Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Honoring the Solstice, YULE

Image by RachelleB
In the barren cold of the winter months it is the sightings of earth's evergreen decor that remind us of the new life waiting just around the corner.  And as we carry ourselves through the day of longest night, we honor the rebirth of the light and cherish the bit of green that remains, despite the frigid darkness.  Deck your halls and deck your doors!

Since pre-Christian days of Saturnalia for the Romans, Winter Soltice for Celtic Druids and Festivals of Balder for the Scandinavian Vikings, people have decorated homes and hearths with the boughs of these stoic evergreen symbols.  Along with their candles and fires, they have, through the ages, welcomed firs, pines, spruces, holly, mistletoe and laurel into their homes.  And now this secularized tradition, [which places so many wreaths of green on so many doors in so many neighborhoods], pays quiet homage to the steadfast greenery of our winter months.

As our Yule logs calm to soft glowing embers, the strength of our Sol Invictus ["Invincible Sun"] begins to grow.  May your Solstice be blessed with warmth and light!

"On this day of longest night
await sun's birth at morning light. 
Tend your log to keep aspark
the warmth that shall combat the dark.
Boughs of evergreen to share
scents of life and sights of cheer."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I have been noticing quite a bit of what I have deemed "holiday uncheer" via social networking and blogging mediums as of late.  Complaint-filled and loaded phrases like "Put Christ Back in Christmas" and "It's Merry Christmas not Happy Holidays".  It would be easy for Non-Christians to grow bitter and frustrated over such displays of close-minded arrogance were it not for the fact that many of "their" Christmas celebrations are rampant with Pagan roots.  So rather than fueling the fire with anger of our own, let us smile knowingly at the irony of things like "their" Tree, "their" Santa, "their" Yuletide.

To piggy-bank a bit off of a wonderfully amusing post by fellow Pagan blogger, ljwitch [of Through Witch-Colored Glasses], the phrase "happy holidays" was coined not to steal Christmas from the Christian followers in America, but to encompass the celebrations of the many faiths who celebrate as well in our diverse country this time of the year.  Taking offense to this phrase only proves to show you as a bigoted individual who is incapable of coexisting with those who differ.  And in a country founded by deist leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin no less!  These founding men of America believed in the promise of a land where one lived with a personal connection to the "Supreme Architect" and appreciated just such a freedom.

I had the good fortune of chatting about this topic with my relative -- lets call her "Auntie K" for all intents and purposes.  It's always good to get a different perspective to keep oneself honest.  Auntie K was able to provide insight from the mind of a Catholic.  She felt that the recent increase in a push to reclaim the holiday season in the name of all things Christian is in response to the push by Atheists to ban God from every nook and cranny of the American community.  

Valid point.  

I disagree with the Atheist actions as of late as well.  In my opinion, your choice not to believe does not give you the right to keep me from believing and displaying such belief in and around my place of living.  I don't have a problem at all with Court houses having Christmas Trees in their entrances or even Nativity Scenes on their lawns, so long as their is an open invitation to include the symbols from other faiths.  Being a tolerant society doesn't mean wiping away any evidence of our diversity of religion -- it means welcoming them all.  And if your choice is to believe in none, then you walk right by the displays of others and pay them no mind, for they do not pertain to you.  Carry onward.  

All in all, the main motive for this post is not to deprave Christians of their Christ.  I merely wish to stress the visible ignorance in assuming that yours is the lone religion with ties to the winter season.  It is not.  Accept this.  Most especially considering that there is much in terms of evidence that declares many of your claimed symbols and traditions to be of Pagan origin -- including The Tree, Santa Claus, Yuletide, Wreaths, the date of December 25th... and I could go on.  

Unless you are willing to give up such symbols, as ljwitch suggested in her post, you cannot press the issue of putting Christ back into such a secularized version of Christmas without appearing completely ignorant of truth and history.  Take a hint from your Christ this holiday season and give love to ALL, even those that differ from you.

"For Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." [Mark 8:34-38]

Do not shame Jesus with your petty attempts to claim December as your own.  Do not let him be ashamed of you because you do not love thy neighbor as you love thy self.  Accept that this is a secular time of year and embrace the portion of it that you share with your God.  Others can then do the same, and all will be merry.  

And bright. 

 Happy Holidays & Merry Everything, including Christmas!
Em Graves

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sharing the God & Goddess with My Sons

For those of you who've popped onto Pagan Presence in days past, you may have read that I once struggled with the idea of instilling religion into the lives and minds of my children.  One more avenue of intolerance and challenge that they might have to face in this ever-segregated world!  And yet, as they grow [and so too do I], my Faith seems to find its own way into quiet parent-child moments. 

My eldest boy is in Kindergarten.  Recently the elementary school lost a fourth grade student, Greta, who died unexpectedly.  The principal and administrative staff sent letters home to parents asking that we break the news to our children in a way most appropriate for our own family.  My boys have thankfully had very limited access to death -- two bowl-side ceremonies to say good bye to two bubble-eyed fish. 

I took the time then to explain life and death to my son -- that though the body dies, your energy moves into a new life, a spirit life -- but I wondered how he would relate this to the death of a child close to his own age.  While we loved our watery pets, this tragic news would bring death to an entirely new and more weighted level. 

As I prepared dinner that evening, I debated whether I should even tell him at all.  This was not a girl he knew.  They just happened to share the same school building.  But then, he approached me to ask about the letter that his teacher had put into his backpack.

"What was on the white paper?  Is it a coloring page?"  he asked.

Sweet innocence!  I left the stove to let the supper simmer and sat him next to me at the kitchen table.  I told him that many of the teachers and older kids in his school were very sad because they had lost a special friend; a girl who had passed away.

Immediately he sought confirmation in his understading of what I had relayed to him.

"Her body died?"

I nodded and then asked him if he remembered what that meant.  He thought for a moment and then touched the deepest part of my heart with his reply...

"Her special light goes to the spirit world.  Then she can find other people that's body died, like Rocky [the fish].  Do you think she'll see Rocky?  I do!  And since the God and Goddess are spirits too, they'll probably be there too.  So all day she could watch her teacher and her friends with the Sun and at night she can watch them with the Moon.  I'm sure they'll let her.  Right?" 

I'm sure they will, little man.  I'm sure they will.

After dinner, he and I lit a 'blessing stick' [incense] in honor of Greta.  And he ended his blessing as he always does, with an adorable "Bless a Bee" [Bless-ed Be]. 

And I was worried about sharing my beliefs with him!  His compassion rekindles my own connection to the Divine.

For Greta
May you ride the blue skies on the arcing Sun
and dance among stars with our Lady Moon. 
Bless your special light, sweet girl. 
Bless-ed Be.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Reply to an Invitation by a Theistic Satanist

In browsing through this week's news articles relatable to the Witching World, I stumbled across a posting on BeliefNet by a reverend of the Theistic Satanism [Church of Satan] faith.  In his post, reverend Gino invites Pagans to join with his faith in a rise against oppression by mainstream religions.  If one can get beyond the ghastly writing style, grammar boo-boos and countless misspelled words [which I know is nit-picky of me but my former days as an Editor refuse to go quietly], the post offers the suggestion that Pagans might consider uniting with the Satanist movement.

The reverend states "I am asking that Pagans who want a change who want rights that every other religion has these days be strong and fight with us…using our brains our wits to gain all the religious and spiritual respect and advantages we so rightfully deserve."

I know.  But try to ignore [ *deep cleansing breath* ] the lack of punctuation and grammatical errors so that you might actually ponder the message at hand.  Per the reverend, Pagans share a common ground with Satanists -- after all, "we are the one’s that existed before Christianity so why should we sit back and be treated like we are the bad guys." 

Well, now wait a moment...

While I am the first to stand behind the ideals of religious freedom, I cannot grant support to an individual who speaks to historical significances that simply aren't true.  A Theistic Satanist, per Diane Vera [owner of a website dedicated to Theistic Satanism] "is one who does believe in and worship Satan as a deity."  Considering that the deity of worship here is Satan, a Christian construct, I struggle to understand how this faith could then possibly predate the Christian movement.  This is as much an oxymoron as the email I recieved recently signed 'A Christian Atheist'.  Um.  Yeah.  How to even begin?!

I don't claim to be an expert on the Satanist faith -- be it the atheists within the movement who view Satan more as a symbol of desirable human qualities, "such as independence, individuality, and strength" [per D. Vera,] or those Satanists who revere the actual deity.  I can only form my opinions based on information provided by self-proclaimed members of the faith, incuding the aforementioned Diane Vera. 

That disclaimer now stated, I find fault with reverend Gino linking his faith to ancient Pagan beliefs and practices, [beliefs and practices that hold historically trackable evidence linked to times before the rise of Christianity and other monotheistic religions, such as Judaism and Islam]. I find fault with it because I fail to accept how a faith that worships a deity from the Christian religion could have existed during the ancient days before Christianity.  Satan did not exist during these pre-Christian times. 

In fact, in most polytheistic religions of eras past, there was no sole figure of pure evil.  It wasn't until later, with the rise of monotheistic beliefs, that the concept of an entity purely malevolent emerged -- a balance to the pure goodness of the faith's one true God [Discovery Channel, Out of Egypt, episode: The Birth of the Devil].  It is even probable that the likeness of the Christian devil was pieced together using charateristics of varing gods and goddesses, such as Pan of Greek mythology.

And so... no Satan in the pre-Christian world = no Satanism in the pre-Christian world.             

My rant on reverend Gino's inaccuracies behind us, I finally offer up a response to his invitation to unite.

To Reverend Gino,

Note that I am but one Pagan and am responding to your request to unite as such.  I make no claims to speak on behalf of the entire Pagan faith.

You speak of common grounds and shared histories.  In referring to what each of our religions face, you state " recognition and respect from the government and society. We are constantly shunned and treated lack weirdos and freaks if we say what we are."

There is one major explanation separating the Satanist faith from Paganism.  And that is the difference between misconception and fact

It is a fact that [Theistic] Satanists worship the Christian deity, Satan.  It is of no surprise then that a Christian individual and a majority-Christian nation would find issue with the core of your beliefs, considering they are the antithesis of their own.

Unlike the deity worshiped by your religion, Pagans do not worship Satan.  That many people assume such is a misconception brought about during the time of conversion to Christianity, when the Church sought to demonize the gods and goddesses worshipped by Pagan locals.  It was a 'join us or you will be perceived as evil' sort of deal.  Actually this is where you see the coining of the term heathen -- Heathen (an unconverted individual of a people that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible) is often distinctively applied to unenlightened or barbaric idolaters, especially to primitive or ancient tribes [].

While I whole-heartedly believe in your right to seek divinity/spirituality via whatever path you choose, I am in no way required to acknowledge manufactured comminalites attempting to merge two very different forms of worship merely for the sake of building some religious army of anti-mainsteam power.

I have faced intolerance and slander concerning my Pagan path, but choose to end misconceptions through living by example.  My choices and actions represent the virtues of my faith.  Let go the bitterness and embrace a lifestyle that might prove to show these persons who treat you like a weirdo or freak what it means to you to follow the Church of Satan.

Em Graves
one Pagan voice

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stereotypes [Written Assignment, Notre Dame, 2011]

American poet and scholar Ralph Waldo Emerson offered the idea that the individual is the center of his or her own universe.  ‘In the individual can be discovered all truths, all experience. For the individual, experience must be direct and unmediated by texts, traditions, or personality’, [Vince Brewton (University of North Alabama) for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Jul 2003].  But while Emerson’s suggestion that self-reliance and independence provide one with a perspective of the world from a non-conforming self, an actual look at the widely accepted generalizations and stereotypes in existence seem to state that the Western public perceives otherwise.
Emerson, the infamous Transcendentalist, stated “to believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, -- that is genius”, [RW Emerson, Self-Reliance, p19].  Why then might one fail to understand another as an extension of himself should such a person merely claim a particular culture or religion different from one’s own?  Perhaps this notion of the individual as center of the universe keeps us isolated and unwilling to accept beliefs and values that may seem distal to the comfortable norm.  Such discomfort with external lifestyles, most especially those of the Arab world, shed a light on the common ease with which the Western culture limits its views of the Middle East to those provided by government officials and journalists -- restrictive representations of an extreme few to stand for the whole.
Palestinian-American and former professor at Columbia University, the late Edward Said coined the term “orientalism” in his controversial book of the same title to suggest that the West views the Arab world through a “lens” of preconceived notions, [Sut Jhally, Media Education Foundation, Video: “Edward Said On ORIENTALISM”].  Depictions of persons of Arabic decent in the popular media are far from realistic, confined to the perspective of Arab as extremist; as terrorist.  They create an unchanging, undeveloped image of a barbaric Middle Eastern culture. 
When one seeks a reason for such a stalemate perspective into the Arab world, it becomes clear that irrational fears seem to play a role of breathing life into this “orientalism” -- fears kept aflame by shock-factor focused media personnel and finger-pointing government agencies.  Descriptives that for any other ethnicity would be frowned upon as controversial racial profiling, for the Muslim counterpart are accepted as almost necessary because of fears of jihad-like attacks. 
In truth, the larger majority of persons of Arabic decent seek peace and coexistence just as does the greater part any nationality.  Extremists, such as Al Queda, who happen to follow a warped Islamic faith fail to offer an accurate depiction of the population of Arab Muslims just as Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner fails to offer an accurate depiction of any average right-wing American; just as Reverend Fred Phillips fails to offer an accurate depiction of the Baptist faith; just as the Klu Klux Klan fails to offer an accurate depiction of the Southern American; just as the Third Reich fails to offer an accurate depiction of anyone of German heritage.
Putting any sense of accuracy into generalizations or permitting oneself to accept a depiction of a small group as factual representation for the whole, steals away any unique insight we might have had into the relationship between self and another.  Conformity.  And as R.W. Emerson warned “this conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars”, [RW Emerson, Self-Reliance, P23]. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Origins of Halloween

Halloween seems to be the one mainstream celebration that is universally credited to the ancient Pagans... and yet many would be surprised to learn that the holiday actually traces back to a Christian celebration.  So how have Roman and Celtic festivals for the dead blended with Catholic influences to form the modern day Halloween celebrated in communities today?

Samhain of Ancient Celts

During the days of the ancient Celtic people, [who occupied the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France some 2,000 years ago], the year was dissected by the four seasons -- the last of which they prepared for on November 1st:

Winter.  Dark and cold.  The start of this time meant the end of harvest and on the eve before this barren season was to start, ancients celebrated by honoring the death of the sun and, in-turn, remembering their own dead.  It began with the fire in their hearth, which they would extinguish to represent the end of summer and the dying light.

Large bonfires were raised in communities where celebrations included dancing in costumes consisting of animal  heads and skins. [1]  When the festivities concluded, each family would bring home a burning piece of the ceremonial fire.  They would use the flames to reignite their hearths, blessing the fire in honor of the sun; hopeful that its warmth and light would get them through the cold, dark winter nights.

Lemuria of Pagan Rome

Ancients of pre-Christian Rome celebrated the festival of Lemuria on May 13th.  During this "Lemuria/Lemuralia", rites were performed to exorcise the lemures [restless malevolent spirits].  Priestesses of the Goddess Vesta [goddess of the hearth] would prepare offerings of beans and sacred flour cakes [made from the first ears of seasonal wheat].  [2]

Conversion Intentions by Catholic Popes

So what link connects Halloween to a Roman festival in spring and Celtic celebration in fall?   Enter:  The Catholic Church.

Around 609-610 Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Virgin Mary and all Martyrs, converting it into a Christian Church and thusly establishing the feast of  dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres. [3]

This is the first known instance in Rome of transformation of a Pagan temple into a site for Christian worship.  The date of this conversion, May 13th, is not likely to be coincidental and is believed to have occurred in attempt by the Catholic Church to de-Paganize Rome.

In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III founded an oratory for the relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world". 

Pope Gregory III added saints to the celebration of Boniface IV's martyrs, calling it All Saint's Day [or All Hallowmas from the Middle English for Alholowmesse].  [4]

Additionally, Pope Gregory III moved the date of the sacred feast from May 13th to November 1st in attempt to envelope the Celtic celebration of Samhain; hopeful for a smooth conversion of Ireland to Christianity.

Over time, Samhain celebrations merged with those enjoyed on the eve of All Saint's Day, called All Hallow's Eve and, eventually, 'Halloween' [first attested in the 16th century].  ( [5] The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. 1989. ISBN 0-19-861186-2.)    

We often hear from conservative Christians about the evil Pagan roots of our modern holiday and yet the irony proves hysterical when we consider that the day is celebrated today because of its connections to the Catholic Church and its intentions to convert the Romans, Celtics and Gaels by overshadowing local festivals with comparable observances of their own. 

Speaking of conservative Christians...

Recently a very slanderous and ignorant opinion article was posted in Business Week unleashing harsh and inaccurate depictions of Paganism's grips on an otherwise Christian-West [through the celebration of Halloween]. [6]

The author, Amity Schlaes, states "Halloween isn’t secular. It is pagan. There’s nothing else to call a set of ceremonies in which people utter magical phrases, flirt with the night and evoke the dead."  It wasn't long at all before Mrs. B of the popular blog Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom and other icons from the Witching World enlightened our research-deprived Mr. Schlaes with counterresponses containing references to the actual origins of America's Halloween.

Truth be told, Halloween and Samhain are two separate holidays, among many across the globe, which happen to fall on the same date during the year.

Mrs. B commented "Cultures, including those that follow Christian faiths, honor their ancestors this time of year all over the world. Why focus just on those people of Pagan faiths?  Seems a little like religious persecution to me. "

When will we see a time when supposed reputable sources for news, such as Business Week, demand more [ie, the truth] from authors submitting articles to their publications?  Let's leave the spewing of lies to the tabloids, shall we?!

Happy Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead, Ten Chieh, Yue Lan, Alla Helgans Dag & many many more!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Deny: Connections Between Christianity & Paganism

When I lost my faith as a young girl, it took many years of research into the generic realm of faith and religion to find my way to Paganism.  Because of this self-induced decade of study, I came to learn much about the history of different religions and the very similar, overlapping connections shared by many.  I've proposed these similarities in conversations of the past and find people are typically unwilling to accept that Christianity has much in common with ancient Pagan beliefs, rituals, symbols and more.

Why the denial?  Recognizing that your religion shares a past with another doesn't taint it or steal it from your heart anymore than the advances of science overshadow faith.  People still believe, regardless.

Reactions by Christians upon my suggestion that our religions have a shared background have always intrigued me -- from laughter to scoffs to outright anger.  Finally an article written by Ellen Lloyd, [author of Voices from Legendary Times], has shed some light on the topic.

In the article, Christianity Jesus and the Pagan Connection, Ellen explains that "a majority of us [Christians] associate Paganism with idol worship, blood sacrifices and witchcraft.  We [Christians] were taught to believe that Pagans are primitive people, who in some way worship the Devil."

Makes sense then that they would find issue with having their "pure, sacred and unique" religion of Christianity based, however loosely, on ancient occult beliefs and practices.  However, Ellen warns, "to write off something as 'impossible' is an easy and quick process... but before we [Christians] reject the Christian/Pagan connection, we should first ask ourselves a couple of questions."

In her article, Ellen's questions seek to answer if perhaps Christians have a wrong and very twisted image of old traditional Paganism.  "Were the mystery religions maybe more spiritually developed than we realize?  What was the true reason for painting followers of the mystery religions in such black colors?" she asks.

The author recognizes that the Church's past is tainted by its political and social struggle for power.  Long wars were waged by the Church of Rome and the Roman Empire to eradicate Paganism and its followers.  However, within their bloody intent to take over as the majority shareholder[s] of spirituality, these early enforcers for the Church brilliantly understood that by adopting  portions of Pagan dates, rites & rituals, their chances of conversion increased drastically. 

And by painting a dark and sinister portrait of the Old Ways, long-term success was all-but guaranteed.  Because even millenia later, who would think to question the Church -- especially considering the deterring examples made of those who did [insert horrific tales from the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Burning Times].  People accepted out of fear. 

And then it was just a matter of permitting time to cover-up any true origins...  what was once clear embellishment turned to possible... and what was possible, after more time, turned to probable... to likely... to absolute.  Centuries after the life and death of Jesus Christ we find ourselves now struggling to convince His followers that much of what they irrefutably consider to be His tale was in-fact borrowed.  The plan worked wonders.

Yet if more Christians took an eye-opening glance into historical references and symbolism of the past -- a past, mind you, that precedes the life of their savior -- they may be shocked to find handfuls of identical stories and icons.  Author Ellen cites more than a few compelling examples including present-day traditions of the Christmas season, the birth story and life of Jesus  and other similar saviors and the existence of the cross at least 14 centuries before Jesus Christ.  [The Scandinavians, for example, considered it a representation of the four equinoxes and even celebrated a crucifixion of the sun upon its arrival at the shortest day.]

Even Bishop and self-proclaimed Christian Druid Alistair Bate, in his contribution to the book The Path of the Blue Raven [by Mark Townsend] stated "the Christian and pre-Christian myths are so intertwined,  interdependent and complementary as to be inseparable".

There is far more here than can be so easily dismissed with a laugh, scoff or angry outburst.  Just as much of our lands, our histories and even our genetics have intermingled since the dawn of man, so too have our religions.  Instead of taking offense, take interest!  There are some fascinating tales interlinking many different faiths and cultures.  What once created wars and rifts now has the potential to bring us together.

Divine Unity : Many paths up the same mountain.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

School District to Eliminate All Celebrations

The school district in which my son is a Kindergartener is looking to implement changes that would eliminate celebrations [incuding but not limited to Halloween and Valentine's Day]... all in the name of, [you guessed it], POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. 

* Hisses and bares her teeth * 

Isn't it sad that what was once an ideal created for the protection of those who faced intolerance has come to morph into some menacing, sinister excuse used by any nitpicking ass-hat wishing to promote his or her own twisted agenda?  Honestly, if I hear someone use the coupled phrase "political correctness" one more time I'm going to vomit in my own pointy black hat!!

Because my work at the University will prohibit me from attending the board meetings in which these policy changes will be discussed, I drafted the following letter expressing my disapproval.  Comments and opinions please!!!


To Members of the School Board for the District of XXXX XXXX:
It was brought to my attention recently that pending changes in school policy seek to eliminate celebrations in the school(s).  I am disappointed to learn that at the suggestion of a bitter few, you [a group formed to make decisions to better the learning environment for students] would altogether eradicate social engagements for current and future student populations.
When did “political correctness” become some four-letter word defined as “a necessary depriving of our own children in order to appease the belly-aching of a small handful of overly opinionated objectors”?
And at what point will it end?  We are robbing our students of the simple joys that create lasting childhood memories, and at a rate equivalent to an overzealous bride running through the aisles with her registry gun!  [Zap – there go birthday cupcakes!  Zap – go the jack-o-lanterns!  Zap – go the shamrocks!]  Can no one recognize that we have already crossed the line into absurdity?!  What will you seek to steal from my child next?!
School years should offer far more to a student than just decent test scores.  While it is a home setting that instills a child with the compassion, manners and confidence needed for interactions with others, it is in their school environment that just such values are put into practice.  It is the social endeavors shared with classmates that, joined with one’s education, ultimately produce a well-rounded individual.  Remove these communal opportunities and what you can expect to create are empty shells; generic and average.
Where faculty of the past sought to ignite fires of encouragement, individualism and passion within the spirited young hearts of its students, you wish to stifle with demoralizing policies.  And for what?  Out of a fear that you may offend a minority of faultfinders [whom, you will come to learn, will never be satisfied]?  Toddlers learn to use whining as a tool to get what they want if their mommies give-in to such tactics.  Should the educated members of a school board react with similar enabling actions?  (My family’s pediatrician would be appalled!  And rightfully so!)
I think back to my own school-age memories and cannot fathom giving up costume parades and handmade envelopes stuffed full with Valentines.  FOR SHAME that a committee designed to protect the development of each child would elect to simply erase such fundamental moments.
Keep pushing such idiocies into standard policy in the name of “political correctness” and I think you’ll find that future children will have no room for self-expression or creativity in the smothering atmosphere that such policies will generate. 
Let us not teach our children that “only the squeaky parts get oiled,” even to the detriment of the entire working machine. 

If you have similar stories, please share!  Suggestions?  Send them my way!  Wanna play Devil's Advocate?  Have at it!  I would love for someone to tell me how it will be politically correct to ban a Kindergarten class from showing off their costumes and exchanging Valentine cards. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fitting Signs to Reflect the Spirit of America

It was inevitable that as this tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks drew near we would be surrounded by reminders, signs and reflections of this tragedy and also the ensuing herosim, but it crept into my morning in a rather unexpected and refreshingly optimistic way. . .

I began the day like always-- with a quiet moment at my alter, which also happens to be just the right spot where the sunrise enters the room and warms the hardwood floor where I sit.  With the light of my God encasing my ritual, I laid herbs just-gathered, dipped my fingertips into a bowl of water, lit a purple candle and sparked to life the cedar incense of my choosing. 

I cast my circle of elements and took a deep breath to prepare for the rush of emotions that I knew were coming.  As an empath I am no stranger to taking on the feelings of others and with the profound sense of remembrance and remorse in the air this day, it was no surprise that a wave of tears overtook me. 

I cried for lives lost, for memories missed, for the feeling of exposure and vulnerability that we were all left with on that fateful day as we watched the billowing clouds of smoke rise from New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.  I didn't try to hold back the flood that washed over me-- just permitted it to flow as I sobbed into my hands.

Image by Drago Art
 And in the silence that followed, just after the last hitch in my breath had ceased, I heard two soft "tink, tinks" as a pair of charms fell from the melting wax of my charm candle.  I took a deep breath and glanced to my alter, curious to find what symbols I had been graced with on such a significant day. . .
the castle and the wolf.

I instanty smiled, closing my eyes and turning my face towards the warmth of the sun that poured through the sliding glass doors of the sitting room.  Small signs bring simple blessings.  And these two charms would prove to fill me then with a contented comfort.  You see I knew that the castle, a symbol of home and shelter [where we feel safe and protected] represented this grand country that houses me.  And that wolf [sitting on his haunches, snout raised high in molded howl], he displayed purely the spirit of man within the great castle--  free will, unity, loyalty, fortitude.

What a perfect descriptive of the coming together of humanity in the wake of cruelty.  And as I watched the last of my cedarwood smoke rise above, I understood that I was not the only soul sending such healing positivity into the skies today.  No, we will certainly 'never forget' and in-fact have transformed an act of evil into a network of unified compassion. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hiding My Faith

Do you ever find yourself hiding your faith simply because it's just easier at times to avoid the glances, comments or conversations that it may spark?  I'm quite shamed to admit my guilt in doing so. 

I have identified as Pagan since my late teenage years and am wholly content with the religious path that I've chosen.  Having said that, I do find that after a decade and a half of proudly defending this often unfairly mislabeled faith of mine, I've grown rather tired of the tireless tango toward tolerance.  [Oh my! Alliteration overload!!]

The other day I took my children to visit a local farm that is funded and operated by a Christian foundation.  Wonderful place!  Not only free range, well cared for livestock, but also an establishment that employs adults with developmental disabilties as a means of both therapy and skill-building.

So, as we're heading in to pick up a map and kind, welcoming word from the managers of the Visitor's Center, I find myself tucking my much-beloved pentacle pendant into my shirt.  As I was doing this I scolded myself and yet, even so, I couldn't muster up enough will power to pull it back out.  Great Goddess in the Sky, how dare I?!  What witches of the past have gone through in order to permit me the freedom to wear my silver symbol proudly!!  How could I simply think "meh-- not worth the hassle" and drop my shoulders with deflection?

Is it shamefully repulsive that I wanted to avoid yet another stereotypical comment, sideways glance or conversion attempt?  Should I always be ready to galantly ride into action with my Witchy flags flying?  Maybe.  I suppose that would be the honorable thing to do. 

Still, I'm just a mom hoping to take her children for a visit with baby goats without the need to face significant stand-offs or righteous causes.

Perhaps it was cold and calculating of me to assume the worst of these Christian farmers.  Maybe, just maybe, they would have intriguingly embraced, or at the very least accepted my different path.  It's possible.

Are we as Pagans so beaten down by constant questioning and fearful or hateful reactions that we would form our own possibly inaccurate assumptions of others and in turn live by avoidance? 

[ *holding up her palm with purpose and honor* ]: "I, Em Graves, vow [going forward] to never secret away that which I am and to portray the world of love & light permeating the Pagan heart by living always as a manifestation of its beliefs."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

INTERVIEW: Circle of Moms Top25 Faith Blogs

I am very excited to share with you the interview [as recently posted at the Circle of Moms site] highlighting Pagan Presence as the number 15 slot in the Faith Blogs Contest.  My very genuine thank you to those who voted and a very warm CONGRATULATIONS to all winners, including the well-loved Mrs. B [who quite rightfully took the number 1 position]!

Why I Started Blogging
I have a very strong — sometimes irritating, always passionate — need to write. And while the desire is there, it most definitely does not come without struggle. I am easily (and on many occassions intentionally) distracted; suffering in addition the teasing, fickle 'inexplicability' of Writer's Block.  Pagan Presence is a way to combat that which might otherwise keep the creative writing hidden from my impatient fingertips.  Like most talents & skills, writing flows most freely when practiced routinely.  The faith blog acts to keep my "flood gates" open.

The blog is also an excellent source for connecting with others who share my love for this Pagan path I walk.  Paganism is often very personal, and while there are covens, groups and churches in existence, many who identify as Pagan do so in solitary fashion.  Faith blogs have been an amazing avenue for permitting such Pagans to connect with one another. 

How Faith Inspires How I Raise My Children
When I first learned that I was Expecting and allowed the many lessons I would instill in my child to run through my mind, there was one subject in particular that unnerved me — Religion. The fear was not the result of a household conflicted by many faiths — my husband afterall is, on rainy days, Atheist and on most others, Agnostic. I'd be able to raise my child on the spiritual path of my choosing. And yet, in doing so, I still would never be able to spare him from the intolerances of the world. Would it not be simpler to just skip over this controversial subject all-together?
No. Easy is not always best. Though it is likely my children will face the judgements of others, it is far more important that they experience the fulfillment of Divinity than to forfeit such a connection merely to spare them from challenges.
Since the births of my boys, I take every opportunity to shower them with the purity, joy and wonder that my faith bestows upon me. They learn routinely about the special light that each of them holds within and why such a light makes them a beautiful part of the connected whole.  They welcome each day with open hearts and open minds, and it is my deepest will that they grow to always see the world through compassionate eyes, no matter the intolerance they may both come to face.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

HBO portrays Wicca: Should we Rejoice or Recoil?

I am a True Blood fan.  Hugely so.  I enjoyed the Southern Vampire collection [by Charlaine Harris] that inspired the popular HBO series and have found myself equally joyful over director Alan Ball's very naked portrayal of the story's deliciously supernatural characters. 

Season 4 has offered viewers access to the inner circle of a powerful Wiccan coven.  Communing with the spirit world, levitation.  Necromancy even!  So now the entertainment world wants to know what is the opinion of a real witch on the religious accuracy [or lack of] by the show.

Well, real witches, how do you feel? 

Personally I think it's ridiculous to even ponder over expectations of religious accuracy given this is a series entertaining the existence of vampires, werewolves, fairies and shape-shifters-- none of which hold any factual form of presece in the average mainstream mind.  The show is pure entertainment, and not even by any realistic means.  Giving one's opinion on the verifiable accuracy of a show that is undiluted fantasy is as pointless as a condom in the Vatican [vulgar?  Possibly.  But it makes my point].

Writer Laura LaVoie of The Juggler had this to say: “people with fantasy-novel sounding magical names with inexplicable extra vowels respond with great dismay to the way a fictional series portrays Wicca...  I think as soon as you add vampires and werewolves to a story, all bets are off. Sure, Wicca is real but it now exists in this fictional world created by Charlaine Harris and the writers and producers of the television series."

I'm in complete agreement.  We simply cannot consume ourselves with concern over the way witchcraft is portrayed in a series created without regard for reality.  Consider how the show has depicted Roman Catholicism and its men of the cloth -- as sexually ravenous monsters preying on innocence.  Oh wait!  No, kidding... sort of.  * She winks *

Putting things into proper perspective, what are your thoughts on the HBO series and how entertainment as a whole has painted the Pagan faith?  Should we worry over bad publicity even if it's fictional?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Intuition or Just Imagination?

Finally returning to Blogspot for this curious event-inspired post as the organized chaos of a summer with my children begins to draw to its conclusion...  the days are growing shorter; the wheel of the year slowly turns.

So what of this "curious event" I speak of, you ask?  A moment of calm and compassion in the midst of a tearful meltdown [in other words, just when I needed it most]... and it came from beyond the grave.  Indeed!  The boys were in bed.  The house, quiet and dark.  And there I sat on an arm chair in the shadowed corner of a room, despondant and giving in to tears that had wanted to fall for hours.

I didn't speak aloud of my desparate desire for love and support.  I didn't have to.  Suddenly the tic-toc of my grandfather's handmade pendulum clock grew loud.  Louder.  And louder still.  Impossibly loud.  I pulled my face from tear-dampened hands and sat for a moment, perplexed.  Was this happening?  The rythmic clicks were so loud I feared it would wake the kids! 

That's when I laughed.  I even startled myself upon doing so.  And as I continued to laugh I felt the wave of calm I knew was needed before heading up to bed.  Somewhere within-- maybe my mind's eye-- I could see my late grandpa, in all of his witty spunk, winking and chuckling along with me.  


I've come to consider myself an Empath-- picking up on the feelings of others by experiencing them as though they were my own.  I no longer question the validity of just such emotional bits of information that I encounter.  Nor do I try to explain them away.  

There is no longer an internal need for proof of accuracy because of the strong collection of personal success stories supporting the existence of empathic and other intuitive possibilities.  

Noetic Science is proving [by no small feats] the seemingly limitless potentials of the human mind, including its connection to a network of energy fueling the flow of thought and intention.  It isn't much of a stretch of the 'imagination' then to consider it a likelihood that there are those minds sensitive to such a flowing interconnective force.

Call them what you will-- 'psychic, jedi, freak, hack'-- the truth is... Science is catching up to spirituality.  And rather than debunking it, as most believed, it seems to be supporting the existence of a soul and intuitive access to such a Higher Self.  We might only need to train our minds to listen. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said "A man should detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across him mind from within."

Was my grandfather truly with me in that darkened room the other night?  That I cannot say for certain, but there's no questioning the change in my demeanor that such a possibility created.  To me, that speaks to more than just imagination.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tarot Poetry Project: PAGE OF PENTACLES


The delivery
is a chance to gain
the wonders of this earthly plane.
For a true taste
of prosperity
prepare to thwart
With common of the
sense and moon
seek your wealth
and seize it soon.
For sometimes,
with a swinging door,
it seals you out
Bond your word
as abundance trickles,
a show of faith
in the Page
of Pentacles.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Facing Defiance Within the Family

Being a unique and many-branched path that runs its course separated from mainstream faiths, Paganism is often faced with judgemental comments and condescending questions.  And many of us who identify as Pagan have gone out of our way to study holy books and learn scriptures simply to combat those set out to 'educate and save' us.  By doing so we feel protected and comfortable being open about our beliefs. 

But what happens when the hostility is at a very personal level?  For the most part, it's rather easy for me to dismiss the belittling opinions of strangers and acquaintances.  After all, I know within my heart that my spirituality is pure and I am wholly fulfilled by this well-worn path that I have chosen.  What works for them does not work for me and visa versa.

Easy enough said until a situation surfaces that affects my children and my wishes for how they are raised.  What makes this current development even more troubling is the source of intolerance -- a relative, [and one who happens to care for my children when I'm working at the University].

My eldest just graduated from preschool and is still learning the concept that it is better to honorably admit to wrong-doing rather than to hide behind dishonesty.  So recently when he got a bit rough wrestling with his two and a half year old brother, said relative intervened.  And when my son fibbed about his naughty actions, this care giver warned that "God is always watching."

Oh no she didn't!

This relative knows very well my beliefs.  She knows that I do not believe in some vengeful God who is keeping tallies on the sinful things that we do in life.  And she knows that I don't want my children raised with such God-fearing lessons.  She knows all of this and yet she has never respected it.  For the past decade I have come to dismiss her demeaning comments about my "weird" religion -- [she is, after all, the sort who interjects her tactless opinion about anyone and anything where and when she can]. 

This time, however, was different.  I can't express how hurt and how angry I felt.  I knew she didn't fully approve of my faith and never missed a moment to mock me because of it, but deep down I guess I thought [or maybe hoped] that because she loved me, she would offer me respect when, as they say, 'push came to shove'. 

Curious to know how I handled it?  Well, I very clearly told her that my son was not to be reprimanded with lessons about a Being that would send him to some fiery afterlife if he did wrong.  I called her out on knowing fully well that I'd be upset were she to do such a thing and also reminded her that as his mother it was my right to raise him on the spiritual path of my choosing [until he reached an age where he could experience faith in his own way].  I ended by telling her bluntly not to scold him in such a way again. 

She replied with "it's better than your Pagan stuff" as she stomped out of the room.

So tell me friends, how am I to handle someone's direct intolerance when I can't simply remove them from my life?  How do I share a respectful conversation with someone who would intentionally disregard my beliefs and defy how I wish to raise my sons?  I'm at a loss and I'm afraid that my long hours of studying the differences and similarities of various religions can in no way help to ease the situation.

* Sigh *

 Pagan Dad posted recently about children facing their own intolerance and shared the following advice: "We, as parents, cannot change the world or the prejudiced people in it, but we can help to strengthen our children. To teach them that the opinions of others matter very little in the grand scheme of things."  

His words reminded me that I just have to trust in the guidance I give to my sons.  I have to believe that the compassion and tolerance I give to not only them but the world around them will trump the whispered threats of one or two close-minded individuals they may encounter on their paths.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Guardian of Stonehenge

Jonathan Jones, art journalist for The Guardian [a British daily newspaper], has turned his critical eye on modern Pagans for their tradition of gathering at sacred Stonehenge to revel in the sun's rising on the day of the Summer Solstice.  In his blog post, Save Summer from Midsummer Madness, Jonathan questions why such a "daft festival" should even be allowed.  He claims "There is not even a theological justification, for no connection exists between Stonehenge and modern paganism."

I'm a bit taken aback to have found an unlikely expert on all things Stonehenge--  not in the archaeological, astronomical or anthropological fields [as one might have guessed] but rather in the field of journalism.  And what credentials can you boast, Mr. Jones, that offer a more accurate historical record of Britain's beloved sacred circle than those in previously stated fields who have studied its origins and possible purposes? 

Because it is experts in said fields, such as American astronomer Gerald Hawkins, who believed that ancient peoples used the monument to anticipate a wide range of astronomical phenomena, including solstices & eclipses [ Space/Astronomy].  It is probable that early architects were sun worshipers since the axis which divides Stonehenge is oriented towards the midsummer sunrise.  

Investigations of Stonehenge over the past 100 years have revealed the ancient structure was built in several stages between 2800BC to 1800BC, predating the Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England.  Because modern paganism is a connection to the spiritual worship of a pre-christian world, it is more than a little pretentious of a newspaper journalist to state that there is no connection between Pagans today and ancient rituals once held at the mysterious site [as documented by invading Romans, including Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico].

Monday, June 20, 2011

Remember the Burning Times this Solstice

Midsummer, Litha, Summer Solstice... whatever its name, the longest day of the year is one celebrated across the segregated divides that are culture, religion and time.  Midway between planting and the harvest, Midsummer [June 21st, 2011] is a time to renew our energy and look toward the shifting wheel of the year with great expectation and humble appreciation. 

Purification rituals intensified by the blooming herbs of the season have always had their place of importance within the many cultures that celebrated Summer Solstice.  Traditions abound of collecting healing and aromatic herbs to toss into bonfires as many believed that herbs picked on this day held the highest power.

So gather your rosemary, lavender, thyme and sage.  Your carnations, vervain, violets and more.

I've read of a Danish tradition of putting a 'witch' made of twisted straw and herbs into bonfires in honor and remembrance of the Burning Times in the 1500 and 1600's.  In consideration of the numerous articles we have all encountered in recent months on the steadily increasing Witchcraft-related deaths in Africa [and elsewhere], I think this is one ritual that we as Pagans can adopt.


  *  Collected Herbs     *  Bonfire
  *  Essential Oils: Lavender, Geranium/Anise/Bergamot, Sandalwood

Twist your herbs to form your 'witch'.  If you have essential oils, anoint the herbs [Sandalwood to heal wounds of the past, Lavender to bring peace and Geranium, Anise or Bergamot to offer protection from those that would set out to harm]. 

Toss your herbs in the fire with the following blessing spoken aloud or in your heart:
"Blessed Be those forsaken in days long since gone
and Blessed Be those who now face the fire.
May these herbs heal and protect.
Let be my heart's desire."



Monday, June 13, 2011

Scorned by a Gay Girl Who Never Was

How many of you were following the blog 'Gay Girl in Damascus' and have recently learned that its entirity has been nothing but an out-of-hand hoax -- written not by a lesbian Syrian girl but by a very sad, self-declared nerd in Georgia?  I followed, a bit -- thankful not to have invested too much of my emotional depth [considering the outcome]. 
Photographic rendition of the Syrian Flag

Even so, I can't shake this feeling of vulnerability that the sham has created within me.  I write from my heart whenever I post and while its naive and idealistic to assume the same from every one of the countless blogs that exist in cyberspace, I was at the very least confident that those I followed were genuine.  Little did I know!  And instead of just tsk-tsking the author [who successfully duped the world] and moving on, I seem to be struggling to get over this.

We live in a unique day and age when we can form emotional connections and bonds of commradery with persons that we very likely will never meet thanks to the far-reaching accessibility of the internet.  And while we don't ever share face-to-face interactions with said persons, many of us who maintain these e-friendships will admit that it doesn't minimize the quality of such connections.  Or so we think [apparantly]...

What happens, then, when the honesty of a relationship is solely one-sided?  The author of the Gay Girl blog posted quite the lengthy apology-- admitting that his intentions were sincere at the start and that a snowball-effect caused it to get out of hand.  And while this will blow over quite quickly in the fast-paced world of the Media, I sit here stunned and feeling foolish.  I wonder why this is any different than someone who impersonates another in the physical world [whatever the intentions]?  Were this not cyberspace, would this man not be charged with a crime?

Is it any less hurtful because of the medium chosen?  It sure doesn't feel that way to me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Pagan Deadly Sins

'Values' are a concept that transcend religion [in all of its segregating variety].  While core values may differ from individual to individual, the general idea is the same -- an outline of those intentions that we feel will bring the most appropriate benefit to our lives and to the lives of those dear to us. 

With the Pagan Values Event starting today via Facebook, I let the vague definition of 'value' stew at the back of my mind.  It seems to inherently involve two basic parts -- (1) our natural rights and (2) the rules we need to follow to protect those rights.

©2009-2011 ~Izark1369
While the Pagan community lacks a rigid doctrine of commandments detailing the guidelines necessary for protecting the natural rights of both ourselves and our neighbors, we can surprisingly relate to the underlying attitudes of Catholicism's "Cardinal [7 Deadly] Sins".  Relate to the Catholics?  Gasp!  I know, I know.  Hear me out. 

The concept of 'sin' is not one that Pagans put much credence into [considering a large majority of us follow Karma or the Law of Three-- believing that our actions and intentions circle back around for us to deal with in this life, rather than to be faced at the gates of the Afterworld].  While we won't be counting rosary beads anytime soon, we do recognize that if we release the negativity linked to these 7 Deadly Sins into the network of energy pervading our world, we will eventually come to meet our own poor choices.


Ask 12 Pagans what exactly it means to be Pagan and you'll get 13 different answers, or so I've heard.  Its a cute way to explain the great assortment of paths within our faith.  Yet there are solid foundations we all embrace.

Harm none.
Respect life. All life.
Live and Let Live.
Protect the Earth.
What you Send Out, Returns to You.

These main building blocks combat the negativity of the above-listed 'sins' with humility, generosity, love, kindness, self-control, temperance and zeal [this list, by the way, happens to be the 7 Virtues that followers of the Catholic faith employ in order to oppose the temptations and consequences of the Cardinal Sins].

While there is much that sets us apart, our values seem to be a very stable cornerstone of similarity.  It's a shame we all have our moments when we allow the naughty-side to reign.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How my Pagan Children Grow...

With all of the drama ensuing over the Circle of Mom's Top25 contest as of late, I've used my quiet moments to ponder just how much my faith influences my choices as a Mother. 

You will never hear me claim to be perfect in this role.  Much as I'd like to tell those snooty-boot blog moms [who turned their noses up at Pagan motherhood] that "Anything you can do I can do better" -- Go ahead.  Sing the lyrics.  You know you want to!  ;) --

the truth is I'm not always confident and I'm not always composed in the rearing of my two young boys.  I get frustrated.  I get angry.  I make mistakes and damned if they don't see me make them.  But in the midst of these short-comings, I am always there.  I am always honest.  I am always Me, their mom: nose-wiper, booboo-kisser, #1-supporter, Eat all your veggies-mandator extraordinaire!  My sons have seen me lose my cool.  They've seen me pause to take a deep breath so that I can avoid losing my cool.  They've seen me cry.  They've heard me swear.  They know that I am not perfect.  But they still believe I'm SuperMom.

What a beautifully splendid lesson they learn just through watching their mom during a meltdown -- I don't have to be perfect to be Super.  No, my children don't count rosary beads or kneel at their bedsides before sleep.  They don't attend Sunday school.  And no, they weren't baptised.  Yet their precious little lives are filled daily with faith...

They wake each day and thank the moon for keeping them safe in the night.  They welcome the sun who they know will power them with energy during their day.  They learn repeatedly the quick and unbiased authority of Karma and her laws.  They light candles and blessing sticks -- not for toys or slurpees, but for a sick baby or a missing pet.  They understand that people are different and wouldn't want it any other way [how boring would that be!].  They love the earth and help to keep her clean just as passionately as they do their most prized possessions [which presently is a growing collection of action figures from the Super Hero Squad Show]. 

In our home there is no rigid, obedient family structure [like something out of the 17th century].  We don't need this to find spirituality.  We don't need labels.  We don't need collection plates.  We don't need scripture written by ancient minds long since gone to tell us what we feel within.  We need only a guidance inspired by Pure Faith [one that comes by direct path: through the heart and into the world that surrounds it].

My five year old is learning to read and write.  Before bed I pull out his black and white journal and give him a new word to copy.  Tonight, before I got the chance to jot down 'bonfire' -- which was going to be my choice [seeing as we'd just finished roasting marshmallows over a gorgeous one], he stopped my hand and said "Mom, I want to learn to spell my favorite word... Namaste!"

For those who are unfamiliar, 'Namaste' translates to mean that there is a light in you, there is a light in me and we bow in honor of one another's light.

I asked my child why 'namaste' is his favorite word and he replied "because if everyone has a special light inside, then we are all shiny together."  Yes friends, a humble reminder from a preschooler!

You can bet that after kissing his forehead and turning off his light, I walked into my bedroom and balled my eyes out.  Such sweet innocence. 

Yes, my Faith is different.  And it's so very very right.