You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘university’ tag.

Today is a day for dreams.  Today is the day a dream of mine became reality and it is the day that new dreams are to be born.  Today is the day that a circle of stones, dedicated to the religious gathering of Pagans, was created at Syracuse University.

Seven years ago I wasn’t the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  There was no Pagan Chaplain, but I was the religious advisor for the student Pagans on campus and at that time I had a vision where the students would have a place of their own.  It didn’t have to be exclusive, in fact I didn’t think it should be.  Rather it needed to be a stone circle where they could observe ritual, meet with friends or do whatever.  This needed to be a place where they could feel the energy of their gods and their beliefs – a place where they would be reminded that they did matter.

Seven years ago I requested a stone circle to be built on campus.  For seven years I would periodically bring the subject up to those that needed to be reminded that Pagans did not have a place of their own like other faiths.  For seven years energy was built to push a dream forward and for seven years the ancestors watched and waited.  After seven years the energy culminated and the ancestors were heard.  I was asked to resubmit the proposal and all agreed that a circle would be built.

What changed in that seven years?  My position changed from advisor to Chaplain and with that a voice formerly foreign at the religious table was now heard. A new Dean at the Chapel was introduced.  The previous Dean had welcomed Pagans to the Chapel but it was the current Dean that understood the need for place. What changed was Pagans became recognized as valuable members of the religious makeup of the University deserving the same respect as any other faith tradition.

Yes, today is a day of dreams.  The stone circle doesn’t look like the stone circles created so long ago.  There are no standing stones familiar to so many.  There are only four stones – a stone at each cardinal point creating a 20’ inner circle.  The stones are large and made of blue stone, imbedded in the ground laying flush with the earth.  They needed to be unobtrusive, reflective of landscape and useable.  They are altar stones and any tradition, Pagan or otherwise, will be able to use them.  The dream came to life today when four stones were laid.

However, the laying of these stones is not the end of the dreams.  It’s the beginning of dreams.  A place for the seeds of possibility to break through and find sunlight to help them grow.  For many the creation of this circle seemed like a natural process and in many ways it was. When the voice of the ancestors sang once again those ready to hear their story listened and all barriers became non-existent. This was the right thing to do, this was the right day to do it and on this Samhain the ancestors will be honored in their stone circle.

Today I am overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed with both the awe that I feel when I realize what has happened but also at the thought of what will be the next dream to come to life.

Advertisements
Many Faith One Humanity

Getting Ready to Leave

Tired, awake, excited, and full of wonder we arrive in London.  The adventure has begun.  Less than 48 hours ago 17 of us waited at the Syracuse airport to board our plane to being 10 days of sites and discussion.  With little sleep during the in between we are safe and sound and through our first day in England.

When we arrived yesterday morning we were greeted by the SU London staff who guided us to the coach that would take us to our hotel – the Royal National.  On the way I was treated to a front row seat (on the left side of the coach) and just took in the scenery.  A little something called The Globe to my left… then a cemetery, churches of all types, and brick buildings that remind me of Mary Poppins all in view.  Traffic on the left side of the road didn’t seem strange, at least not then.  I was tired but ready to get the day started.

Many Faith One Humanity

Lunch and Introductions

We deposited our bags at the hotel, couldn’t quite check in when we arrived but we knew that ahead of time, and then off to Syracuse’s Faraday House; the center for SU London.  Our orientation to the UK was fun and informative on both the joys and the dangers of being a tourist.  I am thankful for the information!  We are also treated to lunch along with introductions to several people on the staff.  So far we are still excited and alert.  I’m amazed at the energy still being so high, especially in myself.

Once done we are back to the hotel to check in, unpack and start on our first event: a walking tour of the local area with Prof Richard Tames.

Many Faith One Humanity

Wisdom and Youth

 This gentleman was a repository of knowledge regarding London history and briskly walked us through the squares, the University of London, past Virginia Woolf’s home, to the British Public Library.  An hour and a half of non-stop information about the area we are calling home for 10 days.  He returns us to our hotel and graciously hands us his complete notes regarding the tour just given.

After our thanks for his generosity we finally have a moment to breathe – 45 minutes until we need to meet and leave for dinner.  I have to say that riding the London tube is an experience, especially when you are entering the Underground for the first time during the end of the day commute rush!  It was wild finding out where to go, herding 17 bodies in the same direction and onto the same commute line, and ending up at the same stop.  Thank goodness we had two guides from London helping us navigate the system; if not I’m sure that we would still be looking for some of our party.

Dinner was at Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant serving family style to our table.  The food, flavors, smells, and comfortable chairs a truly welcome relief.  Conversations all around the table were buzzing on a number of topics and I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.  But the lack of sleep finally caught up with all of us.  Soon I could see in others a mirror of what I was feeling – a need to close my eyes and let my body rest. 

It has been a wonderful beginning to the trip and I imagine that it can only get better.  Today the Imperial War Museum, a Zen Garden visit, Notre Dame Church, tea at St. Martins in the Fields, the Buddhist Society, and then back to the Faraday House.  A full day indeed.

It has been a whirlwind around me for what seems a long time. Fund raising, working at store and home, Chaplain projects, and winter weather have all combined to make time fly by without notice. But today I honor the passage of time. February marked my first year as a Chaplain. It doesn’t seem like a year has passed nor does it feel like I’ve accomplished much, at least not on the surface. And so I pondered the question: what exactly has been achieved? Well, a lot of things as it turns out. Things that I forgot about or at the time didn’t seem that important as individual moments. But in the long run a great deal has changed. So what has happened in the last year? Let’s see, how about this:

  • My appointment was recognized
  • My best friend and the one who appointed me passed through the veil
  • I’ve found common ground in a shared office with a Priest and an Evangelical minister
  • Language has become a focal point of discussion at the Chapel to try to bring about new ways of understanding between the different faith traditions
  • The students have become public about the fact they exist
  • Churches, educators, and conference organizers are requesting speakers to talk about “being pagan”
  • Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans and Muslims together work in welcoming parents and students to the campus
  • The “mainstream” traditions have “discovered” that they are lacking knowledge regarding the minor faiths
  • I’ve been invited to give blessings over university gatherings
  • We were invited to participate in interfaith dialogue with Daisy Kahn and Brad Herschfield
  • Pagans for the first time are included in the interfaith trip sponsored by the Chapel
  • A psychic fair/fund-raiser was held on campus (that was fun)
  • Rituals of understanding have taken place to help facilitate learning between Pagans and other faith traditions
  • All religious holidays on campus are now equal
  • We have been given a voice or should I say we don’t have to shout anymore because people are listening.

There have been a multitude of changes but the last two on that list are significant. I mean really significant.

First: all religious holidays on campus are equal. The University announced today they are discontinuing the practice of dismissing class for Eid El-Fitr, Yom Kippur and Good Friday – three main Abrahamic holy days. The religious diversity on campus is recognize and because of that the University has a very in-depth policy on allowing students, staff and faculty to take time off to practice their faith. That policy has not changed; however, now all faiths will need to follow the policy rather than being given privileged time off. Faith traditions of all kinds, both major and minor, are now being treated equally.

A student can request time off for Samhain, Ostara, Mabon, and it must be given without penalty. In the same manner Christian, Jewish, and Muslim students must go through the same process when wanting to participate in their religious holidays. No one is “more equal” than anyone else when it comes to faith traditions. The University will extend the Thanksgiving holiday time for students by three days, shifting the three religious holidays to a universal time off. The change is acknowledging the need for students to travel at this time of the year and the importance of staying connected to family. If you want to read more about this change you can do so at http://insidesu.syr.edu/2011/03/09/academic-calendar/.

The second change, the Pagan voice is requested, listened to, heard, and taken into account in the same manner as any other group. I’ve been asked to participate on the visioning committee for Hendricks Chapel. This committee will form the strategic plan for the Chapel which will lead its direction and vision for the next several years. The request outlined the following reason for asking that I be on the committee:

As a chaplain and former staff member, you bring a wide view of life on campus. As a Pagan, you also bring a critical voice to a conversation that has in the past been dominated by a Christian lens. In addition, your ability to critically reflect, dream and envision new possibilities would be a tremendous gift to the committee.”

A shift in how Pagans as a group are viewed has changed. We are no longer considered the “strange group on the quad” that needs to be tolerated. We asked for a place at the table and it has been given as a fully respected partner in change.

I compliment the efforts made and honor the winds of change that have gently blown across this little campus. I look forward to the changes that lie ahead and all that it will bring.

I want to thank those that have contributed generously to help out the students.  We still have a long way to go in raising all the funds, but we have a good start and that’s what counts.  If you want to donate but haven’t, you still can; just go to the page “Contribute to Campus Pagans” for directions. I’ll be posting more on our progress as we go along. 

Because of the fundraising I have been doing a lot of “other” work and not necessarily writing, but this morning I was thinking back on the last few weeks and all that has gone on. Yesterday I sat with Father Linus, one of my two office mates, discussing a proposal we are preparing for the Universities Resident Advisor Mid-Winter conference.  In other words, we are looking to grab time to talk to the student RAs for all of the dorms.  These are the students that are “in charge” of a dorm floor, taking care of crisis’, helping with disputes, and generally acting as house mom for students usually younger than themselves.  As we talked our plan came together on what it is we wanted to let students know about faith, religion, the Chapel and the details that come with that.  Seems like a tall order, but after coming home I thought about what Linus and I were doing and began to see a simple pattern that has played out over the last couple of months.

Students that wouldn’t normally come to the Chapel are finding their way to our doors.  They come in and hang out and just want to talk.  Well, honestly some of them just want to see a friendly face and to feel included.  They stop by and say hello, shyly peeking their heads in and asking “are you Ms. Hudson”.  A good portion of them aren’t pagan, they grew up in other traditions and are not looking to change their faith.  What they are looking for is connection with someone – anyone.  They don’t feel as if they belong, they are disconnected from home and all that is familiar to them.  They are feeling a little lost and need some grounding.  So we talk.  Well, they talk – I listen.  They become a little more comfortable and then their questions start. They are confused by what they were taught about life growing up.  It doesn’t necessarily match what they are experiencing now that they are on their own. What they really want is a sounding board to work out the confusion. 

Unfortunately there is a common belief that if they go to the Chaplain of their own faith tradition they will get nothing but rhetoric and dogma; they want someone who won’t judge but will allow them to begin to work out loud the doubts.  I listen a lot. I invite them to come and join the students in SPIRAL so that they can gain a sense of connection to the Chapel.  We have students of differing faith traditions come to the weekly meetings regularly.  Do they continue to come over time? Not usually, they come for a while, make friends, and begin to see people of multiple pagan traditions enjoying their commonalities AND their differences without judgments.  They make those connections that allow them to find a different beauty in their own faith tradition; one they could not see from a “child’s” eyes.  They return to their own faith with new perspective.

This was truly what Linus and I want to do: give a new perspective, an evolving perspective, of what faith, religion and the Chapel are.  Let students know that we are there for them – all of them regardless of “religious designation.” More important, our presentation will be done together. A priest and a pagan standing together to say you really don’t know who we are but we are here to start the conversation and to let you understand, your faith is your’s to own and define and that’s okay.

Interfaith, an interesting word that can lead to many things; in the case of Syracuse University it has led to recognizing minority religions and value they bring to our world.  But it doesn’t mean just recognition here at the University, it means inclusion.

I have always wanted my beliefs to be accepted. Last year Syracuse University did just that, they accepted Paganism as a faith tradition when they recognized my appointment as a chaplain.  What a wonderful thing, but that could have been the end of it. Nothing else needed to be done other than give me the same space as the other chaplains have and life would return to “normal.”  But that wasn’t the case.  Hendricks Chapel at SU embraced its diversity, it embraced us. It is not just lip service given to placate a small group; it is true acceptance as a member of the faith community. 

In the past the Chapel has sponsored interfaith/inter-religious student trips to places of significant religious meaning.  They have always focused on the Abrahamic religions and recognized “three faiths, one humanity.”  This year that has changed, three faiths have turned to many faiths and all faiths are welcome to join the interfaith trip to England.  This year I have been asked to chaperone the trip, what an adventure!  But it isn’t just me.  There are four chaperones: a Jew, a Christian, a Buddhist, and me – a Pagan.  We will visit seven religious sites including Stonehenge.  I was asked if I had preference for dates to visit the stones and since the Jewish festival of Purim begins on March 20th I asked if we could be there on the 19th – the time of the full moon.  How amazing that the school has worked to include all faiths.  Not only that but to also go out of its way to ensure religious celebrations that may occur during the trip be included.  I am thrilled, and yet there are challenges to making this a reality.

And so for my request of you, of the pagans you know, and of the pagans and supporters that they know.  I need to raise money to help to our pagan students pay for this trip. 

I don’t need funds for myself; my expenses are taken care of.  This trip is an opportunity unlike any other that I have heard of being offered to pagans, especially from a mainstream institution.  But there is an expense associated with going.  Each student will need to pay approximately $3800 for the trip.  That is a lot of money when you are already paying regular tuition along with room and board. But I have four students that have signed up and are willing to do whatever it takes to raise the funds.  So I’m asking you, the pagan community and its friends, to help out.  The Church of the Greenwood has put together a an account to collect any contributions towards this effort. There is an immediate need for $2000 for the students to pay their deposits. The deadline for the deposits is November 12th. We will be working on the additional funding as we move forward.

I’m asking the pagan community to help in this endeavor for a couple of reasons.  First, when Syracuse University recognized my appointment they placed their academic, professional and financial reputations on the line.  The University did not back down from that decision when critics questioned why they would do such a thing; it didn’t cave when donors threatened to pull their monies. Rather it has fully integrated pagans into mainstream life at the Chapel.  Second, as I said before this is a unique opportunity.  It would be a shame to let it slip by and possibly affect whether or not we are invited to participate again.  More importantly we need to step up and recognize that this was not a small thing.  Supporting the new generation of pagans as they move forward and letting them know that there is an entire community “out there” helping to pave the way is unbelievably important.  I am continuously asked by students and parents alike “are there others out there and how do I know where to find them?”  Let them know you are out there, let them know that you want the next generation to move into areas of acceptance that you didn’t get to enjoy but had to fight for.  Pagans have said for so long that they wanted a “place at the table” unfortunately we didn’t know where it was.  Well now we do.  But I have to add to that, not only have we been given a place at the table, we have also been asked our opinion.  It may seem like a small thing to some, but this is no small thing.  These students have the ability to celebrate the full moon at Stonehenge while engaging others in interfaith dialogue to help create understanding of whom and what we are. 

I know that there are a great many causes to support, but I have to say why not show those that have risked their reputations to stand up for us that we appreciate their efforts?  Why not help these students move understanding forward?  You will hear from me again on the subject I’m sure, but for now think of the ignorance that has been moved aside and help us support the continued effort of education and acceptance.

We have a couple of ways to contribute funds.  First is through PayPal.  Just log in at www.paypal.com and hit the “send money” button.  Use the email address COTGCampusPagans@gmail.com as the email to send funds to.  This will put the funds directly into the account setup for the student’s fundraising. 

The second way is to send a check to the church directly.  If you are able to help please send your contribution to:

Church of the Greenwood
P.O. Box 5323
Syracuse, NY 13220

Make sure to mark “Campus Pagans” to route it properly.

I appreciate all of the help that has been given so far and all that I know that will be coming in the future.  Once again, please pass this along to those you know and those beyond that and may the gods and goddesses bless all of you and your generosity.

The Dean of Hendricks Chapel was installed to the position on October 25th, 2010.  This was a grand day, a significant day, in the history of the Chapel.  Tiffany Steinwert’s installation marked her inclusion to a very exclusive list.  In the 80 year history of the Chapel Rev. Steinwert is just the 6th Dean and the first female.  I note that she is female only for the record books; her gender has no bearing on her ability to lead, her ability to listen, her ability to understand, nor her ability to move the Chapel to what it will become in the future.  It is only a point of interest to some.

But there was more to the day than the formality of the installation.  Gathered for the event were members of a multitude of religious traditions.  Muslim, Jew, Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh sat together to watch the proceedings. On the stage each faith was represented with their clergy robed and seated to exemplify the deep commitment to interfaith/interreligious recognition and dialogue that make up the Chapel.  I was proud to represent the Pagan community.  I was even more proud that in the clergy procession Druid and Wiccan representatives were among those present.  I was also proud that there were many other members of the Pagan community in the audience.  Asatru, Solitary, CUUPS, Wiccan, Eclectic and more – all present, all invited as equals on this day of celebration.  But I am beginning in the middle; I should go back to the beginning of the day’s events. So I’ll go back a bit…

As my friend and I arrived at the Chapel I had no idea where to go or what to do.  I was dressed in my finest pagan garb: a sky blue dress, athame on my hip, deep blue velvet cloak, and labradorite pendant.  When we finally figured out what to do I left Tim upstairs in the main chapel where the installation was going to occur so he could find a seat.  I headed downstairs to gather with others that were going to process at the beginning of the ceremony.  Now knowing where to go I felt the day was finally beginning.  As I entered the Nobel Room I spotted Skip Ellison, ADF Arch Druid Emeritus.  It was nice to see a familiar face.  Soon Gail Wood found us and we all waited for instructions on what to do.  At one point a gentleman from another faith commented on Gail’s cloak, a compliment.  Many of those in the room had most likely never knowingly interacted with Pagans.  To have Pagans in the room as recognized clergy was probably a new experience for them.  Our instructions came.  I was to line up with the Hendricks Chapel Chaplains, all other clergy were to line up in front of us and walk in pairs. I saw another Pagan had joined Skip and Gail but could not see who it was. I had to smile; three individuals representing our multiple traditions just as the triple god and goddess represent the depths of their being – how appropriate.

I was in the second row of Chaplains when I entered the room.  Such grand ceremony and ritual this was, and now to reenter the middle of the story… we entered the chapel, and as a collective representation of the multiplicity of faith that is Hendricks Chapel, we took our seats to witness and give approval to the installation of the Dean.  The ceremony was the usual line up of prayers, short speeches and music that you would find in a church service; one couched in an academic setting that is.  But today there was a small difference – the student speaker was Pagan.  She is a member of SPIRAL, the student Pagan group on campus.  She is also the official face of Hendricks Chapel.  Sierra is the President of the Hendricks Chapel Choir, Vice President of SPIRAL, and member/leader in many other groups.  I consider her a living, breathing, walking example of interfaith. Sierra was giving the student welcome to the new Dean and to the guests in the audience.  As she went through her speech I thought of the discussion we had earlier, she was scared and nervous.  What she portrayed was grace and beauty, gifts from the Goddess that Sierra carries through every part of her life.  Her welcome was inclusive, warm and ended with an unexpected note.  Sierra closed with “Peace be with you and Blessed Be.”  Nothing, in my opinion, was more moving or profound than those two statements being said together. 

As the ceremony ended we processed out, continuing on to the reception that followed.  There I was able to talk to friends old and new from the Pagan community.  Friends of mine who were present wanted to meet the Dean and so I made sure to bring her to them for the introduction.  She was pleasant as always and told us something that was a little surprising.  As far as religious groups were concerned, Pagans had one of the largest representations for the event.  We can be proud; we did not hide from being recognized.

I was also able to meet several others during the reception. People who were both Pagan and non-Pagan that wanted to introduce themselves and begin to invite our voice to other locations, other discussions. Transition is beginning, Pagans are beginning to be seen and heard.  We need to be ready to accept the responsibility of telling our stories and moving forward.  Most will never get the opportunities that have been placed in front of me but that doesn’t mean that my voice is any greater than another.  It just means that this part of my journey has put me in this position.  I will continue to work, talk, walk, yell, scream, discuss, get scared, and move forward.  I hope you do to. 

Daisy Kahn is the Executive Director for the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA).  She is also the wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.  Ms. Kahn and her husband are leading organizers of the Cordoba Initiative at Park51.  This week it was my pleasure to be one of a small group invited to lunch and conversation with Ms. Kahn.

The lunch itself was simple: pizza.  That’s right, just pizza.  But it wasn’t the food that was the draw; it was the ability to converse with a person that is currently at the middle of the debate regarding religious freedom in this country.  How could I, a Pagan, not go? This gathering was intimate with only 20 or so people in the room.  And what people they were: Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Pagan, Muslim, and probably faiths traditions that I’m not aware of.  Old, young, middle-aged; student, chaplain, professor, visitor, staff; those who watched 9/11 from afar as well as some who were very personally affected by the attack – all had their perspectives and lives changed that day.  The cross-section of American culture was amazing.  But it seemed that everyone came together for one single purpose: to talk, to listen, and to be open to understanding.

What was said will remain between the participants of the lunch.  There were no cameras, recordings or media allowed.  An environment of open, candid discussion was created with trust among the participants a key component.  What I will say is that we discussed a wide range of topics.  What is an interfaith or interreligious dialogue was the beginning point. From there we broached the subject of anger in America; anger against certain groups and what it is based in.  (Fear of the unknown is my opinion, that and feeling a loss of control in our lives.)  We talked about the Cordoba Initiative/Park51 Center and what steps have been taken to make it inclusive – steps that have been taken from the beginning of the project.  Inclusion and sensitivity towards the 9/11 families in the planning of the project was also brought up.  The discussion in all areas was just what it was intended to be – a conversation.  For me the conversation reaffirmed that most people just want to do good.

At the end of the lunch I smiled, we all came together to listen to one woman, Daisy Kahn, talk.  What had happened was very different.  A conversation that allowed questions, thoughts, opinions and maybe an answer or two to be brought forward had taken place.  No, not what I expected but definitely what I was hoping for.  Start your own conversation.  You never know what new place of understanding it will take you to.

Compassion and understanding, sometimes we forget to practice these two virtues.  I’m as guilty as the next, but I do try to put both in my life every day.  I say this because on occasion I get reminded of how important these two things can be to those around us and how often we forget to practice them.  This really comes into focus at the beginning of every year on campus.

Each year there are new students.  We are, after all, at a University; we hope that there will always be new students coming to learn.  What they learn will in the long run truly be up to them, but they come with the hope that we will give them knowledge that will be useful after graduation. As the new students arrive to the campus a few find their way to the Chapel; ultimately some find their way to SPIRAL (our student pagan group) and to me.  This is the time when students, on their own for the first time, begin to explore their education, including their spiritual education.  This, for me, is what it is all about: helping others figure out who they are and what the next step on their path might be.

Grounding and centering, the essential building blocks to everything else; this is where we begin.  The older students can help, and they do.  It is always my goal to have the older students work actively with the new.  Seeing that peers have been able to learn the skills helps the newer students understand that it just takes time and practice.  It also helps instill with the older students that we have an obligation to give back, that it is the job of those that have gone first to help those that come afterwards. If we don’t help each other, teaching and learning along the way, who will? 

A little energy play, they get excited; a little more energy play, and they learn to feel; a little more energy work and they understand that this isn’t necessarily easy or play.  But what they learn is whether or not this is something that they wish to pursue.  What is a direction? Why are elements associated with them, why those elements with those directions, are those things all you can have for that direction, what etiquette is there that I must follow?  Is there only one kind of energy? Are dragons and fairies real? What is a journey? All are questions that get asked every year.  It is a repeatable cycle, the academic Wheel of the Year.  And this is where compassion and understanding are necessary – when someone new comes to the pagan traditions and wants to learn we need to have both compassion and understanding.

Remember when you were new?  Maybe you do or maybe you don’t, but everyone has to be new at some point.  We all come to our path knowing nothing, or at least knowing nothing outside of our intuition.  We know what calls to us, we know that this might be the path we need to be on, but understanding ritual construction, element direction (think neo-pagan designations), energy work, casting circles, spell crafting, the Charge of the Goddess (or God), that there are multitudes of traditions, are not innately understood things.  We have to be taught, we have to learn, we have to teach, and we have to practice patience.    

So reach deep down inside of your memory.  When was the last time you were engaged by someone completely new and excited about a pagan path?  Was it yesterday or was it years ago?  When it happened, how did you respond to the questions, or were you even open to them?  Answering the questions that seem silly can be tiring but it can also be a barometer to how society views Pagans in general.  It is an opportunity for us to educate and to be educated.  Trust me there is nothing more rewarding that helping someone see who I am as a Pagan while assisting them in finding their own path.  And so compassion and understanding: Compassion for the need to know “stuff” and to know it all right now; to figure it all out so that “I know how to do everything that the experienced crafters do.”  Understanding that we were like that at one time as well, eager to learn and not understanding that this is a life time pursuit of knowledge and skill.  They figure it out eventually, but it is a tough road to travel at times.  And like all of us, they reach a particular point. That moment when the older student approaches me with a single question:

                “Was I that much of a pain?”

My answer,

                 “No, you were worse. Be patient, they are new and you were once as well.”

So today think about where you are.  Are you the new and excited student fresh on your path and a sponge for information and continuously asking questions? Are you the one a little further down the path that helps to show that it just takes some practice?   Are you the one just far enough along who is tired of answer the questions and not wanting to bother with newbies?  Are you the one much further on their path, charged with guiding people around the “cosmic pot holes” that you fell in to and had someone there to help you out? Maybe you are a little bit of all of these.  I know that one of my great sources of learning is new students.  They ask questions that I have either not thought of or not thought of in a long time.  They make me think, they help me not be stagnant, and they teach me to remember that compassion and understanding are there to help all of us.

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.

%d bloggers like this: