Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Book of Nature

In America we tend to think of science and religion as conflicting world views. This is, after-all, the land that still, despite wide-spread scientific consensus, wrangles with climate change denial.  This is the land where my home-state passed an "academic freedom" bill because Missourians still can't reconcile Darwin and Genesis.

In the late 1800s, Scientist John William Draper proposed, "The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other." Though contemporary scientists denounce Draper's Conflict Thesis as overly simplistic, it remains a powerful force in popular culture. Adherents on either side of the supposed conflict glare scornfully into the opposing camp and lament the willful ignorance of the other. The media (both conservative and liberal) just heightens to problem by highlighting sensational non-news stories. Politicians exploit the divisive politics of stem-cell research, environmental regulation, and abortion to forward their own political agendas.

However, both history and modern science reveal the interconnectedness of science and religion. For example, during the Renaissance, believers across the social spectrum saw two paths toward understanding God. One was the Book of Scripture--the Bible. The other was the Book of Nature--scientific observation. Thus thinkers, scientists, and laymen alike believed that the more that science revealed about nature, the more they understood God's great work and purpose.

Modern pagans are a people without a Book of Scripture. There are undoubtedly books that have become foundational touch-stones of our faith. However our sprawling, eclectic religion is better conceptualized as interlocking circles rather than a list of tenants. One of those circles is idea of paganism as a nature-centric or earth-based spirituality. As Starhawk explains in The Earth Path, "The Goddess is embodied in the natural world, and science in its truest sense is about knowing nature. Thus our thealogy needs to be empirical as well as mystical." We are people of the second Book--the Book of Nature.

In Between Worlds I meditated on the strange balancing act between my witchy self and my academic self. As members of an Outsider community, it's easy to become skeptical and disenfranchised with seemingly authoritarian systems that leave minimal space for outlying perspectives. Many folks enter paganism to validate experiences and ideas that the mechanical/scientific world-view discredits: dreams, spirits who whisper through the leaves of trees, primeval stories, and nostalgic visions of a time before the industrial revolution.

In respect to all those folks who've been told that their beliefs are "scientifically impossible" and those who prefer poetry to statistics, I won't argue that all pagans should be scientists. Since we're working from a place of personal experience rather than academic consensus, we don't have to be completely methodical, rational, and objective. We have a unique space to embrace the best of both worlds.

To best explore those worlds, I believe pagans should study the Book of Nature as naturalists. Merriam Webster defines a naturalist as "a student of natural history; especially: a field biologist." I imagine a world where pagans spend less time sitting in living rooms talking about the four elements and more time mucking about outdoors. We can speak to a trees as "Sister-Dryad" for the mythical maidens who inhabit their branches or we can name them oak, silver maple, and sycamore. We can sing to the rippling waters and take the time to learn the creek's name and how it connects to our watershed.

Names hold power (thanks, Le Guin) and I've found that learning about nature,--the names, the cycles, etc.--increases my connection to this tapestry of life that I hold sacred. Knowledge reveals miracles. The Book of Nature both enchants and explains.  Rather than getting caught up in the religion/science binary, I borrow the tools of science (primarily observation) to understand and illuminate my religion. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Past is Heavy

My grandparents on their wedding day
Inheritance. Heritage. History. Legacy. Sins of the fathers. Memory.

Time becomes the photographs, heirlooms, dusty Avon bottles, and stacks of Reader’s Digest books. A life becomes the debris unearthed by grown children and sorted into cardboard boxes for disposal.

With each box carted to the hall, the weight of memory shifts from the shoulders of the dying. The hands of the living must accept their burden, but the past is heavy. The answers to time’s riddles are hidden in dust.  What objects can be discarded? Which should be left for others? What item should I take to distill and thus preserve decades of memory?

In Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

"The past is a burden we carry, heavy at first,
the slowly alchemized into something ethereal and strange,
as the heart, like a Marquez novel, distills memory into art.
I stand a few years farther along than Marquez’s romantic anti-hero on this journey through time.  I understand how the heart’s memory operates, but being new to the mechanism, have not yet learned to construct a convincing artifice.

This month my family began dismantling my grandmother’s house. It’s been a project a-long-time-coming and much delayed. The act seems like a physical manifestation of my grandmother’s illness. Like Alzheimer’s has scattered and erased her past, so we scatter and erase as we empty the old house of its contents.

I’m only a grandchild to that house. The ache is a mix of nostalgia and generalized fear of death. But sitting next door, on the same lot, the lot which must be liquidated in compliance with Medicaid procedure, is my father’s house. The house where I grew up. The house where my bedroom floor was carpeted with patchwork carpet scraps. The house with that ugly orange couch where I first discovered dust motes shining in afternoon sunlight. The house that smells like paperbacks and cigarettes will soon disappear in a dirge of “if only I’d known…”

Its loss is hard. Its loss is heavy. Neither my house nor my heart has room for all the memories, fermented dreams, and artifacts my father has gathered and inherited. And to think he looses all that as his own mother fades into the fog of age and illness…it breaks my heart.

But the past is a chain that will not be broken. It is a burden we carry, heavy at first, then slowly alchemized into something ethereal and strange, as the heart, like a Marquez novel, distills memory into art. The fragments of family history tumble through the mind until they are smooth and beautiful, until they are small and stable: a single photograph, a bedtime story, or a relic rescued from a cardboard box.

My relic to preserve the past.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hoop Inspiration - More Than Just a Pretty Dance

"Just go to Youtube and search for hoop dance." As the unofficial 'hoop girl' of my small Midwestern town, I make this suggestion at least once a week. Folks often respond with wonder, disbelief, or confusion upon learning that a grown woman spends hours each week dancing inside a plastic circle. For those folks who haven't seen hoopdance, those who don't have a reference point, it must seem ridiculous. Do they imagine I stand for hours just keeping the hoop up around my waist? Do they translate hoop dancer into stripper in the round. Sometimes it seems that way, so if I don't have a hoop on hand to demonstrate, I send them to Youtube. 

Later I wonder what videos they found. Is Shakti Sunfire's performance at O Dance studio in Boulder still the first search result? (I checked, it's farther down the list now.) Will they stumble across some gal rocking a bikini and fishnets and instantly doubt my promise that hooping is for everybody and every body? Will their digitized glimpse reveal the transformative magic, the healing, and the joy that hooping creates? Or will they see just another pretty dance? 

In the video collection below you'll find hoop dance videos that delve a little deeper. They explore the process, the practice, the philosophy, and the sublime magic of hoop dance. Though the skill and grace of these hoopers is mind-boggling in its own right, these videos also reveal a bit of the emotion behind the motion. 

Love the Process - Sandra Safire 

It's a Practice - Jaguar Mary 

Eye of the Storm - Brecken 

This is my Flow - Tiana at Hoop Path 7 

Sacred Hoop - Hoop Alchemy 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Across time: Carol Lee Sanchez

Last winter, a friend gave me a book of poetry, From Spirit to Matter by carol lee sanchez. The book was a thrift store find by a local poet. As I delved into the book’s first poems, I was enchanted. sanchez’s verses transported my mind to that reflective, creative sanctuary that can only be reached between the lines of beautiful poems. My friend and I, both delighted and inspired by the discovery of such a brilliant mind in our corner of the world, began to discuss visiting the poet. After all, she lived in Hughesville. I went to school there as a teen. I often drive past the town on my country cruises.

But when I wandered online to learn more, I discovered Ms. Sanchez had died the previous year. A small, undoubtedly selfish, corner of my heart broke.

Reading Sanchez’s poetry blessed my life like reading Millay blessed my life. “Symbols” moved my mind like “The Eolian Harp” moved my mind.

For a few bright hours I thought I would be able to say thank you.

In the author’s note, sanchez writes, “these poems then are what I ‘bring’ into hard copy, from spirit to matter, my ‘messages’ from where I am here to where you are -- there. I look forward to hearing from you through the pages of time.”

Our times missed a beat and never crossed, though I love to imagine we watched the same corner of the sky turn gold and shopped at the same grocery stores.

Thank you.

symbols - by carol lee sanchez

symbols release energy
move from mind to matter
matter very much
become stored knowledge
precious entities
collected as beads or bytes
restored on recycled tree

somewhere long ago
on an ordinary day
a human mind perceived
nature’s random paintings
as recorded reflections of
familiar things

wind prints on sand or
water marks on rocks
holding line and shape
together to form: animal
fish fowl tree branch leaf
human faces human bodies

somewhere on earth
on an ordinary day
a human hand understood
the magic transcription
used stick stone and bone
to etch symbols from her mind
into wood sand and stone

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tough Love and Trying to be Kind

Today I noticed that many of my blog posts are confrontational. They rage against the media or question assumptions. They often "take to task" things I love like yoga, paganism, motherhood, and feminism.

Most of my posts are inspired by something I read on-line and are a kind of distanced rebuttal to a casual phrase or concept that strikes my mind at a strange angle. I blame it on being an English major. I guess I'm not inspired to write unless I'm arguing, critiquing, or debating something.

However, with today's post, I want the world to know that I do it out of love!

I love my communities so much and so hard that I want them to rise. I want to peel back the layers and find the beautiful hearts beating underneath. I love them so much that I can't ignore something that bothers me. I have to understand it, and writing these little social critiques has become my path toward understanding.

In Outsider communities, there's a big impulse to always get along. After all, don't we get criticized and demeaned enough by the outside world? Shouldn't we create a safe space where no one fears criticism? No. (Here I go again!) That is how dogma and conformity are born.

I love my communities and I want to help them grow. I hope to give voice to thoughts that I imagine others must feel. I ask for more than prerequisite acceptance....from myself, others, and all things.

And this is why I will always call out sexism in science fiction films. This is why I will always get pissed off at websites that say yoga is for everyone, but inevitably feature only pictures of a slender white women. That is why I refuse to read pagan books that don't cite their sources and try to wrangle semantics with hoop dancers.

I love it all, but love requires thought. Love flourishes in the fresh air of discourse, thoughtful disagreement, and constructive criticism.

I hope to write in such a way simultaneously critiques and celebrates. (It's like being a Star Wars fan, you know? I've loved and petted these things so much that I've frayed the fibers and must pick at the wayward strings.) I hope to always write thoughtfully and in kindness.

Furthermore, I hope that when I do overstep the boundaries of thoughtfulness and kindness someone will have the bravery and beauty to speak out. That is, after-all, it's own form of love.

When we're willing to speak out, to disagree, and make our voices heard, we are supporting one another and our beloved communities as we strive toward equality, wisdom, grace, and compassion. Blessed be!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hipsters in Stone

French photographer Léo Caillard and art director Alexis Persani have taken the hipster passion for all things vintage to a whole new level with Hipsters in Stone. Caillard photographed some of the most iconic sculptures at the Louvre in Paris. Then he photographed jean and t-shirt clad friends in the same poses. Persani worked a bit of digital alchemy and the resulting figures look equally equipped to orate at the agora or strum guitar at a coffee shop open mic. night.

Meleager by Louis-Simon Boizot
Doesn't every gal dream of a man who can bring home the bacon?

Agora 2?
You can view the rest of the collection here

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fairy Gardening 101

A fairy garden by Kleas
Fairy gardens are magical spaces inhabited by plants, miniature structures, and imagination. Fairy gardens are often planted in containers. Many parents, especially in the natural parenting and homeschooling communities, use fairy gardens as imagination stations or nature tables for their children. Other enthusiasts create fairy gardens to enliven indoor spaces and patios. Larger fairy gardens can be built into natural landscapes like trees. They can be added to pre-existing flower beds, altars, or rock gardens. Though fairy garden kits are widely available online, they are often do-it-yourself projects that inspire both adults and children to create whimsical landscapes from natural materials.

The following lists and links will help jumpstart your fairy garden project.

The "fairy factory."
Use a saw to slice a stout branch or sapling into disks.
The disks make great tabletops, chair
seats, and bases for other structures. 

Gathering Materials For Your Garden Structures:

Creating a fairy garden shouldn't be expensive. You can create amazing fairy houses, furniture, and landscapes using reclaimed materials and items gathered from nature.

Recycled and Reclaimed Materials

  • Cardboard cylinders - Cover oatmeal containers with paper or birch bark to make fairy houses. Toilet paper and paper towel tubes can be added to smaller houses to transform them into towers and castles. 
  • Terra-Cotta pots - whole pots become instant houses and fragments can be used as walls, stepping stones, or support for multi-layer container gardens
  • Corks - use corks as bases for tables, bird baths, and more
  • Scrap fabric - fabric scraps add a dash of color to your garden as fairy bedding, flags, and banners
  • Plastic containers - burry a yogurt container to create a tiny pond in your garden

The possibilities are endless!

Finding Natural Materials

Next time you take a nature walk, keep your eyes open for lovely twigs, stones, shells, seed pods, nuts, dried plants, and pinecones.

Embellished pots, polymer clay mushrooms, & a twig fence
Early fall is the best time to find natural materials. Since many seeds, nuts, etc. have already dried and fallen, it lessens the temptation to pick living plants. Fairies walk lightly and thank the earth for her gifts. Fairy gardeners do too!

Crafting Supplies

  • Glue Gun - Your glue gun will probably become your best friend as you delve into the world of fairy gardens. While professional miniaturists use a wide variety of glues for different materials, a glue gun will get you where you need to be, kennit? If you use hot glue, it's best to move your miniatures inside during rainy weather. If kids play in your fairy garden, expect a few miniatures to break. You can either return the natural materials to the earth or mend them. I feel that our ethereal fairy-friends would approve of this lesson in non-attachment. (You can find a detailed discussion of different glues here
  • Polymer Clay - Polymer clay is inexpensive and you bake your work in the oven. Easy-peasy! With polymer clay you can embellish terra-cotta pots, make tiny mushrooms and flowers, or populate your garden with clay creatures.
  • Wire Cutters or Loppers - Trim sticks and twigs down to size
  • Craft moss- It's available in both synthetic and natural varieties. As I glue structures together, I stick moss to the spots where hot glue leaks through. It both covers the glue and gives the objects an earthy look.
  • Pre-made miniatures - Why children have brought countless little toys to live in the fairy garden. You can also find wonderful and inexpensive little birds, flowers, and other objects at craft stores and online

Building the Garden

How To Build A Fairy Garden - Natural Parenting Tips
How To Build A Fairy Garden - Fairy In A Garden
How to Make Your First Fairy Garden (video)
How To Make A Fairy Garden - Magic Onions
Mini Spiral Garden - World in Green

Decorating the Garden

DIY Twig Furniture - Kleas
Make a Fairy Well - Juise
Make a Fairy House - Crafts by Amanda
Make a Fairy Tent - Anna Branford
Fairy Home Decore - The Magic Onion
Home For Fairies - Juise
Flower Fairy Peg Dolls - The Imagination Tree


Green Spirit Arts
The Enchanted World of Fairy Woodland 
The Magic Onion
Raven Moon Magic

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Defining Flow

(This article has been expanded from my original post on

"Flow" is  term we tend to throw around a lot in the hooping community. We describe hoop-stars like Mona and Spiral as having "flow." We strive to cultivate it in our hoop-practice. But what exactly are we striving for? You see, when we talk about flow, we're actually talking about two different ideas that have become linked through digital alchemy.

On one hand, drawing on the work on  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, hoopers conceptualize flow as a mental state where daily worries, time, self-criticism, and doubt drop away. The hooper enters a mind-state where s/he is completely immersed in the moment, in the movement. Many hoopers describe this state as a kind of heightened awareness where they reach beyond their normal limitations and they become one with the hoop. Artists in all different forms describe similar experiences and Chomsky studied those experiences to create his theories about "flow."

On the other hand, we also tend to use "flow" to describe a hooper whose skill, enthusiasm, and style communicate a sense easy grace or general bad-ass-ness. When someone appears to be totally blissing or rocking out, we say they have flow. In this case, we're describing fluidity, ease of movement, and flawless transitions. We're describing what their movement communicates to us, rather than their mind-state, because as much as a video can communicate emotion, we really have no idea what the hooper's actually experiencing.

It's important to distinguish between the two different meanings of "flow" because hoopers belong to a very visual community. We live in a visual society where Facebook, advertising, and Youtube have trained us to associate certain appearances with certain mind-states. We all want to be bad-ass (flow in the 2nd sense). We seek to awe a real or imagined audience.  We are, after all human, and part of what draws many folks to hooping is that it creates a space for us to be skillful, marvelous, and awe inspiring. And that's good!

However, when our community convolutes the appearance of flow with the mental experience of flow, we risk making that experience less accessible. Personal experience suddenly becomes linked to physical characteristics (like fluidity, beauty, and gracefulness) that have minimal correlation with a hooper's state of mind. These characteristics in turn create a rigid pre-conception of what flow looks like rather than what it feels like. Suddenly authentic self expression is replaced by the pressure to buy $100 dance pants and mime poses glimpsed in YouTube videos. Less insidiously, the mental experience becomes linked to a particular skill set or level of expertise beyond the reach of vast numbers of hoop dance enthusiasts.

Language is an amazing tool. It both shapes and is shaped by our reality and culture. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's conceptualization of flow has given us a marvelous word to describe the marvelous experience of being immersed in our art. Our language possesses an equal capacity to describe the physical characteristics that are often mislabeled as flow. We can describe those mind-boggling expressions of hoop-dance virtuosity in language that simultaneously honors bad-ass performance and leaves space for flow as an uninhibited mental-emotional experience.

At the deepest level, the level that sustains our spirit,  we want to experience the power and bliss of flow (in the 1st sense.) When we embrace flow as a state of mind, we reaffirm that anyone can experience a joyous psychological state at any point in their hoop journey.  We can experience it busting out super-tech tricks. We can experience it dancing. We can experience it getting lost in the counted circles of three-beat-weave drills. It need be neither beautiful nor refined because it transcends appearances.

I 1st tasted flow hooping to Bob Dylan when I only knew 3 hoop-moves. If I'd recorded that glorious, but undoubtedly clumsy, session, no one would have marveled and declared, "That girl has flow!"

But I did, because flow is in your head. Flow is in your heart.

Michelle Nayeli appears to embody a transcendental hoop experience, but
may, for all I know, be experiencing a dreadful foot cramp while she waits
for a friend to take this marvelous photo. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who? Companions!

The Feminist Frequency imagines a spin off series where the ladies of the TARDIS team up for their own grand adventures. Go there NOW!

by Ch4rms

Pursuing Pleasure While Poor

It's bitter, but not surprising, how the creative, creek-stomping, count-your-blessings good life breaks down when there's not enough money to pay rent. The world is so skeptical of under-employed college graduates, artists, and low-income stay-at-home moms. At least once a week I read or hear a digital tirade against people like myself. You know…us parasites on food stamps? We unemployable college grads. who majored in English? We moms who simultaneously undermine capitalism and feminism because we’re raising our babies on less than $50,000 a year.

I confess: I made that number up because I’ve been poor so long I don’t even know what kind of income supports a household that can pay the bills every month.

So even on the best of days, it’s hard to justify the good life. It’s like you only get a ticket to live the dream once you’ve crossed some socio-economic threshold I don’t fully understand. It makes me wonder how the holistic healers of the world make ends meet. It makes me wonder if those brilliant women who post crochet tutorials ever have to pick up groceries from the open door.

I also find myself trapped in a double standard. I am compelled to make the world beautiful. I’m honored to give back to my community. I am often presented with opportunities to make connections and a little money from my hobbies.

But I’m broke and in my shame, I feel unable to give. I feel unable to pursuit those opportunities. On one level it’s a material problem. I can’t promote my hoop-dance classes at a local event if I don’t have printer paper to print flyers or am uncertain I’ll be able to swing the bill to rent a space. So there’s one opportunity lost under the proverb “you have to have money to make money.”

I understand the limitations created by the material-financial aspect of the struggle, but it’s the shame-component that’s insidious.Making connections, making art, stomping in the creek, that’s what life is made of. That’s free. That’s beautiful. That’s all I fucking have. Yet still the regular raging bombardment against the poor, like we’re villains for pursuing pleasure while poor. The glaring, continually cited, examples are cell phone, tattoos, and cars. The media starts screaming, “How DARE she walk into family services wearing nice jeans” like every poor woman should wear rags. Hypocrites hide their credit card debt under bottles of prescription anti-depressants while they condemn the 2% of Floridian food-stamp recipients who failed drug tests.

So I’m here to make class warfare. I’m proposing a key component that all my brush-ins with Marxism seem to ignore. I’m talking unpaid labor and beauty as cultural capital. Play every week at open mic.? You’re rich, my friend, because you give. Raising smart, beautiful babies? You’re a teacher, girlfriend, and deserve the status given to teachers. Keep a garden that showers your loved-one with tomatoes and zucchini. Yours are the hands that build society. This is my anthem to the volunteers, the storytellers, and the folks who know where the best creeks are. This is my anthem to folks who fill their time with the works of hand and mind.

You are worthy. I am worth. We are rich. We are generous. We are living the good life…with or without the permission granted by little pieces of green paper.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Where My Girls At? Searching For Coyote Woman

Coyote saunters across the myths, legends, and stories of the American west making mischief wherever he goes. In Din`e bahane`: The Navajo Creation Story, Paul G. Zolbrod explains that, "One of the most controversial characters among the Navajo is Coyote, prince of chaos, who is also the most notable catalyst. Transformer, troublemaker, trickster, deity Coyote is all of these, and more. He stole the stars laid out by First Man and scattered them, willy nilly, across the heavens. Yet, from Coyote's unruly behavior, changes came about that made life better. From Coyote's foolishness, mortals gained wisdom, learned what, and what not, to do. Coyote, as the forerunner of change, created ways of doing things so that customs new moral codes, ceremonies, designs for living came into being." Coyote shakes up the status quo to either make change or reaffirm the importance of tradition.

You can browse online and find pages of stories about how Coyote tampered with the stars, fell in love with a star, helped a young boy become a warrior, or established boundaries between life and death. However, you'll quickly notice that these are Old Man Coyote stories or stories about a sexually rambunctious Coyote whose dick is so long it frightens women away. Coyote loves women. He chases women. In some stories he helps them and in others tricks them into having sex.

One Blackfoot legend describes how Coyote created women from leftover buffalo bones.  The story ends with the declaration that, "And even to this day, if you have one group of men, and another of women, the men will want to sit by the fire and smoke. But the women talk. And whether it is because they were made out of the left-over bones that clicked and rattled, or whether it is because A-pe'si, the Coyote --who is a noisy creature himself--had a part in their making, no one can say." All women carry a bit of Coyote magic in their blood.

"Coyote Woman Dreaming" by Susan Seddon-Boulet
However, Franchot Ballinger  observes that stories about Coyote (and Trickster figures as a whole) almost invariably cast the protagonist as male. As a sexual creature, an object of satire, and a transgressor of social structures, Coyote occupied a traditionally male space. Even today, our social imagination typically casts men as the rovers, the wise fools, and shamans.

Coyote-Woman steps into this vacuum carrying a slightly different kind of medicine in the pockets of her crochet coat. Like Old Man Coyote, she is an Outsider. She saunters back and forth between wilderness and civilization learning the lessons that both worlds have to offer. She plays the fool, capering, clowning, and joking with the best. She is often called a fool because she rages against boundaries and breaks the rules that "only a fool would break". However, in reality, her foolishness is clever, wild, and irreverent.  As Ina Woolcott explains, "Coyote's medicine includes understanding that all things are sacred and that yet nothing is sacred."

This is Coyote-Woman's brilliant power. She sees the world as sacred, but not untouchable. She builds no churches and believes that old, mysterious, and holy objects belong to the world, not on high shelves and museum cases. She honors tradition and history as a living thread that is continually rewoven into new forms.

In fact, she is a new form herself. Coyote-Woman reclaims that traditionally male mythological space as she teaches women to reinvent themselves, test their limitations, discern worthwhile risks from danger, and sing ideas into being.

If First Mother gave women corn and men tobacco, it was Coyote Woman who evened out the deal later. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Between Worlds

Yesterday Sze Huei Yek over at Rebelle Society wrote a thought-provoking article taking yogis to task for "pseudoscience speeches." She basically argues that while she has personally benefited from her yoga, yogis should be mindful of the claims they make about the practice as a whole. Those claims, Yek worries, simply are not valid--at least not in the world of science where valid claims are based on observation, hypothesis, and experimentation in statistically controlled situations.  It's that distinction, that willingness to remind folks that science has its own set of rules and procedures that makes me wish I could bake Ms. Yek cookies!

I only keep a toe in the world of yoga, but I see the same problematic tendency toward pseudoscience in the pagan community. Paganism was my entry point into meditation, breath work, and energy work, which are also common practice in yoga. Paganism came with a history and worldview that frequently clashes with the history and worldview that I honor as an intellectual, an experience that I imagine intellectual yogis struggle with as well.

For years I experienced this strange, often surreal divide between what I think of as my Academic Self and my Witchy Self. As my Academic Self I sorted through peer-reviewed journals, formed structured arguments, and marshaled both evidence and logic to support my claims. I lived in a world where I prided myself on thinking deeper, challenging assumptions, and demanding proof. Though my writing processes remained intuitive and alchemic, the work was intellectual and belonged to the respectable world of academic. As my Witchy Self I traded scholarly journals for bonfire chants where I channeled the knowledge of my ancestors. I still tried to think deeper, but the only proof was experience and the assumptions that I challenged where the foundation on which that respectable academic world was built.

I learned to roll with it...kind of like code-switching, I suppose. I kept my worlds apart and capered like Coyote Woman between the intellectual and intuitive worlds.

Until the day I recognized one of my professors from a pagan festival. I felt oddly outed, like some kind of hippie-spy exposed in the sedated corridors of a rural Midwestern university. Or worse, I worried, perhaps I would unwittingly become the person who outed a respectable professional as a woman who danced with animal spirits.

I decided to keep my quiet and keep my world divided, but the conflict was officially exposed. As a mindful person, I knew that I had a problem when I cringed to hear this professor offhandedly mention goddesses. I knew I had a problem if there was alarm in my head screaming, "You can NOT talk about this here. This is embarrassing. This is wrong. Everyone will think you're silly!"

However, I did not sing or pray to solve my problem. I read. I  reread Wicca 101 books, I hosted a handful of pagan circles where we discussed spirituality, and I tracked down Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. 

The process allowed me to see that my conflict wasn't rooted in an inherent conflict between the worlds of academic and intuitive experience, nor an inherent conflict between science and religion, nor the incompatibility of being pagan and knowing a bit about history. The problem lay in refusing to call apples “apples” and oranges “oranges“. The problem was pseudoscience.

For example, let's take the basic claim, "Wicca is a valid religion." Too often modern pagans attempt to validate their faith by arguing that it's an ancient religion. It's not. It was created in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner. It was undoubtedly inspired by Gardner's interpretation of ancient history and ancient history is undoubtedly filled with goddesses, symbols, and stories that are worth exploring today. However, Wicca itself, as both a label and a practice came out of the mid-twentieth century. To claim otherwise is to repeat the problem many pagans accuse Christians of having: attempting to pass mythology-tradition as history.

I also believe that making false claims about Wicca’s history does the religion a dreadful disservice. The world doesn't need more "old" religions rooted in outdated worldviews and rituals. The world needs new world-views that embrace what humanity has learned over the centuries about science, sociology, and living in a diverse, humane society. The more we are willing to learn about history and science, the more we know about the realities that exist beyond the traditional borders of academia. The more we learn, the more we can do to validate practices and beliefs that flourish outside the accepted world-view.

Similarly, when pagans and yogis make their claims from within their tradition, they work to validate that tradition as its own body of knowledge. Not everything can be proven with science. Nor does it need to be. Therefore, I believe we do better work when we make claims like, "Kryia yoga teaches...." or "Modern pagans are inspired by ancient religions that believed...."

There are valid paths to knowledge beyond the rules of peer review and scientific method. However, I think it’s misguided and sometimes deceitful to try to pass one of those methods off as science. It’s that mislabeling–that “pseudoscience” babble that’s invalidating–not necessarily the claim itself.

As a society we're all struggling to balance intuitive experience with a mechanical, scientific world-view. However, it's a mistake to convolute personal experience with scientific study and make false claims about the history of a religion or the effects of breathing through the left nostril. Doing so just makes for poor science. However, when we embrace practices like yoga and Wicca as distinctive branches of knowledge and tradition, they flourish. It may not be science, but it is good. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How I Met Coyote

Coyote Madonna by Terri Windling
Once upon a time, this gal  brought home her second baby, looked around the house, and decided her life was a train wreck. She needed a few days alone in the Wild Country to pull her head together, but what with a baby, a toddler, and an essay on Euripides’s “Medea” due on Tuesday, her options were limited. She certainly didn't want to pull a Greek tragedy on her beautiful family, so she decided to pray.

While she was praying, Coyote-Woman sauntered up. She pulled two bundles of sweet herbs from the bottomless pockets of her crochet coat and offered them to the unsuspecting mother. “Smoke the first bundle,” instructed Coyote-Woman, “And I’ll patch you up with the other.”

As Coyote-Woman started nosing around under the bewildered mother’s skirts, the gal asked, “Are you a midwife? I thought Bear was the midwife.”

Coyote-Woman laughed, “Bear Medicine? Do you want to curl up in a cave with your babies for the next five years? You’re not the stuff attachment parenting is made of, girl. Smoke my sweet herbs and we’ll walk the long road with our feet in the Wild Country and our hands tending the Hearth.”

So she smoked the sweet herbs and welcomed a Coyote Spirit into her life.

Coyote is one part spirit guide, one part imaginary friend, and something like an alter ego. She’s a devilish co-pilot and always takes up too much space on the dance floor. She capers between the mundane and the ridiculous, teaching folks how to stay sane in a mind-boggling world.

5 years after slipping into my life disguised as a midwife, Coyote-Woman continues to offer advice on navigating the contradictory worlds of yoga, feminism, hoop dance, university, crochet, marital romance, community building, and part-time employment in public education.

For the next few days, with some randomness tossed in between, I'll be exploring the stories, symbols, and meditations that make Coyote-Woman a powerful ally. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Gardening as an Act of Faith - Redeux

Two years ago I contemplated gardening as an act of faith. You would think that in the elapsed time I would have moved beyond the optimistic novice stage. I have not. Last spring we bulldozed the half collapsed shed that sheltered the wildflowers from the lawnmower and in a cruel act of geometry, the bulldozer’s path deposited the ruins atop my original vegetable garden plot. Sullenly resigned, I decided not to plant that spring, a choice that the summer’s blistering drought somewhat justified.

Sister Rain Wind brought a rainbow...and devastated the iris bed
Now the yard is emerging from a soggy, cool spring in a tangle lush glory. The early tomatoes at Farmer’s Market are the size of small melons. My fingers long to sink into the dirt, but my faith is being tested. Monsoon-like rains flooded 9/10ths of our yard and turned the lowlands between the spirit tree and the highway into a river. Its current ripped the freshly planted iris bulbs from their earthen bed. The daisies, now unprotected, twice thrust shoots toward the sky and were decapitated by the lawnmower. Grass quickly ran rampant in the children’s fairy garden. My shovel broke.

Bringing the garden inside
In the wake of the iris tragedy, I avoided the garden until yesterday. A friend arrived and asked for the grand-tour. He asked about the numerous half-finished projects. My only reply was that I’m a gardening-procrastinator. He proceeded to irreverently uproot the zucchini that had sprung up unexpected among the cilantro. He gave me mint and renewed my faith.

By evening the chickens had ripped the zucchini sprouts back out of the ground. I replanted them.  I hauled over reclaimed timber to build a bed for the lilies I had impulsively purchased on sale last week. I planted the lilies in the dark. I prepared honeysuckled cuttings for transfer. I gathered bright bouquets of flowers from the abandoned gardens of foreclosed houses.

Lilies and glimpse of the fairy garden
If gardening is an act of faith, then I am agnostic. I remain uncertain that I will ever comprehend the green face of god. Yet even the Pope claims that non-believers can find heaven’s gardens on the path of their good-works. So I tend the plants entrusted to my care and hope it will be enough.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Portrait By a Neighbor - Edna St. Vincent Millay

Frederick Carl Frieseke · Sunbathing
 "Before she has her floor swept
Or her dishes done,
Any day you'll find her
A-sunning in the sun!

It's long after midnight
Her hey's in the lock,
And you never see her chimney smoke
Till past ten o' clock!

She digs in her garden
With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon.

She walks up the walk
Like a woman in a dream
She forgets she borrowed butter
And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne's lace!

One day I'll mime Edna St. Vincent Millay leaning out from a Harlem apartment window to water a bedraggled pot of daisies.  I'll possess the gardening skill of a somber forest-child whose fingertips coax open blooms of night phlox and moonflower. In the meantime, I guzzle sun tea, drop the steeped bags and mint leaves into the bottom of each hole, and plant lilies by solar garden lights. There's no moon tonight. So much for poetry, eh?

From PhotoHuntress's LiveJournal

From Jame Conception (I think) on a t-shirt