Pantheacon 2015

Pantheacon 2015

Brandy Williams No Comments

Here’s where I’ll be at Pantheacon:

  • Saturday 11 am Santa Clara Lives of the Pagan Teachers
  • Saturday 7 pm San Juan/San CarlosBring Race to the Table Panel
  • Sunday 9 pm Llewellyn Mingler, Llewellyn Hospitality Suite

I’m sorry to miss the Patheos blogging event Friday at 1:30, our plane doesn’t land until 2:15.

See you there!

The working class writer

Brandy Williams No Comments

Ann Bauer’s Salon piece about how privilege aids writers challenged writers to talk about where the time and money comes from to write.

I have a full time job. When I travel, or work is heavy, it can take up my evenings and weekends too. Being White made this job much easier to get. Being a woman made it harder, but since I am a token, I am making a man’s wage. Even though the job comes with periods of high stress I appreciate that I can partially support three families with it.

I don’t have kids. I do a share of the housework, cooking, gardening, and taking care of the pets (including the chickens, technically livestock but treated more like family). I am lucky enough to live with two adults who do their share too.

I know a Black woman who has a full time job and kids who manages to crank out a lot of articles and edits anthologies. She’s written a book as well. She’s a hero – I frankly don’t know how she does it.

I respect the writers of my acquaintance who support themselves and their families with their books. I don’t know any one of them who doesn’t also augment that income with lectures, workshops, classes, and other related gigs. Unless you’re James Patterson, Stephen King or Nora Roberts, it’s hard to make money on content alone. The ability to create is increasingly a privilege of the one percent.

Let’s get real, it’s hard to integrate writing into a working class life, holding a job and caring for the house (no outsourced labor here.) It’s easier to write blog posts and articles in the little slices of time left over than to complete a book length project requiring sustained thought. I’ve managed to complete three books in three decades by working on weekends and on vacations. I assure you the book that is overdue weighs heavily on my life.

All the appearances I make are time and money drains too. I was lucky enough to have one all-expenses-paid gig in my life. Otherwise, my expenses are at best defrayed and I use up my vacation time on the events. The prep time eats up writing time too.

So here’s my privilege: I have a job, a house, and a great family. I plan to retire as soon as possible and write full time, understanding that the ability to retire is also a privilege. Under these conditions I’ve been able to do a fraction of the work that I planned to do as a young writer. I hope my health holds out long enough to finish the work I know I am meant to do. Starting with the overdue book.

Allies stepping up

Brandy Williams No Comments

In the wake of a series of brutal killings of black men by police, allies are stepping up. There are five excellent workers for justice on the board of Solar Cross . I stand with them. Join us.


Brandy Williams No Comments
  Pagan Theurgy Retreat

I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to leave my people and my cats (dog, chickens, bees, garden) and go spend another weekend in isolation. Duty drove me to leave my desk at the dot of 5 and climb into the car to make the hour and a half drive to Clallam County.

The world is so beautiful. I remembered this as I crossed the Hood Canal bridge, the water shimmering silver around the little islands. This is why we leave our homes and travel. On the pass the wind’s strong hand send clouds scudding and cars skidding. Across the pass the mountains relaxed into pleasant valleys dotted with barns.

Back porch view

Back porch view

At the store (Sunny Farms) (really) I picked up two days worth of lunch and dinner. The squashes are in, so are the cabbages, and they are ginormous, and there were little bags of candy corn by the cash register.

I realized that this is where I came in. The wheel has turned one whole round and I’m back in the season where I started the book. It’s been a year. I’m still playing out that contract, delivered a draft by deadline, now working out the edits. My editor wished me a happy writing weekend which means more than you can know if you haven’t left everyone you love to stick yourself in the echo chamber of your own mind.

I re-read the draft I made at the Labor Day vacation. It did not suck. This is immensely reassuring. Before anyone else can like what I’ve done I have to like what I’ve done. The draft, to be honest, felt like a slog, a whole lot of work squeezed into not enough time, and the prose felt dry. It’s lively now, less prosaic and more poetic. When the draft ended where I had stopped I was disappointed – wait, what next?

After a year in this house I know its little sounds, they no longer alarm me. I still wish I could bring Fiona the wonder dog along, but this very nice place belongs to a non-pet owner, so that’s out. But a warm cup of tea sends me to sleep.

In the morning the storm had passed and the Olympics came clear. There is nothing here to do but write which is the point. So I write. I’m leaning more into story as I go along and when I do my voice settles. It’s a nice feeling. Almost compensation for the absence of loved cats, and people.

Theurgy presentation notes

Brandy Williams No Comments
  Pagan Theurgy Presentations

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 – specifically dicatation

Brandy Williams No Comments

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!

Writing Retreat Recharge

Brandy Williams No Comments
  Pagan Theurgy Retreat

Having turned the latest manuscript over to the publisher for editing, I’m giving myself time to “dink around”. I’m writing pamphlets, blog posts, fiction, and other experimental pieces. I needed to knock out a set of blog posts and tried doing it at home and rediscovered why I go on writing retreats. Even when Alex and Ted leave me strictly alone, with only the occasional interruption for something urgent, there’s the cats! There’s no cutting a deal with cats. Especially Princess Ludmilla, who baps me with her paw until she gets what she wants.

So I decided to do a writing retreat and see if I can just focus on doing small pieces. I’ve been doing writing retreats for more than a decade. I used to hunt out cabins in remote places: the Cranbury Coast, Lake Cushman, Silver Lake, Westport, Long Beach, Pacific Beach, Guemes Island, Quillayute River. When I could spend a week I booked into the Whidbey Island Writers Refuge.

To knock out the latest book I needed to get away almost every weekend. Renting a cabin that often was cost prohibitive. Fortunately Ted’s mom Carol offered me the use of her house. After Ted’s dad died she moved to an assisted living apartment in Bremerton where Ted and I can see her very frequently (we take her to dinner and the theater and Nordstrom’s, because that’s how she rolls.) I bought a Costco chair and a laptop table, brought in some sheets and pillows from home, and took over her den.

I spent some time tidying up the house. Ted’s dad had left magazines virtually everywhere and I stacked them in the garage. I hired a housecleaner to come in and clean up the refrigerator and wipe the house down. After that, I took on the housekeeping chores myself, because with one person spending a small amount of time in the house there isn’t really much that happens to it. I did get cable TV, Internet, and the phone bundle from the local provider, as Carol had turned off all of those services. She had also turned off garbage and I got that back in place as well. I was introduced to the gardener/caretaker who monitors the house after he came out on a Friday and politely asked if I knew Carol! He’d forgotten that we’d met. Carol tucked a note into her monthly check to him authorizing my presence.

In the early months of the draft I was finding my voice. I don’t think a single word I wrote in the first month made it to the final draft. To get myself into the writing mood, I went for long walks, and I explored the area. This is an amazing retirement community dropped into a fully functional agricultural ecosystem. Houses with big views are tucked in among fields of cows. . There is a 10 mile food shed furnishing almost everything you’d need to cook – vegetables, meat, diary, flour – and retired folks eager for decent restaurants. I ate lunch and dinner at every eatery with a local food connection. I went to the First Friday Art walk, I joined the local museum, I poked around the little downtown shops.

As I gained traction in the writing I did less recreating. I would drive out on Friday, read what I had written in the previous weekend, wake up on Saturday and draft until I fell over into the bed, get up on Sunday and draft to the end of the section, and then drive home. The winter weather was conducive to staying indoors – it was cold, rainy, and dark. I edited the manuscript in pretty much the same way.

So this weekend was a reset in the writing process. I have been out here in a month. Dire things have happened to the house in the meantime – it had sprung a leak and needed to be repaired. Also the Internet router had reset itself needing to be reconfigured. I spent Friday night managing these things.

I slept in on Saturday and woke up moving very slowly. I live with two retired guys and I know the truism that it takes two years to recover from the sleep deprivation of American working life plays out in practice. I didn’t hear the words in my head. When I write, I am really rather taking dictation, and I wake up with that dictation already flowing. On workdays the thoughts vanish under the present I can just get up and start recording. On writing retreats I get up and start recording.

I have a lot of thoughts and no focus. So I went into town. I ate at nourish, a local food restaurant in the old Herb Farm. I went to the art museum and checked out the photos of Ross Hamilton in a 14 year retrospective. I took pictures of local food outlets for my food blog.

I drove down Dungeness Landing and took pictures of a young bald eagle and the lighthouse in the distance. When I found myself cruising past the Dungeness Cemetery I recalled that Ross Hamilton had said it has the best view of Sequim-Dungeness Valley. It’s a lovely place.

So it wasn’t a production weekend, but I got some material, recharged my batteries, and made space for the creative process. Which is what dinking around really means.

Remembering Don Kraig

Brandy Williams No Comments

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.
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

Brandy Williams 2 comments
  Ally Magia Humana

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

Brandy Williams No Comments
  Ally Gender

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.