1969 JCL convention. My first ribbon. 2nd prize in the state of California in Roman History & Daily Life. JCL is Junior Classical League. Yes, I was that big a geek, nerd and propeller head.
There once was a bear named Bella. She lived in the woods of the National Forest and she was very content except for one thing, she wanted to learn to dance.
Bella lived near a large campground. She watched large groups of people come and go all the time but one group came every year and this group intrigued Bella. The people there sang and danced all weekend. They sang to the trees and they sang to the sky. They sang to the animals of the woods. They sang and drummed at night to the stars and they sang to each other and they danced…
Bella loved to watch the dancing and she loved to watch the groups of women who danced wearing beautiful colours and sparkly gold discs and she wanted to be like them. The other bears near her thought she was nuts. They caught her deep in the woods trying to sway and move like those women and no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t do it.
She decided it was because she didn’t have the pretty clothes like the women so she did something naughty. One of the groups of women liked to hang some of their brilliantly coloured clothing around their camp site so she took some.
She watched them from behind the trees and decided she wanted a bright yellow and maybe the blue one that was like the mountain sky. She snuck into the campsite while they were out on a hike but she got scared and ended up just grabbing a bunch from the lines and lumbering back to her den.
When she got there she spread them out to see what she had. She had one of those funny things the women wore on top but she couldn’t put it on. So she put it around her neck instead. It was covered in gold round things and made a tinkling noise. She found a paid of filmy bright red pants that were very stretchy and she did manage to pull those on and she was excited to find a pair of the chimey things the women used when they danced in the pockets.
She had grabbed several large scarves and she tied those around her. She went to the near by pond to look at her self and she thought she looked just like them.
She tried to dance again but it still wasn’t any use. She couldn’t do it. She tried and tried. She was trying to dance long after that group of campers had gone home. They had come the first week of summer and Bella was still trying to dance when fall came and it was time for her to sleep. This made Bella very sad.
She dreamed of dancing all winter long in her den surrounded by the beautifully coloured clothes. They now were a bit tattered and torn but still beautiful in Bella’s eyes. She knew if she watched enough she would be able to do it and she vowed next summer she would watch some more when they came again so Bella waited.
She waited through the long groups of loud kids that made her hide. She waited through the bird watching group. She waited through another group that sang to the sky and talked a lot about a book but they weren’t near as happy as “her” group for she now was thinking that the group was hers. She waited until the first week of summer and she was so scared. She was afraid they wouldn’t come but they did. They came with their laughing and singing, and their happy children and set up their camps and Bella was overjoyed to see that the dancing women had come again and set up their area with their sparkly shiny clothes and their drums and other mysterious objects. Bella put on the clothes she had taken, now a lot worse for the wearing and hid in the woods near by. Every time the women got up to practice Bella would try to imitate them. She finally sat down with a thump. She just couldn’t do it. And she put her head down and she cried.
What Bella didn’t know because she was normally very quiet was that the women had heard her trying to dance in the woods and a couple of them had been watching her try to dance. They hurried back to the other dancers and whispered what they had seen to the other women.
Now these women were very special women and some of them worshipped bear goddesses and they loved any one who wanted to dance and it had made them sad that Bella was trying so hard. Some of them were scared and didn’t want to be near a bear so they moved but the other women went to Bella where she was crying.
“Mistress Bear. Mistress Bear,” they whispered. “Are you alright?”
Bella looked up and saw all the beautiful dancers around her. She noticed some of them were shaking like they might be scared and she felt sad. She shook her great brown head and looked at these lovely women. She saw that they loved each other and that they were looking at her they same way they looked at each other. They were all different shades, some were her rich brown colour, some were pale like the morning sky before it turns blue, some were somewhere in between but they all looked kind.
They noticed she was wearing their clothes that they had missed the year before and they realized she wanted to be a dancer like them and it moved them.
One dancer spoke up, “Mistress Bear, would you like to dance with us?” This made the bear cry harder because she had tried and it hadn’t worked. She put her head down again and wailed. She felt gentle tugging then and she raised her head. The women gently pulled her to her feet and pulled her to their camp circle. A couple of them went to get their drums and started drumming softly. Some of the others went to the clothes lines and got new pieces of cloth and wound them around Bella. Bella stood shyly not moving and some of the women started to sway to the music and motioned for Bella to join them. Bella’s eyes grew round. They wanted her to dance with them! She didn’t know what to do so she stood there. Two of the women grabbed her paws and drew her into their circle. They were all swaying back and forth. She could do that! So she did.
One of the women bravely moved behind her and held her big waist and started showing her how she could move it. She couldn’t move it like them but she could move it as bears were able to. So she shyly started to dance with the women. This brought huge smiles to the dancing women and they motioned to the drummers to speed up and they did. This frightened Bella but she was so happy and joyful she kept dancing. She even tried some turns with the women. Soon the women had her weaving in and out with them and dancing as best as she could. Finally she was so tired she stopped and dropped to all four feet and women stood around her clapping and cheering for her. Bella was happy.
The women told her to come again the next night and she surprised herself and she did. The women brought their new dancing partner to the main circle which made some people run in terror but the rest joined in the dancing with Bella and the women and all their beautiful colours and shiny golden, gleaming jewelry and decorations and Bella too. Everyone danced and Bella was filled with joy. She could DANCE! When the dance was over the women led Bella back to their campsite.
She knew it was time for them to go to bed and time for her to go back into the woods. The women crowded around her and hugged and patted her. “Would you come dance with us again next summer?” Bella nodded eagerly.
“The women smiled at her. One laughed, “But you have to practice every day just like we do.” Bella nodded again.
“We’ll miss you until we will see you again! Merry Meet, Mistress Bear!” and Bella went to her den. She was so happy. She could Dance! She had made friends and she could keep dancing until it was time for the women to come dance again with her. She was going to practice every day to make them proud of her. Bella was happy.
Q & A on paganism of the last 30 years
1, How long have you been a pagan, wiccan, etc?
I’ve been part of modern paganism since 1984 when I met Merrie Foerster and started studying with her group but I was part of a family tradition of folk ways from when I was little.
2. What’s changed in that time?
So much. A lot of the elders I met in the 80’s are gone, Marion Weinstein, Marija Gimbutas, Isaac Bonewits, Monica Sjoo, Scott Cunningham and others are gone now.
When I first entered the community it was mostly female and very few people called themselves pagan. Everybody but CES and the small Asatru group in LA was Wiccan. Dianics were among the biggest active groups in LA and there were several out and active groups of women. There were some 1749 Wicca groups and a few Gardnerians but most people seemed to be solitary that came to Harvest Moon and later to Long Beach Womenspirit events. Now there are a lot more straight men which I’m not always sure is a good thing because I see women sometimes reflexively defer to the men and that didn’t used to happen as much. The big names in LA were women and now that isn’t necessarily true.
The community has diversified as to tradition. There are more types of Wicca and more types of paganism and more territorialism than there used to be and more tendency to say they have the one, true and only way and to have blinders to other people’s practices. The only place you used to see that was among the different Dianic groups.
There used to be a lot more newsletters now the only one I know that is still around is the Rowan Tree Church’s “the Unicorn.” The rest are gone and who knows where the archives of those publications are. A lot of knowledge has been lost and from not that long ago.
There are fewer gatherings now too. There used to be more public ritual than there seems to be now out here because the community has gotten so splintered. It used to be you could go to a FERAL event which were about once a month for a concert or dance and see most of the community, BNP and everyone else. There was Harvest Moon in fall and Pacific Circle in May and numerous other small gatherings.
Now there is Pagan Pride and Long Beach Womenspirit and that’s about it.
Is the tech different?
Everything used to come out by newsletter or if you were a techno pagan there were bulletin boards on line and later chat rooms that were free for alls. Now everything is Facebook. No more chats and no more BBNs
How is the community now?
It’s younger, at least the visible AKA the internet community is younger. It’s not as well read sometimes as the students I used to have. They are more influenced by the media than most of us were. The media was mostly negative pre Charmed, Practical Magic and Harry Potter. Positive media was mostly Marion Zimmer Bradley, Bewitched, D&D and maybe, the Wizard of Oz.
How has your personal practice evolved?
I’m more of a Druid than a Wiccan anymore. Still have a Dianic outlook many times. I can only stand straight male energy in circle in small doses. I no longer feel the need to practice by the phases of the moon. My moon bloods are long gone and there is no lunar pull at all. I don’t feel the need to use ritual tools when I’m practicing by myself. I’ll use my hands for any tool I need. Tools are highly overrated. Even when I was in my 30’s I tended more to Granny Weatherwax than Magrat. I’d rather use headology. (see Terry Pratchett) Unlike a lot of Dianics, I have a sense of humour that can get me in trouble. I still tend to be practice in the Emperor’s New Clothes Coven, membership of 1 as well as being a member of COMMA and TOILA, Http//:www.mothermountain.org & http//:www.toila.org.
I think some recons take it to the land of silly. Our world is not the world of the ancients. Trying to replicate it exactly is not going to happen because no matter how much we’d like it we can’t bring it back. I spent a very long time without hot water and flush toilets working at summer camps and it ain’t that much fun. Do you really want to live pre-vaccines for polio, and small pox? I don’t! The lack of the measles vaccine was why I was born blind. I like fabric softener. I like allergy medications that save my life. I like living past the age of 40. I like underwear with elastic. I like having a cup of camellia sinensis tea available to me and not coming by camel over spice route when it would have been way beyond my price range. I find it funny how many recons put themselves in the wealthy classes and not the slave or peasant class which would have had much less free time or money to pursue their spirituality and more concerned with having enough to eat. So while I pursue family traditions and a lot of Gaelic spiritual traditions you will not find me wearing urine cured tweed like my ancestors even in the mid 20th century did. I remember stinky imported Harris tweed. Not fun to wear in the rain at all. You smell like pee and sheep.
I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian because plants are sentient at least to some extent and I have more empathy with plants that with many animals. I only eat meat I would feel comfortable killing and trust me I’ve been around a lot of mean chickens and would have no trouble snapping one’s neck. I have no problem with killing a turkey or with fishing. I couldn’t kill a deer having come face to face with one. And having had to run from a homicidal pig, I could probably do it. Cows are just too damn big and they kick too damn hard.
I tend to the practical first. I do what works. If it doesn’t I won’t do it. I’ll excuse myself if your ritual bores me or trips the foolishness button. If something seems stupid, life is too short not to say so or leave. I’ll be 60 years old next year and I don’t have the time to put up with newage crap.
Anyway, This was the only Q I could come up with this week.