It looks like my car is reaching the end of its days. <lj-cut> I took my car to a good mechanic (<a href=”http://www.jlautotire.com/”>J&L</a&gt; in Nyack) to have them figure out why the “check engine” light was on. Actually, I already knew; I’ve got a gadget (<a href=”https://www.automatic.com/”>Automatic</a&gt;) which tells me why the car’s computer has turned that light on. In my case it was gas vapor (what you get if you don’t close the gas cap tightly enough) and engine knock. The problem with the engine knock is almost certainly due to the sensor coming loose, which happens in old Subarus. It’s not difficult to fix. It’s the other problem that’s troubling: the gas vapor is due to rotting of the fill line for the gas tank. It’s not dangerous, but it means that every time I fill up the car some gas is leaking out. The mechanic was honest with me, more honest than the dealers I’ve worked with: He didn’t think it was worth putting more money into the car. It has about 190K miles on it. I was hoping to get another 50K, but <i>c’est la vie</i>. That same gadget reads out the check-engine status can also reset that light, so in theory I could pass inspection when it comes up in June. In practice, the mechanic told me, once Subarus begin to show signs of mechanical rot it’s usually progressive. In this case, he couldn’t promise me that replacing the fill line wouldn’t reveal that the entire gas tank would need replacing. It’s time to get another car. I already know what I’m looking for: an all-wheel-drive crossover SUV. The AWD on my Subaru Forester has saved my butt a few times; a crossover SUV for both the cargo capacity and the headroom. I’ve done some web shopping, and it looks like my best choices are between a Honda CR-V and another Subaru Forester. I also know that I’ll want the middle trim level in either model. New, or used? I’m not sure yet. My preliminary price checks on these cars show that buying a two-year-old model doesn’t save me much over buying a new car. This means this cars hold their value well, but that doesn’t help me. Fortunately, I’ve got time. Later this year the 2017 models will be coming out, which means I might get a better deal on a 2016 model, or a 2015 model if I buy used. Still… drat. I’d hoped to wait another year or two before dealing with another strain on my finances. </lj-cut>

The Three Doctors

No, this isn’t a Doctor Who post!

I’ve performed seven weddings so far. My rate for starting successful marriages is: Three couples are still together, two marriages ended because one of the partners passed on, and two divorces. That’s roughly the national average. Note that, in order to maintain my average, Deborah Lipp is forbidden to die.

My spiritual qualification for performing weddings is that I’m a High Priest of the Wicca, in the Gardnerian Tradition. My legal qualification is that I’m ordained in the Universal Life Church (ULC).

I’m far from the only Wiccan to use the ULC as a religious organization for performing weddings. Pagans and Wiccans have been doing this for decades. Isaac Bonewits joined the ULC in the 60s.

This has been a matter of necessity, rather than a matter of choice. The resources for jumping through the hoops to get legal recognition for a religious organization are beyond the means of most pagans, especially since many pagan groups (including Wiccans) are “living-room worshipers” with few members in the “congregation.”

I happened to mention this to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, a major figure in the Neopagan religious movement. He was not sympathetic about the difficulties in obtaining ordination in a legally-recognized religious group. He pointed out that everyone knows what the ULC is. He asked me if I thought that ULC religious credentials proved that you were qualified to offer spiritual and religious guidance. I told him the truth: no, no one does. The current qualification for being ordained by the ULC is to hit a button on their web site.

He asked me where I thought my spiritual and religious qualifications came from. I thought a moment. I answered that I’d spent years offering spiritual instruction as a teacher of my Wiccan group, Acorn Garden, and in Hermes Council. As part of my religious training I had to do service offering help and outreach, and I’d chosen the Bergen County Rape Crisis Center; I did volunteer work for them for two years.

He then asked, if I felt that these qualified me to represent myself publicly as an officer in a religion, why don’t I get myself ordained by a recognized religion instead of what’s widely regarded as a tax dodge? Why not be serious about my religious credentials? Why not prove that I’m capable of pastoral counseling?

I answered that I didn’t know how to go about doing this. He pointed out two pagan organizations that offer serious ordination: the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and the Church of All Worlds (CAW).

Oberon was right, of course. I looked into both groups. The basic requirement for joining CoG is be vouched for by two existing CoG members. I don’t know anyone from CoG in my general circle of pagan friends.

CAW has just resurrected itself after being dormant for a few years. I looked at their web site, and while there is a path to ordination, it appears that part of the process is that I’d have to identify my Wiccan group Acorn Garden as a CAW Nest. I’m not prepared to go that far. Probably it’s just pride; it’s not as if there’s an important practical different between the theologies of Wicca and CAW, and even their religious practices would seem almost the same to someone who wasn’t a pagan.

That raises an issue that I did not discuss with Oberon: with either CoG or CAW, I’d be working to get ordained by their institution, only to drop the association as soon as I had the ordination certificate in my hot little hands to run off and practice Gardnerian Wicca. That seems disingenuous to me. I’d be using them to achieve a legal goal, instead of what the ordination’s purpose is supposed to be: a commitment to provide counseling within the context of that tradition.

At this point, getting myself seriously ordained is on my bucket list, but it’s not high on my list of priorities. I don’t see a path that allows me to do this and still be truthful and honest to both myself and the organization that’s granting me the ordination.

Now I’m going to set aside the “serious” part: Why did I title this post “The Three Doctors”?

When you join the ULC, you are permitted to designate yourself with any title you feel is appropriate: Minister, Reverend, Holiness, etc. I picked “Doctor.”

Of course, I already have a Ph.D. in particle physics (awarded by a respected and accredited institution, Columbia University, which goes back to what Oberon said; sigh). I was already Doctor Seligman, though I don’t normally use that honorific. Combining the ordination with my scholarly credentials made me Doctor Doctor Seligman.

This is not without its pitfalls. When I fill out a marriage license, I put my religious title of “Doctor” on a form. One of the marriages I performed was for a couple who needed to be legally married by a deadline in order for the wife to be covered by her husband’s insurance. After they submitted the marriage license to the county clerk’s office, it was held up because the clerk didn’t understand the honorific “Doctor” on a marriage license, and the couple missed the deadline.

I apologized to them for what had happened, but they didn’t blame me. They pointed out that if they’d been Baptists, “Doctor” would have appeared on the license anyway. The problem was the clerk’s ignorance, not my choice of title.

As I’ve said, serious ordination eludes me. But non-serious ones are still available: May you be touched by his Noodly Appendage

Again, I can choose my title as an ordained member of this religion. Again, I choose the title “Doctor.” I am therefore:

Doctor Doctor Doctor William Glenn Seligman, B.S., M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., D.ULC, D.FSM, PBK

Please just call me Bill. There is no need to bow.

We have to talk about death sometime

About 5.5 years ago, my friend Michael (who’s a funeral director) was giving a talk at a festival about the pagan response to death. He asked me if I had any ideas of what he could talk about. I responded with the outline below. Michael’s talk was only an hour or so, and he couldn’t touch on most of the following topics. I’m posting them to open up discussion on many sensitive issues that people, including pagans, don’t usually think about until it’s too late. I look forward to your thoughts.

Notes on Death

Estate planning for pagans 
- Taking care of ritual items after death 
- does each item have to be mentioned in the will? 
- Donating to a coven... and the membership has changed 
- When they don't have a group bank account? 
- When you don't want to "out" them? 
- What if a will "outs" them? 
- Pagan lawyers/estate planners: 
  - How to find one; 
  - How to advertise if you are one. 

- Transporting the remains 
  - From home 
  - From the hospital 
- Organ donations: driver's license? Will? 
- Cremated with ritual tools 
- Embalming and viewing; timing. (In Judaism there's no embalming, but burial is rapid.) 
- Scattering of ashes 
- "I want my remains/ashes available for later ritual use." 
- Biodegradable coffins? Or other ways to quickly re-join the earth. 

Pagan/Wiccan funeral rites 
- How to make your funeral wishes known: executor? family? with your will? 
- Pagan funeral managers: 
  - How to find one; 
  - How to advertise if you are one. 
- Funeral arrangements: In advance? In will? Discussed with executor? 
- Pagan/Wiccan weddings/Wiccanings are generally planned in advance. With funerals we usually don't have that lead time. Should we construct funeral ceremonies (public, private) in advance (like "ashes to ashes...") In other words, is there a need for a pre-existing library of pagan/Wiccan funeral ceremonies? 

Wiccan versus "Traditional" ceremonies 
- Is it acceptable to "out" someone after death? 
- Tattoos and family/religious burial traditions. 
- Asatru: cremating in open flame/longboat 
- You want to hold an initiates-only funeral ritual, and a non-pagan family member says they want to attend. 

- Pagans in traditional cemeteries 
- "There's a pentacle on that tombstone! They must have been devil-worshippers!" 
- Might a cemetery owner have a legitimate case for not wanting pagan symbols on a marker, to avoid defacement/negative reaction? 

- when death is expected 
- when it is sudden 
- Looking for reasons: 
  - "He had a hundred people praying for him. Why did he die?" 
  - "She was beloved by the gods. Why did she die?" 
  - "Why was this being created, only for me to miscarry?" 
  - Or just the general question: "Why did they die?" 
- Death from violence 
- Large-scale tragedies 
- Using divination to answer these questions. 
- "He died because he was one of those devil-worshipping pagans." 
  - Responding to that statement. 
  - Counseling other pagans when confronted with that statement. 

Role of clergy in handling grief 
- When to step in 
- When not to 
- Dealing with grief ritually 

Contacting the dead 
- Who should do it? 
- Who shouldn't? 
- When is it too soon? Too late? 
- Samhain: boundary for contacting/not contacting? 

Stepping in: 
- When some of the survivors request it but others don't, or are opposed to it? 
- When we see other clergy flubbing it? 

Death counseling for members of our group or our Tradition vs. other pagans vs. "cowan." Any differences in approach?