Refractions: Pagan & academic ideas interacting

Using multiple lenses to shed additional light

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Literata

Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation on the history of magic with the support of her husband and four cats.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Editor B
    Editor B says #
    True wisdom here. Thanks for this.

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