Saturday, June 25, 2011

Reflections from Hospital

Being in hospital and being immobilized gives time for meditation and contemplation.
Sometimes we tend to get away from the realities of real life and of pain. The first thing I want to say is that living in a small town with a cottage hospital and larger hospitals within easy driving distance is amazing. The interconnection of people--friends of friends, if you will--is just beyond belief in this environment. The man who drove me (Gavin) in ambulance to the hospital is also one of the lifeguards at the state-park pool that we regularly visit for our self-directed aquarobics. My regular physician's niece plays in the jazz quintet that my neurosurgeon runs. The head of the local physical therapy group has a daughter who plays in band class with our grandson, the reigning saxophone king of southern West Virginia. We can discuss with our doctors their problems, not just our own. One of these doctors is counting his fifth year of being free of cancer. It's a wonderful, caring relationship. The other day one of the physicians was, as the saying is in these parts, "covered up" with patients. Because of the pain in Gavin's back, we elected to leave rather than wait. That doctor phoned to see how desperate was Gavin's need; later he looked in on Gavin's physical therapist during an actual session, so that he didn't have to drive way out to the doctor's office a second time.

These caring relationships exist despite the fact that they all know we are Witches ... and they are not; indeed, many if not most of them are fundamentalist Christians.

It gives one pause to think that these very caring people have been brought up in a religion which we tend to denigrate. I believe that because of my experience I will be more gentle in my future criticism.

Of course neighborliness comes into play as well; here we should mention one very busy forensic-psychologist friend of ours who took the trouble twice to drive for over an hour with large pots of soup involving chicken and rice and with fresh vegetables from his garden. Thank you, Randy.
Even this experience of rather drastric measures and of healing has a good side.

School Update

We are pleased to announce that last week we signed up the 40-thousandth student of the School. It has been a long road that started in early 1969. In blazing that entirely new trail we made many decisions. The chief one, that seems to have frustrated many students, is that we were not in the instant-gratification business. To complete the course in Basic Witchcraft requires persistence and the use of the the good old U.S. Postal Service--what has come to be called snail-mail. We thought long and hard about going electronic and decided against it. The completion of most of the course's lectures required the reading of outside books and we felt that a slow and steady progress was better so that people could obtain a more thorough understanding of Wicca. The ideas in the basic course are radically different from (a) the Christian matrix in which most westerners have been brought up and from (b) the gossamer-wings thinking and the blue balls of fire that the alternative community apparently expected from us.
        This month the School chartered its 17th church: Mystic Moon Church of Wicca near Jacksonville, Florida.

Again the policy of the Church was diametrically contrasted with that of many organizations in the Community. We did not wish to build a pyramid of churches reporting to a central authority; that's been done. So all charters issued by the Church of Wicca bear an explicit expiration date that allowed them time to get their own independent charters and federal recognition.

As the popularity of Wicca has grown, and the amount of information on the internet and in books has logarithmically increased, so the number of enrollments in the School has decreased; and with the decrease the number of staff has also diminished. Hence currently we are back almost at the beginning with Gavin and Yvonne handling most of the mail, printing, and the rest. With the multitude of courses now offered through the School, this is a complex task. We are pleased to note that the mail still flows through rapidly; but certain things, such as the website, are in need of updating. We apologize for that. We will get to it eventually. Meantime, have no doubt that the School will continue serving those who want an in-depth study of Wicca as a religion and as a spiritual path.

Blessed be all seekers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The Arab uprisings in search of freedom have had us considering the whole concept of freedom. I (Gavin) may be in a unique situation, having visited most of the nations currently in turmoil. For many years I worked as sales rep in the field of electronic devices with military applications, with quite a high security clearance, and in that assignment traveled most of the world outside the then Soviet bloc. Of course I lived largely in a western bubble, isolated from the general population--but being an inquisitive sort, I frequently got into the various bazaars, temples, and marketplaces and talked to any local person who had any English, or sometimes (as in Japan) with an interpreter.

The interesting thing was that nobody seemed to be oppressed--or for that matter, poorly clothed or fed. I had seen more what we would call ragamuffins in markets in England than I did in (for instance) Libya. (Ragamuffins are those kids who are poorly dressed and are begging at every turn. Think Oliver Twist.) Yes, the beggars in Egypt and Iran were more prevalent, but they were a happy-go-lucky lot. They didn't really need the money that they were begging for, and would go away laughing if you set them a problem in getting the money and they failed. I suspect that it's those same kids who are now getting shot in the streets in their quest for that will-o'-the-wisp, freedom.

In the United States we think that we are free. Certainly we hear the claim repeated often enough. And yet we follow a pretty rigid set of laws so that the traffic flows smoothly--and we (city-dwellers at least) huddle in our houses at night for fear of going out and getting mugged or shot. You think that last thought is an exaggeration? Oh, no. There's a story I am fond of telling of an elderly lady who annually goes to Madrid and wanders around in the middle of the night. She usually gets lost, and the police have to take her back to her hotel.

"Why do you wander like that, SeƱora?"

"Because I can't do it at home."

Yet Spain has one of the most visible police presences in Europe in its Guardia Civil. But you can go to parades; you can walk about at night and not even think about having your camera stolen or your pocket picked.

In England now almost every street has its surveillance cameras and pattern-recognition software is in continuous use. There is no main road without cameras at its intersections.

In the United States we think that because we get the occasional chance to vote we control our destiny. What utter blindness. If we control our destiny, how come the laws make it ever easier for businesses such as Big Oil and Big Pharma to rip us off--with a happy smile and a few more billion dollars going to the fat cats?

Why don't we revolt? What is it that keeps us drugged into passive tolerance? This nation has more people starving and lacking medical assistance than the entire population of Iraq or Yemen. Why are they in revolt and we're not?

You may think this is a weird blog--and it is. But recall the words from Aradia:

Ye shall all be freed from slavery,

And so ye shall be free in everything;

And as the sign that ye are truly free,

Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men

And women also; this shall last until

The last of your oppressors shall be dead.

Are you free?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Health update, early June

Again greetings, everyone.
Gavin has now entered the stage of long recovery. Although the leg muscles seem strong enough, they are not yet fully obeying commands that travel along the nerve paths. The neurosurgeon tells us this is fairly standard, and that things will very gradually improve ... not quite the American dream of everything coming true at the snap of a finger or at the press of a button on a keyboard. Action figures we ain't.
At this stage "very gradually" means three sessions of physical therapy a week and we hope early next week to get Gavin into the pool at Pipestem State Park to resume the self-directed aquarobics we've been doing for so long. I (Yvonne) have to say that our health would be far lower on the scale than it is if our life had not included very frequent aquarobics.
Meantime we are not traveling, although we hope to go to our local coffee shop on Saturday evening and maybe even to Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (40 minutes away in Beckley) on Sunday morning 06 11 (though that looks less likely right now in light of the persistent heat wave).
The current prognosis is: almost normal in three months, fully normal in about a year--provided Gavin keeps up his commendably determined regime of exercise. The pain is just about under control, but it still takes a bunch of narcotics and electrical stimulation. If you talk to him, you may get some weird answers--but you're used to that anyhow. Thank you all again for all the healing energy you've sent. At times it becomes very palpable in the house.

Onward and upward (sigh). Blessed be all. GY

Saturday, June 4, 2011

When Will We Learn?

Words from Yvonne-
This spring and summer we're witnessing natural disaster piling on natural disaster world-wide. Sendai/earthquake/tsunami/nuclear fatalities; the Mississippi and its tributaries behaving in ways inconvenient to human beings; tornadoes deleting acres upon thousands of acres, shanties and mansions alike, with scrap lumber and sheetrock in fragments as far as the eye can see. Here in Hinton we wonder whether it's all our own fault, whether it's the wrath of "God" (woo-hoo), or whether maybe it's the natural way nature behaves.

Humans stubbornly build structures in areas prone to earthquakes that can sustain some level of quake. As has been clearly shown, though, the standards given lip service have not been tough enough, certainly not in Japan.*

Similrly, we build houses alleged to be "hurricane-proof". Again: woo-hoo. Whose blame is greater? The designer's, the builder's, or the sucker's who buys them? The hottest hurricane-proofing gimmick today is (get this) itty-bitty precious little metal straps purported to hold the roof rafters to the upright members so the roof won't blow off. That would be laughable if it weren't so pathetic. And of course we build square box houses close together so that the wind can funnel between them and suck the walls out in what physicists call the Venturi effect. The rectangular box shape so ubiquitous in houses is old, though. It's traditional--what everybody is used to seeing. It's convenient. The furniture fits it.

Of course the wind loves a flat surface to push against! The Little Pig's house gets blown down again by the Big Bad Wolf, just like in the bedtime story ... but it's real.

We still make such houses of nominal 2 x 4s (which have shrunk over the years to 1 3/4 x 3 1/2--if you're lucky). We cover that with sheets of board made from scrap wood and glue--and we expect it all to stand up. When North American culture switched from timber-frame construction to 2-x-4 construction, house designers and builders contemptuously (but accurately) called the 2-x-4 mode a balloon frame because it was so lightweight and flimsy.

Many years ago Bucky Fuller decided that a dome was a better, stronger, more sustainable shape than a rectangular balloon frame of 2-x-4s and pressed wood--but a dome is inconvenient to build. The carpenters, poor dears, have to figure some odd angles: for example, 72 degrees instead of 90 degrees; and the furniture doesn't fit right. Oh gasp. There is a shape, though, documented as tracing back at least to the days when Norsemen told tales of Valhalla, that stands up in the fiercest gale. It is easy and inexpensive to construct, and it contains the furniture very well indeed; it is called a quonset hut.

Quonset huts dating from World War II (that happened in the 1940s, children) are still found all across the Pacific islands. After monsoons and typhoons and hurricanes have swept those islands clear of all else, the huts still stand. They're rusty, but they are still serviceable. No, you can't stack them into fashionable condo towers or into beehives, but we can't imagine that people enjoy living in hives or in fragile multi-story structures that in the end are tall matchboxes. Nor can such structures be accurately described as healthful, let alone safe. A magazine called Southern Living ran an interesting feature on page 100 of its issue dated May 2009. A couple bought a quonset hut in situ with a footprint 25 feet by 48 feet, and refitted it to be their home. The photos tell the story; ask your librarian, or see their piece at Another way in: southernhomeawards-quonsethuttransformation. One of these titles or a variant on it will show you the piece.

Such structures may not conform to current building codes or zoning restrictions or historic-building decrees from city planners or county commissioners or historic societies. If that's the case, what a shame. The last we heard (though we've seldom seen this principle exercised), laws that got passed could likewise get unpassed. It isn't the buildings that need changing; it's the codes. How difficult is that to grasp? And if you lose your home in a tornado because you built it to comply with the fiat of some historic commission or county council, try going to that body to get funding for replacement of your dwelling.

How much would it be worth to you to have a home that withstood tornadoes and cyclones and earthquakes? Haven't we seen enough destruction and grief and loss to reexamine our assumptions? What is tradition worth?

Many years ago an episode of Star Trek had the crew seeking a source of some radioactive element that was obtainable only from nuclear stations. Mr. Data suggested how to find such a station: "Look along any tectonic fault line. That's where the stations are all located; that or at least on the seacoast."

It can't happen here. It can't happen here. It can't happen here ... is the mantra. Well, it can and it probably will ... if it hasn't already. To protect yourself and your family, think about where you live. Think about the building you live in. Make appropriate changes. That is known as rational behavior.

It is true that recently this continent has been experiencing storms with a frequency and number statistically above normal. That may be traceable to humans' continual burning of fossil fuels, which burning raises the temperature of the planet on two counts: the actual heat generated and the resultant greenhouse effect--pollutants retaining heat that, left alone, would escape into space.

Climatologists now tell us that we're actually lucky (read: living on borrowed time), because the pollution in the atmosphere causes dimming that holds temperatures down, preventing the full effect of the sun's rays coming to earth. Apparently without such dimming, most land presently arable would be arid and desert-like. Then the population would be drastically reduced through starvation, and the planet would re-correct itself: With lower population, there would be diminished burning of fossil fuels and the planet would cool again.

Malthus was right:

Over and over again human populations reproduce themselves

to levels unsustainable by the planet's resources.

Look around you.

The real question, then, is this: Are we doing anything about it? The real answer is: No.

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*See Wall Street Journal of May 10 2011 page D-7 on designing for earthquake areas.