More of Obama’s Promises

Last night was President Obama’s State of the Union address. There has been no shortage of people analyzing every word, every gesture, and every possible reaction. YAWN! I thought the State of the Union would be a perfect time for some real random fun. That’s right; it’s time for the triumphant comeback of “President Obama’s 500 Promises”!

You may remember the fun I had with these cards back in April 2009. It’s a box of 510 cards that compile promises Obama made in interviews, debates, speeches, and on his website while campaigning to become President. Then you go to www.PolitiFact.com (remember, the one with the Pulitzer bitches!) and find out how Obama is doing at fulfilling that promise. Instead of watching all the media spin I opted to open up my box of 500 Promises and draw 3 cards at random. I then went to www.PolitiFact.com to see how the President is doing on fulfilling them.

1. Promise 48: Close the “donut hole” in Medicare prescription drug plan. Eliminate the “donut hole” in the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program that limits benefits for seniors with more than $2,250 but less than $5,100 in annual drug costs, meaning they end up paying full price for drugs while also paying drug plan premiums.

PolitiFacts says: In the Works. After months of talking about health care reform, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced major legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care system. House Democrats unveiled the 1,000-plus-page bill, called America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, on July 14, and it includes most of President Barack Obama’s key proposals on health reform.

One of Obama’s campaign pledges was to close the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program, a coverage gap that affects some seniors who have to pay for drugs that might otherwise be covered. The health care bill aims to slowly eliminate the gap, beginning with a $500 reduction in 2011 and completing phase-out by 2023. Under the House bill, that move would be paid for by requiring drug manufacturers to pay new rebates involving the Medicaid program.

We should be clear that there’s a long way to go — maybe months — before this bill becomes law. It has to get through the Senate, where many an ambitious House bill has seen its hopes dashed.

Nevertheless, the bill marks significant, measurable progress on Obama’s promise, and we rate it In the Works.

Promise 111: Allow all veterans back into the Veterans Administration. Sign an executive order ending the unfair ban on healthcare enrollment of certain groups of veterans, including ‘Priority 8’ veterans who often earn modest incomes and have no service-connected disability.

PolitiFacts says: Compromise. This promise had its roots in a government decision in 2003 that, due to limited resources and a mandate to provide quality and timely health care, the VA would prioritize those veterans who would be eligible to receive health care benefits. Priority was given, for example, to veterans with service-connected conditions, people with low income or those with special health care needs. The VA decided, however, to stop enrolling nondisabled “Priority 8” vets whose income exceeded some set thresholds.

During the campaign, Obama promised he would do away with those income thresholds. All veterans, he vowed, would be allowed back in the VA.

In May, President Obama proposed a $113 billion Veterans Affairs budget for 2010 that would make significant progress toward restoring eligibility to VA health care benefits for many “Priority 8” veterans.

According to the budget plan, “For the first time since January 2003, VA expands eligibility for VA health care to nondisabled veterans earning modest incomes. This expansion will bring nearly 550,000 eligible veterans into the VA health care system by 2013. The 2010 budget request provides the resources to achieve this level while maintaining high quality and timely care for lower-income and service-disabled veterans who currently rely on VA medical care.”

While 2013 is the longer-term goal, the 2010 veterans budget approved in July by the House Veterans Affairs Appropriations Committee included $533 million to expand eligibility for health care services to non-service disabled veterans. That amount would allow the VA to increase the income limit by 10 percent (to about $30,000, depending on where you live). The VA estimates it will translate to an additional 266,000 veterans who will enroll in the VA health care system.

The White House plan calls for relaxing the income thresholds more and more over the next several years.

That’s a big commitment. And by and large, it appears veterans leaders are pleased.

“The president is taking care of veterans,” said Joe Davis, national spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars. “He is following through on this provision.”

Still, Davis said, it will be interesting to see if the VA system is equipped to handle the additional people made eligible this year.

“It’s going to be difficult because of capacity,” Davis said. “But you have to start somewhere. Only time will tell if you can open it further.”

Testifying before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, said the VA is up to the task.

“The president’s decision to relax income thresholds established in 2003, which froze Priority Group 8 enrollments, has enabled many more veterans to access the excellent health care available through our Veterans Health Administration (VHA),” Shinseki said. “It has increased VA’s workload, but we are prepared to accommodate up to 500,000 enrollees, who are being phased in over the next four years.”

Clearly, Obama has made strides toward keeping his commitment on this promise. But in the campaign, he didn’t say he was going to phase in the changes. Look again at what Obama’s position paper stated:

“When troops serve, they are not divided by income classes or priority groups. Yet, today the VA is picking and choosing which veterans to serve. Barack Obama is committed to ending the unfair ban on health care enrollment of certain groups of veterans, including ‘Priority 8’ veterans who often earn modest incomes. He has voted to end this unfair policy, which has resulted in the VA turning away nearly one million veterans since 2003. As president, one of Barack Obama’s first acts will be signing an executive order reversing this ban.”

But it was not one of his first acts. Indeed, Obama has not signed an executive order reversing this ban, as he said he would. Instead, he has outlined a budget plan to relax income thresholds to allow more and more Priority 8 veterans to be eligible for health care benefits over time. And Obama didn’t make the change in one fell swoop as promised.

Perhaps Obama concluded that it was more sensible to roll out the changes over time so as not to overwhelm the VA system. And some would certainly argue the president is making steady progress toward keeping the substance of this promise. Nonetheless, Obama didn’t do it on the timetable he promised. And so we rule this one a Compromise.

Promise 255: Expand teacher mentoring programs and provide incentives for more planning time. Expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. Also provide incentives to give teachers paid common planning time so they can collaborate to share best practices.

PolitiFacts says: In the Works. President Barack Obama has packed a number of his campaign promises related to education into his “Race to the Top” program, which seeks to encourage innovative approaches to teaching and learning by having states compete for $4.35 billion worth of grants from the Department of Education. The program was funded through the Obama-backed economic stimulus package approved by Congress in February.

In a speech in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 4, Obama announced the criteria for states to win the grants. One of the goals, Obama said, is to create “alternate pathways to teaching for talented young people,” and he specifically cited as an example a program in Boston “where aspiring teachers work side-by-side with effective mentors in a yearlong residency.”

A notice from the Department of Education inviting applications talks about priority being given to states that provide effective support to teachers, and specifically mentions as examples “professional development, time for common planning and collaboration.”

That sounds to us like what Obama promised he would encourage if elected president.

Competition for the grants will be conducted in two rounds — the first starting this month and the second in June next year — with winners announced in April and September next year.

But by establishing a competitive grant program that encourages teacher mentor programs and paid planning time for teachers so they can collaborate to share best practices, we think that moves this promise to In the Works.

Two “In the Works” and one compromise. Not too shabby. It’s not too late to get your own box of “President Obama’s 500 Promises” and play along at home! We still have a few years left to track how he’s doing.

Crafting the Runes: A Venture into Self-Publishing

by Alaric Albertsson
Also appeared in The Heartland Spiritual Alliance newletter.

As I explained to my acquisitions editor over lunch last year, I needed a set of Anglo-Saxon runes for my next book, “Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer”. In addition to the book’s outline and a few sample chapters, I gave her several illustrations for the rune cards I hoped would be sold with the book.

Why cards instead of runes carved into little pebbles or bits of wood? Well, why not? The use of divinatory “rune stones” dates back to the early 1980’s – hardly what anyone would consider an ancient tradition –and I am pretty sure the early Saxons and Scandinavians would have made use of cardstock if they’d had it. Cards suited my purpose. Each rune card would include an illustrated conception of the corresponding passage of the 10th century Old English Rune Poem. One of my goals is to make the runes and their mysteries more accessible for people, and a significant percentage of my target audience is already familiar with the Tarot deck as a divination tool.

The illustrations were provided by Pagan artist Taren Martin. I wanted to work with him on this project not only because of his previous work, but also because he understood my vision. At least a dozen or more rune decks have been published over the years, but the overwhelming majority of these have been decks of the Elder Futhark, which lacks nine of the Anglo-Saxon runes. The decks frequently have illustrations which cannot be supported by the rune lore preserved in any of the Rune Poems. I wanted to create a deck that includes all of the English runes and, more importantly, a deck that remains true to the extant lore.

My acquisitions editor took my proposal back to Minnesota and I returned to Pittsburgh. For the next several months Taren and I continued working on the rune deck. I would send him a vague idea of what I wanted. Sometimes I was not sure of what I wanted, which was extremely frustrating for him. He would put together an image and send it to me, and I would then send it back explaining why that was not quite right. It is a testament to our friendship and to Taren’s enduring patience that I am alive to share this story today.

Meanwhile I continued working on the text for “Wyrdworking”. This book will present traditional Anglo-Saxon magic for our modern world. The chapters will cover herb magic, scrying, galdor and other magic techniques in addition to rune magic. At that time I was focused on the latter, and so the book and the rune deck were parallel projects.

In late spring I learned that the publishing house had rejected the deck. They wanted my book, just not the rune cards.

“But I can’t sell this book without the runes,” I protested to my acquisitions editor. “Thirty years ago I could do it. Maybe twenty years ago. But today every new age store in the United State sells the Elder Futhark. Most people are not going to the trouble to make their own runes when they can buy a set, even if that set is lacking almost a third of the symbols.”

My acquisitions editor, Elysia Gallo, understood and was sympathetic to my plight. In fact, hers was the most lovely rejection letter I have ever received. Unfortunately it was not within her power to overturn the decision. If the rune deck was to become a reality, Taren and I would have to pursue another course.

I was afraid Taren would be discouraged by the news but, if anything, he became even more determined to finish the rune deck. While he moved forward with the remaining cards, I talked to a few fellow authors about the problem. A publisher provides two essential things: capital and distribution. It soon became apparent that the publishers who could give us the distribution we wanted were unacceptable for other reasons. A couple of friends suggested we look into self publishing. The idea was not unreasonable. If we had to distribute and promote the deck ourselves, self publishing would generate much more income per deck sold.

While figuring all this out, I began to realize something else. It was time for me to turn the project over to Taren. I would still help him, but without the accompanying book, the rune deck was his baby. And so the cards became not just “the rune deck”, but the Martin Rune Deck.

In June, while I was at a book signing for “Travels Through Middle Earth” at Aquarius Books in Kansas City, my friend Barbara Criswell showed me Toby Evans’ Chakra Labyrinth Cards. Toby had decided to self publish when she created her chakra deck. I’ll readily admit that I know next to nothing about chakras, but I know a well crafted product when I see one, and Barbara told me that Toby had been very pleased with her printer.

Barbara Criswell is one of modern Paganism’s unsung heroes, so I’m going to sing a bit about her now. This woman has consistently supported the Kansas City metropolitan area’s Pagan community for decades. Twenty years ago when the Heartland Spiritual Alliance and other area organizations were trying to buy a Pagan campsite, Barbara offered space and promotion for fund raising projects to help bolster this monumental project. Around the same time she offered a meeting place for a discussion group known as Spirit Circle, which still convenes to this day. “When Travels Through Middle Earth” was published she threw a cake-and-lemonade party for me at the Heartland Pagan Festival to help promote the book, and then later invited me to speak at Aquarius Books where she showed me Toby’s Chakra Labyrinth Cards. She is a woman who puts her community first, and it is a great honor to be numbered among her friends.

So Barbara put me in touch with Toby Evans, I then introduced Toby to Taren and she introduced him to her printer in Hong Kong. This, of course, was not the end of the story.

The next thing Taren needed was investment capital. Notice how this has become “Taren” instead of “we”? Although I was still involved with the project and deeply supportive, I turned my attention back to “Wyrdworking” and began to devote most of my time to the book. I had signed a contract for the book now; I had a deadline. For the most part, the Martin Rune Deck was in Taren’s hands.

Scott DeRousse provided the investment capital. We had also considered soliciting multiple investors, but making a single payment each month is far preferable to paying back loans to a dozen different people. We now had another partner for the project. Anyone who knows Scott at all knows that he is the ultimate silent partner, but Taren acknowledged him in the accompanying booklet as a man “whose warmth and generosity knows no bounds”. That’s not entirely true; Scott’s generosity does know a few bounds. Fortunately the capital needed fell within that parameter.

I authored the aforementioned booklet. If you have ever bought a Tarot deck, you know the booklet I mean; the tiny brochure with an even tinier font that’s tucked into the box along with the cards. It was a challenge to describe the essential mysteries of the runes on pages only slightly larger than a business card. I do think the booklet gives the average customer enough information to get started, and he or she can always buy “Wyrdworking” when it’s released next year for a more comprehensive coverage of rune magic and divination.

It was just before Yule when Taren received five boxes of the Martin Rune Deck from the printer for his approval. If they were satisfactory, the entire order would be printed and delivered. To describe them as satisfactory would be an understatement; they were all that we had envisioned and more. Taren and I both felt that the final product validated the work and time we had invested in the deck.

The Martin Rune Deck can be used for divination or as a meditation tool. It is now available online through WolfDen Designs. Retailers should contact Taren Martin through the website under the Contact Us link for information about wholesale pricing.

About the Alaric:
Alaric Albertsson is the author of “Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagon”. To learn more about Alaric visit his website.

The Name That Might Have Been

After much thought I realize that my website, The Magical Buffet, is suffering from a tangible set back. No matter how successful this website might ever be, regardless of how much notoriety I personally gain, The Magical Buffet will never be as successful as it could have been because I did not let the guys who create “Savage Worlds” name this website.

For those of you who don’t know what “Savage Worlds” is, it is a universal generic, role-playing game (Yes everyone, like “Dungeons and Dragons” in so much as you create characters and work together to create a story under the guidance of a game master. Did you not read my intro to gaming interview with Steve Kenson?) written by Shane Lacy Hensley, and published by Great White Games doing business as Pinnacle Entertainment Group. I don’t know who is responsible for this, but the simple fact is that the “Savage Worlds” folks know how to name things in a way that compells you to at least pick up one of their books, and as is the case in the Elson household, to buy said books.

Let’s first start with the name of their generic base game system “Savage Worlds”. What a fan-freakin-tastic name for a game! Seriously, you see a book with the words “Savage Worlds” on the spine, how do you not pick that up? Take a moment, reflect on that title. Say it out loud. Feel that tingle running down your spine? That’s what I’m talking about here.

However, that’s just the name of the generic rules system. The titles for books that use that system are equally admirable.

“The Savage World of Solomon Kane” – All the bad ass of Solomon Kane, now with the word “savage”. Enough said.

“Slipstream” – A perfect name for a pulp science fiction setting ala Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

“Sundered Skies!” – Damn right exclamation point. That exclamation point takes an appropriate title for a dark fantasy setting featuring a thousand floating islands and turns it up to eleven. It’s the “Spinal Tap” of game titles. (Because I made the eleven joke. Dial goes up to eleven. Get it now? Why am I talking to you?)

“Pirates of the Spanish Main” – Perhaps you didn’t read that right. I said, Pirates. of the. Spanish. Main. It’s Pirates of the Spanish Main for God’s sake! When what a thing is, is out right cool, you name it what it is. For instance, my stuffed schnauzer doll is inherently cool, thusly, I named it Schnauz. Yes, my schnauzer doll is inherently cool, occassionally I call him Schnauz Prime, and no, I do not want your opinion on the subject.

“Low Life: Rise of the Lowly” – If you saw that at your local game store how could you not think, what the heck is that, and pick it up? Sure the world is filled with descendants of cockroaches, worms, snack cakes, and stranded aliens, and that may not be your cup of tea. However, that title managed to get me, or my husband, or sometimes both of us, to pick up that book and check it out every time we visited Zombie Planet until we quit fighting the inevitable and just bought it.

“50 Fathoms” – Again, how do you resist looking at a game book titled “50 Fathoms”? From a company of sweet titles, this one definitely stands out. Just think about it, “50 Fathoms”. It’s simple, it’s moody, it says, Gamer, you WILL read my back cover.

“Necessary Evil” – For the record, my favorite title for any game book ever. All the super heroes in the world are destroyed by an alien invasion leaving the protection of earth in the hands of the super villains left behind. I love the concept and the name is PERFECT.

“Rippers” – Oh “Rippers”, what a fantastic title you are. “The Cabal of evil formed under the leadership of the monstrous Jack the Ripper has the Victorian world on its knees and it’s up to you to fight back.” Again, great name for a great concept.

“Deadlands: Reloaded” – Heck, they even managed to take an already established and cool title, “Deadlands”, and make it extra cool when translating it for the “Savage Worlds” system! “Deadlands” is cool, “Deadlands: Reloaded” is legendary. (I feel I missed a Barney Stinson joke there.)

I feel my point is made, the “Savage Worlds” guys know how to name things. And so there you have it, an opportunity missed. I like to think that “The Magical Buffet” is a solid name, but I suspect if put in the hands of the “Savage Worlds” team it would have had a better name, one that would translate directly to “Wil Wheaton wrote about my website in his blog and thusly crashed our server.” Or perhaps “Rebecca will now be the new commentator on the television show ‘BattleBots’, oh crap that show was cancelled, never mind.” Perhaps one day, if I’m lucky, the “Savage Worlds” team will come up with an honorary, suitably bad ass sounding nickname for the website. Until then, I’ll pine away for the name that might have been.

Imperial Dragon Oracle

A while back Lynn, my friend at U.S. Games, asked if I have any interest in dragons. Of course I do, because really, who doesn’t? I’m glad I said yes because I got the wonderful surprise of a copy of the new “Imperial Dragon Oracle” by Andy Baggott and Peter Pracownik. Does the name Pracownik ring a bell for some of you? It should.

That’s right, if like me you were around for the big collectible card game boom, you’ll remember the game “Wyvern” (also done by U.S. Games). Pracownik was the artist who did all those beautiful cards. I never even played the game, but I still bought a few packs of the cards, just for the art. With that said, you now know why as far as I’m concerned this deck is worth owning just to look at. But for those of you who need more than that information, let’s talk specifics of the “Imperial Dragon Oracle”.

What we have is a 22 card deck of over-sized (when compared to the standard tarot deck) cards featuring the beautiful dragon artwork of Pracownik. I consider this oracle deck to be all killer, no filler. By that I mean you get 22 cards that coincide with the traditional tarot card deck’s Major Arcana. No Minor Arcana here, which is fine because honestly, just between you and me, I find the Minor Arcana a little boring. I mean the Major Arcana is where all the tarot coolness is found: The Fool, Death, The Emperor, The Hanged Man. So as much as I wouldn’t mind even more cards illustrated by Pracownik, I don’t feel as if I’m being deprived. (Before I get emails from people who are actually knowledgeable about tarot, unlike myself, I’m sure that all kinds of bad assedness abounds in the Minor Arcana, but I’m a rube so I focus on all the Major Arcana shininess. All better now?)

With the deck comes a nice little booklet that has a whole lot of information about dragons; history, myth, folklore, etc. That’s followed up with a very thoughtful, practical guide about how to prepare and begin working with the “Imperial Dragon Oracle”.

When everything is said and done, this is a great item for anyone who is interested in dragons in any way, shape, or form.

Magical Buffet Mythology: Santa Muerte

By Rebecca
Illustration by Will Hobbs

I stumbled across Santa Muerte on the internet, in a beautiful photo journalistic piece on the Global Post website. Santa Muerte, as most of you can guess translates to Saint Death. I wanted to learn more and found out there had been a documentary in 2007 about this very topic.

Who is Santa Muerte? In Eva S. Aridjis’ film “La Santa Muerte” she lays out the closest thing to a known origin of this saint. A statue was discovered in a church that was associated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval French saint. Since the Saint was portrayed as a skeleton, the Mexican people viewed it as an image of death. They began to venerate it as a female instead of a male saint, since the pre-Columbian goddesses of death, Mictecacihuatl and Coatlicue, were feminine figures. When the priests realized that the people were worshipping the image as Saint Death, the image was moved to a private dwelling. The Catholic Church does not recognize Santa Muerte as a saint, so people must worship her at home or at public altars.

Santa Muerte is always portrayed as a skeleton, often times looking like the grim reaper, complete with scythe and scales. However, just a quick poke around the internet and you learn that she can take on many looks. Santa Muerte is always a skeleton, but sometimes she is dressed like a queen, or in robes, or as a bride, and just about any other thing you can imagine.

Who worships Santa Muerte? Anyone obviously, but primarily she is worshipped in Mexican communities, with Her stronghold being the most violent parts of Mexico and prisons. Places where people feel death pressing down on them take comfort in knowing that Saint Death is there for them. By showing devotion, in a ritual mix of Catholic worship and what I’m surmising is a throwback to ancient sacrificial offerings (it looked a lot like Voodoo to me), Santa Muerte protects them, provides for them, and when the worshipper’s time is over, She comes for them. Her followers bring Her gifts, such as cigarettes and tequila, burn candles, and say prayers to Her. In the documentary, some had conversations with Her, like you would a mother or confidant. Others would perform a mass.

The Catholic church may not like Her, and the Mexican government may call her followers a “cult”, but I like Santa Muerte. She’s an everyman’s kind of deity. Rich or poor, man or woman, good or evil, we all die. And if Santa Muerte brings comfort to people, especially those living closer to death than myself, more power to Her.

Spiritual Transformation

By Leandra Witchwood
(This article first appeared on her website, used here with her permission)

We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart… and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together… I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude. ~Helen Hayes

To become spiritual begins we must experience stages of transformation. Some of these experiences are short and fast, while others seem to take forever. More often than not, spiritual transformations are painful and difficult. Nevertheless, these stages are necessary for achieving our ultimate goal in becoming spiritual beings on this plain and the next.

My most recent transformation began about two years ago and is nowhere near an end! I do admit some days change is hard to bear and I wish it would hurry the heck up, but then there are days when it all makes perfect sense and I don’t mind the lag.

It all started with a standard Medicine card reading. The intent is to focus my efforts in the right direction for the day or week depending on the situation and project. I could feel myself becoming unbalanced and disoriented on my path and felt a strong need for some clarity.

I know many of us who specialize in divination do this kind reading for others and ourselves all the time. Usually they are basic, the person in question draws a couple of helpful cards, and we are on our way. I honestly thought that this would be one of those simple readings. As the universe would reveal, I was very wrong.

I remember it clearly; I was sitting at my usual spot in the park over looking the Susquehanna River during my lunch hour, when I pulled a very distinct arrangement of cards. The spread I was doing was intended to show me how to achieve balance through Father Sun and Mother Earth (above and below) . The shock came to me as I revealed my cards. Instead of balance, they spoke specifically of change, and chaos.

First, I pulled Dragon Fly. On the surface Dragon Fly teaches us about Illusion. The story of Dragon Fly talks about how he was once a very powerful Dragon who was tricked by Coyote into the form we know today. When we look at Dragon Fly, we see the Magick bottle up within Dragon Fly through the iridescent shimmer of Dragon Fly’s wings.

Knowing this we also consider Dragon Fly to be a symbol of locked up potential. When we see Dragon Fly in a spread, it tends to mean that the person in question is not living up to his/her true greatness/potential. This blockage is usually evident through some sort of illusion the person places in his/her life.

Dragon Fly is also a symbol for change over time. It takes about 2 years for many Species of Dragon Fly to transform from an egg to an adult Dragon Fly. Therefore, as a reader I recognize that Dragon Fly is telling me that I will be entering into a 2 year transformation. Dragon Fly is also one of the few creatures equally associated with Air and Water.

For me, this card fell in the Mother Earth position. This position teaches us to receive the goodness Mother Earth has to offer through time and patience. This energy is of the Female trinity; Maiden, Mother, and Crone. This ever-changing female energy opens us up to creativity and psychic pathways.

Therefore, from the start of this reading I am told that slow change is coming two fold. I am also told that all seeds require time to germinate and need nurturing before they can grow into their true potential, again two fold.

The next card I pulled is for the Father Sky position. This is of Male energy and Warrior Energy. In this position, we are taught lessons of how to heal, how to move forward, and how to look at things in the material world. This energy is faster and plays a distinct contrast to female energy, which is slower and less analytical.

As I turned my second card to face me, I was dumfounded to see Frog. I was not sure what to make of this spread. I even looked up at my favorite tree for some clarity, but only found the words “accept it” instead.

I thought to myself, “Did I not shuffle properly? There is no way both of these cards could end up next to each other in this spread. However, there they were, and their message was clear.

If you have not guessed, Frog is another symbol for transformation. Frog’s association is with Earth and Water, which is only one of its many links to Dragon Fly. Like Dragon Fly frogs goes through a transformation, but only faster.

I sat back and knew that I needed to expect some serious changes. I knew that at least the next two years would be hard. Change is not always easy and lets face it we humans are not very welcoming of change, especially when the change promises to be BIG! Nevertheless, I was glad to have the warning.

I have moved past the two-year mark of this foretold transformation. I look back and see that so many things have happened. I was laid off from my high paying desk job, began working in the theater as a seamstress, started a business, ended the business, had a baby, developed some really great friendships, and then lost them.

So now, I am here… Where exactly is “here”? I am not sure yet. I know the journey is not over and there are more big changes coming. What I do know is that I have transformed.

What mattered to me before seems superficial. Having a high paying desk job that allows me to buy the latest and greatest is no longer a priority. Instead, I am happy working a low pay job that allows me to be with my family.

Instead of having, a bunch of friendships that are shallow and dare I say it… fake. I now focus on friendships that are meaningful, fulfilling, and pure.

I have to admit that through out these past couple of years I have taken some hard hits, so much that I have almost completely moved myself from my local Pagan Community. I have even shed myself of most Pagan friendships. Through it all, I experienced some severe depression, anxiety, and remorse over the people and things I lost.

Often I found myself alone to wallow in my self-pity, but it is through this solitude I found my strength and myself. Although this journey has been tough, I am walking forward with so much more than I had before. I have learned to listen to my inner voice more closely, which has drastically improved my empathic abilities. I am now more skilled in reading my Medicine cards, especially for others.

I am spending more time worrying about the Earth and my family, rather than worrying about being included in the next big ritual or concert. I have discovered the true character of those who do a very good job of pretending. More importantly, I have discovered my own true character, which surprisingly enough has not changed much. Instead, I have raised my standards.

I am spending more time teaching true seekers who want to learn and grow. I have shed the need to look “good” in the eyes of others and I am now starting to look good to myself. I focus less on the superficial and more on the bigger picture.

Now, I find solitude valuable. I am no longer afraid to be within myself as I find peace and enlightenment.

As much as change stresses us out, it is necessary. If I learn nothing from all I have gained and lost, I at least know that I have not yet reached my full potential and that I have the opportunity to keep going. When I was in the deepest darkest depression morning all I had lost, one thing pulled me through; I always have the opportunity to stand up and move forward.

Through pain, we know happiness and through self-discovery, we evolve. When faced with losing it all we have a choice to make. Do we deviate and weaken on our spiritual path or do we rise above to become our true potential?

In every event and through every trial we have a choice. Everyday, we are empowered to make that choice.

About the Author:
Leandra Witchwood has served her local community as a Minister of Earth-Base Spirituality, an Animal Card Reader, Spiritual Counselor, Leader, Teacher, and much more. Leandra enjoys facilitating Labyrinth walks and educational seminars. She also teaches classes on mediation, Witchcraft, Wicca, and various Magickal techniques. Her spiritual teachings and readings are inspiring and revealing. Leandra is currently writing books and blogs to benefit the larger community.

To learn more, visit: http://leandradraconiswitchwood.blogspot.com/

The Logos of the Aeon and the Shakti of the Age

“They died within two years of each other; she within the smog-enshrouded Middlesex Hospital, amid the massive bomb damage done to London by six years of war; he in the salt-sea air of Hastings, in a large and stately boarding house with the evocative and curiously apt name of Netherwood.

When the woman died, on 8 January 1946, taken by acute myeloid leukaemia, it had been quite unexpected. She was still young (a mere fifty-five) and had lived a decent life; eating healthy food, taking appropriate exercise in various dimensions, engaging in stimulating mental activity involving august spiritual beings, and she had once written a book about the nature of Purity.

When the man died of a lung infection, on 1 December 1947, unloved in any usual way, no one was at all surprised. In fact they marveled that he had lasted so long. He was seventy-two, had lived a life full of adventure, indecency, and excess; had wrestled with demons of the darkest kind; had been branded by the national press as the Wickedest Man in the World; and finally his drug-wracked body had just given up.”
And so begins Alan Richardson’s “Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune: The Logos of the Aeon and the Shakti of the Age”.

This book is described as a comparative biography of Crowley and Fortune (perhaps two of the best known occultists of the 20th century), and that’s a fair description. However, I feel it doesn’t do the book justice. The poetry of the writing, the nearly epic scope of the stories, the love, passion, and romanticism on the part of the author defy an easy summary, so forgive me for not trying. Richardson masterfully tells the stories of these two larger than life characters, all the while showing how their magical lives danced around each other; sometimes intersecting, other times diverging, but always close.

The book tells the stories of Crowley and Fortune’s lives in reverse, starting at death and going forward to their births (homage to training the Magickal Memory, remembering events in reverse sequence). Therefore, the book begins with Fortune and Crowley’s respective deaths in the Prologue, and then continues with seven chapters: Deaths and Afterward, The Wars of Their Worlds, Priests and Priestesses, Temples and Their Truths, Initiations and Other Awakenings, Falling to Earth and Other Trauma, and Past Lives and Similar Futures.

Although the author stresses that his book “is not meant as an exhaustive biography” on either of the subjects, I found (with my amateur level knowledge about Fortune and Crowley) that this book definitely hit all the marks, and certainly unearthed some extra information I had never heard before. At the very beginning of the book Richardson apologizes if the work seems to have a Dion Fortune bias, since he is an admirer, but stresses that he tried to treat both subjects with an even hand. I feel he succeeded. It is difficult to discuss Aleister Crowley. Generally, much like the man, people who write about him touch on the extremes of his character. I think fan and hater of Crowley alike will find the author’s treatment enlightening. Also, despite his concern that his affection for Fortune will color his writings about her, here too Richardson succeeds in offering the whole person, strengths and weaknesses alike.

This book tells the fascinating story of perhaps two of the best known, and best beloved by some, occult practioners of our time. Yes, their lives were fascinating, but only the talent of someone like Richardson can make them mythic.

10 Questions with The Vigilant Citizen

1. What made you decide to discuss occult symbolism through the prism of pop music, and particularly music videos?

My two passions in life are music and occult history. If I’m not focusing on one, I’m most probably focusing on the other. The more I gain knowledge on western occultism, the more I understand its importance in pop music. The weird or strange symbols I saw on album covers or music videos become easily readable. I collect old vinyls from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and I’ve noticed a great number those groups integrated this knowledge in their songs and artwork. It was done in an artistic way. I’ve however noticed a different type of occult symbolism in recent videos: it is used by mainstream pop artists, insidiously hidden and aimed at a young crowd. Far from being artistic, the imagery used in videos pushed by international media corporations is often deceptive and inherently sinister. I felt the urge to discuss those taboo issues so I’ve created Vigilant Citizen.

2. Do you feel the prevalence of occult symbolism found in pop music comes from the artists and video directors, or is it a coincidence stemming from occult symbolism seeping into the general consciousness?

I believe there are two types of occult symbols: the “artistic” ones – emanating from a desire to express one’s reality through symbolism – and the “corporate” ones – which often come from elite secret societies. A true artist using symbolism to in his/her art will be inspired by his/her surroundings and his/her inner being. Occult symbols are extremely powerful and are believed to be embedded in our subconscious so it is only normal for them to appear in artistic expression.

However, “corporate” occultism takes symbols from organized secret societies such as Freemasonry, or Illuminati and “plants” into mass media in order for them to become the norm. Confucius said “Symbols rule the world, not words nor laws”. In other words, you can recognize who is truly in power by identifying the symbols in popular culture. During the Middle Ages, almost all of popular art was religious and Christian. The Christian Church ruled the Western World.

Now, occult symbolism is increasingly apparent in popular art. Who rules the world? Occult secret societies.

3. I loved your interpretation of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video. Did you see dream analyst Carolyn Wills’ discussion of the video on Leslie Gornstein’s “Answer B!tch” blog? Thoughts?

I’ve read a couple of interpretations of Bad Romance and I can’t say that any of them is flat out wrong. Good art can have multiple layers of interpretations and, I have to say, this video is good art. When it came out, many readers of the site bombarded me with e-mails, pointing out symbols I’ve discussed in other videos. Bad Romance is definitively part of a bigger “movement” in music videos.

4. Often times the occult symbolism you find in music videos paints a dark and ominous picture. However, your analysis of The Black Eyed Peas “Meet Me Halfway” is actually quite uplifting. Does this mean that occultism doesn’t automatically equal bad?

Occult means “hidden”, not “bad”. Occult schools believe esoteric knowledge is too powerful for the profane to dabble with it. So it is kept hidden, the same way mothers hide knives from young kids. It is for their own safety. According to occult schools this knowledge can lead you to two extremes and everything in between: it can liberate you from the shackles of materiality, put you in direct contact with divinity and make you nothing less than immortal… Or it can also make you deal with demons, black magic and leave you into eternal torment.

“Meet Me Halfway” seemed to portray this positive side of esoteric knowledge. It is indeed quite uplifting.

5. In your post “The Occult Roots of The Wizard of Oz” you say, “the entire story of the Wizard of Oz is an allegorical tale of the soul’s path to illumination – the Yellow Brick Road.” However I feel that it could be argued that the concept of the “hero’s quest” or “hero’s journey” can be found before the Theosophical movement. Is this a what came first, the chicken or the egg kind of debate? What came first, the spiritual concept or the basic storytelling device?

Theosophy is nothing more than an attempt to find the common underlying knowledge found in ancient religions. It did not create any new concepts; it tried to put them together in a cohesive way.

Almost all ancient civilizations had allegorical tales which could be fully understood through the glasses of esoteric philosophy. Whether we look at Egyptian mythology, Greek epic poems or Native American legends, there is a “face value” meaning and a hidden meaning that can only be understood by initiates. The Wizard of Oz is what we can call an American allegorical tale.

6. Was there any nefarious occult symbolism in Miley Cyrus’s 2009 Teen Choice Awards performance? Because honestly, that was just evil.

Didn’t watch that, sorry.

7. Do you look at books and film with the same eye towards recognizing occult symbolism? If so, the Twilight series…discuss. Obviously werewolves are rife for the teenage males confronting puberty analogy, and vampires originally reared their fanged heads as a nifty way to confront sexual themes in repressive societies, but did Mormon author Stephenie Meyer accidentally push any big occult buttons?

I’d have to read the books to give a definite answer on Twilight’s underlying meaning (it there’s any). I’ve however watched both movies and I can say there is a definite use of “occult lore” in the movie but it is all done in a very superficial matter.

I think the movies focus on tapping into the primal needs of young girls (and not so young) such as: fascination with the mysterious and dangerous, feeling protected by a strong man, attraction towards the “forbidden fruit” and….oh yea, watching a bunch of shirtless guys.

8. Lady Gaga and Rihanna have both been big on your website as of late. Who is going to be the next artist trending heavy with occult symbolism?

Taylor Swift and Adam Lambert. They are definitively next.

9. I’m going to be honest with you, and in turn, some honesty for me. I love Lady Gaga and own both “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster”. Does Lady Gaga ever make its way onto your CD player?

Honestly, not in my CD player…I…I..just can’t. But I can’t say I get mad when one her songs come up in a dance club. Her music is has better production value than most of the crap out there.

10. Parting shot! Ask us at The Magical Buffet any one question.

OK, you’ve asked for it! Have you ever witness true magic resulting from a magical spell or ritual? If so, can you describe the event?

Alas, I have never witnessed what I would consider true magic.

About The Vigilant Citizen:
My quest for knowledge led me to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and Politics. I’ve mainly studied the way power uses mass media to shape and mold attitudes of the general public. My education was perfect to hold a job in marketing or PR but did not satisfy my thirst for truth.

My efforts to further understand the forces governing the world lead me to study secret societies, mystery religions, esoteric sciences and ancient civilizations. I’ve spent the last five years researching Theosophy, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, the Bavarian Illuminati and Western Occultism. These schools of thoughts have many things in common: they are based on Hermetic teachings (Hermes, Thoth, Enoch, Mercury), they attach EXTREME importance to symbolism and they recruit within their ranks the most prominent people of all fields of society, especially politics, law and public service. The natural result of this phenomenon is the display of occult symbolism in all aspects of society, whether it be music, movies, buildings or else. My goal is to bring out the meaning of those symbols in a clear, concise and entertaining way.

I am also a music producer who has composed music for some fairly known “urban” artists. My work in the music business has led me to deal with talent agents, video directors and record companies. Through my experiences and my contacts, I have discovered some of the darker aspects of the entertainment industry which I found were in direct connection with my studies in occultism. My understanding of the state of mind that prevails in the higher levels of the ladder makes it probably easier for me to decifer the symbolism in music videos than it is for everyday people.

Learn more at The Vigilant Citizen’s website.

Feels Like the Same Old Year to Me

There is a Garfield strip I remember from my youth. In it, the new year has started and as one would suspect, Garfield is holed up in his cat bed covered by his blanket with no inclination to get up. Then Jon tries to reason with him that it’s a NEW YEAR, to which Garfield responds to by sticking his paw out of his box and feels the air. Funny, he says, feels like the same old year to me. (Or something to that effect) However off my paraphrasing here may have been, the spirit is just right, feels like the same old year to me.

For some reason I am lacking the ability to get excited about this new year. Despite it being 2010, a year significant to me because I have vague memories of playing on the theater floor being bored out of mind while my father watched the movie “2010”. I remember something about a baby. And honestly, all the “end of decade” stuff isn’t helping because the decade won’t be over until the year 2010 ends, and even though my husband is perfectly aware that I know this fact he insists on expressing his frustration about it to me, as if I told Rolling Stone magazine to do a decade recap. It’s just silly, if I could tell Rolling Stone to do anything it would be give me another Rosario Dawson/Rose McGowan cover and write as much as they want about “the end of the decade”.

However, I am writing this before the new year hits (even though you’re reading it afterwards….oooooo….technology), and this is the time for introspection. So I have to ask my self, what gives?

I think the issue is that it really does feel like the same old year. Big deals have proven to be less exciting than most would have thought. Although I recognized Barack Obama as a moderate while he was campaigning, most felt (and still feel) that President Obama was a progressive and his election would bring a dizzying tidal wave of change to our country. It’s safe to say that we haven’t had a political upheaval of tsunami proportions. And thanks to my careful following of the health care debate I can now say that I need to disagree with Otto von Bismarck. After seeing how laws are made, I’m quite comfortable watching sausage get made. (And if you follow The Magical Buffet on Twitter you would have heard that line already.) There was a unity government formed in Zimbabwe that was supposedly a BIG deal. Now Mugabe is saying that Zanu PF just needs to wait until the unity government expires and they can have total control again. Who knew there was a time limit on the unity government? Not me. Despite everyone claiming that they hate reality television, it hasn’t gone any where, still dominating helpless little networks that used to be resources for music lovers (that’s right, I’m talking to you MTV). On a personal level, the health issues I’ve been dealing with for the past three years are going strong right into the new year (perhaps I’ll write about that another day, for now, just know it’s not lethal and I’m not ready to talk about it on the website). Heck, even marriage is business as usual with New York failing to legalize same sex marriage.

Now before you get worried, this isn’t meant to be a big ol’ bummer of a welcome to the new year essay. However, why does it feel like the same old year to me? Because in retrospect, it is pretty much the same old year. That said, there was a lot of good news in this past year that bodes well for 2010.

The sitcom has made a comeback thanks to one of the funniest nights of television: “How I Met Your Mother”, “Accidentally on Purpose”, “Two and a Half Men”, and “The Big Bang Theory”. Thank you CBS! Take that reality shows! Sweeping change may not have rolled over our country; however we have a President that I don’t worry about when he’s talking to other foreign officials. Starting this month I’m going to be doing all kinds of new and crazy stuff to help with my health issues. I’m having trouble finding the sunny part of the Zimbabwe story. Hmm, as long as the country is screwed I have stuff to write about? Maybe? Well, it’s the best I’ve got.

Last bit of good news. The Magical Buffet has all kinds of fun stuff lined up for the new year already. Author Deborah Blake will be reporting on Pantheacon for us, I’ve been busy working on a mammoth project that I’ll hopefully be sharing with you all sooner rather than later (this will answer the question of what did Rebecca do as a follow up to reading the House health care bill), we have an interview with The Vigilant Citizen (he talks occultism AND pop culture, Becky likey), a review of a book SO good it’s hard for me to not run around yelling about it now, and much more.

Yes, 2010 seems to feel a whole lot like 2009, but at least 2009 is done and over with. No point in looking back….it’s the future or bust.