"The King's Torah": oy, it's hateful

Posted on: Thu, 08/26/2010 - 17:43 By: Tom Swiss

Every religion's got 'em. Christianity has its Fred Phelps (of "God Hates Fags" fame) and its racist Christian Identity groups; Muslim extremists are in the news so much it takes effort to remember that they're a small band of nutcases; Hindus have been implicated in Indian nationalist attacks against Muslims; Pagans have the occasional racist nutjob who thinks Asatru or Druidism is about ethnicity and "White power"; and even Zen Buddhism had, during World War Two, leaders who supported slaughter in the name of Japanese nationalism.

And yep, Judaism's got them too. Haaretz reports on "The King's Torah", a collection of Halacha (Jewish religious law) put together by nutcase rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. It claims that "Thou shalt not murder" applies only "to a Jew who kills a Jew", that it's fine to kill children of Israel's enemies because "it is clear that they will grow to harm us", and that non-Jews are "uncompassionate by nature", and should be dealth with harshly to "curb their evil inclination". An expose in the Israeli tabloid Ma'ariv called the book "Jewish terror".

One of the book's authors, Shapira, was suspected in 2008 of involvement in a rocket attack on a Palestinian village; no arrests were made. The other author, Elitzur, penned article in a religious bulletin saying that "the Jews will win with violence against the Arabs."

presenting at Primal Arts Festival and Fires of Venus

Posted on: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 13:59 By: Tom Swiss

Hi friends. I wanted to let you know about upcoming workshops I'll be presenting, at two different events in September -- conveniently located at the same place, Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, MD:

First, at the first ever Primal Arts Festival, I'll be presenting "Self-Defense as a Spiritual Practice", "Moxibustion for Sensation Play", and my famous workshop "How *Not* to Flirt With a Goddess". Primal Arts is September 3-6.

Then at Fires Of Venus, I'll be presenting some very special Erisian programming:

Kallisti: For the Prettiest One

Ok, Venus/Aphrodite is very nice and all, but have you ever had the feeling that a somewhat more...dynamic...goddess was running your love life? Have you ever tried so hard to prove how attractive and worthy of love you are, that you ended up causing all kinds of trouble? Do you feel that by taking yourself too seriously, you might be getting in your own way? Or do you just want in on the joke when people yell "Hail Eris!"?

Discordianism is a satirical (or perhaps in this context, satyr-ical) religion invented in the 1950s that has been very influential in the NeoPagan movement. We'll discuss its history, literature, and philosophy, and how a greater openness to divine chaos might (or might not!) enhance our romantic lives.

(I may be doing one or two other classes at FoV as well.) FoV is September 23-26.

I love wallowing in my melancholy loneliness

Posted on: Sun, 08/15/2010 - 00:20 By: Tom Swiss

Late summer funk settling into my head now, and a day when I'm reminded of lost loves...and so it's only a question of whether I'll stay home and drink and probably play melancholy music on my guitar, or go out somewhere and drink and listen to someone else play melancholy music on a guitar. So I find myself at the Judge's Bench with a bottle of Sierra Nevada Torpedo in my hand, as a woman covers "Dirty Old Town."

Yeah, if I was an enlightened fellow I'd sit home in the lotus position instead, and if I were a good spiritual bullshit artist -- infinitely more common -- I'd either pretend I wasn't out here tonight, or I'd make up some lie about it, pretend that I was drinking in some special enlightened fashion. But in situations like this I try to emulate my favorite Zen lunatic, Ikkyu, and try to embrace the humanity of it. "I love my grouchy furious anger," ol' Crazy Crow Ikkyu once wrote, and tonight I might write "I love wallowing in my melancholy loneliness."

Past the halfway point between solstice and equinox now, the days noticeably shorter, that probably a factor in the funk. (Time to bring out the heavy artillery now, Scapa, single-malt Scotch...) That, and the rain, the grey skies the past few days...all on top of that "summer is running out, time is fleeting" feeling. And that on top of the "what am I doing with my life?" feeling that's been around the past few months.

But here we are, whiskey and music (guy covering "Ramble On" now) in a semi-venerable semi-old pub, next best place to a Zen garden to sit with big questions about life. And these lonesome blues are part of the way things are, as undeniable as the moon and the stars and the clouds, and to say that they shouldn't be here is to deny reality.

Margot Adler remembers Isaac Bonewits

Posted on: Sat, 08/14/2010 - 22:40 By: Tom Swiss

Issac Bonewitz, respected Pagan elder and founder of the Druid group Ar nDraiocht Fein, died Thursday.

Margot Adler, NPR reporter and author of Drawing Down the Moon, one of the best books on the Pagan movement around, offered a remembrance on All Things Considered.

Issac was a regular at the Starwood Festival, and also appeared at FSG a few times. He performed at the first FSG where I was on staff, and I helped set up the sound system -- that was after running around camp trying to find him, yelling "Has anyone seen Issac Bone-Wits?" Which is, of course, not how he pronounced his name! I got to chat with him in the chow line at the Dancing Tree Cafe, and found him to be personable, intelligent, and possessed of a wonderful gentle sense of humor.

A few years ago, a conversation at Starwood with Issac and his lovely wife Phaedra helped put me on the trail of the Joseph Campbell essay The Symbol Without Meaning, which proved to be a big influence on the development of Why Buddha Touched The Earth. So I remember him with extra gratitude for that.

Shelley and science

Posted on: Wed, 08/04/2010 - 20:16 By: Tom Swiss

In honor of the birthday of Percy Bysshe Shelley, here's a fascinating article I just stumbled upon about his attitude toward science:

From the days at Eton however when the embryo poet set trees on fire with gunpowder and a burning glass, or "raised the devil" -- and his tutor -- with electric batteries; even from earlier days, when he brought stained hands and singed clothing to the nursery at Field Place and tried to "shock" his little sisters into a cure for chilblains; Shelley's great interest lay in chemical and physical experiments that gave free scope to fancy and were too primitive to call for the exactness alien to the romantic nature of the experimenter.

During his short stint at Oxford, Shelley wrote:

"What a mighty instrument would electricity be in the hands of him who knew how to wield it? What will not an extraordinary combination of troughs of colossal magnitude, a well arranged system of hundreds of metallic plates, effect? The balloon has not yet received the perfection of which it is surely capable; the art of navigating the air is in its first and most helpless infancy. It promises prodigious facilities for locomotion, and will enable us to traverse vast tracts with ease and rapidity, and to explore unknown countries without difficulty. Why are we still so ignorant of the interior of Africa ? -- why do we not despatch intrepid aeronauts to cross it in every direction, and to survey the whole peninsula in a few weeks?"

Ah, Shelley: nonviolent anarchist, atheist, vegetarian, poet, worshiper of Pan and fan of the Goddess, and now lover of technology when applied for humane ends. Is there anything you did that I don't love?

Kerouac on art, love, and God

Posted on: Wed, 07/28/2010 - 20:01 By: Tom Swiss

Art is a retirement from life that is sweet and beautiful and full of wise genius. While the lovers roam arm-in-arm beneath the boughs of the Forest, the artist sits under a tree and makes fine pictures and holds them up to see. He is in love with himself, but he is also in love with the others, because he shows them his fruits and works and cries -- "See? See?" Then, afterwards, he rests, and goes back to all of them, back to the arm-in-arm of earthly love, and they love him because he has done such a beautiful thing, he has celebrated their life and love, and he has come back to them. They say -- "How strange and beautiful is this one! -- this soul!" And it is true, as true as it is mysterious and compelling. "He is of us, he is us! -- but he is alone beneath his tree a while. He will rejoin us with his sweet productions." And they will say -- "He loves God as well as men and women, thus he must be alone awhile." "And what is God?" "God, Oh God is the sum of it, the sum of it all." -- Jack Kerouac (from his "Forest of Arden" journal)

Zelda's Inferno exercise: a travel poem

Posted on: Sun, 07/18/2010 - 19:55 By: Tom Swiss

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem about travel, literal or figurative -- with a cherry on top (literal or figurative)

the car does not like these mountains
there are no switchbacks here, just a straight charge 2,000 feet up
and at 140,000 miles the engine is not as strong as once it was

but all true paths lead through mountains, as Snyder Sensei tells us --
there must be a challenge in the journey
so I turn off the AC, roll down the windows
accepting the heat so that we may have the power to climb this peak

Tom Swiss for FSA President

Posted on: Thu, 07/01/2010 - 16:51 By: Tom Swiss

As I previously mentioned, I'm running for President of the Free Spirit Alliance. My complete candidate's statement is now available at http://www.infamous.net/FSAPresStatement.php.

Here's an abbreviated version; the version linked above goes into more detail about my experience in FSA.

    When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists...When his work is done, the people say, "Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!" -- Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu (trans. S. Mitchell)

Hi. I'm Tom Swiss, and I'm currently serving as vice-president, and running for the presidency, of the Free Spirit Alliance. You might not know my name, but odds are that you know my face. You've been to the concerts that I've MCed, or to the Bardic Circles I've hosted, or you've been to one of my workshops on shiatsu or Zen or self-defense, or you've heard one of my Discordian fire circle rants. After the past year or two, you might know me as "that guy in the purple top hat".

From my involvement in our events and in our political process, I've come to believe that 1) we have a lot of smart, determined, hard-working, and productive people in our community -- and 2) we need to do a better job of making it easier for them to participate in this organization.

One of the obstacles I saw was the use of Robert's Rules of Order in our meetings. Last year I began a campaign to replace them with an alternative called "Martha's Rules", a more consensus-oriented approach that encourages dialog and discussion, but still allows for majority rule when deadlocks occur. I'm very pleased that at the most recent business meeting, the membership decided to adopt this alternative on a trial basis.

I also think that we can do a better job in using the Internet to enable communication. As a professional computer geek, I've been involved in on-line discussion groups since the late 1980s, from FidoNet and USENET through mailing lists to web forums and social networking sites. I've recently started working with Eve, our webmaster, to set up a wiki site for FSG staff to record and document procedures and information, and I think we can also expand it as a general community resource.

The past few years I've been trying to promote FSA events within the Baltimore area arts community. As part of that, I've been hanging out with "Burners" -- attendees of Burning Man and of the local Burns, Playa Del Fuego and Wicker Man. This is a community that already overlaps with us -- I've seen many familiar faces at PDF and Wicker Man -- and I think that many other people in it are looking for a spiritual connection in a way that is right in line with what we do.

And I think that we can learn from the radically participatory way that Burns are organized. The Burners have a wonderful term, "do-ocracy": those who do stuff, make the decisions. I would like to bring that idea of radical participation into FSA.

I want to make it so easy for the people of our community to participate and get stuff done, that there ends up not being much for the officers and trustees to do but sign checks and schedule meetings. I want to work hard to make it easy for members to get stuff done so that I can be a supremely lazy President. It's paradoxical, but you should expect that from me by now.

For that to happen, the President must be a highly visible presence. The President acts as the official spokesperson for FSA; as a writer, a performing poet and musician, and with my experience as MC, I believe I have the skills to represent us in any medium or circumstance, from presiding at our scholarships awards to composing press releases to being interviewed by the media. I would like to raise FSA's visibility in the community, and I think I am well suited to act as our representative.

On a more practical note, after this election the first thing the new FSA officers must address is ensuring that our financial records and paperwork are up to date. We recently learned that we may not be in full compliance with tax law changes from 2006, and we have to get right on that. This is why I recruited Alison Chicosky to run for Treasurer.

As of the June meeting, we've got a powerful line-up of candidates for President. (The line-up may have changed by the time you read this; so it goes.) Duckie and Kal have proven their ability in the position; Fred has held the VP slot and worked hard for us in his role as quartermaster. I'd be happy to continue to serve as Vice President with any of them.

But I think I can offer fresh energy and a new direction for this organization.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Please feel free to comment here, or to e-mail me at tms@infamous.net.

"already full of commotion"

Posted on: Wed, 06/30/2010 - 13:18 By: Tom Swiss

Then [Soen-sa] went to the head nun. She said, "You've made a great deal too much commotion in this monastery, young man." Soen-sa laughed and said, "The whole world is already full of commotion. What can you do?" She couldn't answer. -- from Dropping Ashes On The Buddha

The human race will begin solving it's problems on the day that it ceases taking itself so seriously.


If you can master nonsense as well as you have already learned to master sense, then each will expose the other for what it is: absurdity. From that moment of illumination, a man begins to be free regardless of his surroundings. He becomes free to play order games and change them at will. He becomes free to play disorder games just for the hell of it. He becomes free to play neither or both. And as the master of his own games, he plays without fear, and therefore without frustration, and therefore with good will in his soul and love in his being. -- from Principia Discordia

Starwood workshops; Tom Swiss for President (of FSA)

Posted on: Sat, 06/26/2010 - 20:32 By: Tom Swiss

Hi friends. I wanted to let you know that I'll be presenting workshops at Starwood, July 6-12 at Wisteria in Ohio. The list follows.

Also, for any of you who are members of the Free Spirit Alliance -- I'm running for President of that organization, in the elections this fall. There will be more information about that coming up on my blog and on my Facebook page.

And finally, work continues on the book! Many thanks to all who have sent in comments; I'm currently editing and hope to have the second draft ready by the end of July, and start shopping it to potential publishers. I'm excited that two of my Starwood workshops relate directly to material in the book.

Ok, here are those workshops:


Self-defense as a Spiritual Practice

You are a manifestation of the divine, a child of the God and Goddess. That makes you a being worth defending; yet our culture's confused attitudes about violence, plus the self-esteem issues faced by many people in the Pagan community, often obscure the fact that self-defense is also defense of the divine principle within all of us. In this workshop we will try to cut through the fog and discuss attitudes and skills to preserve not just your body but your divine nature. Targeted for those without previous martial arts or self-defense training; but experienced students are also welcome. We will practice verbal and non-verbal communication skills for dealing with conflict, and a few simple self-defense techniques.

Zen and the Art of Love

The Buddha required chastity from his monks, holding that sexual desire was a sure path to suffering. Two millennia later, respected Zen Master Ikkyu -- noted for wearing his monk's robes to brothels -- wrote poems like "a woman is enlightenment when you're with her and the red thread / of both your passions flare inside you and you see." How do we resolve these teachings? Focusing on the "Red Thread" tradition of Zen, we'll discuss if and how we can apply the Buddhist principles of mindfulness, compassion, and non-attachment to sex and love.

Zen Paganism: or, Why Buddha Touched the Earth

Since its beginnings 2,500 years ago, Buddhism has existed with, borrowed from, and lent to poly- and pan-theistic paths including Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, and Bon. It even played a part in the creation of modern Wicca, through the works of Crowley and Gardner. The same dissatisfaction with mainstream Western spirituality that has led to the rebirth of Paganism has also resulted in a greater interest in Buddhism in the West, and many modern Pagans are finding that Buddhist ideas can lend depth to their practice.

We will discuss some of the history that links the Buddhist and Pagan revivals, and how the basic tenets of Buddhism (mostly from a Zen perspective) might be integrated with Neo-Pagan practice.

As always, thank you for your support.

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