A Thousand Words

Himiko tugged at her obi, flattening the already perfectly flat fabric for the hundredth time as she watched the distant island grow slowly larger on the horizon. Aside from this small betrayal by her hands, she stood completely motionless at the rail of the Kirin Maru and awaited her future.


The woman bowing to her could have been twenty or forty; her skin spoke of youth, but the lines and shadows around her eyes argued otherwise. Whatever her age, the woman’s beauty was beyond dispute; Himiko had to forcibly prevent herself from staring, and almost failed to return the bow before the other woman noticed. She flushed with shame as she realized how close she had come to starting her new life with such a serious breach of etiquette

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So, hey – Numenism!

It’s been a few years since I last thought about this particular NRM… for those who have never heard of it, Numenism was born shortly after the end of WW2, out of the spiritual searching of some returning American soldiers trying to make sense of their experiences in the Pacific War. It started out (as I understand it) as a sort of amalgamation of Roman paganism with inspirations from Shinto, and the last time I searched it out there was very little that I could find on the web.

Now, there’s a little more info, from someone who says he’s a long-term member and celebrant – I thought others might find this interesting, particularly those still working on creating Religio Americana or other native-USA paganisms. (Also, see here… and there seems to be some info on Dreamwidth as well, but I can’t view it from where I am now.)

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The view from in here

Rachel over at Velveteen Rabbi posted a Shabbat poem that included this lovely bit of imagery:

Open me…

…to a boat
lazily drifting on the glassy surface
of my heart’s own pond

And then Terri Windling put up a right-up-my-alley collection of quotes about forests… All of which started me thinking about my own mental/spiritual landscape –  a landscape built both of sense experiences of the places I have lived, and of mental impressions from the books I have read that were important enough to mold the way I see the world. Much of this world is still unmapped and unknown, and must of necessity forever remain so – but some areas I have come to know quite well.

First and foremost, there are a lot of trees… my inner world has been clearly hacked out of the great mythic forests that once covered all of Europe. There are dangers, dark and deep in those woods, to be sure… but the outer edges are zoned for recreation, including the Merry Greenwood; and buffering that space from the dark heart of the forest are the hermit-haunted forests of Romance, where the dangers are real but intended for the education of the soul (which will be needed if one is to survive the journey through the interior).

In the exact center of my forest, is a low treeless hill that came to me during my Wiccan period as part of what turned out to be a shared visualization. In that hill is a cave, with an ancient staircase leading down to an underground chamber where mystical rites are performed, and a tunnel leads on and down from there – where it leads I cannot say, I am not yet ready to go that far.

Along the southerly edge of this great wood (populated with the local flora of my NC Piedmont home, naturally) is the pastoral, bucolic and almost entirely English landscape where most of the people would live if there was anyone here but me. Romantic follies dot rolling hills in the distance, and a sort of mixed Tudor and Edwardian style predominates.

Away to the northwest the forest sweeps up to near the edge of a sheer and high sea-cliff (if you picture the Cliffs of Insanity you won’t be far off); perched at the edge of this precipice is a tall stone tower where the wizard lives (this area also comes from the shared visualization mentioned above). In the cliff are more caves, and hawks nest there.

Mostly, though, it’s about the trees.

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Happy May Day!

Watch, enjoy and let this song make your day 53%* happier!

The Mowgli’s, “San Francisco”

*Error rate +/- 3 percentage points, based on a sample of 1 randomly selected blogger.

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The power of handmade

So, last night we opened our three-week run of South Pacific (it went really, really well!)…

I have stretched and learned so much over the last couple of months! Community theatre is a radically different world from the big regional opera company where I sang before. There, by the time the chorus got out of music rehearsal and into staging, all the artistic decisons had long been made and we were just plugged in and did what we were told; in this show, we all collaborate in building the show (within the boundaries of the director’s vision, naturally), starting with the very first read-through – even into dress rehearsal we were encouraged to play and find our own truth in our performance.

And when I say we “built” the show, I mean that very literally – from the giant sand dune, to the rolling platforms used for quick set changes, to the two-story platform in the orchestra loft and the (working) rolling shower, the cast and crew have made, assembled, reassembled and repaired just about every prop and piece of furniture in the show. The pride of ownership that brings to all of us is really remarkable, particularly in comparison to the “hands off!” attitude to the fifty-thousand-dollar-plus sets the opera company uses.

The theatre has also given me something else to bond with my daughter over: since my last post, she has taken on the role of assistant props mistress and is getting a crash course in how real theatre works behind the scenes. (spoiler: she’s hooked)

There is tremendous value in this experience, for both of us – an education for her, and a reminder for me of the genuine magic that can be worked with nothing more than a little paint and fabric, a vision and a lot of hard work and dedication.

Break a leg!

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On the opening of doors

I’ve had a couple of neat experiences recently that I think may be related in obscure ways, to do with relationships, and connections, and being open to possibility.

First, after 12 years offstage, I have stepped back into the world of theater. My daughter’s art teacher also happens to work sets for a local community theater, and my wife heard her telling one of the other parents that they were doing South Pacific and desperately seeking more men for the ensemble, even after auditions. This was a week or two after I had expressed a desire to get back into theater in some form, so they talked and got me in touch with the production manager, who said just come on down to the first reading… long story short, after the read-through the director started handing me bit parts, so I’m now playing five or six different very small roles in this show (which I have always loved!) and they are already talking to me about the summer season.

Bearing in mind that while I have spoken in public a fair bit, and sung for decades both semi-professionally and in various volunteer choirs, I have never actually acted before – and they know this – the whole experience definitely gives me the feeling that I am aligning myself with the current of the universe again.  :)

And then there’s the other thing – this past weekend we caught up with old friends, a couple from our UU church whom we have not seen in 2-3 years since they moved away in search of work… they are back in the area now, and *he* surprised me by telling me that we had helped change his life! One night, back in the day, we had had them over for dinner and to watch one of my favorite movies, Ushpizin; talking about it afterward, the husband mentioned that he had always been curious about Judaism but never took the step of actually learning about it, so we invited them to shul with us… nothing dramatic happened at the time, but he told me this weekend that something just clicked with him that night (a feeling I know well there!), and he kept looking into it as they moved around – and a couple of cities later went ahead and took the plunge and converted.

So, I guess it’s true that there’s really no telling what little thing you do or say may have a profound effect on someone!

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Coolest. superpower. ever.

I’m the middle of an extremely good comic series from a few years ago, Mark Waid‘s “Irredeemable” – the story of what happens when a superhero snaps and becomes the world’s greatest villain. Fascinating stuff, but the specific reason I’m sharing it here is because of one of the secondary characters, Kaidan. She’s Japanese, and when she retells Japanese legends and folktales the characters come into existence and fight for her.

I had a link to a scan of a page showing her in action, but I can’t find it now… suffice to say, I thought it was pretty darn cool! :)

[updated to add] Found the link!

Kaidan being awesome

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Here’s an interesting perspective…

A short article in Reform Judaism magazine… this is the core:

What if we examined monotheism from standpoint of God? From his point of view, it would seem, making the lord our God one God is a serious problem, maybe the cruelest blow dealt him by his believers.

It is not good to be a solitary God. Whereas the gods of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Babylon had a rich and stimulating social life, begat children, quarreled and took revenge, fell in love and cheated on each other, made war and had fun, the Lord our God lives alone. And so, beyond our mutual complaints, his and ours, which often resemble the spats of a long-married couple, lurks a deep and ancient rupture: God banished us from the Garden of Eden and sentenced us to lives of toil and pain, and we invented monotheism and sentenced him to a life of barren loneliness.

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PBP – Belonging (plus books)

[NOTE: This post has NOTHING to do with the current iteration of the perennial “who’s pagan” discussion; I don’t have the energy for it, and I honestly don’t care enough what other people call themselves – or me – to be bothered.]

What I have been thinking about a bit recently is my own personal sense of belongingness (new word!) – where do I put the majority of my time and energy, and where do I go when I need to get my energy back? And what does that say about where I really fit into the world… and is that different from where I *think* I fit?

Looked at more or less objectively, the bulk of my life falls into three main areas – family, church and dojo (plus work, which pays for all the others). There are occasional extras, of course – Temple choir leaps to mind – but on a day to day basis, I am probably spending most of my time in one or more of those three areas. An outsider, looking at my life, would probably conclude that I am – at base – a middle-aged Unitarian family man with a serious martial arts practice and a needlework problem. And he’d be right.

Of course, this reality does conflict a bit with my lingering self-image as a Pagan intellectual and amateur philosopher, but the reality is that I’m not truly that guy anymore. My basic philosophical orientation is still pagan, within the UU framework, but as far as religious practice goes, it’s really just plain UU. I’m on the worship committee, I’m a songleader and – being completely honest – I’m one of the people that gets turned to when something needs to get done. My religious life is, amazingly to me sometimes, once again in a church.

And that’s not the only part of my identity that has been shifting… where I used to haunt the second-hand book stores, now I’m likelier to head to the dojo for a workout as many nights as I can fit it in. I belong there, too – after almost six years I am starting to become a senpai (senior student), and that carries responsibilities to my fellow students as well, not just to my own practice.

Do you see a common thread there? I have jobs to do, actual responsibilities, in all the places I belong: at church and at the dojo – and certainly in my family! In fact, I have a theory – that having responsibilities is one of the markers of truly belonging somewhere. If I spent significant time with a group and nobody ever asked me to contribute in a meaningful way, or really expected much of me, then I would question whether I actually belonged there or was just a glorified visitor.

On another note, as my self-definition shifts and changes – as the Pagan philosopher gives way to the UU martial artist, my relationship with my books is also changing. As I said to my wife recently, I’m starting to realize that being “the guy with all the books” has been an unconscious part of my self-image for… well, most of my life, and certainly for the three decades since I was in high school. And I think it’s a part of my identity that I am ready to trim down, if not part with altogether (I cannot imagine myself without books at all, but I can certainly see myself with a lot less than I have now)… so I have been going through the library and culling, almost two bookcases’ worth so far – a lot of it specialist material that I needed or found useful when I was an active Hellenist, but that is now more or less superfluous – much of it is data I no longer need to be able to access, and the most important bits I have as working knowledge in my head.

So, I may be having a small book sale soon… most of the collection can go to the used book stores for trade credit, but there are a handful of volumes that I think might best go to folks who I know can make proper use of them – books like Jennifer Larson’s outstanding work on Greek Nymphs, Phillipe Borgeaud’s The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece, and so on… I will probably pull together a list in the next week or so and post it. Stay tuned.

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