The Other Side of the Veil

October 24, 2014

Here is my interpretation of an ancient Egyptian poem from around 2000 B.C.E. The more literal translation comes from Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David.

The Goddess Maat
The Goddess Maat
Death is before me today
As a sick man recovering
returns to the out-of-doors

Death is before me today
As the myrhh-laden breeze
puffs the sails of ships along the river

Death is before me today
As the fragrance of lotus flowers
wafts over to the shore of drunkenness

Death is before me today
As a well-trodden path
leads a man home from war

Death is before me today
As a clearing sky
shows a man what he has forgotten

Death is before me today
As a man in captivity
pines for home

Magical History of the Cat

October 17, 2014

Pregnant Lioness. Photo Robin Alasdair and Frederick Hutton.
Pregnant Lioness. Photo Robin Alasdair and Frederick Hutton.

Folk beliefs about the domestic cat have their roots in Egyptian lion worship. The famous cat goddess Bast was originally a lion goddess.

Registration is now open for the November 10 webinar “Magical History of the Cat.” The webinar will be happening at 7:00 pm Eastern Time. If you can’t make it then you can stream the webinar later, but you do have to register ahead of time.

I’ve made a website about the webinar that gives more information.

I will be at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Saratoga, New York on Sunday October 19th from 4:00 to 6:00 signing books.

Note to my regular readers: I have several more posts about postmodernism, but I’m currently backed up with material, so I’ll be posting the next one sometime next month. Posting postmodernism sounds like a postmodern poem, but I won’t be writing it.

Ululations for the Departed

October 10, 2014

As the veil between the worlds grows thin and we reflect on those who have passed, I wanted to note the passing of three Pagan leaders since the last Hallow’s Eve. I hope this doesn’t become an annual column, but as our religions are maturing I fear that it will be.

Olivia Robertson. Source: Denns Murphy/Logic Reality
Olivia Robertson. Source: Denns Murphy/Logic Reality
Lady Olivia Robertson cofounded the Fellowship of Isis in 1976 with her brother Lawrence Durdin-Robertson and her sister-in-law Patricia Durdin-Robertson. She has been an active visionary guide of the Fellowship, which has a worldwide presence of about 26,000 people, and until recently kept an impressive travel schedule. Lady Olivia’s death was especially poignant since for over two decades she was the surviving cofounder of the Fellowship. Lady Olivia passed away on November 14, 2013 at the age of 96.

Lady Loreon Vigne. Photo: Eric Luse/SF Chronicle.
Lady Loreon Vigne. Photo: Eric Luse/SF Chronicle.
Those who have visited the Isis Oasis Sanctuary in Geyserville, California will remember founder Lady Loreon Vigne, who passed away on July 15. The Isis Oasis has been a Goddess affirming place for Pagans in Northern California to hold retreats and workshops. It is also the home of the Temple of Isis, where the Egyptian mysteries have been reestablished. Lady Loreon was known for her enthusiastic devotion to the goddess Isis. Though the Isis Oasis will continue on, Lady Loreon’s presence will be missed.

Margot Adler. Photo: Michael Para/NPR.
Margot Adler. Photo: Michael Para/NPR.
Margot Adler is known to millions as a popular journalist and radio personality for National Public Radio, but to Pagans she is recognized primarily for her 1979 book Drawing Down the Moon. This groundbreaking book introduced the world to the breadth and diversity of the modern Pagan movement and was especially important in connecting Pagans at a time when we were mostly hidden from each other. She died on July 28 in New York City.

Blessings and gratitude these important mothers of our religions.

Truth and Postmodernism

October 3, 2014


The point of postmodernism is to get as far away from anything real as possible.

–Catherine A. MacKinnon
Points Against Postmodernism

Over the past year or so I have made comments critical of postmodern philosophy on this blog and in private conversations with friends. I have referred people to the insightful feminist criticism on postmodernism that is available on the Internet, but I have realized belatedly that people who interact with me, virtually or in real life, would rather that I myself explained the concepts involved here and why they are problematic. In this series of articles I am going to explain what postmodern philosophy is and why I consider it incompatible with a spiritual path. If you do not care about philosophy or if the word “postmodern” causes your eyes to glaze over, this is an important article for you to read, because you have been affected (or infected) by postmodern ideas without realizing it.

We usually think of philosophy as belonging to an obscure and musty corner of academia having little to do with those of us in the real world. Philosophy is difficult and uses its own language, and philosophers for the most part are completely uninterested in making their ideas understandable to ordinary people. But while philosophy usually emerges from a rarefied and privileged atmosphere, it does not stay there. Eventually it moves into other academic disciplines, then into theology, pop psychology, art and politics. The postmodernism I am concerned with is the latter kind, the pervasive thinking inspired by postmodern philosophers (though not always faithful to them) that has bled into the mainstream and has taken people in some circles hostage. Unless we’re trying to show off, we do not call it postmodernism or any other name; we simply think of it as truth.

Postmodernism stands in opposition to the principle that complete and perfect truth exists and that it is useful. Whether it is attainable is a separate question; the premise of postmodernism is that any reality residing outside of an individual’s subjective mental state is not worth contemplating. My own belief is that truth exists and that it is endless and pervasive, bigger than any self or collective concept. The mother of all truth is time, and it is through time that truth reemerges from obscurity while falsehood dies and confusion disintegrates. Truth nourishes each individual through her umbilical cord, but the flow of her life blood can be constricted for a variety of reasons. Some have reduced the flow to a trickle by declaring that every half-baked idea that comes into their head is true. It is “their truth,” which is as good as any other thing labeled as “truth” because truth can only be understood by the individual through subjective reason. They may change and modify “their truth” after listening to others speak “their truth,” but they will do so only if this modification causes no discomfort or otherwise serves their own utilitarian purposes. There is no need to abandon self-serving views if all subjective truths are valid.

In the next post I will discuss the theoretical underpinnings for what results, in the real world, as the ultimate in rationalization.

Sheep Knuckles and Cylinder Seals

September 19, 2014

I’m blogging today about a piece of information about cylinder seals I ran across in a children’s nonfiction book on Mesopotamia. The book is Passport to the Past: Mesopotamia by Lorna Oakes.

Cylinder seals are small cylindrical carved pieces designed to make impressions in clay. They were used in Mesopotamia to sign documents and affix ownership. Kings, officials, and just about anyone with wealth or rank had their own unique seal which they guarded carefully. These seals might be carved of ivory, shell, bone, limestone, or lapis lazuli. According to Oakes, some believe these seals evolved from sheep knuckles used for the same purpose. The book has a picture of a seal with a knob in the shape of a sheep. I could not find a public domain photo of this cylinder, but I did find another cylinder pictured here that has sheep carved into its knob.

Cylinder seal. Top knob has a sheep design.
Cylinder seal. Top knob has a sheep design. Uruk 3200 b.c.e. Photo Marie-Lan Nguyen.
The sheep knuckle is a small roughly square six-sided bone from the hind legs of the animal. This bone, or analogous bones from deer, antelope, and goats, has been ubiquitous in cultures all over the world. Most commonly it is used for playing games (knuckle bones were the prototype for gaming dice), but it is also used for divination and casting lots. Sheep knuckles have also been carved as amulets and votive offerings. Animal knuckles are often found in burial sites. I don’t know if the sheep knuckle could be used in forensics like fingerprints, but the pictures I’ve seen show considerable variation, so it’s plausible that indentations in clay from a sheep’s knuckle could have been used like a signature. A carved knuckle would have been even more recognizable.
Roman women throwing knuckles.
Roman women throwing knuckles.

I have quite a few books on Mesopotamia but none go into the evolution of cylinder seals. Oakes lists the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago as sources. If anyone has a written source about the role of sheep bones in the evolution of cylinder seals please let me know.

Like a Vague Malodorous Stain Seeping into the Theological Discourse

September 12, 2014

Photo Ervin Popisil
Photo Ervin Popisil

Note: I am aware that the words “male” and “female,” used to signify biology, have moved from the passe to the forbidden and are now considered by some to be offensive and bigoted. I am going to use them anyway, because I cannot make a coherent point without them. That is probably why these words have become verboten in these post-enlightened times. The road of postmodernism, if followed far enough, will end in the forced fealty to the idea that nothing exists. And yet the strong will still take from the weak.

This article discusses the parallels between fascism and political movements that view themselves as rooted in postmodern philosophy, especially Postmodern Feminism and Queer Theory. I wish to show how postmodernism is harming feminist religions just as it has ruined about everything else. I am not implying that fascism and postmodernism are the same thing; they are two very separate ideologies, albeit similar in certain presentations, self-conceptions, and tactics.

Fascism is classically defined as a version of romantic nationalism that became a political force a century ago in Europe. It was characterized by obedience to an authoritarian militaristic state. Postmodernism seems to be the polar opposite of this. It is characterized by amorphousness, lack of definition, and fuzzy boundaries. In fact, many people are unsure exactly what postmodernism is. At one time postmodernism simply referred to bad poetry and atrocities in the visual arts. Later it transitioned to mean obscure, unintelligible, and increasingly irrelevant academic papers. Although enthusiastic acceptance of the philosophy in academia implies some grounding in theory, the political and social manifestations of postmodernism are so contradictory to claimed post-structural origins that it is as difficult to link postmodernism to theorists Foucault or Derrida as it is to trace Nazism to Nietzsche. It is as if the Postmodern Feminist insistence that sex be replaced with gender identity were an example used to illustrate Foucault’s thesis that knowledge is used to regulate people. It is as if students who band together to prevent scholars critical of Queer Theory from speaking at their universities were demonstrating Lacan’s chains of signification on the unconscious self. Or maybe they are queering their role as students by performing the role of the uptight university president.

But I am not going to get lost here in the contradictions between social/political postmodernism and the theories that spawned it. Instead I want to point out a curious parallel between fascism and postmodernism in practice: both have been heavily promoted as progressive and youth oriented. Nazism was so expertly packaged for appeal to youth that, despite being thoroughly discredited with the majority of the population, a brief flirtation with the ideology remains a rite of passage for a subset of white males. Postmodernism and its demon children are also posited as edgy and new even though 1) being new and being progressive are not the same thing, as those early postmodern philosophers would have been the first to agree; and 2) postmodernism is getting long in the tooth. I was way too cool for postmodernism when I was in my early 20s, and I am no longer a young woman. In fact, I am one of those “second wave dinosaurs” that postmodern feminists and their ilk contend need to “die off” to make room for a feminism queer-identified males approve of.

The postmodern cult finally got a toehold in Paganism several years ago with the demand that Dianic priestesses admit trans women into our rituals on the grounds that biological sex has been theorized out of existence, or at least relevance, in favor of self-identified gender. It’s the new best thing. Gender itself is not defined because nothing in postmodern politics is defined. Definitions are passe, especially when they create boundaries you want to crash. Demands to admit males into female spiritual space have been present since the seventies, but now they are based on the argument that the old women, “on the wrong side of history,” need to step aside for the new generation with the new ideas, an argument that drips with ageism. Ageism isn’t particularly new, especially when applied to women. Go read about the witch hunts.

I am not going to expound in this article about the right of women to set our own boundaries or the reason Dianics have decided that trans women do not belong at many of our rituals. I set out the rationale for this position in my essay for the book Witchcraft Today: Sixty Years On. What I want to say is that I am tired of hearing the position that biological males are entitled to erase the boundaries of biological females argued as new and progressive. It is a position older than fascism, older than monarchism, and older than Aristotle even if it is wrapped in some version of postmodern non-speak. Please postmodern third wave progressive queer theorist feminists, stop trying to tell me what’s old and what’s new, because I’m old enough to know the difference. And I’m sorry I made fun of your poetry: it seems pretty harmless, compared to subsequent developments.

Reflections on Recent Events in the Dianic Community

September 5, 2014

Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin by Angelica Kauffman
Portrait of a Woman as a Vestal Virgin by Angelica Kauffman

It has been reported on a few of the more popular (non-Dianic) blogs that Z Budapest and Ruth Barrett are at odds over Z’s decision to ordinate Brazilian Claudinay Prieto as a Dianic priest in the Kourete tradition, which is a matriarchal men’s path parallel to women’s mysteries. There have been press releases, official statements in protest, and responses to the official statements. I am somewhat bemused at the interest in our disagreements and squabbles to those outside the Dianic tradition; it is further proof that what we do is important, however much others claim to dislike us.

I have nothing to add about the disagreement between Z and Ruth, because I know nothing other than what is in their statements. Though I have been a Dianic Priestess for a very long time, I live in an obscure corner of the universe trying to keep a small number of worshipers nourished in the wilderness. I am saying a few words because I also have a modestly popular blog, and I want to address the speculation about “what this means.”

I try, as much as my integrity will allow me, to avoid telling priestesses in my tradition what they should do, or even making judgments about whether they are taking the right or wrong path. This is part of my practice as a feminist witch. Therefore, I am not going to comment on, or even try to decide, whether Z was correct in ordaining a man, or whether Ruth is correct in breaking with Z over this issue. My most immediate concern is for healing between Ruth and Z and their closest supporters, as their statements reveal that there are personal issues tied up with these disagreements over ideology and strategy. It is difficult to sort things out on the intellectual plane when there are uncomfortable feelings lying in the heart.

It may well be that over time Z’s decision will be proven to have been beneficial, but I think we do need a long, in-depth, and measured discussion about the ordination of Kouretes. The pros and cons need to be weighed both ideologically and strategically. I am mindful that this issue has arisen in the context of a persistent and at times vicious attack on biological women’s intentional space. The commitment of all parties here to women’s only space is strong, but we need to be conscious about the effect of our actions on our ability to keep this commitment, given the realities of the world we are living in.

I do not have a position on the ordination or participation of Kouretes, and I am resisting the impulse to form a conclusion at this time. I look forward to reading more and speaking more with other priestesses over the months and perhaps years ahead before reaching a decision. I think one of the most baneful habits of humans on the planet right now is the tendency to form quick judgments and take positions without allowing thoughts to ripen and many sides to be explored. If I can add anything to the discussion right now, it is not by producing an argument or a strategy, but by offering a reminder to take things slow.

Queen Deities and Patriarchal Distortions

August 15, 2014
As Pagans our spirituality suffers not only from the alienation from nature that is the bane of modern life, but from the class structures we struggle under. This can be seen in the way we think about and address our deities.

Often when we address a nature deity which does not have a specific name, we refer to that deity as a mother, deva, goddess, or queen. For example, Hedgehog Goddess, Hedgehog Mother, Hedgehog Deva, or Hedgehog Queen. Where an animal deity is addressed by name, the name is usually the word for that animal in some non-English language, such as Arachne, which is Greek for spider, or Epona, which is a continental Celtic word for horse. Deva is borrowed from Sanskrit and is a masculine noun in that language. Mother, goddess, and queen are clearly feminine nouns and also carry the connotation of rank, privilege, or power-over.

The word queen is derived from another word that means woman, which makes this word in English different from most other languages, where the word for feminine ruler is derived from a word meaning king. The word queen referring to a feminine male homosexual probably derives from the older English association with woman. The Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins says:

Queen goes back ultimately to prehistoric Indo-European *gwen- ‘woman,’ source also of Greek gune ‘woman’ (from which English gets gynecology), Persian zan ‘woman’ (from which English gets zenana ‘harem’), Swedish kvinna ‘woman,’ and the now obsolete English quean ‘woman.’ In its very earliest use in Old English queen (or cwen, as it then was) was used for a ‘wife,’ but not just any wife: it denoted the wife of a man of particular distinction, and usually a king. It was not long before it became institutionalized as ‘king’s wife,’ and hence ‘woman ruling in her own right.’

The idea of Hedgehog Queen harkening back to the idea of a Hedgehog Woman reminds me of referents to spiritual or mythological beings in Native American cosmologies. I’m thinking of White Shell Woman or Changing Woman or Thunder Boy Twins. Frequently in Native American spirituality, prayers to animal deities are addressed simply to “Wolf,” “Eagle,” or “Deer.” I’m not saying Pagans should emulate this practice. Probably for anyone whose primary language is English these Native spiritual beings become processed in the brain under rubrics of “goddess,” “ruler,” or “demon” despite the democratic phraseology. It cannot be otherwise, because language reflects cultural understanding. Any animal by common name has the taint of exploitation. “Woman” carries with it connotations of inferiority and weakness, whatever our intentions and aspirations for the word. “Boy” carries with it the idea of subjugation to the man. Even the word “man” has a link with the concept of commoner or vassal, as in “my man George” or “the King’s men.”

When we refer to our nature deity as “Butterfly Queen” we get around negative connotations and associations with the profane, and so to a great extent this works. It also unavoidably separates us from the deities. They are on one level; we are on another. This conundrum illustrates how it is not just patriarchal denigration of nature that has distanced us from spiritual sources, but patriarchal class structures, patriarchal authoritarian family structures, and – especially – patriarchal conceptions of women. Spiritual connection at a societal, as opposed to individual, level will require the dismantling of class structures, humane treatment of animals, recognition of children as persons with basic rights, and the liberation of women.


Ayto, John. Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990.

Online Etymology Dictionary (accessed 8/12/2014).