Meaning and Understanding

At the heart of our understanding of All That Is — the Universe around us, the Gods, the daily news — is cognition. How we think. What our minds do with what our senses offer as input and what we have already processed and stored, whether we remember it or not. And it turns out that humankind developed our current capabilities in cognition over eons — indeed, we wouldn’t expect it to be any other way, but, of course, we take it for granted.

The video below is the first in a series by Prof. John Vervaeke, of the University of Toronto Psychology Department and Cognitive Science Program, laying out the details of our human cognitive development against the history of human development.

And this brought to my mind the course in Pagan Apologetics I took at Cherry Hill Seminary, taught by Dr. David Oringderff of Sacred Well Congregation, the premise of which was that Paganism is the indigenous religion of humankind.

There is a lot of content in this video, delivered in straight lecture style in front of an almost-useless whiteboard. Conveniently, YouTube lists the books Vervaeke mentions:

  • Michael Anderson – After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain
  • Barry Boyce (Editor) – The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life
  • Andy Clark – Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence
  • Michel Ferrari and Nic Weststrate (Editors) – The Scientific Study of Personal Wisdom: From Contemplative Traditions to Neuroscience
  • Harry Frankfurt – On Bullsh*t
  • David Lewis-Williams – The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art
  • L. A. Paul – Transformative Experience
  • Massimo Pigliucci – How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life
  • Matt Rossano – Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved
  • Daniel Siegel – Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
  • Steve Taylor – Waking From Sleep: Why Awakening Experiences Occur and How to Make Them Permanent
  • John Vervaeke, Christopher Mastropietro, and Filip Miscevic – Zombies in Western Culture: A Twenty-First Century Crisis
  • Michael Winkelman – Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing
  • Susan Wolf – Meaning in Life and Why It Matters

Just as we did in Pagan Apologetics, Vervaeke looks back to our primitive human ancestors, the physical traces they left, and the differences between those who came before and those who came after. He focuses in this episode on the transition from the middle- to the upper- paleolithic, about 45,000 years ago, as the Neanderthal population faded out and the human population expanded out of Africa.

What I want to do is point to a time when many people think our humanity, the kind of people we are now, came into form. Not fully like the way it is now, because of course there’s been lots of historical and cultural processes, but the kind of humanity that we would recognize as “us” and how much this was bound up with meaning making in the way that I’ve been talking about.

Episode 1

This episode is just under one hour, and it moves quickly. The second half gets into the details of the upper paleolithic transition, focusing on the work of the shaman, on ritual, and on the various ways of knowing. It is better experienced than read, but the transcripts are available.


Chaplain: @Home in a Crisis — An Attitude of Hospitality for Crisis Chaplaincy by Sandy Harris SB / Rev. Khalila RedBird 7 December 2011 for Cherry Hill Seminary: Survey of Chaplaincy Fall 2011

When I first encountered the Goddess in the Sacred Grove, my High Priest of the time knelt before Her in praise and adoration. I threw myself into Her lap and said, “Hi, Mom! I’m home!”

How wonderful it would be if we could carry this sense of being at Home with us in our ministry and act from within its support – far better still, we could welcome others in need to make themselves at Home for a while, sheltered in our ministry of presence.

Home is where one starts from.

– T. S. Eliot

I am a Chaplain – by choice, by training, and by intermittently being called to serve in that capacity by organizations that are minimally inclined to pay for such services. Most of my ministry has been in the wake of crisis or trauma for the people I encounter – so far, in hospitals, and in the future, as part of crisis response teams for the county in which I live.

Stepping into a crisis or traumatic situation as a chaplain, I need to be “all prayed up”, as my colleagues say, when I arrive, and I need to release the clinging threads of concern back into the Cosmos when I leave. This protects my own well-being and allows me to function in the moment with all the spiritual support available to me. I project – assume – really think that a similar need and resolution is common to most of us involved in chaplaincy for any period of time.

Given the extreme diversity of our Pagan community, I am not sure that we share common language and particular ritual elements supporting these needs and I have found it cumbersome to caveat and tiptoe when trying to discuss these spiritual practices in an eclectic group. Therefore, I propose a model for our collective attitudes toward chaplaincy and interacting with the people we serve that relies on a heritage older and more deeply embedded in the human spirit than our various traditions (however ancient and venerable) and modern language.

I propose encouraging a mystical and magical mindset of chaplaincy in which the chapel is the chaplain’s own state of being grounded, centered, and in the Presence of Ultimate Reality, the All, the One, the Ground of Being, or however the chaplain personally conceives of That Which Is most important and most sacred – wherever the chaplain is at Home.

I suggest that, conscious of being at Home, we align ourselves with ancient customs and standards of Hospitality as we find them throughout human cultures and consider ourselves as Host in our Home, holding each person we serve as a welcome Guest in our Home, with the intent that our words, actions, and demeanor will convey to our Guests the comfort of safety and sufficiency that are the epitome of being at home.

At the same time, it is important to remember that others offer us hospitality and we incur the obligations of a Guest when, acknowledging our presence as chaplains, people in need admit us into their lives through sharing troubles, fears, and times of great significance, into places where a stranger might not be invited.

Heritage, Needs, and Skills

The code of hospitality is an ancient code common to just about every ancient culture and moral code.
What it states basically is that anyone who comes to your home, invited or uninvited, should be treated with the utmost respect, provided food, comfort and basically be treated like family and once the guest’s immediate needs are met, the guest then had the right to ask for a favor to help him on his journey. Turning away someone’s request for shelter or mistreating a guest was a terrible, shameful act, worthy of severe punishment by the Gods.
The flip side of that is that anyone who visits another’s home must treat their hosts with similar respect. Stealing from your hosts, damaging their home, causing injury to them or other guests are all severe violations of the code of hospitality, equally deserving of divine justice. Guests were expected to treat their hosts’ homes like their own and to be helpful when they could and to move on as soon as it was convenient for them to do so.

Hospitality: Our Common Heritage

All of our skills and intentions are of little use unless and until we can enter into a mutually-acceptable relationship and communication with the person we are endeavoring to serve. Particularly in times of recent or imminent danger, our presence and interactions must be accepted as safe – or at least worth the risk of tentative trust – if we are to be of use. A chaplain whose demeanor or dress or actions are perceived as a threat may find it impossible to achieve any level of rapport with someone who is already aroused to fight or flee.

Home is where the heart is.

First attributed usage by Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE)

Drawing upon our common heritage of ancient codes of hospitality that we acquire with our earliest training and find reinforced in practice throughout our lives, we have a vocabulary for establishing tentative rapport even in the midst of crisis when rational thought and detailed memory are out of reach. Fortunately, most of us have had the experience of meeting strangers in our lives, initially in the safety of our earliest homes under the protection of a parent or benevolent elder.

We have lived through overcoming the urge to flee and reinforced the lessons of hospitality: a guest is to be welcomed, introduced respectfully to others present, offered a beverage, told where the bathroom is, and invited to sit down. Making a guest at home comes before questions, requests, and serious discussion.

Crisis: Our Common Needs

In the midst of disaster and chaos and fear, a tiny, quivering voice afraid of being heard says, “I want to go home.”

Sometimes the expression of fight-or-flight, when neither response to stress is feasible, is an unspoken “I want to go home!” Once the instant of surging neurotransmitters has passed, returning cognitive functions can assess the situation and weigh alternatives, but, for that frozen moment, we would rather be someplace else – someplace safe.

As chaplains, we can find ourselves in such frozen moments with such unspoken primal wishes. With practice at coming home to ourselves and carrying that home with us, we can be ready to find and carry that sense of being at home with us in crisis as the chapel we bring to the place of need.

@Home: Our Common Skills

Frustrated with my tendency to lose focus – and touches – in competition when my tactics weren’t working, my fencing coach asked me if, being a Witch, I knew how to ground and center. When I said I did, he told me to practice that until I could do it in the space of a deep breath – then do it! Do it between the halt! that ends one touch and the fence! that begins the next encounter. I did. It works. ctrl-alt-del does the same for my laptop.

In many of our traditions, as well as in the martial arts, we learn to return our bodies, minds, and spirits to a known and balanced point, independent of time and space, between excursions and experiences.

I suggest that we can hone that practice into a tool that is always with us so that, when moving between chaos and confusion, we can always return to that place I call @home. When we are @home, we are in control of our attention, balanced, stable, relaxed, breathing freely, aware of all that supports us, and full ourselves. Once @home, we can choose to open our awareness to our surroundings.

Home is a shelter from storms – all sorts of storms. 

~William J. Bennett

At Home as Host and as Guest

When it came time to terminate medical intervention and let his final illness run its course, all Dad could tell me was, “I want to go home.” For a man who denied the embrace of any religion and would argue definitions if asked about spirituality, Home had a deeper personal importance and meaning than the place where I live when I’m not in the hospital (he had had no such place for months). When we placed him gently in a borrowed hospital bed in the middle of my living room, he was comforted and content: he was Home.

Making Ourselves @Home

Any number of Paganism 101 books provide instructions and meditations for grounding and centering, and many of us are quite accustomed to doing so. I have included a separate document for reference: a treatise on the subject that I presented to a Clinical Pastoral Education group in 2008.

Once comfortably grounded and centered, I suggest we open our attention to home, surrounding ourselves with all the sights, sounds, smells, and impressions of home at its best – whether our childhood home, our beloved home now, or an idealized home of our imagination. Taking time to visit and revisit home in unhurried meditation will bring it more quickly to mind in a crisis.

Even if the home of your childhood was of more danger than refuge to you, form this home of your best memories, until its existence is solid and you can pull it around you at will.

There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits.

– Robert Southey (English Poet and Writer of prose. 1774-1843)

Find a mnemonic or trigger for yourself that will invoke your feeling of being grounded, centered, and at home (@home). You may think of the great ideas from cinema:

ET phone home

Click your heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” (Ruby slippers are optional.)

Choose whatever signal will work best for you to start grounding, centering, and making yourself @home. Then practice. Do it every time something startles you. Do it in the dentist’s chair. Do it at traffic lights. Do it when you feel out of sorts. Practice. Your body will thank you.

Receiving a Guest in a Crisis

In a crisis, the first individuals likely to need our help are those who are in the primal state that, at once, prepares us to fight or flee and, concurrently, protects us from seeing or feeling more than we can accommodate at the moment. This state can follow immediately upon learning of a loved one’s death or peril – or hearing shots fired nearby – or when your telephone wakes you from a sound sleep at 3 a.m.

Neurophysiologically, the logical and higher functions of the brain have been bypassed in the interest of fueling the primitive portions of your brain and your body systems that are needed to fight or to run away. Often this state passes quickly and your higher functions return for use. Until that happens, nothing else does.

As chaplains in crisis situations, we are susceptible to this shock as much as anyone. If we can grasp that one small trigger for @home, we will take the first steps toward returning to useful function and protect ourselves from the cascades of hormones where they do more harm than good. Once @home, we are in control of our steps in venturing forth. Our concern is with the survivors of the crisis, leaving the matters of rescue and response to others. We have built a small bubble of safe space for ourselves, and we can expand its peace to shelter guests.

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

– Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man (1914)

The disasters of the past decade have spawned research into the human neurophysiological and psychological reaction to trauma, and effective methods are now being widely taught to first responders to help survivors through the immediate shock toward a return to independent functioning and eventual healing in the hope of forestalling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Training is available, in classrooms and on line, and a chaplain who is a first responder will seek the opportunity for training.

Assess the situation

In a crisis, others around you will be the state of physical and emotional shock that is our human response to the totally unacceptable: frozen in place with bodies primed to fight or flee, higher cognitive functions – any useful thinking – cut off and unavailable. As a chaplain, if you can, find a quiet location, apart from the crisis scene, with places to sit and the necessities of life at hand. Your role as host, bringing @home with you, is to welcome each person in need as a guest in your home and, through hospitality, help your guests until each can find a way to continue to the journey. Here and now, your home is safe space for you and your guests. Make it so.

The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) bases its intervention with individuals on the SAFER-R model developed by George Everly1. The steps of this model have much in common with welcoming a stranger in distress as a guest into one’s home and providing hospitality until the guest is ready and able to leave. As a chaplain@home, remembering your role and duties as host can provide comfort and protection in a crisis as you and others address the immediate and specific needs of your guests.

S Stabilize
A Acknowledge
F Facilitate understanding
E Encourage adaptive grieving and coping
R Recovery
– or
R Referral


First of all, see to it that you and your guests are safe and will remain as safe as possible from bodily harm and exposure to physical or nonphysical threats.

Begin building rapport while helping your guests to achieve some level of grounding and centering of their own: make your guests @home.

Greet your guests as welcome strangers in your home, calling your guests in shock back toward higher cognitive functioning through your own confidence in the safe space, speaking slowly and calmly, offering opportunities and cues to automatic responses: making eye contact, acknowledging your greeting. Hear them where they are and welcome them to be, to be here, to be here now – essentially facilitating their tentative grounding and centering to the point where simple speech is possible.

Introduce yourself clearly and simply. Learn and use their names. Tell your guests what is most important: We are together. You are in a safe place. Remind them of their personal safety, of time, of place, of who else is present. Perhaps a more-stable guest will help introduce one who is not. Repeat yourself as necessary: in shock, much that is heard is filtered out or forgotten immediately.

Home is indeed a place where you are loved unconditionally. Home is where you feel safe and protected.  Home is where your heart is most happy.

– Tanya.Blank

Make your guests at home: Offer seating and water, if possible. Reduce distractions. Ask simple questions that can be answered simply. Monitor their physical well-being: injuries, hyperventilating, hunger, fatigue, thirst, medical conditions and seek help if necessary. Point out the nearest restrooms. Gently divert any conversation to the here-and-now within your home. Ask no other questions but listen to what is said.


Give your guests a chance to tell their stories and to test your listening and acceptance.

Open simple social conversation with and about the people present at the moment, accepting that this will focus quickly on the crisis or trauma. Your intent is build safety and rapport while people are beginning to face their immediate memories and regain their ability to speak calmly and rationally. Use your best active listening skills and maintain your own awareness of your Sources of support. Tell them what you do know: This happened. There is much we do not know yet. You/we are safe here. Help is coming. We are doing what needs to be done here and now.

Facilitate understanding

Allow the conversation to grow deeper, contributing your own information and reflections. Encourage interaction among guests.

Answer questions simply and clearly confirming what just happened and what is happening at the moment, without speculation and without volunteering or encouraging additional detail. Keep focus on the here-and-now, redirecting when conversation strays to the past or future – or to why, how, and what-if. Listen to the question and the fears behind the question; in answering, reframe them as simple truth – without judgment. Welcome periods of silence. Tell them what you do know: What you are feeling (experiencing) is normal. This hurts. What you are saying is normal (helpful) (reasonable). This is a safe place. Everyone grieves (reacts) differently.

Encourage adaptive coping

Gently release the reins of the conversation and return to listening. Reflect on what you have heard so far. Expand on a topic with helpful information if appropriate. Enjoy watching your guests take up the reins of the conversation and, with them, control of their lives.

Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other.  It is the place of confidence.  It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts.  It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule.

~Frederick W. Robertson

Eventually, people, one by one, may come to the point of sharing memories with each other, finding bits of humor, telling stories, and purposeful planning. This is the time to sit back, centered and mindful, affirming the healing parts and gently questioning the speculations or intentions that might hamper healing. This is also a time to offer suggestions and information on further help that is available.

Resume life or Refer for continued care if needed

See your guests to the door with your blessings, as well refreshed as was within your power. If someone needs more help, do all you can to put them in the hands of that help.

When help becomes available, or when other matters intrude, your guests will leave on their own. When all have gone and at least before leaving the scene of the crisis, sit quietly with yourself @home and let any misgivings you have rise up for attention. You will never know all the details of why the crisis happened or how everyone else responded in its wake – leave the questions in sacred space or ground them – they are no longer yours to carry. For concerns you cannot ground or leave behind, find someone on scene to follow up. Someone in pain may need follow-up care: share your misgivings with a professional on scene. If you need help yourself, ask for it.

The winding path

This intervention process is iterative – you may find your guests slipping back into shock, and needing your help to stabilize and move forward again, even multiple times.

May Peace be with you, all Love surround you,
and the good Light within you guide you
all the way Home.

Accepting Hospitality

It was disconcerting at first, as I paid a chaplain’s call on an elderly woman in her hospital room, to be greeted from the bed, offered a chair, and asked if I would like a drink of water or something – from whatever beverages were at hand. I accepted the chair and declined the beverage, feeling somewhat unbalanced, as if roles had been reversed. They had. I was being received as a guest in her home. Through all the intrusions on personal space and autonomy, the lady held firm to her training as a hostess and staked out her room as home.

As we become sensitive to our roles as hosts in crisis chaplaincy, we may begin to notice the ways in which we are being received as guests in the lives of those to whom we offer hospitality. They offer us a place, however temporary, in their lives at times when their homes are in disarray and the family’s dirty linen is hung in the living room. They welcome us based on little more than our identification as chaplains, exposing vulnerabilities we are trusted to protect.

This is an area for more reflection and mindfulness as we encounter others in crisis on our journeys.

Hindsight and Foresight

There is nothing like a crisis to point out the information we wish we had had and the training we with we had taken.

Crisis response training
Psychological First Aid – free online training
ICISF Individual Crisis Intervention and Peer Support classroom training
ICISF Pastoral Crisis Intervention classroom training


Arnold, Sarah Louise. The Way of Understanding. New York: Girl Scouts of the United States of America, 1934.

Black, Dawn. “The Code Of Hospitality – The Sacred Hearth.” The Sacred Hearth: Living a magical life, October 5, 2011.

Blank, Tanya. “The Definition of Home.” | Today in the Military | Advisors, May 5, 2006.,15202,96399,00.html.

Brymer, Melissa, Chris Layne, Robert Pynoos, Josef Ruzek, Alan Steinberg, Eric Vernberg, and Patricia Watson. “Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide”. National Child Traumatic Stress Network and National Center for PTSD, 2005.

“Code Of Hospitality”, December 24, 2004.

Everly, Jr., George S. “The SAFER-R Model of Crisis Intervention with Individuals”, 2001.

Everly, Jr., George S., Rob Dewey, Glenn Calkins, Thomas Webb, George Grimm, and Ed Stauffer. Pastoral Crisis Intervention Course Workbook. Elicott City, MD: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., 2002.

Hanson, Rick. Buddha’s brain : the practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom. Oakland  CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009.

Hatcher, Edgar. “Complicated Grief: Navigating Traumatic Grief and Crime Scene Realities”, November 15, 2011.

———. “Death Notification: Navigating Traumatic Grief and Crime Scene Realities”, November 14, 2011.

“Home is where the heart is meaning and background info.” BookBrowse: Your guide to exceptional books, December 10, 2011.

ICISF. “Individual Crisis Intervention and Peer Support.” Organization. International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, 2011.

Jeffrey Mitchell, and George Everly. “SAFER-R Model.” Onsite EAP Services – Core Efficiencies, n.d.

Lawrence, Brother. The practice of the presence of God  [by] Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection  translated by Donald Attwater  introduction by Dorothy Day. Translated by Donald Attwater. Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1974.

NCTSN-The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “Learn: Psychological First Aid Online.” Online instruction. Learning Center for Child and Adolescent Trauma, 2011.

“PFA Intro”, 2011.

“PFA_Field_Operations_Guide.pdf”, Accessed December 2011.

“Physiology of Stress”, Accessed December 2011.

“Pliny the Elder: Biography from”, Accessed December 2011..

Robert Douglas and Associates. “Freeze.” Onsite EAP Services- Core Efficiencies, Accessed December 2011.

———. “Physiology of Stress.” Onsite EAP Services- Core Efficiencies, Accessed December 2011.

———. “Relaxation Response.” Onsite EAP Services- Core Efficiencies, Accessed December 2011.

———. “Safe R Model.” Onsite EAP Services- Core Efficiencies, 2003.

———.“Taking Care of Yourself”, Accessed December 2011. Care/takingcareofyourself.asp.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Psychological First Aid: Field Operations Guide – National Center for PTSD”, August 30, 2011.

Wikipedia. “Xenia (Greek) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”, Accessed December 2011.

1George S. Everly, Jr.,, Rob Dewey, Glenn Calkins, Thomas Webb, George Grimm, and Ed Stauffer. Pastoral Crisis Intervention Course Workbook. Elicott City, MD: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., 2002.

The Lord & Lady, in Perspective

In the Bhakt-Wiccan Tradition of the Fellowship of the Sacred Grove, as in the Greencraft Tradition of Sacred Well Congregation, the Lord and Lady are familiar and beloved faces of the Divine, of Ultimate Reality. They are God and Goddess of our spirituality and religion.

But the Sacred Grove welcomes all who would join us respectfully approaching that which we all hold to be real and personal and important, despite the limitations of human language. And so we offer perspectives by which you might look through our traditional language and see the Ultimate Reality you understand. Certainly there are more and other perspectives; here are seeds for thought.

In the Abrahamic traditions, One God is central and is called by many names. The Lord may be familiar and comes associated with a male gender. The Lady had a long and often forbidden history. Would you be comfortable seeing “Lord & Lady” as another of the many names of God?

For my part, having grown to adulthood in the Christian Tradition before encountering the Goddess, I had difficulty as a chaplain speaking the language of the Trinity with Christians until i made peace in my own understanding that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could be Infinite, Incarnate, and Indwelling aspects of the Divine.

Hard polytheists might see the Lord as a category inclusive of the gods of their understanding and the Lady as a category inclusive of the goddesses, or you may see them as particular deities of your devotion. Soft polytheists may see them as encompassing all gods and goddesses between them.

The chant

Isis, Osiris, Woden and Freya; Lord and Lady, Brigid and Lugh

is part of our Tradition.

Atheists, agnostics, and others who are not accustomed to personifying the overarching concepts of Ultimate Reality, be reassured that we are not invoking or speaking for an omnipotent sky daddy, nor are we promulgating any absolute authority. We seek to learn through individual personal experience, and we recognized that each of us will experience our journey together differently. We value the richness that comes of our interaction, both with our human companions and with the unSeen that accompany them. Can you allow yourself, when we are between the worlds together, to understand our Lord & Lady to represent all the myriad connections, patterns, unseen entities, and richness that make up and hold All That Is together?

Out of that marvelous complexity, can you let what is real, personal, and important for you speak for itself?

The Many Faces of Wiccan Divinity — Patheos, 7/2/2015, by Sable Aradia

Wiccan theology is actually very complex.  It is perfectly valid to interpret Wicca as duotheism, deism, polytheism, animism, shamanism, pantheism, panentheism, monotheism, agnosticism or atheism; and I know Wiccans who hold all of these views, often at the same time.  But to say, unequivocally, that Wicca is any one of these things incorrectly pigeonholes us.  Although we are most commonly interpreted by other Pagans as duotheists, defining oneself by that term is only one of many perfectly theologically sound ways to interpret and relate to our deities.  It is for that reason that we often describe ourselves as an orthopractic faith, one more concerned with our practices than our beliefs.

July 2, 2015 by Sable Aradia

May They Not Have Power Over Us by Vivianne Crowley

As a Pagan, I do not believe in an external force of ‘evil’ in the universe. Rather I subscribe to the view of Mahatma Gandhi:

The only devils in this world are those running around inside our own hearts, and that is where all our battles should be fought.

Evil is human-made, a result of fear, ignorance, anger and frustration. When such pressures build up, it is easy to fantasise that there is some simplistic solution. The maiming and destruction of our enemies, the inquisition, ethnic cleansing, wars of religion – all feed off the same delusion – that there is a good, pure, right ideology that will make the world a better place. If people will not subscribe to it voluntarily, then they are evil and must be destroyed. Once we have labelled a group as ‘other’, the enemy, we can persuade ourselves that in order to protect what we think precious and right any action is justifiable.

The Jesus Story from Online Book of Shadows

Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

The Jesus Story

The Lord and the Lady (and the Fool, of course) looked at the Men and Women and were not pleased.

“Look at that! They saw Your Sacrifice and went and elaborated it into some kind of magic.” The Lady spoke disgustedly. “Cutting out human hearts. Sacrificial Kings. Ritual burnings. Ritual torture. Blood sacrifices. Cannibalism. Blood, killing, and more blood! What do they think they’re doing?”

“I agree it’s pretty grim,” said the Sacred King, “But it does work, though in a very limited way. So….what can We do about it?”

“I know what We can do, but it will take all of Us,” said the Fool, unsmiling. “Listen up….”

As He began to explain, the faces of all Three grew grimmer and grimmer, and sad beyond words.

The Fool incarnated as a Child within a Woman, who was the Mother and the Maiden. He was born in poverty, and laid in a straw bed. He grew up in a small village in a backwater nation on the edges of a great Empire. Some, a very few, knew Him and honored Him, seeing Him as the Child, truly the Child of Promise, but most simply went on with their lives, unknowing. When He was of age, He turned, and from Child became Transformer, and He began to teach.

As Transformer, He went out on the dusty roads of the small, conquered nation, and taught the Way of Love. Love for all, not just some. He taught of the Brotherhood of Man and of the Fatherhood of the Lord.

He taught of the Way of Salvation: to love. To love the Deity and to love your neighbor, whoever he might be.

He brought a message of hope to the poor, and a warning to the oppressor.

Around Him, He assembled a small band of men and women, and taught them His Mystery. But one was given a role to play, and the role was Betrayer.

A man asked, “Teacher, what shall we do when those that hate us strike us?”

And He answered, “Turn the other cheek, and let them strike you again. Give them love in return for hate. If you must take up the sword, then do it in great reluctance, and only after you have stepped aside time and time again. Remember that I bring you not peace, but a sword, for this Path will separate you from your families and friends, and your enemies will persecute you in their ignorance.”

“And forgive your enemies, and those who wrong you, that you may put away your anger and live in love.”

Another asked, “Sensei, what of the poor?”

And He answered, “The poor you shall always have with you, but give them the tools to lift themselves out of their poverty. Clothe and feed them, but give them the means of independence also.”

“But what of the rich, then?” said a wealthy man.

“Give what you have to the poor. give them of clothing, and food, and, more importantly, of learning, for if you feed a man, then you have only given him one meal, but if you teach him to feed himself, then he may eat for a lifetime, and move from the cycle of poverty and ignorance,” He said. “Lay not treasures up for yourself on earth, save that you give of that treasure to those in need, but rather lay up treasure in heaven, for it would be easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for an avaricious man to leave his earthly treasure for heaven.”

A Doctor asked Him, “Healer, what of the sick?”

“Verily, let them be healed by the knowledge of man, and by prayer,” He answered, “For whatsoever you ask in prayer, if you have faith even as small as the tiniest grain of mustard seed, what you need will be granted you. But be wary of what you ask for, for you will get what you need, and not always what you want.”

A woman asked, “Rabbi, what of those that follow other Teachers?”

And He answered, smiling, “There are many rooms in your Father’s house, and many fields in Heaven. And I come again, and yet again, and as there are many languages of mankind, so are there many Names for Deity. Rejoice in it, and be glad of the diversity of Deity, and do not hate those that call the Diety by other names, but rather weigh them by their deeds.”

And one asked of Him, “How should we pray?”

And He answered, saying, “Pray in your own fashion, as you will, for all prayer is good. But if you wish, pray thusly:

“Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our errors, as we forgive the errors of others. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

“And if you feel this prayer should be given to the Mother, then let it be so.”

And a Priest shouted, angrily, “Shall God be then female?”

And He answered, “The Deity is what It will be, not what you make It into. You see the Deity in your own image; if you are vengeful, then your God is vengeful. If you are full of hate, then your God is hateful. But if you have love, then you shall know the Deity’s love. Listen, and be wise.”

A child asked, “Father, how shall we know what is right and what is wrong?”

And He replied, “Weigh it by its fruits. If it gives a bad fruit, then it is wrong, but if the fruit is good, then eat of it and be happy.”

“But Brother, what of a fruit that seems to be good, yet will poison us slowly?” asked another.

And He answered, “If a man die of it, then it is an evil fruit.”

“Look you to the past, see the mistakes therein, and learn therefrom. And
beware those who would lead you into error through their own need of power
over you; leave them to the trap of their own making.”

One of the Priests came to Him, a man enmeshed in legalism, and, thinking to trap Him said, “Teacher, What is the Law?”

And He looked at the Priest and said, “Love God. Love thy neighbor. All else is commentary and the Law of Man. Study the holy books of all faiths, weigh the good and the bad in each, and learn.”

And the Priest went away abashed.

And a person came to Him and said, “What of magic?”

“Know that your will is that of a human, and you are not omniscient. You cannot see all the results of your actions. Therefore ask ‘Not my will, but Thine be done’ and leave the ordering of the MultiVerse to Deity, not to human will,” He replied. “Order yourself, not the MultiVerse.”

And two came to Him, and asked, “O Mahatma, We are of the same sex and love each other. What shall we do?”

And He looked upon them and said, “An it harm none, do as you will. You are all the Children of the Deity, and the Deity’s Love for you is greater than you can imagine.”

A policeman asked of Him, “But what of the Laws of Man? If these Laws of Man conflict with the Law of the Deity, what shall we do then, Padre?”

And Transformer answered, “Listen and hear. Obey the Laws of Man, for these Laws have power over your body. But if there is a man-made law that is not good, then strive to change it, in peace. But if you cannot change it, then obey it. And, if you must disobey it to change it, then accept the judgments of Man’s Law in good grace until it is changed. But put not your trust in Rulers, and Kings and Princes, nor in those that would lead you, be they Priest, Priestess, or any other Office and Position, but weigh their words carefully, that their words match their deeds, and no hypocrisy enters into them, for as your leaders you have given them power over you. And always remember that Man’s Law is made for humanity, and not humanity for Man’s Law.”

And with the policeman was a woman who had violated the Law of Man and had been taken for her crime. She said, “But what of me, Lord? I am to be stoned by the crowd.”

And He picked up a stone from the ground, looked at her, and said, simply, “Let he who is without mistakes cast the first stone at you.” And He dropped His stone from His hand.

And there was a silence from the crowd, and those with stones in their hands dropped them guiltily to the ground. And He said to her, “Learn from your error, go in peace, and make error no more.”

And He said to those that had dropped their stones and who were burdened by their guilt, “Be not guilty, for guilt is but a warning from your conscience. Be you delivered from your hell. Learn from your error, put it from you, and err no more.”

“And equally, if the tree that gives a bad fruit can be taught to give a good fruit, then do so. But if it persist in giving bad fruits, then leave it.”

And He walked to a nearby hill and turned to the people, and spoke thusly:

“Blessed be those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed be those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

“Blessed be the meek, for they shall live to inherit the earth, long after the strong, and the proud, and the warlike have killed each other in their pride.”

“Blessed be those that hunger and thirst after the Truth, for they shall know it.”

“Blessed be the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown unto them.”

“Blessed be the pure in heart, for they shall see the Deity all the days of their lives and after.”

“Blessed be those that make peace among men, for they shall be called the Children of the Deity.”

“Blessed be those that are persecuted for the sake of the Truth, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed be you, when men shall persecute you, and perjure themselves against you, and lie about you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for your reward is great indeed.”

“Let your Light so shine before all humanity, that they may know the Truth of you, and learn to live in love.”

And he placed His hand upon the head of a dog, and said, “Your Brothers and Sisters in fur are your Brothers and Sisters in truth. They are in your care and in your hands. Treat them with kindness, and that kindness will be returned to you a thousandfold. To those that give themselves to be eaten by you, offer thanks and be grateful to them for your sustenance.”

“Treat your Mother the earth likewise with kindness, and all the growing things thereon will sing your praises to the Highest, and you shall eat and drink of Her fruits, and live in joy and gladness all the days of your lives. Little children, love one another!”

In truth, there was much more that He taught, and much of it is written for our study and learning, and the study of His teachings is a good and worthy thing. But the following of His teachings is a better thing, for He was who He said He was, and that is also a Great Mystery.

And the Betrayer spoke to Him, and said, “Renounce this Path. It only leads to destruction. Give over to me, and I will give you rulership of all the kingdoms of Earth.”

And He gazed upon the Betrayer, and spoke, and said, “Get thee hence, foolish one, for I have no need of earthly treasure, nor earthly power, for all such is false, and an illusion.”

And on the night that He was betrayed, during a Festival that celebrated the conquered people’s deliverance from tyranny, (and to choose such a time and place is also a Great Mystery and a great lesson) He took of the Sacred King, the Bread of Life, blessed and broke it, and gave it to His followers, and said, “This is My body. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

And then He took wine, fruit of the Mother, and blessed it, and gave it to them also, and said, “This is My blood. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

And Transformer was betrayed by the Betrayer, betrayed to the legalists and the soldiers of the occupying army, accused of sedition and taken by the Law of Man, and sentenced to die.

And they fastened Him to an instrument of torture, to kill Him like a common criminal, with cruel jokes. And He was hung from a Tree.

And, watching, was the Mother, and the Maiden, and the Crone, and They all three mourned Him.

He turned, and was the Sacred King, and simultaneously the Fool (and that is a Great Mystery indeed) and, as He died, he said, “It is finished.” And His Blood ran out upon the Earth, and worked a great magic.

His body was buried in a tomb of rock, and the soldiers of the occupying army guarded it.

But after three days and three nights, a greater magic was done, and He took His body again, sitting with the Lord and the Lady, and showed Himself to His followers, to show them that Death is not to be feared.

And He said, “You have been bought, and redeemed, and nevermore shall you make sacrifice of blood, for this is the Final Sacrifice for all time, for all places, and for all those there are and were, and will be.”

“And fear not Death, for it it but a change in a MultiVerse of changes; another turning of the wheel on a road all must travel.”

And He shall come again, as He has throughout all history, teaching the Great Truth: that we shall love the Deity, and love our neighbor, for Love is the heart of the Law, and that Law is Love. For He is always with us and in us all.

“I don’t -ever- want to go through that again!” The Fool spoke vehemently, through tears.

“I don’t think you’ll have to go quite -that- far the next time,” said the Lady. They’ll still play their stupid games with blood, but not for very much longer.”

“I hope not,” said the Sacred King, “But do We have to put up with that Paul fella? He’s a bit of a nut-case.”

“If you want it to work out right, yes,” said the Lady. “He may be a nut-case, but he’ll spread the Word quickly, and, after a time, they’ll get the idea. And from that will come the seed of My future believers.”

“Sorry about that,” said the Fool. “I did my best, but in such a patriarchal society as that one was, I just couldn’t make much headway about You.”

“No problem,” She said. “They can deny Me all they want to, but I’m still here.”

Thus it was, and so it is, and evermore shall be so!


Monotheism vs. Polytheism by Dan Holdgreiwe

from Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

The primary meaning of “pantheism” is “the belief that the Divine is identifiable with the forces of nature and with natural substances,” and it is this meaning of pantheism which is properly contrasted with “panentheism” (the belief that the Divine is within the natural world but not limited to it). This pantheism *denies* all Gods and Goddesses, at least to the extent that They are understood as anything more than natural forces. Thus if you believe that the Goddess is something more than the physical planet Earth, you are NOT a pantheist; you are a panentheist.

A secondary meaning of “pantheism” is “worship that admits or tolerates all gods.” As this meaning directly contradicts the primary meaning, persons using the term should be careful to specify which meaning they intend. (Under this meaning, if there is any god whose existance you do not acknowledge — Satan, for example — you are NOT a pantheist.)

Within the pagan community, the term pantheism is used even more sloppily as a synonym for polytheism and/or animism. This had led many people who don’t meet either of the above definitions to mistakenly call themselves pantheists.

By that, I mean that I believe the Christian God exists, but don’t necessarily worship that particular deity. If all gods and goddesses exist, you can worship one of them (Monotheism),  without excluding the existence of the rest of them.

That’s not monotheism, that’s henotheism. Monotheism is the belief that only one “God” exists. Note, however, that monotheism does not deny the existance of lesser beings (saints, angels, etc.) who might also be called “gods” in a polytheistic system. Note also that Christianity is not truely monotheistic, as it has the top job shared three ways.

Peace and the Language of the Unheard by Cat Chapin-Bishop

Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Quaker Pagan, writes in her blog, Quaker Pagan Reflections, about the meaning of words and wishes for Peace in the context of #BlackLivesMatter and the example of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Both King and Woolman understood something that too many whites who are upset about the current wave of racial unrest fail to understand: peace is not a matter of stillness, and particularly, it is not a matter of dissent suppressed.

Rather, peace, real peace, is an active force, constantly on the lookout for quiet violence as well as the use of weapons and force.  Poverty is violence.  Racism is violence.  Relegating women, or gays, lesbians, and the transgendered to lesser lives–that is violence.  Colonialism is violence.

And at times, the very calm that would outwardly seem to those in comfort to be the essence of peace, is instead simply another form of violence.

Advocating for Pagan Children in Public Schools by Aurora Lightbringer – from Patheos

Advocating for Pagan Children in Public Schools

via Bobby Sipes on the Religious Tolerance group on Facebook:

For those in the US and possibly other school systems who may have children struggling within religious biased systems. While primarily focused towards Pagan families it can perhaps offer some insights others could use to approach the school system in a rational way. I would also appreciate any thoughts others may have had when facing situations that challenge their kids within schools whether atheist, pagan, Christian, Muslim or any other faith. Looking for common ground here.

Aurora Lightbringer is an artist, author, and Pagan mom who wanted to create a series of books dedicated to young people growing up in Earth-centered faith traditions. She is a community leader who is a National Board Certified Teacher, volunteer, consultant to a non-profit and part of a leadership team of a Pagan circle. She recently published her first children’s book The Wheel of the Year (available on and is working with a committee to create PKIPS (Pagan Kids in Public Schools) which will be a resource for Pagan families navigating the public school system. To find out more and to read some of Aurora’s work for grown-ups, visit: