Considering the articles I've read lately about whether or not pop culture icons and fluffy bunnies are appropriate idols for worship, and whether or not to bow to them, I'd like to address the reverence I feel for Classical music and the composers of that art. At the beginning of May, I sang in a concert of music by Beethoven. This concert may have changed my life. Towards peace.
My Gods Are Not Archetypes
(or “How to decay all meaning in language and religion and life altogether”)
Normally I try not to write from a focused, “targeted” place or perspective, and instead take a generalized and broad-stroke approach. (In other words I prefer to drop napalm on a whole region, rather than knife a single person in the skull, in order to not offend any one single person's delicate feelings more than anyone else's. That's how we do in Democratic California, or so I'm told...) However, today is an exception... kind of. I'm going to share a specific exchange (name removed for the respect of that person's privacy) from a Facebook encounter just a short while ago, not to attack the author (or knife her single belief in the skull) but instead to open up a bigger, napalm-esque issue. Here goes:...
When I first wrote the Invoking Buffy article for Newwitch Magazine I got a lot of flak from the occult and Pagan communities. I was accused of being flaky, a fluffy bunny, and a variety of other labels. When I wrote Pop Culture Magick these criticism increased ten fold. Once, when I was talking with a Celtic Reconstructionist friend, she pointed out that her Gods had been around thousands of years, which seemed to automatically confer more validity to her spiritual practices, compared to my own. When I pointed out that the stories around her Deities were the pop culture for the people who had told the stories, I was told that such a perspective was blasphemous and that because her Deities had been around for millennia they were automatically more powerful than any pop culture Deity. And when I was interviewed by Pagan Centered Podcast it was a hostile interview, with their goal being focused on trying to disprove what I practiced. I could probably tell you a few more stories along these lines, but I think you get the idea: Pop Culture Magic, and any associated beliefs, spiritual practices, etc. are considered to be the bastard child of Paganism and Occultism by a good number of people who inevitably seem intent on proving why their beliefs are more valid, more spiritual, more anything than pop culture magic is. And if you, like me, are associated with practicing pop culture magic you'll be told what a flake you are and how your spiritual practices aren't as good as the person to your left or right who believes in more traditional deities. You'll be told it's fiction and that you're wrong and they're right.
Some of this bias comes from a tendency to revere something that is older or more traditional (older is better), and perhaps even purportedly rooted in nature. While I think its important to maintain a connection to nature, I am skeptical as to how older religious systems automatically ensure that particular connection. If anything, I have found that developing a genuine connection with nature is much more primal and based on your willingness to spend time and effort in nature. For example, choosing to deweed your yard and really put your hands in the dirt to take care of the land is an action that is very connective to nature, with no Deity required to facilitate said interaction. A long hike can also be just as connecting, allowing you to become part of the land by choosing to be in it, instead of merely observing it. The smell of the land, the feeling as you walk it is a spiritual experience that again needs no Deity in order to facilitate it. All that is really needed is you and your willingness to connect with the land and learn from it, as a result of the connection....
As I write this, it's early Friday afternoon and I'm just back from running errands and I'm about to start preparations for a House ritual tomorrow and my Memorial Day observances Monday. When I was out and about today, several people wished me 'happy holiday' and you know, we all work hard, and I understand the anticipation of a three day weekend, or an unexpected day off, so I returned the greeting but I couldn't help but think "this isn't a holiday. It's so much more than that." and I wonder if anyone gives any thought anymore to what Memorial Day is really about.
Memorial Day is a big deal in my devotional world. For those who may not know, it's a day in the US specifically set aside to honor all those who died while serving in the armed forces. It used to be called Decoration Day, and people would go to military cemeteries, or the section of cemeteries set aside for the military dead and decorate the tombstones with flags, wreaths, and flowers. Now, we have bar-b-qs and go shopping and maybe watch a parade. I find that sad....
Invocation is one of the penultimate acts that a Priest or Priestess can perform, for themselves or in a group ritual.
This ritual is one of the things that separate us from other religions. In some ways, it is the most important act that we do for our covens. Through our priests and priestesses, coveners can speak directly to our deities.
The other day I was in my car sitting at a red light. In front of me was a large vehicle with a pentacle sticker on it. The license plate had the word "hex" in it. This indicated the occupant, or at least the owner of the vehicle, as Pagan. I sat behind this vehicle and shook my head. A large, gas guzzling vehicle with Pagan stickers on it. I wondered if the occupant noticed the irony. Then, just as the light turned red, the occupant tossed a cigarette out the window and continued on her merry way. Had the light still been red, I would've jumped out of my ten year old econo car, picked up the discarded butt, handed it back to her while saying "excuse me! You dropped this!"
Pagans who participate in the destruction of Mother Earth through seemingly small acts like throwing used cigarette butts on the ground most certainly participate in the large scale destruction of our planet through tar sands and other human-made environmental catastrophes. This was the basis for my inaugural post, A Call to Action I was asked in the comments what resisting Keystone XL has to do with Paganism. My response: everything.
This is not the first time I've lamented about the lack of large scale participation by Pagans in the movement against climate change. Obviously the idea of living lightly on Mother Earth has not occurred to all Pagans. When calls have been made to step up and practice treading lightly the responses have been varied: from outright vitriol to pleasure the Pagan community is taking notice.
There are lots of environmental issues Pagans can involve themselves in: tarsands, mountaintop removal, unsustainable hydro, protection of crops amongst a myriad of others.
Jason Pitzl-Waters asked "But how far are Pagans, collectively, willing to go in defense of an Earth they call sacred?" It seems to me not very far. If Pagans can't make refrain from throwing cigarette butts out of their SUVs, I can't imaging them willing to risk arrest to prevent coal from mountain top removal in Appalachia being delivered to a coal fire plant in southern New England.
The call to action across the planet has been heard by many Christian sects. Already we are hearing about churches who are choosing to divest from fossil fuels. Yet I have not heard such a call from large Pagan worship centers such as Circle Sanctuary or Temple of Witchcraft or even the Reclaiming leadership. Small groups and covens have also remained silent. I find this terribly distressing.
Not all Pagans are Earth worshipers. So even if you do not worship the earth as a deity worship her as the only place we have to live: there is no planet B.
"A school district may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations, and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including: (1) "Merry Christmas"; (2) "Happy Hanukkah"; and (3) "happy holidays.""
"Thou shalt not bend thy knee to man or beast, spirit or god- only the Eldest deserve such reverence, and they neither desire nor require it." -Anonymous
The person who first stated the quote above was never identified by my teacher, so if any of you know where it came from, please tell me in the comments. At this point, I've heard it so many times in the Craft circles I've traveled in, it may as well be attached to Cher or Whitney Houston for all I know. It's just always been a part of my practice- a cat can look at a king, and a witch doesn't bow her head or bend his knee. We offer the same respect we receive, and we consider all beings worthy of respect, including ourselves....
We have another lunar eclipse coming up this weekend — late Friday or early Saturday, depending on your time zone. You can see the chart cast for Washington, DC, here. The eclipse falls in the signs of Gemini and Sagittarius, and gives us an opportunity to develop our skills at riding the roller-coaster of the Pluto-Uranus square.
An arrow is the symbol for the sign of Sagittarius, and it always makes me think of the pointer of a compass; appropriately enough, because determining which direction to take is something Sagittarius does well. Acquiring, organizing and classifying the information that life presents us with is Gemini’s passion; Sagittarius takes that information and gives it meaning in a larger, social context, so that we can plan for the future — decide which direction we want to go in, and set standards of conduct for getting there. The upcoming lunar eclipse highlights these two opposing signs of Gemini and Sagittarius, making this an excellent time to review the direction you have set for yourself, your expectations for your own behavior and that of others — in other words, to recalibrate your moral compass.
Does that word “moral” make you cringe a bit? It does me. It always makes me think of the “The Moral Majority” of the 70s and 80s, and of sanctimonious attitudes that involve taking — or, more often, telling others to take — the “moral high ground”. Laws and religions that purport to codify “moral behavior” are often used repressively to demonize natural and healthy human behaviors, and to control people through fear. So who needs it? Should we just ditch the whole concept of morality, and depend on instinctive self-interest to direct our actions?
Well, here’s the thing. Even if we wanted to, we can’t. The need to determine and distinguish “right” from “wrong” behavior is built into the human race, and the struggle to modify our behavior to conform to our ideas and our ideals is mythic and inescapable. We structure the world and adapt our behavior according to a personal philosophy of life that is based in childhood experiences, but is continually forming and re-forming. Unfortunately, we tend to burden ourselves with a whole lot of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”, “dos” and “do nots” without looking at them closely, especially when we are young. We internalize these directives until our behavior instinctively reflects them, and then we layer other, often conflicting, beliefs, concepts, laws and regulations on top of the ones that were wrapped around us as we were growing up. Inevitably, many of these ideas clash with each other, and unless we look closely at what is driving our behaviors and reactions, our life -- both inner and outer -- begins to reflect the chaos of a compass that can’t find North because it is surrounded by magnets.
Here's the latest round of translations and commentary from my ongoing examination of the gnomic verses of Hávamál, the Sayings of the High One. While many of the verses deal with the magic of the Norse, many of the lines simply offer sage advice on best behaviour, especially when one travels.
Haldi-t maðr á keri,
drekki þó at hófi mjöð,
mæli þarft eða þegi,
vár þik engi maðr,
at þú gangir snemma at sofa.
nema geðs viti,
etr sér aldrtrega;
oft fær hlægis,
er með horskum kemr,
manni heimskum magi.
Hjarðir þat vitu,
nær þær heim skulu,
ok ganga þá af grasi;
en ósviðr maðr
síns of mál maga.
ok illa skapi
hlær at hvívetna;
hittki hann veit,
er hann vita þyrfti,
at hann er-a vamma vanr.
My Gods Are Not Characters
My religion is not fan-fiction. For some reason this is actually a thing that people are confused by.
There's been some interesting talks about gods, heroes, and superheroes in the blog-o-sphere in the last week or two. This has brought up several topics that I have long been outspoken on in private discussions and dialoging with the colleagues, friends, and family that I engage with ritually, devotionally, and theologically. I have offended a few close to me with my views (though this was not my intention) and I have been misunderstood by some, agreed with by others, and had others merely roll their eyes because they didn't see the issues I was addressing as being as “big” as I was making them out to be. I am going to use the current rise of these topics to jump in – even if a little late to the show, as I've been caught up in other things for what seems like ages and ages – and share my views, because I do find these topics to be very important. The recently discussed worship of fictional super-heroes in either “hero cultus” style or as actual deities is one that I find alarming – both from a theological/devotional perspective and perhaps also a mental-health one. I'm going to be open about that part of my view right in the beginning: I have concerns that the worship of *fictional* characters is a dangerous avenue of engagement for its inherent and fundamental blurring of lines between credible reality (even spiritual, mystic, and transcendent reality!) and intentional fiction....
This has been a busy time for your Village Witch...mostly because she keeps leaving the village and hitting the road.
I've only just returned from the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, TN and am pondering the differences between festivals and conferences, since I was fortunate enough to be included in the Cherry Hill Conference several weeks ago.
All these gatherings. What draws us into these artificial communities? And are they really so artificial?...
Most of my friends and associates think of me as a serious person that is always up to their elbows in projects. I have a very full schedule with teaching workshops, writing, mentoring people within and outside of our tradition, organizing small, medium, and large educational events, and running a metaphysical shop. My days usually start at 5:00 or 5:30 AM and pretty much every hour is accounted for until around 9 PM when my off time begins. On May 4, 2013, my shop Bell, Book, & Candle sponsored an event called “The May Moon Revel”. It involved a live band, belly dancing, readers, book signings, food, drink, amazing costumes, and random merriment. It was a great deal of work and from my perspective well worth the hours required to plan it, and to pull it off. By the way, it just barely, sometimes, breaks even so money is not its motivation. After the event, one of my friends (who did not attend) asked me why I used my time on a frivolous event when I have so many important things already on my docket? Before going further, I'd like to say that I believe that my friends and members of my community do have a right to question my choices. I would actually say that is one of the hallmarks of actually being in functional friendships or communities. So my answer was not “none of your business”, it was “let me tell you why”.
I recently did a reading for a repeat client. "I looked up the cards after I left here the last time I visited you," she said, " and the meanings that you told me were not the meanings I found when I looked up the cards online."
One of the reasons that people go to a reader -- and often pay good money to do so -- is because of the reader's experience. Anyone can get a deck of cards and do the readings themselves from the little white book that comes with the deck. How accurate is that going to be, though? Is the novice experienced enough to be able to intuit what the cards are saying? Is a beginner going to examine all aspects of the messages from the cards, or will they jump to the nearest conclusion and run with it?
When professional reader is doing a psychic reading for a client, that reader is not just repeating parrot fashion what a good author has written about the subject. A good reader will tap into his or her own intuition, and reach out into the cosmos to see how the images on the card apply to the particular situation of the client. There is both skill and experience involved. I know that I for one would rather place my trust in professionals in their field, who had years of experience and a good reputation, rather than a newbie who was still honing their abilities, and I feel this applies to psychic readers, too....
Abu Dhabi police launch drive against witchcraft (Gulf News)
"Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi police are trying to break the spell of sorcerers on ordinary people. The police have launched an awareness campaign called Amman, encouraging people to come forward and report anyone practicing witchcraft or sorcery."
It could be argued that there is no more famous Goddess in modern Paganism than Isis. Her figure -- often winged, with ankh in hand or perhaps an infant Horus, usually crowned by a sun and horns -- is immediately recognizable.
Such was the case in much of the ancient Western world, as well. Known as Au Set or Aset in Egypt, her myths and worship spread across northern Africa, deep into the Middle East, throughout Europe, and as far north as Roman Britain. The memory of her survived even into the Christian Middle Ages. With the (re)birth of Paganism, songs and hymns are once again being raised in her honor; Wiccans, solitary Pagans, Goddess Spiritualists, Kemetics and many others praise her as the Queen of Heaven, the Throne of Creation, the Great Magician, the Mother of Mothers, the Rose of Eternal Life.
Isis was the first non-Greek Goddess to catch my eye. I loved reading stories about her: how she won the Secret Name of Ra, how she mourned her murdered husband, conceived a son, and eventually helped him to win his rightful throne. I found it fascinating that Isis was the personification of the Egyptian throne and that the few women to rule Egypt in their own name (such as Cleopatra VII) closely identified with her....
Many Pagans, especially those with a presence on Facebook, followed with interest the battle being fought earlier this year between well known resource site Wikipedia and the Pagan community. Pagan efforts were lead by a prominent Pagan festival organizer, who saw numerous Wikipedia entries of Pagan notables up for review and deletion (see one article here on the situation). The deletion reviews charged that these Pagan leaders were "not notable enough" and had no secondary sources linked to their pages. Indeed, my own Wikipedia entry was called out for deletion: fortunately I am cited as an expert on Mythology in several journals including that of the American Film Institute, and I have played fiddle on numerous recordings by well known musicians: so my own entry was spared. Other Pagan notables did not fare as well. In fact the entry for Starwood, one of the oldest and most respected Pagan-oriented festivals in North America, was deemed unworthy and was taken down.
One of the leaders who was spearheading the movement to stop Wikipedia from its war on Pagans noticed one particular editor's name appearing again and again in the criticisms of Pagans, an editor calling himself Qworty. The Pagan leader suggested several times that this Qworty had a vendetta against Paganism in general. In fact, Qworty made statements in his criticisms of Pagan pages like these:
- 1) People who promote "witchcraft" are either charlatans or severely mentally ill
- 2) A good number of these Strega folks are Satan worshippers, for whatever that's worth
- 3) The rest of them are a bunch of New Agers who have gone way, way, way over the deep end, spending too much time sucking on water pipes in Santa Cruz and imagining that their deceased Italian forebears are going to drop down out of the sky (or rise up out of Hell) with advice on imagined medical problems, real financial problems, horrible self-created relationship problems, etc [bullet points are part of quote]
When challenged for these statements, Qworty responded:...
Someone asked me the other day whether or not it was acceptable to do magick for personal gain. This is one of those topics that can be hotly debated in Pagan circles. Wiccans sometimes say no, that there is something intrinsically flawed with the idea of using the powers of magick to say, win the lottery. (Hell, if that worked, there’d be a lot more rich Pagans out there.) Traditional Witches often used magick to get what they wanted. So what’s the answer?...
As I see it, there are three pillars of the Kemetic religion(s), in all its (or their) many forms. These pillars are: The gods, the practices, and the concept of ma'at. It is this third, ma'at, that I will be discussing in this particular post.
Ma'at is often translated as Truth, Justice, Good, Order, or Cosmic Order. It is all of those things at once, in a way that can't be adequately conveyed with any one of the above English words or phrases. For the Egyptians, the stability of the cosmos was not a fundamentally different thing from a king ruling justly. They were both manifestations of ma'at, and the lack thereof (an unstable cosmos, an unjust king, with the resulting disorder in the land) would be considered a lack of ma'at, and signs of its opposite, isfet (often translated as "evil" or "disorder".)
The gods are said to live on ma'at as we live on food. I would stretch this bit of theology farther, based on a couple of points:
When a person comes into magic, they often do so largely because they're looking for that magical wand for themselves. Either they're looking for a magical cure for their problems, or they're looking for an explanation why things work out the way they do, and so on. They often don't even give themselves a moment to consider the applications for other people. Even the nicer kinds of people often have this blind spot- they're not being selfish, they're being considerate of meddling in other people's affairs.
Still, I have often said that the true mark of a magician of any sort (be it shaman, sorcerer, witch, etc.) is how they use their powers in aid of another. After all, the first focus of any magician is the mastery of one's self and one's own life. Of course, once one has accomplished that (no easy task, to be sure, but it is the first goal), it should stand to reason that a person would naturally turn their gaze outward towards their surroundings.
In the Marvel Universe (yes, I'm referencing comic books in my magical practice), there are three kinds of true magic- Arcanum Ego, or the magic of one's self and one's own personal "energies"; Arcanum Eco, the magic of one's environment and natural power; and Arcanum Exo, the magic of extraplanar forces and beings. For myself and my own experience, this seemed entirely natural as a system of understanding. My own studies of astrology have taught about the modes of Personal, Interpersonal, and Transpersonal ideology and wisdom- if you haven't learned this yet, the twelve signs are split into four Personal (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and Cancer), four Interpersonal (Leo, Virgo, Libra, and Scorpio), and four Transpersonal signs (Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces)....