Archives For Deborah Oak

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone

Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone

“I would call myself a priestess above all else, even before calling myself a witch. My life is about service to the divine, dedicated to the gods, to serving spirit and to healing others – I trained with quite an eminent psychologist apart from my witchcraft training. A lot of people come to Gavin and myself for healings and readings, and, within our group we do healing circles. It’s not ‘spellcraft’ as such, but more a form of controlled distance healing that any spiritualist would recognise. A spell is really a way of focusing psychic energy in a ritualised way. All ethical magic for us is about healing. We don’t do love spells, and we’re more likely to do a spell for physical healing or to help someone get a job or new home, rather than one for money. [...] I feel fulfilled in what I do, and know my life has a greater purpose. I also have no fear of tomorrow; I know that the universe always unfolds as it should, and by serving spirit I will always be looked after by the powers that be.” – Wiccan Priestess Janet Farrar, in an interview with the Irish Independent.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“We are entering the astrological sign of Virgo, the sign of Our Lady of the Harvest. The Harvest Goddess is an important deity for everyone. Whether we live in the centre of a city or in the countryside, we are dependent on the crop cycle for food and life. Here in Brittany, the Celtic north-west of rural France, the grain in the fields around us has been reaped and threshed. The ears are ready to be transformed into flour and then bread; the stalks will provide animal food and bedding. The reality of humankind’s dependence on the natural world is all around us. The end of the grain harvest is a natural time for us to celebrate and to honor the harvest Goddess. It was a time when people could take a brief break from back-breaking work. Knowing that the grain was safely harvested, our ancestors could celebrate that there was food for the winter to come. The Harvest Goddess is the dark-skinned Goddess, who survived into the Christian era as the Black Madonna. She is the Goddess of those who farm and garden, who spend long hours outdoors and are burned by the sun. She is the Goddess of the ripened corn, Lady of the golden sun-kissed fields. She reminds us that life in the body and the natural world are as important as the world of spirit.” – Vivianne Crowley, on Our Lady of the Harvest.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“As I came out of the dry juniper and oak brush into the lusher creekside vegetation hawk flew low over me — an accipter, probably a sharp-shinned hawk. Its head turned, and it looked at me. It felt like a welcome, I thought. ‘Bullshit,’ I told myself, ‘it’s just cruising the riparian zone looking for lunch. I happened to be here, so it checked me out.’ Maybe the flip side of the New Animism — the focus on relationships between yourself and the other-than-human world — is that you cannot think that these encounters are All About You. The wild birds are always watching, and they do talk to you. And they talk about you. Several times I have had crows and Steller’s jayvs tell me something when I was hunting deer or elk — but it is up to me to act correctly on their information. Apparently our relationship is not yet perfectly harmonious. But if they would help me more, they would have something to eat. Isn’t that fair? What gets under my skin is when someone says something like, “My totem is Hawk,” because I want to know which hawk? There is a boatload of difference between a Cooper’s hawk and a Mississippi kite, for instance. (Oh well, they probably meant red-tailed hawk anyway, the pickup truck of buteos — large, useful, and ubiquitous.)” – Chas Clifton, on looking at, and listening to, birds.

Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.

Sam Webster

“To understand our importance to the world, we need to realize that we are something new. We are building a new religious way of life that is embodied, life affirming, and in harmony with the natural, non-human, World. Building a new religion is far more creative and revolutionary than merely resuscitating a survival of ancient days. That a religion can be at all created in modern times is a profound threat to the established authoritarian faiths around us. (Not so much to the ‘Foreigns’ and the Indigenous, with whom we have significant common cause.) Every effort to assimilate us to their culture, that of the ‘faiths’, will be made, including ignoring the simple truth of what we are. We Pagan folk practice a new religion, founded on the old, the foreign, and the indigenous. We combine all of the World’s spiritual inheritance into a open, inclusive mode of personal spirituality and communal worship that finds the Sacred in the non-human World as well as in ourselves. Our historical relationship with science, as with other cultures, places us in a unique position to help our species survive its greatest challenge ever: becoming adult. We who do this, we are Pagan.” – Sam Webster, on who’s Pagan.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“As I was thinking about the cycles of the year, I noticed that in seeing all the ways my work for justice felt ineffective and not enough, I hadn’t been taking time to reflect on what my harvest actually was for the past year. I had not allowed myself to take stock. My harvest is great. It includes: having a new book published, organizing a monthly vigil for those killed by police violence, spearheading discussions on racism and privilege in my community, making sure monthly devotionals happen, teaching, offering spiritual direction, increasing my level of health, scrubbing pots at the soup kitchen, enjoying our garden, spending time with friends… I’ve done a lot this year, and have even taken more time to inquire after what my heart and soul want. That latter, that deep contemplation and listening, are part of what is causing great dis-ease around the news that fills my twitter stream daily. My heart and soul are not satisfied. I want to be more effective in the help I offer.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on rethinking the harvest.

Rain Webster

Rain Webster

“Mine is an American Path. It is the path of a mutt who does not feel closely aligned to any particular ancestral experience other than my own unique American experience. I am mostly of European descent. I do have a bit of Irish in me, but I am also English, French, German, and Dutch, with a bit of Native American and who knows what else thrown into the mix. My family has never observed any traditions that could be identified as belonging to any particular ethnic group.  [...] The point is, I value my American experience. It is part of who I am. I may have European ancestors, but my family has been in the U.S. for as long as anyone can remember. Our ancestors have mingled to the point where any ethnic identity we might have retained from the Old World (s?) has been lost. Why cling to Old World religions when my personal identity is in no way connected to the Old World?  Maybe it is just a matter of semantics. You call it Samhain; I call it Halloween. You celebrate Yule, while I light candles for the Winter Solstice. I make my planting and harvesting decisions based on the geographic zone in which I currently live. Those dates have differed, as I have moved from southern Illinois to Texas to Hawaii to North Dakota, and finally to Wisconsin where I now reside. I celebrate the Earth and Mother Nature when I turn the soil, plant the seed, pull the weed, and harvest the fruits of my labor.  I will continue to call things by the names that I have always called them. To do otherwise would be inauthentic to my personal experience. The only difference is, I now do these things with a distinct purpose in mind.” – Rain Webster, on forging a distinctly American Pagan path.

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

“I have seen various versions of “improved” versions of the Golden Dawn rituals and teachings. Ignoring the changes that are made for political reasons to try and give extra power to individuals, most (but not all) of the changes I’ve seen have one thing in common: they were created by people based on personal philosophical beliefs rather than an inner understanding of the teachings. One of my favorite examples of this is that some groups have changed the use of the word “Lord” in Golden Dawn rituals to “Lord and Lady” or “Deity.” On a superficial level I fully understand this. At the time the GD was founded, even though the Order was amazingly non-sexist in practice, the members still used a language that, following the practices of the time, was sexist. I am in favor of eliminating sexism. However, this change deconstructs the rituals, changing life-altering mystical symbolism into an English-only ritualized drama and, for that section, nothing more.” – Donald Michael Kraig, on why change is (and isn’t) good for magick.

Deborah Oak

Deborah Oak

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the core tenets of my practice as a Pagan psychotherapist.  Buddhism is currently in fashion in my profession,  mindfulness turning out to be just as useful (if even more) in creating emotional well-being as analyzing family dynamics.   Are there particular things that we earth-worshippers do that inform my profession?  Psychotherapy truly is more art than science, and it figures that many of us who are in the Craft have something to teach other healing artists of hearts and minds. This week one of my core tenets has me laughing. I believe, and try to transmit to my clients, that the world wants to be in meaningful conversation with us.  Once we accept this as true, and cock our ear towards it, the world will not shut up.  Under great distress, of course, it’s hard to listen to anything or anyone. Anxiety and fear can operate as mighty misfiring car alarms, drowning out any truth of the real threat or danger. The Buddhist gift of  mindfullness  is a damn fine tool for re-calibrating the human car alarm. But then what? That’s where I think we Pagans have something to offer. We know how to carry on mytho-poetic conversations with the world, and any rich conversation like that makes human life a hell of a lot more meaningful, if not more interesting.” – Deborah Oak, on listening, and receiving the message.

Sarah Veale

Sarah Veale

“When we think of magic in the ancient world, we tend to think that what we today consider magic was, back then, simply religion. Certainly this holds true for things like worshiping many gods, divining the future, or other such activities. But there definitely was a subset of ancient practice that was considered to be against the grain. Those engaging in such practices go by many names:  magoi (a term used to refer to ‘Eastern’ holy men), pharmakeis (those skilled with drugs and potions), goetes (spiritual practitioners who engaged the dead), and epodoi (singers of incantations). But all had one thing in common: they were perceived as working against nature, and thus society in general. According to Matthew Dickie, this is the dividing line between religion and magic in the ancient world. One appeases the Gods in a socially sanctioned manner, the latter employs a special skill to bend the natural forces out of alignment [...] Working with this model, it should come as no surprise that allegations of magic—i.e. engaging in socially deviant behaviour—were often targeted at those most marginalized in society. In fact, it was within these dis-enfranchised sectors where magic appeared to flourished most. Women, in particular prostitutes, were seen as experts in the magical arts.” – Sarah Veale, on love spells, prostitutes, and poison.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day.

This past Saturday California Governor Jerry Brown signed bill SB1172 into law, banning controversial “conversion therapies” for homosexuality if the patient is a minor. In a statement, Brown condemned these therapies as “quackery” that create, rather than solve, mental health issues.

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

“This bill bans nonscientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

California is the first state to ban conversion therapy (also known as “reparative therapy”) for minors despite the practice being considered harmful by several mainstream mental health organizations. The American Psychological Association said, in a report from 2009 that “efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates.”  Despite essentially every mainstream health organization, from the AMA to the American Academy of Pediatrics, criticizing these therapies, the practice endures, even for minors, thanks to the assertion in certain religious communities that homosexuality is a sinful disorder that can be treated.

However, not all religious communities feel this way, and many have bravely changed course on this issue, or have always been allies in the struggle to acknowledge homosexuality as a normal and healthy orientation. It’s no secret that modern Paganism as a movement has been largely welcoming of LGBTQ individuals, especially in the last 20 years we have been open towards creating “alternatives” to the modern rigid constructions of social contracts envisioned by conservative Christians. So it comes as no surprise that one of the key groups working towards the passage of this law, Gaylestaa LGBTQ Psychotherapy Association, features a co-president who also happens to be a Reclaiming priestess: Deborah Oak. At her recently revived blog Branches Up, Roots Down, she expressed her pride and joy at this victory.

Deborah Oak

Deborah Oak

 “I am proud. Two years ago I became a Board member for Gaylesta, the biggest and first LGBTQ psychotherapy association in the country. I came on as the chair of the new advocacy committee, and last year became Co-President. After years of activism in anarchist groups, I have learned a new way of activism, and also deepened my understanding of  leadership.  Legislative politics doesn’t have the same panache as direct action politics, but it certainly can be as powerful. Gaylesta, a volunteer association  was instrumental in getting this bill both created and passed. I’ve always believed that being a therapist was being an agent of change and my work with Gaylesta has proved to be integrative. Being an activist within my profession is satisfying. Good therapy can save lives.  Bad therapy can destroy them. Today, the world just got a little safer for LGBTQ youth.”

This is magic, the kind that creates change in the lives of thousands overnight. With communities working in chorus, and with the stroke of a pen, a form of child abuse is eliminated in California. Because Pagans are a part of this spell, this interwoven expression of change and love, we get to claim a proud part in this victory. We too get to dance in joy that an injustice to our brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgendered, will end. We get the opportunity to collective affirm their humanity, and our interconnectedness to them. Magic.

Thank you to all who have fought for this change, and thanks to Deborah Oak, who was a part of the nascent Pagan blogosphere back when we were but a handful, and who now shares this joyous news with us.

Here I am, last but not least, in the “amazing guest star vacation week” of The Wild Hunt. Jason will return tomorrow, hopefully rested, revitalized, and ready to once again provide us with breaking news of Pagan interest.

Vacations change our consciousness by shaking up the mundane rhythm of our lives. They are, in and of themselves, magic. I am glad Jason took one, and I’m honored to be part of the shape-shifting roller coaster of this guest star week.


Jason included in my bio that I teach at Reclaiming Witchcamps. Witchcamp, vacations, and the value of taking time out, even from our own communities, is the focus of this post. Wrestling each year with whether I want to spend my vacation at a witchcamp, I’ve become acutely aware of the spiritual balancing act of intensity and repose. This balancing act is a challenge for many of us as individuals, but it also a challenge to the Pagan and activist communities I’ve been a part of. This year, I’m jumping out of the box of my past experience and doing something new. I’m not going to teach at an intensive but instead, at a restorative.

In 1986 I attended the first Reclaiming Witchcamp Intensive for my summer vacation. This week long getaway was held at Jug Handle Creek Farm on Northern California’s Mendocino Coast. It was the beginning of the culture shift of the fledgling San Francisco based “tradition” that was then the centerpiece of my life. I had no idea just how many of my summers witchcamp would come to shape. I had no idea how this getaway would come to shape Reclaiming.

At the time, I was in coven with Starhawk and Rose May Dance, among others; both a women’s coven and one that was focused on mixing magic with activism. Due to the popularity of Starhawk’s books, there was a growing demand that we teach our particular kind of magic outside of San Francisco. We took time off to meet that demand, and twenty two years later there are witchcamp intensives across the United States, Canada and Europe. A big slice of Pagandom has attended at least one Reclaiming witchcamp, and there are plenty of newcomers each year. There are plans for new camps in Israel, Crete and also Australia. In the course of serving up our particular kind of magic around the world, our particular kind of magic changed. Mix together old time revival,magical skill sharing, Pagan ecstatic encounter group, and anarchist circus and you have what comes close to resembling a Reclaiming witchcamp.

We’ve forged ahead, creating new witchcamps hither and yon, with little looking back. Reflection is not the strong suit of the Reclaiming tradition. Reclaiming is high on intensity and low on contemplation. There are a growing number of communities that have been built around witchcamps, like Spiralheart, and the one in British Columbia, that have come to value examining the “why” of what they are doing. But, getting to this has meant breaking away from some of the bad habits and community patterns inherited from the Bay Area. Here, due to the crisis based paradigm of the early days of the tradition – the world is about to end and can only be saved by our magic – there is little time for self-reflection or questioning community dynamics. Recruitment is in service of this magic, and in order to bring in people we can’t appear to be flawed. Hence, acknowledging community shadows is potently resisted, as is taking any break from action.

I’ve learned from my years teaching witchcamps and my many years in Reclaiming and activist circles just how important breaks from intensity are and just how important it is to slow down and take the time to envision there is time. Sometimes, pulling back from the fray of Pagan and/or activist community is the only way to stay in it.

Here in the Bay Area, some of us laughingly call ourselves more “Remaining” than “Reclaiming”; we’ve become a strange Greek chorus ambling in and out of local community. We utter our reflections and advice from the blogosphere, occasionally attending meetings and events. From our seasoned teaching guild we send out proposals to the wider community for things we hope will help the tradition, like policies of transparency and accountability. And then, we let go and go off and tend to other areas of our lives. We step outside the insular confines of tradition and join the greater Pagan world. When we step back in, we come back with a wider perspective that signals a vacation well spent.

This summer I will be taking a vacation from a teaching a witchcamp intensive. Instead, along with others, I’m creating an equinox restorative. It’s aimed at those who feel called to a retreat that is deep, restful, and reflective. With three nights away instead of a full week, we also leave free more vacation days for other pursuits. Among us are those who are Feri and Gardnerian as well as Reclaiming. We welcome working and playing with those outside of our respective traditions.

Planning the restorative has been transformative, as it’s called for us to do the very process we hope will occur at the event – reflection and review. When we first started out, we named it aptly “A Fool’s Journey”, as we knew we were stepping into new territory. We are sorting through our past experiences, witchcamp among them, sorting through what we want to leave behind and what we find valuable enough to gather in the Fool’s sack. We’ve noticed that the Fool’s posture is not one of rushing ahead. It’s the posture of taking time to smell the roses. What’s the point in rushing to save the world and all its roses if you never take time to smell them?

We’ve found a retreat center in Northern California built decades back to serve the Jungian community that seems perfect for our intent. Its large swimming pool, library full of spiritual texts, meditation room, art house, acres of woodland and meadow designed for ritual and ceremon
y seem to invite restoration to take place. As a priestess well trained in whooping the energy up, I welcome the challenge of invoking sacred lounging around the pool.

With the spirit of the Fool as my guide, I am open to anything. The Fool’s Journey could become an annual event, part of the community of witchcamps, or purely a one time thing. For all I know, next year I might search for the spirit of Elvis and end up vacationing in Las Vegas.

Taking breaks from the ordinary is important. I’m grateful that Jason and The Wild Hunt had one. Welcome back, Jason! Whether your vacation was restorative or intense, I hope you got what you needed. And now, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming…

guest posted by Deborah Oak of the roots down, branches up blog

Welcome to the last week of May! Due to vacation-oriented circumstances beyond my control, I will be unable to perform my regular blogging duties here at The Wild Hunt. However, just because I’m off to run and play doesn’t mean I’ll be depriving you of your daily fix of great Pagan-oriented content. I have somehow managed to assemble an all-star line-up of guest posters for while I’m away. Allow me to introduce you…

May 26th – Cat Chapin-Bishop

Wiccan since the late ’80s, Cat Chapin-Bishop has also been Quaker since 2001. Cat’s essays have appeared in Laura Wildman’s “Celebrating the Pagan Soul”, “The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies”, the Covenant of the Goddess newsletter, and “Enchante: The Journal for the Urbane Pagan”. In addition to her work as a Wiccan HPs, Cat is the former Chair of Cherry Hill Seminary’s Pastoral Counseling Department, and she currently serves on the Ministry and Worship Committee of Mt. Toby Quaker meeting.

Cat and her husband maintain Quaker Pagan Reflections, a blog dedicated to exploring the connections between Pagan spirituality and Quaker practice. They reside in Northampton, Massachusetts, where they attempt to live peacefully in the midst of chaos.

May 27th – Anne Hill

A skilled facilitator, author and teacher, Anne is on the faculty of Cherry Hill Seminary, hosts a weekly dream radio show, and writes an award-winning blog on dreams and spirituality. In addition to speaking at businesses and organizations, she has a private dream practice and is currently writing a book on dreams.

May 28th – T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle is a magic worker, mystic, musician, and author of “Evolutionary Witchcraft” and the forthcoming “Kissing the Limitless.” She teaches internationally. Her blog can be found at yezida.livejournal.com or www.thorncoyle.com/musings.htm

May 29th – M. Macha NightMare

M. Macha NightMare, Priestess & Witch, is an author, teacher and ritualist, with a penchant for collaboration. She is an initiate of two traditions of Witchcraft: Reclaiming and Faery/Feri, Reclaiming’s root tradition. Macha has authored, co-created, or contributed to, several books. Most notably “The Pagan Book of Living and Dying” (with Starhawk and Reclaiming), and “Witchcraft and the Web”. In addition, she currently chairs the Public Ministry Department at Cherry Hill Seminary, and serves on the Board of Directors at the Foundation for the Advancement of Women in Religion.

For a full biography, click here.

May 30th – Chas S. Clifton

Chas S. Clifton has been blogging since 2003, when he converted his Pagan magazine column, “Letter from Hardscrabble Creek,” into a blog. A widely published Pagan writer, he is the author of “Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America”. He also edits “The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies”

May 31st – Deborah Oak

Deborah Oak is a psychotherapist, artist, gardener, aromancer, mother and earth-worshiping Pagan. She writes the popular Pagan blog Branches Up, Roots Down, maintains the Temple of Elvis, and teaches at Reclaiming Witchcamps all over the world. Oak was also featured, along with Thorn and Anne Hill, in the RE/Search Publications book “Modern Pagans”.

I hope you will enjoy their contributions to The Wild Hunt, and check out their respective blogs and published works. My deepest appreciation goes out to all of them for stepping in for me. I will return on June 1st with my usual daily dose of news, commentary, and links.