Calm yourself, Internet. This isn’t my photo.

Something decidedly amusing happened yesterday.  Mr. Jason Mankey posted a lovely piece on Raise The Horns questioning whether there can be Paganism without the occult and eruditely opining that Pagans who mock other Pagans who hold occult beliefs and practices are assholes.  It’s a great article, and I hope everyone gets a chance to read it soon.  But here’s what made this article funny to me.

I came home yesterday after work and immediately ensconced myself in our kitchen to make an enormous pot of ham-and-bean soup.  As I was elbow deep in caramelizing onions and deglazing pans, I heard a righteous cry of anger from the living room from my housemate.

“Melissa!  This guy on the Internet is totally stealing pictures from your blog!  You gotta see this!”

Now, I don’t believe it’s a secret that I use a lot of images here that I didn’t create myself, and I know I’m a bit slapdash at making sure I link back to where I got it from, so I laughed and told K. as much.  She was incredibly insistent that this was one of my original pictures, though, so I popped the onions on the back burner and went to peer at her laptop, where I saw this:

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It took me a minute, too, guys.

“Holy balls!” I cried, “That’s my pentacle! What the French toast?” I was so distracted by seeing my pentacle in a place I did not expect my pentacle to be, that it took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to realize that none of the other tools were mine.  In my defense, I have a close cousin of that tablecloth, and I sometimes use a silver bowl about that size for salt, and I use a similar salt grain size for ritual.  There is, however, no defending the fact that I actually checked out my toolbox to make sure my pentacle didn’t grow legs and walk off to California.

Here's my tools, all snug as a bug in their rug...er, box.

Here’s my tools, all snug as a bug in their rug…er, box.

What really amused me, though, was the handful of e-mails I got today from total strangers saying, “Giiiiirl!  Jason Mankey done stole your photo!”  (That’s a direct quote from my favorite, by the way.  Hi, A.!)  I mean, I think there’s under 100 comments from people who are not me on this entire behemoth of a website.  I can count the private messages I’ve received prior to this point on one hand.  I can see that loads of people are reading, but the communication here at 366 has almost always been one way…so getting multiple messages in a day from more than one person was a very novel experience for me.

Pagans of the Internet:  Your interest in Intellectual Property Rights is to be commended.  You’ve darn well terrified me into making sure I always link back to anything I steal.  But this pic be Jason’s.  That’s one of his athames in the photo.  You can see it in this post.  I’m sure he’s probably posted a picture with his wand in it at some point in time or another, too.  It’s not a stretch to assume he contacted Godfrey and Alwynd of Gaean Allusions in Chehalis and asked them to make a pentacle.  I’ve shown mine off in lots of Gardnerian communities since I had it made, and I’ve always been forthcoming on who made it.  I really appreciate the alerts, but there’s no need for alarm here.

I’m tickled knowing my pentacle has a twin somewhere out there.  You have great taste, Jason.  :)

What I Did at Pantheacon 2015; or, The Many Times I Made an Ass out of Myself in front of Jason Mankey

I’m only half-joking about the title of this piece. I was blessed with the dubious gift of being decidedly awkward and stupid anytime Jason was around.

That being said…it’s been almost a month (!) since Pantheacon ended. I made it back home in one piece, waded through the mountain of laundry and housework I’d left behind, dealt with all the Major Grown Up things I’d put on hold over the convention week, struggled through my feelings about the racism debacle that occurred, went to ANOTHER convention in Portland, cried over my credit card statement, and have settled back into my general routine. Finally, I have the time and ability to write up everything I did during the Pantheacon whirlwind.

Me and coven sister S. selfie posing in the parking lot of a Motel 6 in Williams, CA bright and early Friday morning before the con.

Me and coven sister S. selfie posing in the parking lot of a Motel 6 in Williams, CA bright and early Friday morning before the con.  I think this marks the second time I’ve posted a picture of myself on this site.  I do exist!

Coven sister S. and I made it to the Doubletree on Friday afternoon with just enough time to check into the convention (and run into Niki and her family) before the first event I really wanted to attend:  the Patheos Pagan Bloggers’ panel discussion titled “The Good, The Bad, & The Blogging.”  I was one of the first people in the room for that, and got to enjoy a few moment’s rest from the frantic pace of the morning’s drive into the Bay Area and the controlled chaos of the registration process.  During this time, S. called me to let me know she’d arrived to her event, and to confirm we’d meet up at Jason Mankey’s talk in the next time slot, The Horned God 2.0.  This marked the first of many ass-making moments, for S. said something along the lines of “I’m glad we nailed the Horned God” in reference to us solidifying the plans, and I laughed and said “I’m glad we nailed the Horned God…that’s a sentence you don’t hear too often!” and looked up just in time to see Jason whip around and stare at me with astonishment.  Oops.

The blogging talk was lovely as a whole (especially the moderator, Angus McMahan, who was probably the most skilled and genial panel moderator I’ve ever seen…bullwhip and all), but for me, two areas of discussion stood out.  The first was an interrogation on how the blog form works in discourse and how that tendency is countered by people’s reticence to leave a permanent comment.  It seems these days that more talk occurs when a blog also has a Facebook site or something where discussion can occur without being part of the blog’s permanent record.  (I doubt I’ll be creating a Facebook site anytime soon, for what it’s worth.) The most personally illuminating part was hearing all the Patheos bloggers voice their struggles with balancing life, work, and personal practice against blogging.  It was a weird light-bulb moment for me.  For the most part, this site is my spiritual diary.  I don’t write with an agenda or a thesis.  If I have any guiding vision at the moment, it’s to have this site help me remember why I think this religion is so wonderful and so important when I get dementia and lose my mind in my old age.  I know I don’t write as much as I would like here, especially lately, and I beat myself up about it a great deal.  It was very comforting to hear that people who blog better than I do still have that struggle.

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Pretty much all of the pictures from here on out are things that I bought, since pictures are verboten at the convention.  Here you see two of Jason Mankey’s self-published books, which are fabulous.  Seriously, I wish my dissertation was half as thorough as Jason’s Horned God book.

Next I scurried up to the big conference rooms to meet up with S. for Jason’s “Horned God 2.0″ talk.  There were some technical difficulties, one of which being that the Gryphons could not figure out how to color balance the projector Jason was using, and the other of which being that Jason’s laptop was dying and no one had a cord.  I almost always have my Macbook Air’s cord in my purse, but I’d removed it that day.  So I ran down to the car and fetched it, but my Air is slightly newer than Jason’s and it didn’t fit.  Oops.

The talk itself was great, of course.  Jason enthusiastically careened through a comprehensive history on Horned God iconography and demonstrated how the Wiccan Horned God is a syncretic figure and what contributed to it.  We went through Cernunnos and Pan and 19th-Century Pan and Margaret Murray at lightning speed.  Well, I say it was lightning speed because of how much material was covered in a short amount of time, but the delivery wasn’t too fast to follow–in fact, it was delightful!  Very amusing, very informative, and you could definitely tell Jason loved what he was talking about.  That might seem like a “duh” thing to say…but I’ve been to my fair share of academic conferences.  Generally the speakers have obsessed on their work and their fears of discussing it for so long, their loathing is palpable.  I’ll happily attend any talk Jason does: all the rigor of academia with none of the acquired hatred.

Afterwards, S. and I lingered very awkwardly to buy Jason’s books pictured above, so that we could make sure to remember what we’d learned, and found out that Jason will be putting out a book on blades and witchcraft through Llewellyn next year.  I hope it will lead to more great books to come, so I made a good-natured joke about him becoming property of Llewellyn.  Oops.  I know that Llewellyn has a bit of a reputation for riding a cash-making author to churning out a book a year on the same-old-same-old, and I think perhaps that’s what Jason thought I meant by that, for he mentioned that Llewellyn is soliciting more rigorous projects.  Oops squared.

S. and I left at that point to go to our own hotel to check in, unpack, and grab dinner, and returned to the Doubletree to attend the Patheos Meet and Greet, as I’d told Niki I would.  When we arrived, we discovered that Jason and his wife Ari were hosting it in their suite (Ari is absolutely amazing, by the way…incredibly fun and gracious, and not afraid to share her “Jason Mankey Presentation Drinking Game”), and had brought a quality bar that would shame most places in craft-liquor-loving Olympia.  And I’d just vowed to cut down my drinking.  (I’d just found out that my youngest brother is now battling a heroin addiction…as is my middle brother.  Clearly addiction is something I have to watch out for, and I really, really, really like me my alcohol.)  While I more than earned my awkward turtle merit badge over the course of the evening, it was an awful lot of fun, and great discussion was had by all.  Except maybe Niki’s baby, who can’t talk but who loves being talked to.

Hey, at least I found my spirit animal this weekend.

Hey, at least I found my spirit animal this weekend.

Saturday morning saw me working out my issues with social knots by tying real knots in Christopher Mabie’s “Magic of Marlinspike”, which I decided to attend on a whim.  It turned out to be one of the more worthwhile workshops I attended all weekend.  Cord magic has always struck me as a bit dull:  something to augment a working rather than being the focus of it.  But Mabie showed us a variety of knots (and made us all tie them!), while telling us what these knots were typically used for, and allowing us to imagine how we could use these knots in our magical practice.  Talk about your overdue lightbulb!  Obviously different knots are going to have a huge impact on what cues your magical mindset.  The “padlock knot”, for instance, would be stellar for work done to hold something at bay (or, conversely, hold something close to yourself).  The experience definitely changed how I view this traditional magic.

Riding high on my DIY horse, I decided to eschew my planned attendance of Tempest & Nathaniel Jonhstone’s “Merging Movement with Ritual” in favor of Carl F. Neal’s “Magick Incense Making 201″ where we made a Japanese-style moist incense called nerikoh and were introduced to a delightful incense ingredient, aloeswood.  Once you have a good recipe, there’s not that much to mixing ingredients together, but Neal did a great job of engaging the room and explaining details that many of us hadn’t heard before.  It was so interesting and so successful that I ended up purchasing some of Neal’s incense and one of his books.  I certainly look forward to trying my hand at making incense again–my Roderick trials with it were not exactly successful.  Better yet, the workshop let out early, so I was able to catch the last half of “Merging Movement” after all.  I really have to start dancing in ritual.  It’s a blast!

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The book and incense I got, as well as a couple CD’s from the artist Celia, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Afterwards, I tried to sit through another panel discussion, “Tradition vs. Innovation”, but I didn’t last terribly long.  The discussion wasn’t exactly breaking any interesting ground–it quickly got to the point that both are needed to keep a movement viable–and the woman who was seated in front of me was wearing copious amounts of a noxious perfume, so I scarpered as soon as I could and used the time to chat in the halls and browse the vendor room.

S. and I met up soon thereafter to attend Julia Phillips’ talk on “Wicca in the Southern Hemisphere”, which was delightful from start to finish.  The room was small, and the attendees respectfully quiet, so I recorded the talk on my iPhone.  That recording is what’s on the Protected post just prior, and it’s up for my coven mates to have access to.  Contact me if you care for a listen, and I’ll send you the password.  I knew the seasons were flip-flopped in the Southern hemisphere, but I had no idea how much of an impact that has on how Wiccan sabbats are conducted.  I also hadn’t taken into consideration things like deosil being clockwise in the north and counterclockwise in the south.  Basically, listening to Julia was like a crash course in considering why we do certain things in Wiccan ritual, and why it is important to adapt to where you are to preserve the intent behind the form.

Ally Valkyrie sells beautiful screen printed goods at Practical Rabbit.

Here you see the wonderful wares of Ally Valkyrie, who sells beautiful screen printed goods like this prayer flag and these patches at Practical Rabbit.  These are going to be the first things I put up in my next home.

Seven o’clock saw me sneaking into San Martin/San Simeon for Athena Wallinder’s “Honorning through Sacred BDSM and Kink Ritual”.  I was possibly more excited for this than for anything else at the convention, thanks to my memories of Kirk Thomas’s “Body Stress Ecstatic Practices” at the 2012 Pantheacon, which was easily the stand out ritual moment for me.  Alas, I showed up to find no ritual.  Rumor was that Ms. Wallinder never even checked into the convention!  What happened in lieu of the ritual was pretty cool, though.  Everyone got together and decided to have a group discussion on the lines between BDSM, ritual, and Pagan practice.  A nice gentleman acted as the discussion facilitator, and he did a decent job for being put on the spot.  It wasn’t a smooth conversation.  A few people were more interested in asking how to get into BDSM than they were on negotiating kink and ritual.  One of the topics that was brought up, though, pertained to traditional Wicca initiations and BDSM.  There’s some stuff that happens in an initiation that looks similar to some BDSM practices, but the one thing between them is that in BDSM, you can give informed consent.  That cannot really happen in an initiation, so how do you make sure everything is okay?  Well, that was something I could speak to, actually, and speak I did.  Eventually we got to a point where we decided that having the initiator prompt a discussion with the initiate to let them know what *won’t* happen, and to check for trust on both parts was a way to help consent occur without a) breaking oath and b) ruining the experience of initiation.

I wrapped up Saturday night by attending “A Different Kind of Seidh” put on by Freja’s Gift Trance Team.  Essentially, three seers from different traditions went into trance, and attendees could come up to them to ask divinatory questions.  I have an opportunity for getting back on my career path that I wanted to ask about…and the amusing seer basically told me “do what’s going to be best for you in the long term, not necessarily what’s best for the short term.”  I really needed to hear that.  If I do this thing, the next three years are going to be long and hard, and I’m basically going to have to re-start my whole life.  But I’ll eventually leave it with another academic degree, three years of experience, a strong professional mentorship, and knowing I’ll have helped an underserved community.  And I’ll be able to go almost anywhere I want to.

Stuff I bought

I’d intended to acquire none of these things…but I am so glad I did!  Left:  Maxine Miller’s cold cast bronze relief of the Green Man.  Right top:  a honeybee necklace and chalcedony earrings from Honey & Ollie Designs.  Right bottom:  a gorgeous hammered silver bangle cuff bracelet from Celtica (david.celtica@gmail.com) on my very pudgy wrist.

I contemplated sleeping in Sunday morning…I was exhausted.  But Diana Paxson was giving a talk on “Preparing for Possession”, and ultimately I decided I needed that more than I needed another two hours of sleep.  I truly need to do more work on Drawing Down, which is essentially possession, and thought that this might help me learn something.  I think I made the right choice.  Paxson’s talk was insightful enough that I ordered her book on the topic through Amazon before she’d even ended.  I can’t wait to start working through it.  Afterwards, I attended Geraldine Beskin’s “The Tarot Tour of London”, which was very sweet.  It might have been the least metaphysical thing I’d attended the whole weekend, but it was nice getting a unique take on the London landmarks.  One idea I took away from the talk was organizing my own Tarot Tour of my hometown.  I think I might give it a try for Olympia: it certainly would be a way to break my habit of only going to the same places over and over again!

After lunch, S. and I met up again to attend Selena Fox’s “Brigid Healing Ritual,” which she does most years.  I’d attended in 2012 and loved it.  I think I might have enjoyed this one more.  These days, I’m thinking more and more critically about how to lead ritual, so I definitely paid more attention to how Selena conducted it this time around.  She really has a wonderful, open style, and it was anything but “The Selena Fox Show.”  She’d invited so many people to take on different parts of it, and we got to experience some truly wonderful ritual craft from each.  My favorite, however, was the musical artist Celia, who was invited to lead a Brigid chant.  I was completely enchanted by how masterfully she led this huge crowd and built up and manipulated the energy just by changing up how she was beating her drum.  It didn’t hurt that she has an amazing voice, either.  I happily snapped up a couple of her CD’s (including the one with the Brigid chant) after the ritual was concluded.  The ritual itself was amazing, and when it was done, I felt a shift.  People got a buzz of healing, and we trickled some back into the earth as well.  It’s certainly not a solution in itself on any of those fronts, but I know that it helped.

I kept up the ritualizing with Ekklesia Antinoou’s “Lupercalia and Parentalia 2015″, mostly because Niki was taking part in it, and I wanted to help support that, but also because I strongly support their role in queer spirituality.  I’m surprisingly connected into gay culture, and I’ve recommended seekers to Ekklesia Antinoou before, and very much wanted to experience what I’d been recommending.  It certainly was interesting.  I could tell that the people in the group loved it with their whole heart, and that’s always a great sign.  (Well, either that or a sign that you’re looking at a cult.)  I was a bit skeptical at first.  There was a complicated pattern for creating sacred space that seemed more formal than I have experienced in a long time, and there was a very long part of the ritual that sent me right back to the Roman Catholic days of my childhood, praying fervently in my pew for Father to cut to the end of the Litany of the Saints.  But one of the things I’d forgotten about litanies is how powerful the recitation of names can be, and eventually I did get over my shell shock and began to understand what was happening.  The ritual wasn’t all dry, either.  There were wonderful, active, joyful parts, too.  I know I don’t have a comprehensive understanding of what Ekklesia Antinoou is doing, but I’m glad they’re part of our community and I look forward to learning more.

At seven, I attended a BTW gathering with Julia Phillips and Geraldine Beskin in the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite, which was lovely, and I got a chance to meet some people I’d only ever heard about in the lineages before.  I wanted to stay to talk with them, but I’d promised a friend I’d attend the Kali Puja at nine, so away I went.

Frankly, I think maybe I was ritualed out, and too body-tired at that point.  My shoulders were killing me, and sitting on the floor in that state was sheer torture.  Getting into ritual mindset was incredibly difficult, and I snapped out of it as soon as people around me started crying.  That’s sort of what I do:  if people are having a emotionally powerful connection around me in ritual, I slid right out of it in order to help them out.  So I was busy comforting sobbing people for the majority of the ritual.  That being said, I would go out of my mind with happiness if Chandra Alexandre ever offered a workshop in how to lead a ritual.  She’s so dramatic and so intuitive.  She was playing the crowd and shaping the energy with her voice just as much as Celia had controlled the crowd with her drum earlier that day.  She’s absolutely amazing.

More stuff I bought

Stone Circle Studio’s necklaces and other wares have become a traditional Pantheacon gift for my coven.  I stocked up on a few favorite items.  Speaking of stocking up, I bought way too many essential oils at The Herb Shop in Grants Pass while S. and I were road tripping down to San Jose.  And, of course, I couldn’t pass up a couple impulse buys:  a jet sphere from Bluestar creations that I’m going to try using for scrying, and an African Blackwood disc from Rare Earth Designs…which are based a half-hour from me in Shelton, WA.

S. and I did not really intend to do much of anything on Monday–we needed to leave by at least 1 pm in order to give us enough time to make it back to Washington in time for me to get to work on Wednesday while accommodating at least one stop in Eugene.  (As it turned out, we made it to Redding too late to safely drive through the mountains, so we stopped there, too, and I made it to work with only minutes to spare.)  But I did make most of Starhawk’s panel discussion, “Working with Diverse Traditions,” which was largely a discussion on cultural appropriation.  I appreciated it because it raised more questions than it answered, and brought more to the table than “cultural appropriation is bad and racist and you shouldn’t even look at something if you weren’t raised in that culture.”

So that’s my Pantheacon 2015!  I’m exhausted just writing about it!

Pantheacon 2015: Listening to Pagans of Color

Disclaimer:  I edited and re-wrote this several times, and I still think it’s “whitesplain-y.”  I’m sorry, y’all…I don’t know how to write about race outside academia.

At this point, most Pagans with an Internet connection know that the big brujería brouhaha at this year’s Pantheacon was racism.  Many also know that the satirical program “Pantycon” was at the root of the problem.  For those not in the loop, Pantycon has been an anonymous mainstay of the Convention for years, and it largely pokes gentle (if biting) fun at different convention offerings and general current events within the Pagan world.

A woman of color leading an open Pagan ritual.  Because she's an awesome human being.

A woman of color leading an open Pagan ritual. Because she’s an awesome human being partaking in an awesome religious practice.

This year, there was a prominent theme of race and cultural appropriation in the convention.  Initially, there were two panels pertaining to racism and Pagans of color (a panel hosted by Crystal Blanton called “Bringing Race to the Table; An Exploration of Racism in Paganism” and a “Pagans of Color Caucus” hosted by Xochiquetzal Duti) and two panel discussions tackling issues of cultural appropriation (one with T. Thorn Coyle and Friends called “Honoring or Appropriation? What is the Difference?” and one with Starhawk and Friends called “Working with Diverse Traditions”).  These are not atypical offerings for the convention, but perhaps had a little more interest behind them given a pair of statements by the Covenant of the Goddess delivered a few months ago.  The more troubling of the two was an especially anemic December 2014 statement that ostensibly related to the news coverage regarding white police officers shooting innocent black men.  This statement was little more than bland pap, saying nothing concrete–not even what exact “current events” (IE: racist murders) it was addressing.  After some COG members “felt the Board’s original statement did not go far enough in addressing the issue”, a much more targeted second draft was issued.  Still, many Pagans remained deeply disappointed by the first (and even the second) draft, feeling that saying nothing would almost have been preferable to those meaningless words.

Reading through the COG statements, it is easy to get the impression that the organization is saying, “Oh Gods.  Racism.  We should probably say something.  It’s expected of us.  But honestly, I just can’t get angry about this shit one more time.”  It was inexcusable of such a prominent organization.  So, between the convention’s emphasis on race and this current event in our sphere, Pantycon wrote the following “workshop description.”

“Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans
Large Umbrella Pagan Group

Isn’t all this talk of social justice and racism just tiring? Don’t you wish you could just ignore it and put out meaningless statements of pure pablum? We’ll discuss how to ignore requests for consideration by pagans of color, cover up racist actions of high-ranking members, and pretend that you don’t understand the resulting outrage. Remember, #AllLivesMatter, except  when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient.
Large Umbrella Pagan Group has been around for long enough that they think they can get away with  this stuff.”

I think that we can all agree that these words crossed a line even if you knew about the COG statements.  If you did not (and not all Pagans follow the COG regularly, if at all), then they are one hell of a slap in the face.  When I read this…well, I’m a white person who is deeply frustrated by the COG and hashtag activism, and I was upset.

It’s taken me awhile to be able to articulate why this shook me so, and to explain it, I actually have to turn back time to a discussion I had at my very first Pantheacon:  Pantheacon 2012.  I’d never attended such a large Pagan gathering before, and since it was in San Jose, I expected there to be many Bay Area locals.  In my naiveté, I expected to see a rainbow of faces trailing through the Doubletree’s hallways simply because the Bay Area is an ethnically diverse urban area.  I figured that if the Bay Area was roughly 53% white, 8% black, 19% Asian, 19% Hispanic, and 1% Native, then I should see a similar demographic amongst the attendees.

Yeah, this wasn't so much the case.

Yeah, this wasn’t so much the case.

But the rainbow I observed was mostly made up of shades of ecru, eggshell, and bisque.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of Pagans of color at the convention, just nowhere near what I had (very unrealistically) expected.  Puzzled, I went to my High Priestess and asked her about it.  After all, she’d been to over a dozen Pantheacons by that point, and I knew she’d be able to speak to attendance trends.  She replied that was that her experience had shown her that many Pagans of color in this country tended to be drawn to Pagan practices that were historically associated with their ethnicities, and that these Pagan practices had their own communities and interests that didn’t always play well with the heavily Euro-centric contemporary practices that tend to dominate Pantheacon.

At the time, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with that answer for many reasons.  The largest of which is that I didn’t (and still don’t) feel that you have to have a genetic or historic link to a religion in order to have the desire to practice it.  After all, I was called to Gardnerian Wicca, a religious practice dominated by English culture, and the closest I can get to that genetically is one Welsh great-grandparent.  Blood, I thought, obviously didn’t call to me to my religion.

And yet, I now think maybe my blood had more to do with it than I realized.  When I was seeking, I knew the Abrahamic religions did not match how I felt spiritually and that Paganisms did, but I never once even considered Pagan paths that are strongly associated with non-white races.  Santería, Ifá, and Vodun never even crossed my mind.  I briefly flirted with Hinduism, but felt like I was voyeuristic Peeping Tom.  I was an outsider there, and after some reflection, I couldn’t find an answer to whether or not I would be able to shake the feeling that I was appropriating instead of practicing.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that some Pagans of color would feel similarly when practicing European Paganisms.

Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea

Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea.  As distasteful as I personally find images of the KKK, I cannot deny that this creates a strong visual argument.

I believe that remembering how much of an outsider I felt in this experience was my particular trigger with Pantycon’s description.  It is impossible to ignore race.  People can trumpet all day long about how colorblind they are, but almost everyone has some subtle difference in how they interact with those of their own race and how they react with those outside of it.  Racial prejudice is normal.  Some of it is probably even biologically hardwired.  For example, the legal world has established that eye witnesses are less likely to be able to positively and correctly identify a suspect when that suspect is of a different race than the witness.  In other words, your brain cannot easily recognize the microdifferences in the faces of people who are of a different race than you.  But racial prejudice does not mean that one is a racist.  A racist is one who believes that a certain human race is superior to any or all other races. Racial prejudice just accounts for differences in human character or ability; albeit differences that are strongly influenced by stereotype.

If we ignore race altogether, we will have no chance of keeping prejudice from becoming racism.  We will have no chance of combating the smaller effects of this prejudice.  We have to be educated.  We have to be aware of how we treat others.  We have to take the requests for consideration by people of color incredibly seriously.  Combating racism requires nothing less than constant vigilance.  It will be uncomfortable, and it will be inconvenient, but we cannot overcome prejudices unless we are aware we have them and we constantly interrogate them.

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Photo by Shauna Aura Knight.  Sometimes you have to cancel one mystery exploration to do another.

That being said, interrogation has to come with safe space.  At this convention, there was difficulty maintaining safe space for Pagans of color.  Throughout the halls, I heard whisperings from the support staff about how so many people were feeling threatened, and a crucial point of this was how the Pagans of color hospitality suite was received.  Some people reacted as if the very existence of a place for Pagans of color to safely discuss issues pertaining immediately to them threatened some of the white attendees.  I heard that people would yell “Racists!” into the suite, disrupting programming.  In addition to being inexcusably rude, this intrusion is incredibly puzzling from a Pagan perspective.

In Paganism, we recognize that there are certain mysteries.  There are the big, mythological mysteries like the Eleusinian Mysteries, but there are broader, universal ones as well.  There are the mysteries of womanhood and manhood.  There are the mysteries of the genderqueer.  Every sexuality has its own unique mystery.  There is the mystery of motherhood.  The mystery of fatherhood.  The mystery of being a warrior.  And there are the mysteries of what it means to be a part of Western culture and to be Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native, or any other race.

When we engage with mysteries in our practices, we largely accept that if we are outside that mystery, we will never be able to fully understand it. But we still hold sacred the space for the mothers to explore motherhood and so on.  Why, then, would it be so difficult to hold sacred a space for Pagans of color to interrogate more fully what it means to be a Pagan of color?  What comes out of this sacred space and can be revealed to others will be useful, healing, and helpful to all.  Even if not everyone can fully understand the mystery, the outsiders can at least listen to the illuminations developed within.  If they do, they can better interrogate their own responses to that mystery.

Listen, damnit.

Listen, damnit.  It’s not that hard.

So, I suppose that this Pantheacon really drove home to me that no one can afford to ignore race.  In the Pagan context, we all need to be especially aware of racial prejudice, racism, and the line between them.  We also need to acknowledge that people of a particular race can be made to feel like outsiders in certain practices.  Therefore, we all need to listen more closely to each other in order to be able to more fully explore different modes of spirituality safely.  We also need to make sure that safe, sacred space is maintained for those of a minority race within a religion to be able to explore the additional mystery of how their race informs and influences their practice.

Celtic Jackalope Expands Their Bronze Finishes

The prototypes of a new bronze finish for Maxine Miller's Horned God and Moon Goddess altar statues in the herm style, which were created with input from Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor.

The prototypes of a new bronze finish for Maxine Miller’s Horned God and Moon Goddess altar statues in the herm style, which were created with input from Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor.

Pantheacon is over, and in the coming days I’m sure I will blog on what I did and thoughts I had and all that droll stuff.  I’m nowhere near recovered enough to do that now, but I still I really wanted to put up a pretty picture and write a line or two, and this is what I landed on.

My coven, Soma Sidhe, collectively has a fondness for Maxine Miller’s artwork.  Between us, we own more than a few of her prints and statues.  Our favorite finish for her statuary is by far the cold-cast bronze, but it is more difficult to find that finish.  The others–typically stone or wood, but sometimes a color like red, green, or white–are a little less expensive than bronze when there is the option, so I suppose bronze is less popular for that reason.

My coven sister, S., has had her eye on the Horned God and Moon Goddess herm statues for ages, but wasn’t fond of either the stone or the wood finish that they came in.  Luckily for her, we stopped by Celtic Jackalope‘s booth in the Pantheacon vendor room early on Monday and saw a pair of herms in our favorite bronze.  The gentleman working the booth at the time said they were the prototype for the bronze finish they are working on with their new supplier.

S. immediately snapped them up, and I’m sure they’ll find a place on her amazing home altar, but I’m sure we’ll see the bronze becoming available on a larger scale in the upcoming months.  Thank you, Celtic Jackalope!

Eco-Friendly Fabric Softening, Continued.

In my fourth plastic reduction mission, I swapped out bottles of commercial fabric softener for acid rinsing with citric acid.  One plastic-free option I didn’t mention in that post was swapping out my liquid fabric softener with dryer sheets, which come packaged in cardboard boxes.

Truthfully, that option didn’t even occur to me because dryer sheets are so wasteful in themselves.  In addition to the fact that they’re a single-use product, most dryer sheets are made of polyester and as such are non-biodegradable.  Their chemical softening ingredients aren’t great either. According to the health and wellness website Sixwise.com, some of the most harmful ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener alike include benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer), benzyl alcohol (an upper respiratory tract irritant), ethanol (linked to central nervous system disorders), and chloroform (a neurotoxin and carcinogen).  These chemicals don’t rinse out either.  In fact, since fabric softeners are specifically designed to stay in your clothes for extended periods of time, such chemicals can seep out gradually and be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin. Dryer sheets are especially problematic as the chemicals in them get released into the air when they are heated up in the dryer and can pose a respiratory health risk to those both inside and outside the home.

As I mentioned before, using a simple acid rinse will have notable softening effects on your laundry, but it won’t be as drastic as commercial fabric softeners and while it reduces static cling, it doesn’t eliminate it from all fabrics.  There is, however, a very simple solution–and one that can add scent back to your clothes (homemade detergent and softener is almost scent free).

A bowl full of wool dryer balls

A bowl full of wool dryer balls

Felted wool dryer balls are the way of the future.  Six tennis-ball sized wads of felt bounce around in the dryer with your clothing, and somehow magically make your clothes feel a lot softer than when you don’t use them.  Even more magically, these little guys can last for years, which is obviously a lot more attractive than single-use dryer sheets!

I expect that some minor softening powers involve residual lanolin in the wool, but most of it probably comes from the fact that the balls help clothes separate from each other in the dryer, which probably reduces the friction on the fabric surfaces a little.  At any rate, in addition to making the fabrics feel softer, they also do wonders for eliminating static.  Best of all, a few drops of essential oil on the balls before they go in the dryer will also leave your clothes nicely–and naturally–scented without leaving weird, flaky residue on your clothes.

Better still these balls are really easy to make yourself.  For under $20 (maybe even $5 if you’re super thrifty!), you can make 4-8 balls that will probably last at least 3 years, if not more.  At the most minimal end of the spectrum, all you need is a quantity of 100% wool yarn, some cheap knee-high nylon stockings (or old ones of your own), and access to a washer.  The cheapest, most widely available wool yarn I know of is Lion Brand’s Fishermen’s Wool, which comes in 8 oz/227g/465 yd/425 m skeins and costs somewhere between $8-10.  You can make about 3-4 balls per skein of Fishermen’s.  Alternately, I would suggest unraveling a few old wool sweaters, which can certainly be found at a thrift store for very economical prices if you don’t have a few unfashionable gems languishing in a drawer.  You can definitely find a couple pairs of knee-high nylons for $1 at Walmart and many Dollar Stores across the country.  You really shouldn’t pay more as they will be destroyed by the felting process, since some wool fibers will probably adhere to the stocking and force you to rip the stockings to free the ball.  Veer on the side of caution and purchase enough stockings to use a new one for each washing cycle you will use to felt.  (You may need to wash the balls up to 6 times, depending on the yarn.)

All you do is wind the yarn into balls a little larger than the size of tennis balls (about 8 inches in circumference), put them into the stocking tying knots between each ball, then put them through 1-2 hot loads of wash.  Let them air dry, then cut them out of the stocking and inspect the felting.  If the strands of yarn can be pulled apart from each other, tie them into a new stocking and repeat the process until the balls are fully felted.

Balls in a stocking, ready to begin felting.

Balls in a stocking, ready to begin felting.

Having done this a couple of times now, I can say with certainty that I vastly prefer to wrap my yarn balls in a solid layer of roving before felting them.  Roving is carded, unspun wool, so it’s just a bunch of free fibers.  When they felt, they’ll give the ball a uniform appearance much like those in the first picture above.  The layer of roving also locks the yarn strands into place, which means they definitely won’t come undone in the dryer later (and make a huge, tangled mess!)  The outer layer of roving also felts much more quickly than the yarn, so you may only need one major wash to adequately felt the outside.

Once you’ve felted the outside, you can go back and needle-felt designs and figures onto the exterior of the ball if you wish, or sew on scraps of wool felt.  I rather enjoy these simple hearts below.  If adding details, tie the balls into nylon and launder for one final time to make sure the designs adhere to the ball.  When you’re ready to use your dryer balls, select between 4-8 balls, put a few drops of an essential oil of your choice onto each (if you want scented laundry), toss them in the dryer with your wet clothes, and dry as normal.  Enjoy!

These are my very own wool laundry balls.  After I felted them, I attached green felt hearts with brown embroidery floss using a blanket stitch.

These are my very own wool laundry balls. After I felted them, I attached green felt hearts with brown embroidery floss using a blanket stitch.

Plastic Reduction Mission 4: Fabric Softener Alternatives

Holy cow!  I can’t believe it’s been two years since I did my last plastic reduction mission!  I have definitely found that the easiest way for me to reduce my plastic usage is to avoid buying things that come in plastic bottles.  Last time, it was laundry detergent.  I’ve been using homemade laundry detergent for awhile now, and I’ve really liked the results.  I’ve also really liked my DIY fabric softening results…and it’s just occurred to me that I haven’t bought a bottle of fabric softener in two years either…so why not post about it?

If you’re really into plastic reduction, or just reduction in general, the obvious choice is to forgo a fabric softener altogether.  I did this all throughout my co-op years with no ill-effects.  The detergent I used then was Seventh Generation’s powdered detergent, which is a mostly washing soda based product like my homemade stuff is.  However, now that I’m using my homemade stuff, I have noticed that if I do not use a fabric softener, my clothes feel a good bit stiffer after drying than they did before.  A little research and some basic high school chemistry eventually brought me to the conclusion that the soap in my homemade detergent might be bonding with the few hard water deposits (calcium and magnesium cations) in our water and leaving a very fine residue of soap scum in my fabrics that was contributing to the stiffer feel.  Any residual alkalines (the borax and washing soda) in the clothing would only serve to increase the scratchy feel.  The solution here is really simple: introduce an acid to the rinse cycle to dissolve the soap scum and neutralize residual alkalines.  Enter my first DIY softener: distilled white vinegar.

Do as you oughta, add acid to wata!

Do as you oughta, add acid to wata!

As it turns out, I’m not the first person to think of this.  Martha Stewart advocates using between 1/4 and 1 cup of white distilled vinegar in the final rinse cycle as a fabric softener.  I’ve started to do this, either by pouring vinegar directly into the machine’s softener dispenser (mine takes about 1/4 cup) or by putting greater amounts into a Downy Ball and putting it into the machine,  and I’ve been pretty pleased with the results.  My fabrics aren’t ultra-soft in the way they become using commercial fabric softener, but they’re definitely softer than using detergent alone, no matter whether the detergent it is homemade or commercial.  Moreover, using vinegar in place of laundry detergent has been promoted by Frugalistas all across the Internet.  After all, a 120-load bottle of Downy (103 oz or 0.8 gallons) costs about $11, but two gallons of Four Monks white vinegar (which would do 128 loads using 1/4 cup) cost me $3.91 at Costco last week.

Unfortunately for me, using vinegar as a fabric softener doesn’t exactly help me reduce my plastic load as I would have to purchase two larger plastic bottles of vinegar to get the same number of softened loads as the smaller Downy bottle.  Since doubling my plastic dependency isn’t the goal of this challenge, I need something that can work the same as vinegar, but is sold in solid form so that it doesn’t need a plastic or glass container.  I need a weak acid that comes in a powdered form.

Citric acid:  it's cheap, sustainable, and solid.

Citric acid: it’s cheap, sustainable, and solid.

I think I have found a winner in citric acid.  Like acetic acid–the acid which in an 5% solution with water forms vinegar–citric acid is a weak acid.  It’s also not uncommon to use citric acid in the household: solutions of citric acid and water are is the recommended way to descale–or to remove hard water buildup–from expensive espresso machines, dishwashers, washing machines, boilers, radiators, and water softeners.  Citric acid is also an active ingredient in many commercially prepared cleansers.  In short then, I really think this could work.

Chemically, there are some differences between acetic acid and citric acid.  Acetic acid has a relatively simple chemical structure with only 8 atoms [CH3COOH].  It’s also a monoprotic acid, which means that it has only one proton to potentially donate to a water molecule (to form one hydronium molecule).  Citric acid, on the other hand, is a larger molecule with 21 atoms [C(OH)(CH2CO2H)2CO2H] and is a triprotic acid, which means that it has 3 protons to potentially donate to 3 different water molecules (to form 3 hydronium molecules).  The acid dissociation constants for each of these proton donations are very close together (with pKa values of 3.13, 4.76, and 6.40), but are also in the same general range of acetic acid’s dissociation constant (pKa=4.75).  What this means is that the buffer region (the region where the solution will resist a change in pH despite the addition of a base) for citric acid is a lot broader than it is for acetic acid.  For my laundry purposes, this means that if I have two equivalent amounts of citric acid and acetic acid in solution and I add the same amount of a basic (or alkaline) substance to each, the citric acid solution will stay at its pH for a longer amount of time.  If I want to make sure to dissolve all the residual alkalki and soap scum in my fabrics, this is an incredibly attractive property.

At this point, all I really need to know is what concentration to make my citric acid solution for effective fabric softener use.  Alas, this is also the point where my chemistry knowledge is very imperfect.  My first instinct was to create a citric acid solution with a pH close to distilled vinegar (which hovers around 2.4).  According to this online pH calculator, a citric acid solution of pH 2.36 has a concentration of 0.03 M.  This means that there are 0.03 moles of citric acid per liter of the total solution, which then translates to 5.76 grams of citric acid per liter of solution or 21.82 grams per gallon.   Since there are 453.6 grams per pound, a 50 pound bag of citric acid ($2.50 a pound, shipping included), will yield 1039 gallons of solution (at a cost of $0.12 a gallon!).

When I mixed this concentration up, though, I was slightly disappointed.  The resulting solution was definitely sour–perhaps a little less so than lemon juice–and it definitely created a reaction with baking soda…but that reaction wasn’t as complete as it was when I used similar amounts of baking soda and vinegar.  Ultimately, I decided that this concentration wasn’t going to cut it in my laundry…especially when 1/4 cup of the solution would be further diluted by several gallons of water in my laundry’s rinse cycle!  I decided that my next step would be to prepare a citric acid solution of the same concentration as that of vinegar, which the bottle says has a 5% acidity.

A 5% acidity is basically a volume ratio, which means that 95 parts of distilled water are added to 5 parts of glacial acetic acid (pure acetic acid, which is in liquid form).  To get the weight/volume ratio, you need to factor in the density of acetic acid, which is 1.049 g/mL, which means that 5% v/v acetic acid solution is 5.25% w/v solution.  To make an equivalent concentration of citric acid, then, you would need 5.25 grams of citric acid and 95 mL water.  This works out to 209.2 grams of citric acid for every gallon of water (or 0.288 M), which is almost exactly the amount of 1 cup of citric acid (211 grams).  If I used 1 cup of citric acid for every gallon of water, my cost per gallon would be $1.16, which is still a 40% savings on my vinegar budget of $1.95 per gallon).

Although the pH of this stronger citric acid solution is 1.85, which looks like a scary decrease from the 2.36 pH of our 1.5 weaker citric acid solution, it is only about 5 times more acidic than the solution made using 1.5 tablespoons citric acid per gallon of water.  In fact, it’s about the same pH as fresh lime juice.  This solution won’t dramatically burn through your skin, but it would be irritating with prolonged contact.  You should obviously take care not to splash any in your eyes and to rinse it off your skin.  If you were to try to use it to clean something, you’d want to further dilute it, too–just as you would with vinegar.

I’ve now done several loads of laundry using my homemade detergent and my 5.25% w/v citric acid solution as the softener, and I’ve been pretty impressed.  My clothes were noticeably softer than they were when I used vinegar, and there appears to be no ill-effects to any of the fabrics I’ve washed.

Tangent Garment Care's Fabric Softener

Tangent Garment Care’s Fabric Softener

After I did a mountain’s worth of laundry, I got so excited at the prospect of using citric acid as a fabric softener that I looked to see if anyone else had the idea.  I actually discovered two European companies that do just this.  The German company Sodasan and the Swedish company Tangent both offer citric acid based fabric softeners.  Tangent’s also been getting a lot of press lately with write-ups in Swedish Vogue, so I suppose there’s a bit of an upper-class vibe with these products.  The two products are practically identical:  Sodasan lists its ingredients as “>30% water, 15-30% citric acid, <5% xanthan gum, essential oil, vegetable betaine, citrate, Aloe Vera” and Tangent lists its ingredients as “>30% Aqua, 15-30% citric acid, <5% xanthan gum, lauryl polyglucose, essential oils from peaches, vegetable betaine, potassium citrate and aloe vera”.  Sodasan also recommends using 40ml (2.7 tablespoons) of its softener per load of laundry.

What I took away from these products (which are essentially stronger concentrations of citric acid and water plus a few thickening ingredients and scents) is that you can make up much stronger concentrations than even my 1 cup per gallon of water.  I’m not entirely sure how strong these commercial formulations are, but if the percentages given are by weight and we assume that the final solution weighs about the same as water, then a gallon of the solution would be 8.35 pounds, which means that a 22% citric acid solution would have 1.84 pounds of citric acid per solution.  That’s almost 4 times as much citric acid as my 5.25% w/v solution has, and you use only 32% less solution per load than I do!  Clearly your clothes can take a lot of citric acid!