Thursday, December 29, 2016

19th Annual Thanksgiving Eve Service and Homeless Persons Memorial Day

19th Annual Thanksgiving Eve Service

For the past several years I’ve participated in an annual Thanksgiving service sponsored by the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy.

Each ‘clergy’ -- I don’t use that appellation for myself but the interfaith communities do – is asked to bring a teaching, reflection, or other offering to the gathering.  For the first few years, I briefly told the story of Demeter and Persephone, reminding attendees that they’ve likely heard this tale or some version of it before.  Then my sweetie Corby, who’s a good singer, and I sang “Demeter’s Song in harmony.  I think it’s a beautiful song and one that contains imagery that is timeless and easy to identify with, i.e., “the lover’s smile and the workers arm” and “the heart that cries and the hand that heals.”

Last year, given the situation in the Middle East, I found myself thinking of Inanna, who arose in those lands.  I debated with myself just what I might bring to the service that was relevant and new.  What I decided to do was to speak about Inanna and the troubles in her ancient lands, and then have us do a spell together using a call-and-response; it went well.

Since last year went well using Pagan concepts (Inanna and spells) that are less familiar and less accessible to mainstream religions, this year I decided to add another Pagan notion, that of entheogens (wine, mescaline, et al.) and the change of consciousness that accompanies their ingestion.  In my mind was John Barleycorn, except that many homeless folks struggle with alcohol abuse and my presenting him as a harvest god who lives in the barley would have been insensitive to their situations.  So I skipped talking about entheogens and simply introduced the idea of the the divine spirits who inhabit different plants, specifically grain crops.  Then we sang “John Barleycorn,” with everyone singing the refrain together.  “All among the barley, who would not be blithe, when the ripe and bearded barley is hanging on the scythe.”  I love this song.  I love the feeling I experience when we sing these words together.  I can practically see waving golden grains.

So that’s what we did.  Corby and I sang the verses and everyone joined in the refrain.

I searched the Internet for this song so I could provide a link for the reader to hear it.  Alas, in the folk tradition both lyrics and melodies of many songs morph in various ways, and all the versions of this song I could find on YouTube were slightly different from the way I learned it.  I learned the song in the early 1980s from singer and folklorist Holly Tannen.  She learned it from the singing of Mike James and Mick Tems, of the Welsh singing group “Swansea Jack.”  Having been written or created in the late 19th Century, “All Among the Barley” is no ancient song.  That makes is nonetheless appropriate and effective, and my former community and I, within community or on my own, sing it at Harvest Home (Autumn Equinox).  For the past three years the inmates at San Quentin where I volunteer have sung it when our circle celebrates autumn.  For the reader’s pleasure I offer it here:

Now is come September, the hunter’s Moon begun
And through the wheaten stubble is heard the frequent gun.
The leaves are pale and yellow, and kindling into red,
And the ripe and bearded barley is hanging down its head.


All among the barley, who would not be blithe
When the ripe and bearded barley is smiling on the scythe.

The spring is like a young man who does not know his mind.
The summer is a tyrant of a most ungracious kind.
The autumn’s like and old friend who loves one all she can.
And she brings the bearded barley to glad the heart of man.


The wheat is like a rich man; it’s sleek and well-to-do.
The oats are like a pack of girls, laughing and dancing too.
The rye is like a miser; it’s sulky, lean and small.
And the ripe and bearded barley is monarch of them all.


(Repeat first verse.)

At this Thanksgiving Eve service new sleeping bags, packages of socks, and such array the harvest altar along with pumpkins, ears of corn, and other harvest.  They are distributed at the conclusion of the ceremony.

I reluctantly must say that the other chants offered at this service were, to me and Corby at least, pretty lifeless, except for the music of the Lighthouse Gospel Choir of Marin.  Singing “All Among the Barley” together livened everything up.

We concluded with a chant lead by a woman from San Francisco Theological Seminary.  It’s one we all probably know, “All Shall Be Well.”  However, the folk tradition being what it is, we sang it as one single note instead of with the melody I’m used to.  Nevertheless, it proved to be an effective seal for the spell.

Homeless Persons Memorial Day

I’ve reported in the past about memorials for those in our county who’ve died without a roof over their heads.  They’ve taken place in summertime and have begun with a procession through the streets.  This year was different.   The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council has designated December 21 (on or around the date) as Homeless Persons' Memorial Day.  This year we joined others all over the country in memorializing those unfortunate and often premature passings.

Street chaplain Rev. Paul Gaffney asked me to offer the prayer and lead the gathering in a chant I’ve done before.  I had something better and more seasonal to share because the service, and the named day, was scheduled for December 21, the first day of the returning sun.  So instead I delivered a brief reflection on the return of the light.  Then, at the conclusion of the ceremony, after we’d all lit candles from a single flame and assembled on the terrace in front of 1st Presbyterian Church of San Rafael.  It’s lively. It’s fun.  It’s affirming and encouraging.  And it keeps the legacy of Pagan songwriter Charlie Murphy alive.  This one I was able to find on YouTube (albeit we didn’t have the enhancement of a gospel choir).

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 28, 2016

CoG statement on Standing Rock

Covenant of the Goddess, one of the oldest American Wiccan and Witchcraft organizations, has at its very roots, the spiritual assumption that all of nature is sacred, from humanity to the waters of life.  While the members of CoG are diverse in practice, this fundamental spiritual ideal lives at the core of the organization's heart.

In 2014, CoG published a national statement on the environment:

 We, members of the Covenant of the Goddess, honor the sacredness of Planet Earth and Mother Nature. We honor the powers of Air and we rejoice in breathing fresh air and in all the creatures of air. We support efforts to protect the atmosphere that shields our planet and to ensure that our air is clean and refreshing.

 We honor the fire of the Sun above and the fire within our Earth -- the fires that warm us and transform us. We support efforts to provide sustainable energy to fuel our future without further damaging our ecosystem.

We honor the Waters of Life – springs, rivers, lakes and oceans – and the waters of our bodies – blood, sweat and tears --the waters that keep our bodies and our dreams fluid and ever-changing. We cherish all the creatures of water. We believe that access to clean water is a basic right, and thus we oppose privatization of water sources and efforts to deny anyone access to those sources. We support efforts to prevent and reverse pollution of our waters, to preserve groundwater, marshlands and the oceans that embrace our world.

We honor the Earth, our bodies, trees and plants, animals and rocks, and all that is manifest on this plane of existence. We support efforts to remediate damage, to conserve natural resources, to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity, and to maintain wilderness areas.

We stand at the Center, mindful of our interdependence as part of the Web of Life. We commit to support efforts to rebalance our wondrous world for future generations. We know that climate change presents an imminent threat to humanity and other life on Earth. Since this imbalance is caused by human activity, we humans must accept responsibility for our actions and seek to reverse the damage and restore the balance.

We support local, regional, national, and global efforts to conserve natural resources, to seek clean, sustainable sources of energy, and to rebalance our world.

And as such, as a group of many, the Covenant of the Goddess stands together with the Great Standing Rock Sioux Nation, the Lakota, all Indigenous Peoples and their allies in the protection of the Waters of Life and ask for the blessing and support for the Water Protectors in their work to keep the water safe and free for us, our future generations, and in honor of our ancestors.

Jack Prewett
CoG National First Officer

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

California CoG Coven working with active duty military Pagans

Annual Report, Dragon’s Weyr Circle
National Coven member,
Covenant of the Goddess

 Sarah “Stone” Hentges & Lisa Morganstern 
"Dragon’s Weyr Circle members have done a number of things for many years but we have not reported them to Grand Council.  Dragon’s Weyr is a traditional BTW coven, practicing Wicca, with some members who are “out” and others who are not. We respect the traditional secrecy of our faith. We are involved in our community leading public rituals as well as blots and a number of us are involved in Antelope Valley Pagan Pride Day, which Lisa Morgenstern our HPS founded. Lisa has been doing prison ministry as a volunteer Chaplain at California State Prison-Los Angeles County since 2005. She has taken the past year off but continues to advise on the internet via The Troth’s In-Reach program, which supports Heathens in prison and seeks to provide an alternative to the racist Heathenry which is rampant within many prisons. In-Reach has helped a lot of Heathens be permitted to have services in prison that normally would have been told no by the administration because of ignorance of Asatru, Heathenry, and other forms of Germanic Paganism. Lisa also serves as a member of the Antelope Valley Interfaith Council and offers prayers at the two annual services held, the Thanksgiving Eve Service and the National Day of Prayer event.

Amy Watson (Nia-Ailey), one of our long time members, continues her ministry as a REVL (Religious Education Vocational Learning) and Non-Chaplain Worship Leader at Los Angeles Air Force Base. She is not currently leading services there like she did at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, or at Edwards AFB in California, but she has been asked to lead some training classes for interested employees and airmen by the Chaplain. Amy was asked to man a Wiccan booth for a Diversity Workshop at the base this month. She began this work nearly 8 years ago, and has been an inspiration to other members of our coven to make similar use of their credentials. COG is one of three Pagan Organizations that the military will recognize a clergy credential from and authorize a COG credential holder to lead services.

When Amy’s family moved to a new base, Lisa Morgenstern was authorized to lead services in her absence at Edwards Air Force Base. Sadly there are few “out” pagans currently at Edwards of which we are aware, and the current Command’s Chaplains are Evangelical Christians. Lisa continues to reach out to the Chaplains at Edwards should there be a call for services, because when there are people requesting it, we can start services again. Previously we held weekly Thursday services at Edwards for a group who have mostly PCS’ed (moved away).

One of our newer members, Sarah “Stone” Hentges, has this to report: Dragon’s Weyr Circle now has a member that is the Wiccan Lay Leader at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Center in Ridgecrest California.  These are the first Wiccan services offered at this base.  Until 2016 the Navy offered no Wiccan services in the western region.  As of August 2016 there are two Naval bases that offer these services.  On Thursday May 5, 2016, the national day of prayer China Lake held its first Wiccan services with the Lay Leader and two participants, one of which had to leave early.  As of August 2016 there are six core participants and multiple occasional participants, including one retired and one active duty Sailor.  We have a room dedicated to our meetings so that we may store items there rather than take them home every time we meet.  We hold ritual for Full Moons and Sabbats and have multiple other activities such as meditations, herbs, stones, and spell crafts.  We always share a potluck meal.  Without the support and encouragement of my coven and ordination from The Covenant of The Goddess this would not have happened.  The China Lake group meets every Thursday at 1800 in the All Faith Chapel Education Building room 8. If you find yourself in the area, please join us. 

This past Memorial Day, Lisa and John Morgenstern and Sarah Hentges drove about three hours to another California base to meet with Heathen military servicemen who wanted to have a blot. John and Lisa led a ceremony to honor the Einherjar, the fallen warriors who are revered in Asatru. Her COG credential and a letter from Diana Paxson of The Troth helped that along. Because Lisa had her COG Credential and the chaplain of that unit was familiar with COG, we were permitted to hold this service in the Chapel, on a military base, which had great meaning for us and we believe, for the two servicemen who were new to Heathenry.

Dragon’s Weyr Circle members feel strongly about supporting our military and our freedom of religion as well as other social justice issues regarding minorities.   We are proud to say that we have led services for military on 4 different bases over the years and for Navy, Marines, and Air Force."


Lisa Morgenstern