Thursday, October 30, 2014

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween: The Final Chapter

I'm just back from a Halloween parade in nearby Snob Township. I marched in it. My good ol' friend the Monkey Man called me a few hours before it started and said he was going to go as Walt Whitman. So I put on my Civil War recon gown and went to meet him.

Gotta love the Monkey Man. He didn't dress as Walt Whitman. He dressed as Leaves of Grass. I'll have a photo for you in a day or two. Snob Township has a nice little Halloween parade on October 30 every year. They even dole out cash prizes for best costume -- and the competition is serious. Still, I think Monkey Man has a good chance. There's nothing quite so compelling as a six-foot-plus fellow all done in green construction paper, covered with ripened stalks of grass and lines from Walt Whitman.

Can you imagine this holiday coming and going, and you not recognizing it in any traditional manner?

That's what some ultra Christian families ask of their children. They have "harvest festivals" in the church basement, where kids come dressed as their favorite Bible character (other than Satan, of course.)

If you think about it, celebrating Halloween inside just seems completely wrong. It's a night that begs you out into the air. March in a parade. Watch a parade. Trick-or-treat. Light a bonfire. Breathe that autumn air. Visit a haunted house. Sometimes it's cold. Sometimes it's wet. Doesn't matter, it's a time to be outdoors.

The dark nights are nigh. We'll be hunkered by the fire for months. So this is the opportunity, the sacred opportunity, for youngsters to get outside, to exercise their imaginations, to walk the streets in drifts of colored leaves. We are celebrating something very ancient here, and it still feels right.

What's a Christian to do? Enjoy yourself! Don't be so scared. Don't judge. Don't feel put upon. Give those kids bags and costumes, and let them run the streets for one night. And not dressed as Moses, either.

Let us all have a wonderful Samhain weekend. I'm going to get some rest, then have a Ritual with my little Druid Grove. And I can't wait until the little kids come around in their costumes! I'll be on the porch, with my jack-o-lantern and my sage stick, ready to liberally bestow Skittles on the populace. I've got fudge for my dad, and chicken for my mom, And a shrine that I'll light up as the darkness descends.

Blessings to you all.

From Anne
The Merlin of Berkeley Springs

Monday, October 27, 2014

Duck Travesty

I just spent a fruitful half hour looking at Snobville's annual water and sewer report, and a larger geological study of the aquifer from which Snobville draws its water by way of local wells.

"Why bother, Anne?" you ask.

Well, it's like this. The devil ducks have descended on Snobville.

Snobville currently has local control of its water supply. But the small city council has decided that, despite reporting the water and sewer in Snobville to be good every year since 1980, we suddenly need a Big Brother Devil Duck to run our water for us.

That Devil Duck is a publicly traded corporation known as New Jersey American Water.

New Jersey American Water really wants Snobville to sell out.

Of course, this is a matter for voters to decide. The referendum will be on our ballot next week.

Our city council has threatened much higher water bills if we don't sell out to Devil Duck. Through a six-month campaign of glossy brochures, door-to-door canvassing, swag giveaways, and "meet and greets," Devil Duck has told us all the wonderful things they'll do for us if they own our water. The first and most important thing they'll do is fix our "failing" sewer system. And they promise not to raise rates for the first three years.

Readers, you're smart people. What do you think Devil Duck really wants?

Snobville is one of the oldest boroughs in this county, and its wells sink deep into a three-tier aquifer. The upper tiers of the aquifer are at risk from saltwater incursions. Not so much Snobville's level.

And then there's the average income of a Snobville resident. It's high. (Sadly, this author is way below average.)

At the recent Snobville Fall Festival, Devil Duck Water, Inc. had a huge booth, prominently placed, where every kid was given a cute rubber ducky and every adult a backpack, pens, brochures, and other goodies. There were earnest employees there to speak to concerned citizens. They had an answer for everything, let me tell you.

But because Mr. J snarkily introduced me as an "expert" on water, I did not speak up as Mr. J engaged in discussion with Devil Duck. Why bother? I had already decided that no company with honest intentions would spend so much money up front to court voters. Other New Jersey American Water customers paid for all the swag doled out in Snobville. Gosh, that's enough right there for this suspicious Pagan.

Wait. There's more.

As part of their "display," the good folks from Devil Duck had an old section of pipe with mineral buildup in it. The thing looked icky, and sure enough, people were walking by and viewing it with dismay. Alongside the icky one was a "new," Devil Duck-treated pipe with some kind of icy-looking polymer in it that just glowed in perfection.

There's nothing icky about those old pipes. The buildup restricts water flow and puts a little rust in the water. That's it.

The Devil Duck representative pointed out the difference in pipes to me and Mr. J. That's when I said, "So, what's wrong with this one, other than that it will keep my house pipes from blowing out?" And that's when Mr. J (uncharacteristically I quickly add) discounted my knowledge of water pipes by snarking that I was an "expert."

Water is a finite resource, just like everything else. Water rights will be more valuable than oil rights by the end of this century. I am dead certain that Snobville's residents are going to clutch their new American Water swag as they sign away the village's local control of its most precious commodity. But as for me and my house, we will never vote away our water rights.

You know how long I've understood the value of water? Ever since I was a kid in Appalachia, and my granddad and I had to drive to the public spring to fill jugs when our seasonal spring went dry in July. I remember Granddad looking at the burbling perfection of that public spring and saying, "The man who has this on his property has something."


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Vaccination Frustration

None of us are old enough to remember the killer bugs of the first half of the 20th century. Thirty years ago I knew one elderly polio survivor who had a great deal of trouble walking. But he was at least alive. Polio was a serious fear for every parent.

In the 1960s, I contracted rubella. It was sort of like chicken pox (which I also had), but the bumps were smaller. I recovered in about two weeks. Something had changed, though. One of my eyes went all fuzzy. I couldn't see out of it anymore. Because I still had a good eye, I was able to keep this sudden change secret ... until the school nurse tested me and called my parents on the phone.

In college I had a boyfriend whose mother got rubella while she was pregnant. When she gave birth, her twins were both deaf.

For me, it was a no-brainer to give my daughters the full flight of vaccinations, which now included rubella. If there is indeed a link between a small numbers of children and reactions to the vaccines, I would say it is still not as deadly as getting the diseases that the vaccines protect us against.

Every October, I get a flu shot. Again, a no-brainer. I work in a school. I'm around 500 people a day. I've had the flu, and what I find it to be is a terrific consumer of sick days. At my age, I need my sick days to pile up in case I get something more serious.

On Wednesday I got my flu shot and gave it no more thought. Sadly, one of my colleagues had a mild cold and called out on Thursday.

It's Saturday, and I'm too sick to move from the chair. I would probably have a mild cold today, but I sent my immune system into overdrive. It's fighting both the cold and the fake flu, and the cold is winning.

When I look out the window, I see a glorious autumn Saturday. I'll miss it. Sunday looks like a wash too.

It's frustrating, but I have no regrets. While I hate GMOs and fracking, I'm more bullish on vaccination programs. This may be because I remember seeing polio, and I remember having rubella. Glad those plagues are in the archives.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hoping for Some Dull Moments

Yesterday afternoon I went to the doctor for a checkup. She told me that a medication I've been taking for 25 years has been linked with Alzheimer's Disease. I had two great-aunts who had that illness. My mother also basically died of dementia.

Already I have been forgetting things and getting confused about appointments and stuff. I've been chalking it up to sleep deprivation, but damn. I don't want Alzheimer's Disease.

So now we embark on a bold new initiative.

As long as things are dull as dirt, I have a chance.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween: Decorating with Taste (or not)

Wow! I don't know whether to feel like Charley Brown and decry this as crass commercialization, or to slobber with jealousy. Extra Chair and I went to a Halloween party together, and this is what the foyer of the house looked like.

My photo doesn't do it justice.

The rest of the home was similarly stuffed with Halloween decor, though not nearly as over the top as this.

As for me and my house, I keep things simple. I bought three autumn-colored scented candles at South Jersey Pagan Pride Day, but then I kind of went nuts that very night, and ...

So, which is more tasteful, the multi-jack foyer or the candle porn? You tell me!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Samhain 2014: Buying Maple Walnut Fudge

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," proudly Pagan Lite since 2005! Here's my wacky, weedy, poorly-tended but sincere Path.

In October the Veil between worlds thins, and those who went before us come back to take a look around, drop a howdy on us, and perhaps partake of some goody that they loved while they were here. Sometimes they will let you know exactly what they want, too.

Today Snobville had yet another festival. This little town never saw a street it didn't want to close to traffic on a Saturday. So there were crafters, and photographers, and candle-makers, and all those sorts arrayed all around the town. The weather was gorgeous, so Mr. J and I joined the other Snobvillians to walk around and ogle the wares. (Please don't remind me that the autumn colors are at their peak in the mountains. I know that, and I'm homesick.) Strolling through "downtown" Snobville seemed like a good way to waste a few hours and a few ducats.

There was a portly gent selling home made fudge. This is one of my favorite foods. If I was to be stranded on a deserted island with only one thing to eat, I believe I would ask for a crate of peanut butter fudge.

You know these artisan types. The fudge is four bucks a square, two for seven, or buy four, get one free.

Having missed lunch, Mr. J and I had no problem grabbing four flavors, but then it came time to choose a fifth.

The vendor said, "Here's maple walnut. It's really good."

Almost to myself, I said, "Oh, that was Dad's favorite."

The vendor heard me. He shouted, "GET SOME FOR DAD!"

And that brought me to my senses.

Halloween is still with us, after 1500 years of Christianity, because our families over there want to see us here. They are influencing the holy day from their side of the Veil. My dad wants some fudge! The vendor told me so!

I got a brick of maple walnut and will begin putting pieces of it on the Shrine of the Mists next Friday evening. My mom liked chocolate. I got some for her too.

It makes perfect sense to me now. When it comes to keeping the Hallowed in Halloween, we've got partners beyond the Veil.  This is the day that the Dead have made. We should rejoice and be glad it it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Breaking Bad Habits at a Not-So-Tender Age

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," lieblings! My name is Anne Johnson. With Facebook on the rampage against "pseudonyms," I'm glad I got dealt such a generic monicker.

OOOPS! I did it again. I put my hand on my face.

Maybe I'm the queen of this habit. I rub my eyes, I rest my chin in my palm, I scratch my nose, I use my fingers to apply makeup. Second nature. I've had my hands up to my face since babyhood. Maybe you have, too.

Where are my hands otherwise? Grading student papers. Opening classroom doors. Brushing desks. Handling the utensils on the salad bar. Today I will probably have to turn off six or seven student computers, because my last class of the day is my most childish, and they don't pay attention. Honestly, by the end of the school day -- even if I've washed up two or three times -- my hands are grubby. Then, it being allergy season, I rub my eyes. Tissues? I've never had tissues handy, in times of crisis or otherwise. My dad always lent me his handkerchief that he carried in his pocket, like all gents of the Greatest Generation did.

Forget ebola for a moment (as if). We all need to keep our hands away from our faces. This is just practical hygiene. But for some people, like me, with entrenched face-palming behavior, this means breaking a longstanding habit.

How do I break a habit that is second nature? I probably do the face-palm dozens of times a day without even noticing. My dad, with his dad-smelling cotton handkerchiefs, is in the Summerlands with the faeries. He can't help me now.

I'll admit to being paranoid about infectious illness. My daughters are too. Could this have a supernatural component? I'm almost certain my great-grandmother died of influenza. What else would have killed a woman in the prime of life in 1918?

Well, beautiful Great-Granny, I am going to try to keep my mitts out of my mug. I'm going to make a conscious effort.

It's going to be tough. Send me gentle reminders, won't you?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween: It's All about the Devil

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," Samhain 2014 Edition! We're having a little book club talk about a helpful paperback entitled Halloween: What's a Christian To Do? by Steve Russo.

It's always difficult for evangelists to be honest and sincere in their condemnation of Wicca. If they're honest (and they usually are), the only thing they can find to criticize in Wicca is the fact that it promotes other deities over the Christian god. And once you've said, "God is jealous," you've shot your wad on Wicca. It's just not an evil force.

The devil is different.

Our author Mr. Russo quite rightly points out that on Halloween, people dress up like the devil. They decorate their houses with devils. And some people do indeed actively worship the devil on Halloween (and at other times as well).

We've seen these folks at Pagan Pride Days, albeit fewer and fewer as the years progress.

When you've got a pantheon that features an alluring bad boy like Lucifer, you're going to see him get followers. Some people are truly attracted to evil. Evangelists like to lump these people in with Pagans, but Satanists are not Pagans. They are a sect of Christians.

That said, the devil does get trotted out on Halloween. Mr. Russo thinks this is a sure sign that Halloween is a gateway drug to the dark side of The Force. Or some such. Basically, our intrepid author thinks that little kids who don devil costumes are likely to become consumed by the "occult" and wind up slaughtering kittens in pentagrams on the fast track to Hell.

This is a pretty big reach, if you ask me. It's like saying that everyone who is interested in the Titanic is going to wind up trying to sink a big ship in iceberg territory.

When my daughter The Heir was five, she began talking about Halloween in August. She wanted to dress up like a red devil, with horns and a red cape. Once she made that decision, she talked of nothing else for two months. When the kindergarten teacher asked Heir how many sticks in all if she put two sticks with three sticks, Heir replied, "I'm going to be a red devil on Halloween." (Heir promptly got sent to "Developmental Kindergarten," basically a class for kids who think Halloween is more compelling than math.)

Mr. J's mom was a top-notch seamstress, and she made a devil hat with horns out of red satin. She made a satin cape, lined with flannel for a cold night. And she sent pointy-toed red shoes and a pitchfork. When Heir got the package in the mail, she lit up like Chicago on a Saturday night. Red devil! Her dream come true!

I would never embarrass her by scanning the picture of Heir, standing in the back yard, all done up in her devil gear, grinning from ear to ear. But here she is now:

This photo was taken in Romania. She went there not to study vampires as a stop on the highway to Hell, but rather to spend two weeks in an artists' residency. The installation behind her is her contribution to the little village where the residency was held.

Heir grew out of her red devil costume, and she outgrew Christianity before I did. She has a keen sense of morality and an innate goodness that is really inspiring to see.

But I digress.

When I became a Pagan, I threw away all the devil decorations that I had used until that time. I don't think the devil belongs in Halloween. But that's just me. I believe in self-determination. You like red devils? You go!

What I will say is that an interest in a devil costume worn at Halloween does not pave a road to a life of evil. This is fear-mongering. It may sell books to frightened Christian parents, but it's not something we need to take seriously. If your five-year-old is setting the cat's tail on fire, you should worry. If he wants to be a devil on Halloween, fear not! Maybe he just likes red satin.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween: Weak War on Witches

What do you do if you can't beat them or join them? This is the dilemma facing modern Christian fundamentalists when they come face-to-face with Wicca.

I've been building fires with reading a slight little tome called Halloween: What's a Christian To Do? I picked it up at the Friends of the Snobville Library book sale back in September.

The gist of the book is that Halloween can lead your kid down the dark road to doom. Unfortunately it's hard to make a case when presented with the basic tenets of "witches."

Witches are the main topic of Chapter Two: "Witches, Ghosts, and Things That Go Bump in the Night." Hard-hitting evangelist Steve Russo uses the flawless scholarship of Sassy magazine to define, and quote, Wiccans.

"Even though for some people the feminist and environmental aspects of witchcraft are enticing," Russo writes thoughtfully, "the big draw is power." Then he quotes Laurie Cabot, the witch who was interviewed in Sassy: "Witchcraft is a connectedness to everything, so you can center yourself and feel as if you can control some of your environment a little more. I think teenagers today need their own power. They need to feel that they can help shape the future."

So, is teenage empowerment a bad thing? Is it not practiced in Christianity? Did they cancel that show called Hour of Power? I don't recall any witches on that.

It gets better.

If you're anti-Wiccan, which you must be if you're Christian (Russo 29), you basically have to come out against caring for the environment.

This is worth quoting at length, because it basically reminds us that good Christians are indifferent to the planet:

"Another popular avenue for witchcraft today is the environmental movement. There has never been a generation so environmentally conscious as the generation of today. And witches are at the forefront of encouraging us to 'be nice to Mother Earth.' While we certainly need to do our part in being environmentally sensitive, we need to be careful not to get things out of balance.

"As Christians God has called us to be caretakers of the planet [author offers requisite Bible verse]. But the Bible also teaches us to worship the Creator, not the creation. In Exodus 20:3, God says, 'You shall have no other gods before me.' Don't be deceived: While witchcraft may appear to be cool and helping the environment, it goes about it in all the wrong ways."

What are the "right ways?"

"Don't be confused by Laurie Cabot and other witches who sprinkle bits of truth in their concern about the environment, equal treatment of the sexes, and other problems that plague our society. We all need to do our part in making positive changes to society, but we also need to take our direction from the absolute truth of God's word and let Him help us solve the difficult issues of life."

Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Is he saying, "Do as witches do, just give God the credit, because he's God?" I thought so.

This chapter also contains the same tired, old strictures against soothsaying and fortune-telling that always get thrown into Christian tracts about witches. Yes indeed, the Bible is very strict about fortune-telling. You are not supposed to do it.

I've been thinking about the Bible. I've read it. Seems to me, it basically contains four elements:

1. Stories
2. Spiritual guidance
3. Songs
4. Prophecies

How are prophecies different from fortune-telling? Damn if I know. I guess fortune-telling is okay if you're Daniel or the Apostle John. But not okay otherwise. Why the exception to the rule? Shouldn't a rule be ... well ... a rule?

Thus ends another weak attempt to discredit a vibrant religion that seeks to empower people to enact positive social change and sound environmental policies. Just because we want to give credit to the Goddess and not a god who is indifferent at best, and hostile at worst, to the notion that humankind is of the Earth, and not in charge of the Earth, we're going about it "the wrong way."

This book is a trade paperback, which means the paper is better stock. It will recycle nicely.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Breathless: John Walsh, Olivia Kram, Late Night Study Break: #So Proud!

My three readers have been with me a long time. I started this blog in 2005.

At that time, my daughter The Spare was 11 years old.

You've watched her blossom at the Fairie Festival. You've shared her heartaches, her love of cats and comedy, her long, miserable, wretched trudge through Snobville Memorial High School. You've heard time and again what a wonderful daughter she is. The trips we've taken together. Our discovery of, and befriending of, the Monkey Man.

Proms. Problems. Pets. Peers. Personality.

Every May Day at the Maypole. Every Memorial Day at the flag pole. Ever summer in a kayak, floating on the mighty Chesapeake, drinking in its energy ... because this is a water woman.

Dear readers, my daughter is trying to live her dream. And you can help her. I hope you will, in droves. And tell your friends. And tell them to tell their friends. Please watch Olivia Kram's new show, "Late Night Study Break!" I've loaded the pilot episode below. Please subscribe. Please, please, please.

I am so breathlessly proud of my daughter. This show -- all the writing, the taping, the skits, everything -- is being done in addition to a full course load at her university. Let's get her started, shall we? Please?

Late Night Study Break: Musical Guest Natalie Bermudez and featuring the...

Friday, October 03, 2014

Say WHAAAAT? Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween

The nights are growing dark and cold. There are evil spirits in the air, everywhere! Quick! Let's sacrifice little Jimmy, kill him and roast him to appease these evil spirits! The more grisly the killing, the more the spirits will be pleased.

Oh, please.

Welcome to the world of Steve Russo, my friends. Without citing a single source, his book (pictured above) gives the following description of pre-Christian Samhain rites:

"As the power of the sun waned with the onset of winter, people were afraid that life itself, and not just the year, was coming to an end. They imagined that the night was haunted by ghosts and witches, and more particularly by the spirits of the dead who were revisiting their earthly homes. With the supernatural rampant, the night was full of danger and omens. Concerned for their survival, people employed every possible means to fortify the flames of the dying sun and to chase away, or at least pacify, the evil spirits. For this purpose they lit bonfires and sometimes offered gruesome sacrifices."

Well, how the Hell do I know it wasn't that way?

Okay, well, em. Doesn't take a rocket scientist, does it?

Any "holy day" that features gruesome sacrifices and dread of evil would surely be wiped from the face of the calendar the minute some benign missionary wandered onto the scene and said, "Jesus will love you better if you don't sacrifice the virgin."

Even Steve Russo has to begrudgingly admit that early Christian missionaries co-opted Halloween. The Christian religion would never have taken hold in the British Isles if its first converts had said, "Oh, by the way ... That harvest-home festival you have every year? You know, the one at which you welcome your departed granny and give her some food and build her a fire? That's got to go. Jesus didn't do that."

I don't know. I wasn't there. (Neither was Steve Russo.) But I think that Halloween has always been a time of the thinning of the Veil, a time in which to commune with Spirit. The difference is in the absolutes. It makes sense to welcome departed Granny with open arms while doing some charm work against the criminal who killed your dog ... whose spirit is also roaming the night. Basically, Chapter 1 of Halloween: What's a Christian To Do?  falls into that favorite dogmatic rut; namely, optimizing the negative while ignoring the positive.

The above comic, saying this ironically, of course, is a Chick tract that brings visuals to the worldview of Halloween as a savage enterprise steeped in blood and gore. Only trouble is, when you don't half do your homework, you get a half-score, which is an F.

Good and evil exist side-by-side at Samhain, just as they do any other time of the year. Balance is the key. My non-educated guess is that Samhain was a very important day and evening of Thanksgiving, with fires and feasts meant to be shared with the Ancestors.

And whether or not it was that way in pre-Christian Celtic countries, that's the way it is now for modern Pagans. Do not paint this with the brush of demons, Steve Russo. This is the hour when we assess what we've reaped and share it with our friends and our Ancestors.

Oh, and don't you love Chick tracts? Pumpkins are a New World plant. They did not exist in Celtic countries prior to the voyages of Columbus et. al. It's a minor quibble, but if you can't get the small stuff right, why should we trust you with the big ideas?

Let's keep the Hallowed in Halloween, my friends. Can I get an Awen?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Welcome to Late Night Study Break

Keeping the Hallowed in Halloween, Part 1

Welcome, friends and neighbors, to "The Gods Are Bored!" We're well into our eighth year of sermonizing, so you'd think we would be running out of ideas. But no! Just when a twinge of writer's block sets in, something worthy falls into our laps -- and off we go again, preaching to the choir!

Recently at the Snobville annual book sale, this cute little paperback came into my hands. I always browse the Spirituality aisle, mostly fruitlessly, but this is a find. The purpose of the book, by evangelist Steve Russo, is to raise parental anxiety about our favorite Halloween customs. I pity the Christian kid whose mom buys this tome.

Over the next few weeks, as other bloggers prepare for Samhain with dignity and grace, we at "The Gods Are Bored" will be toasting marshmallows with this paperback puppy, chapter by chapter!

I'm sure you've thought of this, my dear friendly Pagans: We get holidays for Christian observances -- long ones, to boot -- but that's not enough for some Christians. The last card we have on the table is Halloween. No time off for this holy day, but at least our children see our traditions respected within the hallways and classrooms of their schools.

We do not ask for much. A prayer at a town council meeting here, a pentagram Yule display there ... and Halloween.  It is sacred ground.

Steve Russo, meet Anne Johnson. When it comes to separation of church and state, Halloween is your nightmare. It's my holy day. You will not define it with your hogwash. I'm here to preach Samhain in all its sacred glory.

Raise the song of harvest home!