Recent experiences have shown me that more and more relationships are being described in terms of customer and vendor, even when that application of the commercial metaphor is terribly inappropriate. Where this problem disturbs me the most is in misunderstandings of magical and religious relationships.
Refractions: Pagan & academic ideas interacting
Using multiple lenses to shed additional light
Please note that all opinions expressed here are Literata's alone and do not reflect the positions of any organization with which she is affiliated.
After I wrote about liminality recently, I have been thinking about change and how we create it in our lives. Affirmations are a magical tool that can be very powerful, but only when constructed well. Using the present progressive tense to craft affirmations puts them in a form that draws on the Element of Fire and makes them much more effective tools for transformation.
“Liminal” is a concept that Pagans and especially Witches use frequently, but it’s not so well known to non-Pagans, at least not by name. A liminal time or space is the transition between one thing and something else. This time of year is an example of liminality in the overculture. How do you experience that? Do you use it for magic?
Regardie, Israel. The Golden Dawn: A Complete Course in Practical Ceremonial Magic. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn. 1986.
I'm going to try something of a new kind of entry for a while: Comments on various works that may be of interest to Pagans, Wiccans, people interested in magic, and more. These comments are intended to introduce a book to a broader audience who may have heard of it but haven't read it. With that in mind, there are several things that these comments are not: They are not scholarly book reviews that attempt to comprehensively address the arguments of the work and all its relationships to the existing literature. Hopefully some of that sort of awareness will be included - so that someone who reads my comments would be better informed without still having read the book itself - but these are going to be briefer and aimed at a nonspecialist audience. For that audience, these comments are still not the kind of book review that tells you whether it's a "good" book or a "bad" book. I may occasionally excoriate a truly abysmal work for the fun of it, in general I want to tell readers who might want to read this book and why, and what readers will find or not find within it. It's up to you to use that information to figure out if it's a good book for you and for your interests and purposes.
I will especially note that Regardie's work is a compendium of a significant portion of the foundations of modern Western magic, and it would take a chapter-length review to do it full justice, so everything I said above about limitations applies to this entry with especial force....
With a movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s popular novel Ender’s Game being released soon, QUILTBAG individuals have spoken out to challenge potential viewers to consider whether they really want to give money to Card, considering the hateful things he has said about QUILTBAG people, and the anti-equality causes he has financially supported. Like many others, I was intrigued by Ender’s Game and its sequels as a teenager, but drifted away from sci-fi and fantasy over the years. I actually first realized that I had problems with the way Card’s approach to religion in a separate book, Pastwatch, reveals an underlying tendency to objectify others. Today, when I look back on that book as a Pagan, I find a disturbing similarity in the fundamental reasoning for the two problems to stem from a single root.
CAUTION: SPOILERS for Pastwatch are ahead.
Desire carries the implicit possibility of change. Relationship requires that possibility to become a reality.
This year was the first time I had the opportunity to leap a (small, thankfully) fire as part of a Beltane ritual. I was surprised by how much it made me feel in my flesh and bones the way that Beltane is about the potential for transformation.
We're all familiar with the idea that Beltane is about desire, of course, but there's a wonderful book called The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World in which author Michael Pollan investigates and meditates on the relationships between humanity and four different plants, each one catering to a different human desire....
I recently saw a unique production of Shakespeare's %The Tempest%. While I was entranced by the amazing performances that fused dance, martial arts, and other kinds of movement to convey the characters' meaning entirely without words, at the end I was frustrated by the way magic - which had been such a pivotal feature throughout - was not just neglected, but deliberately rejected. Since this is a comedy, it ends with a wedding, but more importantly, with the restoration of all the characters to their rightful place in life: the dispossessed aristocrats take up their honors, while the servants who have been playing around are put back to work. At that point, the magician can abandon his book, and with it, his power. But every instinct in my Witch's soul rose up in rebellion, insisting that the role of magic was not to maintain the status quo.
I want to recommend the book The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory as a good example of critical thinking applied to an interesting area of academic study which also has implications for our lives today. Its feminist perspective is a refreshing counter to the still pervasive assumptions about sex and gender which mostly rendered women invisible. Its conclusions - and it offers more questions than conclusions - will not make Goddess worshippers stand up and cheer. But they might give us a better awareness of what we do and don't know about our own past and, what's more, better tools for addressing some issues we're struggling with today.
This post was inspired by reading about the second Pagan Health Survey, and I encourage all readers to go participate!
For me, being Wiccan means that I value the feminine and the metaphysical, two things that have been derided, often on the same terms. The history of healing is an interesting case study in how responding to both does not mean reversing that derision and eliminating what has been valued in the meantime (the masculine and the scientific) but restoring the value of what has been missed, finding balance and ideally integrating them both. This does not depend on me seeing myself as the literal or spiritual descendent of the medieval wise-woman or accused witch; it is an argument about current understanding of the best ways to re-enchant the world. Thus I think that the argument advanced in Ehrenreich and English's pamphlet Witches, Midwives, and Nurses about not throwing out science in order to destabilize patriarchy is equally valid when we look at it from a spiritual perspective.
As we come to the end of the calendar year, it's a good time to reflect on what the year past has held and what we hope for the new year. I found some beautiful composite photographs which combine an entire series of movements into a single image to be a helpful metaphor for gaining perspective on the year.
Isaiah Berlin begins his famous essay The Fox and the Hedgehog by quoting the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Berlin uses this saying to contrast two different intellectual styles: Hedgehogs “relate everything to a single central vision, one system,” while foxes “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory ... seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves.” (Isaiah Berlin, The Fox and the Hedgehog: An essay on Tolstoy’s View of History, (Guernsey: Phoenix, 1992) 3)
In Pagan terms, Berlin’s approach presents an interesting way to think about what we mean by “eclectic,” what it is that we’re contrasting eclecticism with, and the benefits and potential downfalls of both approaches.
After much introspection and discussion with Anne, I'm totally revamping this blog. Refractions is now a space for me to muse on the connections and interactions between ideas I encounter in the broader world of ideas, especially academic works, and Pagan ideas, themes, and practices, playing with the ways each contribute to or change the vision of the other, refracting these ideas through multiple lenses. For this re-inaugural post, I start with a simple observation: my car's GPS has trouble finding the shortest routes through Washington DC. When I started thinking about this in the context of ideas about humans and computers, it turns out that this is a refraction in microcosm of something important Paganism has to say about the macrocosm and our need for the natural world.
I coined a name for my observation: the illogic of straight lines. The programming of my little device seems to be stubbornly convinced that because a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, a straight road must be the fastest path as well. DC abounds with straight roads, thanks to its extensive planning, starting with L'Enfant's plan for the city layout. This physical manifestation of Enlightenment rationality relied on a grid of streets interpenetrated by major diagonal avenues which should, in theory, provide excellent access to any location. My GPS, nicknamed Betty, certainly buys into this theory. Time after time, it will insist on sending me down miles and miles of roads constantly interrupted by streetlights and traffic circles, which make the "expected arrival" times anywhere from laughably optimistic to just wildly inaccurate.
In the case of DC streets, the mismatch between theory and practice creates some alternatives. The theoretical street grid is built on top of a non-manmade landscape which doesn't always go in straight lines. In fact, in nature, truly straight lines are incredibly difficult to find. In some parts of the city, a mostly-level topography with few insurmountable interruptions makes the grid neat and dependable, much like the checkerboard pattern of easily-surveyed lands in the Midwest. In other areas, the environment could be made to accommodate the vision of ruler-wielding surveyors, as testified by former wetlands that now support urban densities. But some things were too much to deal with, especially Rock Creek. Now there's a beautiful parkway which follows the meandering path of the creek, providing drivers with a view of mostly-natural surroundings that seem worlds away from the nearby grids and highrises....
Honoring the feminine divine means trusting women as full moral agents with control over their own bodies. Period.
In the past year's war on women and especially on women's access to reproductive health care, one of the hidden justifications is that women can't be trusted with their own choices, either because they're ignorant or because they're just not capable of making good choices for themselves. Look at forced ultrasound requirements before abortion: the people who make the laws will explain, time and again, that the procedure is for a woman's own good, so that she is "fully informed" before making a momentous decision. It's inside her own body - do you really think she doesn't know what's going on?
Pagans and the flustercluck over Chik-fil-a: Many of the same organizations that are responsible for anti-LGBT hate speech are involved in anti-Pagan propaganda and continue to stoke the fires of potential Satanic Panics. How do Pagans make economic choices in response to this? I advocate boycotts as a magical action in defense of our own rights.
In today's world, humans have become the major factor affecting our own environment - and I don't just mean ecology. Of course we are affecting the environment, causing creeping climate change and dramatic variations in weather. But we also have a huge effect on what's around us in the most mundane sense, the things that we work with and use on an everyday basis, what might be called our technological environment. One of the new things we've introduced to that technological environment is certain types of guns, and they're poisoning us from the inside out.
Let me introduce myself by explaining that title from back to front.
Politics is the art of power: who has it, why, and what they do with it. If you don’t like the word politics, you can try to mentally substitute “social commentary,” since I’m mostly describing and analyzing what I see going on in the world around me, but make no mistake, you cannot remain “above” politics. Power is always in play when people interact.
This isn’t all about government; I think and write about power dynamics involved in experiences of privilege and everyday social situations just as much as about the kind of power that comes from formal governing institutions. Those are situations of power as well. On the other hand, I am going to talk about government and policy and such; I won’t pretend that it is an untouchable topic in reasonable discourse, and I certainly won’t value a veneer of universal agreeability over the honest discussion of challenging situations. These things matter: the old slogan is right, the personal is political, and both parts of that matter....