Monday, June 4, 2012


In my blog Hopeful Homeschooling, I wrote about reading the book of Genesis to my son and our conversation about dominionism. 

In politics, dominionism is a term applying to groups of conservative Christians who are doing whatever they can to shift our government to one that is run by conservative Christians according to a conservative interpretation of the Bible.  I've always found it incredibly difficult to relate to these ideals, and some people are very concerned

While reading to my son Genesis 1:26, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth,"

It finally hit me - how the words in this one small part of the Bible - the book of Genesis - relate to everything that the conservative Christians stand for - from denying global warming to opposing equal rights for gay people. 

Some of the more liberal Christians tend to see dominionism as stewardship.  This refreshing viewpoint can be found in the Christian book, Eco-Spirituality: Toward a Reverent Life by Charles Cummings.

He writes:  "There have been several attempts to reinterpret what Genesis says about subduing and mastering the earth.  Interpretations that would justify unrestricted exploitation are no longer fashionable.  As ecologist Jeremy Rifkin puts it: 'We have misread our mandate.  We believed that to have dominion meant to exert power, to control, to dominate.'  Domination was a typically masculine or patriarchal explanation.  Domination has led us to devastation."

Clearly not all Christians believe that the earth exists solely for exploitation by humans.

Personally, I don't try to reinterpret the Bible.  I don't try to make it fit modern times so that it can be relevant in my life.  It's  a collection of ancient essays that have survived into modern times.  It seems obvious that there have been many essays, many conversations about cultural norms, social mores, origin stories, accounts of historical events and spiritual beliefs in every culture and every age.  Most of these are lost.  Of those that remain, the Bible is the most accessible, so it's no wonder that many people believe that it's the only one that is relevant.  The works of the Bible are a part of these ancient conversations but certainly not all of them.   They give us a narrow glimpse into human thought and culture of a specific group of people in their time.  The glimpse is distorted because we don't know how many conflicting views were lost or never written.  Due to translations by monks and edits by kings, the glimpse is further distorted.  As a result, we will never really know what people truly thought and believed in Biblical times.

As I read the Bible, I am aware of the layers of storytelling.  Like the game of "gossip," where a group of people sit in a circle, and one person starts by whispering in the ear of the person next to them, by the time I read the words of the Bible I am aware that the original message is lost.  The story that remains is the basis for the beliefs of a group of people today.  The Bible helps me to understand today's modern Christians far more than it helps me to understand God.

As with any conversation, I try to read the Bible with a listening ear.  As I listen, I try to understand with compassion and empathy.  I read it as a conversation - this is where we agree.  This is where we disagree.  This is where we can find similarities.  And here are our differences.  It's all good.  Yet for me, it's not particularly relevant as a guidebook to how I live my life. 

It can be baffling to contemplate the mental gymnastics a person needs to go through in order to conform with a literal interpretation of the Bible or any other holy book.  They ignore the evidence in the world around them and believe the words in a book instead.   In my view, lack  of evidence is not proof that there is no God, (in this context "God" is a universal term and doesn't imply any particular religious or spiritual belief,) but I don't take the Bible as proof that the world was created in seven days.  A day is a revolution of the earth.  Prior to the creation of this planet, how long was a day and how was it measured?  Science and spirituality are mutually exclusive disciplines.

On my fifteenth Christmas, my  beloved grandparents gave me a beautiful leather bound edition of the King James Bible, with delicate parchment pages edged in gold.  Before then, I had attended church and Sunday school, had read a paperback version of the New Testament, but had never really sat down and read the Bible.  I dutifully read it, cover to cover, and found that it was filled the contradictions and illogical statements.  Worse, many of the words raised troubling conflicts between the cold paternalistic moral paradigm represented therein and my inner beliefs in love, caring for others, equality and respect.  Little did my dear, faithful Christian grandparents know that the gift of this holy book would bring the first step in my journey away from the Christian church.  I loved my grandparents very much and I still treasure that Bible, but their faith was never enough for me.

I believe that we are in a relationship with the earth, but it is not a relationship of dominion or power over the earth.  We are made of the earth.  We are formed from it.  If anything the earth is our mother.  This planet was formed from stardust and our species evolved here as a result of a dance between the sun and the earth which could be compared to the mating of male and female to form a child.

According to Encarta, Dominion is defined as:
1. ruling control: ruling power, authority, or control
2. sphere of influence: somebody's area of influence or control
3. land ruled: the land governed by a ruler ( often used in the plural )
"the monarch's dominions beyond the sea"
4. self-governing territory: a self-governing part of the British Commonwealth or, formerly, the British Empire

We humans do have dominion over our own destiny, over our choices and values.  Each of us is a world, and we have control over our own world.  But we better serve ourselves when we also respect the sovereignty of others.  This idea of each person being unique, having dominon over their own choices while respecting the choices of others is at the foundation of my views on civil rights.  The authors of the book of Genesis had never heard of civil rights as we know them today.

In my view, the idea of of dominionism as it comes from the Book of Genesis came from the mind of men still in an immature stage of our development as a species.  Worse, the perpetuation of these ideas has caused considerable harm to mankind and our environment.  Thankfully, we have free will.  We can choose. And we do.  Hopefully enough of us will choose a better world, regardless of our faith.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Goddess Perpetuations

The following is a repost that bears repeating:

 Goddess Perpetuations

   Sun, December 14, 2008 - 10:01 PM
Karen Tate, author of "Sacred Places of Goddess, 108 Destination," had the following on her blog recently. It's a quote from her latest book.

Goddess Perpetuations for Daily Living
Submitted by Karen Tate on Fri, 02/29/2008 - 4:39pm.

1. I strive to be in service rather than in power. With service comes humility and care. With power comes corruption.
2. I strive to live in harmony with Nature.
3. I strive to employ kindness and compassion as well as ethics and integrity.
4. I strive to be strong, tenacious and assertive, using force as a last resort, and then only tempered by wisdom, care, and discernment.
5. I strive to be accountable and responsible for my actions and expect the same of others.
6. I strive to not be influenced by power and greed.
7. I strive to be generous, supportive and nurturing.
8. I strive to work in partnership with others to create mutually beneficial relationships and associations.
9. I strive to perpetuate positive thoughts and practice life-affirming actions, knowing that what I put forth will return to me.
10. I strive to be aware I am a thread in the web of life, a microcosm of the macrocosm, and as such I affect others.
11. I strive for equality and human rights for all, no matter one's sexual orientation, race, religion or gender.
12. I strive to seek the beauty, joy and pleasures of life.
13. I strive to be grateful and know abundance, with no fear of scarcity.
14. I strive to know myself.
15. I strive to embrace diversity and tolerance for in Goddess' many faces, skin colors, sizes and shapes I see richness and have no fear.
16. I strive to honor all living things, including myself, and seek to harm none.
17. I strive to see the Divine in myself and all things, including the mundane.
18. I strive to recognize there is no one way to define, embrace or worship the Divine.
19. I strive to seek my own best path to the Divine.
20. I strive to be one with the Divine.

By: Rev. Karen Tate
Excerpted from Walking An Ancient Path: Rebirthing Goddess on Planet Earth
Endorsed by the Joseph Campbell Foundation and finalist in the National USA Best Books of 2008 in the General Spirituality Category

Friday, May 11, 2012

MY Mayfire Experience 2012

I hesitated to post this, because it is so personal.  Then I decided to do it anyway.  To hell with it.  

Sometimes when completely immersed in the mundane world of child rearing and being a caregiver of a disabled and medically dependent child, homeschooling, the stress of a tight household budget, home upkeep, marriage, politics and trying to start up a small handcrafted soap-making business while careening into midlife, it's hard to remember why I sometimes like to spend three entire nights with a large group of people moving rhythmically around a fire to the sound of drums and chanting in the middle of the desert.

Yes, that was one sentence.   But it's all true.

As the weekend of Mayfire approaches, doubt, anxiety and negative self-talk creep in.  I tell myself all of the reasons I shouldn't go:

Staying up all night moving around a circle?  At my age?

Seriously.  Why on earth would a middle-aged mom want to do something that crazy?

A responsible woman doesn't spend hard earned funds on such a thing when the bathroom needs repair and the kid needs braces and homeschool curriculum.  A respectable woman doesn't put on harem pants and twirl around with a red veil at two o'clock in the morning.  And all that singing!  Worse yet, dancing!  Who the hell do I think I am?

They'll laugh.  And they should because it's ridiculous.  I'm not one of those "cool" people, with the looks and the talent and the moves.  I don't belong there.

Not to mention the time.  Taking off three days when the youngest always needs to be educated and the house always needs to be cleaned?  Don't responsible people do all their work first, THEN play? 

I haven't prepared anything, no offerings for the fire, no new chants.  My voice and body are out of shape, and I haven't been doing the alchemical work.  It's like a kid showing up for school without having done the homework or studying for the test.

And besides, I have children and a husband.  I can either drag them along or go without them, but either way I'm being selfish.

Speaking of kids, what if our special needs son behaves in socially inappropriate ways?  He sometimes has meltdowns and has difficulty controlling himself.  What if he is disruptive?  What if we have to remove him from the area?  What if he wanders off to find the restroom and gets lost in the dark or falls and gets hurt?  And besides, in our case it's impossible to parent while co-creating with the fire community, so I won't be contributing and participating at the levels that the others will be.  It might be better if we don't go.

I'm having minor structural health problems, and sometimes walk with a slight limp.  What if I can't endure the conditions?  Perhaps I should stay home.

And so it goes, in my head, this anxious little hell I make for myself.

The truth is that I am not resisting because fire circles are frivolous.  I am resisting because they are transformative and healing.  Self care is such a challenge for me.  All that poisonous negative self talk is exactly why I need to go.  It's time to give it to the fire.  The fire will take it and transform it.

My husband is wonderful.  He knows me.  He says, "You should go.  We should go."  He arranges to take time off.  He goes to the site ahead of time and sets up our tent.  Our friends are wonderful too.  They make it possible for us to pitch our tent within view of the fire circle so that we can keep an eye on the children through the night.  I am in awe of the kindness and generosity of these amazing, beautiful people.

The first day arrives and I want to be unobtrusive, like a shy kid at a new school.  I want to hang back, go unnoticed.  It's embarrassing that I still find social interaction so challenging.  It's a secret I prefer to keep hidden.  In my attempt to hide my anxiety, I hang back, put up walls, reject connection.  I worry that it seems cold and unfriendly.  Inside my head, I am overwhelmed.

In the beginning, someone mentions that this is an ordeal.  For me, the ordeal isn't working around the sacred fire for three nights.  The ordeal is just getting there, showing up, and staying with it.

The first night around the fire circle, despite hearing words of welcome, I feel like a fraud or an imposter.  These are irrational thoughts from a person who has been at this for 15 years.

Moving around the fire in time to drum beats has a hypnotic effect.  It's a time of day when many are usually sleeping, which heightens it.  At times we are moving around the circle and at other times we are nested in our camp chairs outside the ring of prayer flags, resting while the music washes over us.  Still other times I'm in the tent where it's a bit warmer, holding one of my sons in my arms as he sleeps, and I hear magical melodies weaving around us like a musical blanket. Even inside the tent, it seems as though we are inside the crucible.

At one point someone plays an achingly beautiful melody, and someone begins to chant, "I become my highest vision," and someone else joins in, and someone else, the voices harmonizing beautifully, weaving together and moving and swelling like waves on water.  In that moment I realize, "This is it.  This is why I am here."  I can imagine it, dreaming of my highest vision and then becoming that, little by little, day by day.  The vision is within reach.

At another time, as I lay back on a reclining camp chair outside the prayer flags, I turned my head so the ear is parallel to the ground, and could hear the sounds of drumming and chanting bouncing off the canyon walls, multiplied a hundred times, a cacophony of ghostly voices.   It sounded as though there were several pow wows all around us far off in the distance.  When I sat up I could only hear our circle, no matter how carefully I listened.  Later I wonder if I really heard that sound or if I dreamed it.

From the nest I see my husband, blissfully drumming, or stepping in the track in time to the drumbeats.  He seems so calm and centered and my heart swells to think of what we've come through together and how much I love him.

I told our youngest son that he can sleep all night in the tent if he prefers, or he can join us in the circle.  It's entirely up to him.  I do not want to place any expectations on him, because our spirituality is about freedom and he is so eager to please.  One night I looked behind me and to my surprise there he is, standing with us.  He walks around the fire for hours until it's very late, and then joins us to celebrate the sunrise after a short nap.  I try to explain to him, in the simplest terms I can think of, why we do this.  For transformation.  To connect with spirit.  To transcend the material world.  He says, "Mom, I've known this for years."  He's eleven years old.

By the third night, the positive effects of the magical working begin to take hold.   I feel the resistance melting away.  Negative thoughts bubble up and I see them for what they are.  Illusions.  I release them and they are gone.  Just like that.

My son with special needs tumbles out of the tent, fresh from a full night's sleep, enthusiastically sharing his puppet "Dr. Woofie" to anyone who will interact with him.  Again I am amazed at the kindness and generosity of people who are willing to stop in the middle of what they are doing, after being up all night, to be present with this child.

Bit by bit, the illusions of separation melt away.  The anxieties begin to fade.  I almost feel like my old self again.  What was I so afraid of?

A strange thing has been gradually happening to me in the past few years.  I have become so deeply immersed in the role of wife, mother, advocate of a special needs child, so involved in the needs and expectations of the most important people of my life that I feel as if I have lost touch with the essence of who I am separate from how I am experienced by those I love.  I know there is a still space in my center, a place deep inside of me that holds who I am, and no matter how chaotic life is, no matter the demands and roles placed on me, that True Self is still there, waiting.  But I haven't been there in a while and I haven't been faithful to myself.  The longer I wait, the harder it becomes to find it again.  The more I lose contact with this deeper part of myself, the harder it is to authentically connect with others.  I have walled myself in while locking myself out.

At one point we are given a magical talisman, a beautiful key carved of bone, and we are asked what we will use it for.  I say, " I will use this key to tear down the walls I build around myself."  Later I will add, "and use it to unlock my inner door."  The fact is, to the small circle of people I serve daily, I must include one additional person.

All of these pieces of me, some apparent and some hidden, some developed and some inert - wife, mother-teacher-mentor-protector, dowdy middle-aged woman, craftswoman, witch, and more - all these things dissolve together and form an alloy.  The walls are coming down.

After we broke camp and returned home, I thought, "I can wear harem pants and a red veil whenever I want to."  The fact is, I DO want to.   But that's not why I want to return to the fire,  again and again.  It's not the exterior image.  It's all about the work.

Mayfire is an annual all-night alchemical fire circle event put on by the Vegas Vortex at the Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada.  The alchemical fire circle experience is a gift of spirit.  I have no idea what battles the other participants are fighting in their daily lives.  Some may go to work magick, overcome obstacles, or to express joy, and others may go simply because it's a rare and beautiful experience.  Regardless of your reason, if you feel called to go, check out one of the many fire circles taking place around the country.  Just go.  

For more information, go to

Friday, January 6, 2012

Barge of Heaven

I've been living with a disconnect: My earth-based spirituality is influenced by the agricultural cycles of a different ecosystem than the one in which I live, and by customs originating from hundreds of years ago on another continent. My heart and ideals are in a mythical place with four distinct seasons and an agrarian culture. I dream about sustainability, organic produce grown locally, permaculture and community gardens. I prefer the cool shade of indoors to summer daytime heat. Conversely, I live in the Mojave desert of the western USA, where the temperatures can soar to the triple digits four months out of the year and can drop below freezing in winter. The alkali soil is not well-suited for cultivation of much more than succulents, the Joshua tree and creosote bush.

Once a friend asked how I connect with the earth, in this place, right here. I was startled and avoided the question. I connect with the moist, springy, cool earth of the British Isles, and with the dry, clean, harsh, yet fertile Rocky Mountains. I've never managed to cultivate a connection to the dirt beneath my feet here.

I came by this honestly. My grandmother on my mother's side was full Irish American, and proud of her heritage. As an adult I became curious about the ancient tribes and people of Western Europe and the British Isles. I read about the Celts, the Picts, Saxons, and the Jutes. This wasn't a disciplined, academic study. It was more like a fascination. I was particularly interested in what little is known about the religions of these people. I don't recall where I read this, but somewhere I came across a suggestion that if one is interested in understanding the religions of the ancient Europeans, look to modern NeoPaganism and Wicca for clues. It was from there that I found a copy of "The Spiral Dance" by Starhawk, which led to books by people like Pauline Campanelli, who writes of a deep and direct connection between local cycles, seasons, magick and divinity. The words of these authors resonate with me - but they live in a different plant hardiness zone.

The symbols of this ideal inform my spirituality: the maypole, the corn dolly, the yule log and all the rest. At Spring Equinox rituals with a local Pagan group, we planted seeds symbolizing our intentions. Of course, my little pot of seeds never grew into an actual plant, but it didn't matter because I was interested in growth on another plane. At the Fall Equinox we heaped the altar with fresh vegetables intended to symbolize our inner harvest of spiritual and personal growth. These vegetables are mostly trucked in from out of the region where we live. There is a small amount of local produce available, but the effort to find it doesn't seem worthwhile. A friend said she couldn't relate to a harvest festival in a place where little grows. I couldn't relate to a different spiritual paradigm and stubbornly clung to my ideal.

But there were early people in desert climates too. I came here over thirty years ago because there happened to be more jobs advertized here than the other places under consideration. Once here, moving away proved expensive and impractical. Perhaps this also happened to ancient people - wandering into a place where there seemed to be plenty of resources, only to find that at times the climate can be harsh and unlivable. Possibly some moved on, others stayed and adapted.

One year, we did try to grow a garden behind our home. We planted too much, too late, without researching or planning. It was a disaster. What wasn't decimated by aphids withered in the heat. This year, we are going to try again, but on a much smaller scale. It will be a small container garden, efficiently watered with an automatic system using a float ball and valve. Each plant will be researched for the correct planting and harvesting time in this region. Soil quality and pests will be managed. Perhaps we will find success with heat resistant plants, but if the garden must go dormant in summer, fine. We might harvest in early summer and again in midwinter.

I can never forgo the maypole, the dyed eggs of spring, the jack o lantern, and the yule log. But I might cultivate an interest in Mesopotamian poetry, and find a way to be connected to the earth through an irrigated desert garden. It is possible to find fertility here. There is a song called "Barge of Heaven" recorded by the Pagan group Reclaiming, from the tradition by the same name. It's on a cd called "Second Chants: More Ritual Music from Reclaiming & Friends." The lyrics come from a Sumerian poem translated by Thorkild Jacobsen.

Your crescent shaped barge of heaven
So well belayed, so well belayed
Full of loveliness like the new moon
Your fertile fields well-watered
Hillock lands well watered too
At your mighty rising
The vines rise up and the fields rise up
And the desert fills with green
Just like a living garden
In the heat of the sun, you are the shade
A well of water in a dry, dry land
Swelling fruits to feed the hungry
Sweet cream to quench our thirst
Pour it out for me, pour it out for me
Everything you send me I will drink.