All the Pagan Tea Times You Can Drink!

I have so enjoyed meeting other writers face to face!

John Beckett and I were actually able to meet in person — serendipity arranged for John to be driving by the little Texas town where I was visiting family early in February. We met at a groovy little sandwich shop, where we expressed mutual surprise that neither of us was quite what the other had expected (John said I was taller, and I hadn’t imagined his Tennessee accent). We talked about our work (paid and otherwise), our religious traditions, Unitarian Universalism, and Texas. I was particularly struck by John’s remark that he really values his “straight” job, because it removes any incentive to compromise his spiritual work — a temptation that could arise if he made his living by it. The fact that John listens so well makes him a particularly delightful tea time companion!

I had a somewhat short conversation with Julian Betkowski, but it’s spawned lots of juicy private correspondence, so I consider it a roaring success. More than anyone else I chatted with, Julian and I skipped the small talk and grappled with big issues: the question of whether a devotional Polytheist split from the Pagan movement would be a healthy thing, the effects of trying to do theology in a blog medium (which, unfortunately, is a medium readers are conditioned to skim at top speed), the way subcultural communities reproduce the hierarchical politics of the overculture they’re embedded in, and more. My brain was nicely exercised and fed.

David Dashifen Kees (also known as Dash) lives in my area and was able to come to my house and drink tea with me while I bounced the baby. Dash has had his fingers in *so* many important Pagan and interfaith projects as a tech person and/or volunteer — I found myself making a mental list of awesome things he could help make happen. I really enjoyed hearing about Dash’s partner, a veterinarian, and their many, many animals. We also geeked out about tattoos. It was a good time!

I also got to catch up with Henry Buchy, who’s already a friend, but from whom I always learn something new — and not always what I expected. This time I got away with a book recommendation and the urge to learn more about the stock market. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that witches have narrow interests. ūüėČ

The official month of Pagan Tea Times is coming to an end, but I hope the live conversations will go on! Keep an eye on Agora for when I do a  round-up of Tea Time posts.


It seems that Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated around the world, despite many cultures having their own festivals of love. In some countries, public displays of affection (whether same or opposite sex) are frowned upon, which is rather sad.

As you celebrate Valentine’s Day with your significant other, remember that in many places, it is still not safe for same-sex couples to hold hands in public. And remember that V-Day is also devoted to stopping violence against women. It’s also the day when Eve Ensler’s stage show, The Vagina Monologues, is often staged.

However, it is quite possible that Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love should actually be on 3 May. Chaucer wrote a poem celebrating  the engagement of Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, mentioning Valentine’s Day. The engagement took place on 2 May, the eve of the festival of St Valentine of Genoa. The Pagan festival of May Day (now generally referred to among Pagans as Beltane), which celebrates love and springtime, is on 1 May, and May day revellers were known to take to the woods to make love, gather may blossom, and wash their faces in the dew. (We know about these customs because Puritan pamphleteer Philip Stubbes railed against them in The Anatomie of Abuses.) Chilly February hardly seems a good time to be celebrating romantic and/or erotic love – expansive and blooming May seems like a much better time.

Whatever the origins and timing of Valentine’s Day, 14 February was originally the eve of a very different festival – the festival of Lupercalia on 15th February. This was a fertility festival honouring the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus. It also honoured Lupercus, god of shepherds. The festivities were presided over by the priesthood of the Luperci, who were dedicated to Faunus. They sacrificed two goats and a dog. There was then a sacrificial feast, and the Luperci cut thongs called februa from the skins of the animals, dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city. They struck all those who came near with the thongs. Young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from the thongs. This was reputed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility, and ease the pains of childbirth.

There seem to be several themes running through Lupercalia:

  • a celebration of wildness in the form of the wolf;
  • male bonding (whether in the form of friendship or same-sex love);
  • purification and cleansing;
  • a celebration of Spring, fertility, new life, and childbirth (though fertility doesn’t have to mean producing children – it can also mean creating new ideas and projects);
  • the celebration of the founding of Rome (which could be extended to the founding of all cities);
  • the relationship of city and countryside;
  • and a celebration of consensual kink.

In an article from 2004, Robin Herne has some suggestions for how to adapt Lupercalia for contemporary Pagan celebrations.

The Pagan Library suggests that the festival was originally dedicated to Rumina, the founding she-wolf of Rome. It also points out that “The name of the month comes from the februa, anything used in purifying including wool (used for cleaning), brooms, pine boughs (which make the air sweet and pure), etc.”  So if the other aspects of Lupercalia do not appeal to you, you could always celebrate Lupercalia by giving your house a thorough spring-cleaning.

The wolf was, until the late twentieth century, mostly a symbol of the ultimate predator. It was associated with desolate wilderness and the fear of being eaten by wild animals. More recently, as civilisation encroaches on the wilderness, and with the rise of deep ecology and animistic understandings of the rights of non-human beings, wolves have been celebrated as a symbol of wildness and freedom. They are highly social animals, and there are accounts of them taking in and caring for lost human children. The excellent book by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves, emphasises the importance of wildness and instinct for both women and men. The importance of connecting with Nature and the wild was also emphasised by Thoreau:

‚ÄúWe need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

The wildness aspect of Lupercalia reminds us that each of us is an unfathomable mystery, that we have the right to sovereignty over our own bodies, and above all, the right to consent, or to refuse consent. If only everyone was taught about what “enthusiastic consent” means. If only millions of Valentine’s cards were not inscribed with the phrase “be mine”. People are not possessions. Misogyny and violence against women is intimately connected with the notion that women are possessions, that men have a right to sex, and that men’s sexual urges are uncontrollable. Misogyny and the subjugation of women are also connected with the patriarchal idea of controlling, subduing, and taming Nature, often personified as a woman. The Pagan reverence for Nature is aligned with promoting the equality of women.

As humanity’s relationship with our environment is flawed, we need to recover the sense that the city and the countryside are both ecosystems, and need to operate in harmony with each other. The recent floods have shown that cities are not isolated from their surrounding river systems, and that we need to exist in harmony with Nature, not trying to conquer and subdue it. So perhaps we need to rediscover Lupercalia as an exploration of the relationship between city and countryside. Cities can be beautiful places, and need not be a blot on the landscape or a drain on natural resources.

The kink and fertility aspects of Lupercalia can teach us about embodiment and being aware of physical sensations and what they mean. Many people don’t listen to their bodies and dismiss physical symptoms and sensations. The very physical aspects of Lupercalia remind us to be in our bodies.

UPDATE: corrected the post because Lupercalia was on 15 February, not 14 February. Thanks to P Sufenas Virius Lupus, expert on all things Roman.

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Tea Times with Aine Llewellyn and Rhyd Wildermuth

I’ve had some fantastic Tea Times this past week! I sat down with Aine Llewellyn (who pronounces her name “ahn-yah”) and Rhyd Wildermuth (who pronounces his name “reed”) for some juicy conversations that, alas, were far too complex to easily summarize here. But a few tidbits:

My favorite bit with Aine was chatting about the role of career (i.e. long-term paying work) as part of an integrated religious life. We discussed our perception of how damaging it is to live hand to mouth — not because of a choice to live in simplicity, but because of a discomfort with money or an unwillingness to work a “straight” job. We talked about surprising ways that our studies in school and our paying jobs have provided skills that enhanced our spiritual practices and understanding. I would love to see more Pagans embrace the power that comes from having money — and then use that power to build community and make art that’s in tune with their values.

Rhyd and I benefited from my having excellent child care that day, and our chat went on for two and a half hours! We talked a great deal about how to support constructive dialogue in both intra- and interfaith contexts and about the role of alternative religions in critiquing mainstream society — as well as the awkwardness that can result when a formerly countercultural religion begins to gain a little acceptance (i.e. when a religion is still far from mainstream, but no longer on the fringe). Rhyd also gave me a juicy historical tidbit that I’m anxious to explore — the fact that the extremely active pre-WWII gay culture of Berlin produced a great deal of erotic theological writing (much of it in praise of Eros). It’s a shame that American Pagans are largely unaware of Pagan history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as represented by groups like this.

Both conversations touched on the position of alternative religions in relationship to centers of power in American culture. There are advantages to being in the margins and on the fringe — that’s where innovation happens, and a counterculture is necessary in order to challenge and perhaps even periodically refresh mainstream culture. Is it possible to move toward the center just enough to gain basic protections and civil liberties, yet retain a subversive, exploratory edge?

Aine, Rhyd, it was delightful — let’s do it again sometime!

Thought forms

Georg von Rosen - Oden som vandringsman, 1886 (Odin, the Wanderer)

Georg von Rosen – Odin, the Wanderer (Wikipedia)

One aspect of deities seems to be thought-forms. That is not to say that deities are merely thought-forms, but that part of the way we interact with them seems to be through our internal image of what they are like. The more people carry an internal image of that deity around in their heads, the easier it is to visualise them.

This thought occurred to me because I wondered why it was so easy to visualise Jesus. Then I tried it with other well-known images, such as Robin Hood, Kuan Yin, Gandalf, Che Guevara, Superman, and even the man with the thistledown hair from the novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. So it is not because Jesus is a powerful deity that he is so easy to visualise, but because his image is so ubiquitous and has a number of consistent features (beard, robe, long face, big eyes, etc).

Odin has a number of consistent features about his image (one eye, pointy hat, staff) but his image is less widely-known, so it is less readily available from the collective unconscious (or wherever it is that these images are ‚Äústored‚ÄĚ).

Doctor Who has changed his appearance very frequently, so despite being widely known as a character, his imagery is not consistent, so he is harder to visualise.

This is presumably why some magical practitioners choose to work with figures from popular culture: because their imagery is widely known, consistent, and readily available, so they make a powerful thought-form.

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Tea Time Update and Chair Position at Cherry Hill Seminary

I am thrilled to see how much various writers seem to be enjoying Pagan Tea Time — and February’s only just begun!

Just to recap, Pagan Tea Time is an informal event encouraging writers and commenters to get together in real time, either in person or over video chat.

During the month of February, if you write online, make a date to have a cup of tea (or food or drink of your choice) with another writer or commenter. Even better, be daring, and make it someone you’ve argued with. Those of you who are attending PantheaCon will have numerous opportunities to eat and drink and talk together in person, and I hope you will take them! But for those who won’t be there, I invite you to take a risk: e-mail someone (or more than one!) whose voice you’ve never heard before and ask them for an hour of their time via video chat (or failing that, phone). Get a glimpse of their pets or babies or partners. Show off your altar or your book collection or the way the sunlight slants into your kitchen. Put away your debates for a while and take the time to talk. Debates can come later.

If you participate, please write something about it online (respecting your chat partners’ privacy, of course!).

So far, I’ve seen some great reports of Tea Times involving Rhyd Wildermuth, Conor O’Bryan Warren, and a three-way chat between John Halstead, Sannion, and Galina Krasskova (wow!). I haven’t had any tea times with people I haven’t already met yet — one of the blessings of being managing editor here is that getting together with writers via video chat happens semi-routinely, as does attending conferences, so I’ve met many of you already. (Yay!) I did get to do a nice catch-up with Niki Whiting, though, and I have a few more dates set for next month.

Gentle readers, please feel free to hit me up for Tea Time, although due to simultaneously working, being primary caregiver to a tiny baby, and teaching a class, I can’t promise that our schedules will line up. But I will try. ūüôā ckraemer at patheos dot com is the e-mail to use.

And if you write about your Tea Times, let me know! I’m collecting the links and will post a round-up in March on Agora.

Image adapted from Banquet cup-bearer Louvre G467, by a Euaion Painter. Public domain.

In other news, Cherry Hill Seminary is looking for a new chair of Theology and Religious History! This is a great opportunity to serve an exciting Pagan organization while simultaneously building your online education resume. Check out the call:

Position:  Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious History
to begin May, 2014

Effective Date: one year with possible renewal

Minimum Qualifications:  Ph.D. in Religious Studies, Masters in Divinity or other terminal degree in a relevant field from an accredited institution; support for core values of Cherry Hill Seminary and Pagan-centered ministry; experience working constructively with those in the Pagan community; comfort with web-based classroom and other communications technology needed to deliver high quality courses, such as Moodle and Skype, or willingness to learn via tutorial offered by CHS; access to both computer and telephone; regular access to high speed internet


DUTIES: Oversees course offerings:  including scheduling, faculty hiring, supervision, and evaluation; syllabi review; course development; other tasks as assigned by the administration

Approximately ten hours a week, flex-time

COMPENSATION: Free tuition each semester in one class offered at Cherry Hill Seminary, the opportunity to teach an occasional course and receive regular faculty fees, and the knowledge that you are helping to build a lasting institution that reflects your goals and values.  Unfortunately, this is all that can be offered at the current time.

REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION: Your letter of intent; curriculum vitae; three letters of recommendation; official transcript from institution awarding M. Div. or highest degree.

Letters of intent should be sent to Hard copies of all letters and original transcripts should be sent to Cherry Hill Seminary, P.O. Box 5405, Columbia, SC  29250-5405

Cherry Hill Seminary prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, sex, age, marital status, national origin, mental or physical disability, political belief or affiliation, veteran status, or sexual orientation and any other class of individuals protected from discrimination under state or federal law in any aspect of the access to, admission, or treatment of students in its programs and activities, or in employment and application for employment. Furthermore, Seminary policy includes prohibitions of harassment of students and employees, i.e., racial harassment, sexual harassment, and retaliation for filing complaints of discrimination.

For more information about teaching at Cherry Hill, go to