Serra, Genocide, And A Letter For the Pope

Juniperro Serra, founder of the California mission system, spearhead of the Spanish conquest of California, established missions where native people were worked dawn to dusk to their death on 1400 calories a day and stated the Indians “should be put to the knife”. He administered daily floggings and was a vicious person. Yet, the Vatican wants to make him a saint. Here in San Francisco the local Ohlone people were lured into Mission Dolores, but once inside there was no exiting except via death. Men and women were kept locked in their own dormitories, husbands and wives separated. Yes, however charming the architecture, they were death camps. A little known fact is that the pavement between the back of the Mission and the Archdiocese offices covers a mass Ohlone burial. At least 60,000 California Natives perished in the Missions.



According to Elias Castillo, whose book A Cross of Thorns I want to read,


“The Spanish missions of California have long been misrepresented as places of benign and peaceful coexistence between Franciscan friars and California Indians …In fact, the mission friars enslaved the California Indians and treated them with deliberate cruelty, in my book I describe the dark and violent reality of Mission life, beginning in 1769, when most of the California Indians were enticed into the missions, where they and their descendents were imprisoned for 60 years of forced labor and daily beatings.”


An account of Mission Carmel by a French ship captain Jean-François de Galaup, le Comte de la Pérouse, upon his visit to Mission Carmel in 1786 described conditions like those of the worst slave operated sugar plantations that he had seen in the Caribbean. Yet public school children of my generation were taught that the Missions were idyllic places where the Indians were civilized and brought to the gentle care of Jesus. We were also taught they were extinct.


Despite these unpleasant facts the Vatican wants to make a saint out of Serra.

Please read the very informative and moving letter Valentin Lopez, the Chairman of the Amah Mutsun band of Ohlones has written to the current Pope. Heathen Chinese has the entire letter here:





The Banquet: A Megala Poem

Each year the Ekklesia Antinoou does a contest on this date called the Megala Antinoia. Here’s a light hearted poem I wrote for it.


The Banquet

We’ll assemble where Antinous hangs out with Hippolytus

By Diana’s grove in Lanuvium above the Pacific.

But what would Adolph Sutro that

Philanthropic Jew who made it in silver

A new world immigrant and progressive mayor

Of San Francisco and builder of marvels

Think about all this devotion in his garden?

I think he might rather like it actually.

Let’s reach for the holy bough, let’s invite Frazier

To this party, (atheist that he was notwithstanding)

And Winckelman of course, he would surely like to attend, and

Wilde and Yourcenar, quipping and quaffing,

And there will be P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, naturally enough.

There will be miner’s lettuce for starters to clear the palate,

This will be a many course banquet I can assure you.

For there is so much to pick from: The Citharoedic Hymn of Curium,

The Antinoieos Flower of the Tebtynis Papyrus or the Oxyrhynchus Poem

And many more. I’d sure be happy to drink wine from a cup,

Whether rhyton, kothon, kantharos or a seemly kyliske

(It will be a symposium too!) and read aloud Pancrates’

Poem of the Lion Hunt and the Animula Vagula Blandula.

Oh, there are so many tidbits just like the endless scraps that

fall from Athenaeus’ banquet table. When shall we begin?


This needs a bit of a key. There’s a grove in a small San Francisco park overlooking the sea from a height. It was originally the home and gardens of Sutro, a very important person in local history, and great benefactor of the city and its populace. Local pagans have long worshiped Diana here and you can usually see flowers and other offerings at her statue. Some of us have done Antinous devotion here too, invoking the memory of Lanuvium, Italy where Diana and Antinous were worshiped together. The kothon was a drinking cup of Spartan origins, the kantharos was a deep cup used in symposia, but some thought they were too deep, while the kyliske was more like a saucer, very modest in what it could contain. Animula Vagula Blandula is a poem written by the emperor Hadrian probably not long before he died. Miner’s lettuce grows there in the spring, a plant associated with the gold rush. We once ate some in a spontaneous ritual gesture.

Hail To The Spirits of Storm

As many of you know, California has been suffering from a horrible drought. The last couple days have been very wet, but we’re still only a little over half of average rainfall in San Francisco. To the south, like in San Jose, there’s been even less rain. Here’s my gratitude for the rain:


Hail to the spirits of storm

To the pounding ones

To the loud ones

The thunder and lightning wielders

The sonorous and the soaking

(May you visit more often)

And to the wide drinking earth

To the moist soil and the land yearning!

We give thanks to the storm powers

To the life giving rains

May we drink deeply!

Fields Book Store

This afternoon after work I stopped off at Fields Bookstore, the venerable bookseller of spiritual books of Western, Eastern and indigenous traditions, as well as alternative health, philosophy and many other categories.  They carry a wide selection of quality pagan books: I saw works by familiar figures like Erynn Rowan Laurie and John Michael Greer to Diana Paxson on the shelves. I’ve shopped there for over twenty years and items on my shelves from copies of Temenos to Jan Fries’ Seidways to Onian’s Origins of European Thought were procured there. They occupy a long narrrow and high ceilinged storefront, a typically San Francisco space. They have been there for 80 years, longer than the existence of either the Golden Gate or Bay Bridges. Unfortunately they are closing the storefront location after years of poor sales. Another chunk of San Francisco’s heritage is being lost. While they will continue as an online business the loss of our brick-and-mortar bookstores is a sign of rapid erosion of culture and even of humanity in our times. I told David, the proprietor, how saddened I was. Many other shoppers were expressing similar sentiments while I was in there. They will be open until February. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area or visiting anytime soon make a trip to Polk Street and give them some business.


Some pictures:

The Urban Polytheist (1)

As devotees of gods and goddesses whose worship originated in places often very distant from where we reside, an important part of practice can be finding outdoor locations (and I feel there is much value in extending our practices beyond home shrines) that feel appropriate for prayer and rite. Perhaps there is more impetus to this for city dwellers than for suburbanites, as in the suburbs people often feel comtent to confine their rites to backyards. An advantage in cities is there are often locations with classical artwork, statuary and other associations for the deities (this is, of course, particularly true for Greco-Roman ones).

Any such place is a good pace to start, perhaps sitting first with prayers and simple acknowledgements. Even if you live in a city without overt artworks and emblems, there are many starting points. If you are a devotee of Dionysus is there a vintner in your locale? An impressive theater? Are there cemeteries where you can worship underworld deities? A library might be suitable for Hermes. There are always crossroads…

A festival that has become a moving one for me over the last few years is the Hermaia Propylaia (Hermes Before the Gate) developed by Sannion and Dver. While ideally this is celebrated in a cemetery, I have adapted it to my local landscape which is lacking in cemeteries (for a long time, San Francisco has only allowed burial outside its borders, mostly in nearby Colma, known as the City of the Dead). But I explored and found places resonant with imagery of the dead, one example being planted with cypress trees, which have long carried a symbolic freight of associations with the underworld and the dead. I suspect the golf course where I have performed the rite the last couple of years does have burials, but whether or not that hunch is correct, performing the rite at this site has resulted in deep experiences and contacts.

Fountains are great places to remember that throwing the coin into the water is actually a rite, and should be accompanied by a prayer to the nymph. Art museums are often full of artworks depicting the deities and are homes of the Muses, but these are worth articles of their own.

One of the Sutro Lions, 1880s. By the Belgian artist, Guillaume Geefs.

I will give a more detailed example though. San Francisco has a gorgeous park called Sutro Heights that was once the estate of Adolf Sutro, a 19th century mayor who could well be thought of as one of the city’s benefactors and builders (a category of people I think can well be offered honors). The site is on a bluff that falls precipitously to the strand of the Pacific (and with Cliff House right below). Nearby are the ruins of Sutro Baths, a popular bathing establishment during Victorian times, which held up to 25,000 gender-segregated bathers at a time. Much, including the mansion, is long gone, but Sutro had filled his gardens with classical statuary and opened them to the public. The statue of Diana remains, along with a couple of her deer. This statue often has flowers and other offerings left on the pediment, and has long been a place for Dianics, Wiccans and other devotees of the Lady of the Wild Woods to offer devotion. I had long been familiar with this statue and when seeking an outdoor place to offer devotion to the god Antinous I thought it would be an ideal site. Historically, Antinous had a connection with Artemis/Diana. At Lanuvium, a location south of Rome near the Lake Nemi sacred to Diana and the famous locus of the Golden Bough, a second century inscription was found that revealed that Antinous and Diana had a joint cult and templethere. In that era, funeral societies (collegia) were important civic groupings for common people; pooling their resources they could hope to decently bury their dead. This society met for monthly feasts and fundraising. Knowledge of this ancient connection made the Sutro location seem a promising one. Also, the main entryway to the park is flanked by two massive lions (copies of the badly weather-eroded originals which are in National Park Service storage—this is a locale of fog and salt-laden winds off the Pacific)). Antinous and Hadrian are closely connected with lions, particularly through the mythos of the Lion Hunt, where Antinous cast a spear at a dangerous man-eating Egyptian lion but missed and Hadrian saved the day. The slain lion’s blood was said to have changed into a beautiful red lotus flower by the following morning, and so became a symbol of Antinous. So more strong imagery! I should mention that the statue of Diana is set in a grove of cypress and pine trees (with eucalyptus nearby). At a location close to but a bit removed I found an ideal ritual spot, easily demarcated.  I have offered devotions there including the reading of poems, prayers, the practice known as invoking the obelisk in Antinoan practice, and giving small offerings. The connection is strong; it’s a great place to offer to Antinous as well as to Diana/Artemis. Further practice only makes the association/link stronger with time.

I greatly encourage people to seek out such sites of their own.

The Double Rainbow of Experience

At times art, a spiritual practice, a political action or a chance encounter moves people out of their everyday routine, opening a portal onto spontaneity and experience, free, however briefly, of the quotidian habits of personality and the social walls that separate us. At times it is nature that so startles. This evening it was a double rainbow that hung over San Francisco that had this effect—people came out of bars in the Mission District, talked in a gas station, stopped in their tracks on busy sidewalks with their children; individuals of various classes talking together, strangers losing their usual mask in the conviviality of this wonderful phenomenon. It lasted for close to half an hour, just before dusk. It felt like a good omen.


It made me think of a discussion of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde I had heard earlier in the day on the radio (KPFA’s “Against The Grain”, by Nicholas Frankel, the academic who has seen through the publication of the uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray (after a 120 years!) Pater was an aestheticist writer and professor who was had a great influence on Wilde. In his conclusion to his book on the Renaissance, in 1868, he wrote the following:


Philosophiren, says Novalis, ist dephlegmatisiren. vivificiren. The service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the human spirit, is to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and eager observation. Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us, –for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy?


To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes two persons, things, situations, seem alike. While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring of the sense, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours, or work of the artist’s hands, or the face of one’s friend. Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we see and touch. What we have to do is to be for ever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy, of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own. Philosophical theories or ideas, as points of view, instruments of criticism, may help us to gather up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us. “Philosophy is the microscope of thought.” The theory or idea or system which requires of us the sacrifice of any part of this experience, in consideration of some interest into which we cannot enter, or some abstract theory we have not identified with ourselves, or of what is only conventional, has no real claim upon us.

Finding Your Mountain, Coming Home

I feel an important part of orienting to landscape as a Pagan is to find a sacred mountain. Many readers are probably familiar with Walter Evans-Wentz, the author of the early twentieth century study of the Celtic fairy faith. Some know he edited and compiled translations of the Tibetan Book of the Dead also, but fewer will know his book Cuchama and Sacred Mountains. Tecate Peak is known as Kuuchamaa, a sacred mountain to the local Kumeyaay people (also called Dieguenos). This work written in the last years of his life while living in San Diego, California was published posthumously. It’s still worth reading and besides writing about the humble appearing but powerfully sacred Kuuchamaa it surveys sacred mountains around the world., which are often considered the center of local cosmologies.

All around the world one finds reverence for mountains, mountain worship and mountains as symbols of spiritual wisdom. A small sample of famous sacred mountains would include Mt. Kailash,  Fujiyama, , Kilimanjaro, Mt. Snowdon, Denali, Mt. Shasta, Popocatepetl and Mauna Kea. I think one of the most important steps Pagans can take in orienting to their sacred landscape is finding a local sacred mountain (or several). When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, one of the first things I did was make contact with eminent mountains. In my case it was Mt. Tamalpais to the north, Mt. Diablo to the east, and San Bruno Mountain to the south.

On a smaller scale, one might find a hill that is much nearer one’s home to make contact with and commune with more frequently. Such practices are being called local focus paganism/polytheism/animism. With such practices we start to weave a fabric of bringing our paganisms home. I hear people who say they have such a sense of loss due to living so far from their ancestral homelands. While on one hand I can understand, and have at times poignantly felt that, I think it imperative that we start to celebrate the landscape and attendant spirits and creatures of where we live, and that this constitutes a coming home, a leaving of an exile which I see truly associated with Abrahamic religions with their casting out of Eden narrative. As a Druid, Ireland and other Celtic lands have deep sacred resonance for me, but I live far to the west, a direction that in the lore was associated with the Otherworld, often with archipelagoes of Otherworld Islands. How intriguing to think of my land, California, which the European colonialists first thought to be an island, as one of those islands. There is such magical resonance in approaching the local land goddess with this myth in mind. California was named for Califia, an Amazon-like queen of a mythical island (let’s say otherworldly island) in a romance that was popular in Spain in the 16th century. She has been a popular subject of local art in more recent times, and I have come to think of our Land Goddess as Califia.

If one lives in a land where the lore has been lost, one can still find many clues to help remythologize the land.