You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2010.

I was tired yesterday, very tired.  I was/am fighting a cold, I have become weary of talking to the media, and I just want to move forward with what I am doing with the students.  Nothing outrageous, but working toward getting the office settled, helping one student plan out her moon ritual, discussing directional coordinates and color alignments, and other such stuff.  All those things that are necessary when you talk about doing what we do.

But there in my box were two items.  The first was a “while you were out” message slip.  Another reporter.  I am tired.  I ask the office staff if there guidelines on talking to the media.  Are we required when it is requested?  Their suggestion was to seek advice from the Dean or above and so I did.  My old friend wasn’t around to answer the  email, I knew that would be the case due to all of the events of the week.  I’m not talking about events surrounding anything in particular, but just life in general at a major university.  So here I was, needing to make a decision regarding the reporter – he had also emailed me the request to make sure that I got it.

I decided to put off the decision and reached for the second item that was in my box.  It was a letter – handwritten.  It was from a woman, a solitary Wiccan who is still very closeted regarding her path.  She was writing to congratulate and thank me for what I was doing.  She discussed how she hoped that I could help dispel the hate, fear and misconception of who and what we are.  In the end she told me that there were many people who send me their love and their blessings.  Her words stayed with me all day, all evening, and into this morning.  I reread the letter I don’t know how many times and found that she had provided me with the answer that I had been looking for.  I may be tired but that is okay, I chose this path and for the moment it is my task to work through the questions and inquiries. 

I emailed the young man this morning, received his questions, and answered them promptly.  Sometimes the smallest voice, the kind word of a stranger, is all that is needed to give clarity to a situation.  I thank this solitary practitioner for reaching out to me when I was weary.

After several days of talking with students, reporters, and others who are curious about being pagan I am acutely aware of how, as pagans, we lack language.  I woke up with this thought yesterday morning and after a full day of answering questions have come to accept that we, as an English-speaking people, do not have a common language when it comes to spirituality.

I have always known that it can be difficult to talk to someone who is not pagan, or at least familiar with pagan beliefs and practices, on what it is we do or believe.  Heavens, a good portion of the time we don’t have the words, the language, to talk to each other!  But we do work through it when we are together.  There is understanding of some basic practices that most of us learned when we first began to explore the craft that we can draw on as common ground.  But that basic understanding isn’t there for non-pagans.  I was asked yesterday if “Pagan Chaplain” wasn’t a contradiction; I had to agree it really is in my opinion.  Pagans don’t have chaplains.  We have a priest, priestess, HPs and HP, Arch Druid, witch, coven leader, gothi, gythia, and a multitude of other titles, but we don’t have Chaplains.  We only have chaplains when we are working in and with institutions that have been created within the frame work of Christian based language.

I suppose that it could be argued that any clergy assigned to a particular group of individuals, such as a prison or a university, regardless of religious affiliation is a chaplain.  But it still seems awkward and I could be comfortable with the inconsistency if it was the only one, but it is not.  We don’t go to church or synagogue for a service, we circle or gather for ritual… or blot.  As pagans we talk about deity, spirit, energy, guides, ancestors, the fae, gods, goddesses and the list of being goes on and on.  They are not the same thing as the Abrahamic god or angels; so to say they are is not giving the correct impression to the non-pagan.   Trying to explain the difference can cause greater confusion and some frustration.  But these are the easy things to talk about.  Right?

What about magic, or is it magick?  Explaining that becomes very tricky.  “Can I make my keys disappear? No, can you make yours disappear?  If you can will you please tell me how?”  A variation on that conversation happens with each interview or discussion.  Explaining magick (yes with the k to distinguish it from stage magic) can be difficult at best.  Then there is energy work, the Great Days, rituals aligned with the moon cycles and those not, spell casting, journey work versus meditation, and the list goes on.

So what is my thought on all of this?  We need new language or to at least interject language that allows for a variety of traditions to talk easily about their belief systems.  That will require people of varying faiths to be willing to learn new language, words, and meanings in a way that is respectful of everyone.  The old terms need to be willing to make room for new thoughts and when that happens hopefully we will have language that encompasses all faiths equally.

I’m exhausted.  That is how I felt at the end of yesterday.  The day had moved quickly, never was there a dull moment, I was in constant motion, and I had no idea that I could be so tired by just talking to people!

I had started the day simply, I was going to drop off some items to a friend, have lunch, and then go to the Chapel.  No big deal and not stressful.  I was able to do all that I had planned, lost some time and gained it back arriving on campus when I had planned to.  That’s when it happened; the students began to show up.

You see, the media pointed out that “there are only 11 registered pagans” at the University.  To put that statistic in perspective you need to understand that it is determined by students voluntarily filling out a demographic form that does not require all questions to be answer.  So, if you have 50 percent of the student population completing them you are lucky, even luckier if all 50 percent put down a religious affiliation. I knew the statistics were wrong, pagans will often fly under the radar if they don’t believe they are in a safe environment. 

As I opened my laptop and started it up the first student walked through the doors, looking around as if he were lost.  In a soft voice he asked if I was Mary and then he asked if I had time or if he was intruding. He wasn’t and I assured him on that point.  He wanted to know about Ásatrú (Norse tradition) and was hoping I could help. All he had to go on was the internet and knew that there was more than what he was finding. We talked and I told him I could help him find the information he was looking for.  By the time we finished, no more than 10 minutes, there were two more students sitting quietly across the room.  When the first student left, the next one sat down.  He was interested in learning more about paganism in general.  He was searching for spirituality without religious dogma; he thought that paganism may be where he needs to be for the moment.  And so my day went.  One after another, a steady line of students wanting to talk, wanting information, wanting to connect.  They sought what they didn’t have before: a place where they could explore alternative spiritual paths in an open and accepting atmosphere.

There may be only 11 registered pagans on “the books” but what I knew would happen has.  The unregistered pagans, seekers, and curious are coming forward and saying “I’m here, I do exist.”

Yesterday was day one, well, not really, but yes, really.  I might have “officially started” on February 1, but yesterday was truly my first day working at the Chapel.  It was an odd day to say the least because it started off without having an office.  Now I do have to explain this – I have an office that I share with two others but there is only one desk and a bunch of stuff.  As it turns out the three of us use the office at very different times.  That would be all good, but the “stuff” is all over the place rendering the office fairly useless for anything but a storage closet. I felt for the Chapel staff, they were working to get my one office mate’s assistants to get clear out at least some things, but space is at a premium so it will take time.  I could live with that, there is always space to sit with a laptop in one of the open rooms and I had other things to deal with that were a little more pressing. You see, my recognition as Chaplain finally hit the media. That’s right, the media, and I really don’t like being the center of attention; at least not that kind of attention.

On Saturday we were one of several pagan groups to host a fundraiser for Haiti, the event had gone well but I had been asked by a student reporter for an interview. My time was pressed so I agreed as long as she met me at the fundraiser which she did.  I must say that her article was nice, very nice, but it also was published prior to the official University press release that they do for these types of positions.  Well, that article was on the web and as soon as I knew it I was being told that reporters from the local news station would be there in 30 minutes for an interview – I was news.  I have to say that I am not a naive person, not at all.  But I found it profoundly sad that the news would not cover a fundraiser for the earthquake victims (yes they knew pagans were putting it on) but could find the time to come and find out about pagans on campus even though we have been practicing here for almost a decade!

The normal questions were asked: “what is a pagan” and “are there really witches” were followed by “there are only 11 registered pagans so why have a chaplain”.  The interview was truly a wonderful conversation which culminated with a well constructed news report being aired.  One of the questions that had been asked had been about the number of pagans that this chaplaincy would serve. In fact both the student reporter and the news reporter both had inquired about the numbers.  In my opinion it isn’t about the amount “registered” but more importantly about those not identifying because they feel they have a resource to turn to.  They are closeted, they might have been prior to coming to the University, maybe they weren’t, but there are many who never knew they had a place to go to. 

I went back to work in the Noble Room, a place open to all and where I had been in the morning.  After a while I saw Michele, one of the Office Coordinators, coming towards me with a message in her hand.  It was someone in Public Safety, they wanted to speak to me.  I couldn’t imagine what happened, my mind first went to negative reactions towards my being recognized as Chaplain but I dismissed that quickly.  Then I knew, we were trying to figure out what we needed to do to have an additional fundraiser on campus and were looking into the rules regarding collecting money and security requirements.  That had to be it!  I called the number and found out that I was wrong on both accounts.  The officer on the other end of the phone was excited that I called back – she is pagan, so is her Sargent who showed her the article and she wanted to know if we held ritual and could staff participate!  I couldn’t believe my ears. The very issue that I had said existed was presenting itself  in less than two hours; people who had no idea there was a resource in Hendricks Chapel were beginning to call.  But the other side of this was also starting, the negative comments regarding my faith, regarding me.  That was inevitable.

Monday nights the pagan students on campus meet, this has been the case for the last nine years. Last nights topic was the article in the Daily Orange and the report on the local news cast.  They are excited.  The news has spread, the web is an amazing thing, and how appropriate that a “web” be woven of information and news spreading across the globe.  Grandmother Spider I thank you and I also look to you for guidance on this one.  From New Zealand to England the news of my Chaplaincy has been posted.  Twitter is tweeting, or whatever it does, Facebook is posting, and people are talking. It makes no difference to me what they are saying because this is a beginning of discussion to acceptance and understanding.  I think in the end that is really I all I want – acceptance and understanding.

This has been a difficult week for me with the passing of my friend.  Teresa now walks on the other side of the veil, most likely busier than ever, watching over all of us.  But now I begin to find peace in her death.  I did not know how or when it would come, but I can sleep better now that we have honored her through her last rite of passage for this life. 

Last night we honored her, not for the final time, but for the last time while she was with us physically.  Now it is time to honor her as an ancestor.  She would smile at that, not snicker or scoff, but smile and possibly giggle.  She can no longer deny the titles or designations of wisdom that we will give her.  She truly is an ancestor, one we are very willing to receive advice, wisdom, and solace from.  She was and is my friend and it was my honor to take part in last night’s ritual.  It was the beginning of my healing and for that I thank her deeply.

I did not know how powerful the ritual would be, how deeply it would impact me.  But it did.  I know that I do not do the readers justice in giving only snippets of a ritual here, but that is all that I am willing to share, that I’m willing to give.  I will only say that when a flame is snuffed out it leaves a darkness that cannot be imagined until you feel it.  I felt that darkness last night and the rebirth of her soul in the flame of spirit.  Her release was sweet; my release has begun.

I thank you Teresa for all you have taught me, for all you have laughed and cried over, for all you have given, and for all that you will continue to do – in this life and in the next.

Blessings.

Part of the human experience is at some point the need to deal with death.  This may be the death of someone close or distant, but it makes no difference, the passing of another changes the life of all that they have touched.

This last Saturday my dear friend and spiritual family member passed through the veil to walk with the ancestors.  She was 50 years old.  Teresa was a beautiful person, one that didn’t like people to fuss over her.  If she could have talked to everyone at the moment we were all in her home, she probably would have told us not to worry, not to hurt, that in the end she would still be with us because nothing truly ever dies.  I know that it is the memory carried in the heart that continues to give life to an individual.  It is the smile of a grandchild, a phrase spoken so naturally that it makes a person pause and think of those that have gone before us.  It is the memory that keeps them alive.

But for the moment, the need to grieve and to allow the process of moving on must be tended to.  We grieve, we mourn, we wonder why such an early death, why her.  There is no answer to the questions, at least none that will give any solace to those still living.  The grief is ours to have, ours to live and travel through and we will.  We will go on understanding that she is still with us, that all that have passed are still with us in one way or another.  Then there is the moving on.  Not our moving forward and on, but Teresa’s.

I have been asked where do you go after the vessel that holds the spirit no longer functions; where do we go when we die.  My only answer is that it depends.  Every religion on earth has its own interpretation of what happens after death.  In my heart I know that the Somerlands wait for all of us where we can rest and gain strength to journey back to continue the lessons that we need to complete or help those that connected to us.  That is my belief and the journey to the Somerlands is something that we will all undertake some day.  For now though it is time to help Teresa on her way, to help her move through the ethos, so that all she need do is rest and rejuvenate.

We will do ritual for her – a specific ritual.  It will be a requiem, a passing ritual, that will cut her ties to the physical world and allow her to move with Spirit on this journey.  It will be difficult, it will be one of the saddest days I have yet lived, but it is necessary and I will do this with love.  How could I not?  How could I think selfishly to hinder her on her way?  I can’t; I love her as my sister and so will do what I can to give her peace.  But I should make it clear, it is not the end.  Teresa will travel freely through the Somerlands, through the boundaries of the veil, to spend time with us as she chooses.  How do I know this? 

Because she locked the dead bolt on my backdoor yesterday morning leaving me outside without a key.  May the joy of her return be quick.

This last Monday I began my first day as Pagan Chaplain at Syracuse University. It seems very natural for me to take on this position; you see over the last 8 1/2 years I have been the religious advisor for the pagan students on campus. It was a job that needed to be done and I gladly took it on. It was not for anything other than to help out our younger generation of pagans as they begin their journey of discovery. But now I have a title and office space – two things that weren’t there before.

When I tell my friends about this, my pagan friends that is, they get excited. In fact they become very excited. “This is big, huge,” they say. I am still wrapping my head around the significance of this. Intellectually I know that it is truly important and immensely significant that a pagan be accepted and recognized as a Chaplain in a major higher educational institution. But this is me, just me, and I am the same person that was helping the students before the title Chaplain was attached to me. Then I think “huh, there is only one other Pagan Chaplain at a college or university in the entire country.” That is when it hits me; this is big and with it come big responsibilities. And so my adventure begins.

As I said before one of the changes is that Chaplains get office space on campus which means I get office space. These are not University employee positions, they are appointed by their religious groups as the chaplain/religious person at the campus for their particular “denomination.” So the shuffle began, office shuffle that is. I wondered how this would work, there is limited space: 7 offices and 12 chaplains. I was just happy that I wasn’t the one having to figure out where to put everyone. In the end I have been assigned to an office with two other chaplains. They are a Catholic priest and an evangelical minister; it is an interfaith community after all. As I heard who my office mates were I chuckled, no one could have made this up. “Did you hear the one about the priest, the pagan, and the evangelical preacher?” It really is the beginning of a good laugh; hopefully it will be laughter that is born out of learning that our differences are what connect us to one another.

I’ll be moving into my new space, the one that will become a site for interfaith work. After all that is the point, interfaith work to bring understanding and acceptance between different paths and different people. It is also important that we as the leaders of the varying paths learn to live together as well. It is only by our example can we teach that we can all live together peacefully and respectfully.

It was suggested to me by a friend that I should chronicle my experiences as a Pagan Chaplain in a predominately Judeo-Christian chapel. I have to agree, this is an experience to be documented in writing rather than relying on memory alone. During the discussion the thought of “Jesus and the Greenman” living in one space was talked about, laughed about, but it is real so welcome to this new space. Welcome to both deities and all the others that are worshiped, honored, and revered in this place that has given pagans a seat at the table.

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