Saturday, October 29, 2005

A moment of the personal

I was given three days' notice of termination from my job on Thursday. The stated reason is budget cuts, which doesn't surprise me. Changes were in the wind, and the only small surprise to me was how swiftly they affected me so directly.

The fact that I am being removed from the place I've been the last five years during Samhain isn't lost on me. I'd begun stagnating. I'm also someone who has to be pushed into change sometimes. There have been hints and clues that I'm going to do just fine, though. My husband's been out of work for three years and his resume's finally getting more notice. I have one resume in a friend's hands and will be distributing it more widely next week.

In other news, I've been working toward dedicating myself more specifically to Manannán mac Lir. I'm not becoming a henotheist by any stretch of the imagination. I realized I needed a more specific relationship with one of the Celtic gods in order to improve my focus on all of them. The evidence pointed to him as the one to turn to.

I'm also putting myself out in more public rituals. Tomorrow, I'm the Maiden in a Wiccan ceremony dedicated to the Morrigan. In February, I will be assisting with an Umbanda ritual for Pomba Gira (it's public, so it's strictly PG-rated, gang ;>) and a Brighid ritual that I expect to be something of a Wiccan-Celtic fusion. Both of those will be at Pantheacon, an event I look forward to more and more every year. I'm in a phase where I'm checking out multiple approaches to ritual so I can learn more about what I do and don't want to have in my own creations.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Honoring a fallen warrior

Thanks and praise to you, Rosa Parks. Your choices that day in 1955, whatever the motivation, brought about very needed change. May you go to your god and rest well in his presence.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Oppression should not stand

The Free Copts الأقباط الأحرار is blogging the anti-Christian activities of Muslims in Egypt. Any pagans who think we're oppressed in the USA may wish to gain some perspective by contemplating the difference between a Pagan Pride Day rally and some of the events listed here. Say what you will about fundamentalist Christians, but they don't lay siege to our places of worship and attack our clergy en masse.

I don't know if they'd accept our prayers as pagans, but I think it only right we take a moment and reflect on their situation. It must not happen here. It should not happen anywhere.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Stop being on my side

Ah, Halloween. The time of year when we the pagan metacommunity get to be paraded in front of the rest of America so they can see whether we're still wearing the same old bling. Time to count how often Satanism is brought up. And, maybe, just maybe, an opportunity to enlighten a few people about what we are as opposed to what we aren't.

The people who get contacted for interviews are getting better and better at it, as you can see in this cross-section. Overall, it looks good, even if I keep seeing such people make blanket statements about Christianity that fall apart on contact with reality. For one, I defy anyone to tell me that ecstatic Christians don't get hands-on with their god. The biggest difference between being touched by the Holy Spirit at a revival meeting and drawing down the moon is force of numbers and who qualifies to do it. Speaking from ignorance of the primary mainstream faith doesn't help our cause too much. But I admit it could be worse. We could be watching the media talk to the sort of pagan who thinks it's possible to redirect a hurricane with candles and good thoughts.

Christianity isn't immune to that sort of belief. Pat Robertson claimed to have rerouted a hurricane through prayer. And most people thought he was nuts. Including some pagans. But I highly doubt there is no overlap between the people who gainsaid Robertson but think asking the universe to dissipate Hurricane Wilma is a keen idea. And from where I sit, the rank-and-file don't see a difference between them. They're both claiming enough hubris to be able to exert long-distance control over a force of nature just becaues they're on the side of the righteous. Said force of nature was set in place by the gods and forces they're calling upon. So this means they're both trying to tell the gun to not send the bullet out of the chamber when the trigger is pulled. And anyone with a passing understanding of the laws of cause and effect knows a bad argument when they see one.

I am not saying magic or prayer don't work. The plural of anecdote may not be data, but I've seen too many events that beggar coincidence. And those events are far more localized from what I've seen. If you know someone in the path of a hurricane, focusing on asking that their house be spared is more likely to work. If you must play with the weather, the "Rain, rain, go away" chant actually has sense in its childishness. "Not now, but later" is safer than "stop it and don't come back" when you work with elemental forces. May as well try to get a tractor-trailer to jump a ravine.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Why matters

One of the reasons I protest the notion that religion automatically leads to societal problems, as posited in the Times of London a few days ago, is that I have seen spiritual practices work on the individual level to spare people from a great deal of personal dysfunction. By my logic, a group of healthy thinkers organized in a society will not have as many problems as one composed of people with more pathological mindsets. And if religion can help people be more sane, its presence in a society will not automatically lead to problems the same way burning coal leads to air pollution. I’m obviously not the first person to feel this way. And an article in the Guardian points out that how one approaches religion may be the big difference between healthy and unhealthy practices.

The article discusses Robert Winston’s latest book, The Story of God. Within it, he discusses the genetic tendency toward faith and morality (noting that the two are not intrinsically linked) and how people have approached those questions over time. The commentary on Gordon Allport’s research back in the 1950s within it gets to the core of my beliefs on this issue. Allport saw two sorts of religiosity in standard practice: intrinsic and extrinsic. The intrinsically religious see their faith as an end in itself. Practicing their beliefs is a central and personal experience that informs how they conduct their lives. The extrinsically religious, however, see religion as a means to an end. They practice because they think it is the right thing to do in order to fit in or advance socially. Allport’s research found that the intrinsically religious were more prone to be well-adjusted. The extrinsically religious were more prejudiced and in a higher state of emotional stress overall.

Follow that with the study performed by the University of Michigan some years ago on ecstatic Christians (old-school fundamentalists and snake-handlers) vs. mainstream Protestants. I turn to the article’s wording to explain it further:
After further analysis, however, there appeared a tendency to what can only be described as mental instability in one particular group. The study was blinded, so that most of the research team involved with questionnaires did not have access to the final data. When they were asked which group they thought would show the most disturbed psychopathology, the whole team identified the snake-handlers. But when the data were revealed, the reverse was true: there was more mental illness among the conventional Protestant churchgoers - the "extrinsically" religious - than among the fervently committed.
It seems clear to me that the extrinsically religious are setting the tone of the dialogue for spiritual expression in public these days. The intrinsically religious would be, I think, far less prone to insist on adding their god’s name to a patriotic pledge and insisting it be recited by people who worship elsewise. They certainly wouldn’t want their central tenets carved into marble and placed in a secular building. That would make it too impersonal as well as imposing on the personal beliefs of others.

That leaves me with two thoughts. First, people shouldn’t blame religion when it’s the motivations behind its practice that make the difference. Second, attempts to appeal to the extrinsically religious from an intrinsic position may need to consider how they are motivated by social pressure. Is it possible for us to encourage a society that looks down on enforced conformity without turning that into the new oppression? I can’t answer that myself. But it needs to be asked, I think, in many places.

Monday, October 10, 2005


I've seen one too many rants about various habits of modern reconstructionist pagans (pick one, there are dozens to choose from) that boil down to, "If it's not attested in the lore, you're a bad pagan for doing it." Maybe it's because I'm working in a tradition where I know we didn't get all of our details written down and had much of what was transcribed hopelessly altered, but that argument annoys the living daylights out of me. Why? Simply put, the lore is fallible.

Those of us on reconstructionist paths are participants in interrupted or modified traditions transcribed by imperfect beings with their own agendas. None of us approach them as tabulae rasa, either. Also, it's the rare modern pagan who's a participant in the descendant of the culture in which the lore arose. Those themselves have changed despite all attempts within the culture to the contrary. And during the life of that culture before whatever break occurred, the lore itself changed. If it didn't, we'd all still be consulting tribal shamans to figure out which spirit to appease to cure our migraines.

The fact our ancestors of blood and spirit changed with their times, however willingly, tells me that if we don't admit the lore isn't the end-all and be-all of what we do, we're failing as inheritors. It's not right to declare our modern inspiration or language usage to be identical to what they did. But it's also not right to insist we restrict ourselves to some fantastic concept of static, unchanging belief they themselves didn't follow. Within Celtic tradition, there is lingering evidence of gods rising and falling in popularity. We know the Germanic pagans altered their approach to Wodan when exposed to the Danubian Celts' worship of Lugus. And how much more so would the gods and traditions of our ancestors shift and change with the technological and theological innovations in the intervening centuries? We can't even begin to guess. But change they would.

I fail to understand why some pagans want to treat their written lore as being the perfect transmission while laughing at the Christians who think their lore is equally inviolate. It's just as ridiculous to claim Snorri transcribed a perfect record of how all Norsemen practiced their beliefs as it is for Christians to claim the Earth was created in six days. The lore is a base, not a stopping point. Using it as a means of bashing people who speak in a way you find inappropriate is fundamentalist thinking. If someone else's modern approach is labeled as such, as my late grandmother would say, kwitcherbitchin'. Nobody's forcing you to join in on it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Toward Better Pagan Books

Jason Pitzl-Waters has been contemplating the state of the pagan book market in the wake of commentary by Phyllis Curott. She attempts to blame the right-wing fundamentalist insurgency for slacking sales. Others blame the economy, Curott's own writing skills, and a tendency by many publishers to sell bad or simply grossly mislabeled books. I fall into that last category.

Let me explain the labeling accusation before moving on. As a Celtic pagan, I find that a majority of the books on the shelves claiming to be Celtic spirituality just plain aren't, at least not as I understand it. I'm told by these booksellers that Wicca, Feri, Arthurian fantasy, and offshoots of 18th-century mystical orders are Celtic paths. From where I sit, none of these demonstrate more than a passing familiarity with what we know of Celtic beliefs and traditions. On the rare occasion that someone has approached Celtic reconstructionism in a book, it's either wound up on a very small imprint or we get insulted in its pages. So for me, it's not so much a matter of whether I can buy the books as whether books about my faith even exist. I've become intimately familiar with ABEBooks and have gotten back in touch with my higher vocabulary skills as I plow through scholarly texts and write my own book in my head.

So, what do I want out of pagan publishers? Let's start at the beginning, with editorial integrity. If the author can't document it, publishers shouldn't let them claim it's something it's not. There should be no shame in admitting something is a synthesis of research and inspiration. It should be OK for the author to admit they thought up something while looking at the stars one night and found it worked. All traditions start somewhere. And age has nothing to do with acceptability in the eyes of the US government, if certification as a religious organization is a concern (as someone commented it would be to me once a while back). They're hard on anyone who starts a non-profit, especially one claiming a religious exemption. The number of frauds who've come along over time under that umbrella have burned them badly.

I agree with Pitzl-Waters' beliefs about what would be good to see coming out under pagan imprints, such as history, theology and issue-based writing. While I don't believe that all pagans should hold to identical politics, getting a pagan perspective on various issues would be a refreshing change from "become a Celtic shaman" books. More books that admit Wicca isn't the be-all and end-all of paganism would be a good idea. And alongside biographies of our bigger names, critiques of their work appearing on bookstore shelves might also be worthy endeavors. Nobody is or should be treated as untouchable. It's the sign of a mature tradition if it can look at its founders and admit their failings. It would demonstrate to newcomers that we're not all of one mind about someone.

I don't feel as if I pay enough attention to the pagan section of the bookstores to say much more than this. As previously noted, my book-buying focuses more on scholarly treatises with enough footnotes to choke a dissertation board. But I'd buy more from the "New Age" range if it touched on what I do. There's only so much I can do with Mara Freeman's texts before I retreat to Barry Raftery for a sense of realism.