Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ranting Against the UPG

I recently went shopping for a healthy Pagan message-board community, and tried out ecauldron.net for a month or so until I ran smack into the term UPG which had become vogue there. I had to do a web-search to find out what it means. Unverified Personal Gnosis: what a patronizing piece of vacuous bullshit. Put on your waders and join me as I examine this pernicious bit of effluvium.

First of all, there's a horrid redundancy in the term as it smirks behind its in-crowd initials. Are there Verified Impersonal Gnoses out there which need to be distinguished from the Unverified Personal ones? Of course not. Then why not just say “gnosis”? Idiots.

The whole point of the "Unverified" part seems to be to evoke the ghostly chains of the Vienna Circle. It's a Modernist empiricist thing: you wouldn't understand. Goddess, what bullshit. It seems to me that one of the major points of Neo-Pagan movement was go beyond Modernism and return to placing value on and acknowledging the reality of subjective, magical experiences particularly in the interplay between human and the divine. People in general do not dismiss, for instance, someone's saying "I'm in love." merely because the experience of being in love is subjective and, therefore, unverified and, indeed, unverifiable. But under the rubric of UPG we can tidily partition of all religious experiences and say "well, you may have experienced something, but that has nothing to do with me."

To be fair, I suppose that the "Personal" part is meant to distinguish UPG's from all those collective gnoses which are out there, but again I still have problem with the usage even there. Another part of what Neo-Paganism is about is the development of an intersubjective experience that brings us into a healthier, balance relationship to the world as an ecological system of interrelated sentient beings. The use of "Personal" emphasizes the individualism of our paths to the point that the emergent phenomenon of a collective sensibility gets reduced to a bunch of fruitcakes squawking about their inherently disparate trance experiences.

So I fail to see how UPG is anything other than a desiccated Modernist dismissal of everything of value in Neo-Paganism as a whole.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mertseger In Doll Maker

We all started doing self-portraits in the Circus over at SoF. Couldn't find a mustache, though.

Monday, October 31, 2005

My Memories of Rabbit Choir.

Via the new Rabbit Choir Blog:

Hey all you Rabbit Choir fans out there.


Come-on, you remember - it was when you were in college.

Well, actually I had just moved down to Southern California to teach at Cal State Fullerton while I finished up my Ph.D. from Stanford.

You met the bunch of hippies playing music on the street, selling their tapes and CDs, getting hassled by the man.

Oh, yeah: I remember exactly the place. It was on the southern steps of the ASUC building at Cal.

I had played with a band called the Troubadours for a month on the streets of Berkeley at a pivotal month of my life some four or five years earlier. I was always returning to Sproul Plaza where we'd played most of our gigs to see if I would run into one of them again. The location was and remains a touchstone for me.

And so when I heard the Rabbit Choir for the first time, I had this overwhelming sense that the same spirit of the place was speaking through them that had spoken through us. I felt like this spirit had preceded us and would continue speaking groups like Rabbit Choir long into the future.

And so I instantly fell in love with the group. I'm certain they played Full of Love and One Love that day. The religious universalism of the latter song was in full accord with my own philosphy, and so I was hooked.

You bought a tape, gave them a buck when they passed the hat and told your friends you just met a great band that is playing this Thursday (or Friday, or Sat.) at some bar or maybe some coffee house.

I still regret not buying the EP that first day: I never got another chance. I did get High Fidelity Hare Cut at Rasputin's, I think, a couple of years later.

The day of the show, you got a call from Doc, the drummer, so you decided you just had to go to the show. When you got there, you found that this hippie street band actually rocked.

Well, no. Being in So. Cal., I never made the phone list. Instead, the first thing I'd do whenever I was up for a visit was walk Telegraph looking for Rabbit spoor: the precious adverts indicating that there was a show that week.

I still managed to see the band a surprising number of times. Two I documented with poetry at the time were the I-Beam and the Berkeley Square. In addition, I also caught a show at some dive on Broadway in the City where the band wore marching band jackets (!). I think I caught shows at the Starry Plough at least twice, because I know my fiance (then and now wife) got to see the Choir at least once there. I drug my best friend from highschool to a gig at a pizza place in the Oakland hills a couple of miles from where I now live. (Jim talked to us before a show gave us tickets: how cool!) And, certainly, once at the Bison Brewery.

Your life was changed forever...

Well, of course: everything She touches changes.

But Rabbit Choir was special. The songs were hopefull, probably overly ernest and possibly dweeby. But, man, that's me too. I embrace that.

Or maybe you just drank a little too much beer, smoked a little too much weed and ended up inviting the band back to your house.

Certainly, beer. I did get invited to one after party. Good times!

And after the uncertain disolution I saw Stacie working in the Brewery. Lan embarassed me by saying we were the Rabbit Choir's biggest fans. Lan's English was not as good then, and what she meant was that Rabbit Choir was our favorite band. Stacie told us about the Love Props, but basically blew us off prefering to read a travel guide (probably just a bad day). We did check out the Love Props but the energy was so much darker, cynical and even violent. We mourned the loss of Rabbit Choir.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ian's Initiate's Instructions

Over at Ship of Fools today a young Christian was asking for prayers that the girl he had just fallen in love with would not go through with a Pagan initiation. He reported that it was her firends idea and she was just going along with it.

Initiation should be so much more than that, and it reminded me of the piece that Lurking Bear wrote while the Third Road was discussing the conundrums of multiple initiations. I need to read it more often.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Monday, June 20, 2005

What I did for Beltane

I wrote the following for a private board over at Ship of Fools, and so I can't link to it. It's a report of what I did for Beltane using the format they use to review churches:

Mystery Worshipper: Mertseger
The church: Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
Denomination: The site itself hosts a wise variety of creation centered spirituality. The Tradition of the MW is the Third Road.
The building: The central feature of this ritual was a labyrinth (be sure to scroll down to see the picture) at the bottom on old rock quary.
The neighbourhood: This regional park contains many trails many of which pass into an area in which cows graze.
The cast: This was a solitary ritual walk.

What was the name of the service?
Beltane sunset ritual walk.
How full was the building?
I encountered maybe a dozen people, two dogs, two cottontail bunny rabbits, and I heard at least one quail.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
South-East of Round Top (lower right quadrant of the map) I was arrested by the unexpected sound of a door creaking open. As I walked on I heard it again. Finally, I saw a distant, tall stand of eucalyptis creaking in the wind. I fell quite naturallly into trance and briefly went deeply in to Faerie. I thanked the spirits and moved on.
Was your pew comfortable?
I did sit twice. First I sat at the center of the main labyrinth. That location is a bit cramped, and you can basically only sit there cross-legged. Later I sat on a boulder still warm from the afternoon sun which was quite nice.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I felt excited and expectant wondering what strange and mysterious events might occur in this ritual. I was not be disappointed.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
When I was due east of Round Top, I saw the bone white remains of some more eucalyptis that had been killed in wild fire maybe seven years ago. The trunks were glowing white in the late afternoon sun and my heart gasped at their beauty. I said, "Hello Lady."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
I used no formal ritual script, though I did invoke the Goddess and the God by singing a composition my teacher has written for such purposes. I thank them when the walk was done.
What musical instruments were played?
I sang the invocation, and much to my surprise and delight, someone had left a plastic recorder on the altar at the center of the first labryrinth. I accompanied the call of the quail with an improvised tune which matched the improvised song I sang earlier as I walked the labyrinth.
Did anything distract you?
Well, there were the usual worries that someone might interupt my private ritual as I walked the labyrinth or that I looked ridiculous. But those thoughts were fleeting, and people are generally polite and unobtrusive at Sibley.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The ritual was deeply meditative and experienced within a deep trance state.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I did not have a watch, of course, and there was no sermon per se. However, I probably spent fifteen minutes at the heart of the labyrinth playing the recorder, appreciating the the various offerings on the altar, and writing a poem to leave behind.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I'd say an 6. I flubbed several notes at the top of the range of the instrument, and both the improvised song as I walked the labyrinth and the poem I wrote were probably pretty cliched. It's hard to do top notch stuff when you're whacked out in trance.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This being Beltane, I had several prayers for my love life with my wife who is in China on business. There was also a deep joy at being to reconnect with this location and doing rituals after several years of not being able to find time to do so with work and being a father to a young boy.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
First as I descended into the quarry, I saw a cottontail when I had never seen one in these hills before. Next, the altar at the center of the main labyrinth included a lovely decorated goard, a white yarn dolly for the goddess and a little pewter Horned God. Finally, I later stood beneath a young oak as I watched the sun go down a bit north of the peak of Mt. Tamalpais across the Bay.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I wanted to go the top of my favorite wind-swept faerie hill top (due north of Round Top at the place marked 27 on the map), but a couple headed up there as I approached. As this was Beltane I didn't want to disturb them, and so stopped at a boulder for a bit. I saw them coming down the trail a few mintues latter, and so I climbed back up only to find a nother couple already watching the light fall on Mt Diablo. I quietly walked away, disappointed that I would not be able to watch the sunset from my favorite spot.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, I did try a new path at one point but I didn't get lost.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Cafeine does not mix well with trance work at all. I did have a rich Cabernet and some Nibisco Chocolate Chunk Cookies and listened to my teacher's album for the first time in years when I got home.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
I'd say a 9. The ritual was certainly ecstatic as they tend to be in this Trad, and the place is certainly convenient to my home. But I do like more formal ritual and regular corporate worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I like that I can experience a deeply Pagan relationship to the amazing wild and fey places hidden even amidst civilization, but nothing about that negates my love of Christ.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The shear delight of finding all the marvelous items at the altar at the center of the labyrinth. It's truly wonderful to know that there are others like me connected through this amazing location.

Friday, June 17, 2005


We've recently been discussing the use of inclusive language over at the Ship of Fools. I've said my piece there, but the topic has led me to grapple a bit more with the conumdrums of authority in thealogical matters.

I find the orthodox Christian positions on authority to be vexing. I can understand and respect (though I don't believe in) a view of the universe in which the Divine never communicates to the sentient beings in the universe. And I can understand nd believe in a view in which the Divine continually communicates to the sentient beings in the universe. But I cannot fathom a view that the Divine spoke once and no longer does so.

This inconsistency is related to "the scandal of particularity". Jesus' death in ancient Jerusalem saves all the intellegent lifeforms throughout the universe? And all such beings, if they exist, must follow the Word as written by a bunch of humans living around that time? Either Jesus' death represents something bigger which is not tied to that time and location and, thus, transcends the particular in ways that manifest to all those other beings and in ways that they can know and understand in the contexts of their own lives and cultures, or Jesus' death is matters only for humanity.

I prefer for the sake of consistency a universe where God never ceases to speak to all beings everywhere throughout time. But on what basis can this preference of mine have authority? You might look to Wesley's Bar Stool of Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. Each of these on their own have obvious flaws. What counts as Scripture? What about subjective experience which is not rational? Is the oldest religion really the closet to God. If so, wouldn't we all be animists?

I question that there can be only one absolute authority for any less than omniscient being. I think that there is a lot of wisdom in a wide variety of traditions. The fact that a religious idea has stood the test of time idicates that it has some value. The fact that a religion coordinates with your experience of the divine has some value. The fact that the religion conforms to what we understand about the world in purly scientific terms has some value.

Therefore, the authority that I trust is that of a collective working-things-out that adapts to science and culture, that has room for the passionate interaction between Self and Other which is our living in this universe, and that hears the Goddess speaking more clearly over time.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Welcome to The Manifest Song

I created this blog to post a comment at Query Letters I Love. Who knows if it will ever see another post.