Announcing Gods’ Mouths 2.0 – A New Collaborative Pagan Blog

This ought to be interesting. These are people I know and respect, and it sounds like a worthy effort. I’ll have to see if there is something I can contribute…

Gods' Mouths 2.0

Gods’ Mouths 2.0
Following our own paths… together


We are extremely excited to announce a new collaborative alternative spirituality, paganism and spiritworking blog project with the return and reboot of “Gods’ Mouths.”

The new managing editors, Alex Bettencourt of Rock of Eye, and Wintersong Tashlin of Notes From A Barking Shaman, intend to present content from contributors with a broad diversity of relationships to spirituality, faith, gods, spirits and magic.

Posts on Gods’ Mouths 2.0 will explore the complexities of our lived experiences as spiritual and/or magical beings in ways that challenge us as readers to broaden and question our own understandings faith and practice. But through it all, God’s Mouths’ writers and editors will strive to ensure that our content does not pass judgement on people whose beliefs (or lack thereof) differ from our own, or seeks to non-consensually impose a fundamentalist worldview on anyone.


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On Bullying Newbies, Lore Thumping, and Viking Warriors

When we seek to create a tie with our ancestors, we aren’t doing so because of hate, we’re doing so because we love those generations who have given us life. When we’re seeking a tie to the land, it’s not because we hate modern life, it’s because the beauty of the plants and rivers and animals is something worth revering, worth saving. When we love the myths, it is because they inspire us.


Very well put, very well put indeed…

Flame in Bloom

When we, as modern Americans, think of the ancient Norse, we think of Viking warriors with fur outfits and a horned helmet and bulging muscles with a battle axe, terrorizing Europe, raping and pillaging.

When we, as people reviving the religion of the ancient Germanic tribes picture the world that we’re taking inspiration from, we see a very different, more historically accurate version. Not all of the people are Vikings. Some of them aren’t even Nordic. Most of them are farmers. They don’t hate women, and indeed give their women some power.

Nevertheless, the Viking warrior thing infiltrates us anyway. Even in the pagan world, the stereotype of an Asatruar is big and bullying. They have to be right all the time, there is a right way to practice their religion and a wrong one, and they’ll beat you up if you tell them you’re wrong.

Okay, perhaps that’s an…

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Pagan Spiritual Counseling in a Tribe-of-choice, part 1

This is a reworking of an essay I did for one of my Cherry Hill classes:

In my ministerial work, I’m faced by a situation which is fairly new in the realm of pastoral counseling as a whole, but increasingly common in the Pagan realm.  My ministry is almost entirely focused around a tribe-of-choice:  a group bound by friendship, love, spirituality, fellow interest, and other factors which don’t necessarily stem from common geography, ethnicity, race, or religious upbringing.  Of necessity, this kind of ministry differs greatly from the more standard “pastor and congregation” model; the following is an attempt to outline and briefly describe what I see as some of the most significant of these differences.

Probably the most obvious is the factor of choice itself.  I didn’t choose my ministerial role; it was chosen for me.  There was nothing so dramatic as “the Call” often reported in evangelical Christian ministry; simply put, I slowly realized that there was a reason that I was being asked to do more and more ministerial tasks (not just celebrating handfastings but counseling and advising):  I was considered by a large number of people in my tribe-of-choice to be “their minister”.  This was humbling and actually kind of alarming- I didn’t feel prepared for this responsibility.  It’s hardly a surprise that these realizations led me to seek ministerial training at Cherry Hill.

I’m still working out how this “choice factor” affects my pastoral counseling.  For one thing, it’s reinforced that for me, being a minister is not a position of authority- that (as word origin suggests), I’m a servant of my tribe-of-choice, and not a leader.  Complimenting this is the egalitarian nature of my tribe-of-choice itself; I believe people see me as their minister because they feel I’m the best person to fill that role, not because I’ve been assigned to them in some way.  Although this could lead me to take too much pride in my work (something which can be just as corrosive as the arrogance of authority), it’s not something I worry about too much; people in my tribe know me, some very well and for a long time, warts and all. It’s much harder to get a swelled head when that’s the case.

Another difference that is essential to the tribe-of-choice environment: I have multiple roles in the community, multiple relationships with fellow members.  I’m friends (to a varying degree) with almost everyone I minister to; some of these friendships are long-standing, starting well before I became a minister.  Some of them are intense and intimate friendships as well, informed by a wealth of shared experience, both good and bad.  This web of love, friendship and respect is an essential part of the community- you could even make a case that it is the community.

I realize that there are potential ethical pitfalls endemic to this environment, but I can’t change the parameters.  I can’t deny the love and friendship that binds me to my tribe-of-choice without becoming unbound.  So I must be very careful, and make it clear which role I am acting in at all times.  I do avoid certain parts of life within the tribe- the most significant being the “gossip network”.  I try (but don’t always succeed) to be a “black hole” for gossip- it comes to me but it doesn’t leave.  I don’t think that gossip (at least the negative kind) is a good thing for any community; I also have to maintain confidentiality- one of the most important parts of my code of ethics[link].  I also strive to maintain a reputation for honesty- I try very hard to tell the truth, and to remain silent when I can’t.

Because of the network of friendships that runs through my tribe-of-choice- a network that I’m part of and wouldn’t leave even if I could- it is very hard to maintain the sort of context-free stance recommended by many in the pastoral counseling field.  Even though I don’t involve myself in gossip, it is hard not to pick up some information about the stresses and conflicts that surrounds me.  Some in the community assume that I know more than I actually do; that’s hard to address, because it isn’t necessarily even a conscious assumption on the part of the people I deal with.  Taking these factors into account, claims of ignorance could be seen as a pretense by some, and possibly a deceptive one.

The best way I’ve found to approach this is by making it clear to those I counsel that I am focused on them, even though the situation involves many more people; and that I will make the highest effort to be objective, no matter what else I have heard.  I don’t solicit information from other viewpoints, but I will answer queries of the “what have you heard about the situation” nature- even though I won’t identify my sources- if it seems important to the counseling situation.  I also make it very clear that although I’m focused on what is best for my counselees, I don’t take sides.  Nor do I “get in the middle of things” and offer to arbitrate; I don’t have the training it takes to do that, and it would be unethical for me to act otherwise.

It’s also important for me to remember that my tribe-of-choice is formed by many overlapping groups, with connections that often change and are hard to quantify.  Some of the groups and connections aren’t religious or spiritual in nature- there are hobbies and creative interests that connect us, and some of these are as strong or stronger than spiritual connections.  There are also some very private and sometimes secretive people in the community, so connections may be hidden or kept very low-key.  It’s important to maintain a humble willingness to be educated about a situation from a counselee’s point of view.  This is a sort of “not knowing” that is actually often quite helpful.

[to be continued]

A take on UPG, Reconstructionism and what we can know

I agree with the blogger on his points, but I also found the two Witches and Pagans links to be interesting for other reasons. Apparently there are those who have issues with the term “UPG” itself- one writer thinks it’s demeaning to the gnosis that many choose to include in their practice, while the other thinks that it lumps gnosis (which IMHO he scorns a bit) together with more scholarly but non-“lore” elements (which he does seem to like). Personally, I think it’s a useful and valid term- if nothing else, a marker for a personal (or at least local) truth that may need more corroboration or testing or validation.


I certainly go to sources for what we can but the point of the article is that, in many cases, we have less than we think using written sources.  Many reconstructionists supplement with archaeology, and I feel that is still important.  However, there will always be gaps.  It is an unavoidable situation. 

However, here is an opposing point of view:

I also agree that UPG is used by some as an insult.  I would remember the following things:

1) Personal truths may not be transferrable to others.  What works for you may not work for another.

2) Even people with very similar backgrounds and points of view may differ.

3) To many, “right” is what they learned first

4) Whether you like it or not, you likely have more in common with that person at the other end of the spectrum than a random stranger.


May you…

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The Uphill Battle, part 5: All for now

It was all a wonderful whirl for a while- reading Starhawk and Adler for the first time , getting involved in my first circles and groups, attending my first Pagan gathering.  It was an interesting time to become a Pagan- the Gay and Lesbian (this was, IIRC, before “LGBT” was a thing) community had “discovered” Paganism, and a lot of interaction was going on… as a matter of fact, the first handfasting I ever attended was for a gay couple.  There was some disgruntlement about this from the more conservative folks in the community, but it wasn’t an issue with the Pagans I hung out with.

There was, however, an ugly situation or series of situations in the loose affiliation of groups that formed my part of the Pagan community.  I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of it, so I’m not going to go any further into it; let it suffice to say that it led to the messy dissolution of that affiliation, and thence to the founding of the Free Spirit Alliance… and was a reason for its original phoenix logo.  I was involved in that, and attended the first Free Spirit Gathering– as a matter of fact, I was volun-told into being the head of cleanup, which wasn’t too arduous.

I think I was a bit of a pest about being a Pagan at times; I chalk this up to youthful enthusiasm coupled with a convert’s zeal.  I was very serious about a lot of things, in that “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” way…  On the other hand, indirectly led to a very interesting conversation with my college roommate:  he was fuming about some of the campus evangelicals, and said something about how their behavior offended him as a Christian.  I (slightly gobsmacked) said something about him never telling me he was a Christian, and he told me that it was all about how he lived and what he did more than what he claimed he was.  It was one of those moments; I think I chilled out a bit on the proselytizing from that point on, and I know it has informed and empowered my Pagan practice to this day.

Eventually, eclectic Wicca started to dead-end for me.  Ariana performed an “initiation into my own path” for me, which was powerful and helpful but didn’t lead to any huge revelations.  I entered a long period of encountering traditions and paths that called to me but ended up just not being right for me.  There was a repeating pattern:  I would come across something new that attracted me; I would investigate, read, meet and talk to practitioners, attend rituals and ceremonies; and then at some point it would just go flat, and I would walk away.  I became resigned to following my own idiosyncratic and syncretic path, sometimes braided with others’ but still very much its own thing.  Something to be proud of, perhaps, but also a bit lonely.  Until I joined UToS, that is- but that’s another story.

Meeting, wooing, and winning my Monster was also essential to my spiritual development.  Not in the “destined soulmates” sort of way, mind you.  But the slow, patient, difficult and often devastating work we’ve done over the years to twine our love and lives together- that has burned out so much dross in me, illuminated so many dark corners.  She has been so good for me, in so many ways.  Besides, she has a streak of bloody-minded ruthlessness (monster, remember) that I lack… she has my back, as I have hers.

My religion, my faith, my belief has been a process of addings and takings away that has continued to this day.  Some of the constant themes:  polytheism (pretty solidly on the “hard” end of the scale), multiple truths and multiple layers of truth, humanity (and everything created by humanity) as a part of nature, the importance of compassion and kindness… perhaps at some point I will post my “Credo”, something I worked out during my time at CHS

I still have problems with faith and belief, of course.  In the end, the Law of Pragmatism is still immensely helpful.  There’s also a quote from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins that my Monster and I use:  “Does it matter- ghost, or what?”  I try very hard to be comfortable with a lack of knowledge without losing belief or faith.  I hope that this series of posts has helped you understand some of the “why” of that struggle, and how important it has been to my life.

I’ll end it here with a disclaimer:  autobiographers are sometimes the ultimate unreliable narrators, and I’m acting as a storyteller and a poet here, not a historian.  Memory is a fluid and fractal thing; I’ve included no deliberate deceits, but I’ve arranged things to make a coherent and cogent narrative rather than a historical one.

A poem, for a change

To give everyone a break from my autobiographical ramblings (and since I did intend this as one of the purposes of this blog), here’s a poem from some time ago:

Tide and Fire

When the spark catches, the spiral
Begins to coil, the wash of glow
Shimmers in my head- this moment,
Chain of moments, I feel in the grip
Of a tide:  floating on a surface,
Uplifted by the ninth wave; peril
Of the helpless, loss of the bottom
Beneath my feet, obscured by shadows
Below.  The spell on me, I cannot give in-
Mere surrender drags me down.
I must poise, move with and in,
Let the fire burn out, along, down
Nerves, onto page, wondering that smoke
Does not follow my pen’s course, while
Thunder crashes, foam flies, the surge
Swells and then subsides, leaving me
To float, rest, and be thankful.

– 3/16/2008

The Uphill Battle, part 4: Sex, Drugs, Rock’n’roll… and I *actually* become a Pagan

I would say that the subtitle should be classed as “correlation, not causation”, although the same roots lay beneath it all.  College meant I was away from home and on my own for the first time, and surrounded by a peer group where there were actually people who attended class to learn new things, to expand their minds.

Just before that, though, I had what I guess was a transformative experience of another sort- mononucleosis.  I had it bad, really bad; any worse and it would have been hospital time.  I was bedridden for three weeks, and running a fever for a lot of that; I lost fifteen pounds in one week, just burned away.  It changed the shape of my face, and burned permanent fatigue circles under my eyes; it changed my metabolism, and it never really left me- I still get the occasional relapse, mainly mild (thank the Powers), but unmistakable none the less.

This was an important event in my life, to be sure, but there is a reason I’m going into it here.  For some people, illness, stress, privation, etc. are great spiritual teachers.  Not so, for me, at least not at the time.  I go inward, but I don’t necessarily get introspective; spiritual/religious (and artistic) practices tend to go by the wayside in times of crisis unless I remind myself.  I tend to gravitate towards the reassuring and familiar in such situations- comfort food, re-reading favorite books, songs I know by heart.  I may be able to extract meaning from my crisis afterward, but during…

I spent the first semester mostly attending class, doing homework, and sleeping.  I wasn’t allowed to drink for six months after my illness, which saved me from some of the usual freshman idiocy.  I started writing more poetry, helped start the first SF&F club at the college, hung out with a broad selection of geeks and musician types (mostly not in my graduating class).  Much of my social life was still centered back north- luckily, I could get a ride home almost any weekend I wanted.  Oh, yeah, and I lost my virginity, experimented with drugs, and started forming my musical tastes during this period.  No surprises there, really… except that only the last of those happened primarily on-campus.

I don’t think there were any “out” Pagans on campus; even though the student body was mostly from the DC area, it was still in many ways a Bible Belt school.  Still, there were some interesting books back in the stacks, including Jung and Crowley… I remained interested in magic and Forteana, but skepticism and the wish to believe were still at war in me.  I discovered the Illuminatus! trilogy around this time, which turned my head inside out for a while; I decided I was a Discordian, which suited my sense of humor if nothing else.

Around this time, a friend of mine loaned me Israel Regardie’s “The Golden Dawn”, which was my first real introduction to modern ceremonial magic and the Cabala.  The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram especially clicked with me (and has remained important to me, at least as a template, ever since).  The innate Christianity of the path was still a stumbling block, though.   The lady who loaned me the book was also interested in Paganism, and we ended up putting together a Beltaine ritual that year… including (somewhat to our surprise, oddly) the traditional sex afterwards.

But it wasn’t a SF&F convention later that year that year that it really all fell into place.  I’d been talking with one of my oldest and dearest friends, telling her about my seekings, and my dawning interest in Paganism.  She basically dragged me off to meet one of her friends, the wonderful and talented Ariana.  Ariana, in turn, seemed to take to me right away, and invited me to a Wiccan circle she was holding in her room that evening.  I recall it fairly clearly- there were seven or eight of us and it was a very basic ritual (ground and center, establish circle, call quarters, invoke Goddess and God, raise power, bid farewell to Goddess and God, ditto quarters, ground and center).

But it blew my mind.  I could barely sleep that night.  This was it.  The next day I went down to the dealers’ room and bought the best silver pentagram I could afford (admittedly, not all that great- I was a poor college student, and let’s face it- there just wasn’t that much good Pagan jewelry around at the time).  My friend found me as I was leaving the area; when she saw what I had bought, she had me kneel down and then clasped the chain around my neck.  Then she kissed me and said, “Welcome home.”

And I was… for a while, at least.

The Uphill Battle, part 3: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

So, there I was, drifting.  I use that word advisedly- I didn’t have any new direction, just a lack of something holding me; it wasn’t that I had changed my course as much as I had cut my anchor chain*. I think I borrowed Heinlein’s term “relaxed agnostic” at that point in time.  Not that I was entirely relaxed- there was a hole in my heart, a longing.

I told my parents about my decision at some point in this time- to be honest, not so much to be open to them as from a fairly typical desire to rebel and lash out.  They weren’t happy about it, and firmly told me that a) it was a phase I was going through and b) I was still going to go to Mass on Sundays and attend CCD (Catholic Sunday School) until at least my junior year in High School.  Ironically, it turned out that CCD in that year was the only one where we didn’t just go over the same old ground- instead, we met at the teacher’s house, and he described real-life situations where people had to make important choices, and then we talked about how Catholicism could apply to those situations and choices.  If I’d run into that format earlier in life, things might have been a lot different for me…

But in general, I was just going through the motions, bored with church and CCD, dodging going to Confession, in “deep cover” as usual.  There were some compensations- I had a little more social life with the Catholic youth group (though I preferred my D&D friends).  And there was one fateful church book sale, where I picked up “The God of the Witches” by Margaret Murray and Real Magic by Isaac Bonewits .  The first one was fascinating enough, and laid a lot of groundwork.  I was nothing like an informed reader at the time, and had no idea of the criticisms of her work- I was simply enthralled by her description of a whole secret world that lay behind the history I’d read so far.

But Real Magic… wow.  The influence that book had and still has on me is hard to estimate.  Memory may be deceiving me, but I recall seeing this first mentioned in the back of the AD&D DM’s Guide (makes sense, since Bonewits did write a book/article about magic for roleplaying games).  It was the first book I ever read that took the subject seriously, as a subject worth study, analysis… and practice.  Bonewits also wrote with genuine interest and a great deal of sarcastic humor- it was clear that he was “one of us”, someone I could imagine actually talking to.

The bibliography alone was worth the rest of the book- long, detailed, comprehensive, informative, and full of in-jokes and puns.  But it was the short section on the Laws of Magic that really gripped me.  Something about the way he broke it all down… it all made sense.  And one of them has been a guiding light to me ever since- the Law of Pragmatism: if it works, it works.  No matter how many of the other laws are violated, no matter how many dogmas it transgresses or rules it breaks.  I have to point out at this point that I’m no great shakes as a magician, and never have been.  But any success I’ve had is rooted (albeit sometimes tenuously) in that law.

I also read all the rest of Tolkien that I could get my hands on (Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, pretty much).  I was and still am impressed with the depth and breadth of the mythological underpinnings that the Professor placed under his published works.  It also was, I think, around this time that I adopted this post’s subtitle as a personal motto…

My life opened out in a lot of ways by my senior year.  Through my D&D friends I discovered a medieval recreation group called Markland.  Through *them*, I discovered Science Fiction conventions, which opened me up to a whole range of interests and viewpoints.  I also got involved in LARPing (Live Action Roleplaying) around this time, but that didn’t become relevant to my spiritual life until later.  I made more friends (in and out of school), my grades improved, and I got accepted to my first choice of colleges.  Wandering was about to be taken to a whole new level…

* You’ll notice a tendency to use nautical metaphors in my writing.  I learned to sail at summer camp during the same general period detailed in my prior post, and though I haven’t done much since, it had a profound impact on me.  Subject for a later post…