Guest Post – Susan Katz Miller, Reasons to Celebrate an Interfaith Baby

I’ve been following Susan Katz Miller’s blog on their interfaith family for quite a while. As a Jewish-Pagan interfaith family ourselves, it’s awesome to see it in action and working beautifully, especially with the most difficult part of the whole relationship: Children! Susan’s children are raised in both the Jewish and Christian communities, and her blog discusses the challenges and rewards of celebrating both parents’ and their own religions.

This post is a very special one. To celebrate Susan’s recent book  Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, Susan has offered to write a guest blog on celebrating a baby born into an interfaith family! Thank you so much, Susan, for this post and for all you do to support and educate the interfaith community. :)

For interfaith couples with a plan to celebrate both religions in the family, the arrival of a baby should be a source of creativity and joy, not cause for conflict. This is an opportunity to make a statement to yourselves, and to the world, that your child will benefit from both family traditions. Some interfaith couples hold back on performing baby-welcoming ceremonies, feeling that they did not have the right to claim these rituals, given the interfaith nature of their families. In contrast, I encourage the celebration of any and all welcoming rituals represented in your family tree. In my experience, and in my research, far more people end up regretting that they did nothing, than regretting that they celebrated.

I know, you’re exhausted, and the family patterns have been thrown into chaos. Do not feel you have to accomplish a full roster of traditional welcoming rituals on anyone else’s timetable, or to anyone else’s specifications. One of the wonderful aspects of being an interfaith family is that you have already been released from the tyranny of doing everything according to a single religious book. We can claim ancient religious rituals, while also reinventing them.

So if you have a Jewish baby-naming ceremony at six months, rather than at eight days, it can still have elements of tradition, and profound meaning for all in attendance. Children love the idea of having a Hebrew name: it can seem like a sort of secret alias, and an invitation to strengthen their connection to Judaism. One of the Christian rituals I really appreciate is the idea of godparents: adults who will serve as guides and protectors, as special unofficial aunts and uncles. We were living overseas when my daughter was a baby and toddler, so we didn’t get around to choosing godparents. When she was in elementary school, we finally created an interfaith godmothering ceremony for her. In fact, she was old enough to help choose her own godmother. It seemed very fitting, and resonant, that the godmother she chose happened to also have a Jewish and Christian background.

If you have close relationships with clergy, they can help facilitate or lead welcoming ceremonies, as long as they understand your religious intentions and support your choices as an interfaith family. If you cannot find supportive clergy, you can still create meaningful welcoming ceremonies for babies (or older children, if you never did them), drawing on the elements that have most meaning to you from both family religions. Part of the joy of being an interfaith family, is the joy of giving yourself permission to innovate, while respecting and honoring family roots.

Faith, Pain, and Redemption: A look at violence in select Christian teachings

As most of you know, I came from a pretty strict Roman Catholic household and attended church services and education classes throughout my youth. While it wasn’t until I was around thirteen that I found a path that spoke directly to me, I was no stranger to questioning the faith in which I grew up. In fact, it would drive my CCD teachers (and my parents!) insane, all the questions I had and the skepticism I held.

My long-standing question has always been: Why does God want us to suffer? What’s with the amount of violence that surrounds Biblical stories and the stories of human nature?

Don’t get me wrong! The entire of the Catholic/Christian belief system is not all doom-and-gloom, you’re-gonna-die-and-burn-in-HELL. But for all the talk of love and compassion that their followers eschew, there sure is a lot of violence surrounding two pretty poignant parts of this faith that set up a pretty stark future for Christian-associated violence: The crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the inherent or learned evil tendencies of our souls.

Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

I have always wondered what kind of parent would demand such a sacrifice from their own child, especially God and his only Earth-bound living Son and for the purpose of providing salvation for His followers at the cost of someone’s life. This leads to really uncomfortable follow-up questions, like if this sets precedent for parents to kill their own children in the name of God. (And in some cases, yes, this has happened. While I realize these people were not all mentally there, I’m so sad that there are so many appropriate links for this subject.)

The fact that Jesus was sacrificed, whether by divine hand or not, was not at all a surprise: Considered a heretic in his day, there were a lot of people (righteously or otherwise) genuinely pissed at the idea of some hippie coming in and saying, among other things, that you didn’t need temple or church to pray to God, you just needed to talk to Him yourself, and that he was indeed the Son of God. To usurp that kind of Roman power and to make what anyone would imagine were wild claims pretty much deigns you nothing more than someone who must be eliminated to keep their idea of peace.

In fact, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection (perhaps he saw the writing on the wall?) in Mark 9:30-37, telling his followers that his death and resurrection were to come. While it makes perfect sense that Jesus could tell something was coming (I mean, most opponents of the Romans often ended up dead), the mention of his resurrection and how detailed he was in how his death would play out suggests that this wasn’t just the work of humans, but of a higher power with a bigger purpose than we could imagine.

That is to say, it was divine, that God set out to do this long before His own Son was born.

Creepy, innit? To think that a parent, even a divine one, would consider how his death would save so many of us, and to base an entire faith off this death.

You would think that, considering this is God we’re talking about, there would be a more peaceful solution than offering a blood sacrifice, especially His own Son. That there would be a better way than to give his Son’s life to the hands of a powerful culture hellbent on taking him out, and especially to get the wheel turning. Especially since this means to an end necessitates His Son experiencing some of the most graphic, almost Machiavellian displays of the human race’s ability to destroy.

Despite this display, the New Testament repeatedly says something that continues to elude me to this day: That Jesus’ crucifixion was actually a way by which God could save humanity, that the death of one could save so many others. It gives reason for something as gruesome as death, especially by such a measure.

It almost makes me wonder if this kind of violence really did normalize and even encourage violence as a means to peace. Not that this was at all a new concept. But no faith has been able to permeate modern culture the way Christianity has, and it’s important to acknowledge that there has been an uptick in religious violence since the dawn of Christianity.

Does God like violence? Does He have no issue with using divine violence as a way to counter human violence? If neither of these, why does it feel like He resorts to or is complacent with the idea, especially when it comes to His own Son? Why not lay down the arms and fight violence with peace instead?

There is one interesting thing that comes out of Jesus’ crucifixion: The fact that, in light of the foreshadowing that he will be killed at the hands of the powerful, he encourages his follows to let go of their own desires for power and to welcome those who are vulnerable and overlooked, to be the peacemakers after his ultimate sacrifice.

Now if only THAT was the focus rather than on his death, we may be living in a much different world today.

Hell (and “Hellbound?”)

(Based off a new documentary that I hope to catch soon: Hellbound?)

Does hell exist? If so, who ends up there, and why? Featuring an eclectic group of authors, theologians, pastors, social commentators and musicians, “Hellbound?” is a provocative, feature-length documentary that will ensure you never look at hell the same way again!

Despite this ultimate sacrifice given by Jesus, meant as a way to save us from eternal damnation, there sure is a hell (ha!) of a lot of talk about gnashing of teeth and licking of flames surrounding our inherent natures or by predestination. After all, I thought most of this was mitigated when Jesus died for our sins, right?

Apparently not, according to some pastors. Mark Driscoll, for instance, says that “God created the world and people chose to rebel against him. And God came and died to save some of them from the death they deserve.

… doesn’t really sound all that redemptive to me.

The idea of hell has always bothered me, that there could be a place with no hope and nothing but darkness and eternal torture for the rest of your afterlife. Why would a God, who so loves His children and creates us in His image, be okay with allowing this kind of torment for the rest of… well, forever?

Brian McLaren probably said it best: “If I believe that a small percentage of human beings were created to enjoy bliss eternally and another group of beings were created to experience eternal conscious torment, then I look at human beings differently than if I say, `Every human being was made in the image of God. Every human being is beloved by God. God is at work to save every human being.’

Yup, two starkly different ways of looking at the world. One sees people as inherently good or inherently evil, and that they are destined to an afterlife regardless of their individual lives. The other says that all are special, all are loved, and all are destined to enjoy the afterlife.

I have an issue with these ideas on afterlife in general, the idea of hell and heaven as a way to divide us after we’re dead and gone. I will full admit that I have no idea what happens, and live my life according to what is right, not based on fear of where I’ll end up afterward.

But hell is something we generally don’t escape in modern times. Whether it’s an idea or part of our vernacular (how many times have you said, “Go to hell!” “What the hell?” “Hell no/yes!”), it’s all around us, and has almost become normalized in today’s culture.

Much like crucifixion, hell serves as yet another tool used by Christian faiths to control its followers, to market for new adherents, to give promise of something better after — ahem — “hell on Earth”. And if God can control where we end up — or if the Devil snatches us up and no way in… ah, hell is anyone going to come to our aid — then there appears more cause for violence in society.

Having a belief in hell, at least in my experience, can fundamentally change the way people look at this world and how they end up treating themselves and their brethren, especially if one believes in predestination. There’s some kind of horror that accompanies the thought that many that we love and care about suffer eternal torment, and the nonchalant way in which some Christians accept the idea that a great majority of us are, indeed, going there in a handbasket.

For some, the belief in hell should push us into being moral people, that the existence of a place where bad people go for all eternity might get us to wise up and get our shit together. But if one’s motivation is fear, and that fear is perpetuated either by the idea that God can send us there, God doesn’t give a crap if we end up there, God treats those of different faiths or different races or different personalities with so much disdain that we’re headed there simply because we are, or God has already set that path for us before we were born, what kind of belief does that give us about a God who is all-loving?

And even worse, to deny the existence of hell is, in some people’s eyes, to deny the Christian faith itself. So it really is a no-win situation.

Whether hell is fire or hell is nothing; whether we are to end up there based on our actions or by predestination, our very definitions of self; whether we are judged or we are saved… to believe in hell is, at its very core, to believe that some just aren’t as good as others. And if that’s the case, then why bother finding ways in which we can find the worth, good, and faith in others?

Faith and Freedom: In the Clink (Pagan Blog Project 2012)

It’s so early this morning for a rant!

My inbox held an article from HuffPost Religion about religion in prison, wherein a Pew Forum released a 50-state survey of prison chaplains. Many of the results were not surprising: Muslim and Protestant Christian faith systems experienced a growth in religion switching, religious counseling and other religion-based programming are an important part of inmate rehabilitation, and so forth.

But what struck me was the part about Pagan inmates. The Wild Hunt already wrote an excellent bit about Pagan prison chaplains, and they paused over the same part in the article that I did:

At the same time, a sizable minority of chaplains say that religious extremism is either very common (12 percent) or somewhat common (29 percent) among inmates. Religious extremism is reported by the chaplains as especially common among Muslim inmates (including followers of the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America) and, to a substantial but lesser degree, among followers of pagan or earth-based religions such as Odinism and other small religious groups that many Americans may never have heard of. An overwhelming majority of chaplains, however, report that religious extremism seldom poses a threat to the security of the facility in which they work, with only 4 percent of chaplains saying religious extremism among inmates “almost always” poses a threat to prison security and an additional 19 percent saying it “sometimes” poses a threat.

Emphasis mine. Obviously.

Pagan chaplaincy has always been something I’ve been particularly passionate about. I think it covers both the “I really want to help people” and “giving people the freedom to practice as they choose” points that I try to cover when it comes to Pagan faiths. And I’m of the belief that a prison, just like any other federal- or state-run institution or establishment, should allow people of all faiths, including those that “many Americans may never have heard of”, to practice their faiths. Freedom of (and from) religion and all that Constitutional blah blah.

When a survey like this comes back, though, and states that religious extremism is especially common among Pagan or earth-based inmates, and when those surveyed are overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian… it makes you if those Pagans are actually extremists or if the chaplains’ views of Pagan (and Muslim) spirituality are clouded by their own, rather contemptuous viewpoints. And my skin prickles a bit.

I’ve noticed that, as a growing number of people, from those “on the outside” to those in prisons, discover and accept a Pagan faith (34% of prison chaplains report a growth in Pagan faiths), so does the argument that these faiths are “extreme”. These people tend to adhere to religious faiths that are in and of themselves pretty extreme, which strikes me as both odd and ironic. Although Pagans only account for 1.7% of the overall prison population, about 40,000 throughout the system, their level of extremism according to those chaplains who were polled was extremely high, surpassing even Protestant Christians (including those who tend to be Evangelical)!

I’m not saying that there aren’t extremists in Pagan faiths; in my years, I’ve come across a few myself. But in the context of this study, wherein the majority of reporting chaplains are some sort of Christian (and this is representative of the chaplain population as a whole – they’re overwhelmingly Christian) and 44% of those Christian chaplains are Evangelical, are they really able to be unbiased as to what is and isn’t “extreme”?

One of the definitions for “religious extremism”, which a quarter of chaplains mentioned, is incredibly telling: Extreme views are characterized by the “requests for special food, clothing or rituals”, especially if they are seen as “bogus or extreme, such as meat for a Voodoo ritual or a religious diet consisting of goat’s milk, vegetables and oatmeal with sugar”. Oh, that’s nice. So if the request isn’t something that you anticipate in your own religious faith, it’s seen as extreme. (Bonus: It’s also bogus!) And with a population as small as the Pagan one is, and as large the Christian representation remains, of course most, if not all, Pagan requests are going to seem bogus or extreme.

Fortunately, the instances in people believing there to be an extremist problem is slim, and the top-ranking extremist issue is intolerance toward specific races or social groups… as in, using religion as a cover or reason for your asshole tendencies. Inflexibility comes next, which makes sense for a lot of converts to any faith – if you’re new at it, you’re probably going to be rigid in your beliefs and practices. Specific requests are mentioned to a pretty irritating 28%, but those requests, as noted in the survey, are often accommodated.

“Accommodation”, by the way, is not elaborated upon, but I would hope this would mean you could get your raw meat for your Voodoo ritual, your religious dietary needs met, or your Sabbat celebration honored in some form (excepting a boline or athame, I’d imagine! It is prison, after all). Why is part of me remaining doubtful, though.

But this view – that Pagans can be and overwhelmingly are religious extremists, especially compared to a much more widely represented Evangelical Christian population (seriously?) – only makes it harder for the few Pagan chaplains that exist in the prison system. As I said before, the Pagan population is growing not only outside prisons, but inside it as well, and there continues to be an overwhelming number of conservative and Christian chaplains despite the need for representation by other faiths.

In other words, the supply of Pagan chaplains is not keeping up with their need. I understand this might partially be a “well, how many Pagan chaplains are there to go around?” issue, but as demonstrated in military chaplaincy, the chances of Pagan chaplains being hired in general is incredibly low compared to other faiths. Because it’s, you know, extreme. And bogus.

In fact, despite the growing number of Pagan inmates, Pagan chaplains are still marginalized to “other religion”, which includes but is not limited to Pagans, at only 2%:

And if others keep up with this mindset that what is “different” is labeled “extreme”, we’ll be hard pressed to make any progress, either in chaplaincy or in our everyday lives. Which is especially frustrating because it’s a perception by other people, not even created by ourselves in the Pagan population.

Not usually, at least. ;)

Pagan kids in the news: Children and religious discrimination

There’s been quite a buzz recently surrounding Pagan and other alternate-faith students in public schools:

  • Atheist Teen Defeats High School Prayer Banner (Examiner.com, 12 January 2012)
    An Atheist teenager had to bring her high school to district court after a prayer mural, which makes mention of “Our Heavenly Father”, was posted in the hallway. Her suit challenged the constitutionality of having such a mural adorn the walls of her school, and with the help of the ACLU, the mural was ruled unconstitutional and gave the school ten days to remove it.
  • Related: Christians Bombard Teen Activist with Hate and Abuse (Examiner.com, 13 January 2012)
    In response to her suit, several Bible-beaters have come to attack her, even threatening bodily harm against her. (This is currently under investigation.) Comments like “Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some sh*t thrown at her” and “shes not human shes garbage” become standard.
  • Quick Response by Local School Over Pagan Necklace (PNC – Minnesota Bureau, 17 January 2012)
    A 4th-grade student in Minnesota was told by a substitute teacher that she had to tuck her pentacle necklace into her shirt “because things like that should be kept to yourself”, despite the same request not being made to those of other faith who were also wearing religious jewelry. When her mother brought the issue up with the principal, she was told that “the substitute teacher will not be teaching at Galtier any longer and the likelihood exists that he will no longer be teaching in the St. Paul Public Schools.” Thought I’d balance all this sobering news with something more positive. :)
  • Pagan Mom Challenges Bible Giveaway at North Carolina School (FoxNews.com, 19 January 2012)
    When her son came home with a Bible given to him by school officials, a Pagan mother challenges the giveaway with one of her own: Pagan spell books. She was turned away despite being assured that the school would make available religious texts donated by any groups. The district later announced that “Buncombe County School officials are currently reviewing relevant policies and practices with school board attorneys. During this review period, no school in the system will be accepting donations of materials that could be viewed as advocating a particular religion or belief.”

Photo: PNC-Minnesota

While I’d love to say that all this commotion was for good reason, as you can tell from the above examples from just this past week, with the exception of one article and the original of another, it was all the same: Routine discrimination and hate from those in a religious majority against those in a religious minority, especially after an open display from said religious majority. It’s honestly becoming kind of boring ol’ stuff to read about again and again.

It always concerns me when the news circles around public schools and around children. It’s one thing to have adults (using that word lightly) beat each other up with nasty words and hurled insults when it comes to a particular faith, but it’s another to encourage children to do the same and even be instigators by leaving Bibles in public schools, asking a child of a non-Abrahamic faith to hide who they are, and posting signage in obvious favor of one faith over another. That shit sickens me on so many levels.

In my opinion, unless a child wants to quietly express his or her own faith through the wearing of a piece of non-offensive religious jewelry of his or her own choice, there shouldn’t exist any material on religion at all unless they are all represented — a lofty goal indeed, considering how many faiths there are in this country, much less the world. These schools are public establishments funded by taxpayers of different faiths as well as those of no faith. To favor one over another — and it appears that one faith in particular is favored — you’re sending a very powerful message to those who do practice the faith (“Yours is the only one that matters”) and to those who practice another or none at all (“Your thinking is wrong” or “I don’t really care what you believe”).

As someone who will raise her eventual children in a home that is not only interfaith, but that houses two minority faith systems to boot (let’s face it, Judaism isn’t a huge religion, and Paganism certainly ain’t!), I’d personally be livid if my children came home with either of those possible thoughts in their head and in their hearts! I’d feel like they were trying to force my child into hiding if they came home with their religious regalia, should they be wearing any, tucked into their shirts or their pockets or otherwise confiscated. And I’d be conflicted if they came home with religious texts, not because I wouldn’t be approving of them — after all, I do plan on raising our children with age-appropriate knowledge of many different religious texts — but because they came from a public school where I expect them to be learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, not being offered theology or texts discussing that kind of material.

And I would expect any other parent, future or current, would feel the same! Just as I would be uncomfortable with my child coming home with a Bible, so would another non-Pagan parent with her child coming home with a Cunningham book. Just as I would want my own religion respected by not having others shoved down my child’s throat, so would another parent regarding respect for her religion and her child. Just as I will strive to teach my child religious tolerance and acceptance, so would another parent (I hope) to her own children so that, when our children meet up one day on the playground or the school gym or on the street, neither one feels superior or ashamed.

Religious education is my job and the job of the religious educators I first choose for my children and those my children will eventually choose for themselves. It is not the school system’s moral nor social responsibility to teach my children religious messages, instill religious values, or provide them with religious texts, whether any of these be conflicting or not.

One day, my children will become adults and be thrust into the cold, unfeeling world that is religious discrimination, whether they want to or not. No matter what faith to which they grow up to belong, even if that religion is that of the majority, they will experience this discrimination every day of their lives either by belonging to the group being bruised by hateful words or to the group that is hurling such massive, unforgiving stones. I hope they will become adults with enough foresight, intelligence, and love to handle these daily trials with grace and serenity.

But until then, I would much prefer if they had at least one “safe haven” from all that mess: At school.

Happy Everything from the Fox family!

Wishing you and your families a happy Chanukah,
a merry Christmas,
a blessed Yule,
and whatever else you may celebrate this winter season.

Oh, and a very happy New Year! ;)

Holiday Celebrations! And… I’m sick, duh.

It’s seriously the worst time of year to be sick, but here I am, nursing a box of tissues while swallowing pill after pill of Comtrex and trying to bolster my immune system with Emergen-C. There are just too many things going on, holiday-wise, to be sick! Since I don’t really have a huge update or anything, I thought I’d give y’all a glimpse into our celebrations this winter, and I hope I can make it through all of these!

Chanukah dinner: Usually held by someone in Matt’s family. This year, it’s his cousin and his family! It’s a bit earlier than usual (Chanukah starts sundown on the 20th) as we’re going over today, but it’s still a nice tradition.

Yule ritual: I’m going to my first one in aaaaages, and I can’t wait! It’s going to be held by a local Pagan group this year, and I’m really looking forward to going. It’s not on Yule itself (that’s the 21st, and the ritual is on Sunday), but I’m still excited for the sun’s return and what I’m sure is going to be a very moving ritual with tons of fun afterward. Though I’ll probably leave when it ends at 7pm, ha.

Chanukah: I always anticipate celebrating at our house. We received a gorgeous menorah from Matt’s Nana a few years ago, and we’ve used it ever since for the candle lighting and blessings. I don’t think we’ve gotten past the fourth or fifth day; Matt usually peters out around that point. ;) But we at least get the first day in, with Matt saying the prayers in Hebrew and trading off lighting the candles.

Yule: We don’t really have traditions for this yet; I’ve been solitary for so long and have kept my practices to myself that it’s hard to incorporate anyone else. But I think we may light a candle (aside from the menorah! LOL) and exchange gifts. One of which will, of course, be pajamas. We did that last year, and it was actually a nice thing to do! This is actually my second favorite Sabbat after Samhain, so I’m hoping we can really ramp this one up in years to come.

Festivus: Will we do something for that this year? I honestly don’t know. But if I’m feeling well enough, I do plan to wrestle the head of the household… or the guy who thinks he is… muahaha.

Christmas Eve: This one’s actually a tradition that I took away from home. Every Christmas Eve, my family would watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We’d also go to midnight Mass, but Matt and I obviously don’t do that anymore. ;) We’d open one present before going to bed (wonder where I got the pajamas-for-Yule tradition? Well, there ya go), then conk out until…

Christmas Day: Well, Matt and I don’t do Christmas. Not the “Christ is risen BORN (DUH) let’s open presents!” kind of Christmas, but a Jewish Christmas: Chinese food and a movie. Whoop! We started doing this a few years ago, and I have to say, if I’m not at home with our families… this is easily the next best thing, haha.

So that’s what we have planned! I’m really looking forward to sharing these individual days with y’all.

And now, more Comtrex…

Happy Christmachanuyulekah!

One of the greatest perks of living in a coexisting home are all the holidays you get to celebrate! I know that I’ve experienced more Jewish holidays since Matt and I have been together (has it really been 6.5 years…?) than I ever thought I would, and because of my background and current spirituality, I get to see how the old melds with the new. It’s been a real whirlwind.

Since we do celebrate everything at our house, we’re also prepared for… well, everything! I went through the basement this weekend to find some decorations, and was happy to see we had everything covered: A Yule tree that’s been in my family since I was born, a menorah lovingly given to us by Matt’s Nana, more penguins than you can shake a stick at, and even a miniature manger scene. We’ve got the whole gamut!

… which means our children will likely get the whole gamut, too. Between Christmas at my parents’, Chanukah at Matt’s parents’, and a mixture of those plus Yule at home, they’re seriously going to think December is the greatest month of the entire year.

Okay, second greatest. After October and Halloween, of course. ;)

When I was a child, I remember getting dressed in my Sunday best and traipsing with my parents to church on Christmas Eve. As my sister, who is 11 months younger than I, and I grew older, the time at which we’d go to Christmas Eve mass grew later until we were eventually attending midnight mass. There were several Christmas Eves where we’d have our heads in Mom’s lap, snoring away as visions of waking the next morning to a magical scene of cinnamon buns and a stocking full of little trinkets were made clearer by the smell of frankincense and myrrh whirled around the church.

Things back then… they had a certain sense of fantasy to them, you know? You could lie under a Christmas tree and look up into the array of twinkling lights and dangling ornaments for hours, listening to soft holiday music and fingering a few of the boughs tinged with sticky sap. You could feel the snap in the air (in Florida, that’s at a now-laughable 50 degrees or so!) and gleefully pull your sweater, smelling of the walls and of last winter, out of the closet and over your head. You could eat more gingerbread people than you ever decorate, alternating which appendage would go first for each cookie.

These are the memories I have. Not of presents or of Santa… except that one year where our neighbor attempted to fool the neighborhood kids into believing that Santa was just that skinny because he didn’t have his usual supply of milk and cookies. That one, I’ll remember forever. ;) No, it was the — and this is so cliche — Christmas spirit in the air, the holiday cheer.

That is what I want our kids to remember. While they’ll be surrounded by the traditions of several different faiths, I hope even more that they’ll be surrounded with the same feelings of love, warmth, and family that I felt and still feel every year. I want them to look upon the tree, the menorah, the different symbols and remember not necessarily their meanings — they’ll know that! — but remember what they represent: A time of year where maybe, just maybe, the world was a better place. Even just for a month.

Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, and blessed Yule. And happy whatever else you may celebrate. :)

Earth Day Weekend at the Fox House

It’s a beautiful day to be green. :)


I hope everyone who celebrates Easter has or had a wonderful day! Since we don’t celebrate Easter around here (at least, not in the religious sense, and since this is a VERY special holiday, we don’t even bother with anything), our Earth Day celebrations instead went on well past the actual day on 22 April, as we got both a lawn mower and took a trip to Lowe’s. What’s so green and earth-friendly about these, you might ask?

Well, here’s our lawn mower…

… and this is what we got at Lowe’s!

We ended up getting a manual lawn mower and a free tree from Lowe’s! Below is a “photo diary” of yesterday’s and today’s activities. Later on tonight? Dyeing eggs as a late Ostara/early Beltane thing! ;)

First, we for our little tree from Lowe’s yesterday, and today I planted it according to its directions.

(O hai, chipping nail polish.)

Yes, that is exactly what it says.
It obviously does not contain gravy.

No worries, little tree. One day you will stand tall among the forest.

And now, we mow!

Matt starts us off (and plows through about half the lawn)…

… and I help with the other half. (I AM WOMAN WATCH ME MOW)

It ended up going pretty well! A friend of mine did comment, though, on Facebook that “they make those with motors now :) ” Well, of course, but there’s nothing like a bit of (wo)manpower behind your yard work!


So, there’s our weekend! We also made a delicious lunch, which I’ll save for tomorrow’s Meatless Monday. Trust me, you’ll want to stick around for that — it’s going to be drool-worthy. ;)

Happy Easter from The Coexist Cafe!!

Theological Thursday (a day early): Blessed Imbolc!

It might not seem like it, but spring is right around the corner. Don’t let the piles of snow and threats of freezing rain and sleet fool you, and don’t let Punxsutawney Phil tell you otherwise! Today marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, and is known in the Pagan community as Imbolc.

Like many Pagan holidays, Imbolc has a Celtic connection to Oimelc, an ancient festival celebrating the birth and freshening of sheep and goats. Otherwise known as the Feast of Milk, the day marks new life about to awaken in the earth, and its preparation to receive seeds and other signs of fertility in the coming weeks until Ostara.

This connection to Celtic lore also points to the goddess Brighid, or “bright one.” In modern Wicca and Paganism, Brighid is viewed as the maiden aspect of the maiden-mother-crone cycle, of fertility and purity, and from Irish lore, she is the keeper of the sacred flame, the guardian of home and hearth. Purification and cleaning are a wonderful way to honor her and to get ready for Spring — there’s a reason why we have the term “spring cleaning”!

But Brighid was not only known for her youth and vigor; in some parts of the Scottish Highlands, Brighid was viewed as Cailleach Bheur, a woman with mystical powers and older than the land itself. Near Yorkshire, England, she was seen as a warlike figure. And Christians aren’t without their own representation of this ancient goddess: St. Brigid was the daughter of a Pictish slave who was baptized by St. Patrick and founded a community of nuns at Kildare, Ireland.

To recognize and honor Brighid, leave a piece of clothing outside for Brighid to bless, and they will have the powers of healing and protection thanks to Brighid. (You might want to let the article warm up inside a bit before putting it on — might be a little chilly!) Smoor your fire and rake the ashes smooth before you go to bed, then look for a mark on the ashes when you awake. These could be signs that Brighid has passed that way overnight.

Hail Brid, Queen of Spring
Dance with us around the ring
Mate with Pan your Horned King
All through the night.


Hail Pan, Horned One,
God of greenwood and bright Sun
Frolic in the dark of night
By Her light.


We here your witches serve
Worship you as you deserve
Weave a web of strength and might
Practice your rite.


By your love so dear
We progress throughout the year
Take away our mortal fear
Give us the sight.


Hail, Brid, Queen of Spring
Dance with us around the ring
Mate with Pan your Horned King
All through the night.

Other ancient civilizations celebrated this point between winter and spring, not just the Celts and modern-day Pagans and Wiccans:

  • Lupercalia (Romans) Rather than being associated with a particular temple or deity, Lupercalia was instead focused on the found of the city of Rome by twins Romulus and Remus, feral children who were suckled by a she-wolf in a cave known as the “Lupercale”. Purification rituals where a goat was sacrificed and a scourge made of its hide were commonplace during this holiday. Thong-clad men ran through the city, whacking people with bits of goat hide; these people considered themselves fortunate! (To each his own, right?)
  • The Feast of Nut (Egyptialsn) According to the Book of the Dead, the goddess Nut, whose birthday fell on 2 February on the Gregorian calendar, was seen as a mother-figure to the sun god Ra, who was known at sunrise as Khepera and took the form of a scarab beetle.
  • St. Brigid’s Day (Christianity) This was already mentioned, but a bit of a story about how St. Brigid came to be: When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was difficult to convince the people to get rid of their old gods, so the church allowed the Irish to worship Bridgid as a saint. 2 February also marks Candelmas for Christians, the feast of purification of the Virgin. By Jewish law, it took forty days after a birth for a woman to be cleansed following the birth of a son, and Candelmas marks the forty days after the birth of Jesus. Candles were blessed, feasting was had, and the drab days of February suddenly seemed brighter.

Now, I’m not a Pagan big on ritual, save for maybe something around Samhain (and now that’s being taken up by our wedding anniversary!). However, after the jump is a ritual you can apply to your own Imbolc celebration, adapted from LadyBridget.com. Feel free to create your own rituals and customs for Imbolc, either using this as an example or starting from scratch.

ETA: Also, if you’re looking for a ritual where you can incorporate your children (or if you’re looking for something simpler than a full-on ritual), check out Pagan Dad’s post, Happy Imbolc!

And of course, blessed Imbolc, everyone! Here’s to hoping for warm Spring weather in the months ahead! ;)

Cast the circle in your usual manner.
Ground and center the participants.
Bless each person as you normally would.

INVOKE WATCHTOWERS

EAST – Hail to thee, Guardian of the Watchtower of the East, the powers of water. We see the sun’s rays bouncing off the ocean tides, smashing into the rocks. Our emotions are high as we get ready for Spring, in the anticipation of the Sun’s return. Waters of Life, give us birth, and the knowledge to grow as the seeds grow in the Earth from your nourishment. Join the children of the light as we celebrate. So Mote It Be.

SOUTH – Hail to thee, Guardian of the Watchtower of the South, the powers of Air, you who blow crisp, clean, and cold, with swirls of blistery winds. Bring the warm, soft breezes that herald the beginning of Spring. Smell the sweet scent of lilacs. Breathe in th air. Become refreshed with new thoughs, new knowledge, new projects. Join the cildren of the light as we celebrate. So Mote It Be.

WEST – Hail to thee, Guardian of the Watchtower of the West, the powers of Fire. Now as we stand in the fullness of winter, yet on the threshold of Spring, we await the seed which is awakening in the Earth. We ask for your Divine spark to ignite our Sacred Fires as we gather this night to rejuvenate the flames of the sun. Join the children of the light as we celebrate. So Mote It Be.

NORTH – Hail to thee, Guardian of the Watchtower of the North, the powers of Earth. Now the time has come to call for the powers of mountains and of trees, celebrate with us the things that are to be. The warming of Spring will soon bring the abundance of summer. The breezes will be warmer and the days longer. Powers of leaf and flower and thorn, join the children of the light as we celebrate. So Mote It Be.

INVITE THE HORNED ONE:

HP: We call upon you O Horned One, at this time of the feast of torches, when every lamp blazes and shines to welcome your rebirth as the Sun. All the land is wrapped in winter. The air is chilled and the Earth lies barren beneath her mantle of sleep. We call upon you to return, Lord of the Sun. The spark of life is within you, as is the darkness of death. For you are the gatekeeper at the end of time. We call upon you whom all must face at the appointed hour. Yet you are not to be feared, for you are brother, lover, and son. You teach us that death is but the beginning of life and we honor you. You who holds the key of life and death. Blessed Be.

(light the candle for the God)

INVITE BRIDGET:

HPS: By the flowers of the field, O Lady of delight, by the crops thy blessings yield, Oh Maiden clear and bright. We evoke thy presence in kernels and sheaves. We see thy face in the moonlit leaves. Come now to us, extend thy grace, come into our circle within this holy place. Daughter of the Earth, drinking sunlight. Queen of plants, sister of night. By leaf and twig, by root and bough, by water and earth. Come to us now! Bring us your grain, the staff of our lives. Bring us your fruit, wherever it thrives. Mistress of herbs unlock your power and lead us into your leafy bower. In love and joy we call your name, with comforting hope, you ease our pain. We see thee in the swelling bud, we feel thy stirring in our blood. O Lady clear, we feel thee near. In Spring a Maiden with flowers crowned, in summer and harvest, the Mother renewed, in fall and winter the Hag holds sway, yet the Maiden remains but months away. Great Triple Goddess, the seasons flow and eff to thy will as you come and go. Blessed Be.

(light the candle for the Goddess)

THE MYTH

Narrator – As the scene unfolds, we find Persephone in the underworld having been abducted by Hades to be his Queen. Demeter, in her grief has allowed the earth to be barren. Zeus, taking pity on humankind’s suffering, sends Hermes to the underworld to tell Hades to free Persephone. Having overheard the conversation, Persephone confronts Hades…..

Persephone – I, Persephone, have heard the voice of Hermes, messenger of Zeus. I have heard him command you to set me free. And indeed, I am fully ready to go. I, who am the flower of Maidenhood and delight in the newness of life, yet will I ever be burdened with the memory of the restful sadness that is your realm. Forever I will see the shadow of the dying flower even in the fullness of it’s bloom.

Hades – (aside) If I can get her to eat some of these seeds, she must return to me.
(to Persephone) My Lovely Queen, my love for you is so strong that I would risk the wrath of my brother, Zeus, and of Demeter, by bringing you here. Please don’t leave me for I am only the reaper. I free the old, the tired and torn so that She can make them fresh and whole again. Death is a thing in which to rejoice, for after Death comes renewal. In me they find rest and peace. But if you must leave me, please my Lady, have this for your journey. (holding out closed hand)

Persephone – I will take only a token bit to acknowledge your hospitality, and then I shall be gone. (Eats one bite)

Demeter – Children. light your candles so that my daughter may find her way.

(At this point, Demeter lights her candle from the God and Goddess candles on the altar, then goes to the person in the West and lights theirs. Each person lights the candle of the person next to them, and as the light travels deosil around the circle, Persephone slowly comes along following the light. When she reaches the end, she greets Dememter with a hug and kiss. They murmer greetings and such until suddenly Demeter exclaims in a very loud voice….)

Demeter – YOU ATE WHAT?

Persephone – It was only a few seeds!

Narrator – Persephone was told not to eat anything in the underworld or she would not be able to return above. But Persephone ate a few pommegranate seeds. Zeus decreed a compromise for the sharing of Persephone. She must return 3 months of the year to the underworld to reside with her husband, with the remainder of the year to be spent with her mother in the land of the living.

HPS – Behold the three-formed Goddess, she who is ever three, Maid, Mother, Crone. Yet She is ever one. We welcome now the Maiden Persepnone. For without spring there can be no summer, without summer, no winter, and no new spring. Thus we look forward to the end of winter. We lit the candles to light the way for Persephone’s return from the darkness, and to lend strength to the Sun as He grows in power. Blessed Be.

(People can extinguish their candles and take them home, or leave them lit on the altar, if there is space, or around the circle if that is possible.)

(At this time, pass around the parchment paper and pens so everyone can write what spiritual goals they wish to reach during the coming year. These are place in Brid’s Bed, or can be burned to send the wished to the Goddess. They should first be charged, by raising energy while each person holds their paper, either through dance and chanting, humming, or meditation channeling, or whatever your group does. Then each person will either put the parchment in and tell Brid what she desires, or put into the Cauldron to be transformed and burned.)

(Also this is the time, if you wish, to charge seeds for the spring planting later. Herbs and flowers are appropriate, get ones that grow in your area so your participants can plant them. We also bless our candles now, one of each color, to be used during our magickal year. A few drops of wax from these candles will add the Goddess energy and blessing from this Sabbat to whatever candles we dress. Or people can simply use the white candles they lit for Persephone’s return, since white contains all colors within it. Charging is done as above.)

GREAT RITE (Perform in your usual manner)

DISMISS WATCHTOWERS

EAST – Hail to thee Guardian of the Watchtower of the East, the powers of Water. We felt your presence this evening as you washed away the winter’s chill. Stay with us as we grow in the coming months. Continue to water our plants and our minds so they grow to be strong and healthy. As ye depart to your mighty realms, we bid thee Hail and Farewell, and harm ye none on your way. So Mote It Be.

SOUTH – Hail to thee Guardian of the Watchtower of the South, the powers of Air. We thank you for the truning of the seasons, the cold of winter, the growth of spring, and fall harvests. As you leave us, leave us with new inspiration for the new spring. As you depart to your mighty realms, we bid thee Hail and Farewell, and harm ye none on your way. So Mote It Be.

WEST – Hail to thee Guardians of the Watchtower of the West, the powers of Fire. We thank you for the smoldering embers that have lain dormant through the winter and are now on the verge of flaring forth into flowering spring. We thank you for your participation and your protection. As you depart to your mighty realms, we bid thee Hail and Farewell, and harm ye none on your way. So Mote It Be.

NORTH – Hail to thee Guardian of the Watchtower of the North, the powers of Earth. The powers of mountains and trees, you have celebrated with us the things that are to be. Powers of leaf and of thorn, we look forward to longer days and warmer days. We thank you for joining us in our rites. As you depart to your mighty realms, we bid thee, Hail and Farewell, and harm ye none on your way. So Mote It Be.

CLOSE CIRCLE.

It’s beginning to look a lot like… Yulemas? Chanukah? Something…

I apologize for my absence as of late — I had great blog posts planned for Meatless Monday and today’s Theological Thursday, but I have them scheduled for next week now. Work has just been insane lately, meaning I’m pulling long hours at the firm and driving home through even worse traffic than usual (if there is such a thing in Baltimore). When I get home, no offense, but the last thing I want to do is blog.

Instead, I craft! What have I been working on? These beautiful quilled snowflakes from Reese Dixon and Custom Quilling. They’re surprisingly a lot easier than they look; it only takes a couple minutes to become proficient in quilling, and all the shapes are based off the ability to roll the paper. The hardest thing to overcome? Finding a damn quiller! Hint: Joann Fabrics has them. And call ahead, or the money saved making these beautiful ornaments will be spent on gas, which is just astronomical these days.

Anyway, back to the crafting. Below are pictures of the snowflakes I’ve made, as well as our current decor for the holidays we celebrate in December: Chanukah (1-8 December this year), Yule (21 December), and secular Christmas (25 December).

Our Yule tree, which is pretty threadbare.
That’s okay, we love it anyway. :)
Our poor menorah after eight nights of Chanukah. :(
(YES, I REALIZE THIS IS A POTENTIALLY DIRTY PICTURE. See also: this macro.)
We miiiiight have lit the candles a bit too close to the cabinets.
Shh… don’t tell our landlord!

Happy Chanukah, blessed Yule, and merry Christmas to everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season! And if you quill your own snowflakes, be sure to let me know; I’d love to see what you come up with!