14 January, 2015

Reading in 2014, Part Two (July-Dec.)

Hey, Readers!

If you missed the post about what I read in the first half of the year, check it out here. Otherwise, I'll get straight into it! These are the books I read in 2014 after July 10th, where the previous post left off. Enjoy!

Sweep (series) by Cate Tiernan | Books 1-7
I read Books 1-7 of this series in July. (No, I really hadn't read them before, Erriender! =P) I checked out a few at a time from the library and was surprised to find that they were very quick reads--that is, if you have several hours to spare in a row--and I read each one within an evening/night after work. Sweep is about a girl who, after meeting a dazzling handsome new-in-town boy who happens to be a witch, begins to explore her own curiosity about magick and learns some secrets about herself that she never even dreamed could be true. It's a bit typical in that way, and yet the series has much more than that. In the early books, I found myself incredibly jealous of the characters, thinking "Where was that person when I was in school, who would come in and say proudly that they were a witch and offer to teach me? And why didn't all my friends want to form a coven with me and learn about magick?!" Cate definitely has something going there that we can relate to! The series is fifteen books, but I'll get back to the rest in a moment.

Sweep #1-3 and Dance of the
Dissident Daughter
Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd
I had finished Part One of this book by the time I read the first three books of Sweep, so I thought I'd include it in order here. Sue Monk Kidd is perhaps best known for her novel The Secret Life of Bees, but had been a successful Christian memoirist/author for some years prior. DDD, as I came to abbreviate it, is the story of how, about the time she was in her 30s, Kidd experienced a "feminist spiritual awakening," moving from her previously held beliefs to those that were more personal to her and her experience as a female. This book is, to put it simply, beautiful. I was inspired a great deal by this book. Not only does it include many experiences she had which are very ritualistic, Pagan, natural, and archetypal, but it also includes stories of her struggle with her Christian identity melding with her feminist identity, such as her trips to monasteries--which she would make fairly regularly for a get-away--and how she began to feel about her relationship with the church. She also tells of the troubles this new awakening caused within her marriage and how it affected her family. The opening tale, about the day in the grocery store when it all sort of clicked into place for her, is haunting and empowering. I was hooked from that moment, though I didn't finish reading the book until the beginning of September, having read it steadily all through August as I finished Sweep and another book:

The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers, and Seekers by Frank MacEowen
Leant to me by a friend who knew I would enjoy it, The Mist-Filled Path also took me a while to complete. I would read a chapter or so at a time, beginning at the end of May (I did not mention it in the previous post because I knew it would be a while until I finished it!) and completing it mid-August. So much of this book was great, and I loved reading through it. However, there were several parts that seemed to drag for me, and at those times, I read only a bit at a time and set it aside for later. There are many great anecdotes and personal stories from the author. There are also sometimes too many, at which times I found myself not really caring about that particular experience, nor did I know what it all had to do with the subject all the time. Still, beyond those sections, there was a lot of wonderful content. Connecting the worlds of Celtic Paganism and the new religion of Christianity, uncovering the bridge that is Celtic Christianity, MacEowen provides a link that, while we all knew was there, perhaps we hadn't seen or thought about very much. His discussions of this overlap had me daydreaming a story about how my own lineage was somewhat similar--my mother's family coming from Italy and thereby Roman Catholicism, and my father's heritage stemming from the greener isles of Europe--from the bright sunshine on the Mediterranean to the mist-filled hills that overlook the Irish Sea. But here I go with personal anecdotes. =) In addition to having knowledge of historical Celtic practices, and having some experience with them, as well, the author also includes exercises for the reader to do at different times throughout the reading. Some of them are simple, meditations or activities you could complete on any given day, and others are a little more involved, requiring a bit of time or preparation. I finished the book on the plane on my way back home from Los Angeles, stopping a few times to draw something that the book made me think of. In this way, I've also taken more away from this book than just what I actually remember from the text, and I hope you will, too.

Sweep (series) by Cate Tiernan | Books 8-15
I read #8-14 in August and #15, the final book which is twice as long (finales often are!), in September. I've already talked a bit about Books 1-7, but in this latter portion, there were more than a few surprises. I'm not sure if this would normally constitute spoilers in itself--I know some parts would, so I will leave those out for you--but this surprised me, so I'll mention it but leave out specifics. The series starts in the point of view of Morgan, the girl alluded to earlier. However, after nine books of her as narrator, Book 10 switches to another character's point of view! All the books have an element of other character's perspectives in them in the form of journal entries that begin each chapter, but the entire tenth book is from someone else's perspective. After that, the rest of the series either pops around to other perspectives, or switches back and forth between Morgan and another character. Every time, I was so surprised by what was going on with the perspectives that I texted my friend/co-worker who I had been telling about the series. "Guess what? The next book is someone ELSE'S point of view! What is happening?!" It's not a convention in most books I read. I enjoyed it, after getting used to the fact that it was going to happen at various times. Don't get used to Morgan just because you shared nine books with her, alright? (Oh, and as a representation of witchcraft, sure, this series does have some pretty fantastical elements to it, and it discusses the very popular view of "light vs. dark" in a way that many practitioners don't agree with personally, but it's a fun read and overall, it probably wouldn't be awful if people had this series as their jumping-off point for what witches are like. The characters are real in ways that show their flawed humanity as well as their good nature--for those to whom that applies--and while there are some moments that would call for special effects if it were a movie, the majority of the coven meetings and rituals and spells are very true-to-life at their core.)

The Cassie Rivers Adventures (series) by Christin Keck
I met the lovely witch in charge of the Cassie Rivers novels at Cleveland Area Pagan Pride in August. I purchased the four books currently finished in this series then and there, and she signed the first one for me.

The Cassie Rivers Adventures
by Christin Keck, Books 1-4
  1. The Goddess Loves Your Shoes | As an introduction to Keck's work, I'm happy to say the feeling of this book holds up throughout. Obviously, I found this the most enjoyable because it was the first one I'd read, so I already knew what to expect with the rest and wasn't as pleasantly surprised when I read them all. But this book set the stage for Christin's amazing sense of humor (she likes the occasional pun), dirty jokes and all. It also has some great characters that had me wondering whether Christin knows the same people I know, or whether there are really so many people like this in the community that they've become a kind of archetype! Oh, man, it's a good read.
  2. Altared States | So many new elements in this book, and I don't just mean cross-cultural representations of the spiritual elements. This book has more fun with the same characters, as well as some new friends, and new troubles. How does she come up with this stuff?!
  3. Infantasia | You know when your mundane life gets in the way of your magickal life? Well, sometimes it happens the other way around, too! Cassie is seriously in over her head... I think.
  4. Mini-Apple-Loss | A wild ride through archetypal reality for Cassie and the gang! Still hilarious, possibly even more magickal, and way more "wtf" moments. Well, I guess that depends on the reader, doesn't it?
  5. Wrestling with Evil | Check out Christin Keck's webpage for more info on this book, which she's working on now! http://christinkeck.webs.com

THANKS!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Dr. Robert Emmons
I got this book from a friend who was getting rid of some books. I chose it because I wanted to give it to Sheldon Slinkard, because he had done a "thanks-giving" project with Pentacles of Pride, so I thought he might appreciate it. I wanted to read it before I gave it to him, of course, so I started it in September and aimed to finish it by the time I got to Arkansas in October. I ended up finishing it on my last night in Arkansas while staying with Sheldon, so I could give it to him before I left. This book is reminiscent of the work I did in my Stereotyping & Prejudice course, as much of it is discussion of various gratitude and thankfulness studies and their perceived effects on people. But rather than being exactly like reading the empirical research report, Dr. Emmons lays it out in a conversational tone, translating what the studies show into what it actually means for us, and how we can use the things they learned in the studies to our advantage. There are so many benefits to living a consciously grateful life and taking time for gratitude, in multiple areas of life. When I started reading this, I had just done (or was in the middle of) a gratitude challenge on Facebook, where you post three things you're grateful for or that bring positivity into your life every day for five days. That, coupled with this book, helped to put it all into a practical perspective. After Sheldon read the book, he posted a video review of it, which you can watch here.

Confessions of a Pagan Nun by Kate Horsley
Written in the form of a diary, this historical novel tells the story of an Irish nun named Gwynneve, who is living at the cloister of St. Brigid. Chapters alternate between Gwynneve's experiences and tribulations in the present, and stories of her childhood and upbringing as a Pagan. The novel is written as though it were translated directly from Gwynneve's journals, giving it an even more deep feeling of authenticity than the research and background itself. There is also a beautiful cyclical nature to the book, should you be the type to remember certain details all the way through. If not, it's worth a re-read. 

Confessions of a Pagan Nun and
The Lythia Tradition of Paganism
and Witchcraft
The Lythia Tradition of Paganism and Witchcraft (First Edition) by Sheldon Slinkard
This is Sheldon Slinkard's first book, introducing the wider world to the unique tradition of Paganism in which he was raised, and which he still follows. Having read this book and also spoken in depth with Sheldon about it and his faith, I can tell you that this particular book, in its first edition, was never meant to be anything more than the most basic introduction to Lythia. That is, this book is essentially an acknowledgement that Lythia exists, and has for centuries. Upon finishing this book, the reader should not consider themselves versed in the beliefs and practices of Lythia Paganism. If it intrigues you, however, and you want to learn more, then be sure to look out for the new revised edition of this book which will be published down the line. I happen to be one of the editors. The new edition will be slightly expanded from this edition, going a bit more in depth, but will still not be a guidebook to following the faith for yourself. Believe me, as an eclectic practitioner, when I say to you that the amount of information given thus far about this beautiful faith which has not been shared with the general public before now, is simply not enough to consider oneself Lythia. There is much more to it--I picked Sheldon's brain for hours while I stayed with him for a week last year and still barely scratched the surface! This book does, however, share various prayers and similar "snippets" of practice that are suitable for adaptation and use in your own path. Look out for the new one in the future!

The Dangerous Old Woman (audiobook) by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
There is a subtitle to this, as well: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype. I'm currently reading--slowly, a section at a time, and not even every day--another of Estés' books, and I loved listening to this audiobook in order to hear her voice with the words. The audiobook is in six sessions, and each one focuses on different aspects of myths and fairytales related to the Wise Woman. Each session also ends with a blessing, whether it be a simple prayer, a poem, or a meditation of sorts. Some beautiful and powerful quotes come from this narration, also. One of my favorite parts is when Dr. Estés asks, if you were accused of being a Wise Woman, what evidence would they find, in your heart, in your mind, to prove it? She tells stories of her wise and wonderful Aunt Edna, examines tales such as Snow White, the Weavers, and the Ruby Red Fox. You know it's going to be good when it's session one, she's barely said hello, and your body responds to her voice with tears. You know it's going to speak to your soul, about your soul.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder
by Eli Brown
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
This book was leant to me by my boyfriend right around Thanksgiving. He had wanted his mother to read it, but she hadn't had time yet and left it at home. I had time, so I started it. It's a novel set in the 1800s, written from the perspective of a chef who's been kidnapped by an infamous pirate captain. In addition to being held hostage on an insufficiently provisioned pirate ship, the chef is required to cook a new meal for the captain once a week, and meals may not be repeated. Without so much as a proper stove, this task seems daunting, but the chef deals with many more challenges while in residence on the ship, and not all of them culinary. It's a gripping read, and one that really doesn't take very long if you have a few hours a day to devote to it--and you'll want to keep reading. Whether your thing is pirates (I could imagine the professor who taught the History of Pirates colloquium/seminar that I TA'ed for, or the students in the class, really enjoying it), clever culinary techniques, or period action/adventure/romace stories, you'll get fired up over Cinnamon and Gunpowder. (Hey, do I sound like a reviewer now, or what?)

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That's forty-four new books read this year, not counting the audiobook. I also re-read two books in 2014, which I talked about in the Jan.-July post. I finished two books this year that had been previously started and left undone: The Goddess (Living Wisdom series) by Shahrukh Husain, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I also read eight plays this year, four of which were mentioned in the earlier post, and the latter four which I will discuss briefly here:

The Velveteen Rabbit, a play adaptation by Elise Kauzlaric,
based on the story by Margery Williams
This is the classic story of a boy and his toy bunny, discussing the nature of love and reality. Many stories incorporate the theme of toys becoming "real" when their human owners leave the room, but this story takes it a step further and asks, "What is real?" The play adaptation calls for the velveteen rabbit to be played by an actor dressed in a rabbit costume, which changes along with the state of the toy rabbit's fur in the story. Their legs would also be restricted in the costume, since the toy cannot move like living rabbits can. I'd like to see a production of it sometime, but reading it is enjoyable, as well.

The Beauty Pageant by Joh Mann
This is a short murder mystery play written for dinner theatre. I was involved in a production of this in November, playing the role of Ima Y. Nebrat. Yes, it's that kind of show! It has a few alternate endings, so that it can be different each night if there are multiple performances, but ours was a one-time performance for a fundraiser for the theatre. The actors are also supposed to choose their own talents for the talent portion of the pageant, based on whatever the actor is actually good at. My character was from Brooklyn, and the director asked me to sing, so I sang "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, in a Brooklyn accent, while wearing a DIY t-shirt recon hipster Ariel costume. You're welcome.

The collage of Beauty Pageant photos that I made for my
Facebook banner the week of the show.
Things My Mother Taught Me by Katherine DiSavino
I auditioned for this play along with my friend, but we didn't get cast, unfortunately. It would have been so fun! This play is about two young people, male and female, a couple, who are moving in together for the first time when their parents unexpectedly show up to "help." Well, it's unexpected to one of them, and so are a lot of things, really. This play is funny, heartfelt, and pretty close to home for anyone whose parents have ever really, really tried to help. And in some ways that we don't expect, they do help, and we remember the lessons we taught us that we don't remember learning.

The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard
Many people know Tom Stoppard for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the retelling of Hamlet through R & G's point of view. But he has done oh, so many things, from playwriting to screenplays to radio plays and translations of plays... Earlier in 2014 I read his play Arcadia (see the first part, linked at the beginning of this post). The Real Inspector Hound is a sort of parody, poking fun at other murder mystery plays, specifically Agatha Christie's. The title is a reference to one of her stories. I'm currently (in Jan. 2015) in a production of this show--sorry, no photos yet as we're just in rehearsal!--playing the part of Felicity Cunningham, the young actor who may or may not have slept with a critic in hopes of getting a good review. But this play is also a play-within-a-play (Stoppard does seem to like the meta-forms of things, plays within plays and blurred lines where you're not sure what's what and who's who and what's real), so I'm an actor playing an actor playing Felicity Cunningham, but at times, the real world converges upon the inner play. Read the play; you'll see!

~

And there you have it! The things I read (and an audiobook I listened to) in 2014. I witnessed (that is, I was in, involved with, or went to see) nine plays in 2014. I also kept track of the new movies I watched in 2014--not every movie I watched, only those that I had never seen before--as well as the new TV shows I watched. If anyone's interested in hearing about those, or probably just seeing a list, I will put that in a separate post. And as always, I got several new books in 2014 which I have not yet had the chance to read!

Thank you for reading! Reading about reading. Very meta.

Blessings~
-C-

11 January, 2015

"What's Pagan?": Explaining the Bracelets

Hey, Readers,

This is copied from a Facebook post of mine, which I just posted, and which you can find here. I just thought I should share it here, too, for maximum documentation. Read on!
My bracelets are clearly visible in many of my
self-portraits, since I'm right-handed and wear
them on my left! This one clearly shows all three.

~

A Pagan viewer sent me a message with a story of someone giving them literature about Christianity. Asking my thoughts about it, they of course received a long reply with a few personal stories of my own. While writing, it occurred to me that I haven't yet shared this very recent story with you all! So here it is, copied from the message I just sent them in reply (with added paragraph break). Enjoy!

---

I'm a server for my day job, and I wear a Pagan Pride wristband to work every day, along with one from the LGBTQ group at my significant other's grad school, and one from the This Star Won't Go Out foundation. Usually people don't comment, but every once in a while, someone will ask me to tell them about my bracelets. I always start with "This is from the LGBT group at my significant other's grad school, and it says 'NO COLOR LEFT BEHIND.'" Then I quickly mention, "This one is from Pagan Pride," and move on to the heart-wrenching story of Esther Earl and the This Star Won't Go Out Foundation. I open with something I think most people are becoming aware of if not accepting, and close with a distracting tear-jerker, attempting to completely bypass any possible conversation that could come from the middle bracelet. And usually this works! Only ONE time, just before or after Christmas this year [2014], did I have a woman stick on the Pagan Pride topic.

It was a table of six middle-aged to older ladies, mostly dressed in festive Christmas attire. I did my usual run-through, and when I said "This one is from Pagan Pride, and this one--" a lady cut me off. "What was that one?" she asked. "Pagan Pride," I repeated, before moving on to TSWGO. At the end of my heart-warming story about Esther's activism, the woman again said, "WHAT Pride?" "Pagan," I responded, matter-of-factly. "What's Pagan?" she asked. Oh, boy. Here we go, and I don't have time for this, LITERALLY, I've got three other tables to get to... As quickly as possible, I said "Paganism is a term for a large group of religious beliefs. It's a long story, I don't really have much time to tell you all about it! Could I warm up your tea while I'm here?" and I got out of there quick! I told my bosses, who know I'm Pagan, about how I wasn't sure how to react since that's the first time anyone ever went back to the subject. I told them how crazy I thought it was that I was comfortable with talking about the LGBT group, but still so wary of revealing that I'm Pagan in my workplace. However, it all played out fine, because apparently those ladies told my bosses that they thought I was the most adorable thing, and that they enjoyed my service. I made it out of that one alright and had no trouble serving them the rest of the day!


Blessings~
-C-

Even in this slightly more artistic mirror photo,
you can see the tiny bursts of color that are my
rainbow, purple, and electric green wristbands.

I was surprised at how many pictures show my bracelets, once I started focusing on looking for them! How many videos do you regularly spot them in? Now that you're looking, you'll notice more!

07 January, 2015

Claiming Untruths

Hey, Readers,

Last night I read a post by my friend on Facebook. She had shared a link to an article about a metaphysical topic of an advanced nature. The comment thread was interesting, but I didn't want to respond because an old friend of mine had commented some ridiculous stuff that I would have a hard time not pointing out. Instead, I private messaged my friend in order to talk about it, but also let her know what I know to be true about what our friend was saying. I did send the message, even knowing that sometimes when I do that, I can come off as a know-it-all, or at least come off negatively in some way. I'm not sure why I do it, other than that for me it's a matter of pride, both in my path, and in being honest. In any case, I'm happy to say that what started as a way of letting my friend know something wasn't exactly right, became a much bigger question when I revealed it more obscurely in my own Facebook post on my public page:

Okay, this is a silly thing, but as someone who's been practicing and studying my path of Paganism/Wicca seriously for over a decade now, and put a lot of my life and energy and heart into it... I have to admit that I get miffed or just straight up have to laugh when I hear people make outrageous claims about their powers/abilities that I know not to be true. I'm not saying people can't develop abilities, or change their ways over time. This isn't about that. But you know how sometimes someone will claim something crazy about their family, and you know their family, and you KNOW it's not true? ("I love New York. I grew up in the city." "You grew up on a farm in Ohio...") Or they'll say they've always done something, but you know they haven't? ("I've always been a great bicyclist. I was practically born on a bike." "Really? Because I'm pretty sure you were 14 that summer you got the nerve up to try, and you fell into a fence. But after that, you were a natural!") 
(Okay, I don't know how old I was, but I definitely learned to ride a bike WAY LATER than most people do. It was my brother that fell into the fence. Yay, fictional examples based on real events!) 
Those are meant to be humorous examples, but you get my drift. I mean, what's so wrong with saying "I learned this later in life" or "I didn't believe this then, but I do now"? Are we ashamed of growth and change so much that we have to pretend we've always been this way? Or is it just some aura of mysticism surrounding Paganism and other Occult topics that makes people want to say "It's been in my family for generations," "I found out my great-great-great-great-grandmother on my married-in uncle's side was Wiccan, so I have great power" (Though not verbatim, I've had someone claim something like that to me before), or "I never even had to try, I've just always been able to do that advanced technique you can't figure out how to do"? 
I mean, maybe they can do it. Maybe their family members all became Wiccan/Pagan at some point. All that aside, why claim things that are untrue? Especially on something like Facebook... Where your friends and family are... Who knew you back then... And kind of know you're padding the truth. Silly. 
(For what it's worth, I would LOVE to learn more about my ancestry and trace back to those who would have practiced a form of Paganism. That would be so cool to know! But it wouldn't change the truth. 
My grandmother is Roman Catholic, born in Italy. My mother is a Universal Life Church minister and Spiritualist Christian. And I'm a Witch [Check all other labels that apply].)

See, it's really not just about what I told my friend. It's not just about one person claiming something that isn't true, but more about why we, as people, do this over and over, in many different areas of our lives. I didn't express that very well in my message to my friend, because that was specific to the truths I knew about the specific situation. I missed the forest for the trees, as it were. In any case, it's sparked a few great comments so far on the Facebook thread, and those have, in turn, made me think of a few more things. If you'd like to check it out, you may do so here: https://www.facebook.com/cutewitch772/posts/775060265900623

Blessings~
-C-