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Every now and then a moment comes along and it hits you – this is what it is all about.  Last week when the final stone was laid it was one of those moments.

Last Monday was the day that all the work on the stones was finished.  I hadn’t planned on being outside when the stones were actually laid into the ground but a friend needed a little fresh air so outside we went.  The day was cool, cloudy and threatening rain; for me it was a perfect day.  As we walked outside I pointed out the holes for the stones to our right, but in front of us we noticed a purple and white banner on the quad.   Neither of us quite knew what it was for but it seemed interesting.

We continued our conversation as we began to watch what was unfolding – it was a ceremony by the Native Americans Students at Syracuse (NASAS). As they began their celebration of song and dance I heard noise coming from the area where the stones where.  The stones were going into the ground at that moment.  I struck me then.  I was standing at a point of convergence.  I was in front of the Chapel, a place most associated with Abrahamic religions and at the same time witnessing traditional Native American ceremony through song and dance while a stone circle was being laid for Pagan gatherings.  Hendricks truly is a place of interfaith dynamics; a home for all faiths and a place for all people.

Not one of these things took precedent over the other.  The Chapel, the stones and the dance all had equal value and all were living in harmony with one another in the same virtual space. Isn’t this what true respect and diversity is supposed to be?  I believe so.

A few days later I was asked a question that I had never been asked before: “When people bring their religions and traditions to a new land how do they reconcile and respect the spirits of the land who are already there?”  I thought about it for only a second reflecting on the events of the previous Monday and my response was easy.  You ask permission.  When I began the process of requesting the stones seven years ago I did two things.  The first was in the original proposal I simply stated that the University has a unique and solid connection to Scotland and while all cultures in one way or another have some sort of connection to stones and megaliths Scotland’s connection is special.  Scotland has more standing stones and stone circles than any other country in the world.  How better to honor the University’s connection to Scotland than through stones. The second thing I did was I began to ask permission of the land here in Syracuse to allow this to happen.

When the holes for the stones were being dug a contingent from Lockerbie Scotland was on campus for Remembrance Week.  A coincidence that had nothing to do with the stones being brought to campus.  When the stones were being laid the Mohawk group Kanienkehaka Ratirennenhawi danced their song on the quad only yards away.  I believe both events blessings underscoring that all connections and energies were in complete agreement – it is time we lay aside differences and see what can bring us together to make us better in this world.

SPIRALIt is one thing to have faith; it is another thing altogether to trust. That’s right, trust. I have told a lot of people over the years that all they need to do is trust.  Whether it is in themselves, in others, in a process or in the gods makes no difference.  The comment is always the same – trust, all will be as it should be and you will be fine, so just have some trust. The lesson that I have learned this week is to trust.

There are times when things just seem to go wrong, it happens to the best of us, and there is nothing we can do about it.  While that is true on occasion how we move through those times to get to the other side does matter.  What happened this week to me doesn’t matter, at least not the details; what does matter is that I had to sit back and think deep and hard what is it I truly believe and what guides my life.  I could state the obvious answer; the one that is expected and say that my deities, faith, and beliefs guide me and that would be a true statement.  However, there is more to it than that.

I know what I believe.  I know what I have faith in.  I know who my deities are.  These are things I know – this week I had to learn the hard lesson of trusting my deities, my faith and what I believe in.  I handed over a situation that I could not see the other side of.  I had to go against every instinct and accept that the messages I was receiving were correct rather than what I “knew” was the answer.  Was it easy? No. Trust was the real answer and trust is what I did.

So how do you get to the point of trusting?  I’m not sure, but it started out with listening and then accepting what was being said.  It doesn’t hurt to have an amazing partner in my life that trusts me completely.  It also doesn’t mean having blind trust.  Just like blind faith, that type of trust will lead a person into peril and possible hurt of all kinds.  But when you trust it is a matter of understanding that there are consequences to doing so.  Those consequences can be either good or bad or both and if you trust you need to be willing to accept whatever consequence comes along.  Once that is understood trusting becomes a more natural process.

So I ask, where have you placed your trust and have you given it wisely.  It may not feel like what you are trusting is the logical thing to do, but if in your heart you know it is the right thing then why not do so?  I could have stayed on a very safe path this week and I chose not to.  I don’t regret that one bit and the consequences that have come from that is simple:  1) I am stronger that I thought, 2) My faith is deeper than I ever thought it could be, and 3) my ancestors will always have my back.  A person can’t ask for more than that.

 

A day of possibilities is here.  It’s the first day of the academic year and students are attending the first classes of the semester.  Tonight is also the first meeting of the Pagan students for the year as well.  I look forward to this time because it is a time full of wonder, excitement and the knowledge that anything is possible. It is the last that I love more than anything.

So what do I have in mind for this year?  I’m not sure about the definitive but I do know the possibilities:

  1. Finish my bulletin board (it may not seem like a lot but trust me it is)!
  2. Participate in at least two interfaith events on campus.  This will be fun and I’m already working on it.
  3. Figure out fundraising – This one is actually very important.  Every other religious organization or church has on going funding from their larger denomination or sponsoring church.  I would like to see that happen here in order to better serve the students.
  4. Finish a few writing projects.  Some are about the Chaplaincy and some are not.
  5. Write my blog more!  This is actually the number two priority – write here at least once a week.  The number one priority is actually:
  6. Teach what I can to the students and find others qualified to teach them what I cannot.  I only know what I know and that is all.  There is so much in this to offer and give to the students that I am continuously looking for new and different people to introduce them to and in the process new and differing views on faith, belief and themselves.

So let’s take this journey of possibility together.  Keep me on track where you can and in the end we will end up in a much better place than we started because we worked together.

And if you want to help out with getting the fundraising part started right away you can always go to our Contribute page.

This last Mabon we had guests at the ritual on campus.  It was the members of the Magic and Religion course taught in the Anthropology department.  Their attendance was required as part of the course; they were to observe at a minimum, they were invited to step in circle and participate if they would like.

For the last however many years I have been a guest in the Magic and Religion class, spending a couple of hours talking about paganism, neo-paganism, witchcraft, etc.  In that brief time I get to talk about the origin of stereotypes, misconceptions that have been created by our society, the fear of “witches”, and answer any questions that I can.  I must say there are times when I just don’t know the answer which I freely admit that fact.  The rules for my time with the class are simple:

  1. It is interactive – students need to engage the subject and ask questions or make comments
  2. The students can ask any question they want – I will try to answer and let them know when I can’t
  3. I won’t be insulted or offended by any question, this is about learning
  4. Students won’t be offended by answers.  Once again, this is about learning.

Simple rules to live by.

Once everyone knows the rules I begin with a word association game.  I start with the word “Witch”.  I ask students to tell me what they think of, the first thing that comes to mind, when they hear this word.  At some point both “magic” and “spells” are added to the list.  I pull those two out and we begin again with words/thoughts associated with these two.  This is the method I have always begun with in order for me to better understand where the students are coming from.  This year was no different from any other; all three words were on the board and being worked with.  However, this year there was something different: I noticed that what this class associated with these words was very different from what the first class years ago had associated. 

I don’t know if it is a generational change, a product of education and recognition in our culture, if it is a phenomenon of “times are changing”, or what.  But the overtly negative images of the past and the belief that the movie The Craft is a true representation of a witch were gone.  What had replaced those ideas were thoughts of Wicca, religion, ritual, healing, nature, spiritual, goddess, and a myriad of others.  We talked about what their thoughts were, they questioned what they didn’t know, and listened as I spoke of the wheel of the year, of being outside to do ritual.  They were attentive regarding the reclaiming of the title witch and where the images came from and were curious about meditation and journey work.  Interestingly they wanted to know about if we convert to paganism or if you need to be born into the craft.  They were interested in speaking to the ancestors and if time is a continuum or if there was no past or present but if it all mixed together.  The questions were different from the past, there was no fear, there was only a desire to understand.

After the class I had several come and thank me for coming and asked if we could continue the conversation.  In the time since that day I have had a few come to see if they could attend the student meetings and learn more or if I could help them find resources that could help them develop “gifts” that “run in the family” but aren’t really spoken too much about. 

I am still amazed by all of this, but not because of the changes.  I’m amazed because the change happened so subtly that it was imperceptible while it was taking place.  But now that I look back and see the difference in understanding and tolerance between the first and last classes that I spoke to I just have to smile.  At the University things are changing a little at a time.  I wonder how much change has happened outside of this environment that we haven’t really noticed because it was slow and subtle.  Maybe we should step back and take measure of those around us and how they view us and our paths. 

There have been set backs and prejudice still exists; it always will.  But maybe we have moved further forward than we think we have.

Yesterday was Mabon, a festival of harvest. It is the time of the Autumn Equinox when light and dark are equal and once again we can reflect on balance and the maturing of things within our life. But yesterday was different for me. It was formal ritual shared with students on campus as always, however, the events of the day (the year actually) created the true spirit that was carried into the circle. It was what came before that made a festival of harvest possible.

It is one thing to reflect on the “seeds” we have figuratively planted in our Spring, watching those things we have nurtured and waited to come to fruition. It is another thing all together to actually put things into the ground, tend to them, and begin to harvest crop. When you are able to combine the two you begin to appreciate even more the rituals and their deeper meanings. Last year I began the planting of a new life. Yesterday I began to harvest the physical fruit of that labor.

Living on a farm is new to me. Well, new as of last year. I have planted berries in the field; experimenting on which will be the best growing on my land in order to produce a viable selling crop. To help with the growing process I partnered with my son in raising bees. What better way to give back to the environment, to nature, than to help in the pollination process. It was also understood that there would then be a second crop: honey. I am new at this type of work and so in both endeavors I have made mistakes and learned a great deal. In both areas I have learned a lot and it hasn’t all been about how to grow plants. A great deal has been about my self, my family, and relationships of all kinds.

Yesterday was Wednesday and it was a grey day. One of those days when it is rainy but not, warm and oppressive, but you still feel a need to wear long sleeves because of the overcast skies. It was a grey day. It was also not my son’s normal day off. For the past several weeks he has been off on Thursday and I have gotten use to planning around that schedule to do work with him or just to visit in general. But he was off and there was work to be done. The work of the harvest does not wait for us to be ready, it makes us ready.

Dan and Jen showed up late in the afternoon and within a short time Dan and I were suited up and heading to the hives. We had decided to do only a small portion of the work. Take out a piece of equipment that had naturally removed the bees from the portion of the hive we were going to extract honey from. That was our plan, our only plan. It was to say the least incomplete and rather naive on our part. When I arrived at the first hive (the aggressive one) my son was already there. He had the top of the hive off and was beginning to work towards taking the first honey chamber off. Off it came and taken to the back of the jeep. At that point we knew we would be working longer than originally thought, we had to do something with the combs of honey. We then began to work at removing the excluder. It was full of bees working on storing food for the winter.

Now I have to explain, the excluder is what begins the process of removing the bees from the area where we want to harvest honey. It is only 1 ½” thick and consists of plywood and a triangular piece of mesh over a maze that the bees have to walk through. It works, it works well. But on the underside of the excluder, the part next to the second chamber, there are bees. Lots of bees. Dan told me he knew he was going to get stung. Not a big deal, we both have been stung. It happens when you work with bees. But there are times when you can minimize what will happen next. We didn’t minimize. I won’t explain what happened next that caused the issue, I’m not really sure, but the bees became “upset” and decided that Dan was going to be the target of their anger. The excluder was now on the ground, the honey chamber in the back of the jeep, me at the open hive, and Dan is running in the other direction with bees attacking. It was somewhat humorous from my vantage point – they weren’t mad at me. I put the top back on the hive, strapped it down and watched my son getting further and further away. I picked up the excluder. It didn’t have any bees left in it, they were chasing Dan. I took it to the Jeep and began to look at the comb, it looked good. Dan had stopped running and swatting. The bees that were inside his face veil were now gone and amazingly he hadn’t been stung. He joined me as I looked at the second hive and we both knew we had work there as well. Not part of our plan, but that is okay. These bees didn’t hate us.

It took us about 10 minutes more and our work was finished. Our work in the field that is. We decided to take the frames of comb and begin extracting the honey. We took all of the equipment to my son’s house and began to set up. It isn’t difficult, but it can be a little messy. Most importantly we had fun and in the process, beautiful golden honey began to flow in to a five gallon bucket. Our harvest was real, very real. Clear, golden, sweet, wild flower honey. We filtered and bottled it, but I had to leave before it was totally done, after all I had a harvest ritual to facilitate! I would be coming back later, my husband had by this time joined us, and we would leave the farm jeep at Dan’s and Bill would go to the ritual with me.

As we arrived at campus I set up sacred space: first the altar and then the perimeter; in the center a small table, a cauldron on the ground and candles to help light the area. Eight candles defined the circle and soon all was set, circle cast, and pre ritual briefing done. This ritual had an added bonus: Anthropology students observing a Pagan ritual. It is an occurrence that has been repeated for several years, agreed to by myself and the professor of the class. But last night was different, the professor joined the ritual. This is the first time I remember her doing that, and I was thrilled. The ritual was combined with the full moon honoring. All was beautiful and as we worked through the events of the rite I wanted people to find the harvests that they have worked so hard to create, joyful harvests within their lives. Find and share they did, but the sharing was with the gods, not with us. Each shared their joy with deity, sending their thanks through fire letting the gods know that they appreciate the happiness in their lives. And then I shared, first verbally then visually, the harvest that I had that day. One jar of golden honey, honey that had been in the hive only a few hours earlier. The first taste was given to the Dagda, protector of the harvest, the second to our guest the professor, and then to all of students in ritual. The ability to offer such a gift was amazing. The energy of giving, of physically enjoying, the harvest of life was powerful.

I realized standing there that this is what life is for: to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Whether it is in the relationships we build with our family or the food that we place on our table, we need to appreciate it all. I teach students to eat deliberately at least once a day. Understand where the food on your table comes from and what it took to bring it to you. Last night that act took on new meaning in my life. I was overwhelmed that I could offer to the gods the first taste of the first crop of my new life. It took a great deal to bring me to this point, to be able to understand these things. So eat deliberately, drink deliberately, love deliberately, and understand.

I hope you have had a blessed Mabon.

And so the year begins. Okay so it really started last week when everyone was returning to campus but today is the first day of classes and the first day of seeing students rather than parents. It is a fun time of year, a lot of hope and anticipation going on. Last week was a precursor for what is coming – chaos amid joy. Tonight is the first student meeting of the academic year and our goals will begin to be laid out. I’m not saying that we will stick to the list that is created, but we will make a list. It happens every year this way. I ask the question “what would you guys like to do and what do you want to learn about?” and every year there is a list that would keep us occupied for at least five years. We will get to what we can, toss things out as we go, and add other things down the road. But isn’t that a little like life?

I know that it is for me. This last year has been that way when I think about it. I created a list for the Chaplaincy to do and learn. There was/is lots of things on that list. Stuff from how do I get into my office to how do educate the world? I’ve figured out the first one, I’m working on all stuff in the middle, and in the process I have found out that doing the last happens naturally one person at a time. I suppose I already knew that though.

Anything that creates space for large shifts in understanding takes time. I’ve been working with the students on campus for 10 years – it doesn’t seem like that long. Anyway, I’ve found that the woman in charge of space that was terrified of “pagans” in the beginning thinks we are great and approves all of our requests without question. She now thinks that an “alternate opinion” on faith could provide her counsel. Students in the Magic and Religion classes read the texts that we provide the Anthropology professor when it comes to Neo-Paganism and Wicca. That’s right, practitioners are providing the information rather than academics so that when they come to ritual to observe and learn, the classes will understand more readily what is taking place. Little steps changing attitude and understanding. That is all it takes. But where does it all lead to in the end?

Well, it takes us to the next step, to the place pagans say they wish to be – acceptance. So what does that look like? Well, you get a Chaplain (such a strange title for a pagan) with an office. You also have a voice that participates in discussions, welcoming, pastoral care, planning, and cross department training. This translates to education and the dispelling of myths that surround our multiple faith traditions. It also means responsibility on the part of pagans to recognize our acceptance. I know that sometimes being comfortable in our fight for recognition can be a hard thing to let go of. But letting go and accepting a place at the table with all of the other faith traditions is essential to moving forward.

What are my plans for the pagans at the campus this next year? Well first to say welcome back and how is everyone. But what follows will be an ongoing discussion about changing attitudes towards Paganism. I’m hoping that discussion will not be confined to the boundaries of the campus between academics, students and administrators. I’m hoping that it will include people of all faiths from multiple walks of life, most importantly I’m hoping that it includes pagans.

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.

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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