Friday, May 27, 2011

Spiritual Activist Leadership Training for young adults aged 18-35

This is a training program/internship for young adults taking place soon in California. It is centered around a Unitarian Universalist perspective. I hope that they would be open to non-UU applicants.

From the website:
"The ideal SALT Fellow will be involved in justice making – either through their work, their community, or through volunteer activities. This person is connected to Unitarian Universalist (UU) community and wants to develop and sustain further leadership skills and justice contacts in order to live their UU values and make their corner of the world a more equitable, compassionate, just place."

Go to:

Contact me at if you hope to list me as a reference.

Michelle Mueller

Friday, May 13, 2011

Marin Interfaith Council 12th Annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast

Interfaith Day of Prayer, 2011

Carol Himaka, Stacy Friedman, Don Frew

Every May my local Marin Interfaith Council, of which I am the sole Pagan member (and an active one), presents an interfaith prayer breakfast.[1] The date corresponds with the National Day of Prayer (36 U.S.C. § 119) breakfast in Washington, DC, held on the first Thursday in May, beginning in 1952 in the Truman administration. The fact that the National Day of Prayer is exclusively Christian rather than being inclusive of other religions and yet presumes to call itself national offends me, as it does not reflect the religious diversity of our nation.

We have three speakers from three different religions; each tells us a bit about her or his religion, and then shares a prayer, song, chant, meditation, or some other experience. In the past we've had a Sufi, another kind of Muslim, Rabbis from different branches of Judaism, a Pentacostal, a Brahma Kumari (a type of Hinduism), Roman Catholic, Vedanta Society (also Hindu), Religious Science, ministers of other Protestant denominations, Eastern Orthodox, Zen and other branches of Buddhism; you name it, we have it here in Marin.

This year the Rev. Carol Myokai Himaka, a teacher Jodo Shinshu Buddhism from Enmanji Buddhist Temple in Sebastopol, and Rabbi Stacy Friedman from Congregation Rodef Shalom in San Rafael, were joined by the first representative from an Earth-based spirituality ever to speak at this annual event, Gardnerian Wiccan Don Frew, one of CoG's interfaith representatives, from Berkeley. I'm given to understand that our Interfaith Celebrations Team made this choice, and I'm grateful to them for having done so.

In 1997, when Starhawk's and my book, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, was launched under the sponsorship of the late Shambala Bookstore in Berkeley, Don Frew introduced me. Now, in 2011, I had the pleasure of introducing Don to my friends and colleagues in MIC. What a treat!

Carol spoke about the founding of Buddhism in the 6th Century BCE by Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, as well as about some of the different schools of Buddhism. This being a rather complicated matter, and time being limited, she went over time and had to conclude rather abruptly.

Since we were behind schedule by now, Don spoke succinctly about the revival of Witchcraft and Pagan religions in the mid-20th Century CE. Then he had everyone stand at their round tables and hold hands while he led us in a tree of life meditation. This is such a perfect contribution to this kind of event: everyone loves trees and can relate to feeling the sun on her leaves and the solidity of the Earth beneath. They loved it! They applauded. They wanted more. And I was so proud and pleased.

Stacy's presentation was also shorter than it might have been. She passed out sheets containing some Jewish prayers, printed in Hebrew, transliterated, and translated, so we could see each prayer in three forms. We recited them together.

We who work in the field of interfaith encourage all interested people to come to our events, especially the annual interfaith prayer breakfast. Often the presenters have co-religionists who come to support their representatives. But we have few.

Unfortunately, events of this nature that take place in the daytime, when most people work, preclude much in the way of Pagan participation. I saturated the local Pagan networks with the announcement of this event (as I do for most MIC events) in an effort to solicite Pagan participation. For all of that, I'm grateful that Hawk and Thermal from North Bay Reclaiming were able to come, because the four of us (Hawk, Thermal, Don and me) were the only Pagans in the room. Why is this? It's because most other religions, mainstream or not, have people whose job it is to participate in interfaith and other activities. They have paid clergy. I'm not making an argument one way or another for our creating a clergy class within Paganism, at least not here and now. What I am saying is that this is a difference that distinguishes us, and one that makes Pagan participation in such activities minimal. In order to do so, one needs either money (sponsorship of an organization, employment by an organization, or independent funds) or to be retired. I am happy to be able to participate because I'm past retirement age and have no job (although I welcome opportunities to earn income).[2] For interfaith representation that involves greater expenditures, I gratefully receive stipend support from CoG. So do other CoG interfaith representatives at times, but it seems that most Pagan organizations don't give interfaith involvement a very high priority. I am happy to be disproven of that assertion.

In any case, I expect to return to the next meeting of MIC's Justice Advocacy Team, the group in which I participate the most, to colleagues who now have a clearer and richer understanding of my religion. I tip my pointy black hat to Don, and the Interfaith Celebrations Team, for this valuable contribution -- to MIC and to the world.

[1] Reports from previous MIC interfaith prayer breakfasts here.

[2] As my friend Victoria says, "lettuce pray" that Social Security holds out. I sing the praises of FDR for the many implementations of the New Deal.

CoG Interfaith Rep. at Marin Interfaith Council Prayer Breakfast

A few months ago, I was asked by Rev. Carol Hovis to be a speaker at the Marin Interfaith Council’s 2011 Interfaith Prayer Breakfast on May 5th.  Carol and I have served together on the Board of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio and we had spoken many times about doing some sort Wiccan programming at the MIC.  I would be speaking with Rev. Carol Himaka of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism and Reform Jewish Rabbi Stacy Friedman.  We would each have 18 minutes to address “Prayer & Meditation” in our traditions and then lead the attendees in a prayer or meditation from our tradition.

I thought this sounded perfect.  I would have plenty of time to address “prayer” in a Wiccan context as communion with the Divine (much like prayer in a late Classical context), as opposed to prayer as an act of submission or supplication, and still explain and lead a fairly elaborate version of the “roots & branches – 4 Elements / Directions” visualization so common among Wiccan trads.

Then, two days before the event, Carol called to tell me that over 180 people had registered for the Prayer Breakfast and, by the way…  Carol explained that unlike many interfaith councils in the San Francisco Bay Area, in which the most liberal religious groups tend to predominate, the council in Marin had been around a long time and was made up mostly of the more established (i.e. more “conventional”) churches and synagogues.  As such, the council in Marin, as a whole, was less informed about modern Witchcraft than one might expect, especially since I would be the first Earth Religionist to speak at one of their Prayer Breakfasts.  Because of this, she asked, could I give a basic introduction to Wicca as part of my talk?  Suddenly 18 minutes didn’t sound that long.

I struggled with this for a while and I confess that “the muse” didn’t strike me until I was driving across the San Rafael Bridge to Marin to Congregation Kol Shofar on the morning of the prayer breakfast.  I spent the breakfast part of the event scribbling two pages of notes.

After breakfast, Carol welcomed everyone and told them about the story of Kol Shofar and its new building.  There had been some local opposition to the arrival of the synagogue and the Marin Interfaith Council had helped work things out.  She introduced Rabbi Chai Levy of Congregation Kol Shofar who led an opening prayer.  Carol then introduced the MIC Board and members of various committees.  The MIC Board President Nafisa Haji of the International Association of Sufism called forward a woman named Alison Hendley to thank her for many years of valued work on behalf of the MIC.  The whole vibe was much more like a single, tight-knit congregation than an interfaith council.

Carol gave a history of the Prayer Breakfasts in Marin and the good work that the MIC had done.  She talked about their many social service projects.  I recommend checking out their website for details (  She advised the audience that “When listening to the speakers, notice when your heart begins to close.”  Apparently she anticipated some resistance to what we represent.

Rev. Joanne Mied introduced Rev. Carol Himaka.  Rev. Himaka told the story of the life of the Buddha and the origins of Buddhist thought.  She closed with a reading from Shinran, the founder of her sect.  At Carol Hovis’ request, she added some information about relief efforts in Japan.

M. Macha NightMare, a CoG National Interfaith Representative and a member of the MIC, introduced me.  I thanked Macha and the MIC and began my talk (having finished it in between taking notes on Rev. Himaka’s talk):

*    *    *    *    *
For hundreds of years, people who believed in and practiced many of the same things that Macha and I share lived lives in the shadows, in fear of being tortured and killed by the authorities and others.

In the 1950s, everything changed.  The few surviving covens in England took a new look at the Old Laws, which enjoined secrecy at almost all costs… “for the Craft must ever survive”, as the Laws say.

In the 20th century, the survival of the Craft meant networking, organizing on a scale never seen before, coming out of the closet… or as we sometimes say, “coming out of the broom closet.” [expected chuckles]  Witches published books, went on television, and created national organizations.  In 1975, the largest of these – the Covenant of the Goddess – joined the Berkeley Area Interfaith Council, and we have been active in interfaith ever since at the local, regional, national, and global levels.

Even so, almost 60 years into a concerted effort at public education and with Neopaganism becoming the fourth largest religion in the United States, many people still know very little about us or even that we exist at all.  Perhaps we wove our secrecy spells too well!  [more chuckles]  And so, Carol has asked me to cover some of the basics before addressing today’s topic of prayer & meditation.

The easiest way to understand modern Neopaganism is to think of something like Nataive American spirituality or Japanese Shinto, but coming out of pre-Christian European and Mediterranean cultural settings.  There are Druids, reviving the religion of the ancient Celts.  There are Heathens, taking their inspiration from the religions of the Norse and Germanic peoples.  But by far the largest branch of Neopaganism is the Witches, coming out of the fusion of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Graeco-Roman spiritualities that occurred in the British Isles.  This led many modern Witches to use Anglo-Saxon word – “Wicca” - instead “Witchcraft”.  Some found it easier to avoid one “w-word” by replacing it with another, especially when explaining things to their parents.  [chuckles]

So what defines modern Witchcraft or Wicca?  This can get complicated sometimes; and you’ll notice that I almost always say that “most Witches” or “many Witches” believe such-and-such a thing or that something is a “common belief” precisely because of this ambiguity.

In terms of theology… most Witches focus on the immanence of the Divine, manifest as the natural world, but also as each other and as inanimate objects like this podium, while some Witches also acknowledge and relate to a transcendent aspect to the Divine.  Almost all Witches relate to the Divine as the Goddess, the Great Mother, but there are also many who focus on a duality of God & Goddess.  There are Witches who believe in reincarnation (in various forms) and those who don’t.  There are those who assert the reality of the Gods while others see them as convenient symbols or archetypes of the unconscious.  One could hardly talk about Witch beliefs in terms of “orthodoxy”.

In terms of practice… almost all of us meet in circles, but a few meet in squares.  Most Witches celebrate on the night of the Full Moon, but many are forced to wait for the nearest convenient weekend.  We use different tools in our ceremonies, ‘though some use no tools at all.  We use different words – some using liturgies that have been passed from teacher to student for generations, while others create spontaneous liturgical poetry as the Spirit moves them.  We even address our rites to different Gods, with each coven having their own favored patron or tutelary deities.  And we create our rituals around different myth-cycles – some favoring the Celtic cycle of the Kings of the Waxing & Waning Year, some the cycle of Persephone’s descent to and return from the Underworld, and other myths as well.  So it would seem that “orthopraxy” doesn’t describe us either.

With such variety in beliefs and practice, what holds us together as a faith tradition?  If you’ll allow me a neologism, I believe that modern Witches are “orthognostic”, in that we share a common gnosis: the direct experience of the Divine manifesting as and through the Natural World.  Such direct experience can result in different beliefs & practices, but always leaves a sign that we can recognize in each other.  This was incorporated into the membership requirements for the Covenant of the Goddess when we said that prospective members must identify themselves as Witches and be recognized as such by other Witches known to us.  “Takes one to know one…”, as they say.

Not only are our experiences of the Divine similar enough to hold us together as a faith tradition, they are also similar enough in particulars to result in us grouping together into what we call “Traditions”, but a Christian might call “denominations”.  Macha comes out of a tradition called “Reclaiming” which might be likened to a liberal Protestant denomination, while I work primarily in the Gardnerian Tradition which might be more similar to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Turning to today’s topic… Prayer does not figure largely in the spiritual lives of most Witches.  To the extent that prayer is present, it is in the form of communion with the deities (much like prayer in late Classical paganism*), rather than of submission or supplication as is often found in the prayers of many other faiths.  In contrast, most Witches make use of meditation – especially in the form of guided meditation or visualization – on a regular basis.  It is through a guided meditation that I might be able to share some of the Wiccan gnosis with you here today.  Please stand, if you can.  If you can’t, it’s fine to remain sitting.

[I led a standard “roots & branches” meditation – grounding, centering, connecting with the loving energy upwelling from Mother Earth and with the light streaming from the Sun, Moon, and Stars above – throwing in, since they were standing around tables, the idea of seeing themselves as groves of trees.  When I finished the meditation and told them to open their eyes, they burst into spontaneous applause!  That’s the first time that’s happened for me.]

As you go forward through the day, try to notice if you feel this connection with the Earth fading or slipping away.  If so, take a moment, remember what it felt like, and re-establish that connection.

It can be difficult to connect with a coven to attend a ceremony, but there will be a very public Pagan event next weekend in Berkeley – the annual Pagan Festival, from 10:30am to 5:30pm. – so if you would like to learn more about the local Pagan community, please come join us.

Thank you and Blessed Be.  [more applause]
*    *    *    *    *

I got another round of applause.  Suzan Berns then introduced Rabbi Stacy Friedman.  She addressed “why, when, how, and what we pray” in the Jewish tradition and then led us in a sung prayer about the Creation.

Carol had intended to have a Q & A period after the speakers, but we were running late, so she just thanked everyone, especially Green Gulch Farm for supplying the many loaves of wonderful bread.

This was a really fun event and, judging from the feedback I received afterwards, was really appreciated for its educational content.  I was told that even more conservative groups which had been somewhat skeptical of my invitation were pleased with the outcome.  I look forward to further participation with the Marin Interfaith Council and I hope that it will open the door for more Wiccan programming at the MIC.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Public Information Officer

* Ordinarily, I would capitalize “Pagan” and be annoyed when others do not, but in the case of Classical “paganism” we are talking about people who never used this term to describe either themselves or their religious practice.  As a result, I am more inclined to side with the anthropologists and historians who warn about the interpretive dangers of projecting backwards our own religious sensibilities.