Saturday, July 29, 2006

What's This Blog For?

Over the last few weeks, especially since the post about Ministry and Worship, I find myself asking what it is I want this blog to do. There's a temptation to use it as a place to represent Quakers to Pagans, and vice versa... something that can lead to a feeling of needing to be "a credit to my people." There's also a sense of wanting to represent the both/and experience--better, since I don't think there are yet many resources out there for that (and I, at least, don't feel represented by the ones I've found). But there, too, there's a temptation to self-censor a bit, to clean up the picture, and hopefully gain acceptance for both/ands everywhere... Again, this is a kind of pressure to propagandize that I don't need.

Sometimes I want my words here to be a bridge of understanding. I want my Pagan friends to understand enough about my Quaker practices to know that, when I start talking about their importance in my life, I am _not_ preaching the gospel--something we've most of us been so bludgeoned with over the years that even some of my best friends have mistaken my words for more of the same on occassion, a painful experience for me and for them. I'd like my Pagan friends to understand that, when I talk about experiences in meeting or my sense of my life as a Quaker, that's no different than when Maureen discusses priestessing for Aphrodite, or Macha talks about her relationship with Brighde, or someone who has just discovered seidr or some other spiritually transformative practice talks about that. It's not proseletyzing, guys... it's talking through important personal experiences with those we love and trust. Maureen doesn't expect me to become a priestess of Aphrodite, and, though Macha would undoubtedly be a source of boundless help were I to discover a need to become closer to Brighde, she'll wait for Brighde to call me, if She's going to. That's just how Pagans work. Yet, when I discuss my Quaker life, that presumption--that I am not prescribing my religious life for everyone--isn't always there for me among other Pagans these days. This is sad, and I feel the loss.

Likewise, I really wish my Quaker friends could hear more and judge less when I talk of my Pagan life. Hmm. That's not exactly it. I mean, when I do occassionally run into the minority of Quakers in my world who take pains to immediately disabuse me of the notion that I could possibly be a "real" Quaker, yeah, I'd really like them to stop and do that Quaker listening thing I'm learning about. I don't think eldering means rushing to judgement, and I have certainly experienced that. But the real issue, for me, that I sometimes want this blog to take care of, is dealing with the moments when, in the middle of a open discussion with another Quaker, I'll say or do something that is apparently so alien that it just does not compute. There's this look I've seen cross the faces of my friends at Mt. Toby, and which I can readily imagine crossing the faces of Quaker readers of this blog... I think of it as the, "Oh, no--is she going to pee on the carpet?" look. In fairness, it's not the same as being judged. But it's not, I'm fairly sure, my imagination. It's when I've said or done something that's "non-Q"--a kind of dreadful faux pas. Often, it's when I've made a joke--something Pagans so often do in the face of the sacred, and Quakers apparently don't ever do. I'd love for my Quaker friends to understand where I'm coming from in those moments.

I'd also love, in the moments when I'm discussing my Pagan experiences with Quaker friends, not to have the similar expression cross their faces when I am, in seriousness, trying to explain the experience of Paganism, perhaps in answer to a question they have asked. I vividly remember one early discussion with a much-admired friend in my meeting, when either Peter or I mentioned the polytheism of Paganism, and how the Friend broke off the discussion, saying, "That's too wierd for me--I'm sorry, I just can't take this in right now." It was not said in a spirit of cruelty--in fact, there was humor--something I could appreciate and relate to--in the remark and how it was given. But, well, it did sting. I wouldn't mind not having quite so much to explain that I overwhelm my listeners before I even get out of the background explanations.

And I'd like to be writing the experience of EveryQuaker... to have this blog reflect my unfolding as a Quaker, in terms Quakers of whatever blend or background may be able to recognize. I don't think there's nearly enough out there about the process of being changed by entering into this particular practice--maybe because so many people have, for so long, gotten through it to the other side that it's now old hat for those who, unlike me, went through it years ago. (Paganism, by contrast, as a new movement, is replete with "coming home" stories. The stories of being transformed by becoming Pagan are practically our dominant genre.)

These are all kinds of mission, though. And, perhaps because I see this blog as a kind of Quaker practice, I think I want it to be much less pre-processed than that. I'd like my blog to stay close to the root... not as if I were speaking in meeting, but maybe as if I were taking part in a worship sharing.

I don't think I acheive that level of truth telling here very often. Though I admire it in the blogs of others, when I find it there. More--I'm brought to an important, deep place when I find it in others' blogs. Perhaps because of the practice with keeping close to the root and worship sharing, many of the Quaker blogs I've listed on this page take me there often.

However, I think there's also a need to be ordinary. To let the warts show. To be a work in progress, to self-contradict at times... To speak candidly, but not always from my most centered parts, because, after all, those are _not_ where the struggle is, for anyone. I need, I think, for this to stay part ordinary journal, part discussion with readers and with my multiple spiritual communities... and, heck, partly, a place to play with words. I enjoy writing, after all.

I want to tell the truth here. I also want to write nothing here I would be ashamed to have my mother, my coveners, members of my meeting, or the Old Gods to read... and not to be second-guessing every word and self-censoring my way to a bland acceptability. I want to be brave and truthful.

Mostly.

I think I may also want to fail in that at times. After all, in my life out of print, I often make compromises that make me unhappy. And I want to wrestle with that here. Hey! That's it! I want to be able to wrestle with my truths here. And sometimes I'll get some help from other people who read this blog, and sometimes my struggling may itself be helpful to someone else. I think that's it--that's what I want this blog to do. (For me. Peter is still struggling to figure out what he wants to do with the blog. He may wind up using it mostly to write articles for static content on the main website. We are rather different in our writing process...)

Questions not to try to answer today--how about the relationship of the blog to my teaching career, and the original hope of dealing with possible discrimination there by presenting myself here? And is this way of writing so acutely boring that even my best friends won't read it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ministry and Worship, Redux

Liz Opp, of The Good Raised Up (one of my favorite Quaker blogs) and Paul L, of Showers of Blessings, both wrote me very thoughtful, and, I thought, heartfelt comments on my recent post on joining Ministry and Worship at my meeting. Both Friends are concerned at the degree of disorientation (OK, panic) I expressed in that post.

It may be that the level of concern arose at least in part because, in an attempt to be humorous about a challenging new experience, I instead managed to be confusing.

But there was more than a hint of seriousness in that entry, and maybe I didn’t do the subject justice. So I’m going to try to think through these concerns as if they were part of a clearness committee. Hm. Blogging for clearness… not sure that one is going to make it into Faith and Practice anytime soon, but maybe it will be helpful to me.

Liz, you raised a concern that I “may be missing some important experiences as a Friend, and those missing elements of course will impact [my] ability to ‘take in’ what occurs at Ministry & Worship Committee meetings.”

You are not wrong.

I’ve been Quaker by convincement for all of five years now—not exactly a lifetime’s worth of experience. And it has not escaped my notice that M&W is a pretty weighty committee. It’s a heck of a place to flounder, and, when it comes to accepting a nomination here, there’s a case to be made that it’s trying to learn to swim at the deep end of the pool.

At the same time, the situation may not be quite as dire as I depicted it. For instance, Paul writes that, “instruction in how the meeting organizes and accomplishes its work…should have been covered during the membership application and clearness process.” It was, in fact. I do know, in a literal, brain-deep way, the definitions of things like a clearness committee for membership. But though I know more than my post may have implied, my lack of experience and what I’ll call bone-deep knowledge of many Quaker practices is very real. I know the theory… but it seems to me that the practice is a good bit more nuanced than the theory, and I’m a total newbie at that.

When Nominating Committee called me, I raised two concerns. My ignorance was one, and my insane teaching schedule, come fall, was another. The clerk of that committee, J, and his wife, M, were both kind enough to come to my house to meet with me for most of one afternoon after the initial contact. J and M are two of the Quakers I both love and admire most, and I have a deep respect for their opinions. We spoke at length and in great seriousness about the limitations I know I have as a relative newcomer to the Quakers (as well as in detail about the work the committee undertakes). It did not remove my fears, but it did leave me with a strong sense that daring to say yes was, in fact, what I wanted to do. As I sat with the nomination, I tried very hard to discern the reasons why I was so pulled to say yes.

I’d be a liar if I said ego played no part in it. I like to feel important as much as the next human—maybe, if I’m honest, here, a little bit more. (We call that High Priestess Disease, among Pagans. It’s an acknowledged epidemic.)

Other, somewhat better, reasons, that I’m aware of, include a real longing to get to know some of the members of that committee—and the meeting as a whole—better. I also want to deepen my own worship within the meeting, and I think that doing my best to nurture it in the meeting as a whole will, inevitably, nurture it in me.

I also believe that I do have real gifts to offer to this work. Some are hard to talk about… I’ll start with those, even at the risk of sounding pretentious or arrogant.

First, and to my mind, most importantly (of my reasons, anyway) is that I’m pretty sure I “get” meeting for worship. I hear the silence; I feel the strong tides of a gathered meeting, and I’m lucky enough to get to a pretty deep place pretty often in meeting. Not saying I should win an award or anything… but I do think it matters, and I’m aware that it is not a given for all members of a meeting to have this to offer.

I honestly don’t know if that was a factor in the committee’s decision at all. Of all the things I could have asked, that would have been the hardest to say out loud. But I do know that it is a factor, to me, in why I said yes.

Somewhat easier to put into words… I also have a sense that my very ignorance may be a gift to Ministry and Worship. It seems to me that the aspects of Quaker process and, more than that, Quaker culture that I don’t understand, five years into my becoming a regular attender, are probably things a lot of other people may not. So when there’s a discussion of how an oversight of ministry committee is put together, and I realize that, really, I’m not at all sure how we’re using words like “ministry” and “oversight,” well, probably a lot of people who might actually have need of this knowledge don’t have it either. Or, in another context, if I am not really conscious of how our meeting resolves conflicts between Friends, are there other members who need to know about it, but don’t? It seems possible. Though I am a new Quaker, I’m a serious one. Knowing what I do not know—or don’t truly understand—may be a good gift to bring to the table.

That’s all at the level of thought, though. Though this, too, is a bit scary to admit, I take seriously the concept that my name rising in Nominating committee was a spirit-driven event, and I think I need to also take seriously the idea that my feeling of wanting (very much) to say yes when they asked me also goes deeper than my own reasons.

This scariness is, in seriousness, a lot like the fear around rising to speak in meeting. I feel the tension tugging at me, and I want to rise with it… but I also hate to risk misinterpreting that tug. I certainly have spoken in meeting when it would have been better to stay silent (or at least, stop speaking sooner). But I’ve also not spoken when, indeed, I should have done. Both are mistakes. Not risking can be the wrong answer, too.

I may have been wrong in the outcome of my discernment process. The Nominating Committee may have been mistaken to have approached me, and I may very well let my meeting down. I am, however, committed to trying to learn this job. I do think I can do it—though carving out the time will be very hard indeed, come fall.

Part of that trying is playing catch-up—reviewing the parts of Faith and Practice I gave less attention to than I should have; being sure to not miss any more Meetings for Business; re-reading Patricia Loring’s _Listening Spirituality_—the volume about corporate spiritual practice. That’s a start, at least.

Happily, my meeting does have, as Paul wishes me, “trusted friends in it [I] can share [my] bewilderment with.” Perhaps, judging by the confusion my previous post generated, I’ve been camouflaging my fear and my feelings of inadequacy in too much silliness, though, and keeping those friends from being as supportive as I may need them to be. Certainly, I can, and probably should, spend time talking seriously and openly with members of M&W, as I did with J and M, about my concerns.

I think I might start by bringing this email, and the last—scary parts and all—to share with the outgoing clerk of the meeting (a fFriend) and perhaps to the outgoing clerk of M&W, another of the Quakers I deeply admire and respect, as well.

Thank you, Liz and Paul, for taking the time and trouble to listen to me seriously even when I was perhaps not courageous enough to write that way on a first take. No guarantees I won’t be a bit of a jester over other serious matters—in fact, sometimes I think that humor can be another kind of plainness—the kind that keeps me from taking myself too seriously. But the seriousness today seems right, and I thank you for it.

As we say in Paganistan, blessed be.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Bringing It Together

Over the last year, I've felt more and more as if my life were in pieces which, like separate ice flows, were drifting farther and farther apart. Quaker meeting, parenting my now 19-year-old, the New England landscape, old friendships and new ones, writing, my Pagan practice and community... everything except daily life with Peter has felt as if it were, though still there, less connected together, and less a part of a whole.

This summer seems to be about balancing that, I'm happy to say. I think this is part of the reason I said yes to serving on Ministry and Worship: though I can't imagine it being anything but brutal to really find the time for this major additional commitment, once the school year begins, I'm also really hungry to deepen both my worship and my connection to Mt. Toby. It feels like time.

The 11:40 hour worship sharing sessions over the last few weeks, on the spiritual disciplines of MFW, have been a wonderful tool for jump-starting me in worship. Though I'm still struggling to really go deep in the meeting itself, I've felt very powerful things coming out of the 11:40 hour time. I think that this, plus regular attendance on Sundays, will probably restore the depth of my worship, and that's great. I also think that a real effort to overcome my shyness, and to fight my natural urge to withdraw after MFW, will help me deepen my ties with Mt. Toby's human community. (I am, in a sense, obliged to, having accepted this nomination.) And having work to do--real, meaninful, deeply challenging work--with some of the members of meeting I respect most, will also help me become more rooted at Mt. Toby. Which is great.

But I'm also feeling a strong pull to find ways to deepen my Pagan spiritual practices again. In part, that's a result, I think, of having gotten hold of and read books recently published that friends of mine have written: Chas Clifton's scholarly history of American Craft, _Her Hidden Children_, and Kirk White's _Adept Circle Magick_. Especially Kirk's book, because it is _not_ scholarly, but practice-centered, and coming out of a practice that we have shared for many years now.

Understand, during the school year, I broke off even email contact with almost all of my friends, Pagan, Quaker, and otherwise. The friends I did see I saw only in guilty moments stolen from work, which I was always behind in. This left me feeling awful--like a Bad Friend. When I opened up Kirk's book and saw my name, not just listed up front in the acknowledgements section, but listed along with the names of other friends who saw me through some of the most profoundly transformative moments of my life--Doug N, Maureen R, Laura W--it brought tears to my eyes, and a sense of how deep those ties go, and how strong they are. These people are written in my heart... and so are the Gods we have honored together.

I have such a longing for the smell of woodsmoke and leaf mold, and the feeling that close connection with the Old Gods has given me. I need to make more time for my friends and for my Gods.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ministry and Worship Committee

Well, that was bracing.

Last night was the first meeting of Ministry and Worship to which the two new members, Geoff and I, were invited. Geoff clearly knew what was expected of him and followed everything that was going on. (Though we became members of our meeting at about the same time, it turns out he'd been an attender for years and years when he applied.) I just as clearly was lost, lost, lost! At one point I commented that I had expected to be a little out of my depth, but I felt as if I were walking on the ocean floor. Nancy reminded me that I was completely welcome to ask questions--but I am the kind of lost that makes framing questions very, very difficult.

It's not so much that I have questions--though I do! Thousands, it feels like. In this committee, do we just talk, or do we carefully observe silence after each member speaks? (Quakers can be so bloody quiet anyway, it's hard to tell a silently waiting Quaker from a just plain silent one.) Do we avoid responding to one another's words, as in MFW or a worship sharing? Surely not--how on earth can you hold a discussion that way? Hmmm... or do we discuss things. I know that we don't "decide", we "discern"--and I even think I have a clue what the difference is, but which questions are for discernment and which get decided? (Our next meeting date, for instance--?)

What's an oversight committee? What's the difference between a minister and an elder? What the heck _is_ a minister, and why do some of the names I'd expect to find on a list of ministers (in the context of having oversight committees) appear, while others do not? Is this blog of ours "ministry", or the meetings for worship we hold at Pagan gatherings, and are we supposed to discuss them with someone before just standing up and doing them? I know what "eldering" is--are there rules/ettiquette about who does it and when?

How on earth do you conduct a clearness committee for membership, and when should (is "should" a word Quakers even use with one another?) a member seek a clearness committee for something other than membership? How much corporate discernment do Quakers expect from one another and over what, exactly? Oh, yeah--and what committees do you have to be a member to serve on, and what exactly to all these damn committees do, and has anyone else in the history of Quakerdom ever felt this out at sea? Is it out of line for me to speak up here? Am I contributing here or distracting? Is that a pained silence around me, or a listening one? And why do I feel like I've just farted in church every time I open my mouth?

I was already feeling more than a little panicked, and as I was sitting there, trying to JUST BREATHE and follow the agenda and directions of our clerk, AND take inward notes on what the unspoken rules/practices of this committee seem to be, I kept

----bwwwWWWAAAAAAAAHhhhhh!

getting jarred, not so much by the sound of Peter cruising under the window on the meeting's ride-on mower as he

-----BWAaaaaAAAAaaaaAHhhh!

mowed the lawn, as by the subtle signs of irritation on a couple of the committee members' faces each time he passed

----brrrRRRRRRIIIIRRWInnnnNGAaaaaBWAAAAWIIINGABWAAAHhhh!

by that window.

Peter had called and gotten the clerk's OK to mow during the meeting, so we traveled over together. Which, it turned out, meant that he wasn't disturbing _one_ member of the committee... *sigh* I felt myself blushing with each pass. First meeting, and already I'm messing stuff up. (And, yeah, I get it that it's ridiculous to take responsibility for Peter's actions as if they were my own. When I get that codependant these days, it's usually a sign that I'm feeling pretty off balance. Ya _think_? *laughing*)

The whole thing reminds me of life as a newbie Witch, when I could imagine so many important observations that I might be screwing up. Does everyone always move clockwise in a cast circle _all_ the time? Does it mess things up if you move counterclockwise? Should I be able to sense where the boundaries of the circle are without seeing the ritual gear marking it? I know I shouldn't touch another Pagan's pentacle or drum without their invitation--are there other pieces of equipment that are also off limits? How do I talk to the HPs after she's drawn down,and will I know when she's drawn down and when she's not? Are the people here who seem to be faking it really faking it, or is it just me? And am I really "raising energy" when I'm trying to? (Depends on the group, depends on who you ask, depends, depends but usually not, be truthful and direct, you'll know, they are but watch out for hubris on your own part, and no you aren't but it will come in time.)

I don't even have to think about these things anymore, and I know without effort what cues to watch for that will fill in the blanks in what's expected in an unfamiliar Pagan group. It all seems simple now. Odd to remember how difficult the first few circles felt. So many unknowns.

The only parts of the meeting that were familiar were the worship at the start and end, and the moments when we would sit in silence to let names rise or to seek clarity on some question. Ah, worship. Ah, spirit. Yes, I remember _this_ part!

In fact, the whole evening was like a bizarre quilt, stitched together with an infinite number of delicate little stitches. Parts of it were slick, stiff vinal, parts of it were delicate silk and lace, and parts of it were plush, rich velvet. The vinal was covered with tiny writing everywhere on Quaker committee structures, minutes to past meetings, rules that aren't really "rules" and rules that are... all written in dry erase marker that I was afraid would wipe off if I touched it. The delicate silk and lace were the interrelationships within the committee and the meeting, and the chance to get to know people much more fully and three dimensionally than in the past... IF I could avoid putting my thick-nailed thumbs right through the fabric... and the velvet, of course, was the silence, the stuff that brought me here...

Someone once told Peter that the members of our family "aren't afraid to reinvent themselves," and I've stood under that expression like a flag ever since. I like to think of myself as someone who likes to learn new things. Last night, I realized that that is not entirely true. I like to _have learned_ new things. The actual learning... well, that part is hard for me. *laughing*

I do want to take my turn at the oars. And I do want to know what I need to learn here. And I will trust the members of my committee to tell me when I'm making a mess of it (apparently one of the key roles of the committee is telling those of us who make messes when we have). But it's a good thing I have so much practice in being ignorant.

Time to review the "Practice" section of _Faith and Practice_.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Peter on Centering and Silence

This is Peter, chiming in at last. Cat has been after me for months to post something here, but I just don't have a Blogger's temperament. I do keep a journal, though, so I'm going to post a few of my journal entries here. I'll start with one from last Sunday:

Quaker meeting this morning, followed by an 11:40 hour on centering and silence, and it is clear to me that I need to begin a regular practice of preparation for worship that will include some serious Pagan/Wiccan trance and spell work. Probably starting with a Tarot spread. I probably also need to stop napping in the middle of the day, ever. I just don’t have the focus to listen for the silence this year, and I need to recover that. I fall asleep in meeting, often, but more than that, my mind wanders off in all kinds of directions, mostly thinking about miniatures. [I collect and paint pewter Dungeons & Dragons miniatures as a hobby.] I’ve known for years that I can’t let myself paint minis on a Sunday before meeting. I can spend the morning looking at hard-core porn and not have it interfere with meeting for worship, but even a quick perusal of a pewter miniatures site and my mind is hooked, my mental CPU locks up and gives me the blue screen of death if I try to do anything spiritual.

And it’s been getting worse. Going out to see the new X-Men movie on a Saturday night, and I’ve got blue-skinned mutants on the brain all through meeting the next morning. And music. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has been playing in my head for the last two weeks, after listening to it a couple of times in the car. The week before that it was Suzanne Vega. And if I’m not replaying in my head something I’ve heard recently, then it’s almost always Mahler’s Second Symphony (The Resurrection) and it’s been at least two years since I last played that CD. Music usually doesn’t interfere much with meeting for worship (unless I’ve got lyrics playing in my head and I can’t remember them all) but it’s a sign that my brain is becoming a generally noisy place again.

Paganism prepared me to become a Quaker by leading me into mystical states of consciousness using techniques that were active and LOUD. Shamanic drumming will sweep though my brain like a psychic chimney brush, cleaning out all the soot, and in the quiet clarity that follows, I can hear the silence of a Quaker meeting. Or at least that’s what I remember. It’s been a while since it’s worked that way, and maybe that means it’s time to dig out the old Michael Harner drumming tape again.

No…not “maybe.”

Beyond the "W" Word

CONTINUED FROM"THE 'W' WORD", JUNE 17

I keep telling myself I'm going to go back and complete the thought I started, on what I am comfortable terming my religious life, and why. And I do keep trying. I've written at least three drafts so far, ranging from the purple to the clinical. Here's my latest try--I'm going to see if I can manage to keep it simple.

I hardly ever call myself Wiccan--or a Witch--any more. Why? Many things about how I live my life have been changing since becoming Quaker (and since becoming a teacher, though that's a reflection for another day). But this was changing long before that. So it's not about being Quaker, though it may share a root. I do know that I've long been drawn to simpler and fewer forms.

Being Wiccan is, it seems to me, in part a matter of the forms you have studied and hopefully mastered--ritual technologies having to do with cultivating intuition, focusing will and intention, and linking your mind and spirit with those of other humans, and with plants, animals, and spirits in nature in particular ways. Lots of religions do these things, of course. Wiccans do them in specific ways. Depending on the tradition a Wiccan belongs do, one might read tarot cards, sense auras, perform blessings, or undertake to commune with and carry messages from Goddesses and Gods. A Wiccan will almost certainly have ritual ways to invoke the elements of nature, to create sacred space by casting a circle, and to bless food and drink to be shared in ritual. I know I have done all these things from time to time. And I've gotten an awful lot out of them, too, both in an immediate practical sense (the Reiki I've learned to use, for instance, has been of practical use with my own injuries and my mom's sinus headaches) and in deeper, more personal ways.

But the longer I've been a Witch, the less I've tended to rely on specific tools and techniques. Where once I would have turned to formal divination to help me make an important decision, more and more often I got to the point where I would just...well... listen for what I sensed was true. And the Pagan and Wiccan rituals that have meant the most to me, over the years, have gotten simpler and simpler. So often, at another Witch's ritual, I have to bite my tongue and rein in my impatience with all the words--sung invocations, chanted invocations, ritual formulas, incense, wand waving... I want to just sit down and BE the ritual.

Years ago, my then-covenmate, Kirk White, was in an auto accident. Black Lake, another covener, and I, both wanted to do serious healing mojo for him, but he said he'd rather we didn't--that he was just going to try to listen to his body and get better. Around this same time, Kirk's favorite form of divination--of getting answers to the difficult questions in his life--was to go out into a field and sit, and wait for an answer to come. He said it always did: sometimes in the way a bird would fly across the sky... or sometimes, in just a sense of knowing. At the time, Black Lake and I found this rather frustrating. So many cool Wiccan tools and techniques to play with, and Kirk wasn't remotely interested! The whole listen to the body/listen to the universe approach to spirituality was annoyingly Taoist and abstract, as far as I was concerned. But, well, the more I hang around on this planet, the more it's how I feel about things, myself. I don't disdain the old toolkit... I just don't crack it out all that often.

Once, I needed formal invocations, costumes, and reminders of the myths we were celebrating in the form of music and storytelling in order to be moved by a ritual. I still love the flicker of firelight, and I still wear the flowing green cloak that was a gift from another Wiccan priestess when I go off to a Pagan gathering. (Instant garb--drape a good cloak over your shoulders, and anyone is beautiful. Plus, it's an extra blanket in the cold, a soft cushion for sitting on a rock in the woods, a raincoat in case of the inevitable camp-out shower... and it will last forever, if you keep the moths out of the wool!) But I rarely bother to bring out my "IPK" (Instant Priest Kit--a ritual bag packed with ceremonial essentials like salt, oil for annointing, a sacred corkscrew for impromptu libations, mini-chalice, mini-tarot deck, etc) from one year to the next anymore. It's just a bother! Why work a spell when I can lay on hands to relieve pain? Why formally invoke the spirits of nature when I can just sit down and see if there are any in the neighborhood who want to talk to me? And more recently, why perform healing magic when it feels so much more natural to hold someone "in the Light"?

Wicca--at least, formal, initiatory Gardnerian Wicca--has three formal degrees of initiation, given at various milestones of accomplishment. There's a joke that's going the rounds of the Pagan community. Q: What do you call a _fourth_ degree Gardnerian? A: A Buddhist. Or, as it's sometimes also expressed--Q: How do you tell who the Elders are at a Pagan gathering? A: They're the ones in street clothes.

I guess what I'm driving at is that it's more than the fancy ritual clothes that dropped away from my ritual practice of Paganism. Even before becoming Quaker, my ritual practice was getting simpler and simpler... losing, in fact, the specific techniques of Wicca.

Take away the rituals--the chants, the candles, the tarot cards, the herbalism, crystals, and invocations, and what is left? The whole lovely spiritual world itself, of course. It's still there. The Gods of the Wild are still in the wild, and the Mysteries haven't evaporated on me. I'm still Pagan--nature is my sacred book. But though I've got a whole shelf of others that give me hints, I don't often need the ones that come with a specific brand label, Wicca. I still honor it--I'm quite clear that I would not have learned to trust my own mind and heart, let alone to "hear" the silence of a Quaker meeting or feel the life inside a tree without it. I still value it, and I'm not trying to talk anyone into dropping elements of ritual practice of their own.

But for me, day to day? Given how practice-centered Wicca is, can I really describe myself that way? Maybe. Certainly I am Pagan still. Certainly Wicca is my knowledge base. But my practice--? 9 parts Quaker... 1 part, generic Pagan.

Call it like it is. So that's why I don't use the "W" word much these days. And even if my attempts to put the whys and wherefores of it into words aren't simple, the fact of it somehow seems to be.

To answer my student's original question--I'm a trained Wiccan priestess, and a practicing Quaker and Pagan. The journey is not the path; I'm trying to be faithful to where I find myself, not to the name for it on a map.

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