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Showing posts from 2016

Peter on Mysticism and Facebook in a Time of Crisis

I read poetry in the mornings. Or theology. Or I journal. Sometimes I meditate, occasionally I will put a prayer into words. It’s a daily spiritual practice, and it helps keep me grounded and centered and sane.

It also draws me into thinking about the deepest levels of reality. I wonder about the relationship between human consciousness and the Divine. I read Plotinus and the Sefer Yetzirah and Erwin Schrödinger and I sit with their thoughts as I might sit staring into the heart of an intricate puzzle, working at it some with my mind but also just letting their insights soak into my unconscious. I’ve been carrying around Rilke’s Book of Hours the way some Christians carry around their Bibles, and lately I’ve been going back to the original German and hammering out my own translations. It leads me into a much deeper reading, and here and there I think I’ve picked up shades of meaning in the text that were missed by more literate translators. They are poets reading mystica…

Peter on the Election

Stunned. A week later I still find myself waiting to wake up and find it was all a bad dream. I hear on the news about Trump’s transition team, and I think, wait a minute, where’s Hillary’s transition team?
I’ve been processing. Not putting feelings into words, because I need to let the knowledge settle enough so that my feelings aren’t the flash-in-the-pan of incredulity and anger. Let those burn off, then take a good long look around at what my America has become.

What we lost by electing the bastard: Health care, environmental protections, regulation and accountability for Wall Street, and any chance of overturning Citizens United. And the Supreme Court.

But even if he’d lost, the bastard would have done much of his damage just in running. Defeated, he would still have made hate speech part of ordinary political discourse. When his followers admire him for “telling it like it is,” they mean he’s not pretending a respectable tolerance he doesn’t feel and not asking th…

A Time of Retirement

"Do we take time away from the press of society, the demands of peace and justice concerns, the obligations of the workplace, and even our family? The word retirement can call us to a time of refreshment, not the end of our work. This may be as simple as a period of meditation in the early morning or before we go to bed…

" …Making retirement part of life includes times of retreat – personal retreats especially where one can take a day or a few days alone, in the quiet, to renew inwardly. Similarly, when I take time to write in my journal at the start of the day, or sit quietly and clear my mind, the whole day goes much better."
(From "A Tender, Broken Meeting," by Margery Post Abbott.)

I have been writing this post in my head for a very long time.

In the months that have passed since my last post, my life has spun out of control.  Not everything has been bad, but any sense of calm and order I have had in my life has been thrown to the winds, and I’v…

Barefoot Paganism

Barefoot Pagan. Original photo, 2016.Every now and then, I look at what most Pagans want to read about and what I want to write about, and I wonder how many of my readers are left scratching their heads about what makes me even think I am a Pagan.  Or a Quaker friend will ask me to explain my Pagan practices, and their sense of disappointment when I do is almost palpable.

I don’t talk about spells.  My rituals are simple in the extreme.  I rarely wear fancy robes and jewelry, and while my gods are very important to me, they’re somehow… personal.  I don’t talk about them for something the same reason I don’t talk about my sex life; it would just feel… awkward, for lack of a better word.

So what is there to show that I’m a Pagan?

Yes, I revere the Old Gods (and no, I’m not going to tell you which ones, and I’m not going to show you nudie pics of my sweetie, either).  And yes, I do the odd bit of magic here and there.  Some of it, like my prayer stones for friends, is reall…

Peter on the Otherworld, Truth-Telling, and Racism

There is a place in the woods of Western Massachusetts where there is a fairy ring. Mountain laurel grows in a circle, maybe dozen feet across, not planted by any human hand. The center is open, bare earth with a soft carpet of pine needles. Not much to look at. You could see it and miss what it was. But it was there and it was real.
Camping in those woods thirty years ago, walking back to my cabin in the dark, it seemed as if the woods were full of mischievous spirits. I remembered stories of humans being pixie-led, losing their way in the woods to wander, lost, all night.
I did not lose my way. Whatever was in those woods did not trick me off of the trail, and I found my cabin only a few minutes later. But there, just downhill from it, was the fairy ring.
I walked down to it, walked around the outside of it, and it felt like static electricity. If I opened myself to it, I could feel a buzz of energy flowing outward from the circle in every direction. At the eastern …

To the Pagan Community: A Love Letter

To the Pagan Community: A Love Letter I have been trying for weeks now to write a post about something many Internet Pagans say does not exist: Pagan community.

To be specific, I have been trying to write about spiritual community among Pagans and across the theologies that often divide us, across what Internet Paganism increasingly sees as an unbridgeable divide between Wiccans, Witches, and Druids and the emerging polytheist community–or at least, the parts of modern Paganism that are not “Wiccanate,” to borrow the term of our critics.

That discussion is sometimes so heated that I’ve allowed it to get in my way here.  I keep writing elaborately constructed arguments, trying to convince people who don’t believe in it that this thing that has meant to much to me is real.

That’s foolish.  I’ve been writing defensively, not from my heart.

In truth, I can’t convince anyone of any such thing.  I can’t convince you that spiritual communities can exist across theological differen…

Where the Magic Lives

Last night, I held my husband’s hand as he was falling asleep.
Paolo Monti. 1970.One minute, as my fingers moved gently over his, the sense of him, of the essence that makes him who he is was right there under the surface, coded somehow in every callus, every line of his palm.  The next minute, his hand was just a hand: still warm and living, but also empty of the particular qualities that make him who his is, every bit as much as the smile in his voice or the flash of an idea behind his eyes.

There is a difference between the hand of your beloved sleeping, and that of your beloved when awake, and it is a palpable one.  Hard to describe, but real.

That difference… is it magic?

My coven used to do an exercise.  We’d put on a recording of a drumbeat, go into light trance together, and then one by one, seek out the sense of each person’s presence.  One by one, as each member of the circle “found” another, we’d speak the names out loud: “Cat….” “Cat.” “Cat,” the voices would …

Elders and the Dance

One of the recurring topics in the Pagan blogosphere is that of a generation gap.  Elders feel shouldered aside, our teachings unwanted; young Pagans feel stifled and held back by elders who trust them too little, and try to control them too much.

Recently, I had a dream related to that problem.

In the dream, I was wandering through a sprawling, chaotic Pagan gathering.  It was colorful and noisy, but I knew very few people who were there, and the dream had an aimless quality until I came to a place where someone had set out a dance floor.
La Boca, Argentina. Alex Proimos, 2009.Many couples were already out on the floor, dancing together, ballroom style.

I grew up in a family that dances.  On New Year’s Eve, my parents would put on old records and we would dance: my parents together, my brother with my mother, and my father with me.

I love to dance.

However, as I approached the dance floor, only one partner was available, a young woman I did not know.  I hesitated when she…

Why Black Lives Matter Too, Godless Paganism, and Pagan Consent Culture

I‘ve been having a really wonderful spring. Four different essays of mine have been included in new anthologies, one of Peter’s writing projects has finally come to fruition, and I’m thrilled about them all.
First, I was asked to contribute an essay on preventing and addressing sexual abuse in the Pagan community to the anthology on Pagan Consent Culture edited by Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow.  Since my copy arrived, I have spent an awful lot of time simply admiring it–there is something wonderful about having something you’ve written in an actual, physical book.
As for reading it–well, Peter has been hogging my copy for weeks now.  The spirituality of sexuality is something of a ministry of his–in fact, this spring marks the conclusion of a five-year project he’s been part of, working on a statement of Quaker sexual ethics.  His book–or rather, his committee’s–will also be on sale this summer, through New England Yearly Meeting, the body that asked for the rep…

Cat, It's Beltane

I’m feeling a bit torn this morning.  It’s time to head out to meeting for worship, and I’ve been kept away from worship far too often this winter; I really feel the need to be there.

On the other hand, I’ve been just a little under the weather for the past two weeks, and physically exhausted for no reason all weekend.  If I go to meeting, I doubt I’ll have the energy for anything else: not shopping for groceries, not cooking the staples for the week, not grading the stack of student essays on my desk.

And certainly not celebrating Beltane.  And that does not seem acceptable to me.
So I’m staying home, but, as I said, I’m feeling a bit torn by all that needs to be done, and how little energy I seem to have this week to do it with.

Which puts me in mind of a story…

Once upon a Beltane, Peter and I were at a Church of the Sacred Earth retreat in northern Vermont.  Despite being almost on the Canadian border, it was warm that year, and we were all tenting in a colorful extem…

Dear Sign Thief

Sign Number Five Is Ready for Business… Dear Thief  Who Keeps Stealing My Black Lives Matter Sign,Thank you.
While I realize it was never your intent to encourage me, I want you to know: your efforts have made a real difference to me.  In the nine months since I first put up a hand-lettered Black Lives Matter sign in front of my house, you have taken or vandalized it five times.

Now, I know that’s not record breaking: one friend in the area has had her sign stolen or vandalized nine times.  Still, I want you to know how much your efforts have meant to me.

When the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of my Quaker meeting took the suggestion that we, too, put up a sign in front of our building, the one reservation that I heard expressed was that the Black Lives Matter movement was “just on social media.”

And it is true that without the connections I’ve made through social media, I might still believe that racism was on the ropes, a thing of the past, or at least, little more…

Community and the Practice of Love

I spent most of today’s Quaker meeting in tears.

This is a thing that happens to me sometimes. I’m working on not being too self-conscious about it when that happens, or at least not fighting it.  I used to say that I wished I wouldn’t cry when I feel spiritually full–or at least, that I could cry more attractively.  (I’m the sort who gets a blotchy face and a runny nose when I cry.)  These days, I’m trying to be tougher, and more faithful:

If Spirit wants me to cry, dammit, I’ll cry.  If Spirit wants me to get a runny nose, I’ll bring a hanky.  (I specialize in big ones.)

I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to think I’m a gushing sentimentalist… but maybe I need to toughen up about that, too.

If Spirit wants you to see me as a sappy, ridiculous woman, I’ll be seen as a sappy ridiculous woman. So be it.

Today was a day my waterworks were turned on.

At our meeting, ten minutes into worship is when the little kids leave.  I watched one of our newest members, August…

Writing the Spiritual Life

Last night, as I laid the hearth for my family’s celebration of Imbolc, I found myself reaching for my camera, to take a quick shot of the altar… and then I hesitated.  I’d laid that altar for Brigid; what did it say about me that my instinct had been to photograph it for a blog?
Not This Year’s Altar, Cat Chapin-Bishop, 2013.I realized it didn’t feel right to snap a picture of the hearth–that, in a way, it was no different than drinking the offering we’d left there.  The altar was not for me, and it wasn’t even for my community, but for my gods. It felt like photographing the altar would have been a kind of theft.
In the end, I left the picture untaken.
One of the dangers of writing about my spiritual life is that I risk getting my priorities scrambled.  It’s the “here I am wasn’t I” of meditation raised to a near-infinite degree; by recording my spiritual life, I risk making the recording, and not the life, the center of my acts.  And it is true that in the middle of me…

Anticipating Imbolc

It has been cold in New England this week.  More than once, I’ve awakened to find the temperature in my bedroom had dropped to a brisk 54 degrees or so (about 12 degrees Celsius), and the windchill outside something in the single digits.  It is hard to force myself out of bed in the darkness, and my fingers hurt as I turn the key in the lock to my front door when I leave for work.
Photo by Peter Bishop, 2012.But as I commute, the sun comes up, and the sky becomes so large overhead.  My classroom is flooded with winter light during the school week, and at home, I bask like a lizard in the strong, sloped sunshine.  Counter-intuitive as it might seem, I love this time of year.
Sometimes I say that to friends online, only to have them answer as though I must be being sarcastic.  This is the time of year I begin to receive reports from friends in warmer climes about the warm weather they are having, or even the new starts in their gardens.  (My New England friends haven’t yet…