Monday, 31 December 2012

Ringing It Out

The year is ending on a somewhat less life-shatteringly depressing note than the one on which its final month began. What 2013 has in store remains to be seen. There's a glimmer of hope, and possible plans, so that's something. Right now I'm warm, and safe, and loved, and that's quite a bit more than quite a lot of people can say. I hope this night finds all of you in a similar state, and with at least something to look forward to in the year ahead.

See you next year.  :)

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

So This Is Christmas

As you might imagine, I'm not feeling it. Not the religious holiday, not the secular celebration, not even the festivities related to the spiritual traditions that are meaningful for me. Even the year we left our house I managed to dredge up a bit of festive feeling, if only because that was a relatively soft landing; this year I got nothin'.


There are things that I usually do around the holidays, that this year I have felt no inclination to do: no fire on the hearth; no bayberry candles; no depraved nativity scene featuring Isis, Osiris and baby Horus; no baking; no watching the Christmas midnight mass on TV. We had the vaguest intentions of doing some kind of solstice ritual, but nothing ever came of it. I've been intending to bake soda bread since before Halloween, but that hasn't happened either. I have frozen persimmon pulp waiting to become pudding, but I have yet to make that happen. I last baked shortbread in September, before things had fallen apart so dramatically. I was thinking about watching the midnight mass last night--St. Peter's basilica is so blinged-out opulent that I like looking at it--but instead I fell asleep on the couch watching Starship Troopers then dragged off to bed. Merry fucking Christmas!

It's sad, because we only get a finite number of holiday occasions in each lifetime, and this one has just been squandered. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one having this experience this year. Misery, in this case, doesn't really much love the company.  :P

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Brief Update

I've had yet another rejection--honestly, I'm getting so good at them that they hardly faze me at all now--but also found a couple more possibilities, so I forge on; what else can I do? I started a temporary position last week, which they say could last three to four months, though there's no way to say for certain. Already there have been two days in which there was insufficient work to keep us on for a full shift, which they swear is just because of the holidays, so I'm less than confident; still, it's work, and some income is better than none. At least we've managed to buy ourselves a bit of a reprieve. At this point, it looks like we're staying put at least for another month. My husband likens our situation to being swept along with the current of a river, seeing docks and low-hanging branches up ahead in the distance but not knowing if we'll have the ability to catch hold of them as we're borne along. At least for the moment I've stopped thrashing so hard; it wasn't helping keep me afloat, and the rushing tide was far too strong for me to fight. I'm not a very good swimmer, unfortunately. But I'm damned if I'll be an easy drowner, either.

We're two days past solstice. The light may be strengthening, but as yet it's still difficult to see it. This statement applies on more than one level.  I'll light a candle, and I may still curse the darkness, but I'm also going to face it singing. I don't know what else to do.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Tomorrow Is Another Day

Today my thoughts are turning to Gone with the Wind.

I know that the book and the movie are considered problematic here in the 21st century, and while those issues are valid ones, they are not what this is about. I'm looking to other themes that the story presents, and how those are applicable to me personally and also in a larger context.

First of all, we must understand that GwtW is not what it appears at first glance. The so-called "epic love story" is anything but; and part of the brilliance of the tale may lie in the fact that so few people seem able to recognize that fact. No, GwtW is epic tragedy, an examination of how varied personalities survive or not against the backdrop of cataclysmic societal upheaval. And it is this that makes the story entirely relevant today, both personally for me and societally here in the US as we find ourselves in the midst of cataclysms of our own.

Margaret Mitchell was a young southern woman born as the 19th century gave way to the 20th. Her young life was marked by the upheavals of World War I; and she began writing a story to entertain herself when she became injured and unable to continue working in the mid-1920s, not so very long before the crash of 1929. Her book was published in 1936, with the movie following in 1939, and it's not at all difficult to understand why the story achieved its monstrous, unprecedented popularity. That theme of which I spoke in the last paragraph was only too relevant to Americans in the grip of the Great Depression, Americans on the brink of entry into the second World War. The story became huge in Japan as well, and for similar reasons. When the world is in flames, be they metaphorical or literal, stories are sometimes the only things we can find to cling to for reassurance, for comfort, for a candle to light the darkness of miserable uncertainty and fear. GwtW provided that light for untold millions during that turbulent period of history, and its popularity has remained precisely because of the universality of those themes it presents. For that reason if for no other I will defend it and its author to the end.

Survival amid chaos is a keynote in the story, and we are presented with four very different main personalities and the ways in which they persist and thrive (or not). Our frontwoman, Scarlett O'Hara, is doggedly determined to survive at any cost. Her eventual counterpart, Rhett Butler, thrives by finding ways to capitalize on the destruction of his society for his own enrichment. Melanie Hamilton is gracious and accepting of the vagaries of fate, relying on a core of inner strength as well as the bonds of friends and family. Her counterpart, Ashley Wilkes, bows and breaks under the strain of trying to adapt to a world for which he was never designed either by birth or circumstance. We the audience watch the ways in which these four interact with their surroundings, with other people, and recognize that their struggles are universal and timeless, that the backdrop may be that of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction period immediately thereafter but the trials endured by the protagonists transcend time and culture.

And that's why Gone with the Wind is not only relevant, but possibly necessary, in this day and age. I almost would not be surprised to see a resurgence in its popularity. Last year was the 75th anniversary of the book's publication, and the movie will celebrate its anniversary in 2014. How can such antiquated tales be of any use in this complex modern world? Didn't I just explain that?

Right now I feel a bit like Scarlett, forced to flee Atlanta when it came under siege by Sherman's invading Union forces. She ran, despite the risks, to the only place that represented any sort of safety or stability to her: her childhood home, which conveniently happened to be located right where recent skirmishes were happening. Despite that danger, she sought refuge there, only to find the house looted, most of the servants gone, her mother dead, her sisters dangerously ill, and her father driven mad from grief and shock. Even the illusion of security was denied her, but she was home, on her familiar ancestral ground, and that was enough to give her strength and focus and the ability to take up her "weary load" and move forward. And that is what I sort of foresee for myself. It's like I can hear the siege cannons firing in the not-so-far-off distance, and fear that fleeing is all but inevitable. My ancestral place is none so grandiose as a plantation, but it's familiar, and it feels like a source of strength and safety at a time when all else looks to be collapsing and closing in. I feel fragile right now, dangerously so, and wonder at my ability to hold it together during this time. I can only hope to find a bit of Scarlett's determination, Rhett's wry cunning, Melanie's grace, and Ashley's--well, at the moment I'm finding it difficult to think of anything of use that poor doomed Ashley brought to the table. Maybe he can serve as the example of how I don't want to end up: bitter, broken, defeated.

I think I know what book I'll read next, for distraction and inspiration. Thanks, Margaret Mitchell.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

False Positives

I haven't been around here since Halloween, you'll have noticed, and it's because things have gone (as they are wont to do) from potentially bad to oh my fucking god. As in, long-term unemployment + UI running out + lease ending = don't know where I'll be in three weeks' time. No hyperbole; that's the stark truth.

It's been a series of disappointments along this downward slide. In the rare moments that I'm numb enough to view the situation with dispassion and detachment, it's rather interesting from a sociological standpoint: a microcosm of the current US economic climate, if nothing else. The phrase close, but no cigar applies. I've gotten close on several occasions to securing permanent full-time work, but each time I've just missed it. This has done nothing at all for me beyond reawakening that small sad part of me that still recalls, with painful mortification, being perpetually the last one picked.

The last time I was in the running for something potentially good, I decided to try doing a reading. I'll point out that my spiritual activities since Halloween have been practically nil; faith has never come easily to me and the darker things get, the closer I edge to the abyss of utter unbelief. In order to perform any spiritual functions at all I have to almost approach them from a scientific what-if standpoint, almost like an experiment: I'll try this and see what, if anything, happens. In that spirit, a couple of readings were done back in the summer, when I thought I had a sure thing; I read my cards and my husband read the runes. The readings were both positive and encouraging. I myself was both positive and encouraged--until they day I found out that the requirements for the position had been changed to include a degree I did not possess. False positive.

Move on a couple of months, and I've tossed my hat in the ring for a, let's say, scribal sort of records-keeping position well within my skillset. It's at a place I'd interviewed before, and even gotten a second interview (so I know that I was at least one of three finalists). I decide to do a reading, and I ask about said position; I pull two scarabs and what I come up with are the jackal figure of Anubis (whom I'd invoked in his name of Wepwawet) and the symbol of Seshat, whom I'd also invoked.

Well! That seemed very encouraging, indeed! Until I got the "thanks but no thanks" email, without even having been invited to interview again.

And now here we are, even further into the unwinding secular year, and looking ahead looks more like looking down the barrel of a gun. I've applied yet again at that same place, for the same sort of scribal position (albeit in a different department; my first two rejections came from the same department), and last night for shits and giggles I decided to try another reading, this time with the Tarot. Simple three-card spread, past-present-future, and the inquiry dealt with the urgent need for at least one of us to secure permanent full-time employment to avoid the utter shitstorm of humiliation and degradation ahead. Here are the three cards that came up:

In this deck, this card seems less dire than in the traditional Rider-Waite, but the meaning is unchanged  


She was actually reversed, and things being what they are I tended to agree with the reversed meaning

Yeah. This.
If you're unfamiliar with the meanings of the cards, I urge you to Google 'em up, particularly the meaning of that last one, the one in the future position. Words like "everything" and "eventually" came up, which I have to add on top of the words "hope" and "patience" that appeared in a certain oracle with which some of you will be familiar. (These are all important words for Bones fans, which give them an extra layer of meaning for me.)

So. Another false positive? Nothing left for me to do but wait and see.

Friday, 28 September 2012

I Fail Paganism Forever

So I went to see Disney/Pixar's Brave as soon as it came out, and strongly identified with Merida, and saw some familiarity in the mother-daughter dynamic. But what I failed to really notice until just now was that the movie presented what should have been a very obvious and familiar set of archetypes:

The Maiden



The Mother













The Crone



I apologize for the oversight, and will try to be more observant in the future.  :D


Friday, 7 September 2012

Human Conditions

The sad truth is, we're a lot more fragile than we want to admit, more easily damaged, more easily bruised and broken. We survive, and we heal, but only just, and not always well. Our wounds run deeper than we realize and our scars don't always fade. Such odd, malleable, destructible creatures we are. I sometimes frankly can't blame people who want to believe themselves of another species, even if only on the inside; we humans are so desperately capable of damaging and being damaged.

Gloomy thoughts, I know, but some days you feel the ache of ancient injuries, the twinge of wounds improperly healed, the tug of scar tissue that can never flex and bend as it did before the hurt ever reshaped it. It's hard for me to believe in intangible things like souls, but I'm able to believe in them metaphorically, and I'm able to believe that souls can be metaphorically crushed, as hearts can be metaphorically broken. The pain, and the effects, are anything but metaphorical.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

An Aretalogy of Hathor

I've posted and discussed aretalogies of Isis here before, but today I have one for Hathor.


-AN ARETALOGY OF HATHOR-
(from the Colophon of the Bremner-Rhind papyrus)


"Isis the divine speaks to thee
with joyful voice from the river
which the pure abed-fish cleaves
in front of the barque of Ra

the Lady of Horns is come into being with joy
the egg is come into being in the canal

the heads of the froward are cut off
in this Her name of Lady of Aphroditopolis

the Lady of Horns is come in peace
in this Her name of Hat-Hor Lady of Malachite

the Lady of Thebes is come in peace
in this Her name of Hat-Hor Lady of Thebes

She is come in peace as Tayt
in that Her name of Lady of Hetepet

She is come in peace to overthrow Her foe
in that Her name of Hat-hor
Lady of the temple of Herakleopolis

"Gold" is come in peace
in that Her name of Hat-Hor Lady of Memphis

Thou being at peace in the presence of the Lord of All
in this Thy name of Hat-Hor Lady of the Red Mountain

‘Gold’ rises beside Her father
in this Her name of Bast

who has gone in front of the houses
beside the Sanctuary of Upper Egypt
in this Her name of Satis

who makes green the Two Lands
and guides the gods
in this Her name of Wadjyt

Hat-Hor has power over those
who rebelled against Her father
in that Her name of Sakhmet

Wadjet has power over good things
in that Her name of Lady of Momemphis

myrrh is on Her tresses
in that Her name of Neith


Hail to the gods, each in his place :

Hat-Hor Lady of Thebes
Hat-Hor Lady of Herakleopolis
Hat-Hor Lady of Aphroditopolis
Hat-Hor Lady of Sycomore-town
Hat-Hor Lady of Rohesa
Hat-Hor Lady of the Red Mountain
Hat-Hor Lady of Sinai
Hat-Hor Lady of Memphis
Hat-Hor Lady of Wawat
Hat-Hor Lady of Momemphis
Hat-Hor Lady of Imet."

The Bremner-Rhind papyrus is held at the British Museum. The "colophon" spoken of here is generally attributed to a priest called Nes-Min and dated to some time in the 3rd or 4th century BCE, during the Ptolemaic period.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Lammastide




As we begin the harvest season, may all your sacrifices bear fruit. It's been a long, strange year, hasn't it?

Friday, 20 July 2012

Covered In Controversy

There's a lengthy (and occasionally fractious) discussion going on over at the Wild Hunt blog  on the subject of pagan women who choose to "cover" or "veil" their hair. A group of such women have set up the web site Covered In Light, and planned a day of recognition of the practice for later in the year. This is not the first time I've heard of this phenomenon, but the amount of publicity and discourse that's rising around it is new to me.

Strictly from an anthropological and sociological standpoint, I've long been fascinated by things like veiling and modest dress, what those things mean both within the context of specific religious traditions and in the larger culture as well. They are problematic subjects for me, because questions of modest dress are invariably female concerns, and a woman with her hair (or her face, or her entire body) covered in a particular way are read in a particular way as well within western society. Religiously driven clothing and headgear decisions are typically seen as oppressive in the west, and protestations of free choice by the women themselves do little to alter that symbolism. That's the problem with symbols: they mean things, and altering those meanings to suit oneself is a more difficult process than one might think.

I like hats well enough, though I don't always like having things on my head. Being told I must wear a particular thing for someone else's reason chafes me severely. For example, I do a lot of historic reenactment, and for one of the eras I portray it was common for women to wear a cap covering their hair in addition to whatever hat they might choose. Well, I do not like said caps. They refuse to stay put on my head, and I find them terribly unflattering: call me vain, but I think I look like someone's hideous grandmother with a doily on my head, and I avoid them as much as possible. Did every woman at all times wear such a thing on her head during the era in question? The evidence is inconclusive, therefore I tend to wear rakish and amusing hats sans doily, and take on a more iconoclastic personality. There are symbolic associations with compulsory cap-wearing, many of which are rooted in religious traditions that I do not follow and gender roles to which I do not subscribe. Symbols mean things, and I am sensitive to them.

I have no interest in trying to convince another woman what she should or should not do with her own personal head or body. Wear what you want when you want and ascribe whatever meaning to it you like, but be aware that the larger culture may read into your choices motivations that you may not intend. If you're wearing what looks to the general public like the uniform of a specific group, don't be shocked when you're mistaken for someone from that group. Maybe you can use that as a teaching moment. I don't know.

(What has kind of surprised me about the discussion so far is that I haven't heard anyone screaming "cultural appropriation" yet--and that's usually one of the first accusations to be hurled. Does it count as cultural appropriation to wear a style of head covering commonly worn by, say, Muslim or Jewish women? Why or why not?)

I don't hear gods in my head directing my sartorial decisions(1), and to be honest I don't really understand people who say they do. It is frankly hard for me to imagine deities that micromanage the minutiae of their devotees' lives. It seems more likely that we may sometimes use our perceptions of the gods' desires as justification for our own very human choices(2).



(1) I'm going to do a post on the subject of "hearing" the gods, and issues along the lines of what I briefly touch on in this paragraph, very soon.

(2) That, like everything else on this blog, is my personal opinion, to which I am entitled. Feel free to disagree, but if you're rude about it, I won't respond.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Mistaken Implications

The other day I had a brief conversation with Star Foster on Twitter, which led her to make this amusing graphic--a LOLcrowley, if you will:


And then, the more I thought about it, the more I came to the realization that the root of most all of my problems amongst my co-religionists could be traced to just that: I almost always think the bazinga is implied, and I'm almost always just gobstruck to find out that it isn't.

For example: years ago, I was (for a brief period) the moderator of a private email list for initiates of the tradition I then practiced. I didn't always scruple to hide my incredulity when people made what seemed to me to be preposterous claims, and I recall one instance when someone came right back on me and demanded "If you feel that way, then why are you here?" (My response? "Frankly, at this moment, I'm wondering that myself.") Very early in my internet pagan days I belonged to an open list and had a run-in with my first Sacred Whore; I thought that was a hilarious term and asked if that wasn't an oxymoron (bazinga!) and was very shocked when I was dogpiled as being the next best thing to Hitler or Phyllis Schafly or something. I always think I'm being trolled, always think there's a big elaborate joke, and even after nearly two decades of active practice I am still always surprised when I discover that no, in fact, people are deadly serious. Because I always think the bazinga is implied.

I'm a naturalistic pagan, a monolatrous animist type who relates to deity in ways that have led some people to mislabel me as an atheist. I'm a reality-based kind of person. When people come before me making what seem to be utterly absurd claims, my first reaction is always to think "you're testing me, you're trying to see how far you can go with me." I realize that this is probably an unusual response, but that's where my brain goes. I've encountered far too many fakers and fools to do otherwise. No, you're not a werewolf on the inside, and no, you're not possessed by demons and no, dammit, don't insult me by saying you're "aspecting the goddess" when the drivel you're spouting exactly echoes your mundane-world biases. The following gif set should illustrate:





Crushed again!


When I have these experiences, I'm a little bit insulted and a little bit crushed every time, even though it's happened time and again and probably will continue to happen for the rest of my life. Look, I can't sit here and pretend that I've never had any weird experiences--of course I have--and I also can't pretend that I have a solid explanation for every phenomenon I've ever encountered. There are mysteries I will never comprehend; I know that, and I'm OK with that--it's part of what makes life fascinating for me. But at the same time, there is just some shit that I cannot and will not swallow, and I won't betray myself in order to play along with people who may indeed be trolling for a reaction. My spiritual practice is a grounded one, earth-based, reality-based, intellectual--more Apollonian than Dionysian, one could say. I won't go so far as to say that every person making wild and unprovable claims is a flat-out liar or mentally ill, but since I have no way of knowing a person's motivations upfront, I'm inclined to be wary. If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck it might conceivably be a platypus, but 99.99% of the time it's a goddamn duck, and I'm going to treat it as such.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Random Thoughts

Sooner or later you reach a point where the transgressive becomes commonplace, and where formerly thrilling acts of rebellion become merely tiresome. That is the point where your paradigm needs to shift.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Words to remember

You must write every single day of your life. You must lurk in libraries to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. May you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

—Ray Bradbury

(RIP, August 22, 1920 - June 5, 2012)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Biting My Metaphorical Tongue

Lately, everything I think to write about turns ranty before I can even get it on the page. I'm not particularly angry in general, not hating life any more than I ordinarily might, but there do seem to be an inordinate amount of things that I find irritating these days. I blame the internet.

Giving free rein to my inner curmudgeon and letting those rants flow would do little to endear me to, well, anyone. It's been a bemusing journey of self-discovery lately, to be honest. I've lived my life always being the weirdo, a paragon of live-and-let-live tolerance, the proponent of all manner of non-traditional activities--and yet, I find myself utterly baffled by the shit I'm expected to swallow in the name of tolerance these days. (Of course, I'm as equally appalled by the shit being shoveled by the "conservative" camp as by the "liberal," so maybe I am in fact a true moderate. Temperance, remember? Ask and ye shall receive, with sometimes shocking results!)

(I think I need to unfollow everyone on Tumblr except the picspammers, because the things I'm reading lately make me despair for the future of humanity.)

You want to know what I think? Here's what I think:

* I think people of all races can be racist, and people of both sexes can be sexist. There are no limits to being an asshole.

* I think people flipping their virtual shit over vernacular, non-pejorative usage of words like "gypsy" is foolish and reactionary. Not everything is a slur, and not everything is about you.

* I think people need to stop conflating "sex" and "gender." The second word was coined to have a specific meaning, distinct from the characteristics of biology. I think people need to stop conflating "transsexual" and "transgender." Those suffixes have quite different meanings.

* I think there are many differences between those who are born, raised and socialized as one sex or the other and those who choose to "transition" into those social and/or physical roles later in life. I also think it's odd that a condition that affects about .01% of the population has become such an enormous issue in paganism (and on the internet).

* I think people have lost all sense of restraint and decorum, making the most shockingly intimate revelations within moments of meeting. I further think that having multiple diagnoses requiring multiple medications is not a thing to brag about, but everyone young and old alike seems to do it, as though it were a competition.

* I think "disagreement" and "oppression" are different things. Christians are not oppressed by the disagreement of non-Christians. My disagreeing with your opinion is not me oppressing you, and your disagreeing with my opinion is not you oppressing me.

* I think if people are as hypersensitive and delicate and so easily mortally wounded in real life as they are online, they will not be able to function in the world.

* I think that just saying a thing doesn't make it so.

I'll say these things here, and elaborate no further, knowing that these opinions are extremely unpopular and would get me labeled things like "bigot" and "transmisogynist" should I express them indiscriminately. I could rant at length and with vigor about any of these subjects, but I won't--not today, anyway. I don't think that I am in any way a hateful or bigoted person; but I do consider myself to be a rational and intelligent person, and one whose patience has worn thin.

Or maybe I really am getting older.  :P

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Happy Equinox


If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

Moslih Eddin Saadi, Gulistan (Garden of Roses)

Friday, 16 March 2012

PBP: E is for Enough

Which is what I've had, with so many things of late. Again I find myself questioning my place under the big umbrella marked "Paganism," as I look around and feel myself insufficiently upfucked to claim common ground with many of my ostensible co-religionists. Rather than nodding my head in wonder and agreement, I find myself shaking my head in lieu of shaking actual people and asking them "Do you hear yourself? Do you know how you sound? At what point did you and reality part ways?"

But of course, this is nothing new. I've felt this way often enough over the past two decades. In my LiveJournal profile I use the line "too stuffy for the fluffies and too fluffy for the stuffies" to describe myself, and I still think that's a very accurate summation. The more conservative pagans seem like utter fascists to me, while their ultra-accepting counterparts look like they've opened their minds so far that their brains have fallen out. Opinions are thrust forth on both sides that are so comically over-the-top goofy that it's hard for me to believe that the people positing them aren't just trolling.

(Somewhere in the back of my mind, Gerry Rafferty and Stealer's Wheel are singing gleefully: Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, and here I am--stuck in the middle...!")

My partner and I are taking the mostly solitary route these days. For my sanity, and my spiritual health, it seems wisest. I'm still considering doing some open rituals for the Iseum, but I'm not in any hurry at this point. My energy is better spent tending my own hearthfire right now, rather than on outreach.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Because Fandom Is Always Relevant

Issues of transgender identity, spiritual life, and personal perceptions of both? Yeah, there's a Bones episode for that. (Links to transcript of episode 4x07, The He in the She.)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

PBP: D is for Diversity

(I chose this D-word because I've been reading various blog-responses to the Second Annual Pantheacon Transgender Ritual Exclusion Debate. If you were wondering.)

My thoughts on this subject are all over the map; my brain has an unfortunate tendency to see multiple sides to situations, making it sometimes difficult for me to take a firm and absolute stance. I've never been a huge fan of sex-exclusive rituals, and have in fact been quite strident in my opposition to such exclusion in the past; however, I have, if not exactly mellowed with age, at least had time to develop a perhaps more nuanced view of the subject, and can now see that there can be times when sex-specific rites are appropriate. Should those types of events take place at a public gathering like Pantheacon, where some attendees (who have paid for the privilege of attending) may be denied access to some of the programming because of their physical sex--or would that necessarily lead down a slippery slope to people being denied entry to rituals because of their race, or any other variable?

I don't know. I can't predict with any certainty if one thing must inevitably lead to another. I am, however, all for the right of anyone to determine who or what they want to share sacred space with. If a group is putting on a very specific ritual with very specific requirements, they have the right to expect that those requirements will be honored by those attending, and they have the right to exclude those who cannot or will not meet those requirements. I wouldn't demand entrance to a ritual for women who have given birth, because I am a voluntarily nulliparous woman. I wouldn't demand entrance to a queer male mysteries ritual, because I am not a gay man. I would not attend a Kemetic Orthodox rite if I were not able to meet the physical purity requirement.

I think we need to have it all ways. I think there need to be safe spaces, diverse spaces, inclusive spaces and exclusive spaces. I think there must be mixed groups and separatist groups; in fact, I am quite certain there will be those things, no matter how we may personally feel about any of them. It might be wisest if large public gatherings like Pantheacon do away with exclusionary programming going forward, since it obviously only causes divisiveness and pain for everyone concerned, but in the private sector of the pagan world the need for specific spaces for specific needs is not going to go away. The desire to celebrate/explore/heal/etc. amongst others who share particular experiences is valid and should be honored, even if we don't share or understand the motivation behind it. "Paganism" is such a vast umbrella, and those of us crowding underneath it are so very diverse, that the only way we're going to manage to "coexist" as the bumper stickers say is by making room for a real diversity of expression.

And if that means that there are events from which I am excluded for whatever reason, then so be it. Being exclusive is not necessarily being bigoted or phobic--and if the people doing the excluding are in fact bigoted or phobic, then why the fuck would you want to be a part of their ritual, anyway?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

PBP: C is for Corruption

For some reason I've yet to quite fathom, the religious and spiritual spheres are extremely attractive to the corrupt. Whether or not they're corrupt from the start or become that way over time is irrelevant. Spiritual and religious seekers are seen by some as easy marks, ripe for the picking--though of course those doing the picking would piously deny it! Oh no, they're fleecing you of your money, exploiting you sexually, draining you dry for your own good!

C is also for Con Artist.

They're out there, and you'll find them in every tradition, every religion, every culture. Maybe it's a plastic shaman like James Arthur Ray, or a commercial yoga guru like the amusingly-named John Friend; or it might just be your local small-time skeezebag trying to lure young tail ripe for exploitation to join his coven or meetup. They're out there, and if you spend any time at all around pagan "community" sooner or later you'll encounter one, or more. (They're in the mainstream faiths as well, of course, but they have better lawyers and more efficient hierarchies covering for them in most cases.) What can you do to protect yourself, aside from staying home as a solitary devotee?

Trust your intuitions, and your own common sense. If something seems off to you, respect that perception and examine it; don't just dismiss it as paranoia. If a group or leader isn't upfront with you from the start about what it expects of you, be very cautious indeed about getting involved; there are likely hidden agendas at work. If at any time you're required or coerced into something that you strongly object to, then that's the point where you leave, full stop. You don't owe them an explanation, or an apology, or anything at all; if you're being manipulated into doing things that are against your principles, your morals, or even your aesthetics, then you're in the presence of someone who does not have your best interests at heart, and you owe them nothing. Trust yourself, know yourself, and be true to yourself above all else; listen to your instincts; and heed this above all else when going in to a new situation:

Perfectly trust no one.

This post was inspired by reading coverage of John Friend's emerging scandal over at the Wild Hunt blog. What kills me (in the sense that it makes me sad and slightly sick) is reading all the apologias for Wicca in both the coverage and the comments. I wish I could say that in my experience, Wiccan priesthood using their positions to exploit others sexually was unknown or very rare. Power corrupts, even small-scale power; Friend there had a taste of much bigger power as a commercial yoga guru, and managed to parlay that into another spiritual format, one that allowed him to exploit seekers in another way. These people will always find a way; awareness and constant vigilance are your best weapons to avoid falling into their traps.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Dreaming of Imbolc

I awoke this morning in the midst of a dream. In it, we were accosted while out walking by a woman who proceeded to question us as if we were expert witnesses or law enforcement consultants on the occult. She said that a monument at a nearby Catholic college (she called it Trinity something-or-other) had been "defaced," with the remnants of candles and offerings (I have the impression of red candles, though I can't recall if that was specified or not), and wanted to know the possible meaning behind it. I immediately launched into a quite complex lecture on the neo-pagan celebration of Imbolc, explaining the meanings and customs of the holiday and assuring her that there was nothing at all "Satanic" or dangerous about it. I remember being surprised when the woman asked me if the holiday was sometimes also called La Fheile Bride, and my response that it was indeed sometimes called that, in Gaelic, by Druid practitioners. I also assured her that the mysterious offerings might have been left in honor of St. Brigit, who celebrates a feast day at this time. I was awakened before I could finish my lecture.

Appropriately, I had this dream on the day in question, as Imbolc was celebrated on February 2nd in the tradition in which I was trained--despite it's being called "February Eve" in the early writings, which would of course technically require a celebration on January 31st. I celebrated the 31st and the 1st on the road, caravaning my mother-in-law home from Florida, and if I had any deity interactions at all it was with Bast, who sent her small minions to play in the landscaping around the hotel we stayed at in north Georgia. (One of them was the loveliest little thing, snowy white with a large patch of silver and black tabby markings on her back like a draped blanket. Her eyes were a pale luminous green, ringed with black liner that extended slightly out from the corners in a very Egyptian fashion; she gazed at me very seriously, and I gazed right back at her in the same way, having a moment. She would not approach closely, and finally broke the spell to run off chasing under a bush with her solid red tabby sibling. Their mother was prowling the courtyard, which featured what was very nearly a ring of large stones; adjacent to this was a tiny church building, complete with narrow stained glass windows, labeled the "Interfaith Meditation Chapel." Apparently my faith was not included, because I found the building locked.)

In any case, it's Imbolc now--or Oimelc or Candlemas or La Fheile Bride or whatever you'd like to call it. I call it the midpoint of winter, halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. It's an odd one, to be sure; the high today should again be in the 60s, which carries on the trend of this being an unusually mild winter. I usually like to celebrate it as a turning point, a time when the days are visibly lengthening, when the first faint hints of growing things can be seen, when we know the worst of winter is generally past us and spring looms on the horizon. This year, there's not much of winter to be seen beyond the still-barren trees, but maybe that's cause for celebration in its own right.

Friday, 20 January 2012

PBP: A is for Athame

(I'll start off with this by way of full disclosure: I freaking love working with ritual tools. And I'm not even sorry.)

The first formal magical training I had was in the Outer Court (or pagan grove) of a Gardnerian coven, and the first formal magical tool I acquired was an athame, the ubiquitous ritual dagger now commonplace among all sorts of pagans. (Athames--not just for Wiccans anymore!) Prior to this I had very little by way of ritual equipment, using whatever seemed appropriate for the spellwork I occasionally performed as well as for any formal deity propitiation I felt necessary. Prior to entering the grove I had read about Wicca/witchcraft/paganism and its associated accoutrements, but I'd not bothered to acquire much of anything beyond the basics.

That was about to change.

I was serious about the pursuit of Occult Knowledge, and if said pursuit required tools, then I would acquire tools. Off I went to a military supply sort of shop in the local mall--because where else would you go to look for such a thing as a dagger--and located what seemed like an appropriate knife for the purpose. I didn't want to buy just any cheap piece of junk; that didn't seem serious to me, and I am a very serious sort of person when I am inclined to be. I chose a simple Western Boot Knife, which cost the seemingly exorbitant amount of $40.

I'm sure some people purchase one athame in their magical career, and keep it for the rest of their lives. That's great. That's not at all what happened for me. (Did I mention that I ended up dating, and then marrying, the guy who introduced me to the pagan grove, and that he was and is a blade connoisseur? No? Oh.) I worked with that first knife for a time, and then it was passed along to a dear friend and I chose another athame. And another, and another. I was initiated in 1994, and since then there have been a number of athames that have passed through my hands. At present, I have (I had to actually think about this for a moment) three that I work with regularly, though each has a specific function: one for witchcraft, one for general pagan usage, and one for travel.

I've long since left the tradition in which I trained, going on to develop, with my partner, our own way of doing things. For us, the athame is not just the tool of Air, but is considered the Key to all the elements. It is a powerful and important tool, and thus it needs to be a tool with which one can bond, and for which one can feel respect. If I'm going to use a tool, it needs to be real and functional and solid right here on the material plane: the "so below" is just as important in my workings as the "as above." (I was born under the cardinal sign of Earth, and have a lot of Earth in my chart; and while I am unconvinced of the extent to which such things genuinely influence us, you may nonetheless take those facts into consideration for the purposes of this particular discussion.) Good ritual for me is in part good drama, and if my props are crap, it impacts my work at a very visceral level. Sure, I could cast a damn circle with a butter knife I grabbed out of the kitchen drawer, or a pot-metal letter opener, if I had to; but if I don't have to, why should I? In truth, I'd rather point a finger and do my operations on the astral rather than use a tool in which I have no confidence.

Before I started this post, I debated on whether to make it informational or personal; as you can see, I decided on the latter. There are approximately 87 billion sites out there that expound upon the subject of the athame, what it is, how to use it, its elemental ascriptions, how to pronounce it, what shape it should be, what color the handle should be, what type of blade it ought to have, etc. You don't need me to tell you all those things. Start off with the understandings of the tradition in which you're training, or with what you've found in your print sources that resonate with you. As time goes along, you'll gain your own understandings and meanings, some of which may enhance what you've been taught, some of which may contradict what you've been taught, and some of which may ultimately supplant what you've been taught. It's all to the good. This kind of work is evolutionary, not static.

And that's why your magickal toolbox may end up a bit fuller than you first imagined.


(The knives are: top right, Western Boot Knife, stainless steel blade with rosewood scale handle. Middle left, athame by Rod Matless, stainless steel blade, black bog oak haft, nickel silver guard, sterling Celtic ring ferrule, nickel owl head pommel with garnet eyes. Bottom right, Moon and Star athame by Gary Zaradkha. Carbon blade with bronze guard and pommel, carved Dymondwood handle.)

Pagan Blog Project


I think I'm going to attempt this, just for fun. You, Gentle Reader, can expect a rather varied (dare I say eclectic) collection of subjects to be touched upon, as my interests are diverse to say the least.

It was supposed to begin last Friday, but I didn't find out about it until today. Better late than never, right? Check back later for my first installment.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

93

Feeling oddly Thelemic today. Might as well run with it and see what happens.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Zep-Tepi Every Day

2011 has been shown the door permanently, and while I know it's not the wisest to wish away any of our limited days, still I have to say it wasn't a moment too soon. The year wasn't a complete disaster--really, none of them are completely bad--but it was in many ways stressful, and disheartening. (As have been most years in recent memory, if I'm honest.) I've been in a grand dysthmic funk for a week or so, and it's only just started to lift.

Really, this is a rotten time to have a birthday. The pleasure of ringing in a new year's possibilities is mitigated by one's advancing antiquity, making it harder to attain the appropriate level of festive frivolity. (Note: alcohol helps with that.) I'm getting kind of damned old for being knocked back to square one, being forced to start over--and yet I have to wonder just how many people out there, some even older than I can currently imagine being, would give most anything to have just that chance. I can see the faintest glimmers of what just might be possibilities glinting through the gloom, and if I have a wish for the coming year it's that I'll be able to dig them out and put them to use. I hate uncertainty; I hate it. But that's all there is, and it'll just have to be enough.

There are fireworks still going off half an hour after midnight. Fergus is enjoying the cork from the spumante. It's time I changed the channel, because I have to say I am not enjoying this type of music. Sirius is visible, high and bright in tonight's sky. And despite everything that 2011 threw at me, I'm still here, and that's sufficient for tonight.

Happy New Year, everyone. Maybe this year will be better than the last.