We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Monthly archives for October, 2017


Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Mountain spirit in velvet

Mountain spirit in velvet

Pagan. I call myself a pagan mostly to say I draw my religious content from the world around me, including other humans, rather than the texts held close to the heart by so many different world religions. Recently though I’ve come to think that the word might obscure more than it reveals, so I’m hunting for another one. Pagan, which simply means, in the same manner as heathen, someone living in the countryside, took on the coloration that it has now gradually.

Sophisticated theological thinkers tended to cluster in cities or in monastic settings while the peasants, those who had to live off the land, close to the land because their lives allowed no other way, held on to the traditions and rituals of their ancestors. The gap between the advancing dogma of the Roman Catholic church and the folkways of the countryside grew larger and larger over time. This was long before the majority of people lived in cities, so there was a numerical imbalance between the pagan rural and the educated elite in London or Paris or Rome. This meant that an institution that prided itself on knowing the truth had a problem.

predates the ancient Celts

predates the ancient Celts

Far more people, especially those in the woods and fields outside the urban centers, practiced a syncretic religion, a merging of folk beliefs and a limited understanding of Catholic dogma. The day of the dead, being celebrated now in Latin America, illustrates that this dilemma for the Roman Catholic’s extends into our time. Most of the Great Wheel holidays got Christianized at one point or another, with All Souls Day taking the place of Samain, Lammas taking the place of Lughnasa, Easter the place of Ostara, Christmas the place of the Saturnalia, at least in the hearts and especially the mind of the church.

In other words pagans are not at all uniform in their beliefs. Hardly. The Celts had their Great Wheel holidays, their pantheon of gods and goddesses like Lugh, Arawn, Bridgit, the Morrigan. The Norse had their bards who sang the songs of Odin and Thor and Sleipner and Fenrir. Go around the world and you will find a similar struggle between those who clung to the local deities and local traditions and the prevailing institutional power of, say, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity. Even Taoism and Confucianism in China faced similar, usually passive, resistance when they institutionalized.

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardSo when I say pagan it may conjure in your mind Wicca or witches or maybe the Norse Asatru. But that’s not what I’m trying to convey. I say pagan and mean over against ossified and ossifying dogma. I say pagan and mean over against institutional power trying to determine the inner life. I say pagan and mean pay attention to the natural world, close attention. Learn how you are in it. I say pagan and I mean think for yourself, don’t spend all your time interpreting the words of others, speak your own words, name your own experience.

This is not what pagan meant in its original context. In the days of medieval Europe the pagan was an unlettered serf, a person so consumed with bare survival that the subtlety of Aquinas or Augustine cluttered up their lives. They resisted not out of intention, but with a passive insistence on the value of their passed down ways of seeing, of knowing.

I say pagan, too, to mean that I’m not agnostic or atheist in identification. The result of my thought might seem to place me in those categories, but they are categories defined in relation to monotheism. So you might be a Christian agnostic or atheist, that is, you doubt or don’t believe in the Christian god. Or, a Jewish agnostic or atheist. Or, a Muslim. Or, a Hindu agnostic or atheist. Agnostic or atheist is really a place holder for something you define yourself against, the a meaning not, not known or knowable, not theist.

Black Mountain, September, 2017

Black Mountain, September, 2017

I don’t care what you don’t believe in. I want to know what you do believe. What moves you? What shapes your heart? Unlike the original pagans, I want to intentionally resist the clouding of our perception by powerful institutions, be they political, economic, educational, or religious. I have no new dogma to offer. I like the Great Wheel because it allows a useful frame for seeing ourselves in the cyclical turn of the seasons, not because it is a new dogma. I like Judaism, at least that of the Reconstructionist sort, because it acknowledges the metaphorical nature of religious texts and rituals, does not give them ontological power.

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Most of all though I like the coming of night and day, fall and winter, dry and wet. I like the lick of a dog’s tongue, the kiss of my wife, the hugs of my grandchildren. I like the mountains and their streams, their wildlife, their majesty. Seen from within these precious realities the political is incidental, the religious suggestive not prescriptive, the economic a tool and education an unveiling.

Maybe I’m not a pagan, maybe I’m a human, living this life on my own terms. So, maybe humanist?

Happy New Year!

Samain                                                                              Joe and SeoAh Moon

Happy New Year! Again this year. Another on the rolling circuit of New Year’s that we humans have chosen to celebrate. Rosh Hashanah, for example, was in September. The Asian New Year, the spring festival, comes in February, usually. There is, too, the dropping of the ball on Times Square. January 1st. Maybe Happy New Years?




Fall                                                                         Joe and SeoAh Moon

But the end is not yet

But the end is not yet

2017 Woolly Mammoth Retreat Question. Three Mammoths are not yet 70, a couple at 70, four mid-70’s and two in their 80’s. All, however, firmly in what I call the third phase, the phase of life after career and family building are usually over. That’s the time frame this question referents.

Since I will not be attending this year, I’m going to write my answer here and send it along to the retreat.

What is our intention for this phase (or the remainder) of our life; hopes, truths, fears, losses, sufferings, challenges, inspirations, duties and non-duties?

It is different now, in the third phase of life. With a career and a family we built our lives to a crescendo and this, this is the denouement*:  the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Other words: conclusion, finale, epilogue, coda, final scene, finish, end.

It is not retirement, at least not any more. This is not the finish line, it’s the period before the finish line, after the race has largely been run. But not all the way. The finish line might be a fourth phase, a sort of lingering in the face of medical challenges that end only one way, death. None of us, to my knowledge anyhow, are in that fourth phase and we have at least one who is still flirting with the end of the second phase, but for the most part we’re in life’s epilogue.

One of the reasons I came up with notion of the third phase was that the retirement model of my childhood was more like the fourth phase, a lingering that, though it might include golf, fishing, a grandkid on the knee, was still a lingering that saw death close by. It was a time of not-working, defined by whatever leisure pursuits one chose.

2010 01 19_3454Not for us. As all of you (Woolly Mammoths at least) know, I entered the third phase from a different vantage point, having left the ministry behind as a full-time vocation in 1991. I focused on writing novels though there was a regressive moment in which I moved over to the UU ministry, at least partway.

I have written several. And I’m not done. My 8th, Superior Wolf, has a finished first draft and I’m working on my 9th, Jennie’s Dead. Not to mention the vampire novel I’m plotting in my head right now, one set around a castle hidden away in the Rocky Mountains. So, the not-working, retirement focused third phase is not for me. I’m having too much fun.

The third phase began in earnest for me when we decided to move to Colorado. Why? Because we were leaving behind not only the political and museum work I’d done for years in the Twin Cities, but we sold our garden, our orchards, our woods, our flower beds. We also stored all the bee equipment we’d purchased over the years. Those were the work equivalent activities of my post-ministry years, equal in some ways to novel writing.

So my intention for the third phase had, at the point of the move, at least these components: a focus on Jon, Ruth and Gabe, continued writing, immersion in the West and the Rockies, seeing what new life Kate and I could construct outside our Midwestern home places.

20171016_070053Of course, and I think this is true even if you remain in a familiar place, the unexpected always shapes things, too. How could we know, for example, that our family focus, the proximate reason for the move, would shift dramatically when Jon and Jen headed into fourteen months (and counting) of an acrimonious divorce. How could we know that in my first physical with our new physician, Lisa Gidday, that she would find a hard spot on my prostate? How could we know that Kate would face challenges from rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome?

How could we know, in a more positive vein, that the mountain streams would be so interesting in their seasonal variation, the aspens so wonderful in their monochromatic fall splendor? How could we know that mule deer and elk, mountain lions and bears and fox would become part of our everyday life? How could we know that a small Jewish community, a community of mountain Jews as they call themselves, would become central to our lives?

What is intention? It’s an important idea for Jews. Kavanah**, or intention, can determine the religious efficacy of prayer and ritual. If the intention, the kavanah, is not sincere and focused, the prayer or ritual is considered deficient.  I’m not trying to be theological here, or, maybe I am, but not in a traditional sense. The kavanah of our third phase is critical, I think. It does need to be sincere and focused to prepare and establish an orientation of our heart/mind.

kyudo3_250Intention matters a great deal because, unlike Jewish prayer and ritual, so much of our life is unknown. What can we bring to life as it twists and turns, zigzags its way? A willingness to treat life with love, care, awe, joy will allow us to navigate the planned and the unplanned with grace. That is my intention for this (and, for that matter, any) phase of life, now this third phase. I will be open to the new, approach others with chesed, loving kindness, embrace awe, seek out the joyful and the laugh filled.

Whether I write, spend time with family, hike in the mountains, learn the ancient Jewish ways in their modern clothing, engage in the day to day with Kate and the dogs, or maintain relationships in the far away, I intend to laugh, love and play. After that? Well, there is no after that.



*1752, from French dénouement “an untying” (of plot), from dénouer “untie” (Old French desnouer) from des- “un-, out” (see dis-) + nouer “to tie, knot,” from Latin nodus “a knot,” from PIE root *ned- “to bind, tie.” etymology online

**”Kavanah comes from an ancient verbal root also found where the object or subject is the “heart”. It connotes “to direct, to prepare, to establish”, an orientation of mind, heart, intention. According to Moshe Halbertal, it implies concentration and sincerity…” wiki

De Los Muertos

Last Day of Fall                                                                              Joe and SeoAh Moon

(Ooops. Sorry. A day early. The sentiment still applies however.)

dias de los muertosToday we ease out of the harvest seasons. Lughnasa and Fall will be in the past, or in the future, depending on which way you turn your head. Samain, Summer’s End, will begin tomorrow, the veil between the worlds will thin and our ability, our need to communicate with those whose lives have ended, will be enhanced for a short while.

October 31st is also the start of dias de los muertos, the days of the dead. It ends on All Soul’s Day, November 2nd. On this day Latinos of many nations, including ours, will build ofrendas, offerings, for their dead. On these altars will be favorite foods, liquors, items representing favorite past times, photographs, flowers, small statuary and skulls decorated in the distinctive days of the dead style.

The fallow time, the months following the harvest and including the first weeks of the new growing season, thus begin with remembrance. Those of our family and friends, our acquaintances, who have been harvested by the grim reaper come to mind, occupy our thoughts. This as the sun moves six weeks closer to its longest absence, the Winter Solstice. So as darkness closes in, we consider those who are now dark to us. A profound few days.

Yes or No

Fall                                                                       Joe and SeoAh Moon

fear2Fear. Been thinking about it. It explains a lot of the political abyss threatening to swallow our democracy. Friend Tom Crane sent me a collection of articles about the neuroscience of political orientation, material I’d read in different places, but neatly summarized. It got me going.

Fear on the part of the white middle and working classes, fear about their jobs, their children, masculinity, the other taking, taking, taking, terrorists sneaking into our country, the future found their perfect amplifier in Donald Trump and his populist message. But Trump is not the problem. He is a problem, I’ll grant you that, but not the problem. Fear is the problem.

Fear_is_enemy2Meanwhile, my side of the abyss has focused on fear of a changing climate, the oppression of minorities, lgbt folks, the poor. Since liberals are more highly educated and usually wealthier than the white middle and working classes, we are more able to take our eyes off survival and focus on larger, more abstract issues. This feels more righteous because it seems selfless, disinterested when compared to chauvinism and day-to-day economic fears.

In the moment, the one defined by the nature of your real life, however, concerns about shrinking viability as a “race” (yes, it’s a false signifier except for those in the grip of its occult power) and as an individual will always trump (pun intended) concerns that seem far away or downright evil. This is a political reality suggested by Maslow’s hierarchy.

Fear is the killer

Fear is the killer

I’m trying to grasp the fear, to feel it from both sides. Not easy. For either side. This exercise is made more difficult by the apparently different neurological realities of liberals and conservatives. Conservatives have a larger amygdala, making them more inclined to fearful responses, while liberals have more gray matter in the cerebral cortex, making us more able to cope with complexity.

This means, I think, that liberals fears are felt less intensely and drive our politics less powerfully than those of conservatives.  The larger context for those things we fear may be more apparent to us, more capable of diminishing how large they loom in our lives.

fearsWithout going into exactly how it stimulates this thought (too complicated for a blog post) kabbalah sees yes and no as two of three primary pillars of creation. It seems to me that liberals are the yes, we can do that for others, folks. Conservatives are the no, there are limits to what we can do, folks. Another way to name these pillars is possibility and limits. Liberals see possibilities; conservatives understand barriers. Neither, by itself, is adequate.

Yes needs limits. No needs the push of possibility. We need, again, a politics that recognizes the interlaced need for Yes and No. Somehow we have allowed the difference between Yes and No to become absolute. We have allowed difference to become not difference, but a yawning chasm, one crossed only by the flimsiest of bridges. We might fall! We need the dialectical tension of hope and practicality. In fact, kabbalah suggests that not only do we need it; we are it. We are neither yes nor no, but both. Not knowing this is a form of sin, I suppose. In our time it may be the original sin.




Kabbalah says so, too

Fall                                                                                  Joe and SeoAh Moon (and Murdoch, too)

from Post Secret.




Sweet Stuff

Fall                                                                         Joe and SeoAh Moon

In again, out again Finnegan. Down the hill with Ruth and Gabe and Grandma. A quiet no squabble ride so we all went to the Stanley, a World Market in Minneapolis sort of space, in an old airplane building.

Gabe and I went to dazed and confuzed donuts. I wasn’t planning on buying anything for myself, but this one, named Breakfast of Champs, said, right through the glass display case: Eat me!

Yes, thats right. A donut with bacon! A complete breakfast.

Yes, that’s right. A donut with bacon! A complete breakfast.

Gabe and Ruth after their treats. Gabe had a vanilla bean glazed donut; Ruth a raspberry eclair from the Chocolate Shop.


Yes And No

Fall                                                               Joe and SeoAh Moon

ein sof

ein sof

Kabbalah. Spinning, spiraling, dancing. A curiously long lived wrecking crew barely known even to the tribe that gave it birth. Long lived because its roots may well be in an oral tradition forbidden to be written down, an oral tradition that extends centuries before the destruction of the second temple in 70 c.e. There is no way to know if that’s true. It surfaces in written literature during the middle ages, around the 1200’s in Spain.  Like the mishnah before it, the impetus for writing kabbalistic thought down was a fear that the knowledge would be lost due to persecution, the dispersal and/or death of the rabbis who carried the knowledge.

As a wrecking crew this line of thought systematically dismantles whatever it is you think you know, about life, about the cosmos, and scripture. Let me give you an example of this last. When Abraham takes his son Isaac to altar as a sacrifice, the story is not about Abraham and Isaac, but about two key energy channels coursing through all the worlds that are: Yes and No, Faith and Will. So. Faith takes Will as a sacrifice, at what it thinks is the command of the ein sof, the infinite one behind and within all. This is yes saying yes without regard for consequences. The angel, the messenger, says No, Faith, no affirmation is worth the sacrifice of choice. There are limits in the world. Take this ram as a substitute and preserve your ability to choose wisely. At least this is my version using what I know now.


fools journey kabbalah

Rabbi Jamie says that when a kabbalist reads the Torah, and I imagine the megillah and the Psalms and the prophets and other sacred books, they do not see stories about individuals but stories about the key metaphors for understanding existence. This is a truly radical inversion of the religious story that seems to be told in the Tanakh.

In fact, here’s one more step beyond even this radical notion that we discussed last night. Anshel asked Rabbi Jamie if God cannot sit or stand, how can God say? Talk. A question gleaned from his reading of the Psalms. The kabbalists, the Rabbi said, would invert the metaphor. Humans, he said, are the metaphor, not God. In other words we have used our own body as a way of understanding the ein sof, the infinite in and behind all.

Holidays-3-paganism-18189677-470-432So, I asked, can we say God is made in the image of man? Yes. We can say exactly that. This makes wonderful sense to me. As limited creatures, bound to a body, grounded, living a life that will end in death, we struggle to see, to peel back the layers of the world we know and find what makes it so. As we do, we utilize what is available to us, our bodies, our knowledge of life and death, our consciousness, our relationships with others, with animals, with the animate and inanimate.

As a pagan, I try to do this, try to work backwards from the world I see to the world I cannot. This is what I call revelation. The Great Wheel is the sephirot writ in the language of plants. It is, of course, a metaphor, too, one offering the book of nature as a Way. This correlation between paganism and kabbalah is rich for me right now. More as it develops.


Want to help? Change the system.

Fall                                                                             Joe and SeoAh’s Moon

Diego Rivera, Detroit mural

Diego Rivera, Detroit mural

An old brick warehouse in a seen better days strip of businesses, located down an alley with little obvious identifiers. When Kate and I found it, other members of Beth Evergreen had plastic bags in their hands, carrying multiple boxes of cake mixes into its interior. Inside snaked several sections of equipment with metal rollers, black plastic boxes filled with canned goods and boxed food items. Improbably, high up were case after case of Coors Beer.

Kate went in while I grabbed four plastic bags of cake mixes and followed the others inside where we deposited the bags on a wooden pallet. This room was forty feet by forty feet, filled with plastic boxes containing canned vegetables, pumpkin mix, potatoes, more cake mix on two sides.  The wall on the right as we came in had shelving with new cases of peaches, applesauce and other Thanksgiving food items.

We were there to pack Thanksgiving boxes for Action center clients. Barbara, director of Volunteer programs, an older woman in a blue Action center t-shirt, organized us. After linking up the sections of metal rollers to form an assembly line, putting a group to work making up boxes, and setting a crew to distribute cake mixes into boxes packed the other night, but missing the cake mix, she formed the rest of us in the first room.

jeffco action centerOne end of the sinuous assembly line of metal rollers had a person who put the empty boxes on the rollers, then stuck in a can of applesauce. After that the boxes moved past a station putting in peaches (Kate), yams, vegetables (me), pumpkin pie filling, potatoes, cake mix, 20 items in all. Moving out of that first room on the conveyor belt the boxes moved up the rollers and up a slight incline where the boxes got sealed, then plucked off the conveyor and put on pallets. All this under the glare of fluorescent lights and the scrutiny of those cases of Coors Beer.

We got there at 6pm and were done almost on the dot of 8. It was fun, doing mindless physical labor with friends, meeting others whom we didn’t know and helping alleviate holiday stress for folks with plenty else going on in their lives.

the warehouse another day

the warehouse another day

Barbara gave us a pitch about the folks who were clients of the center. “Two main stressors,” she said, standing behind a metal conveyor. “The first is medical costs or disability. The second, rising rents.” Denver’s very tight, hot, housing market has pushed up rents, those costs moving down market like a python devouring a goat; only in this instance the goat is available income.

Barbara also said, “These are people who are working, who’ve hit a stretch of bad luck. I’m glad to help them and I hope you are, too. I wouldn’t feel the same about people who don’t work and want a handout.” Hmmm. This sort of charity is easy to sell. Church and synagogue folk love it, many having a similar attitude.

It is, however, from my perspective, band-aids on a compound fracture. Sure, stop the bleeding, not a bad thing to do, but what about that broken bone protruding from the flesh? The broken bone penetrating the skin of these folks lives is a capitalist insistence on market rate housing, on medical insurance offered through work–which is lost upon unemployment–or purchased, for now, with the aid of Obamacare, and personally devastating when lost. That penetrating bone is also jobs requiring increased levels of education, blue collar jobs now disappearing down the maw of robotics and artificial intelligence. And, increasingly, not only blue collar jobs.

Compassion in action

Compassion in action

We insist on pretending that all this is normal, that good-hearted folks with sterling intentions and an acceptable work ethic will be all right in the end. Well, no. Money does not trickle down, it races up to waiting vaults owned by the one percent. Think of friends or family and consider those displaced by a factory or business closing, a sudden illness or trauma. It is simply cruel to ignore their reality, to insist that they navigate this nightmare of an economic system with no substantial safety net.

So, yes, go to the warehouse, unload donated vegetables from black plastic boxes and add them to other items so one of these victims of our heartless economic system can have a Thanksgiving meal. Why not? But don’t delude yourself into thinking that this is the kind of help that solves a problem. It’s not.

That kind of work, problem solving work, is political. It involves changing our entire, established Way. This work is about liberation, about empowerment, about making it shameful to insist on grabbing as much as you can for as long as you can. This work is about recognizing that all people, ALL PEOPLE, need medical care, food, affordable housing, education, dignified and adequately compensated work, then constructing a political culture in which those needs are met.

If we spend all of our volunteer, good-hearted time filling boxes or ladling soup, the system will not change and those of us with at least some compassion will be diverted from the main, the political task.



Mountain Life

Fall                                                                             Joe and SeoAh’s Moon

happy camper2Business meeting at the Crow Hill Cafe. This a modest place, a hometown joint. It has regulars, including us, several were in yesterday morning. There were the two older ladies who parked their car at a diagonal in the parallel places, paid for their breakfast out of envelopes and shared a meal. There was the long table of folks, maybe a church group, who chat. Well, most of them chat. One guy with long hair and a beard, an older biker, must have hearing loss from loud pipes. He TALKS REALLY LOUD. There was, too, a table of three men with WWII or Korea hats, talking about The War. Older than Kate and me. Because it’s on 285, Crow Hill also gets tourists headed west toward South Park.

One reason we choose Crow Hill Cafe on Tuesdays is that Happy Camper has 20% off on edibles on Tuesdays. Your average dispensary, we’ve been in a few, has a definite sixties, Haight-Ashbury vibe, but I’m not sure it’s intentional. Most of the workers are young, some ordinary looking, like the woman who rang us up yesterday, but others, like the man who checked our I.D., “Cool, man.”, are definite stoner types. There are pre-rolled joints, bud, flake, many kinds of edibles, bongs, and other accessories for the green life.

Yesterday Sandy came, our house cleaner, so we also went out for lunch to 3 Margaritas. While there, we discussed our disaster planning. This is a good time to do that since a forest fire is much less likely, cooler weather and some snow tamp it down. We have snow predicted tomorrow.

20171022_071909Still tired from the Georgia trip. Traveled Thursday, was up all day and into the night with Joe and SeoAh both Friday and Saturday, then back home on Sunday. Not used to being on the go that much. Don’t know how buddy Tom Crane manages all the travel he does. Wears me out.

Over to Beth Evergreen last night to help set up for Minyan Makers, a short course on prayer. Saw Rabbi Jamie, Tara, and Anshel. Since the setup had already been done, I turned around and went back home. Needed the rest. But. There was a warmth just from seeing those three. Beth Evergreen is a place that gives me joy. I’m very glad to have it in our life.

20170902_163055Gertie gets around pretty well considering four tears from the teeth of Kepler. She had sedation and stitching up at Sano Vet on Monday. With the wounds to her haunches and her arthritic left leg she has considerable trouble on slick surfaces like the loft floor and the downstairs wood floor. I’m going to buy some more rugs for the loft so she’ll have better surfaces to get around on. Right now I have yoga mats down. They work ok, but it’s not their best use.

Trips like the one to Georgia produce, for all their brevity, life long memories. This one, in addition to seeing Joe and SeoAh in their first house, will always have Murdoch’s homecoming as its centerpiece. Dogs. He’s playing in the wood chips in the children’s playground in the picture above. That was at 5:30 am.



October 2017
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