For the Love of Our Ancestors... VOTE!

It’s Election Day

All the campaigning has been done, the ads and speeches and fundraising—nothing left to do but get out the vote! If you can, today, volunteer to make calls, to help people get to the polls, to encourage everyone to be part of this vitally important election.

I voted early, on Halloween, which seemed magically appropriate somehow. This time of year is when we honor the ancestors and the Beloved Dead, with our beautiful Spiral Dance Ritual last weekend, with nearly a thousand people dancing a spiral, with some private time on Halloween itself to remember a dear friend who died this year, and finally with Dia de los Muertos—the huge procession and festival of altars that takes place each year in San Francisco.

Inspired By The Beloved Dead

For so many years I’ve lost count, I’ve been honored to march in the front of the procession and help to call in the directions at each of the corners. For something like two decades, I supported the poet Francisco Alarcon, and I still feel his presence beside me on that night even though he passed a couple of years ago. 

 

This year I followed the dansantes from the group Coyalxauahqui, who danced in all the directions with such spirit, grace, and amazing stamina. They had been up all night dancing and holding vigil, and I felt in awe of their commitment and strength.

 

I find the procession so moving—thousands of people lining the streets, thousands walking together, holding candles, different groups drumming and dancing, an incredible diversity of people from every culture and background, all of us united in remembering our beloved dead. The park is filled with altars that people create for their loved ones, filled with color and candles and crowds dancing to African drums and writing notes to the dead to hang on strings or offering their own prayers and songs.

 

 

Ancestors, We Call You

As we enter this election day, as so much hate and violence and cruelty swirls around us, I take inspiration from the Day of the Dead, from the peaceful sharing and honoring of cultures, from the simple humanity of people remembering that love does not end with death. 

May this spirit spread over the land, reminding us that in diversity lies resilience and enrichment and joy. May the cruel and uncaring be struck with the urge to stay home and binge-watch House of Cards, may the cheaters and vote-suppressors be confounded, and may a blue wave energize all those who thirst for justice and who stand with the immigrant, with the refugee, with the children, with women, with the gender diverse, with the homeless, with the earth.

The Synagogue Shooting

On Saturday, as we were busy preparing for our 39th Anniversary Spiral Dance to honor our Beloved Dead and celebrate the Witches’ New Year, I heard the news of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. I felt heartsick. I come from a Jewish family, and with all the Witchy stuff I do I am still very connected to my Jewish roots. The victims in Pittsburgh are so familiar to me—they could be my grandmother, my mother, my father, my aunts, my uncles, myself.

For those of us raised in the immediate post-Holocaust era, this blatant anti-Semitism triggers some of our deepest fears. Yet we can take some cold comfort in knowing that we are not alone as targets of hate. A white gunman shot two black people in a supermarket in Louisville just days ago, when he tried and failed to get into a black church. In 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people at the African Episcopal Methodist Church in Charleston. Mosques have been vandalized and bombed and Muslims are targeted repeatedly in racist attacks. Immigrants of all sorts are at risk. Even children have been gunned down in their schoolrooms.

In an atmosphere where hatred and violence are legitimized, no one is safe. When the President dehumanizes one target group after another, when he lends legitimacy to neo-Nazis and blames victims rather than perpetrators, when Fox News and right-wing media repeat his lies, when politicians whip up fear and hatred to inflame their base and when they blatantly suppress the votes of the historically disempowered, they bear responsibility for the violence that results.

We cannot counter hatred with hate. Instead, we need to build a movement of solidarity, where we unite with all those who have been targeted and resist attempts to divide us. We need to stand together–Jews, Muslims, Christians, people of all religions, people of color, immigrants and refugees, women, LGBT folks, gender-diverse folks, and what I truly believe is still the vast majority of white folks and men who believe in justice and equality. All these identities overlap and intersect in multiple ways—all of them contribute to the richness and diversity of our individual identities and our collective culture.

We need to embrace and celebrate that diversity, and build a movement strong enough to counter the fears and lies. Violence will not daunt us, but instead inspire us to reach out, unite, and invite in all all those who long to be agents of healing and justice for this world.

Politics and Pastry Creme


The Leaves Are Changing, and Congress Can Too!

It’s October—the month before what may be the most crucial elections of our lifetime. The November midterms will determine whether the Republicans maintain control of the House and Senate, and whether there is any hope of defeating the racist, misogynist agenda and massive corruption that Trump represents. 

Climate change is ravaging the planet, inequality is growing and being enforced with rampant brutality, and so many of us are reeling from the traumas re-stimulated by the Kavanaugh hearings! We need everyone to stand up and use our power to call for a different vision, one of integrity and caring.

Or at the very least, to show the arrogant liars that crime does not pay! 

Sometimes Voting Seems Like a Civics Test You Haven’t Prepared For  

What are all those initiatives on the ballot?  What does Comptroller mean anyway and how do I know who would be best for the job?

That’s where the pastry cream comes into it. 

Politics and Pastry Cream is a tradition started by my dear friend and neighbor Carin McKay—who happens to be an incredible chef and author of a fabulous cookbook, Culinary Magic, together with our mutual friend and pastry-cream-maker extraordinaire Max Rosenblum. 

Overwhelmed by the amount of study required to make an informed decision about who and what to vote for, they decided to make a party of it and have some fun. Who doesn’t love pastry cream?  (Vegans, we have an alternative for you!) Of course it goes with politics! 

And vavoom, 7 years later we have a tradition!  Now we are wanting to encourage others have their own Politics and Pastry cream events!  

Create Your Own Politics & Pastry Cream Voting Party:

1. Set a date.

2. Put the Word Out (to the right people)

Invite a group of like-minded friends who share your political values. The purpose of this gathering is mutual research and support—not to pick an argument with your most right-wing acquaintance. It’s ideal to do this a couple weeks before from the election so you will understand any further debates, discussions happening in the news.

3. Delegate Research

Assign each person two to three issues or candidates to research depending on how many are on the ballot. I vary the assignments between individual candidates, state and local issues. I tell people to study at least 20-30 minutes on each issue.  Send people some good study links beforehand. (Locally, we like the SF League of Pissed Off Voters, or the Bay Guardian, and the voter guides sent to you are also a good starting point.)

4. It’s a Voting Potluck

Ask your guests to bring their voting propaganda plus some drinks and snacks to share!  

5. Whip Up that Cream!

Make the pastry cream the day before the event.  Put it in tart shell or puff pastry- use your favorite recipe for that—or get them pre-baked. You can use our recipe for pastry cream below, or use the wonders of the internet to find your own. 

6. Assign Roles

Pick who is going to facilitate the discussion. If you are hosting, it will likely be you. Pick a time keeper.  Based on how many people are there and how many issues, decide on a total time allotted per issue. We often choose 7-10 minutes per issue. 

7. Organize!

Go down the list of issues and ask, for example, who is in charge of prop A?  That person will have about 3-5 minutes to give a report of what the issue is, what are the pro’s and con’s, who is for or against the issue. Then open it up for others to contribute their information to the discussion. 

8. Keep It Flowing

We will often bounce between local and state measures when we are asking people to give their report. You want to keep it moving so no one person does all their reports at once.

9. Indulge in That Sweet, Sweet Pastry Cream!

At the mid way point of your party, stop and have some pastry cream and snacks to gather steam for your second wind! Put on a record! Carin has an actual stereo and a collection of real records. Keep the music streaming for the rest of the evening! 

10. Resume

Finish up your educational rounds (and your pastry cream.) At the end, if you want, weigh all the propaganda you have gotten in the mail.  If you want, you can toss them in the fire stating your intention for the election. Or, recycle ’em.

11. The Most Important Part

At the appropriate time—VOTE! If you’re in a place that votes by mail, you can have everyone bring their mail-in ballots to the party and have some stamps on hand. 

 

It’s as simple as that, it’s fun, pleasurable, and who knows—you might make a new friend or change the world. And when you go into the voting booth, you’ll feel well-prepared!

 Recipes For Change

Below are the recipes for a dairy and vegan version. Warning—if you use these recipes, you MUST vote, or we can’t be answerable for what will happen. 

Remember: voting lowers cholesterol, and well-prepared voting will boost your immune system and greatly reduce your stress levels in the coming year.

So, in his own words, here’s Max’s recipe:

Here is my master recipe for creme patisserie to create the nourishing change we wish to see in the world. To be enjoyed with friends for greatest effect! 

2 cups milk

1 vanilla bean

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

6 egg yolks

Bring milk to a boil slowly with vanilla bean.

Lower to a simmer and add remaining ingredients. Continue stirring while adding all your hopeful intentions for the upcoming election being mindful not to let the cream burn.

Keep stirring as the cream thickens~resistence takes time to build!

Neither politics nor pastry creme is an exact science and it is important to start building your instincts around both. Continue stirring for 7-10 minutes at sea level or until *you* feel it is ready. 

Remove from heat and transfer to a container to cool.

Can be enjoyed straight, with fresh fruit, or in a pastry shell with berries on top. 

Enjoy the fruits of your labor with your gathered friends and neighbors and stirring the pot for social change.

We know some of you are vegans, or dairy-free. We’re not, and I’m sure you are Better People Than We Are! In the interests of not suppressing the Vegan Vote, Carin suggests this coconut pudding recipe

Voting Is A Revolutionary Act!

Voting might take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours of your life—and even if you would rather see a revolution it won’t deter you for long from your dedicated work of fomenting. It will make a difference!  There are a few hundred incarcerated children at the border, hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised voters, and 20 million people who stand to lose health insurance who can tell you that sometimes what seem like small differences can be crucial!

Are You Registered?

 You can find out at Vote Save America, a website from the folks at Crooked Media. I have really been enjoying their podcasts, especially Hysteria (all women!) and Pod Save America, which is kind of like listening to the smart guys on West Wing talk about current politics except these guys are real former staffers from Obama’s White House. Anyway, their website is an easy way to check and to find out how to register if you’re not, and full of great resources and suggestions of how to get involved.

Eat, discuss, engage, vote, and make change! 

A Spell for the 4th

Happy Fourth of July—or not so happy. This year again we celebrate the birthday of our nation—a nation that espouses beautiful ideals it has yet to live up to—and this year truth, justice, freedom and basic common human decency seem to be slipping away from our grasp.

So—time for magic! In June, I suggested an ongoing spell to begin on Solstice and culminate tonight on the Fourth of July!  A spell to break through the false miasma of illusions, to call us back to caring and connection and courage—a spell that acknowledges our imperfections, as the Liberty Bell itself is cracked, yet calls us to the belief that we can nonetheless become agents of greater justice and healing in this world.

A Spell for Justice Part 2

You can do this spell any way you want—if my suggestions don’t work for you, create your own!  But here’s how I see it working…we use the power in all those patriotic songs, in those firework displays. 

✔ Set up an altar with the Statue of Liberty or the sigil or any image that works for you. 

✔ Sing any song you like—but sing it as a spell, as an affirmation of what can be. 

✔ Believe that we can be, commit yourself to make sure we become Sweet Land of Liberty, O beautiful for spacious skies, a place where freedom can ring! 

✔ Visualize the flame of justice coming out of Liberty’s torch like a laser beam, piercing through the veil of lies and fake news and confusion, bursting the bonds of the psychic Teflon that protects the powerful from the consequences of their callousness, touching hearts and awakening us all to courage and compassion. Imagine each firework, as it bursts in the sky, spreading the magic. 

✔ Recite the charm below:

By the crack in the Liberty Bell,

False attractions now repel!

As fireworks burst to stars so bright,

All are drawn to truth’s great light.

Care for the earth, for every child,

Protect the water, love the wild.

And from the mountains to the sea,

Raise the torch of Liberty,

Ring the bells and heed the call,

Justice, justice now for all!

✔ Then ground the spell by taking some real action in the world to bring about greater justice. You know all the things you can do—do them, and challenge yourself to be a little braver, a little more committed, a little more determined than you might have been otherwise.

If you need more instruction, here’s the original video:

These are hard times—but oh, how good it will feel, does feel, as we turn the tide and join together to create that world of liberty and justice for all!

A Spell for Justice

What is Magic, and When is Political Magic Called For? 

I’ve always liked Dion Fortune’s definition of magic as “the art of changing consciousness at will.”  The ‘art’ part of that is using sensory imagery and symbols that evoke emotion.  The ‘will’ is directed energy and intention. Together they shift consciousness—and while that may be purely internal and psychological, those of us who practice magic believe that that shift can also mobilize greater spiritual forces around us. We swim in an ocean of swirling emotion-thought-energies, and our focused intention can and will shift the tides.

When that ocean is full of toxic currents, when we feel forces moving that go beyond reason, when a poisonous tide of callousness and hate seems to be seeping into every area of life, when we constantly find ourselves asking “how did we get into this weird reality?” That’s the moment to mobilize spiritual forces to cleanse and counter the nastiness.

Magic works best when it is grounded with real, practical actions in the world. So this spell is not meant to substitute for all of those other things we need to do—from contacting our representatives to showing up for demonstrations to organizing campaigns and taking actions. It’s meant to strengthen and reinforce them—and to strengthen and hearten all of us who care for justice.

Working Magic for Justice

Here in brief are the elements of the spell I suggest. We can begin on the Summer Solstice, and let it culminate on the Fourth of July.

1. Create Sacred Space

Do this however works for you, in whatever spiritual or religious tradition you identify with.  For me, it would mean honoring the original peoples of the land I stand on, and asking permission to do this magic, then grounding, casting a circle, and calling in the four sacred elements, plus the fifth, spirit. 

But it could be saying a prayer, or setting up an altar, or, if you are a flagrant atheist who doesn’t believe in any of this (but nonetheless wants to do some magic) you could take a  moment and read an inspirational poem or play a piece of music.

2.  Call In Your Spiritual Allies

Who inspires you?  Whose qualities, experience, energies do you want for this work? Call in your ancestors—of birth or, if you are adopted, you also have a line into your adoptive family’s heritage. Call in those ancestors who were immigrants and refugees, and those who were indigenous to a place and welcomed others.  Are there Goddesses, Gods, orishas, angels, djinn, faeries, other spirits who might be helpful? 

I’m feeling a call to work with the Erinyes, the Furies—ancient Goddesses that predate the Greeks but survived in their pantheon as guardians of justice, punishers of oathbreakers, moral crimes and murderers.  But work with whomever or whatever calls to you.  Or simply with evoking personal qualities—courage, determination, compassion?  Ask for help and guidance.

3.  Meditate on Justice and Raise Energy

Justice is an abstract concept, so to raise magical energy we need to think about how Justice feels, looks, acts—to personify the qualities.  I suggest using the Statue of Liberty, who was originally supposed to be a black woman slave breaking her chains, and whose name is “Mother of Exiles.”  I think of her as our tutelary American deity, a form of the ancient Celtic Brigid, Goddess of fire and water, smithcraft, poetry and healing. 

Many of my friends and I have worked with her for a long time, envisioning her as holding aloft the light of truth.  And here is the poem inscribed on her base:

The New Colussus
By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
M
OTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Remember, we can’t counter a negative energy with the same quality of energy. Or, to quote Audre Lorde’s more poetic framing, “The master’s tools will never demolish the master’s house.” So make sure to stay out of that self-righteous, zero-tolerance state that infuses Republican rhetoric—but also many times infects the left as well. 

Take a breath and humbly acknowledge that each of us makes mistakes, each of us sometimes fails to live up to our own ideals and values.  Focus on holding some compassion for yourself, and broaden that to include compassion for all who are impacted right now by injustice—for the children, for the immigrant and the refugee, for the earth.  Imagine your heart opening with love and care.  Think about how much you care, how much you want a world of balance and justice, how much you want to be an agent of that transformation.  Feel that burning desire, and let your heart send out a stream of fire.  Imagine all those streams converging on the torch of Liberty, to free that imprisoned lightning to strike down injustice and bring home the consequences of their actions to those who perpetrate it.

If you don’t happen to have an image handy, here’s one created by Deborah Oak:

And this is a sigil—a magically charged image—created by Flame Tiferet, Zay and others:

Pour energy into that image—by breathing, visualizing, making sound, singing.  If you do this in a group, singing can raise great power.  Maybe this dates me, but I’m thinking of that old Pete Seeger Song, “If I Had a Hammer…”  Here’s Pete singing it, and this is Peter, Paul and Mary’s version

Or you might repurpose some of those patriotic songs—like God Bless America, the one Trump couldn’t remember the words of. 

To bless is a powerful magical act—it’s a calling-in of those great forces of compassion, love and creativity, and you can substitute any word you like for ‘God’—Goddess bless, we bless, Earth bless, etc.

4. Ring the Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell has a crack in it—which always makes me think of the Leonard Cohen song:

Give up your perfect offering,

Ring the bells that still can ring,

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.

Which itself refers back to the Kabbalistic myth of the world’s creation—that the vessels which hold the world cracked from the sheer radiance of the light of creation, and it is our job to repair the world—Tikken Olam.

So—ring a bell to send the energy out and seal the spell.  Keep a bell handy when you listen to the news or check your newsfeed, and ring it whenever you hear a lie.

5.  Ground the Energy

Touch the ground, and consciously let any remaining energy go into the earth.

6.  Thanks and Opening

Say thank you to all the allies you’ve called in, and open your sacred space.

7.  Repeat!

Try to do this ritual as many times as possible between Solstice and the Fourth of July. On the Fourth, imagine every exploding firework carries with it this magical lightning. 

Make it Your Own

If any part of this doesn’t work for you—change it into something that does.  You are your own spiritual authority.  If you have additions, questions, new songs or poems to suggest, post them in the comments section.  I will continue to add to this as I can over the next weeks, and to post some more expanded thoughts on how magic works.

Again, this is no substitute for action. Do the spell, then call your representatives, donate to a cause, go out and march for what you believe in, organize, do the next positive thing that presents itself. And for all that is just in this world, get out and VOTE! 

Together we can mobilize great powers of compassion, justice and healing. And in these challenging times, we must! 

The Children Are Counting On Us!

I am horrified and sickened by the Trump administration’s forcible separation of parents from their children at our borders. There is no legal, moral or strategic justification. 

Today I read that the Pope has condemned these actions—and that speaks well of him. I cannot understand why every priest, minister, preacher, rabbi, imam, rinpoche, and spiritual leader in the land isn’t crying out “Foul!” from every pulpit. While many are, where are the voices of those who are so quick to trumpet ‘family values’?

We Pagans have no Pope, no one who officially speaks for the views of our spiritual community. We are each our own spiritual authority. But as someone who has some influence and a measure of leadership in our community, I will say that these actions are utterly abhorrent and contravene the values that we hold—that every human being is a child of the Goddess, that great forces of compassion and creativity infuse the universe, that each one of us holds the potential and responsibility to be their avatar, and that the bond of love and nurturing between parent and child is sacred.

But surely, whether you are Pagan or Christian or Jewish or Muslim or atheist, if there is one moral value that underlies every basic idea of human decency, it is the protection of children. To punish children for their parents’ decisions, to deliberately inflict trauma and suffering on children for any cause is wrong, wrong, wrong—and to try and justify it by quoting the Bible or invoking laws (that don’t actually exist) is truly sickening hypocrisy.

We need to take action to end this abusive policy. Speak out—and encourage your friends to do so. Contact your representatives, join in the many marches and demonstrations being planned. If you can’t show up to a march, you can donate to one of the wonderful charitable organizations who are aiding immigrants and asylum-seekers. AND: don’t forget to get out and VOTE in November this year- and mobilize your friends and family to do the same! 

Know of any actions being planned?  Post them in the Comments below. 

The children are counting on us!

Why Permaculture?

The Dirt On Our Climate Future

The news cycle is so constant, so outrageous and often so distracting that it’s hard to tear our eyes away from the meltdown of our social and political worlds. But there’s another meltdown going on, one that will affect us and all of the planet for generations to come—the meltdown of the earths climatic system and the massive, global ecological degradation that it represents.

From the literal melting of the arctic ice to the massive floods, intensified hurricanes, droughts, devastating fires, and freaky weather of this past year—everything scientists have predicted about climate change is already coming to pass. Yet we spend very little time thinking, strategizing or organizing around it. Trump’s latest tweet or the newest erupting sex scandal claim far more headline space.

Perhaps we avoid climate change because it feels too big, too remote, too hard to have any impact. Yet there are many things we can do—and not just changing our light bulbs.

Real Solutions

If we think of climate change as representing massive ecosystem degradation, then what we need to do to counter it is massive ecosystem regeneration. And the good news is—we know how to do it!  It’s doable—and it has already been done in many places on large scales. Check out John Liu’s documentary, Green Gold, and see how China revitalized the Loess Plateau, an area the size of Belgium. 

Look at how World Vision has regenerated forests on hundreds of thousand of hectares in the Sahel.    

Or visit online some of the inspiring projects of Aranya Permaculture near Hyderabad, India—providing land, food and empowerment with a special focus on women. 

Or the Chikukwa Project, which has successfully revitalized a whole region in Zimbabwe.

Or some of the great work being done with urban agriculture in Detroit

There are many feel-good stories, but they don’t make me complacent. In fact, I’m even madder because I know that farmers can provide abundance for their families and communities while rebuilding soil and sequestering carbon, that we can reforest the desert edge and turn blighted areas of our cities into gardens, that we can regenerate whole ecosystems on a large scale.

Permaculture: Designing Systems of Regeneration

Knowing about these solutions and doing something about them are different things. That’s why I spend so much of my time teaching permaculture—a powerful, integrated system of ecological design that works with nature to provide for our human needs while healing the environment around us.  For me, it’s the practical complement to the earth-based spirituality I practice that honors the sacredness of nature and straws strength and hope from her beauty and diversity.

If you want to know how to take a piece of damaged ground and restore it to health, whether it’s a clear-cut forest or an abandoned city lot, if you want your work to make a positive difference, if you long to contribute to the healing that the earth so desperately needs, you need the understandings, the skills and tool-box that permaculture can provide.  

Maybe you’re a young person who dreams of growing food in the country, or a teacher who wants your students to learn lessons in the garden. 

Maybe you’re looking for your life’s work, or seeking to change careers in mid-life, or wondering what to do with your retirement? 

Permaculture is not just about gardening or homesteading—it’s about designing systems, which include the social, economic and political systems that determine what happens to our farms and lands.  It’s for entrepreneurs, policy makers, and activist citizens who want to know what policies to advocate.  Really, it’s for everybody—it’s the basic, grounded set of skills we all should have learned in school and mostly didn’t, for designing fulfilling lives that make a contribution to the great challenges of our times.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Earth Activist Training, an organization that I co-founded, offers a variety of courses, from two-week permaculture design certificate courses to intensives in social permaculture and a Sacred Earth Apprenticeship.  You can learn more about them and see all of our upcoming courses HERE. If our courses don’t work for you, there are many, many other opportunities to learn these vital tools.

If you happen to be on the east coast of the U.S., I have an upcoming course at the beautiful Rowe Center in Massachusetts in May-June. We have a special discount available for this course for two or more friends/family who register together- save $250 each! More details and registration HERE

If you’re in Western Europe, I will be co-teaching a Permaculture Certificate Program in Switzerland in July.

Yes, the Situation is Dire…

…and the timing urgent, but this is no moment to despair. We can regenerate our human and natural communities, and you have a unique role to play in making the transformation happen. A flourishing, abundant world of beauty and balance is everybody’s birthright. Together we can bring it into being.

The Goddess Blesses All Forms of Love <3

Beltane Approaches

May Eve, the holiday that celebrates the burgeoning fertility of spring! In ancient times, it was the joyful festival that reveled in wild sensuality. The Maypole, that upthrusting rod, was crowned with a ring of flowers that slid down as the ribbons twined in the dance.

But how do we celebrate sexuality and fertility in a time when everything is so much more complex? 

Heterosexual baby-making is no longer the only standard for what sex should be, thankfully! Today we want to honor gay sex and give thanks for the progress we have made in legalizing gay marriage. We’re loosening the constrictions of gender, pushing its boundaries and expanding its definitions and possibilities. We honor sexuality in its multiplicity of varieties that give pleasure and connection, not just physical fertility.

And we also know that sexuality can be a place of pain and wounding in a world where it is often the arena of abuse and harassment.  

How Do We Celebrate Beltane in the Era of #MeToo?

I suggest we broaden our definition of love. 

Long ago I wrote a children’s story for Beltane, “The Goddess Blesses All Forms of Love.”  It’s in the book Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Tradition that I co-wrote with Anne Hill and Diane Baker. 

The story speaks of many kinds of love—not just gay or straight, but the love of friends, the love of parents for their children, the love of friends, the love you might feel for a faithful dog or a beautiful garden, or even for a really good meal. Or for cooking a really good meal and sharing it with friends, or for growing the vegetables, or for feeding the hungry. In the story, each ribbon of the Maypole represents a different color, a different flavor of love.

Even full-on sexual passion comes in many flavors—and not just vanilla or kinky. There’s rip-our-clothes-off-because-we-can’t-wait-another-minute love and there’s languorous-Sunday-morning-in-bed-with-the-New-York-Times love. There’s licking-mangos-in-Tahiti-on-the-beach love and who’s-going-to-pick-the-kids-up-from-Soccer-practice love. 

A New Paradigm of Loving

We live in a culture that obsessively objectifies sex, but doesn’t truly value sensuality, pleasure, the body and the web of life that supports our fleshly existence. We are still immersed in a deep paradigm that locates value somewhere outside the physical world. Where once that meant God and a heaven that superceded the importance of this life, now more and more it means the abstraction of profits on a balance sheet that override the sacredness of earth, water, and life.

So expanding our definition of love can be a radical act. When we love something or someone, we want to cherish and protect them. We don’t stand by to see them desecrated or destroyed. This can be applied to our loved ones, our friends, our pets and to the Earth herself. 

Circle Round to Envision an Expanded Ideal of Love

On Monday, April 30th, I will be facilitating an online Beltane ritual and you are all invited. We will be casting, together, a big love spell. It’s not the “Bring Princ/ess Charming into my life” kind of spell—although it could work for that, but instead it is a spell to expand the boundaries of our vision of love, to honor those things we cherish, and to commit ourselves to work for them, fight for them and care for them.

Meditations on Love

In preparation for Beltane, regardless of whether you will be joining the online ritual or participating in your own solitary celebration, I encourage you to join me in a practice I have taken up lately: select one kind of love to meditate on each day. 

Today I’m going to think about my love for the earth. 

Yesterday I focused on the deep healing abilities of my body. 

Tomorrow—maybe my love of a good story.

I look forward to joining you in circle to cast this Beltane love spell together! All the details and registration are HERE

 

Ten Plagues

For the Israeli snipers, who, behind concrete barricades, shot into an unarmed Palestinian demonstration in Gaza, killing fifteen people and wounding nearly a thousand on the eve of Pesach.

It is said that the God of the enslaved Hebrews visited ten plagues upon their Egyptian overlords in order to compel Pharaoh to set the Hebrews free. At the Seder each year, we spill a drop of wine from our cup as we list each plague, to diminish our joy, for even the suffering of the enemy diminishes us.

But as the echoes of bullets ring in Gaza, as mothers, sisters, friends and children weep, as the martyr posters are pasted on the walls, let us consider the plagues that colonizers visit upon ourselves. Perhaps it is insensitive to even to consider this, as the blood of the colonized pools in the streets. But until we recognize the damage, we can never heal from it, never stop inflicting it and enacting it on others.

  1. Dehumanization

We cannot see the colonized as fully human, for to do so would be to admit that we continually violate our own standards for decent human behavior, that we have become thieves and murderers.

  1. Arrogance

Convinced of our superiority, our worthiness and entitlement, we are not bound by any consideration for others or rules of common human decency.

  1. Separation

We cannot be in relationship with those whose full humanity we cannot admit, and so we miss out on connections with complex, rich, creative and amazing human beings, who might have been our friends.

  1. Fetishing of our victimhood

We are, and always have been, and always will be, the ultimate and only victims. And so we desecrate the legacy of those who truly were victims and weaponize their real suffering.

  1. Self-justification

We have a million reasons why every blow and bullet and restriction is completely justified, why we had to do it, how they made us do it, why we had no choice. And so we voluntarily abandon our own agency.

  1. Group-think

We reinforce one another’s justifications, draw a tight circle around our own and convince one another of our righteousness. And so we lose the ability to see clearly beyond the bounds of our tight circle, and respond to the wider world around us.

  1. Paranoia

Having made the colonized into monsters in our imagination, we become fearful, seeing dangers and enemies everywhere. We become convinced that ‘they hate us’ because deep in our secret hearts, we know we have behaved hatefully.

  1. Cruelty

We cannot empathize with our victims, cannot let ourselves imagine what they must be feeling, and so we become ever more unfeeling and cruel. Cruelty seeps like a caustic acid into every aspect of our lives, eating away compassion, eroding every institution of care, until we become the monsters we fear.

  1. Lies

Lying to ourselves, to one another and the world, we lose our ability to tell truth from falsehood.

  1. Injustice

When we accept injustice, we perpetrate it, and trap ourselves and everyone around us in an unjust world.

This is what empire requires of us, how it warps us under its heavy boot, stomping out our compassion and all that is good in us. It is not the provenance of any one people, it is what we all become when we choose to hold the whip, to commandeer the lands and bodies of another, for it is what the job demands.

Here is my prayer, on this Passover night when we celebrate liberation—that we can liberate ourselves, can put down the lash and sniper’s rifle and the sneer, taste the bitter herb of remorse, let salt tears cleanse our palate and begin our long  journey to the Promised Land, which despite what the texts tell us can never truly be taken by conquest, but must be shared.

Let us not just spill the wine, but commit to drinking the anti-venom, to seeing the full humanity, the beautiful diversity, the challenging complexity of those we have oppressed. Then will our arrogance become humility, our separation become connection, as we free ourselves from our own victimhood, free the energies we have devoted to self-justification and endless reinforcement of our self-righteousness, and truly pursue righteousness. Our inflated fears will fall away, our cruelty turn to compassion, and truth and justice, pillars of smoke and fire, will become our guides.

When truth is acknowledged and justice done, then can the land fulfill its promise, and flow no longer with blood but with the milk of healing and the honey of peace.

 

Can Social Permaculture Change the World?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Mead

 

Small Groups Can Indeed Change the World—

—but to do so, they must work together effectively and nourish their relationships. Sadly, there’s a pattern that repeats again and again: a group of people come together excited to do work to change the world or create something that inspires them all. In the beginning, all goes well…

…then conflicts arise.

Sometimes deep divisions and power struggles erupt. Other times, people just quietly fade away. A brilliant idea, an exciting project, a community in which people have invested emotionally and financially withers and dies.

For decades, I’ve worked in small groups, from permaculture guilds to activist organizations to group houses, and experienced plenty of conflicts and breakdowns, as well as wonderful moments of joyful collaboration. I know the negative patterns can be changed. 

If we identify the conditions that allow groups to thrive and flourish, we can consciously design them into our group structures. We can commit to learning and practicing better communication skills and using conflict resolution tools. We can seed our groups in healthy soil, and create movements that are truly inclusive and welcoming to all of us, in the full complexity of who we are. And when we do, all of our important work becomes more effective.

What is Social Permaculture?

“Social Permaculture” is a term that has become more prevalent in the permaculture world to describe all the aspects of people-care and group dynamics that go beyond the garden and the food forest. 

But perhaps I should take a step back and say that “permaculture” is a global movement based on an approach to ecological design with an ethical framework, that takes nature as our model. By understanding the principles of how nature works, we can create systems—whether for food growing, shelter, or social projects—that meet our human needs while regenerating the environment around us. 

Permaculture began with an approach to agriculture that draws on much indigenous wisdom and traditional practices, but puts them together with systems theory and agro-ecology. However, as it has expanded into a worldwide movement of practitioners and teachers, it has grown to encompass the idea of permanent culture.

Culture is inherently social—it encompasses all the ways we connect, communicate, co-create, and clash.  The dominant culture is toxic in so many ways, from underlying structures of oppression such as patriarchy and white supremacy, to its focus on competition and individualism over community. 

But can we actually apply principles of design to changing these structures, both in the social landscape and in the ways we have internalized them? Do the patterns and principles we find in nature have guidance for us in creating social change and building new institutions? 

Social Permaculture as a Solution

These are the questions that social permaculture asks, and to address them we draw from many fields, from psychology to sociology to theories of group dynamics and organizational structure. A social permaculture course might range from exploring how we connect across the barriers of diversity and historical oppression, to how we resolve conflicts in groups, to how we can structure organizations to encourage creativity and collaboration. It is useful for anyone who works in groups: permaculture guilds, activist groups, spiritual groups, co-housing communities, community organizers, friendship groups, even personal relationships.

Our social permaculture courses are interactive, focused on learning skills and tools and practicing them.  We use exercises, games, and projects to bring out patterns of communication, and provide support for self-reflection. We address the larger cultural patterns of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, class divisions and more, in a spirit that asks us to redesign patterns of relationships so that we can connect, share, and celebrate more deeply. 

And we ground our work in a deep, spiritual connection to nature and one another.

Of all the work and teaching I do, social permaculture is perhaps the most vital, because it offers tools to make all of our work more successful and joyful. In these times of chaos and crisis, we need effective groups that can make change. And we need places of support and nurturance that can feed us as we work for a world of justice and resilience.

If this sounds like the kind of solution you’ve been seeking, join Pandora Thomas and I at our Group Leadership and Empowerment Social Permaculture Intensive: April 9-13th in Northern California.