Saturday, May 25, 2013

Incoming Message from the Big Giant Head....

So I have this crazy habit of going into thrift stores when I get the chance.  Wandering through the junk stores with a friend of mine, I found this concrete head.

Here's a pic of the head itself, and here's the bottom.  I don't know if it's an 'artist' signature, or what, but if he was yours, well...he's headed elsewhere now.  To a good home, someone who knows about that kind of stuff, so be happy for him...

When we first picked this up, I was sad.  Because to me, this was something deeply spiritual to someone that wound up in a thrift  store.  In fact, my imagination wandered to the idea that perhaps the owner died, and all their things were shuffled to this place.  Or maybe they put this guy in storage or were kicked out of their home, and all their belongings were dumped at some charitable place.

At first, I was a apprehensive to bring something I didn't know about into my home - I mean, kind of hard to bring in wayward spirits, right?  So we left, and I felt kind of guilty.  I don't know if it was just because I realized that it was something cherished and abandoned, or if perhaps whatever wayward spirit is attached to that head made me feel that way.  It felt sad and lonely and I left it anyway.

After a few conversations and posting this poor picture on Facebook, a net-friend volunteered to take it in and work his juju or whatever.  Hopefully, he'll figure out exactly what it is and help out.  So the next day, on his way here, I convince my friend to swing by the thrift store and buy the poor head and bring it home.  The net-friend told me that generally if it's Elegba (or Elegua or who), that he generally 'gets fed' tobacco and rum.  After informing me, looking at the head, it looked rather dirty and covered in what almost looks like chew-spit.  Gross, huh?  So I start cleaning it.

Now I don't know if it's my OCD/ADD kicking in, but I'm already to the point of asking what colors to use, because his pot's ugly and I need to paint it.  I'm texting this on my way to Spec's, to pick up rum and cigars.

"NOOOO!!!" comes the consensus.  DON'T FEED IT.

And I'm not feed after midnight....

The idea is that if I 'feed it' (give it offerings), it might want to stay.  So....basically just clean him off, pack him up and ship him out.  (Because if not, I need to be taught the real caring and feeding of such a spirit, and apparently the training for that is a lot of time and money invested....neither of which I have to spare).

But I marvel at the idea this thing comes into my home, and there I am, at the liquor store, picking up cigars and booze like I'm entertaining a house guest.

I was told..."Think teenagers.  They'll want to stick around if they know you're gonna give 'em food."

I was also given this thought:

"Elegua head=Santeria. Lucero head=Palo. Both traditions are from Cuba and there can be overlap, but Palo derives mainly from Congolese traditions while Santeria (Lucumi) is Yoruban."

Actually, the impression I got was of a darker caramel black man, a little older than me, laid back, and just easy-going.  "Hey...would you mind...?"

Anyway, I pack up the head, give him a fifth of rum and some cigars for the road, and he's all ready to ship after Monday.  Hopefully, the promise of tobacco and rum at the end of his trip will placate him.

Yeah, it's the weird, random stuff I do.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Houston Pagan Conference 2013

Catching wind of something going on in Houston for pagans, something really big, my ears perked to hear Houston Pagan Conference.  Looking for something in and around Houston, only three words came to mind for me:

"About damn time."

Houston covers over six hundred square miles, has millions in its population and surrounding areas, and is the largest port city in the United States.  Based those numbers, I would have the inclination to believe that there has to be a large pagan populace.

A pagan group from Conroe, Tx, Blackberry Circle  (a recognized non-profit organization) had a vision to bring together pagans from all paths, helping to unite the local community.  This concept was concieved in 2011, and the coven struggled with finding a venue for its outlet.  Every time the words 'Houston Pagan Conference' were uttered, doors slammed shut.  Once venues figured out what this group had planned, no matter how hard they struggled with dates, places became suddenly 'unavailable'.  Being a solitary group with not only a vision but acting upon that vision, they were getting a bit disheartened.  Someone mentioned to them the UU church, and once contacted, Northwoods welcomed them with open arms.

So on the north side of Houston, in a place called The Woodlands, there was a small church nestled beneath a canopy of thick, green trees.  This church, the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church kindly allowed a small group of happy pagans to gather within (and without) its walls.

We arrived early, due to a triathlon which was being held nearby, to see many others had also done so.  Vendors scrambled in the early morning light to open canopies and haul merchandise up a flight of stairs. I always find this heart-lifting, watching the vendors, because every time a new group of vendors arrives, a few of the other vendor groups break off to help people they have never met unload their tables and open their canopies.

As I watched vendors and helped relay information, the staff of Blackberry Circle moved through the fray, directing individuals and answering questions on their set-up.  This is always a good thing, and I have yet to see any of that group act anything less than a cohesive unit.  Questions get asked, messages get relayed, but I have never seen any hint of dissension - everyone knows their job, or they lend in a hand.  The more people you add, and I swear, the more they smile.  Sometimes it could be nervously, but  they are excited about what they are doing.  More people flitted in among the trees and gathered in the shady places in front of the church, ready to hear words of wisdom and find fellowship with like minds.

For the staff of ten coven members and two volunteers, the event was rather fast-paced.  The Spiral Scouts (Guardians Circle #312) were there, and the members cheerfully took on children from the event with entertainment and crafts while their parents listened in on the lectures.  Rick Fairchild, contact for the local #312 circle spoke of the co-ed international all-faiths organization.

For the attendees, some came and went, listening to various speakers on other faiths. Northwoods' very own Reverend Ellen Cooper-Davis led the lectures, offering many beautiful thoughts on the Divine.  "The Divine is a verb, a process, and the Unfolding of the Universe," she spoke.

"Miracles are everywhere.  The problem is that we keep calling them miraculous," said Reverend Ellen.  "The Divine is never away.  Divine is not limited to specific days, or rituals, or books; it is every moment, every choice, every interaction of the relationship of the world."

Debra Davis lectured on Buddhism and the connectivity of all things.  Kaleen Reed, Sumerian priestess, spoke on living a good life, that "your name be known for 5000 years". John R. Nelson spoke of the death and rebirth of magic in the Western Culture.  "There is still more of the mysterious out there than all of what we truly know," he remarked.  Tess Bennett, acting sound engineer for the event, even spoke of her experiences in finding her path and the C.U.U.P.s program being started at Northwoods.

Last but certainly not least, Raven Grimassi stood and spoke on Greenwood magic and the organic memory of the earth.  He graciously posed for pictures and signed copies of books.  

It was exactly what you would expect from a pagan gathering, minus the petty little things that can happen with large groups.  These people came together in spirit and purpose, sharing their knowledge and experience.  They were from different creeds, as happens in the pagan community, and learned more about one another through these lectures and conversations.  The group that came with me had a remarkable time, even the kiddoes.  It was fun, fast, and exhausting, leaving a sense of elation and eagerness for more to come.  It was a first for many of those that hosted this event, which then becomes a learning process.  There was no evidence of any real glitches, everything went along swimmingly and people came and went as they pleased.

I was fortunate enough to attend this event, and pleased to be asked to review it.  If this kind of amazing event can be put on by a group of ten people, what kind of event would it be if we had more leaders in the Houston pagan community step up and take part, take action?  I challenge you, especially the Houston pagan community, to come forth and create this kind of event in your community.  Not matter what challenges are faced, they can be overcome, just like Blackberry Circle did.  It is time for the pagan community to step up, to be strong, and create events of education and public awareness.

- Kathy Swords-Capen and
James P. Walley

Among the Greenwood

Raven Grimassi, a well-known writer on witchcraft and magic throughout the world, kindly accepted the invitation to speak at the first ever Houston Pagan Conference, hosted by Blackberry Circle.

Raven is an accomplished writer in the pagan community, having published over 17 books on witchcraft and Wicca, served as editor and writer for pagan magazines, and  even receiving prestigious awards for his works (Book of the Year and First Place -Spirituality Book by the Colition of Visionary Retailers in 1998, The Wiccan Mysteries).   His experience and teachings have spanned 45 magical years in ritual, witchcraft, and the occult.  He created the Aridian and Arician tradition, is currently co-director of the Fellowship of the Pentacle and co-directing Elder of the Oak, Ash and Willow tradition.  

He came to this gathering to lecture on Greenwood magic.  I was able to meet him and Stephanie Taylor, his wife, before hand. At first, you might think that he was dressed to go out to a rock-concert.  He wore black jeans, black boots, a beaded amber and jet pendant, and acid-washed cloudy grey shirt sporting a raven (marvelous) with a top hat, holding and perched on  black, thorny roses and what looks like red blood splatter subtly accenting the red roses on  the front.  His hair is past his collar, black, and he sports facial hair in a style that is lightly Frank Zappa, save with a bit of a beard.  His voice is quiet, and his presence is peaceful.  Some might be surprised at this unassuming, soft-spoken man, who lives a magical life which touches the hearts of many.

When I was first asked to do this interview, I knew very little about Raven Grimassi, save for he was a modern writer and had an affinity for Italian witchcraft.  I began to ask around, to see if anyone had more than heard of this man, and some of the best responses were summed up in six words: "the real deal" and "down to earth", generally described by the people I had asked who'd met him as an individual who was living his path.  Researching gave way to show that he pursued many different types of magic, and in all of these journeys, there appears a thirst for knowledge and understanding.

And here we have the lecture.

He was the 'last man standing', the final speaker, and expected to fill two hours on his chosen topic. Up to the challenge, he covered a lot of key ideas from his newest book, Old World Witchcraft, which deals with plant life on a fundamental, communicative level.  He spoke of the positive and negative effects your words have on water, and how plants communicate chemically with the world around them, illustrating the fundamental principles of how magic and science are intricately entwined. His manner was easy, his words clear. 

After mentioning a particular god, there was a moment when the feedback was so intense, the power actually flickered.  It was taken in stride and good humor.

Moments of awe and humor struck the audience.  Between shuffling mandrake roots and using the character Father Guido Sarducci to illustrate a point (Fifty Cents adds up!), the talk was well received and enjoyed. So after a breather, after packing up and shutting down the Conference, Raven took a moment with me in the main chapel of the Northwoods Unitarian Universal Church to answer a few questions I came up with for a short interview.

Kathy: You have your hand in your community with your shop, your teachings and your events.  You are a prolific writer in the pagan community.  How do you feel you have impacted the pagan community?

Raven: I would like to think that I've given people things to think about.  That they can compare. Whether my teachings have been enlightening or whether just made people realize that's not really where they wanted to go, or made them stronger where they were already at, or made them want to follow another path; I think that's a service too.  Even if you're not what they're looking for or you don't have what they're looking for, if your teachings can point them somewhere else, I think that's useful.  I like to believe that I've had an impact, if any, in service to people through what I like to share.

Kathy: Obviously, you know you have influence in the pagan community.  And when you think about how people respond - "This isn't me," or "This is really me," can you think of any real manifestation?  An instance which really stands out?

Raven: I don't really think of myself as having an impact on the pagan community.  That's not where I come from - that I'm influential.  I just think I'm one of the gang, basically, sharing what I share.  If that's influential, cool.  But occasionally, there are things that I see when something was very positive. I remember a particular incident when I was giving a talk at Pantheacon and I was doing a talk on Wicca. It was a pretty basic talk, just sort of outlining the path at the time.  I'd been involved with Wicca for a couple of decades at least.  

So I'm up there giving my talk, talking about my experiences, and I was in a low period at the time.  I was trying to re-think why I do what I do, if it's worthwhile, if I'm doing any good - you know, everyone gets into these head spaces. 

When I'm done with the talk and I'm leaving, this young girl in her early twenties comes up to me and says, "I want to thank you."  

I said, "Thank me for what?"

"Well, I'm investigating the path of Wicca," she said.  "I've been looking into other religions and I'm looking for a path, so I thought I'd come to this talk and hear about it."  She said, "You know, you talked about how many years you'd been involved in Wicca, and you seemed so passionate, so joyful about it that I thought, Geez...after all these years, this guy still feels that way about his path then this must really be a good path."

I looked at her and said, "Wow.  Thank you."

She said, "What for?"

I said, "Because you helped me remember why I do what I do.  It's for you.  It's for people who get something out of it."  That's the biggest compliment you can get as an author.  That someone was inspired, moved, or touched by something you wrote.

Kathy:  That's very cool.  

Of your magical career, what do you think has been your greatest achievement?

Raven: Probably that I just kept it together all these years.

(We both laughed.)

Stephanie and I have talked about this in the past.  We live a magical life, meaning we live in the philosophy of the old ways.  We rarely preform formal acts of magic, or magic intended to create a specific response because we feel that our lives are the response.  We live each day in our philosophy.  So I don't know.  I don't think of magic as something I accomplish so much as something I do, something that I've experienced and lived. Certainly all of the people that I have had the opportunities to meet, communities that have invited me into them maybe because I wrote a book, had a talk on magic, or something they thought would be interesting to include in the community.  I would have to say the relationships I've formed with individuals and communities is a magical thing.  It wasn't something I set out intentionally to do, but perhaps living magic is its own manifestation.

Kathy: You did an interview with Ben Graugach and you stated, "I think our greatest challenge is an alliance of the tribes."  What is your best advice to those who wish to rise to this challenge?

That's always been the challenge.  I entered the Craft community many, many years ago.  The summer of 1969. I was a teenager.  And it's funny....the fighting, the "in" wars, the bickering, the one-ups-manship, the shunning - all that is still here.  I think it's kept us from growing. A lot of people speak about unity through diversity, accepting the diversity and accepting everyone else.  People give a lot of lip service to that.  More give lip service to it than actually embrace it, I think, because it's still the same.  

I had somebody call me up from San Diego a few years ago, a community leader in their thirties.  They called me thinking that since I'd been around longer, that I would have this wisdom, that I could tell them how to fix their community.

And so she called me, and I said, "Tell me what's happened.  What's going on?"  So she spoke to me for about an hour, about all the problems and stuff.  So then she said, "Can you help me with that?"

Well, I said, "You know what?  The conversation I just had, and all the things you've shared with me is the same conversations I've had in the 1990s, the 1980s, and the 1970s.  That dialogue has not changed.  I wish I could tell you how to fix it in your community.  But until people stop looking at the things that separate us and getting involved in the things that separate us.  Until they stop doing that and turn to the things that make us the same, we're never going to fix this."

Kathy: People always ask you to give advice to those who are beginning, or to the elders.  Do you have any advice to those in between?  The lone initiates or solitaries who do not feel they are elders, but cannot really be called beginners?  Those already exploring?

That is a lonely path, and I sure have had episode where I have felt cut off and isolated myself from time to time.  The only thing that you can really do is remember why it is you do what you do, and that it's about your spiritual path and your connection to Deity and the veneration you want to give.  The things that you connect with.  Be content in the being.  Don't look for expectations or rewards, and never feel isolated.  This is something I have shared with people who have been down from time to time, is that even though we feel we are walking alone, we never really are.  The spirits, the Old Gods, the entities around us are constantly companions and are constantly with us on the walk.  We are never really alone.  I think it's really about focusing on what it is you want to be, and owning that within yourself.  That's what you do when you're in between the beginning and whatever this 'ultimate thing' might be.

Kathy: Do you have any projects or books upcoming that you would like to share?

I just finished a manuscript, which is going to be grimoire of Old Ways magic.  A lot of it is about working with plant spirits and working with tools that are connected to the plant kingdom, like the mortar and pestle for example.  It's the most hands-on book I've ever written.  When I write books, I tend to mix a little history, a little philosophy, a little lore.  And I don't have as many practical things in the book, I have more philosophical things.  But this one is a complete reverse.  This one is about 80% hands-on, practical and 20% sharing lore.

Kathy:   My last question is for a specific reader of mine.

The Cauldron of Memory, your book.  How did it come to be?  What inspired you to write it?

Raven:  That is an interesting question, because that book was a pivotal switch for me from the types of books I was writing before.

I had the honor of studying under R. J. Stewart, the scottish author, and he works very closely with the faerie realm.  Studying with him, I think that the connections that I already had deepened, and then I made new connections to the faerie realm through these spirit teachers.  A new message was necessary   My writings have really changed since that book.  But the Cauldron of Memory was really about deepening our connections with our ancestors, to understand our live and where we came from, where we go.  It's really about retrieving these memories from our ancestors who lived in common cause with nature and hopefully to return, through ourselves, back to the vision that our ancestors had when they lived in that common cause with nature.  We as a modern people try to master nature.  Or we do all these things to side-step.  We change the temperature with air conditioning and heating, we decide when it's going to be dark or light in the house.  And these are the things that our ancestors just had to live with and experience.

I'm not suggesting we return to primitive huts or something like that. But I am suggesting that we try to understand what our ancestors understood about life and I think that the Cauldron of Memory has some tools to help with that.

In Houston, many of us were thrilled to have the event, and elated to have Raven Grimassi as a guest speaker.  Here's to hoping that we lived up to the idea of southern hospitality and maybe he'll come back to visit!

- Kathy Swords-Capen

All rights reserved.  This article is copyrighted by the author and no portion of this article may be copied or used without the express written permission of the author or acting member of Blackberry Circle.