Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chapter 12 - Down the Rabbit Hole

Owen dreamed and Settrano watched his dreams. When he woke up the next day he felt, invigorated, alive. He went down and to make pot of coffee and there were their glasses and the not quite empty bottle of wine on the counter. He put the glasses in the dishwasher and tossed the bottle, but not without thinking about how Nola could go from fatherless, to 2 steps from the poor house, to wine with Germans and Frenchmen, to Star Trek, to howling like a wolf with her 2 year old…… until he realized he was hungry, famished as a matter of fact. So he made himself some over easy eggs on top of English muffins, to have with his coffee. And he took his breakfast to the back porch. He looked at the swing thinking that if he was going to get her to sit outside in the cool air he’d need to remember to have a blanket for her.

He was starting 2 new jobs this week so he was kept busy meeting with the nervous owners, setting up the team and the schedule and giving them peptalks about what he thought they needed to focus on and watch to keep the owners happy. One of the reasons he was so good at his work was that his intuition on reading his client needs was pretty darn good. He checked on all of his job sites during the week to make sure that work was progressing and that there would be no issues with supplies to keep the jobs running. With the whole damn city rebuilding, you never knew what could end up being in short supply and fouling up the works. And it seemed that China was on a preOlympics building spree and buying up all the metals, steel, copper and prices kept going up so it paid to make sure that you had what you needed. Owen had decided to purchase a storage area. With so much devastation, there were lots of old timers ready to cash in on their ruined property and move on. So there were lots of places available cheap. With this storage area, once he planned a job he could start ordering in advance and try and make sure that the supplies where there when he needed it. Lots of folks were scraping by, buying just what they could afford that month. Owen had realized that he was lucky and that this could actually make more money for him. Word had gotten out that when his company, OA Enterprises, had your job that the problems other contractors where having with getting supplies and workers not showing up just didn’t happen. It was downright miraculous and, in typical New Orleans fashion, word of mouth had made sure that Owen’s business was doing well. He loved what he did and was good at it. He also took care of the people that worked for him. He had seen, as young man watching how the hotel worked, that when you took care of your people they took care of your business. He also had good intuition about his team. While he would try folks out he also didn’t hesitate to make changes if he could see that the team wasn’t working out or if the new guy was a bad influence.

And before he knew it, it was Thursday.

Nola had called Wednesday saying she would be there Thursday around 8PM. She asked if he minded if they watched some DVDs. He said, “One of them is a Deep Space Nine Star Trek, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is, but I doubt you’ll be able to guess what the other one is.”
“You’re right, I haven’t a clue. What it is?”
“What the Bleep $#)%)%????!”
“What the Bleep, that’s the title?”
“Well what’s it about?”
“Quantum Physics.”
“Quantum Physics? Quantum Physics. Woman you never cease to amaze me. OK, I’ll make pop corn and we’ll watch Star Trek and study Quantum Physics. I’m going to have to tell Eric and Ryan about this one. They’re not going to believe me that there is a woman on the planet who will spend an evening watching Star Trek and Quantum Physics”
“Owen, that’s not fair, you are significantly underestimating the female population. And before he could say anything else she said, “See you at 8PM”.
He said, “See you at 8.” And she hung up leaving him shaking his head thinking, 'No I’m not underestimating, well at least not based on my experiences.'

Nola arrived at 8PM. Owen was actually watching from the window as she drove up. He wanted to make sure that she would use the automatic gate opener. She drove up, started to park, then hesitated reached into the console of the truck and pulled out the gate opener. He watched her shake her head as she put it on the dashboard and drove into the driveway and pressed the button. Before the gate was all the way open, Owen was standing in the driveway smiling. As she got out of the truck he said, “Well now, that wasn’t that hard was it?”
“No, not really. It just feels a little weird to open someone else’s gate like that.”
“You’ll get over it.”
She just looked at him and shook her head. She didn’t understand it but it seemed important to him somehow so she played along.
“Come on inside. I see you have the DVDs.”
“Yep, I thought we’d watch ‘What the Bleep @)%)’ and that I could leave the Star Treks for you as homework.”
He opened the door and let her go through. “Star TrekS?”
“um hmm, Deep Space Nine the first episode, which is in 2 parts and The Next Generation, one of the early episodes “Where no one has gone before”. I think that using fiction to reinforce concepts is a very powerful tool. Star Trek is loaded with the concepts of quantum physics.”
“I see 4 DVDs.”
“Yes, the last one is “The Secret”. I grabbed it when I put the others together. The Secret is like ‘What the Bleep’ in that it is told in a similar documentary fashion. But we’ll save that one until we start talking about Magic. It's a little more out there.”
“I see you have this all worked out.”
“Nope, I’m making it up as I go along.”
He smiled at her and walked to the kitchen saying, “Well come on, if we are going to watch DVDs, I’m going to make popcorn.”
She followed him to the kitchen where everything was waiting for him. He grabbed a beer from the frigde, asking beer or wine or what’s your pleasure? “If I’m going to have popcorn, I’d rather have a beer.”
“I’m not really a beer drinker. Do you have a club soda, water with bubbles?”
“hmmm…” He said as he remembered that was all she drank on their plane rides. He turned and dug around in a large panty and came up dry, “Sorry, no.”
Well then, whatever you have in there is good.”
From the wine fridge he grabbed another bottle of the New Zealand wine they’d had last time, opened it, poured her a glass and started on the popcorn.
She took a sip and he watched her out of the corner of his eye because he’d come to enjoy her enjoying wine.
She realized that he wasn't going to microwave the popcorn but actually cook it in a pan on the stove.
"The wine?"
"No, you, cooking popcorn in a pan instead of the microwave."
"So you think that a guy can't cook?"
"Oh no, definitely not. I absolutely KNOW that guys can cook. In my family I'm the kitchen novice. Just ask my daughter. Once James was out of town for a week and Jamie and I were left to our own defenses. We didn't starve but when James came home and my 4 year old said, 'Look mom! Cooking!' and all he was doing was boiling water on the stove for pasta. Another time, James left flank steak all marinated and ready to cook on the Jennair grill. I was cooking the meat and doing about 10 other things and managed to catch the grill on fire." Owen's eyebrow shot up at that and she followed quickly with "Oh I managed to get it out, with a wet towel and not even burn the meat but my daughter doesn't let me live it down. Now she watches me if I have to cook. She loves to kid me about it. But not too much or I'll make her cook."
"You are not serious?"
"Oh yes. I am. Oh I'm not hopeless. I can cook when I pay attention to cooking or baking but I freely admit that James is much better at it than I am. I'll bring home the bacon. He can cook it up in the pan."
"Then this" as he swirled the oil in the pan heating it evenly, "shouldn't be a surprise."
"Well... I guess you're right. But I still didn't expect it. Few people bother to cook popcorn on the stove anymore."
"But it tastes better."
"Oh, I know. James insists on cooking it on the stove too." She watched as he expertly added the popcorn to the pan and covered it. Then she started thinking about logistics and realized that she hadn’t seen a TV in Owen’s house.
“Owen, I’m assuming you have a TV/DVD player, but I don’t think I’ve seen one. Where are you hiding it?”
“The library.”
“Oh how wonderful, a Library. Where is this Library?”
“It’s downstairs, essentially a mirror image of the living room, with a small adjacent room that I carved out as an office. I really just finished it in October. I still have boxes of books to get on the shelves. But I've setup the TV for us. The furniture arrived the week before I met you on the plane and it’s set up now too.”
She took a sip of wine and he noticed the dreamy way she looked as she imagined a world of books and he smiled to himself at her capacity for pleasure over what he perceived to be the simplest of things and smiled as he imagined her wandering off with her wine to the library and burning the popcorn on the stove. The popcorn made the appropriate amount of racket to indicate that it was cooking and then it faded off to fewer and fewer pops so he took it off the heat, shut off the stove to let it finish and said, “Come on let’s get the DVD set up.” and he lead her into the Library.
It was a great room, with another interior fireplace just like the living room and a large screen TV on the opposite wall. The walls were covered in shelves that were essentially empty. Even in the large room with the endless bookcases it looked like there might be more books in the boxes than shelves to hold them.
“Wow, if all those boxes are books, you have an impressive amount of books.”
“Seek and you shall find, right? Where are your DVDs?”
She had brought them with her from the kitchen. She handed him ‘What the Bleep' and he loaded it the system and turned on the screen, then said, “I’ll be right back.”

She wandered around the room. There were a few books on the shelves, the complete works of Shakespeare, what looked like a 1990s version of Encyclopedia Britannica, a number of books on architecture and the history of design. But it was the layout that she soaked in. It was easy to see the bones of the room were identical to the living room dining room but the bookshelves had completely transformed the feel of the room. It was warm, like wrapping up in a blanket. Perhaps it was that she loved built-in bookcases and books. But he had managed to carve out a downstairs bathroom and a smaller office without losing the feel of the space. Was it the fact that the French doors were a key feature on both sides? She looked around again and realized that it was it because he had moved, well no he must have added, a window to the room and this is what allowed it to feel balanced, just like the mirror side of the house, despite the fact that this single room was actually smaller than the living/dining combination. She had just figured it out when he walked in, beer and wine bottle in one hand, huge bowl of popcorn in the other. He set things down on the table, sat on the large chaise sectional, grabbed the remote and patted the seat next to him. “Come on woman, sit down. What are you thinking so hard about?”
He patted the seat again so she sat next to him. “You added that window in this room didn’t you?”
His brows shot up. “Yes I did and I must have done a poor job if you can tell so easily.”
“No. No, not at all. I noticed because I really like the way the room feels. It’s balanced even though this side of the room is so much smaller than the dining room on the other side. I love how the windows in your house let you use the natural light. Although bookshelves will win my heart every time.”

Should he tell her that he had added the bathroom and office, then put up all the shelves only to realize after the fact that the room ‘felt’ wrong? It had taken him weeks to realize that the problem was that it he always felt off balance when he came into the room. He had even used those words to describe it once he figured it out. He hadn’t wanted to pull the shelves down and had resisted doing anything about it even after he figured it out. Until one day he realized that what he needed to do was add the window. Roger and the crew thought he was crazy to change it, but they had been between jobs and happy to have the work and had found just the window he wanted. When he visited the shop himself and saw all the wonderful old windows he had gone a little window crazy. He added an old window at the base of the stairs and moved another in the dining room and the office. He had added a window in his bedroom and one in each of the upstairs bathrooms. He had also created wall of windows across the half of the back of the house. He shook his head at himself and said, “Finding those old windows was like finding treasure."
She said, “The Green Project?”
He shook his head again. “Other than cooking, is there anything you don’t know?”
She looked at him puzzled.
“You figure out how I changed the room in a few minutes, when it took me weeks to figure out what to do. Then you tell me where the crew found the window.”
“Oh but The Green Project has been around for a long time, PreKatrina. One of the things I’ve worked on as a PostK neighborhood activist is preserving what we have left. That has meant fighting unnecessary demolitions and understanding the concept of deconstruction as an alternative to demolition so that even if the house has to come down the fabulous and practically indestructible old cypress and hardwoods and all the wonderful old architectural details are saved. It’s really just another form of recycling. After seeing so much of my city on the curb and hauled away in dump trucks, what was a passing interest PreK is practically an evangelical religious calling today. Our PostK experiences have given a lot of people ‘religion’ about a lot of things. The city’s innate tendency to be passionate about its pleasures like food and music has extended itself to fighting the Corps of Engineers, and for wetlands restoration and against demolitions and for setting higher expectations of public education and city hall and NOPD….” And she trailed off saying, “Sorry I’m preaching.”
He was just smiling at her. “You and the folks like you with your innate passions are exactly why I’m here.”

She looked down at her wine feeling a little embarrassed about getting up on her soapbox. He realized that she was a bit embarrassed and thought he might be making her uncomfortable. Perhaps he was going to have to watch how his inside voice came out. Settrano said, “No.” and Owen caught himself smiling and said to himself, ‘No, I think she might just have to get used to it’. But he did grab the huge bowl of popcorn and switched the topic by saying “So what do I need to know before we watch a movie about Quantum Physics?”

He watched as she seamlessly shifted her thoughts to the movie and said, “Well I guess you should know that it is a fictional story woven into a documentary about quantum physics and the possibilities that the quantum concepts bring to us. So don’t be confused when the story switches to the documentary and then the documentary switches back to the story and round and round.” Smiling she said, “kind of like the Wheel of the Year." She took a sip of her wine and continued, “They are going to throw a lot of information at you at once. Try to just go with the flow and not fight it. In many ways the fictional story being interwoven with the documentary is like the quantum concept of all possibilities happening at once.” And she looked him in the eye and smiled at him again and said, “Which is a bit like the lunar thinking I mentioned last week. I’ve always found that fiction helps me absorb things more completely and deeply than just wrestling with the facts. ”
“OK, a 2 in 1 movie” and picking up the remote he said “Shall we?”
She nodded and he pressed play.

He watched and was amazed at the mind bending concepts. He wanted to stop the DVD and ask questions but he didn’t because she had told him to ‘just go with the flow’. She watched even though she had seen it twice before. The concepts were slippery and each time she watched she felt she grasped them more firmly. The end credits were starting to run and he wanted to talk, but she said “Wait, you’ve been listening to these scientists talk for more than an hour. You have to hear their amazing credentials.”
So he waited and listened and she was right. When credits finished, she said “How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?” and he answered without even thinking “All the Way! … But man, I am going to have to watch that again, some of those concepts are simple, some are not and some sound too fantastic to believe.”
She just shook her head in agreement. She knew exactly how he felt. Owen was a sponge. He wanted to talk about the concepts. So they spent the next 3 hours talking about quantum physics and science and magic and possibilities and how it fit with lunar thinking and the Ways. And Settrano smiled as Owen followed his passion and Meana smiled as Nola was able to share her passions with someone else. And Bellaria smiled as she watched their facile minds work practically in tandem. And Tago watched, pleased with their growth.

He seemed to have talked himself out. So she got up and started walking to the kitchen with her glass in her hand.
“Aw you’re not leaving already.”
She smiled at him and shook her head and said, “Owen, it is after 1AM. I’ve been here for more than 5 hours.”
He was still sitting and looking a bit like someone was taking all his toys.
“Next week is the Solstice. I’m assuming that we can do the ritual here at your house.”
He perked up at that, “Absolutely. What do I need to do?”
"hmmm, Do you have a hooded black robe?"
"umm no."
"Well, if we're are going to do ritual together you should probably get one. You can order one online. Try to get natural fabric, a light silk or a cotton. It is too hot here for wool. Avoid the costume sites. The Pointy Hat is a good online shop. It might be hard for shops to ensure that you get a size that will work for you. You're pretty tall. You don't want a mid calf robe. You'd feel silly."
"Ok, so a robe. Pointy Hat. Anything else?"
"A cord to tie at your waist. For now it can be black or white. You can probably order it with the robe."
"Ok. What else."
“Nothing really, Look over the ritual. I’ll bring everything just like I did for your circle casting lesson. Oh, you should always have an offering for ritual.”
“An offering?” and his forehead wrinkled.
“Yes, something that you give to the Gods. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be a simply a flower you buy at the store or something that calls to you from nature, something that you have to pick up for the Gods or it can be giving up wearing a favorite piece of jewelry for some time, or a poem you write or a 10 inch ponytail cut off and given to Locks of Love. I’ve even seen people give a drop or two of their blood on a cloth.” And his eyebrows shot up. “You’ll know what is right. Part of this practice is learning how to listen.”
“OK… An offering.”
And because it was obvious that she wasn’t going to sit down again, he got up with the bowl and the bottles and walked with her to the kitchen.

She picked up her purse and keys and he asked, “What time will you be here for the Solstice Ritual?”
“Same time I guess, 8PM?”
“OK, 8PM.”
“Remember, it’s Friday. Are you sure you’re not busy?”
“Aw, Friday.”
“If we need to work around something we can figure out a way.”
“No, no problem, But Friday is a week and a day away.”
“Owen, your parents must have spoiled you. Technically it is Friday now. So it’s still only a week away. Do your homework, watch 'What the Bleep' again. Watch the Star Trek DVDs.” And at that she hooked her arm through his and said “Come on big man, walk me to my truck before I'm too tired to drive home.”
And as he walked her to his truck, he couldn't help thinking how great it would be if she didn't have to go. And Settrano and Meana looked at each other and smiled again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Words of Aradia: Concerning the Astral Plane

These words are taken from Italian Witchcraft by Raven Grimassi:

The Astral World, through the Plane of Forces, receives the thoughts and vibrations of actions from the Physical World. Just as solid materials are used to create objects in our world Thoughts and vibrations create etheric object on the Astral Plane.

Therefore, what people strongly believe in enough can be created astrally. This is one method by which ritual Magick is performed. Energy is first raised with a specific purpose in mind, then it it given up to the Plane of Forces, where it it drawn and channeled to the Astral Work, and so obtains a thought form.

The true purpose of the Astral Plan is to prepare us for future lives and existences by burning out (purifying) or exhausting, all of our fears, desires and false concepts. These bind us to the lower worlds. So it is our afterlife experiences in the lower astral world which transforms us.

The Astral World is under the Divine Law of Cause and Effect, action and reaction. It is the essence of the Three-fold Law.

The Astral Planes contain all the heavens and hells which followers of all religions believe in. They will experience what they believe awaits them.

On the Astral Plane, thoughts are things. As you believe so shall it be.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Making the coast a priority

Making the Louisiana coast a priority: an editorial
By Editorial page staff, The Times-Picayune
October 25, 2009, 6:00AM

Nancy Sutley, the White House's point person on the environment, got an airboat-level view of Louisiana's eroding coastal marshes Tuesday. In a photo from Big Branch Refuge near Lacombe, the boat appears to be in open water, but there is a small strip of green marsh grass in the distance.

Louisianians who have fished and worked the coast for decades can point to broad expanses of water and describe the stands of trees and fields of grass that once grew there.

Byron Encalade, a fisher from East Pointe-a-la-Hache, talked recently about the dramatic loss of land. "I used to travel at night on my boat from St. Bernard all the way across the Mississippi line with only a compass, because we had landmarks we could navigate by," said Mr. Encalade, who fishes for oyster and shrimp. "You can't do that anymore. All the small islands, all the passes, they've all washed away."

Mr. Encalade said he wished that President Barack Obama would tour the marshes by boat during his stop in New Orleans a week and a half ago. That didn't happen, but Ms. Sutley and Jane Lubchenco, the undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, should take what they saw on their boat ride back to the White House.

Even before the airboat excursion, Ms. Sutley said she understood the urgent need for coastal restoration. Viewing the erosion first-hand surely reinforced that message.

Rusty Costanza / The Times-PicayuneWhite House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley speaks with Col. Al Lee, District Commander for the New Orleans District for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, during a visit to the Bayou Bienvenue Coastal Restoration Site in New Orleans' lower Ninth Ward on Thursday, October 15.The boat tour came a day after she, Ms. Lubchenco and several other Obama administration officials listened to three hours of testimony in New Orleans on developing an oceans policy. Most of the comments concerned Louisiana's coastal land loss. That is no doubt partly a reflection of where the meeting was held.

But it also is an indication of the importance of the issue to a broad range of people.

"The nation cannot continue to watch Louisiana disappear," said Robert Twilley, associate vice chancellor for research at Louisiana State University and a professor of oceanography and coastal sciences.

"We have watched as our coast has disappeared," said Tracy Kuhns, who runs the coastal advocacy group Louisiana Bayoukeeper. "It's not just wetlands, it's not just a swamp out here. People live there. When we lose all that we lose our culture and our livelihoods."

That is crucial for the White House to understand. Ours is a working coastline, not a vacation-land dotted with high-priced condos. And the work that is done along our shores is vital to the U.S. economy. Ms. Sutley and Ms. Lubchenco no doubt saw fishing boats and oil and gas pipelines on their marsh trip last week. Our fisheries supply 40 percent of the seafood consumed nationally, and 34 percent of the country's natural gas supply and 29 percent of the crude oil comes through coastal Louisiana.
If nothing else, the federal government ought to help rebuild our coast out of a recognition of its immense economic value. In addition, restoring the state's protective marshland will help protect the government's investment in the region's recovery.

President Obama should remember, too, that South Louisiana has paid a price for oil and gas exploration. A federal Minerals Management Service study released recently found that oil and gas production has taken a significant toll on Gulf Coast wetlands and contributed to this state's land loss crisis. The report also pointed out that destruction caused by pipeline and navigation channel construction could be avoided or reduced by using the least damaging and most easily mitigated construction method.

The findings, which went unpublished for two years, bolster Louisiana's argument that the federal government ought to shoulder a greater share of coastal restoration costs.

For decades the federal government refused to give Louisiana a share of royalties from oil and gas harvested off our coast.
Not until 2006 was the state's congressional delegation able to get Congress to pass a revenue-sharing bill -- and even then only on new wells. In the first decade, very little money is being realized for the state.

Louisiana will receive about $7 million this year, and that amount will stay between $7 million and $10 million per year until 2017. New federal Minerals Management Service estimates now conclude the state's share will only grow to between $100 million and $150 million a year, which is substantially less than predicted when Congress approved the revenue-sharing measure.

To help jumpstart restoration projects and pay for land needed for levee construction, the state has put up at least $800 million from its budget surpluses since 2007. That ought to signal Louisiana's commitment to the coast. Gov. Bobby Jindal said he used his time with President Obama to press for funding for the backlog of flood-protection projects that are ready to go and for which the state has already put up matching dollars. The state is hoping that the president will include $500 million to $1 billion in his next annual budget to pay for four major restoration projects.

The governor should continue to press the state's case.

Denise Reed, a coastal researcher at the University of New Orleans, described the situation well. "Louisiana is undoubtedly in a crisis, and we don't need short-term fixes, we need deliberative thinking about what the next century holds."

Louisiana loses the equivalent of a football field in land area to erosion every 38 minutes, which leaves everyone here far more vulnerable to storms. That threat has a cost not only to us but to the nation.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Children denounced as witches tortured in Africa

My degree is in Geology.
In geology we have a tenant which says the present is the key to the past.
What this means is that if you can see a process happening today, its a pretty good bet that it has happened in the past, and will happen again in the future. Now with this in mind, read the article below.

Churches denounce African children as "witches"
By KATHARINE HOURELD (AP) – Oct 17, 2009

EKET, Nigeria — The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.

His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him — Mount Zion Lighthouse.

A month later, he died.

Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of "witch children" reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.

Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

"It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity," said Gary Foxcroft, head of nonprofit Stepping Stones Nigeria.

For their part, the families are often extremely poor, and sometimes even relieved to have one less mouth to feed. Poverty, conflict and poor education lay the foundation for accusations, which are then triggered by the death of a relative, the loss of a job or the denunciation of a pastor on the make, said Martin Dawes, a spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund.

"When communities come under pressure, they look for scapegoats," he said. "It plays into traditional beliefs that someone is responsible for a negative change ... and children are defenseless."


The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria's 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.

Nigeria is one of the heartlands of abuse, but hardly the only one: the United Nations Children's Fund says tens of thousands of children have been targeted throughout Africa.

Church signs sprout around every twist of the road snaking through the jungle between Uyo, the capital of the southern Akwa Ibom state where Nwanaokwo lay, and Eket, home to many more rejected "witch children." Churches outnumber schools, clinics and banks put together. Many promise to solve parishioner's material worries as well as spiritual ones — eight out of ten Nigerians struggle by on less than $2 a day.

"Poverty must catch fire," insists the Born 2 Rule Crusade on one of Uyo's main streets.

"Where little shots become big shots in a short time," promises the Winner's Chapel down the road.

"Pray your way to riches," advises Embassy of Christ a few blocks away.

It's hard for churches to carve out a congregation with so much competition. So some pastors establish their credentials by accusing children of witchcraft.

Nwanaokwo said he knew the pastor who accused him only as Pastor King. Mount Zion Lighthouse in Nigeria at first confirmed that a Pastor King worked for them, then denied that they knew any such person.

Bishop A.D. Ayakndue, the head of the church in Nigeria, said pastors were encouraged to pray about witchcraft, but not to abuse children.

"We pray over that problem (of witchcraft) very powerfully," he said. "But we can never hurt a child."

The Nigerian church is a branch of a Californian church by the same name. But the California church says it lost touch with its Nigerian offshoots several years ago.

"I had no idea," said church elder Carrie King by phone from Tracy, Calif. "I knew people believed in witchcraft over there but we believe in the power of prayer, not physically harming people."

The Mount Zion Lighthouse — also named by three other families as the accuser of their children — is part of the powerful Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. The Fellowship's president, Ayo Oritsejafor, said the Fellowship was the fastest-growing religious group in Nigeria, with more than 30 million members.

"We have grown so much in the past few years we cannot keep an eye on everybody," he explained.

But Foxcroft, the head of Stepping Stones, said if the organization was able to collect membership fees, it could also police its members better. He had already written to the organization twice to alert it to the abuse, he said. He suggested the fellowship ask members to sign forms denouncing abuse or hold meetings to educate pastors about the new child rights law in the state of Akwa Ibom, which makes it illegal to denounce children as witches. Similar laws and education were needed in other states, he said.

Sam Itauma of the Children's Rights and Rehabilitation Network said it is the most vulnerable children — the orphaned, sick, disabled or poor — who are most often denounced. In Nwanaokwo's case, his poor father and dead mother made him an easy target.

"Even churches who didn't use to 'find' child witches are being forced into it by the competition," said Itauma. "They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism."

That's what Margaret Eyekang did when her 8-year-old daughter Abigail was accused by a "prophet" from the Apostolic Church, because the girl liked to sleep outside on hot nights — interpreted as meaning she might be flying off to join a coven. A series of exorcisms cost Eyekang eight months' wages, or US$270. The payments bankrupted her.

Neighbors also attacked her daughter.

"They beat her with sticks and asked me why I was bringing them a witch child," she said. A relative offered Eyekang floor space but Abigail was not welcome and had to sleep in the streets.

Members of two other families said pastors from the Apostolic Church had accused their children of witchcraft, but asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

The Nigeria Apostolic Church refused repeated requests made by phone, e-mail and in person for comment.


At first glance, there's nothing unusual about the laughing, grubby kids playing hopscotch or reading from a tattered Dick and Jane book by the graffiti-scrawled cinderblock house. But this is where children like Abigail end up after being labeled witches by churches and abandoned or tortured by their families.

There's a scar above Jane's shy smile: her mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and repeated exorcisms costing a total of $60 didn't cure her of witchcraft. Mary, 15, is just beginning to think about boys and how they will look at the scar tissue on her face caused when her mother doused her in caustic soda. Twelve-year-old Rachel dreamed of being a banker but instead was chained up by her pastor, starved and beaten with sticks repeatedly; her uncle paid him $60 for the exorcism.

Israel's cousin tried to bury him alive, Nwaekwa's father drove a nail through her head, and sweet-tempered Jerry — all knees, elbows and toothy grin — was beaten by his pastor, starved, made to eat cement and then set on fire by his father as his pastor's wife cheered it on.

The children at the home run by Itauma's organization have been mutilated as casually as the praying mantises they play with. Home officials asked for the children's last names not to be used to protect them from retaliation.

The home was founded in 2003 with seven children; it now has 120 to 200 at any given time as children are reconciled with their families and new victims arrive.

Helen Ukpabio is one of the few evangelists publicly linked to the denunciation of child witches. She heads the enormous Liberty Gospel church in Calabar, where Nwanaokwo used to live. Ukpabio makes and distributes popular books and DVDs on witchcraft; in one film, a group of child witches pull out a man's eyeballs. In another book, she advises that 60 percent of the inability to bear children is caused by witchcraft.

In an interview with the AP, Ukpabio is accompanied by her lawyer, church officials and personal film crew.

"Witchcraft is real," Ukpabio insisted, before denouncing the physical abuse of children. Ukpabio says she performs non-abusive exorcisms for free and was not aware of or responsible for any misinterpretation of her materials.

"I don't know about that," she declared.

However, she then acknowledged that she had seen a pastor from the Apostolic Church break a girl's jaw during an exorcism. Ukpabio said she prayed over her that night and cast out the demon. She did not respond to questions on whether she took the girl to hospital or complained about the injury to church authorities.

After activists publicly identified Liberty Gospel as denouncing "child witches," armed police arrived at Itauma's home accompanied by a church lawyer. Three children were injured in the fracas. Itauma asked that other churches identified by children not be named to protect their victims.

"We cannot afford to make enemies of all the churches around here," he said. "But we know the vast majority of them are involved in the abuse even if their headquarters aren't aware."

Just mentioning the name of a church is enough to frighten a group of bubbly children at the home.

"Please stop the pastors who hurt us," said Jerry quietly, touching the scars on his face. "I believe in God and God knows I am not a witch."

Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Papayas from seed - really

Papayas from seed

I think the plant looks a bit like Diana at Ephesus.

Papayas from seed

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chapter 11 - The Mythos

As Nola drove home she thought about hearing, if you could call it hearing, Meana say, ‘I am happy he is here for you.’ Here for her. Yes, he was here for her. He was a new student and like all new students demanding and invigorating. There was something about teaching that always gave back to the teacher. She was there for him, but when Meana had said he was there for her, it had been less comforting than disconcerting which was odd because she had specifically asked the universe for a male student.

Meana was her Watcher, the Grigori who had adopted her, taken special interest. Meana had helped her cultivate her softer, warmer more feminine side and had taught her that there was strength there as well. Meana had been the Watcher who was closest in some very difficult times. Tago was foundation, the order and control. He saw what she was capable of and when he entered the circle it was as if to remind her of this, to hold the bar up or raise it and say, ‘Yes, I still watch.’ He had not rejected or ignored Owen. He acknowledged him as one of his own and he watched. Bellaria was the Grigori with whom she shared a natural affinity. There were no real lessons to for Bellaria to teach because Nola shared her passion for knowledge so Bellaria watched and encouraged as she explored. Nola sensed that Bellaria felt that same alignment with Owen’s easy, facile mind. Settrano was all passion and excitement and fury when needed. He had seen in Nola a kindred spirit. He still wished that she would have more fun; but had been reminded by the other Grigori that Nola had different lessons to learn first and that her natural alignment with his capacity for intensity was enough for now.

The Grigori were said to be beyond gender. But she found that despite this teaching she still thought of them as masculine and feminine. She supposed it was her failing that caused her to think of them as male or female and refer to them as he or she. The best she had been able to do was to envision a male Bellario and a female Taga or Settrana, feminine but with the same aspects as the counterpoints that showed up when she cast a circle, and sometimes even when she didn’t. The Grigori had a unique place in her tradition. The closest analogy was to the Christian angels. She supposed that Meana was the closest thing she’d ever have of a guardian angel. But she really didn’t think of Meana that way. She thought of Meana as a teacher and guide, non-corporeal but there none the less. Sometimes when she thought about this too hard, it seemed ridiculous. But there it was. And now Owen was introduced. It would be interesting to see what experiences he would have.

Owen stood in the driveway as she left and then looked up at the stars and wondered if the Grigori were really up there “watching”. It was a little weird when you thought about it, like a space ship with the ability to take sensor readings on Streghe. He shook his head and wished that she could have stayed. He would have like to have spent more time talking about… well everything. He hoped she would be able to come back this weekend.

The Grigori watched. Meana said, “It is good she has someone who feels and does not hold back or doubt his heart.” Bellaria said, “They both have interesting minds and together they think endlessly and robustly, it is pleasant and encouraging.” Settrano said, “Now he needs to let go and have fun and do what his passion tells him to do, instead of what he feels obligated to do”. Tago said, “Remember, we watch.”

Owen seemed to prefer phone calls to email so despite her resistance to the thing she contacted him from her cell phone to let him know that they were getting a tree Friday evening and that Jamie had invited her friends over to decorate it with her on Saturday and that they had been enlisted to help Jamie’s grandmother do the same on Sunday. “I’m sorry Owen, but I won’t be able to see you until Thursday.”
Owen was disappointed but managed not to let it show up in his voice, “Oh well, then what time should I expect you on Thursday?”
Nola said, “Around 8PM? I have to wait for James to get home from work. I’d rather not leave Jamie by herself. Is that too late?”
“Nope, not too late, I’ll see you then.”

Owen was again waiting for her outside. December weather in New Orleans could be mild and tonight was one of those perfect nights. When she drove up he opened the gate for her so she was able to drive right in. He met her as she was opening the truck door.
“Well, that’s service. Thank you, very much Owen.”
“I can’t leave my teacher on the street in the dark, now can I?” and then he handed her a small black box with buttons on it. “Here, keep this in your truck.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a remote to open the gate. This way I’ll know that you can always get in off of the street.”
“Hmmm, thank you….” She said, not sure she wanted to take it, “but are you sure that this can stay in the car and not bake in our summer heat?”
“Well I think it’s a good sign that you think that you’ll still be working with me in the summer. But yes, it will be fine. I keep mine in my truck and I haven’t had any problems with it.”
And realizing that she really didn’t have a good reason to say no, she said, “OK.” and put it in the truck’s center console.
As she did this he was looking in the truck bed and said, “No props tonight?”
And she smiled and raised her eyebrow at him and said, “No, tonight I thought we’d go over our mythos, our story of the Wheel of the Year in preparation for the Winter Solstice ritual. Unless you have burning issues or questions we need to cover first?”
“No burning issues or questions…, the mythos sounds like a good idea. It’s such a cool beautiful night, what if we were to sit out on the back porch?”
“OK, sure, that’s fine.”

He lead her into the kitchen where there were 2 glasses out on the counter and poured them some wine. It was a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Nola raised her glass and said, “To seeking and learning.” She swirled the wine in the glass and took in the fragrance before she took a sip and closed her eyes. Owen smiled and thought that he could become a wine connoisseur just so he could watch her drink new wines. She opened her eyes and said “ummm, tart, sweet, with a hint of flowers and grapefruit, it is clean taste means it’s was probably grown in hard slate soil. Yummy…. Owen you can choose wine for me anytime. Thank you.”
“Wow, how do you know so much about wine.”
“hmm? I don’t.’
“What do you mean ‘I don’t’. Flowers, grapefruit, clean, hard slate? And he looked at her as if to say, ‘Excuse me, but yes you do!’
“Well it’s just what I think. I could be wrong. I just took a sip. I think it’s good. Someone else could think it’s not.”
“Oh no, you can’t get off the hook that easy. Look at this description ‘Fragrant and complex, with a refreshing burst of lime, guava, grapefruit and grass flavors. Wet stone, passion fruit and oyster shell accents add interest, with bright acidity highlighting the vivid finish.’ ”
”Well, that’s not exactly what I said, and it’s not hard to taste the citrus in the wine and the clean taste is obvious too.”
“OK so you and Wine Spectator agree. But you haven’t answered my question. How do you know so much about wine?”
She looked at him from over the top of her glass, “From drinking it?”
He smiled at her and shook his head. “OK, obviously you have to drink it to know something about it.” Then raised his own eyebrows as if to say, ‘you still didn’t answer the question.’
“Jeezz, I don’t know. Give me a minute.”
And while he waited he took a sip of his wine and tried to taste what she tasted in it. He had to admit it was good.
She took another sip and then said, “My father died when I was 14. My mother, who had been a stay at home mom, had to go to work because we were 2 steps from the poor house.”
And he thought, for a story about how she knows about wine, this is a very strange beginning. “She went to work at the ship yard where my father had been a welder. There she met a German naval architect. They became an item and he made her very happy. Europeans drink wine. Lots more than we Americans do. So we had wine whenever he came to the house and he came to the house most weekends. He brought his European friends. They brought wine too. I was a teenager and I got to sit at the table and sip wine and listen to Europeans talk about wine. The French talked about French wines and the Germans talked about German wines and then each of them talked about what they liked about whatever wine they had brought to dinner that weekend. It was an experience and an education. I learned to sip and to listen to the wine. I learned about ‘terroir’.
"No Terroir. It’s French. It translates loosely into ‘sense of place’. It’s about how the climate and the soil influence the wine’s flavor. My geology background probably helps too. Geologists taste rocks.”
“Geologists can tell the clay content of rocks by tasting small bits of the sedimentary rock and feeling the clay content. I discovered that just like those Europeans had talked about terrior, the rock’s flavor told you something about the mineral content. It’s really all the same thing. It’s my basic, boring, scientific tendencies that make me pay attention to the data available to help determine history, content and connections. I guess in some ways wine tasting is something else I’ve come to do without thinking about it.”
He just looked at her and said, “Woman, your tendencies are anything but boring.”

And she looked into her wine glass and he could see that he was making her uncomfortable. So he grabbed the wine bucket and said, “Well let’s take this wine and go outside and you can start on the mythos.”
She reached for the manual as he pushed the back door open and she went out on to the porch. It was cool but not too cold. He dropped the wine bucket on the table and then lit the citronella candles for light instead of the more common bug control. There was just enough light for it to be cozy and comfortable. She decided to sit on the large practically twin bed sized porch swing with the large comfortable cushion thinking that it would keep her from getting cold.
He sat on one end and she sat on the other. The swing rocked ever so gently.
She said, “I think this is the largest porch swing I’ve ever seen. It’s comfortable.”
“Yes it is. It came with the house. I’ve always liked it. It’s one of the few pieces of furniture that fits my frame.”
And she smiled at him and took another sip of her wine and said, “Now I need to figure out where to start.”
“The beginning?” He said smiling at her.
She smiled back and said mysteriously, “Where is the beginning and where is the end? The pagan year is often referred to as the Wheel of the Year. Wheel. Circle. Endless. Is the beginning in the Spring when everything is new? Is the beginning at Winter Solstice when the light returns?”
He took another sip and she continued. “Officially our year starts at Shadowfest, Halloween. But I’ve always felt like the new year didn’t have a starting day, but a window of time over which the world reset itself for a new beginning. But it doesn’t happen all at once in a frenetic rush like our modern holidays. It takes its time and sets us up for new beginnings. This period starts right after Autumn Equinox and culminates at the Winter Solstice. You can’t really understand our version of the Winter Solstice without going back to the Autumn Equinox. At the Autumn Equinox the God dies. This is also one of the two points in the solar year when day and night are equal. If you looked at it from a purely scientific perspective you could say the sun and therefore the God started dying at the Summer Solstice as this is when the days start to get shorter. But anyone who has ever been through a summer in New Orleans would never say that the sun begins to wane in June. For us the hope of a break in the heat comes in September at the Autumn Equinox." She stopped and took another sip of her wine. He was still waiting for more so she went on.

“After the God dies at the Equinox the Goddess yearns for him. So she descends into the underworld at Shadowfest to find her consort and love, the God. There they meet and love anew. The Goddess realizes that she has become pregnant with the God’s seed and the God teaches her that death is not the end, that there is the cycle of rebirth. Shadowfest is also when the Goddess turns her reign over to the God.”
She stopped thinking he must have questions or something to say. But he was just sitting and waiting for more, like a sponge. Bellaria must be pleased. And Nola heard her whisper…. ‘Yes, go on.’ So she did. “At the Winter Solstice the Goddess, still in the underworld and in the presence of the Grigori, gives birth to the God, to Janus of 2 faces, to Lupercus, the wolf god and Kern, the stag god. The Grigori take the new born sun god from the underworld to the world.”
And Owen said, “The birth of the son, who will save the world.”
And she nodded, “The common thread of this myth is woven in many cultures. Christianity is but the last in a long line. The Winter Solstice and the return of the sun to the world, was one of the first things I taught my daughter when she was barely 2 years old. It was self defense on my part, a way to get something in her head before the common Christian mythos got to her.” She smiled and said, “Thankfully, it seems to have worked.”
He seemed deep in thought so she waited.
Finally he seemed to come back to himself and said, “So, no Oak King, no Holly King?”
“Nope, that mythos always seemed, to me, less than fully developed, or perhaps something has gotten lost over time.”
“You know I always struggled with it too.”
“Lupercus and Kern are a bit like the Oak and Holly Kings of Wicca, except that the switch takes place at the Equinoxes instead of the Solstices. Lupercus starts his reign in the waning year from Autumn Equinox until the Spring Equinox when he is killed. Kern starts his reign in the waxing year from the Spring Equinox until he dies at the Autumn Equinox. There is still a transition from one god form to another and the transition still takes place at death. But the transition takes place when the day and night are equal because the gods are equal halves of the whole.
“But how can Lupercus reign at the Equinox before he is born at the Solstice?”
“Lunar thinking.”
“Huh, Lunar thinking? What is that?”
“It’s just the words that were used to describe the fact that it is not logical in linear time sense.”
“Sorry, I still don’t get it.”
She smiled him, “Don’t worry, no one does at first or we wouldn’t have the term ‘Lunar Thinking’. He still looked dubious but she went on. "At the Winter Solstice we have Dis, the Lord of the Underworld, Janus the God of 2 faces. The God has to have lived as Janus so that he can die and be Dis, Lord of the Underworld. Janus is both Lupercus and Kern. The God has to be in the picture so he can impregnate the Goddess. He is both her son and lover. The wheel of the year isn’t just cyclical, round and round. The wheel is a spiral. It has been and it will be again but not exactly the same as before. Each year, each season we have the option to learn something new from the experience. The many aspects of the God, or Goddess for that matter, exist simultaneously. It is not purely linear. It’s lunar.”

He looked like he almost got it but also like he wasn’t complete sure. She said, “Are you a Star Trek fan?”
“Where did that come from?”
“Work with me here. Are you a Star Trek fan?”
“Yes, I’ve followed all of the series. My nephew Eric, grew up on Voyager. My middle brother Ryan, Eric’s dad, is a bigger fan than I am. They have all the DVDs. Sometimes Eric would insist that we get together at Ryan's house and have marathons.”
“Well then, I’d probably like Eric and his dad Ryan. Do you remember the first episode of Deep Space Nine and the baseball analogy, where Captain Sisko is trying to explain to the wormhole prophets about linear time?”
“Yes, vaguely.”
“I’m going to have to bring our DVD of this so that you can watch it as homework. But for now, you’ll have to trust me when I say that the key is for you to accept that ‘it is not linear.’ Lupercus can reign because the God exists. Lupercus is just one aspect of the God. Lupercus and Kern are twin Gods, equal halves of the whole. It’s mythos Owen, not science, remember. Some of this is metaphorical. Even science has quantum mechanics which essentially says all possibilities exist simultaneously.” She smiled, “Don’t try so hard and it will come to you. Let’s take a break, your brow is furrowed.”

When she returned he was standing looking out into the backyard. She got their glasses refilled them and handed him his. As he took it from her he said, “So you’re a Star Trek fan?”
“Yes, We have all the DVDs of all the Trek series. I raised my daughter on Voyager. We’ve watched the Voyager series straight through at least 5 times. I love the universe that Gene Rodenberry created, with all its hope and possibilities. Star Trek is a perfect mythos for a scientist. A mythos is simply a way of looking at the world and exploring its possibilities, whether it’s Star Trek or the Oak & Holly King or Lupercus & Kern or the duality of God & Goddess.”
“But as a strega you believe that Lupercus, the God and Goddess are real.”
“You will believe that Lupercus is real or at least feel his energies once you do a Lupercus ritual. It’s pretty powerful stuff.”
She looked at him and said, “I was planning to work our way around the wheel tonight, but perhaps I should go and give you time to think about it.”
That snapped him out of it. He turned and said, “No stay,” and escorted her back to the cushioned swing. Without thinking about it he turned the full force of his personality on to her, “I do understand the basic outline and I also understand that it is mystical and not scientific, I just can tell that I don’t feel it like you do and I want to.” And Settrano smiled and winked at Bellaria. And Meana just smiled.

She felt his intensity. And then gathered herself, sat back down on the porch swing and continued. “The next ritual in the wheel of the year is Lupercus, the 2nd of February. This is a ritual that is all about connecting with our wild and primal energies via the wolf god. It is perfect for the young adolescent god, just born at the Winter Solstice. I think of it as the time where we purify ourselves from the cares and woes of our modern, developed world and return to our ancient primal selves. It’s one of my favorite holidays, I especially the idea of romping around like wolves and howling is great release even when it isn’t Lupercus.
He said, “You howl?” and sat back down on the swing with her.
“Oh yes.” She took a sip of wine. He still had a bit of an incredulous look on his face. “Once when my daughter was very young, we were rushing to get ready, showers, shampooing hair, getting soap in her eyes, combing out the tangles. I was stressed from my day at work and she was stressed by the pain of soap in her eyes. I’m afraid I wasn’t as sympathetic as I could have been and told her she sounded like a howling wolf. Then I got an idea and said, let’s go ahead and howl like wolves and I howled. And she was just young enough to try it. We ended up laughing and all the cares and woes fell away. That’s the essence of Lupercus.”
“You taught your 2 year old to howl.”
“Yep, perhaps everyone should do it. It seemed to significantly cut down on the whining.”
He just shook his head and smiled. She settled back into the swing and continued.
“The next ritual is the Spring Equinox. This is where the new God calls the Goddess to him from the underworld where she has been since Shadowfest and she begins her return and gives us the gift of the desire for life. Here we honor the polarity of the God & Goddess and bless the possibilities of new beginnings. It is said that anything planted at the Spring Equinox will come to fruition at the Autumn Equinox. By May Day, or Lady Day, the Goddess has returned from the underworld and blesses the earth. This is also when the God turns his reign over to the Goddess. Next comes the Summer Solstice, this is where the power the magic of the God & Goddess in their power joins with the spirits of the Earth and the elementals. We honor our connection and dependence on the earth. It is the one ritual where Streghe are charged to do magic to benefit nature and the earth and banish evil. In August we have Cornucopia, where we honor the gifts of the land and God before he dies again at the Autumn Equinox.”
“And round and round we go.”
“Yes and we hopefully spiral upward in our development too. At the Autumn Equinox the God dies and Lupercus takes over again. At Shadowfest the Goddess turns her reign over to the God of the underworld and at Winter Solstice the Sun is born anew. You should read through the mythos again. Every year I learn something new.”
And she shivered because it was edging on toward midnight and the temperature was beginning to drop. He saw this and said, “You’re getting cold. Let’s go inside.”

They dropped their glasses in the kitchen and he walked her to the living room. She sat in the chair. He found a blanket to put over her shoulders.
“Thanks Owen. But if I get too warm and comfortable I’ll fall asleep and not get home tonight.”
And his inside voice said, 'Good, stay.' But what he said instead was, “The mythos is busy with the transitions at the Equinoxes between Lupercus and Kern and the God and Goddess turning over their reign to each other.”
And he grabbed his manual off of the table and sat on the sofa. She watched and waited to see what he was looking up assuming he had a question and was looking for the thing he wanted to ask about.
She settled into the chair and said, “hmm, busy, I never thought of it as busy. But I can see how you might think so. I always thought of it as robust…, fully developed…, complex…., just like life.”
He smiled at her and realized just how tired she was. So he sat quietly with the manual and wished her off to sleep in his chair and she leaned over in the large overstuffed chair and fell asleep.

She woke not quite an hour later. He was still sitting on the sofa reading and watching her sleep when Meana nudged her. He saw her stir and was smiling at her as she opened her eyes. She looked around and realized quickly were she was and was more than a little embarrassed. “I fell asleep. How embarrassing. What time is it? How long have I been out?”
“About an hour.”
“An hour, you let me sleep for a hour?! Now I’m really embarrassed.”
And he moved to the ottoman and turned his formidable charm on her, “Please don’t be. You obviously needed it. I wanted to make sure that you would be safe driving home. Since you have to leave, I want you to be able to come back.”
She straightened in the chair and looked at him for a minute. “Well I suppose that does make sense, but I’m definitely awake enough to drive home now.”
“When will you come back?”
“Next Thursday.”
“A whole week?” and because he looked like a little kid who was told he had to wait to go swimming after having a lunch with ice cream she smiled at him.
“Well no, actually less than a week. It’s already Friday.”
“Ok, and you can’t come back if you don’t leave, right.”
He stood up and held his hands out.
She smiled and reached up and he helped her out of the chair and as he did pulled her into a hug. “Thank you.”
And smiling she said, “Gosh Owen, someone could get lost in one of your hugs.”
He smiled back and walked her to her truck and opened the gate so she could drive home. And Settrano smiled and said "Meana has had her turn now it looks like it's mine."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Words of Aradia: Concerning the Grigori

These words are taken from Italian Witchcraft by Raven Grimassi:

Before the people walked upon the world, there dwelt those beings which we call the Grigori. Some have called them spirits or gods. Some have spoken of them as powers and forces.

The old legends tell us that the Grigori were once physical beings, but that they are no longer. It is said that they dwell among the stars.

They are the Watchers of the Worlds, and the entrance and exits to the Worlds. Once is was said that the stars were the campfires of their armies, ever watching over us.

The Grigori have set their towers at the four quarters of the world and stand vigil over the portals which lay between the worlds.

Once they were called the powers of the air, and so did they come to be linked to the winds. Then were they known by the Latin names of Boreas, Eurus, Notus and Zephyrus. Yet these are but their titles. Know now their ancient names of Tago, Bellaria, Settrano, Meana.

The Old Ones come to our rituals to witness our rites, for we have a covenant with them. So do they watch over our works and help us. Our covenant with them was established at the end of the Second Age, and from this time do we mark the years of our ways.

The Grigori observe our rites, protect us, and escort us to the Moon Worlds when we pass from the Physical World.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Beautiful Day

It's been raining.
It's been raining a lot.
Fall just can't seem to get here.

The plants are transitioning from summer to fall.
The camelias are setting buds. The red clover is coming up.
But Fall just can't seem to get here.

It's also been hotter than we'd like.
Warm and Wet is not our typical fall.
Granted we are happy to have had a mild hurricane season.
But it is time for the seasons to change.

Today as I drove over the bridge to the 9th Ward where the levees broke
there was, for a split second - just enough time to crest the bridge
come down the rise and go a few blocks,
a beautiful sunrise.

The clouds were dark purple shades of grey
the sun was a bright not quite day glow orange ball
there were wisps of grey clouds over the face of the sun
and the hole in the grey clouds was pale yellows, pinks and oranges like a Peace rose.

It was beautiful, surprising and surprisingly hopeful.

Come on Fall. We're ready.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lasa/Lare Shrine Offerings

I am often asked what kind of things can be used as offerings in a Lasa/Lare Shrine. I like to use plants & flowers. But whenever I do ritual I make sure that I offer some of the same wine I drink to the Lasa. I also place some on my God & Goddess shrines.

Another favorite offering is Jordan Almonds. These are easy to come by at our local Middle Eastern grocery. Because they are often handed out as favors at New Orleans weddings, these favors usually end up on the Lasa Shrine. The offerings last a long time.

I have also successfully used Florida Water. I've seen this sold for more than $7.00 a bottle on pagan sites. But here in New Orleans this is so common item that it is sold at our local Walgreens, mostly in the summer so this is when I stock up. It is great as an insect repellent and it can also be used after the mosquito bites to stop the itching. Coaches & parents soak cooling cloths in it and store these in ice chests then use it on the back of the necks of their young athletes to help fight the heat. I like Florida Water's crisp scent. It has has been used to cleanse houses of negative energy in New Orleans for a long time. It is typically added to a bucket of clear mop water and then the floors in the house are mopped from the front door out of the back. Because the Lare can be spirits of the home or location, I find the use of such a historical liquid appropriate.

I have also used Dr. Tichenor's as an offering. This is linked more to my paternal ancestors and many summer weekends spent on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The key here is the link to my past and my ancestors and the heady smell. Scent is a great pleaser of the spirits.

You can also use fresh baked bread for this reason. But I tend to shy away from food offerings at my interior shrines as here in the deep south cleanliness keeps the critters & bugs away. And our tropical climate makes us more susceptible to these.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chapter 10 - Introductions

As she drove home she thought about her new student. It wasn’t as if she had never had to have a similar discussion with other students. She had. But eMail was very different from face to face. In some ways it was easier to teach in person. You could read their body language to try to get a better read on what was going on in their head. But Nola had always had a unique ability to read between the lines of an eMail and see the real issue, so this hadn’t been a problem for her. The difference with eMail was that you had time to read and reread and write and rewrite as necessary. In person the experience was immediate and intense. At least it had been with Owen this time. She’d had conversations in her head about how her own relationship fit into the Words of Aradia. But she’d never really ever said them out loud with anyone else. She felt strangely refreshed by the experience almost as if something had clicked into place for her as well as, hopefully, turned on the light bulb over Owen’s head.

Owen walked back to the house, refreshed and introspective. It was plain to see the intensity of feeling that Nola had for her husband James and, despite everything, the love and acceptance of him for who he was, not who she wanted him to be. It was pretty incredible. And he wondered if it was the woman or The Ways that contributed to this. He thought about the way she said, in love and love. It seemed an unusual distinction to make. People talked about falling in love and falling out of love as if you could only have one or the other. For Nola it seemed that love was a continuum. She had said “sometimes I’m IN love with him” but I there was no doubt that she loved him.

He wandered into the kitchen and poured himself another glass of wine and took it back to the chair in the living room. As he watched the fire and sipped the wine he thought about his relationships. Had he ever really been IN love? As he thought about it now he felt he had to admit to himself that he’d never really been in love with Lisa. And she’d probably never really been in love with him either. They loved each other but they hadn’t been in love. That was it! That explained everything. Why they weren’t together, why their breakup had been essentially painless. And why he was so happy for Lisa & Simon. Hmm. It was amazingly simple when you thought about it like that. He thought about the other women he had had in his life. He’d always been able to find female company when he wanted it. He hadn’t loved all the women. But he had genuinely liked all of them. And he had never really had a messy breakup or after 9 months not been over a relationship. When his relationships ended, they just ended. Unlike some of his friends he had never felt he had to be in a relationship and he’d always felt his life was full and rich even when he, and his grandfather, knew he was in the wrong place. Now it seemed he was finally and fully in the right place.

It was Tuesday evening and he was pacing in front of the fire place. Friday had been busy as he worked out a newly discovered problem with one of the renovations his crews were working on. Saturday and Sunday he spent a good bit of time doing thorough inspections on all his work sites. Sometimes it was easier to see where the problems might be when there was no one else around. Monday he had reviewed the jobs with the crews, complimenting some work and refocusing them on others where it looked like they might not be up to his standards. Tuesday he had reviewed inventories and reconfirmed delivery dates and adjusted the schedules as necessary. He’d also managed to unload his suitcase and restock the kitchen. He never had to worry about cleaning the house or doing laundry. He paid for that service. Right after he moved to New Orleans in 2006, maid service had been hard to find initially. But he had done some work for a local hotel and was able to get a recommendation from them for folks who had yet to find work in the still recovering city. Latasha was a godsend and in typical New Orleans fashion, now practically family.

It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to clean or do laundry. Growing up in a family with a serious work ethic who also ran ski resorts meant that he’d done room cleaning and serious laundry work, as well as bused tables, waited tables, worked the front desk and done grounds keeping. He practically had a degree in hotel restaurant and tourism by the time he was 18. Later once he was old enough and back home from college in the summers he had also bartended and done repair jobs. But he preferred not having to do the cleaning work himself. But he liked a clean and tidy house.

He finally sat down and reread the Word of Aradia, but that only made it worse. 2 more days. He got up and made a phone call using the CID button on the phone. She hadn’t really given him her phone number but he had it because she had called last week like he’d asked and so he decided to use it.

Her cell phone was ringing… she had just settled down with Jamie to watch a Star Trek Voyager DVD. For her and her daughter it was almost like going to church. She often thought how Jamie’s mythos was the Star Trek mythos with particular focus on the Voyager series. The phone was still ringing, James must be downstairs. She got up to get it.

She’d answered…. Now what to say? “Hi. Nola?”
“Hi, Owen. How are you? Are we still on for Thursday or are you calling because you need to cancel?”
“Oh no, I’m not canceling. I just wanted to make sure that you’d be able to be here on Thursday.”
“Yep, I’ll see you Thursday.”
“That’s great. Are you going to be in town for the holidays?”
“Yep, we’re not leaving. James’ sisters are coming home for the holidays. His mom & dad, well dad really, can’t travel anymore.”
“Oh good. I’ll be in town too. I don’t mean good your father-in-law can’t travel.”
And he heard her laugh on the other end and say, “I know, Owen.”
Then silence on both ends. Knowing he was the one who initiated the call and not knowing what else to say he said, “See you Thursday.”
“See you Thursday, bye. Owen.”

He hung up and felt a little goofy about needing to be reassured. But he was also glad to know that she’d be in town for the holidays. If she’d gone out of town and he would have had to keep himself busy, he had already decided he would go back to see his family and spend some time at the cabin. He was feeling the need to commune with Papa Eric and he always felt closer to him at the cabin. Now, if only Thursday was tomorrow. But it wasn’t so he settled back down with the book and the Words of Aradia.

Finally it was Thursday; she’d called and said she was on her way. He’d gotten out 2 bottles of Italian wine, one red on the counter, one white in the fridge. He had the glasses out in the kitchen.

He went out front and walked around the yard, pacing like a caged animal waiting to be fed. He was making another circuit around the yard when she drove up. He pushed the button on the driveway gate and met her at the sidewalk and said: “Drive in, it’s safer.”
She nodded and pulled into the driveway behind his truck and the gate shut behind her.

As she got out she smiled and said, “I love that feature, it feels so civilized. Evening, Owen.”
“Good Evening, Nola. I’m glad you’re finally here.”
“I really appreciate being able to park in the driveway. Have you been waiting to let me in long?” And before he realized it he said exactly what was in his head, “No I haven’t been waiting long, just all week.” Then realized that made twice. Argh.
And she laughed and kidded him. “Not outside and pacing in the yard the whole time I hope!”
“No I managed to get some work done. Let’s go inside and you can decide whether you want red or white wine tonight.”
“Ok, but I have some stuff in the back that I could use some help getting into the house. I brought the altar set up so we can go through it in detail.”
“Wow, props, impressive. Wait a minute, an old wire spool?”
“Yeah, strange huh? But I think the circular altar is important, distinctive.”
“Must be if you hauled it here for a lesson.”
“Well, it might not be something everyone would do. But I remember going over and over this via eMail when I was first learning and being able to see it makes explaining it so much easier.”

She had had to make 3 trips from the house to her truck but Owen easily lifted the spool out of the truck, then grabbed the plywood top with one hand and the spool in the other. She carried the box with the rest of the altar setup and was able to just push the door open for them. They dropped the stuff in the living room and went into the kitchen. He had the red out on the kitchen counter and when she saw it she said: “Oh Ruffino Riserva. I love that wine!”
And he was inordinately pleased with himself and made a mental note to keep it in stock and try all the other wines in the Ruffino line. He opened the bottle, checking the cork and poured them generous glasses.
She swished the wine in the glass took a deep breath and then took a sip and said, “ummmm, Thank you Owen this is quite a treat, Ducale Oro.”
He just smiled at her and took a sip himself. And thought, she’s right it is pretty good. Considering that this was an Italian tradition he figured that Italian wine was appropriate. He didn’t know exactly why he had chosen this particular wine. He had spent a good bit of time wandering the aisle and talking to the clerk and he’d picked up a number of different brands, but this one wine had insisted on being purchased and was the one he’d reached for tonight and he was glad.

As they wandered into the living room she said, “I’ve been thinking about some of basic things that distinguish this tradition from others. Other than the Words of Aradia, which are in my opinion crucial and unique, there our mythos, the way altar is set and the Lare Shrine. We’ve already started working on the Words of Aradia and we’ll review the altar set up tonight, but I think that the Lasa/Lare Shrine is an important element as well.”
“Ok, I’ll bite why don’t you tell me exactly what Lasa/Lare Shrine is and how it works?”
“It’s a portal to the past, a link to the other side via your link to your ancestors. It is also a link to the ancient past and the Old Ones.”
“Well that sounds mysterious.”
“Mysterious?, hmm I’d never thought of it as mysterious. But it can be a powerful magical tool. It can provide you a concise and consistent way to interact with the universe.”
As usual she had managed in a few sentences to totally grab his interest. What was it about this woman that totally drew him in? It was a rare cool night and he had the fire going because he liked it and didn’t get that many opportunities in New Orleans for a fire. She walked in front of the fire place and said: “Could we sit in front of the fire? Please?”
It sounded like she was asking as if it were a treat, like a kid asking for ice cream for dinner combined with an adult asking for just few more minutes in bed. He smiled and nodded, moved the large pillows in front of the fireplace, settled onto the largest pillow and patted the one next to him for her. She kicked of her shoes and settled and said “I so love a fireplace.”
The fire seemed to absorb her and he found himself watching her as she watched the fire. Until she said “The Lasa/Lare shrine, where to start?”

He took a sip of his wine to hide the fact that he’d been staring. She continued, “Many cultures and traditions from around the globe have the concept of an ancestor shrine. You mentioned that Santeria & Voodoo when we met on the plane. So maybe you have seen one of these locally.”
“Yes I have. It was rather large and elaborate and included a number of saints as well.”
“Well that setup is more akin to a Deity Altar in Stregheria than to a Lasa or Lare shrine. Those saints are Catholic links to the African Orishas or Gods of creation. A Lare Shrine is for your physical blood relatives and for those people who have passed to the otherside who have had positive impact on you and who you might want to ask for guidance.”
“You keep saying Lasa/Lare what it the difference?”
“The Lare Shrine is a Roman/Italian shrine typically to blood ancestors, to genius spirit of the male of the family or the juno spirit of the female of the family. The juno female spirit is most often associated with the hearth, the fireplace, the fire. She raised her wine glass to the fireplace and said, “Which perhaps accounts for how much I love a fireplace. I’m sure you’ve heard of vestal virgins. Vesta, the goddess of the hearth was never depicted in human form. Vesta was the fire, the ultimate juno spirit, a link to the great goddess, primal community. The Lare shrines typically look like houses, with classic columns on each side and a roof. Most of the photos of these shrines come from Pompeii. You can find them easily online. These shrines are typically built into a wall, with columns, roof and a shelf for offerings. These are Roman and associated with the state religion. Stregheria was not associated with the Roman state religion. But the Romans were famous for borrowing and the truth is no one really knows the exact roots of the Lare shrine. So for me, when I say Lare Shrine I refer to something which honors and provides a connection point via physical blood ancestors.”
She took a sip of wine and looked at him but he seemed interested in having her continue. “Historically slaves and those adopted into a family would also honor and be protected by the Lares of the house. So it would be perfectly ok for me to call my shrine a Lare shrine. And PreKatrina I did have a shrine set up with photos of my ancestors.”
“Did it survive?”
“Well yes and no. The shrine was unaffected, but it was on a built-in shelf unit in our downstairs and when we gutted the house we removed the shelf unit. I still have all the elements of the shrine. The ancestral photos are now in our library. PostK I’ve moved away from a shrine using photos of my ancestors to a Lasa Shrine which honors our more ancient spiritual connections to the Old Ones via nature. There’s still a link to the Lare because of the candle flame and Vesta and that link to primal community. But I always struggled with the Lare Shrine because I know of no physical connections to Italy or to paganism in my family. My father, the genius loci of my family, passed away when I was 14. And I really don’t have many photos of him, even fewer since my mom lost almost everything in Katrina. But he was a non-judgmental, warm and spiritual man, who I think would understand my search and my path. So I initially used 2 of his photos taken when I was very young in my shrine. Later, to honor my past and my ancestors I also placed photos of grandparents and a great aunt and uncle in the shrine. This was when I was first starting out, when I was trying to make the link. What I found was that establishing a connection to my dead ancestors was the first step in creating the link, opening the portal.”
“Portal? Portal to where?”
“To the other side via ancestors, but also to the astral, to the realm of the Gods, to the wider universe.”
“Well, that’s quite a portal.”
She laughed lightly and said, “Yes. It can be quite powerful.”
“Is it safe?”
“Safe? Wow that’s a new one.” She held the wine glass between the fingers of both hands, twirled the glass to swish the wine around in her glass and inhaled and then took a sip. He smiled and thought that he loved the way she appreciated even the smallest things, like the smell of Earl Grey tea, the driveway gate, the wine or the fireplace. Then she answered, “Well it always has been safe for me. Perhaps that is why the link is typically made via your ancestors. They know you. They love you. They protect you and the portal. Hmm. I never thought of it that way before. So yes, in my experience and in the experience of all the other folks I’ve known to have a shrine, it is safe.”
“So you think I should have a shrine.”
“I think you should think about having a shrine.”
“What do I need to make one?”
“Nothing special. A votive candle holder. I like one made of blue glass as the spirits are supposed to shine with blue light. A place to burn incense. An offering plate or glass. A small vase maybe. A photo of an honored ancestor, preferably one who would understand your search and be willing to provide a link and open the portal. Do you have someone like that?”
Owen was smiling. “Yes I think I do.”

Nola smiled back at him as if to encourage him to share.
“My father’s father, Papa Eric. He would find you fascinating and he would probably say that Aradia was his kind of woman. He loved being in nature and didn’t go to church except on special occasions as warranted by his deep respect for the beliefs of others. Papa Eric has probably been on the other side just waiting for a portal. As a matter of fact…..” He trailed off, got up and went into another room and came back with a picture frame and handed it to Nola. “Meet Papa Eric.” She held a picture of a man standing at the top of a ridgeline at sunset or was it sunrise… hard to tell. The man was an older, slightly smaller version of Owen. The same smile, hair totally white. He looked strong and happy and content with his life. Lord of his domain. She said, “He seems like quite a gentleman.”
Owen said, “Oh Yes. He was an amazing gentleman. He was charming and easily liked by everyone. He knew how to listen. The man had insights into anyone he met that could be scary. He knew things. I think that he would be honored to be a part of my Lare Shrine.”
“Yes, he sounds perfect.”
“So where do I set this up?”
“Typically in the West. The west is where the sun sets. The west is where the full moon sets. The west is the direction associated with movement from this world to the other side. It’s where spirits go before they return to this world or move on to the next level.” She was looking around and thinking about the layout of his house and as she spoke and then said, “Perfect.”
“Yes, perfect. Your fireplace is in the West. You could have your shrine on the mantle. Spirits like to be in a place that is used, a part of the household. If I were you I would try your shrine on the mantle. You will know if Papa Eric is happy there, if the portal is working. I tried mine in a number of places before I found the right spot.”
He set the photo on the mantle and said, “OK. A candle holder. A place to burn incense. I bet I have what I need lying around here somewhere just waiting to be used, but I don’t have any incense. I’ll have to get that.” Then he stopped and smiled again and asked, “What do I use as an offering?”
“Well the standard offering is one part wine, one part honey, one part milk.”
He wrinkled his nose and said, “I’m not seeing Papa Eric drawn to that, it sounds disgusting.”
She laughed, “I know I never really understood the appeal either. I worked out a mental explanation of why these 3 things would be put in combination, honey for the wild, milk for the hunting/herding aspects of our past, wine for the agricultural aspects. But to be perfectly honest I never felt like my spirits responded to this mixture. But it is traditional.”
“So what do you use?”
“Oh wine, incense, Florida Water, flowers, herbs, Dr.Tichener’s…”
“Whoa, Dr. Tichener’s?!”
She laughed, “Yep, Dr. Tichener’s. It's a locally made peppermint antiseptic. It reminds me of my grandparents who lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They used it on mosquito bites and they even used it to splash down with when it was really hot or when we had a fever. Smell is a very powerful link to our memories and therefore our past.”
“Oh I get it.” And he was up again and into the kitchen and came back with a shot glass and a bottle of Jack Daniels. He poured some JD in to the shot glass said “To Papa Eric.’ took a small sip then set the glass with the remainder on the mantle next to the photo.
She smiled and said, “I definitely think you get the idea. There is a section in the second manual, chapter 2 if I remember correctly, that talks about the Lare Shrine. It includes activating it. But I think that you are right and your Papa Eric has just been waiting for an invitation.”

She watched him smile at the photo of his grandfather and get lost in his thoughts. Eventually he came back and said. “More wine?” She nodded. After filling their glasses he said, “So what’s next professor?”
“Well, I hauled the altar stuff here so let’s move on to that. Here take a seat in the east while I demonstrate.”

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to any Wiccan rituals. Have you?”
“Yes…” and he trailed off. “A few. There was this bartender in the French Quarter who was Wiccan and she invited me to their rituals. A Full Moon and one in August, what was it called Litha? No Lammas.”
“So what were the altars like? Can you describe them for me?”
“Well the Full Moon altar was set all in silver and black, with white roses and a Goddess Statue and silver candlesticks.”
“And the Lammas altar?”
“Let’s see, they had a yellow altar cloth, a cornucopia, lots of fruits and vegetables, candlesticks with orange candles. Come to think of it they always made a big deal about how the altar would look, as if they were figuring it out for the first time each time.”
“And the altar what shape was it?”
“And was it set up along a wall or in the center of the room or?”
“It was along the wall.”
“Ok, good. I think it helps to be able to compare and contrast. In this tradition the altar is set up the same way every time.” And she waited for it because it always came.
“Isn't that a bit boring?”
She smiled, there it was. She moved the wire spool into the center of the room and put the circular board on top of it.
“Some might say so. But it isn’t as if there aren’t ways to highlight the season. The streghe’s altar is circular. It is the center from which we create our sacred space for ritual. It represents the endless universe, the never ending circle, and perhaps the first altar associated with the base of a fallen tree. The altar is placed in the center of the circle. On top of this circular altar is placed a black altar cloth. The cloth is always black. It represents the void at the beginning of creation.” And as she said that she spread the black cloth over the altar top.
Then she set a small stainless steel bowl in the altar. "This will hold the spirit flame, a representation of the source of all things, the spiritual essence of the universe. Then, because desire always precedes creation, we set the God icon on the altar” and she set statue of a man with a pan flute and a wolf skin draped over him onto the altar and next to that a fossil cast of a ammonite that looked a lot like a man’s penis. And then she next to the icons she placed a silver candlestick with a white candle in it. “Next we set the Goddess icon on the altar." It was a half bear breasted, half covered in a pelt female holding a jar and some grapes. She also placed the fossil cast of a clam shell which looked surprisingly like female genitalia. "We must have both male and female energies for creation to take place.” And she placed a matching candlestick with a white candle. “These are placed on the north side of the circle, because north is considered the position of power."
“Interesting so God first…”
“hmmm umm, God first, because desire precedes creation. These are set on the north end of the altar. Next we set the pentacle under the spirit bowl in the center of the altar. This represents the substance from which the universe was made.”
Then she began to set smaller bowls, holders around the pentacle.
“These are for the elementals. In the North we place Earth.” And she placed a small covered crystal bowl next to the pentacle but to the north of the spirit bowl. This contains earth, real dirt. Mine is yellow from a place in Canada sacred to native peoples. In Stregheria yellow is the color associated with earth and north.”
Next she placed a small blue bowl of sand next to the pentacle but to the east of the spirit bowl. Into the sand she placed an incense stick. “In the east we place something for the air elementals. The smoke and smell of the incense provides a place for the elementals to reside while they are in our circle. When we invite the elementals into our circle we have to provide a comfortable place for each of them. In Stregheria blue is the color of air and of the east.”
Next she placed a small silver votive candle holder holding a red candle and a piece of black obsidian, volcanic glass. “In the south we place something for the fire elemental. In Stregheria red is the color of fire and the south.”
Next she placed a white shell holding a small green bowl into this she poured water. “In the west we place something for the water elemental.”
She then took out a small silver chalice and set it to the west of the shell and water and on the same side of the altar as the Goddess icon. Then she took out something small and black it looked like a woman in a long wide skirt with a red cord around her waist. As she moved it rang like a bell. It was a bell! Odd. She set this to the east of the incense holder. Then she placed what looked like her wand outside of where the bell was set. Lastly she placed a ritual blade to the south of the candle for the fire and the small piece of obsidian, along with a long silver refillable lighter.
“What we have now is a representation of the creation of the universe, the endless circle, the black void, the male and female energies, the spirit of creation, a place for the elementals and the tools necessary to cast the circle.”
Then she poured a bit of clear liquid into the bowl set on top of the pentacle.
“When we cast a circle we start with the Spirit Flame.” She said 3 words that sounded like Latin and she lit the bowl of clear liquid on fire.
“Whoa! That’s impressive.”
“Yes it is. It is the living representation of spirit in the center of the altar which is the center of the circle.”
“What does whatever it was you said mean?”
“Awaken Ancient Spirits.”
And he nodded and said “Ok.”
“Next we honor and invite the God & Goddess”
She lit the Goddess candle and said in Italian,
“Beautiful Uni, Goddess of the moon and beyond, think even for a moment upon those whose gather in your name.”
She lit the God candle and said in Italian,
“Tagni, God of the sun and beyond, think even for a moment upon those who gather in your name”.
“Next we awaken and call the elementals.” She lit a stick of incense and placed it in the air bowl and lit the red candle in the south.
She rang the bell over each of the elemental bowls and said,
"I call out to the mist of the Hidden Realms and conjure you spirits of Earth” and she rang the bell over the earth bowl, “Air” and she rang the bell over the air bowl, “Fire” and she rang the bell over the red candle, “and Water” and she rang the bell over the shell. Then she tapped each elemental bowl 3 times.
“Now that we have all the elements of creation we can cast the circle.” And she took the spirit blade and placed the tip into the flame burning in the center bowl. She focused on the end of the blade and the fire in the bowl. Then she raised the blade from the bowl and for a short time it had a flame on the end of the blade. Then she walked clockwise around to the north of the altar and began to place the edge of the circle and said,
“In the names of Uni and Tagni and by the Old Ones I conjure this circle of power. Become a sphere of protection, a vessel which shall contain the energy raised within, wherefore do I charge and empower you". And she walked the edge of the circle 3 times creating a sphere of protection with the charged blade. She finished setting the circle and returned to the southern end of the altar facing north.
“We are now inside a circle of protection. Next we charge the quarter candles with the energy of the elementals and spread their energy to the edge of the circle.”
And she took out 4 small white votives in holders and lit one of the candles and held it over the earth elemental and walked north, held it up as if a beacon and set it down on the edge of the circle, and returned and lit another candle and held it over the air elemental and walked east, held it up as if a beacon and set it down on the edge and of the circle and lit a candle and held it over the fire elemental and walked south, held it up as if a beacon and set it down on the edge of the circle, and returned and lit another candle and held it over the water elemental and walked west, held it up as if a beacon and then set it down on the edge of the circle. She walked to the north and around Owen, clockwise around the circle and returned to the south side of the altar.
“We always walk clockwise around the altar when casting the circle and when working inside during ritual. Only when we are taking the circle down do we walk counterclockwise. How are you doing? Ok so far? Any questions?
He just shook his head no.
“Next we invite the Grigori. The Watchers. Have you read about them?
“Do you think you are ready to be introduced?”
She giggled. "You said that you had read all of manual number one, right?” He shook his head yes. “So you read about the Grigori?”
“Well yes, but I didn’t think they were going to come into my living room tonight!”
“You’ll be fine. You are inside a circle of protection and on top of that they know me, I’ve been doing this a while now you know. And they aren’t a physical presence; it isn’t as if you have to feed them dinner, although we do provide the candles as portals and the incense as substance for them. The Grigori watch over Streghe for the Gods, they are warriors, protectors, guides when we need them, another link to the ancient past, a kind of universal Lare for Streghe. You’ve seen Wiccans call the Watchtowers right?”
“Well yes, but that always seemed so benign. The watchtowers were simply earth, air, fire, water and you’ve already got those in the circle. This feels like something more.”
“Well you’re right. It is. Do you want to stop now?”
“No.” and he looked at her as if to say no way, I’m NOT stopping now!
She smiled at him and lit another stick of incense and held it in her left hand. She stood at the altar and said,
“I call to you, O ancient ones! You who dwell beyond the realms. You who once reigned in the time before time. Come! Hear the Call! Assist me to open the way. Give me the power Open wide the gates of the Gods and come to me by your ancient names.”
She then grabbed the bell and blade off of the altar using her right hand and holding the newly lit incense with her left and walked clockwise around the altar to the north. She waved the incense in the air, then switched the bell to her left hand with the incense and rang it 3 times. Then she lifted her blade in salute and said “TAGO!” and stood upright looking out of the circle with both hands on each side of her. She held that position for a minute. Her mind called out to Tago. He was the tough one in the bunch. She thought of him at bit like their commander and leader but with a soft heart underneath. Despite the fact the he was aligned with Owen's earth sign, Nola felt that if any of the Grigori would give Owen a hard time it would be Tago. She felt him come, a strong but gentle presence and then bowed slightly, saying thank you in her mind and moved to East. She did the same thing with the incense, bell and blade and then said “BELLARIA! In her mind she could feel that Bellaria was already there an interested in a new mind to work with and protect. She stood upright looking outside of the circle with her hands held straight out at her sides and thanked her coming then bowed slightly and walked to the south where she did the same thing except this time she said “SETTRANO!” and held her hands straight up in the air. She felt Settrano’s excitement and energy and so she bowed and thanked him and then walked to the west and repeated her actions saying this time a little more gently “MEANA” and held her cupped left over right in front of her. Meana was the Grigori she had thought she would have the least rapport with, but she was wrong. Meana was the Grigori she had needed most to balance her energies to soften her and now they shared a strong bond. Meana came and smiled and said ‘I am happy he is here for you.’ She bowed a little more slowly this time and then walked around the circle and back to the south side of the altar where she took the wand and rapped the altar 3 times and said. “The circle is cast.”
She was lost in thought when he said “So are they here?”
And she smiled and said, “Yes”
“Oh… well… I guess that’s not so bad.”

The fire sputtered out in the spirit bowl so she poured a bit more clear liquid into the bowl and relit it, repeating the ancient Latin and making the same symbol over the bowl.
“No” she smiled, "it’s not so bad. They are aware of you now. One of the things you will have to do is work to have rapport with each of them. They are related to the elemental and have qualities similar to those associated with the elementals when we anthropomorphize the elementals. The hand signal and postures I used represent their elemental links: a solid pillar as if stone for Tago, Hands out to the side like you were pretending to be a plane flying through the air for Bellaria, Hands up like a flame leaping up for Settrano. Hands cupped as if hold water of Meana. But in Stregheria the elementals are allowed to be elementals. And the Grigori are personalities, spirits. They can guide and protect and aid your magic or prevent it from working if they feel it necessary. They are powerful allies and unique to our ways. Meana is glad that you are here. Tago is accepting but watchful. Bellaria thinks you have an interesting mind and Settrano would like you to join him, play and be happy.”
“They told you that?”
“Well not in so many words, but yes.”
“Ok” and he swallowed and looked down at his wine.
She took a sip of her wine. So he felt he could too and she said, “Ok, that is a basic circle casting. Every time we do ritual we cast the circle the same way. No changing colors of the altar cloth, it is always black. Candles are usually white although in some rituals they can be green or red or black. There are usually flowers set between the God & Goddess and these can change seasonally. Especially if you have an altar a little bigger than a wire spool. During the winter Solstice a small evergreen wreath is set on the altar. At Cornucopia we set a cornucopia with fruits and vegetables. During a Full moon we often use white flowers and herbs. But the altar set up and circle casting do not change. Each time we have ritual we recreate the creation of the universe and call to the God & Goddess, the Spirit Flame, the elementals and the Grigori. So do you think it’s boring?”
“No. I think it is very much like a remembering to set a proper foundation before you begin to work on other aspects of the house. I like it.”
She smiled at him and said, “Taking the circle down is a bit easier than setting it up. We essentially do everything in reverse.”

She let him absorb that then she stood up at the south side of the altar and said, “Hear me Old Ones, we honor you for your attendance and bid you depart to your sacred realms. With peace we say, Ave Vale.”

She then walked counterclockwise to the west and kissed her blade, lifted it to the air and bowed and then put out the quarter candle. She did this at each quarter ending at the north. She then used her blade and walked counter clockwise around the circle from the north collecting the circle’s power into the blade. When she returned to the south side of the circle she touched the blade to the spirit flame and allowed the energy to be returned and flow back into the flame. She then snapped her fingers 3 times over the water in the shell in west, snapped 3 times over the red candle in the south and put it out with a quick wave of her hand, snapped 3 times over the incense stick and turned it upside down into the sand, snapped 3 times over the yellow clay and covered the north elemental bowl. She then said, “Bella Uni we thank you for your presence” and put out the Goddess Flame. “Tagni we thank you for your presence” and put out the God Flame. Then she sat back and watched the Spirit Flame which sputtered out after only a few seconds. And she “Ave Vale.”

He just sat there thinking, this wasn’t even a ritual. This was just casting the circle and a small “wow” escaped him.
She turned to him and smiled. “It’s the same every time.” And she began to collect items from the top of the altar and put them back in her box. It was amazing how fast everything was put away. They only let the spirit bowl sit out for a little while to cool off.
And he said, “Pretty convenient, having that pentacle under the hot bowl.”
And she smiled and said “We streghe are a practical folk.”

They settled back on the pillows in front of the fire and he put on another small log. She yawned. Then said, “I am so glad that I am able to take every Friday off for the rest of the year, as well as the entire last 2 weeks of December. Tomorrow I can sleep late.”
What he heard was that she was off tomorrow. Not working. What he hoped was that he would be able to see her again on Friday or Saturday or Sunday. “So I’m exhausting am I?”
“No you are strangely invigorating, it is just that work and teaching and the rest of my life sometimes catches up with me.”
“Do you think that you could come here again tomorrow or sometime before next Thursday?”
“Well I was wondering if you would be available for the Winter Solstice on the 21st and the Full Moon on the 23rd?
“Oh sure, absolutely. But those are 2 weeks away.”
And she smiled and said, “Oh the fire of a new student. The only thing that I have planned for this weekend is getting tree.”
“A Christmas tree? But you are a pagan!”
She laughed, “Yes and a Christmas tree is 100% pagan" and she put her finger to her lips and said, "but don’t tell the Christians. When you have children you have a Christmas tree. We have a sun on top of our tree instead of a star. It is pretty much the only decoration we were able to save from the flood waters. I hang symbols of the elementals, birds, seashells, apples, golden globes, golden snowflakes from the tree. It is very pagan and a lot of fun. My daughter was taught that her mom honors the seasons the return of the solar sun and her grandparents go to church to celebrate the birth of the son. It works for us.”
He was thinking a Christmas tree might be a fun surprise. “So when will you do your Christmas tree shopping?”
“I’m not sure, yet, just sometime this weekend. I’m actually hoping we can do it tomorrow.”
“Can you come back on Saturday?”
“I’m not sure. Jamie may have things she needs me to do that she hasn’t told me about. Sometimes being mom means you have to be very light on your feet. I’ll have to make sure and let you know” And she saw him deflate a little and laughed lightly. “If I can I’ll try and arrange to come back sooner. If not, I’ll see you next Thursday. I will call you tomorrow and let you know.”
“Ok then big man, could you please help me get this stuff to the truck?”
“Aw, going already?”
She smiled and said, “If I don’t leave I can’t come back.” And she finished packing up the rest of the stuff. As she was packing the last bits into the box she dug around and said, “Here are a few votives and some pine incense. You said you didn’t have any. Pine seems appropriate for a woodsman, like your Papa Eric.”
“Thanks… is that like some kind of Harry Potter magical tent, bigger on the inside than the outside”
She laughed, “No, but it is pretty well stocked. I wouldn’t have taken you for a Harry Potter fan.”
As he placed the stuff she’d given him on the mantel he said, “Oh I have a 13 year old nephew. I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies.”
She smiled and nodded and grabbed the box and he grabbed the plywood top and spool and they walked to her truck.
He put the spool and top in the back and then gave her a bear hug before she got in saying, “Thank you for introducing me.”
“You’re welcome. Good Night Owen.”
“Good night, Nola. See you soon.”