sequim and my house.

Transcription from the Sony handheld is not as accurate as transcription from the Logitech wireless headset. Partly I think this is because I use the tape recorder in noisy environments. Even so, for normal English words it’s pretty darned good. I believe every word I dictated on those drives home made it into the final manuscript.

An unintended consequence of this change in writing technology is a change in writing style. My voice is literally my voice – there is no keyboard between myself and the words on the page. It’s more conversational and relaxed. I like that very much. This technique also lends itself really well to writing blog posts.

After six months of hard use I managed to damage my Logitech headset. The company graciously agreed to replace it even without the receipt. In the meantime, I discovered I can plug any microphone and headset into the microphone jack of my PC and Dragon will recognize it. I am dictating this on a little headphone plus microphone gadget I bought to listen to music on my phone. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this would actually work! However it is not as comfortable or accurate as the Logitech headset.

Even with dictation I still can’t write a “book” in a weekend; not a 60,000 word book on philosophy anyway. I can do about 6,000 words of draft, and I think Anderson does something like ten. I’m eager to try the technique with a less dense subject.

This of course is another reason to go on writing retreat – I’m talking to myself the whole time!

Remembering Don Kraig

The Publisher’s Weekly headline gives the basic news:

“Author and editor Donald Michael Kraig died March 17 at his home in Los Angeles after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 63.” Publishers Weekly Obituary

Of course Don wrote Modern Magick, one of the most influential magical books of the twentieth century. More than just an author, he was deeply embedded in Llewellyn’s family and work. Llewellyn blog, “A Great Loss for the Occult Community: Donald Michael Kraig Passes

He gave classes and lectures, attended festivals, and reached out to befriend many other writers and magicians. Jason Pitzl-Waters collects comments from the community here: The Wild Hunt, Donald Michael Kraig 1951 – 2014.

In his last years he shared his life with the lovely Holly Allender Kraig. Here’s Holly’s official statement:

It is with great sadness that I announce that Donald Michael Kraig took his last breaths last night (3/17/2014) and died.
He has crossed over to Summerland and is finally no longer suffering. The type of cancer he had was just too aggressive for us to do any more treatments and his body finally gave way. He did not suffer. He simply slipped away in his sleep.
In lieu of flowers or cards, please consider donating to the fund to help offset medical expenses and, now, funeral expenses.
At a later date to be named, there will be a memorial service celebrating his life and what he meant to all of us.
Namaste,
Holly Allender Kraig

I met Don in 1990. When my first book, Ecstatic Ritual: Practical Sex Magic was published I included Modern Magick in the bibliography. Don reached out to me and wrote a letter – in those days, we wrote on paper – and thanked me for including him. That generosity characterized my entire relationship with him; I am far from alone in receiving his regard and encouragement, and it mattered a great deal to me.

In 2004 I traveled on business to Southern California frequently. I started asking Don to dinner. He was living in Venice, California, in a rent-controlled apartment right on the beach. We would walk past the T-shirt vendors and the bodybuilder equipment to the Santa Monica pier with its colorful Ferris wheel, talking about the Golden Dawn, Tantra, making a living as a writer, and just life in general. I always left those conversations feeling as if my work and opinion mattered.

He acted as my mentor in placing my first book with Llewellyn. When it was accepted, one of the times I visited his apartment, he gleefully read to me a paragraph from one of the readers who said that my book was clean and well organized. He was as happy as I was!

Venice Beach 2004

Venice Beach 2004

It was at one of those visits he showed me his work in progress, working title “Tantric Paganism”. The work seemed very important to me – I really wanted to hear what he had to say as both a Nath practitioner and a Western magician. Whenever I saw him, I would poke at him to finish the book. I sincerely hope that he finished enough of the manuscript that it might still see the light of day.

When he gave up his apartment and moved into a house farther away from the city our dinners stopped, but I continued to correspond with him (through email by now) and poke at him to finish the book, and he continued to support me as my books came out, and even to support other writers I brought to him who needed encouragement.

Every year I looked forward to talking to him at Pantheacon. The year he introduced me to Holly at the con they were so happy they lit up the room. He was always at the Llewellyn parties, talking to all the young writers as well as the people he knew.

This year at Pantheacon I realized how much we all missed him. I knew he was a grand and cheerful presence, but I didn’t realize how much we all were used to turning toward the light of his perennial good cheer and fellowship.

I am glad I got to know him. I wish I’d had more time with him. I miss him.

If you were touched by his life or work, please consider donating to his medical expense fund to offset Holly’s expenses.Go Fund Me site for Don Kraig’s expenses.

A Pagan future

Christine Hoff Kraemer and Rhyd Wildermuth have asked the question,
“As Pagans, what do we hope to build?”
Specifically, what does Paganism look like in 50 years?

That question begs an underlying one, “What does the world look like in 50 years?” I have to answer that one before I can think about how Paganism works in that world.

The Guardian reported on a NASA study looking into the future of human civilization. They’re the people who have perspective after all – some of their number fly around the world sixteen times a day. They see the great storms, they see the encroaching deserts, they see the smog clouds. Here’s the report in a nutshell:

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

So doom has gone mainstream. In a world in which resources are depleted unsustainably and wealth is increasingly distributed unequally, in which human impact has disturbed the climate and destroys the web of life, what does it mean to be Pagan?

We are already in collapse. Riots have broken out all over the world. We are extracting the last of the energy resources from the earth in awful destructive ways, tar sands, fracking. Mothers from Honduras leap onto trains heading through Mexico to the US to make money for food for their children, and their children follow, riding those same trains; all are prey for gangs and soldiers who rob, rape, beat, and kill them. And these are the last of the good days, the ones in which industrial infrastructure still works in the “developed” (colonializing) world. Possibly the worst aspect to all of this is that mainstream media and government whistle on without confirming, much less dealing with, the state of industrial collapse.

What can we expect to see in the future? This is a really important question for the magic worker. I know from my own experience that what I think about what will happen affects what will happen. We have to strike a balance between realizing what we have done and manifesting the worst possible outcome by expecting it.

In the grimmest scenarios we have already done too much damage to the planet’s ecosystem and our species is doomed to die. People awake to the possibility try to break through the denial of people who are not by repeating this imagery, but it only reinforces denial – if it doesn’t matter our best way to stay sane is to pretend it isn’t happening.

In the best scenario we wake up from what we are doing and figure out how to make a change, to save ourselves and save the web of life which sustains us.

The most critical thing we can do is to articulate our values and live by them. As a Pagan I see the divine in the world around me; it is sacred, and it is alive. The Renaissance struggle between the Church and natural philosophers which birthed mechanical philosophy lies at the root of our devaluation of matter and our inability to recognize that when we “use” it we kill it. This is not inherent in the human character; there are peoples who still work to maintain the compact between human and divine that sustains life. In Canada Idle No More brings together native women and men to literally stand in front of bulldozers.

The first thing we can do is hope. We can work magic for the outcome that we want. That means articulating the outcome we want – not just for Pagans, but for the world. Here is what I want:

  • The weather to settle into its accustomed patterns.
  • Human compassion to awaken to strengthen our bonds with each other, to confront the non-empathic and remove them from power, to create new social institutions so that every child is loved, every human is safe and fed and housed and given medical care, everywhere on the planet.
  • Technology to focus not on making a few more comfortable by continuing industrial culture, but instead to focus on repairing the damage we have done, and providing food and housing and medicine through sustainable resources and means.

My personal belief is that Pagan religion in America is the belief/religion/philosophy/cultural understanding similar to native cultures around the world. In the Pagan reverence for life, the land, the desire to understand and be closer to the gods, in centering our life on spiritual rather than material accomplishment, we find our values as well as the magic to express them.

The more we can articulate and live our values, the more we can disseminate our vision to the world, the more Pagans of any type there are, the better our chances of having a world humans can inhabit fifty years from now.

Women helping women

Women take care of the world. The best part of women’s culture is when we bond in sisterhood to support each other. This is especially important for those of use who have achieved some success. No one lives in a vacuum – we all owe a debt to those who came before us who created the world where we live in relative comfort and safety.

How can we support other women? Here are my two favorite agencies, one local and one international.

Among their many programs YWCA provides shelter for women leaving abusive situations as well as young women aging out of the foster care system. Their annual Inspire Luncheons bring together the most accomplished women (and men!) in the Northwest community to listen to speakers and share a moment of solidarity. Check out their work at YWCA Works.

Women for Women International pairs sponsors with specific women in the poorest and most violent areas of the world – Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, South Sudan – who suffer through torture and poverty. Women for Women provides a year-long course of education in reading and writing, health care, personal healing, and social organization. The education provides support for women to break away from their abusers, take care of themselves and their families, and undertake community leadership. For a donation of $30 a month a woman survivor of war learns that a sister somewhere in the world believes in her, and it’s the belief as much as the funding that changes her life. I’ve helped three women through the program so far and their gratitude is heartbreaking and inspiring. Check out their work at Women for Women International.

Pantheacon 2014

My Pantheacon schedule is finalized. Here it is:

Day Time Where What
Thursday 2/13 7:30 pm East West Bookstore The Woman Magician
Friday 2/14 3:30 pm Pantheacon, Santa Clara Pagan Theurgy
Saturday 2/15 3-4 p.m. Pantheacon, Suite 1057 Panel: Ceremonial Magick, The Way In
Sunday 2/16 3 p.m. Vendor room – Fields Bookstore Book signing
Sunday 2/16 7:00 p.m. Pantheacon, Silicon Valley The Woman Magician

New Year Shrine Visit

I take luck magic very seriously. There are two big days for collecting luck, birthdays and new years. For the past several years I’ve skipped the end-of-year parties and instead spend the night at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of North America.

Some years the drive is icy, some years rainy, last night we battled fog all the way there and back. Ted and I arrived a few minutes early, listening to the great rock songs countdown on 102.5 (all white guy music all the time).

Temizuya and shrine

Temizuya and shrine

When the gates opened we purified ourselves at the temizuya. This is a stone bowl filled with water; you pour water over your hand and rinse your mouth, preparing yourself to enter the shrine grounds.

The next step was to sign up for the ceremony. We turned in last year’s omamori, small amulets, to be burned ceremonially in mid-January. Then, time to shop! I handed my list of replacement omamori to the staff at the shrine store. In addition to protective omamri for car, pets, and family, I picked up a misfortune dispelling arrow for the family.

Next up, see what fortune the new year held in store. Here’s how it works: you shake a box until a stick with a number pops out. The staff hands you a paper with the fortune, omikuji, corresponding to the number. If it’s good fortune, horay! If it’s not-so-good fortune, you can tie the omikuji to a tree, thus diverting the bad fortune.

Averting misfortune

Averting misfortune

Even though the night wasn’t I enjoyed warming myself by the fire. Volunteers handed out soup and hearty winter tea.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Rev. Barrish beat the taiko drum summoning us all into the shrine. While the neighbors sent up fireworks, we quietly bent our heads while Rev. Barrish performed the first oharae of the new year. Afterward he said a few words about the meaning of the wood horse year and the many cycles which reset this year.

We connected with a few old friends making their first shrine visit – an auspicious night to visit! Finally we crept over the stones to the dark river, marveling at the light slanting through the woods. From that view the fire and the lit shrine seem warmly inviting.

New Year's fire!

New Year’s fire!

Visit complete, we drove home, making a ferry that had been held late. Just before reaching home at 3 am we played the greatest rock song of all time, “Stairway to Heaven.” Then we felt we had successfully brought in the new year!

Many happy beginnings to everyone in the new year.

Response to Don Kraig’s call to Golden Dawn leaders

Donald Michael Kraig has sent out a Call to the leaders of the Golden Dawn:

“If you do not support the goals and ideals of Greece’s Golden Dawn, stand up and let people know this. Members and outsiders deserve to know.”

If you haven’t been introduced to the Greek political party calling itself “Golden Dawn”, Jason Pitzl-Waters has a good round up over at Wild Hunt: Link Roundup (scroll to paragraph three). Briefly, this racist party draws on Pagan trappings on occasion, thus inviting confusion with magical Golden Dawn orders.

The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn has already made their stance clear: A Statement from The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn Against Racism.

For the record:

Sisters of Seshat is a sororal order in the Western Mystery Tradition with roots in the Golden Dawn tradition. Sisters of Seshat is in no way connected with the Greek political party Golden Dawn and does not support its goals and ideals. Our order welcomes all self-identified women regardless of religion, ethnic background, physical ability and sexual orientation.

I’m contacting local GD leaders as well.

After Stella Natura, confronting racism in the Pagan community: round-up and what’s next

The September 2013 discussion about racism and cultural appropriation in the Pagan communities centers around the festival in Northern California that is happening this weekend, Stella Natura. It is important to keep this conversation front and center even though the festival itself is presumably now over. Some of the issues turned up in this discussion include cultural appropriation, issues of privilege, and identity and belonging. These are unlikely to be fully explored in a handful of blog posts.

Quick summary of the discussion

The web site “who makes the Nazis?” published a blog post, “Anon: Fascists Rally at Stella Natura Festival”. This post surfaced the sponsorship of the festival by the Asatru Folk Assembly. The Heathen Anarchist Collective Circle Ansuz published a four-part series exploring the AFA’s fascist and racist rhetoric. Jason Pitzl-Waters chimed in with a Wild Hunt blog post, “The Asatru Folk Assembly and White Nationalism”.

Morpheus Ravenna wrote a Pagan Square blog post explaining that she wasn’t attending Stella Natura and exploring the issue of racism in Paganism. Her blog post was subsequently removed from Pagan Square, and she explained a follow-up post that she understood this was because she had called the ASA racist.

Race does not exist…

Ravenna reminded us that there is only one human race and that we are all genetically related. In particular European DNA has been so intermingled that separating out “pure” ethnic strains is not scientifically defensible. If that is so, doesn’t every human have equal claim on every human culture?

…so we all have equal rights to every culture, right?

A comment on her blog brought up the subject of cultural appropriation, which Sharon McKnight explored in her blog post “Racism and Cultural Preservation In Modern Paganism”, where she shared the story of how Hindu woman had challenged her right to worship Kali.

This is a good moment to remind us all of the wonderful collection of essays in the anthology Talking About the Elephant, Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation edited by Lupa. The anthology includes a number of nuanced and thoughtful discussions of cultural appropriation in the Pagan community.

Haven’t we taken enough?

The problem with any universalizing generalization is that it can be turned used as a tool for the continuation and perpetuation of imperialism and colonialism. If I say, “we are all one race” and then say “so every human has the right to participate in every human culture” in an effort to be inclusive, what prevents me from stepping into any culture and appropriating it?

We haven’t begun to talk about privilege much in this conversation. Race doesn’t exist, but racism does. Racism is the tool of imperialism and colonialism, creating underclasses and appropriating physical and cultural resources from those underclasses. Once we acknowledge the power differential the issue of cultural appropriation becomes much more comprehensible. As a “white” American I directly benefit from the racism of the present and the racism of the past which built wealth for my immediate ancestors on the backs of dispossessed native peoples and of servants and slaves. If I step into an indigenous culture whose lands my people have taken, and begin to imitate their folkways without invitation, I am exercising power and privilege over those people.

Any analysis of cultural appropriation which does not include an acknowledgment of privilege and power risks perpetuating colonialism. What is most egregious about white nationalist rhetoric is the failure to acknowledge privilege and the casting of “white” peoples in the role of victim. There have been ways in which I have been placed in an underclass, but it has never been because of my membership in the white world.

What do I have a right to?

First, if there is an indigenous culture that has managed to remain intact despite the best efforts of the imperialist – colonialist – industrial complex, it is my obligation to respect it, and to assist those people in the preservation of their lives and culture. Second, it is my obligation to recognize racism and its ongoing corrosive effects and to challenge it in my communities and the world.

So, if I reject the idea that the only gods I am entitled to worship are the gods of my immediate ethnic ancestors, and I wish to avoid cultural appropriation, what can I do?

Sharon Knight and John Beckett (and I am sure others) which for the idea of tribalism to explain why they have a sense of belonging in some places and with some people and not others. I don’t think I understand enough about what they mean to be able to comment on it, but I worry that it is possible to use “tribal” as a euphemism for ethnicity.

Personally, I wasn’t raised in a tribe and I don’t live in one. I live next to a tribe, and I know what that looks like, and I know that that’s not my life. I’ve participated in Pagan efforts to create tribes, but they haven’t created anything like what my neighbors have.

I was raised in a nuclear family with connections to other blood relatives who engaged in a few ethnic practices. However, my family assimilated into melting pot culture. Culturally, I am an American, and a white American. I was raised Catholic and converted to Paganism. So the ideas of tribe and religion based ethnic heritage strike me as metaphors, not part of my lived experience, and dangerously easy to use to justify white privilege.

Do we have permission?

I’ve thought a lot about Sharon Knight’s experience of being told by a Hindu that she could not worship Kali. I believe and it is my experience that the gods call who they will. Who has the right to tell me what gods I can and cannot worship?

There’s a concept among the native peoples where I live of ownership of ritual. I attend events where native songs are sung. The singers are very clear which songs we could learn if we could “catch” them, and which we (anyone not the singer) are not welcome to reproduce. Obviously if I were to learn a song I was forbidden to learn, that would be an act of cultural appropriation. I would also be appropriating culture if I were to present myself to the world as being a member of this tribe, or in some way practicing the indigenous religion. But I am specifically invited to learn the catch – it- if – you – can song. I have permission.

Have we been introduced?

My entire coven turned up at a local Buddhist temple for a White Tara empowerment. The saffron-robed monks looked at the row of us dressed all in black, blinked, said “She calls who she calls,” took our money and give us the empowerment. I have an animated image of White Tara which I pray to everyday with the mantra that they taught me.

I am a ko member of Tsubaki Grand Shrine of North America, practicing jinja Shinto. I have a shrine in my house which contains ofuda of the three main kami enshrined there. I make offerings at the shrine using the ko member book. In fact, Rev. Koichi Barrish reached out to me when I joined and specifically invited the Pagan community to participate at the shrine.

Recently I attended a Ganesh puja conducted by a Nath initiate. I have an image of Ganesh in my house to which I make offerings and chant his mantra, similarly taught to me by a Nath initiate. I don’t say I myself am a Nath, I just do the worship.

As a Witch in my first initiation I was taken to each of the four quarters of the circle and introduced there to the God and Goddess. Although there are other Witches who refuse to stand in circle with me because I didn’t have their exact initiation, I have declined to be initiated in any other line of Witchcraft, on the grounds that I have already been introduced to the gods.

While I am still working out the issue of what I can and can’t do, and I am in fact eclectic, I notice that I never question whether it is appropriate for me to engage in a tradition in which I have been trained and/or initiated, so that is at least a good start.

My guidelines

These discussions and the meditations they have sparked have led me to articulate some of my own guidelines.

  1. My ethnic heritage does not limit or determine what gods I can worship or what religion I can practice.
  2. If a culture is intact, respect it, learn it if invited, leave it alone if not. Don’t steal.
  3. If I am called to the worship of a god, try to get an introduction.
  4. If I write a ritual, I get to perform it. However it should be as original as possible or within the tradition in which I am initiated or in which I have permission to work. (See 2 above).

Where do we go from here?

This is not the time to say “We’ve done that, time to move on.” This is just the beginning of the conversation. Here are some ideas I’m going to be exploring:

  • our obligation to confront racism and the colonial legacy
  • the connection between Neo-Pagan movements and nationalist, fascist, and racist political groups in Europe and America
  • racism, imperialism, colonialism and other forms of prejudice in Western scholastic work and how drawing from those works affects our reconstructions of Pagan religion.

I’m glad to see that we have begun to have this discussion. I hope we don’t shy away from the difficult places it might take us, but continue to be honest, gentle with each other, and sincere in our desire to build inclusive community.

Reading

Stella Natura

Anon: Fascists Rally at Stella Natura Festival

Circle Ansuz, A Heathen Anarchist Collective

Jason Pitzl-Waters, The Asatru Folk Assembly and White Nationalism

Morpheus Ravenna, Whose Ancestors

Ryan Smith, Racism, Heathenry, and Frith

John Beckett, Tribalism: The Good, The Bad, and The Future

Sharon Knight, Racism and Cultural Preservation in Modern Paganism

Lupa, ed., Talking About the Elephant, Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation