Friday, December 28, 2012

State of Formation Blog

The "State of Formation" is a journalist-style blog of the Parliament of the World's Religions and Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, with contributors. Recently, Rebecca Levi posted about her upcoming wedding ceremony (Jewish and lesbian)... making a statement or engaging in authentic religious ritual? Check this article out, and others.
-M. Mueller

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflections on the Year - Michelle Mueller

It's been an adventurous year: another two semesters at the religiously diverse Graduate Theological Union, my first attendance at the biennial Women & Mythology conference, spending the summer with Mormons in Provo, Utah, communing with gay and lesbian Mormons in Seattle for a weekend in October, AAR (American Academy of Religion), speaking on issues in Paganism for a panel on LGBTQ youth and religion, and finally, a weekend with Unitarian Universalist emerging scholars.

I'm saddened about the change in the Parliament of the World's Religions. Have been anxiously looking forward to it. The Council is doing what it can to plan for the future of the Parliament. While Brussels has withdrawn its bid, there is a possibility of a Parliament at a different site in the next few years. We will likely not know the outcome for several months.

I am gearing up for another year of academic work and interfaith/theological/multireligious conferences. The specifics have yet to be revealed. One thing is for sure: I'll be teaching NeoPagan Liturgy: Earth Ritual as a "hybrid" course (for students in residency, and online for those at a distance) in Fall 2013 at Starr King School for the Ministry, with my faculty advisor's mentorship. I am so grateful for the Graduate Theological Union including contemporary Paganism in its curriculum. In the acceptance notification, Academic Dean Arthur Holder wrote:

"Congratulations for submitting a worthy project that represents the best elements and talents of our doctoral program."
For more information, see our website:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Witches, Black Panthers & Sufis

Interfaith at Samhaintide

Marin Interfaith Council has been offering monthly interfaith contemplative services for peace.  The October gathering, at Sausalito Presbyterian Church, was to feature Pagan religions (specifically "Wiccan") in honor of the season of Samhain.  I had committed to conducting this hour-long service; however, I was also selected to be a Deputy Inspector at the polls and the mandatory training for that job was scheduled for the same evening.  So I asked my friend Gwion Raven, who had helped me at the Thanksgiving Eve service for the homeless (and their supporters) last year, if he would do it.  I had planned on two readings, which I suggested he use.  He did use them, plus taught some chants that the group did together.  In reflecting on his experience, Gwion said, "It really affected me...I had never experienced being recognized as a Pagan and been so warmly welcomed in a Christian church.  [Attendees showed] genuine curiosity." I thank Gwion for his work.

The following day, when I attended MIC's clergy luncheon, three people, including Paul Mowry, the new pastor at Sausalito Presbyterian, who had been to the contemplative service told me how much they enjoyed it.  I was glad to hear that and glad to relay that feedback to Gwion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interfaith as Matrix for Social Justice

The topic of discussion at the luncheon, held in the new Hannah Project1 Gallery space at Marin City,2 where we sat amidst an exhibit of photographs and other ephemera called "Architects, Activists, and Avengers: The Black Panther Party 1968, and featuring photographs by Pirkle Jones and his wife and collaborator, Ruth-Marion Baruch, was "The Role of Religious Communities in Movement Making."

I shared a table with two friends from Green Gulch Zen Center and Chris Highland, while we listened to three speakers.  Sister Colleen McDermott, Ph.D., told us of her study of the Highlander Center in Tennessee.

Founded in 1932 during the Great Depression in Tennessee as the Highlander Folk School, it began with programs to help rural women and organized different groups working for social justice and workers' rights. Among its founders and prominent participants were Myles Horton and his wife, née Zilphia Mae Johnson, Jane Wilburn Sapp, and Septima Poinsette Clark.  In the '30s and '40s the institute helped organize miners and textile mill workers.

In the 1950s Highlander taught desegregation and citizenship workshops with such participants as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy, and organized voter registration efforts. The ubiquitous movement song "We Shall Overcome" comes from Highlander, which has always included music and the arts in its programming.  SNCC (Student Nonviolent Organizing Committee) has roots at Highlander.

During the 1960s and '70s Highlander refocussed on Appalachia, organized protests against toxic dumping, and more recently it has featured LGBT programs, multilingual programs for organizing immigrants (Pueblos de Latinoamerica Justice School), and post-Katrina relief.

Sister Colleen pointed out that religious organizations such as churches have the institutional structure that's an important underpinning of efforts at social change.  Institutions grant the authority to speak up and engage.  Myles Horton's early seminary studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York informed his dedication to organizing for social justice.

This is one of my arguments for having Pagans establish institutions such as Cherry Hill Seminary.

Pastor Johnathan Logan, Sr., from Cornerstone Church of God in Christ in Marin City, spoke of his church's mission, quoted in part below:

Glorifies God by its standards of holiness, righteousness, and obedience to His Word. Demonstrates Christ's command to love one another. ... Worship God in spirit and truth recognizing that Jesus is Head of the Church  Recognize its interdependence with other members within the body of Christ which [sic] may not be of the same denominational affiliation. ...  Fulfills Christ's command to evangelize the world.
Third to speak was Pastor Veronica Goines of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, a "historical multicultural congregation" also in Marin City.

I found the speakers demonstrated an inordinate underlying assumption of an Abrahamic religious viewpoint.  For instance, the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. was invoked frequently, yet no mention was made of such figures as Malcolm X and others in the Black Muslim movement that also arose from those fertile and changing times.  Neither was there acknowledgement of the African diaspora religions that also gained adherents since those transformative years of the '60s and early '70s.

Now I understand that Marin's population is predominantly white.  And I know that this program was not intended to reflect every change to have arisen from religious communities in the those times.  Further, local branches of the Black Muslim church have either dissipated or fallen into corruption.3

I wanted to mention this as I, a polytheist, sat there with my non-deist friends amidst the assumption of monotheism, but I couldn't come up with a constructive way to comment.  Having said all this, I will say I enjoyed the program; I learned a lot that I hadn't known before and may never have been exposed to otherwise.  The speakers provided insights and provoked further reflections.  It was worth every minute.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Visionary Marin

In a busy two weeks for MIC, we concluded with the annual Visionary Marin Awards Ceremony, this year honoring Dr. Nahid Angha.  Musicians played while people sampled delicious food prepared by the sisters of Brahma Kumaris and from Green Gulch Farm and elsewhere, and bid on an array of silent auction items as well as buying raffle tickets for several beautiful gift baskets.  A slide show of photos of religious activities by the member congregations of MIC demonstrated the rich variety of our membership.  I was pleased to see some photos of Pagans dancing round a Maypole that I had taken.

Among the many accomplishments that led MIC to give Nahid this year's Visionary Marin award is her  founding of the International Association of Sufism and Sufi Women Organization  , "an international humanitarian organization promoting universal human rights."

We learned more about Nahid from a Q&A session done with the Rev. Charles Gibbs, Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative.

Everyone left feeling that their culinary, intellectual, and community appetites had been satisfied.  Plus we met our fundraising goal for the year.  Kudos to the Rev. Carol Hovis and her assistant, Allison Kirk, and the many volunteers who worked with them to make this event a success.


1.  The Hannah Project assists African-American and other low-income students ages 8-22 and their families in efforts to boost academic performance and college graduation rates.

2. Marin City, begun with housing designed by the late Frank Lloyd Wright for the many workers who migrated here during World War II to work on the Liberty ships in the Sausalito shipyards. It is now home to the largest African-American community in the county.  Coincidentally, the famed architect's final commission was our Marin County Civic Center.

3.  See Your Black Muslim Bakery and murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

“My Prayer is Your Prayer too”

“My Prayer is Your Prayer, too” was the theme for 2012’s World Day of Prayer, held at the One World Spiritual Center, in Marietta, Georgia.  Although this was the first interfaith prayer event at the Marietta center, it was Dogwood Local Council’s second year to participate. 

Last year, organizer and host, Rev. Sydney Lindquist, invited us to Gainesville Unity’s World Day of Prayer for which we created a beautiful elemental altar.  We also contributed to the prayer book and various members offered Wiccan prayers for the hourly blessings.   The event was widely successful and enjoyed by many members of our community.

More importantly, our presence was so well-received that Sydney asked us back to this year’s event, now held in Marietta.  For 2012, we created a harvest altar complete with pumpkins, fall mums and a real apple cake.  Our Wiccan prayers were printed in the program and I, personally, was able to offer a special prayer for the 11am hourly blessing.  

A Blessing of Unity by Miraselena
Unity – You are the rainbow of difference that creates beauty
Unity – You are a vacuum that desperately seeks to be filled with the wisdom that can only come from another’s experience. 
Unity – You are the spirit that begins deep in the Earth, rises through trees, upwards radiating out, touching everything, all that there is, and, then, ascending into the heavens.
Unity – You are that same spirit that, then, rains from above bringing us light and nourishment.
Unity – You are the nurturing hug of a mother, gifted to our world.
Unity – You are the single force that builds community and, only through you, can we find peace.
Unity – You are the many voices that can become one voice only through the harmony of diversity.
Unity – You are our hope. 
Unity – You are hand that holds another in friendship and trust.
May we always find the courage to reach out to you and invite you into our lives with respect and dignity for all.
Blessed Be.
The prayer vigil began at 7pm on Wednesday September 12th and lasted a full twenty-four hours.  The large, otherwise unadorned, church room was dimly lit with a faint smell of incense filling the space.   In the background, music played ever so quietly to ease the transition from the outside world into this sacred experience.   The tables and altars, from fifteen different faiths, were setup around the perimeter of the room with a small stage and podium at one end.   In the center, they had placed a cloth adorned with a giant painted labyrinth.   Talking was kept to a minimum and shoes were not allowed in at all. 

During the 24 hour vigil, people could come and go as they pleased in order to experience the difference and sameness in the way humanity prays.  For me, attending was a spirit-opening experience that bonded me to others in a unique way.  It helped to find the common ground or path, if you will, through a forest of spiritual differences.

The World Day of Prayer ended with a drum circle and Peace Concert on Thursday night starting at 6pm.  This year, we were able to add our time and energy to the Concert.   Accompanied by Eibhlean’s skilled drumming, I chanted a variety of different Wiccan songs to introduce the audience to the vibrancy of Pagan sacred music.   The experience was well-received and, once again, we were asked to come back again next year.

And, I really hope that we do…for our sake and the future of the humanity! 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Homeless in Marin

 Photo  © Ron Greene*

In late July the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy memorializes the homeless of our county with a gathering, march, and brief program.  If I am not away from home, I participate.  This year was a bit different, in that there was much less diversity among the interfaith participants.  After we are called together with drumming, often a Buddhist will light incense and offer a prayer to bless the endeavor.  There was no Buddhist there this year, although there are several Buddhist congregations and at least two prominent Buddhist retreats in the county.  Nor were there any representatives from any of the local Jewish synagogues, as there have been in the past.  Nor was there a contingent of Dominican Sisters like I'm used to seeing.  I'm guessing this is because the date conflicted with other important matters these folks needed to attend rather than being due to disinterest.  In any case, I was surprised that the only speakers from the religious community were about four Protestant ministers, including my colleague on the Justice Advocacy Team at Marin Interfaith Council, the Rev. Liza Klein of San Rafael First United Methodist Church; one priest from St. Raphael's; and one Pagan, yours truly.

We gathered in the plaza in front of St. Raphael's, near where a tree was planted by this same group about ten years ago.  I took the two photos below a few years ago; the tree has grown larger now.

My contribution was a prayer to the Mother of Justice, followed by singing of a beautiful round called "When We Are Gone," written by Anne Hill and Starhawk and published in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (as is the prayer).  We have done this enough times now for some of the people to know the song, so the singing was fuller, richer, and sweeter than it's been in past years.

Sometimes people ask why I do this.  The answers are many, but the main one is that there are Pagans among our nation's homeless, and they have told me how much they appreciate seeing a Pagan face among the speakers.  They have also said they're glad to see acknowledgement of goddess worship.

In service to Coventina,
M. Macha NightMare (Aline O'Brien)

 * * * * *

* Ron Greene has several entries on the homeless in Marin, accompanied by moving photos, on his blog site.  In this photo, I am in the left foreground wearing purple and a big pentacle.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dear All,

As most of you know, I attended the North American Interfaith Network Connect this year in Atlanta Georgia. It is late because I did not wish to interrupt Don’s postings. What a wonderful experience!! As one of only two, anything like Witches, at this event, I usually feel a bit left out and spend most of my time explaining why one issue or another does not apply.

This year was a completely different experience. I came determined to discuss the questions that everyone seems reluctant to discuss and discovered that everyone wanted to discuss them. The younger people especially were really looking for some depth to conversation. As an example they were by far and away in agreement that their favorite panel, on LGBT(et al) where there was actually some drama when, after two young people shared their feelings of isolation because of church policies, a person stood up and read a verse from the Koran condemning alternative sexual orientations. Unfortunately he approached this in a very insensitive manner and…well you can imagine the conversation from there, as I must who did not get to the panel despite my best efforts. I was pleased to discover later that they agreed that they liked my presentation second best. I had the opportunity at one point to accuse them of ageism when I found them all sitting at one table, and they asked if I wanted to volunteer as their token “elder”.

My favorite part of the weekend was when the moderator of our panel introduced us as women of a certain age who were no longer afraid to say what they felt needed to be said. (Not a snicker here).

I had started out as a panel presentation on “The hard questions” and the planners asked if I would combine my talk with another. I know all these ladies and was pleased to do so. They said that we could have 20minutes each originally but when we got to the presentation we discovered that they had allowed us 10 minutes. I curtailed my talk and the moderator, my friend Bettina Grey, did her best to keep the others down in time, but most had written out their talks and it was difficult. This presentation will be available in the evening after council this year.

There was a huge part of this Connect that was based around social justice and Martin Luther King figured large in the tours that we took along with Jimmy Carter. I was able to meet some personal heros of my own, who had marched with and helped plan with King. Dr Rev. Vivian who is now in his late 80’s is one of those men. It was a seminal moment for me.

There is so much more to report but our sight ( has done a much better job so I direct you there for pictorial proof of my attendance along with a complete report on the event.

Rachael Watcher

Saturday, August 4, 2012

CoG Interfaith Rep meeting w/ Mayan leader, pt. 6 – Saturday (Nuestra Aventura en Guatemala, Dias Seis – Sabado)

Greg and I woke in our hotel in Panajachel for our last full day in Guatemala.  After breakfast, we walked around part of Lake Atitlan, marveling at the variety of flowering plants.  Sooner than we would have liked, we packed our bags and boarded a hotel shuttle for the three and a half hour ride back to Guatemala City.  Three and a half hours seemed short, given the lengths of the trips that got us here; five and a half hours seemed more reasonable.  The reason for the difference was that our driver, Alfonso, averaged 100 mph for the whole drive!  Even when we once again encountered blinding rain on the pass over the mountains, he only slowed to what we would consider a reckless speed.

The drive, between bouts of car-sickness, gave us time to reflect on the trip.  It obviously did not go as expected.  Our brief time with Tata confirmed the bonds of friendship and fellowship he feels between him and me and between the Maya and the Wicca.  There is definitely a relationship to be nurtured here.  (We have been talking about hosting another meeting of Elders later in the year, but that is still in the planning stages.)  As it turned out, we spent almost all of our time with Wilma.  She, too, is a practitioner of the old Maya ways – one of considerable knowledge & skill.  We always talk about the balance of male & female energies (and, or course, everything in between) in the spiritual paths of the people of the Earth, so it was fitting that we experience Wilma’s way of working, having experienced Tata’s.  We formed a strong bond of love and respect with her.  She shared secrets of the old ways with us.  We look forward to working with both her and Tata in the future.  I came to meet with a Maya leader and was blessed to end up meeting with two!
We arrived in Guatemala City around 4pm and found our hotel near the airport.  Here we have had a chance to relax, get our bags packed, and prepare for the 13 hour flight home (with a layover in Atlanta).  We may have time to go to the Archeological Museum or the Popol Vuh Museum before we leave, but probably not.  We have one final task we must perform before we leave Guatemala.  Yoland Trevino, emeritus Chair of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, is an indigenous Mayan and was born in Guatemala.  Her sister lives near our hotel and will be dropping off family papers for us to deliver to her.

Unless something really interesting happens tomorrow, this’ll be the final report from this trip, but there will be more encounters with the Maya to come.  As Tata says, “The Maya and the Wicca are brothers [and sisters].”

I would like to thank my very good friend Greg Stafford, who dropped everything to come with me at the last minute, help with translation, provide spiritual support in & out of ceremony, and generally watched my back as I traveled in a country where I didn’t really know the language or culture.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew (with Greg Stafford)
CoG National Information Officer

CoG Interfaith Rep meeting w/ Mayan leader, pt. 5 – Friday (Nuestra Aventura en Guatemala, Dias Quince – Viernes)

We woke to another beautiful day.  Greg was glad that his over-the-top Pepto Bismol counter-attack had succeeded in defeating la venga.  He downplayed the triumph saying “Of course, now I probably won’t s**t for a week.”  We ate breakfast and met Vilma, who arrived in a cab driven by a friend – Don Patriceño.  She told us that Tata was recovering, but was at home under the care of Kukumatz. 

Don Patriceño drove us all up the road, then onto a dirt road, from which point we had to walk to the sacred site up a path.  The site was in the middle of a large milpa, or corn field with rows of beans in-between, on the slopes of a large hill.  It was a bit of a steep walk up to it and I carried a bag of ritual ingredients bigger than a golf bag that easily weighed over 50 lbs.  It was serious & strenuous work, but I viewed it as part of the sacrificial preparation for the rite.

The site had three altars of simple stone – two for positive magic and one for “binding” type work.  The site is cared for by a Guardian, the land owner, who keeps out anyone who shouldn’t be there, watches over candles or fires left burning, cleans up after the rituals, etc.  He appeared when we arrived, recognized Wilma, and then disappeared until the ceremony was over.  When I finally set down Wilma’s bundle, it was like a “Bag of Holding.” She proceeded to draw a seemingly endless variety of incenses, velas, and ritual items from within.  We talked about how the Elements are viewed in our three traditions.  Wilma pointed to the fire and said that it was the home of “los salamandres”, indicating influence from the Western magickal tradition.  

Wilma set four candles burning on the main (positive) altar, while I did two more and Greg two more as well.  She prepared a fire similar to yesterday’s that consisted of several types of incense, and over in front of the second (positive) altar, a second fire for healing, again as yesterday.  She explained to us again the meaning of the day, which was 7 Ajpu, and bears the powers of the deer hunter, the sun, and the hero.  It represents “triumph over problems and difficulties”, which seemed auspicious.  Also, the numbers 7, 8, and 9 represent balance and “measured strength”, also auspicious for the task at hand (if you’ll pardon the pun).

The ceremony was essentially the same as yesterday, except this time Greg could look at the healing while he watched the main fire so it wouldn’t torch the milpa.  Being familiar with the process, both Greg and I felt more comfortable and connected.  It was a deeper connection with the Spirits of this place and the Spirits & Gods of these people (the Maya) and of my people (the Wicca), who all seemed to be working together quite happily.  Wilma was very pleased about this, and about the other positive things the fire was telling her about the future of our people working together.  (During the rite, all three of us saw Spirits in and about the site.  I kept seeing a man in a hat and wearing white & blue Maya cloth crouching in a corn row.  At first I thought he was harvesting the corn, but a few times he disappeared while I was looking at him!)

For me, the healing part of the ceremony was very personal, so I’m not going to say a lot.  It began with Wilma leading me over to the second fire.  She did the cleaning passes again, but this time, in addition to limes and eggs, she held small cans of I-don’t-know-what.  She tossed ALL of these into the fire.  The timing of the cans exploding later was deemed significant.

[Note: It was a very long day and I dozed off writing this part of the report.  I dreamed that the ritual continued, but Wilma was wearing a red shawl.  When she approached the second fire, it transformed into a crouching young man wearing white & blue – the Spirit from the milpa?   She draped her shawl over them both and whispered in his ear.  He stood and walked over to me, now sitting at this computer desk.  He placed his hand on my left shoulder and watched me type.  I woke and decided that I should finish this tomorrow.]

After the cleansing, we returned to the main fire to make offerings and pray for healing.  I was told not to look at the smaller fire until it had burned out, even when cans exploded like cannon-shells.  She led us all in making offerings of various substances for her giant bag – many different kinds of incenses, but also hundreds of velas of different colors.  The first (and loudest) can exploded as I was making a particular offering, which Wilma said indicated the favor of the Spirits.

More positive omens came during the end of the rite.  An orange butterfly entered the space and flew to the candle altar.  It then circled the main fire sunwise and dashed away.  Wilma reminded us that butterflies are often Spirits of the Dead and I wondered if this was Gary Smith.  We made offerings for the Dead, followed by offerings for the living.  When I made an offering for Rachael Watcher, the flames suddenly twisted around like a spiral, like a little cyclone about two feet tall.  Wilma noted this and her earlier comment about the “salamanders” then seemed especially significant.

It felt good to have Wilma do the ceremony as she brought a healing, feminine energy to it.  As we wrapped up, the Guardian appeared to see if we were done and he should clean the site.  Wilma said that this would be the last work for this trip.  What we had done here would continue to progress.  She & Tata wanted us to have enough time left see something more of Guatemala than the truck stop hotel.  We asked her about Panachel, a former Maya village and now a tourist center on Lake Atitlan.  Wilma told us the lake was no longer “the most beautiful lake in the world,” as the guidebook said.  We decided we needed to see it before it got worse.  So we went back to the hotel, quickly packed our bags, checked out, and took Don Patriceño’s taxi to beautiful Panajachel.  On the way, we stopped at Tata’s house to drop off some photos and say one last goodbye. 

Going over the crest of the mountains between Panajachel and Chimaltenango we went through one of the hardest rains I’d ever seen.  Don Patriceño slowed the taxi to a crawl for much of the mountain pass.  We finally reached Panajachel to find that is still very much one of the most beautiful lakes in the world!  The lake is surrounded by three volcanoes.  We took a hotel outside Panajachel with a few more amenities that an electric showerhead, and took hot showers that reminded us of how fortunate we are in our daily lives to have such luxuries in our own houses.

We headed into Panachel in another tuk tuk.  Greg had discovered the address of the only book store in town, where we got out.  A couple of women vending on the sidewalk urged us to buy their wares, but with books ahead of us we had no interest.  It was a cute little shop, with every book sealed closed, to be opened with the permission of the proprietress.  Probably 80% were Spanish, and many of those within our field of interest were American in origin, and hence more expensive than buying them new at home.  We both bought some that we though unlikely to be found at home, and then ventured back into the street, passing the women who once again urged us to purchase their weavings, without success.

The street of shops and vendors was pretty typical of such a place anywhere.  Many small shops all sold essentially the same things, none of which interested us.  As we came back up the street vendors came at us in force after Greg purchased some cheap woven friendship bracelets from a young boy who told us he needed money for his school and to feed his seven brothers and five sisters.  It was just the first huckstering story we got, but not the last.

Once they saw money pass hands, the women with more expensive materials got much more aggressive.  Neither of us could just brush them off, even when they bore nothing of interest. One woman had a pretty blue manta that attracted Greg’s interest enough to haggle over the price. That incited the rest of the women to a frenzy of entreaties, close to begging in some cases. After I, too, bought a manta, one of the women from in front of the book store, who had been dogging along with the crowd, got angry.  “I saw you first,” she cried, and didn’t stop as we strolled away.  

A young girl approached and when Greg called her senora she laughed and corrected him.  Her laughter, contrasting with the other older women, was almost magnetic, her eyes were lovely, and since her wares were also quite nice he decided to purchase one.  This only brought the rest in closer towards their prey (us).  The angry woman who had seen us first started badgering me and I was polite in my refusal, but at last she said, “You are a bad man,” and stamped away.  Meanwhile Greg had purchased a second piece from the girl with the lovely eyes, who was named Thomasa.  Greg told her, “When you go to church you remember to say, ‘Thank you, God for my magic eyes’,” which was just more reason for her to laugh.  Her wares were quite nice, and I even bought one. Greg said, “This has probably made her whole month. (turning to her)  Que dice, senorita?” “Gracias Dios por mis ojos magicos,” she laughed, and we all went on our way content and happy...   Except for the first woman who seemed to be muttering curses at me as she watched all this from a distance and will probably hate la senorita forever now.

In one shop, I saw a perfect gift for Anna.  (Since she’ll probably read this before I get home, I won’t say what it was.) The proprietress was a tiny woman, the top of whose head came up to Greg’s arm pit. We got into a serious haggle over this item, with Greg translating.  Her comments included “This is hand done by me,” and “You’ll never see something this beautiful,”   and “I have to feed my family” and “Look at this work! No factory work here!” and especially “Oh, I need medicine for my poor old leg, look at it,” which she accentuated with a sudden limp and expressions of great trouble and agony, all of which disappeared the next moment as she joyfully claimed “Look at these tiny stitches with my old hands.”  It went on for five or more minutes, nonstop.  In the end, we reached an agreement that left us both very happy.

We retired to the hotel for a very fine dinner, watching the lightning over the volcanoes again. Greg retired, I sat down to try to write this, and fell asleep at the keyboard (as I mentioned above).  The ceiling of our room kept flashing light and dark from the lightning across the lake.  In this way, we were lulled into sleep… and dreams.

More to come…

Blessed Be,
Don Frew (with unfailing aid and support from Greg Stafford)
CoG National Interfaith Representative

Thursday, August 2, 2012

CoG Interfaith Rep meeting w/ Mayan leader, pt. 4 – Thursday (Nuestra Aventura en Guatemala, Dias Quatro – Jueves)

We were up early to prepare for the ceremony.  A shower and change into clean clothes seemed appropriate.  After a quick breakfast of cornflakes in mosh, Kukumatz picked us up at 7am.

We drove to a place owned by a friend of theirs, a Maya who maintained a sacred space for ceremonies.  At the site Wilma said that Tata had finally agreed to see a doctor, so she would be doing the ceremony today. I’ll describe what I can, but some things that happened and were said are Maya secrets and I can’t discuss them, while others are personal and I won’t discuss them.

Wilma said that today is 6 Kawoq – a day of lightning, thunder, rain (all of which we had plenty of yesterday &, judging from the sky right now, soon); for the Ancestors; to accomplish work for humanity, to resolve problems and remove obstacles; a day for those who intercede for health or to end problems.  We told her that today is Lughnasad and what that means in the Wiccan tradition.

The ritual space was rectangular, about 40 by 15 feet.  At the East end was an enclosed altar, open on the side towards the ritual space, about 6 feet deep and 5 and a half feet high.  This was filled with stone figures and offering containers, pictures on the wall of Jesus and St. George, and a stuffed owl with its wings spread on the North wall, and other things.  The sculptures resembled those from Tata’s altar room; in fact the central “figure” was a large rough stone with no discernable carvings.

 Towards the West of the space, was a small unlit fire laid on the earth.  This was specifically for my healing work.  In the center ritual space was a larger fire circle.  Before we arrived, the circle had been marked with what appeared to be pine needles and, within that, a circle of white corn meal. That circle it was quartered more corn meal, with over that, a symbol.

To the southeast was a table about the size of a ping-pong table heaped with bags and piles of items and offerings, some for the construction of the fire and the rest to be offered to the fire once it was going.  As we watched Wilma took the first of these: some sort of incense, shaped like little, squat volcanoes, and packed in stacks inside wrapped palm (?) leaves.  These she laid over the design that had been marked.  In the very center, she placed a tied bundle of about 40 upright handmade cigars with long-wicked candles mixed in with them.  A similar bundle was placed before the altar.  This was followed by layer upon layer of myrrh, blocks of chocolate, sweetgrass, palo santo, cacao beans, something we didn’t quite catch that represented “money”, frankincense, various unknown incenses pressed into unusual shapes, seeds, etc.  Greg and I had both stopped trying to count by this time to be present in the ceremony. The layers included hundreds of small candles (velas) – some in colors for the directions (East / Red, South / Yellow, West / Black, North / White) and some representing Sky (Blue) and the Natural World (Green).

Once the fire was ready to be lit, Wilma donned a ceremonial head-scarf and invited me to don my cord.  I then sat to the North of the central fire, with Greg to my right, in the west.  Wilma gave each of us a cloth filled with velas and offerings – both from her table and ones that we had brought (sage, tobacco, nuts, and fruit) – to hold until the time was right.  She then moved between the fire and the table of offerings.

With a handful of burning velas Wilma then lit all three fires. She lit the central one and those at the altar by lighting the cigars first.  As she did this, she invoked / prayed in K’iche’ Mayan.  She kept adding offerings to the fire and the fire kept getting hotter and hotter.  Greg and I moved further and further back, fearing that our personal candles would melt (or our pants catch fire).  Wilma invoked the Ancestors – the Grandfathers & Grandmothers – those of the Maya, of this place, and of her visitors, Greg and me.  The string around the bundle of cigars burned through and the cigars fell over to the North & South, indicating to Wilma that the connection between North & South had been made and that our Spirits working together.

Wilma then instructed Greg and I to each make our own offerings to the Ancestors.  (I understood it to be to my Ancestors and to those of the Maya.  Greg understood it to be to his ancestors and to those we had in common with the Maya.)  This was to be a time of offering, not of requesting, which would come later.  We offered from our hearts, with humility, respect, and tears in our eyes.  When Wilma made her own offering the Spirits told her to sing.  She told us that the offerings had been accepted.

Wilma then took me to the smaller, healing circle, which included purple candles.  She told Greg not to watch the healing. Instead he should be sure that our empty offering bags on the ground by the fire did not burn. She did a cleansing, holding both an egg and a lime in each hand as she made passes over my body, placing these in the fire after each pass.  She paid special attention to my left hand, arm, and the sight of my injury near the spine.  Soon the fire was full of eggs and limes.

After four passes, accompanied by K’iche’ prayers, she directed me to sit next to Greg again.  As I did so, the first of the eggs in the fire exploded with a “pop” and sent a eggshells lined up directly towards me.  Wilma took this as a good sign.  She gave us each a handful of white velas so we could each give thanks to all of the Spirits who had been with us.  After that the ceremony was basically over, but she said we had to wait for the fires to go out.  Greg asked if he could offer a song.  Wilma said “yes” and he sang a heart-song that he sings in ceremony.  (It is “The Web”, by his friend Philip Caesar, and begins “Reaching out in all directions…”) After he was finished she told us that she had stopped singing in ritual years ago, but today the spirits had told her to sing. Our hostess from the house then brought out a tray with glasses and a pitcher of orange drink, made from the fruit from on a nearby tree.  (Greg and I, aware that this may have been made with local water, nonetheless accepted the hospitality offered.  We’ll let you know the results tomorrow.)

Wilma explained that this had been an “introduction” – a chance for me & Greg & our Spirits to meet theirs – and that the real healing work was to come.

While drinking, I told Wilma about having met Tata for the first time in Pittsburgh at the URI Charter Signing.  With a start, she said that she had been there too and that we must have met, as Tata had told her that he thought she and I had met. He was right.  In fact, I had purchased a softball-sized chunk of copal from her that day, 12 years ago.

We also shared memories of Gary Smith, the Lakota representative who had been instrumental in introducing me & Rowan Fairgrove to various indigenous people before his death in 2003.  [Tom, the scrawny hotel cat, just wandered into our room and after a little coaxing is curled up purring in Greg’s lap while I type.  I think I have just taken more pictures of the cat than of everything else on this trip combined.  We are obviously both in serious cat-withdrawal.]  Wilma noted that the fire was not yet out and that we should offer thanks for Gary, the work he did, and the way he was responsible for bringing us together.

Once everything was done we asked if we could take a few photos of the altar and of each other with her.  Greg asked to make sure it was okay to share the information about the ceremony with others.  She agreed, as long as the photos and info would be shared with people who would treat them respectfully.  All together the ceremony had been about three hours long.  She said that, if all was well, we would go to Tata’s special place tomorrow.

Wilma & Kukumatz drove us back to the hotel.  She got out of the car to hug us “Hasta Mañana” and to say that we should be sure to “pay attention to your sleep.”  The import of this didn’t register with us until we sat in our room and talked briefly, then woke!  We had both dozed off almost immediately and both had dreamed dreams with surprising similarities.  We will tell Wilma about our dreams tomorrow, and hopefully with Tata.

After our naps, we had a bite to eat in the hotel, studying the K’iche’ version of the Maya day count in books and online followed by writing this report.  The rest of the day will likely be uneventful.

More to come…

Blessed Be,
Don Frew (and his “stand-behind” Greg Stafford)
CoG National Interfaith Representative

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CoG Interfaith Rep meeting w/ Mayan leader, pt. 3 – Wednesday (Nuestra Aventura en Guatemala, Dias Tres – Miercoles)

Today was a long day, but short on activity.

Upon waking Greg discovered, to his dismay, that it was not the frijoles that were keeping him regular, but a bit of vengaza Montezuma – Montezuma’s revenge.  He barely even drank his coffee!  We discussed plans and decided that I could go without him if Wilma was going, to translate.

During breakfast we got a call on the new cell phone and Wilma said “we will be there in 45 minutes.”

We in this case meant her and Kukumatz.  Alas, Tata was still ill and could not attend.  Wilma was very sorry, and so was I, though Greg was happy enough to not miss any helping and be able to Pepto Bismol his way to happiness.  Wilma reported that Tata had said that if he is not well by tomorrow, she would take over and we’d go to a different sacred place for her ceremony.  I must say that this was not too great a disappointment as Wilma assists Tata in all he does and has a powerful presence herself, a tremendous kindness, and a natural connection with us.

Greg worked on getting better while I wrote the report I posted this morning.  He was fine by lunch.  We ate at a spot across the very busy street from the hotel where a very sullen woman took out orders, which were delicious.

We are relatively isolated at the hotel.  There are no businesses within walking distance except those catering to truckers.  Downtown Chimaltenango is a relatively pricey taxi ride away.  With rain threatening , we spent the afternoon chatting and watching movies on English language TV — Gladiator and 1408, a horror story.  The rains finally came – a deluge, though short in duration.  We also planned our day off – Friday – on which we plan to go to the town of Panajachel on Lake Atitlan.  (BTW, I forgot to mention that when we were able to do a bit of walking around, we were surprised to discover the local corn growing over 12 feet tall!)
6'2" Greg next to local corn (Yes, it's that tall even without the wall.)
Long day, short report, more tomorrow.  Now to find a place to observe the Full Moon…

Blessed Be,
Don Frew (with the gradually more energetic assistance of Greg Stafford)
CoG National Interfaith Representative