What a great site (already made so many new and interesting friends). I'm sitting here on a cold, gray, and rainy Pittsburgh day thinking about the long strange trip that led to my eventual foray into cyber (and real-time) neopaganism.... The survey that we take when joining this site is a bit strange, so this blog entry is my feeble attempt to provide a suitable (hopefully not boring) introduction(!)
I was raised a country boy (lots of chickens around, along with Billy, my pet goat (all time favorite pet till he bucked my mom down a hillside and went to the "farm")), my father a raging atheist, my mother a life-long "seeker"---what a pair! My grandparents on my mother's side were involved in old-timey spiritualism---seances, table tapping, flying lamps, etc., and ran numbers on the side (before the days of state lotteries)... They later became (arrgh) involved with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and so did mom, so soon I found myself going to Kingdom Hall 3 times a week, and knocking on doors---me a very unwilling and unbelieving and rebellious participant! Time with the Witnesses was torture, but I passed the time by looking at girls in the congregation and drawing indecent cartoons of the "elders". I knew I had to get out, and fast. I joined a karate club in Jr. high. The Witnesses hated that as the "meditation and philosophy that accompany martial arts training lets the demons in." I stood fast, though, and never let them baptize me. A few years later, mom was excommunicated and officially "shunned" for smoking cigarettes (way to go mom, hope you are reading this somewhere in the Elysian fields). I was free, and having listened to the JW cultish nonsense for years, decided to undertake my own search...
For a few years (the teen ones) that search was narrowly limited to establishments that would sell beer to minors and for girls who might be willing to talk to a geek like me(!) Still was practicing and eventually teaching karate, learned to control my body and breathing, geekiness eventually gave way to self-confidence (though I remain a proud nerdboy to this day, especially now that nerddom is "cool"...) Failed my first attempt at college (there for the party) and joined the Navy. Met a guy there who was really into Edgar Cayce and the past lives thing (Chuck Pemble where are you these days?), and he started me out reading his stuff. I also, very briefly, experimented with Pentecostalism while in the Navy, but the speaking in tongues part was way freaky, and they also were very interested in praying the demons out of me (never understood the fundie's fascination with demons, or their concern that I might be contacted by them, as I am (and was always) pretty much a decent and considerate person, just rational and like to speak my mind. Ended up living in Hawaii after my time in the Navy was done.
Hawaii was freedom, paradise, and the place of my spiritual rebirth all rolled into one big tasty life "fattie"... I attended the University of Hawaii (with much more success than my earlier attempt at Penn State), chanted with Tibetan monks, built a medicine wheel with Sun Bear, was invited to join an order of Theraveda Buddhist monks (they promised me that I would be able to walk on water and levitate if I joined them, but levitating and walking on water---in exchange for contact with regular people, vow of poverty and all that didn't seem like a great deal, or even a good one! I was initiated into a North Indian variety of Sufism, participated in a very sacred initiation (but was not initiated myself) into an ancient hula hulau (Hawaiian dance/kumu (chant) group")), travelled (as a skeptical observer) the "New Age/Prosperity/Workshop" circuit, learned something of Huna and ancient Hawaiian religious belief was initiated into T'ien (or Heavenly) Tao, a quasi-alchemical Chinese society that has a method of transmission quite similar to some elements of Wiccan ritual and is mother goddess oriented, got married (the first time,had a beautiful baby girl, Sarah, got divorced almost immediately, way way irreconcilable differences). I had not yet encountered neopaganism per se, but happily, I did not encounter any self-styled demon chasers in Hawaii either. I took a class in Radical History, taught by Haunani Kay Trask (a UH professor who was a native Hawaiian rights activist---a beautiful soul and human fireball) which introduced me to the concept of the spirit or the life animate in places like waterfalls and mountaintops. I picked up a book at a "new-age" bookstore by Robert Anton Wilson, called "Cosmic Trigger, the Final Secret of the Illuminati", which wasn't so much about the Illuminati, but about more about "applied brain change"... Meanwhile, I was poor and getting poorer, and moved back home to Pennsylvania.
Then the disILLUSIONment---took a job at the Post Office carrying mail (for the cash, just temporarily, I thought to myself), became a union rep, became a boss, became an administrator... And, for all of my dabbling in Hawaii, I had learned absolutely nothing, zero, nada, zip. I was just some smug self-absorbed kid "collecting initiations"... No lasting or meaningful relationships, few friends, then Mom (by now having undergone some brain change herself, and was towards the end of her life, both an accomplished herbalist and a feminist-oriented Wiccan circle caster), handed me a brochure for a "conference" she had gotten in the mail, wasn't her thing... It was from a group called ACE (Association for Consciousness Exploration). Probably a cult, I thought, by now increasingly jaded toward "alternative religion" deal, but it appeared that Robert Anton Wilson was speaking at their Winterstar event in NE Ohio. His books had remained, through all, a large influence in my life, and here was my chance to meet him or at least get him to sign a book or two... Other than that I didn't know what to expect.
Well I get to the "conference" space (about 20 cabins and a resort lodge), got a daybed in one of the cabins (daybed always a tragic mistake!), and checked into the event. Life's never been the same since that snowy night. Gavin and Yvonne Frost (you old-timers out there probably know about them or have read their "Magic Power of Witchcraft"). Yvonne spontaneously sung a song about belladonna, and told me at one point "you) might get a few notches on my bedpost" that weekend (no notches). All manner of strange brews and meads were being passed around. Ian Corrigan leading (in his booming voice) a very scholarly discussion on the number of women marginalized and killed as "witches" (6,000,000 I think the popular estimate at that time---dating myself); goth girls, pink boys, hippies of all shapes, sizes, and ages, two guys arguing about Star Trek, some manic and funny guy named Dave. Dancers and drummers geared to actually dance and drum, a big 486 computer tower and screen in the corner on a continuous fractal loop... Batiks and Indian fabrics covered the cabin television and mundane "hotel artwork". The smell of incense and patchouli oil was in the air :) At least I knew it was not a cult!
The next day, I had the opportunity to meet Robert Anton Wilson and get my books signed and participated in some of the other group rituals and workshops, keeping an open-mind, but not at all sold on the ritual part... There was a rumor of a "party" in Cabin 17.
Cabin 17---First impressions: "Frenzy's plaything...", Thirty drummers drumming hard, fast, and tight, 6 or 7 male and female dancers twirling and whirling and hopping over the improvised bonfire of candle flames, A male dancer clicking deer antlers to the drum rhythms, chasing a girl in a mock fertility display, Twenty or thirty onlookers loudly encouraging the drummers and dancers, chanting, clapping... Lots of hugging, and people showing true respect and concern for each other. Each autonomous, vibrant, shiny, and happy (at least for the moment). I was in shock, I had never seen such intelligent people act so...
Cut to the present... I quit my Post Office job a few years back, and started doing the things that I really want to do, went back to school to get an anthropology degree, and am now doing archaeology (don't know how long it will last, I am getting poor again...) But, because I walked into Cabin 17 that fateful winter night (and have continued to walk through for many more), into the neopagan world, I've realized that we are all (preachy moment please excuse) free to do our will (an it harm none) and express ourselves
And that change, no matter how difficult, should be embraced like a lover, not thwarted like an adversary. I am still learning this lesson, and still have lots and lots to learn.
Thanks for bearing with me if you made it to the end of my long-winded reminisces... Needed to purge, so apologies up front for any possible offense or pretension to proper grammatical rules!