Friday, July 18, 2014

A Strange Week

You know it’s a strange week when you look for comfort by sitting outside on a pristine day, and you start counting your blessings only to have a bug fly up your nostril. On the good(?) side of that, I now know what it smells like for a bug to have possibly defecated, and certainly have died in one’s own nose. It smells slightly of earth and strongly of ammonia--think of a combination of dirt and Windex in a nasal spray. The scent itself has a physical mild burning sensation, beyond the unpleasant scent, and beyond the sensation of insect legs desperately moving to attempt escape as I desperately tried to help it escape.

Now you know these things too and I have passed this knowledge on to you so that you don’t have to experience it firsthand. Unless of course you just want to or chance offers you that opportunity. Allow me to recap: counting my blessings and a bug dies in my nose—oh the timing. It is said that the difference between comedy and tragedy is timing. It was at about that time yesterday that I finally declared to myself, “Well, it’s five o’clock somewhere. Bring on the mint juleps. Plural,” even though I’m usually more of a tea-and-bikkies kind of person, but having a bug dye in one's nose kind of changes the tone for the day and for what one usually does. If that’s as bad as it gets, then maybe I can still count the dubious event as an odd sort of blessing in and of itself. Somehow. I’m still working on that… Hey, maybe it got you to laugh. That's a blessing.

The highlights of my week have involved seeing the crew from MST3K riff on a bad B-movie involving sharks, tornadoes, and impossible homemade explosives, and then later my having picked up a comb which probably carries a bean sidhe death curse on it. I ponder these things as I recall the lightly sarcastic, yet charming words of Abe Sapien as he’s about to descend into the watery bowels of the city, from the movie version of Hellboy: “We lead a charmed life.”

Alas, I missed out on the first-ever Polytheist Leadership Conference held in Fishkill, New York last weekend. I would have loved to have attended the conference and met some of y’all first hand and face to face, but my situation was not such that I could this year. I am warmed by the good news I've heard about it. I have heard it was a wonderful event—deities and ancestors were honored, connections were made, foundations were laid, vital intelligent lectures and necessary thoughtful discourse occurred, and valuable links got forged that will aid us all in moving ahead with honoring our many deities and our ancestors, and restoring their ways. I truly hope to make the conference next year and I am looking forward to it.

In addition to benostriled dead bugs, filmed faux explosive shark-tornadoes, cursed combs, and missed conferences, I am delighted to announce a new project spearheaded by a colleague, Anomalous Thracian. He, several colleagues, impressively talented and inspired people, various and assorted cheerful elves, flying green monkeys, and minions of doom are starting up a new site which will prove invaluable to polytheists and polytheist communities. Incidentally, it’s called Polytheist.com. I am further pleased to announce that I will be writing there, nestled amidst a star-studded earth-kissed cast of laypersons, shamans, priests, theologians, wyrdsmiths, wordsmiths, philosophers, poets, seekers and scholars, devotees, dreamers, and doers. Seriously. I've seen the list of people the Thracian has lined up to write for this website, and it reads like a celebrity Who’s-Who Among Polytheists. As to how I miraculously ended up rubbing virtual elbows with this marvelous A-list of polytheists, maybe I drew the short straw, or the long straw, or volunteered, or got drafted, or likely somehow a bit of all of the above, but I consider it a great honor to be of service to the gods and the ancestors, and hopefully of further aid to you, dear reader. I have absolutely no idea yet what to write—ideas, anyone?

It is long nigh time that polytheists had such a resource to draw on. This website cradles hope—hope for our deities, hope for our ancestors, hope for restoring the ancient ways. It is no arcane secret that our ancient ways have suffered devastation, and our relations with our deities and ancestors have been ruptured. This is an opportunity for us to repair and nurture these ancient ways, to rebuild them, and to ensure their endurance. This website gives this hope a form and an opportunity. It is no light undertaking to midwife hope, and it takes all of our hands to make it successful. I invite you to join the community and conversations soon-to-take-place there.



Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ode by John Keats

Bards of Passion and of Mirth,
Ye have left your souls on earth!
Have ye souls in heaven, too, 
Double-lived in regions new?
Yes, and those of heaven commune
With spheres of sun and moon;
With the noise of fountains wondrous,
And the parle of voices thund’rous;
With the whisper of heaven’s trees
And one another in soft ease
Seated on Elysian lawns
Browsed by none but Dian’s fauns;
Underneath large blue-bells tented,
Where the daisies are rose-scented,
And the rose herself has got
Perfume which on the earth is not;
Where the nightingale doth sing
Not a senseless, trancéd thing,
But divine melodious truth;
Philosophic numbers smooth;
Tales and golden histories
Of heaven and its mysteries.

Thus ye live on high, and then 
On the earth ye live again;
And the souls ye left behind you
Teach us, here, the way to find you,
Where your other souls are joying,
Never slumbered, never cloying.
Here, your earth-born souls still speak
To mortals, of their little week;
Of their sorrows and delights;
Of their passions and their spites; 
Of their glory and their shame; 
What doth strengthen and what doth maim.
Thus ye teach us every day,
Wisdom, though fled far away.

Bards of Passion and of Mirth;
Ye have left your souls on earth!
Ye have souls in heaven too,
Double-lived in regions new!


I rediscovered this aged pearl written by John Keats. It brought me to reflect on the ancestors, how they continue and endure, and how they guide us through their works.  In their honor, I share it here. Enjoy.

Poem credits: Poem by John Keats, public domain due to age.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Circles: A Look at An Article about Distrusting the Deities

I spent some time and a couple cups of tea reading over a different author’s recent post about Why [He] Doesn’t Trust the Gods. The author in question refers to himself as a Jungian Neo-Pagan and defines deities as “real, independent semi-conscious archetypes.” Jung, father and progenitor of theories about archetypes says: “In the individual, the archetypes appear as involuntary manifestations of unconscious processes whose existence and meaning can only be inferred…” (p. 153, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by C.G. Jung) Jung held that a person would inherit the forms of archetypes from humanity much like one inherits one’s genes from one’s genetic predecessors. Thus archetypes are both outside the self, as well as inside and an intrinsic part of the self. (Archetypes are not gods, but for the sake of looking at this argument further, I will refer to them as “gods” because the argument itself often focuses on “gods” being defined as archetypes.)

The whole argument in the article is about how a person cannot trust the “gods” and the “gods” may not be trustworthy. The argument spends a great deal of pixels on a matter of what the author may be going through as a part of self-exploration (which potentially could be a beneficial and useful thing!), but the article is also a persuasive piece to convince others to distrust the “gods” or to consider distrusting the “gods,” or at the very least to reconsider the “gods’ trustworthiness.” So, according to the article and the arguments therein, the “gods” are not trustworthy.

After exploring the untrustworthiness of the “gods,” the article then holds up the experts (experts, priests, shamans, and so on) and even a few “experts” who may not really be experts, as also untrustworthy. The author dismisses the experts, and he dismisses the ones who may or may not be experts altogether and wholesale, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. So now, not only are the “gods” untrustworthy, the experts are also not trustworthy. There's a  Ralph Waldo Emerson quote used as a (better?) expert’s opinion on polytheism and the gods. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a poet, philosopher, and a Transcendentalist, but he was no expert on polytheism or the gods. The article seeks to destroy the notion of experts in polytheism and then substitutes polytheistic expertise with a quote from a well-known poet who is not a polytheist. The quote sounds nice, and it has a ring of “truthiness,” but its usefulness and pertinence here is highly suspect. It would be inappropriate to consult a poet writing about electricity in place of an electricians’ advice no matter how thought-provoking the writing is or how well-known and time-tested the poet. Using an Emerson quote here, a name with history and a person esteemed for thoughtfulness only adds false credence and false significance to the argument…and distracts from the author’s original premise about trusting or distrusting gods or “gods”.

Next in line is humanity. Although the article does not discuss whether or not humanity is trustworthy, it is prudent to consider that if the experts themselves are not trustworthy, then humanity and popular opinion are also suspect. If an expert cannot be trusted, then Joe, Jane, or Jamie-on-the-street and their knowledge about the “gods” or gods cannot be trustworthy, either. (Consider that the author is also not an expert on polytheism, or the gods, and thus his opinion on these grounds is also excusable by intention of his own argument. If he cannot stick with a definition as to who his “gods” are, see below, then he is clearly not an expert.)

So. The “gods” are not trustworthy (in the article). Neither expert opinions nor popular opinions about the “gods” can be trusted either (as per the article and logical deduction). The self is all that remains which can be potentially trustworthy. But there’s a problem with this. Go back and look at the information in the first paragraph here about the “gods” as archetypes. Archetypes are both outside of oneself…and also intrinsically part of oneself. If one cannot trust the “gods” and the “gods” are part of oneself, one can also not trust one’s own self.

The author of the article does not trust his own “gods” and because of this logic, it follows that he can also not trust “himself.” Although interesting, the argument is not particularly useful since it twists and turns in on itself. I would presume that the author of the article is at least in part the gatekeeper of his own mind and its subconscious ebb and flow; and as a healthy adult of sound mind, is therefore at least partially responsible what goes on in the self, conscious mind, and subconscious mind. He would then be ultimately responsible, at least in part, for how his “gods” (remember, he defines “gods” as archetypes) act in him, with him, and through him—therefore consent, in this specific context of what goes on in and of one's own mind, is not an issue. This author may very well distrust his own subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is tricky business and we would all do well to tread carefully in that uncharted ground. However, if the author distances himself wholesale from his “gods” (remember: he defines them as archetypes) and a part of himself through which those archetypes appear, he is sabotaging his own process of self-actualization, a process for becoming whole with oneself which Jung, the father of archetypal theory, advocates as vital process.

If in this context of his argument the “gods” or gods the author refers to are not archetypes (and therefore not his “gods”), then whose gods is he distrusting, and why would he bother since they are not his “gods” anyway? For what reason is the article trying to persuade others to do likewise and distrust these gods and/or experts on these gods? What is the motivation for convincing others to distrust gods whom oneself does not personally accept as real? Or does he somehow actually believe in them and hasn’t come to terms with this yet…? Or does he not mean “distrust” at all and has confused it with and mistaken it for “approach with caution”—something I myself would support for gods, for archetypes, and for forces of nature. It appears that the author may (accidentally?) acknowledge that there are gods who are outside, independent, sentient beings of their own. If this is an (inadvertent?) acknowledgment that gods are gods, and that he distrusts these gods, then this whole article ends up looking like an attack on these gods, and their experts and priests.

An article meant for this kind of attack and persuasion does not demonstrate the respect for others and others’ religions that this author may want to portray. Maybe the arguer truly believes in his heart of hearts that he is being respectful, but his belief that this is respectful doesn’t make it respectful. Or maybe this is a veneer, the mere appearance of respect without the substance of respect. (For those who watch South Park, you may remember the episode in the seventh season where Cartman wants to go to Kyle’s birthday party at Casa Bonita. Cartman shows up at Kyle’s door wearing a nice sweater: Cartman either has convinced himself that wearing a nice sweater is actually the same as being nice, or Cartman is trying to convince Kyle that because he wears a nice sweater that he is actually nice, or a little of both. Kyle calls Cartman on his scheme, telling Cartman that wearing a nice sweater is not the same as actually being nice.)

Furthermore, in this article, the author constantly shifts between the definition of the “gods” as archetypes, switching off with a definition as the “gods” being natural forces or a part of natural forces. The author tackles a long section about his not trusting nature or natural forces because of nature’s capriciousness. Despite nature’s capriciousness, the sun still rises daily, the tides still flow with regularity, and gravity continues to act as it has since before humanity walked on two legs. Switching between definitions of “gods” from archetypes to natural forces for the sake of convenience and for the sake of an argument may be helpful for rhetoric, but it is not useful in a logical, clear argument. If he is switching between definitions of who and what his “gods” are, it looks as though he hasn’t yet figured out what is going on in his working relationships and/or dysfunctional relationships with them. Therefore he is no expert on relating to them, and consequently in no place to persuade others to trust or to distrust either “gods” or gods.

There are a few questionable questions asked in that article as well; I will tackle one here briefly. The question asked is “Why bow down to power, if it is not paired with virtue?” It makes for pretty rhetoric. Really, who can argue with that question? And this is the point—no one can argue with that question; it is set up to make the answering party fail. It’s the old “Have you stopped beating your spouse yet?”* question—either way it is answered, the answerer ends up committing to premises he doesn’t have but that the question forces on him. Whether or not the author intended the question to be nasty, it ends up being nasty: it is a question fit for dirty politics. “Bowing down” is a phrase that has become loaded over the years and is intended to belittle and degrade what once was known as an act of respect. (It vaguely reminds me from a quote from the movie The Princess Bride: “So bow down to her if you want, bow to her. Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence. Boo! Boo!”) At least any Queen of Filth would be more honest and more clean than a manipulative question hiding in a veneer of "respect" and..."virtue."

Besides, power’s opposite is powerlessness. Virtue’s opposite is vice. By pairing the two against each other, power and virtue, one is making a false comparison which champions the one (here: “virtue”) against an “enemy,” (here: “power”) which is not really an enemy or an opposite. It is a false dichotomy, a forced dichotomy, on many levels. The question is built on many premises which another arguer may or may not accept all of—premises such as power is evil and corrupt, power must be paired with virtue, that one “really” genuflects to power-the-force and not a deity, that power and virtue cannot coexist in one being or Being, if a deity carries more power than virtue that deity must therefore be inherently evil, if one honors a deity that carries a lot of power one bows to power and thus bows to evil or corruption, and so on.

By forcing this false dichotomy, it actually takes the author further away from Jung, who advised that one should resolve opposites—such as vice versus virtue and power versus powerlessness within oneself for the sake of the self and wholeness. In the argument itself, this question shifts the original premise of the author’s argument from how he does not trust the ‘gods’ (with the subtext that you shouldn’t trust them either), to a “good versus evil” debate, which isn’t the same question, argument, or dialogue. Instead, a person who takes a stand other than the author’s stand would end up arguing, badly based on premises he hasn't accepted and doesn't carry, this major distraction instead of staying with the original argument about trust and the gods.

At any rate, distrusting the deities because they might do you wrong is like refusing to be in potentially loving, healthy relationships because of the tales of heartache and family-splitting you’ve heard about or have experienced. This is an argument based on negative consequences which haven’t and may not even happen in one’s own life in one’s own relationships with the deities. To base a choice in refusing a relationship with a deity, any deity, or all deities for these reasons is to base a decision on fear. And for others who have read the article and have taken its arguments to heart, they could be deciding to avoid relationships with the deities based on someone else’s fear of something that may not be imminent or imminently happening. Making a decision based on someone else’s phantom fear is not all that useful.

In the end, the author finishes with a large caveat or disclaimer meant to put the entire article and its argument into the realm of the relativistic. This takes everything that is said in the argument and gives it the appearance of a personal a belief held “by him." By using this caveat of relativism somehow the argument is made to look as though that belief is not being “forced onto” anyone. The argument may not be technically forced onto anyone, but it uses emotional manipulation, stilted rhetoric, and other problematic devices, which might blindside a casual reader. It also makes the argument unavailable for being questioned because beliefs are personal and it is supposedly rude and mean-spirited to question someone else’s personal belief in this culture right now…even if that belief is something like “It snows frequently in the Sahara. I believe this. It is my Truth!” And we’re back to this article looking like a persuasive piece meant to cause people to distrust the gods or the “gods,” which is at its core disrespectful to the gods, disrespectful to many religions, and potentially even an attack against the gods (and their experts, and their people).

To recap: If you choose not to trust the deities, that’s up to you. Just do it for good thought-out reasons, or experience, or expert advice, or any combination of these. It may be prudent to reconsider making a decision when it is based on conveniently shifting definitions, cagey questions, appeals to emotion and popular opinion, argument from negative consequence, circular logic, quotes lacking appropriate context and/or pertinence, lack of experience with gods, questionable or unexamined motives, and someone else’s fears.

I will close with a quote that is at least as pertinent and “truthy”:
“Who is the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”
This quote comes from a fictional character, Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars movies. Obi-Wan Kenobi never lived, never died, never existed beyond the imagination, Sir Alec Guinness’s memorable portrayal, and the silver screen. But since Obi-Wan Kenobi is born of and out of archetypes and allows an archetype momentarily to fill a form, that of a “wise old man”—if it is indeed possible for an archetype to manifest for a moment in a form—he is as good an expert on Archetypal Neo-Paganism as Ralph Waldo Emerson is on polytheism.



*“Have you stopped beating your spouse yet?” The question forces you into one of two answers, yes or no. The question makes you commit to the premise that you have at one time beat your spouse. If you answer “no” to the question, it means “you are still beating your spouse,” while if you answer “yes” to the question, it means “you did beat your spouse at one point in time and have since stopped.” Either way, it’s designed to make the answerer fail.



Monday, June 16, 2014

We Are Not All One. And It Is OK.

[6/16/14: It was about a year ago that relations between the Pagan movement and devotional polytheists had a large schism. I first wrote this post for the PaganSquare blog on the Witches and Pagans website. Much has changed since then. I reprint this post here in honor and in memory of these changes, as the devotional polytheist movement(s) continue to grow into their own.]


The recent arguments of archetypes or superheroes as deities is a factor of why I don’t consider myself Pagan anymore and haven’t for a couple of years.  The debate is a symptom of a wider divergence in core beliefs between historic-rooted polytheistic religions and mainstream neo-romantic Paganism.

The two core philosophies cannot be resolved and the less time we spend trying to convince each other that our side is right, the more time we can spend constructively and peacefully on interfaith efforts. I use that word “interfaith” with great intention. We’re not the same religions. We’re not even in the same category of religions. And that’s ok. Respecting our differences is important because this respect does not come from trying to make the differences into similarities. Respecting differences doesn’t mean homogenizing diversity.

And let’s face it—there are some T. Rex-sized gaping differences between mainstream neo-romantic Paganism and historic-rooted polytheistic religions.

Neo-romanticist Pagans who believe that the self is the core of spirituality and who rely on the ideas of Jung, Freud, Frazer, and Campbell are often going to feel picked on when they believe that someone has told them that they’re wrong—especially when they believe that an individual person cannot be “wrong” about spirituality. And it’s likely that they’ll think that the other person is so clinched in dogma that he/she just doesn’t understand what real spirituality is. Likewise a person who adheres to a historic-rooted polytheistic religion (not a spirituality, but a religion) is generally going to believe that worshiping archetypes or comic book superheroes is blasphemous. There’s very little middle ground for discussion in a victimization/anti-dogma versus sacrilege situation, and the situation is exacerbated by the idea that we’re somehow all part of the same category of religion called Paganism.

When we try sticking ourselves in the same category, we will continue to have arguments like this because we just see religion from two very different basic premises. From a position of separateness, it is easier to be respectful of the others’ beliefs, and folks feel less like we’re trying to define each others’ beliefs. We can say at the end of the day, “I don’t agree with you, but I appreciate you.”

If we make peace with that separateness, then there’s no argument here and no need for one. This argument looks a lot like Christians and Hindus trying to convince each other that they’re more right. Yes, mainstream Paganism such that it is right now with neo-romantic tendencies and a strong eclectic Wiccan influence is as different to the historic-rooted polytheistic religions as Christianity is to Hinduism.

How different can different be? Skim over this list for an overview of differences between Natib Qadish (a historic-rooted polytheistic religion) and mainstream neo-romantic Paganism:

Natib Qadish is not “earth-centered.” We are deity-centered first, community centered next, and nature respecting thirdly. We’re urban, civilization, and technology-friendly. We don’t worship the earth or the “earth mother.”
Deities are separate, individual, living beings worthy of my deepest respect. I bow to honor my deities.
Our religion is not one of monism or dualtheism, it is one of polytheism. The deities are not facets of one divine force, nor are they representations of a cosmic male/female duality. And they really are not archetypes. We also don’t believe that the deities are just constructs of the human mind.
The Shanatu Qadishtu, our sacred calendar has different holidays and a Mediterranean seasonal cycle. This means that we do not celebrate Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, or Mabon. The Canaanite seasonal cycle has a hot, dry season and a wet season with a little transition between the two, and two growing cycles for grain and fruit.
My religion is not Indo-European but Afro-Asiatic. We’re not a Western European-based religion, even if the ancient form of our religion influenced Judaism and Christianity, which in turn strongly influenced Western Europe.
We don’t practice witchcraft and we eschew the word “witch.”
We don’t work with “energy.” We work with the napshu, a concept of the soul.
We generally don’t cast circles, use sage, or see the body in the Indian chakra system.  We will use myrrh for cleansing. We do have sacred spaces. As for body wisdom, the heart represents the mind, the liver represents emotions, the knees represent blessing, the hands represent protection or blessing, the eyes can send blessings or curses, and the head represents honor.
We don’t practice the Law of Three or the Harm None adages. But we have a concept of “sin.”
We make offerings to our deities. Often those offerings include meat, but not pork.
We can rely on divination devices more in keeping with Canaanite symbolism: dream interpretation (without Jungian concepts), casting lots, using the Phoenician letters, and scrying. You wouldn’t go to a babalawo for a tarot reading, so please don’t expect one from me.
Our religious language, our religious symbolism is different because it is built on a different culture
I cover my head in respect of the deities all of the time. Most of us cover at least during sacred events.
My altar is in a temple and I use it only for offerings to the deities, not as a place of personal reflection and shiny tchotchkes. I have a less formal shrine that does not have the same restrictions--and *yes* I have tchotchkes on my shrine. That bird in the upper left? That's my own tchotchke. A shrine is not the same as an altar and an altar is not a shrine. Most of us have shrines.
The ancient Canaanites were selectively eclectic, sometimes honoring deities from neighboring cultures in a Canaanite way. Even as that is, we’re careful of what we do in a religious setting.
Other historic-rooted polytheistic religions will have their own sets of differences from mine, and from mainstream neo-romantic Paganism.

Wicca is fine. Neo-romanticism is fine. Paganism is fine. Having a spirituality instead of religion is fine. For the folks who want to believe in archetypes as deities, if that’s what y'all believe, that’s fine even if I think it is atheism. I will usually respect different beliefs even when I strongly disagree; even if I think you’re wrong, and even if you think I’m wrong. But I have my limits. Whether another person believes my limits are frailties while another believes they are strengths, it matters not; I have them anyway. I once heard an adage “don’t let your mind be so open your brains fall out,” and I take that seriously.

For the folks who want to worship comic book characters, go ahead if you really believe that, but please don’t expect me to take your spirituality seriously, and please don’t expect me to want to belong to the same religious “umbrella” category that accepts this.  For the record, I also have serious doubts about “otherkin.” I don’t believe in a matriarchal past. Cthulhu doesn’t exist. Aliens didn’t build the pyramids or Stonehenge. Everyone has boundaries, even in matters of belief and religion. It doesn’t mean I hate you.

We are not all One, and it’s ok.



Today is

18 Ugaru, Shanatu 85  [May 27, 2013]

The month name [Ugaru] here is a reconstruction; "Ugaru" means "field." It is the 85th year since the rediscovery of the Canaanite city-state of Ugarit, the place from which was found a large portion of our primary texts which detail ritual, ritual structure, and epics about the deities. It has been 18 days since the last new moon. The past full moon the day before yesterday was a holiday, the 'Ashuru Liyati, the Festival of Garlands in the Shanatu Qadishtu (Festival Year/yearly holiday cycle).

Image Credits

Photo is by Crayonsman and is used under GNU Free Documentation License.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rare Gem

I've been seeing this meme going around: "Kindness. It doesn't cost a thing. Sprinkle it everywhere!" 

Kindness is a good thing to spread, but it does cost. Sometimes it costs dearly. To say it doesn’t cost “a thing” is to blue-light special something as precious as platinum, and is to misunderstand the true value, the true depth, the true cost of kindness. To see kindness as not costing anything is to potentially use someone badly who is being kind. 

Kindness is not the same thing as pasting on a bland smile on and being "nice" or being polite. Kindness is not quite the same thing as being a good citizen or being useful to the community.

Kindness can cost the painful effort to treat another with compassion when you're having a rotten day. It can cost donations to charity. It can cost the shirt off your back. It can take a toll on your body and emotions when you're caring for an elder with Alzheimer's. Kindness costs the teacher who isn’t allotted money for resources and who delves into her own pocket to make sure kids get the things they need. Kindness costs comfort when you knock on the door of an unfamiliar and/or cranky neighbor to check on them during a power outage. Kindness costs time spent with someone who needs you. Kindness is time spent in prayer or making offerings on behalf of people who may never know.  Sometimes kindness costs great personal sacrifice at the expense of someone’s life. Somewhere along the line, no matter how small a kindness may appear on the surface, it may well have cost the giver everything he had

Kindness is done without strings attached, without a quid pro quo mentality, without desire to get "brownie points," not because it feels good, not because one feels guilty about something, or not because a person wants emotional leverage on someone else at some point in time (it's called "using guilt to get what you want"). Very few people are actually kind enough to give actual kindness, and very few people are truly honest with themselves and their motivations for doing what they would consider acts of kindness. Doing helpful things with strings attached, with a quid pro quo mentality, with a want to be paid back at some point, because you feel guilty about something, with a desire to earn "brownie points", or because it feels good--these have their place, but in many of these situations, this is called being a good citizen and being useful to community. There's nothing wrong with these, so long as one is honest with oneself (and preferably others as well) when one engages in these. It's different from actual kindness. 

It takes an extraordinary person to offer kindness continually when beaten down by the trials, disappointments, pain, and hardship in life, and to do so from a point of clean and honest motives. It takes an extraordinary person to offer kindness when it costs so dearly.

Let’s face it. Kindness costs. Kindness costs money, effort, emotion, time, resources, comfort, and self-honesty. Kindness is expensive. When you think of it cheaply, you discount how precious it truly is. You discount your own resources when you offer kindness, and you underestimate, disrespect, and discount the efforts and resources of someone who offers you kindness. When someone offers you kindness, treat it for the precious, rare gem it is.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Religion Like Sex...

Religion, like sex, better when it's real.

The movie Demolition Man tells the tale of John Spartan, a man who had been cryogenically frozen then thawed several decades in the future so that he may resume his job as a cop. He finds out that "all things bad for you" are now "bad" and therefore against the law: tobacco, alcohol, eating meat, eating chocolate, and using foul language. In this particular scene, he is with his cop partner Lenina Huxley. Aroused by the minor violence she's witnessed in a place and time where violence is mostly unknown, Lenina asks John Spartan if he would have sex with her. He is surprised, but agrees.


She retrieves two virtual reality helmets and places one on John's head and one on hers; he has no idea what she's doing. Lenina and John do not touch, and Lenina takes her seat far away from John. Flashes of light and electronic erotic scenes and impulses are fed into his brain through the helmet. While in the midst of the program, he pulls off the helmet and demands to know just what the hell was going on. She tells him that it is sex. John knows full well what sex is--the warm flesh, the sweaty bodies, the closeness, the joy, and he tells her this. Lenina responds with self-righteous modern socially-instilled disgust for what she sees as a primitive, regressive man and she tells him that such activity was outlawed a long time ago. It is here that he finds out that somewhere along the line "bodily fluid transfers" were also considered "bad for you" then "bad," then subsequently outlawed. Sex was outlawed, and kissing had been outlawed too. Her gut-level "eww" and her accompanying outrage was not based on her experience with sex, but on her culture and what she thought she knew about sex--living in a culture of virgins, she didn't realize how little she knew.

Lenina's entire society, long ago, had slowly come to accept the virtual reality program as sex. It had gotten to the point that now no one her entire society knew what sex really was, so this was misidentified as "real" sex. But John Spartan had known what the real thing was, and this was nothing like the real thing: this wasn't sex at all but an erotic virtual reality program that two or more could play. Erotic virtual reality programs that two or more can play...are probably really great things...but they aren't sex even if Lenina and her entire culture claims that it is sex.

We think that's silly now. Of course we know what sex is. But what if we didn't? We would respond similarly to how Lenina did in this tale, unless we had John Spartan's dose of reality--a gift of the ancestors. We, too, would bristle with self-righteous modern socially-instilled disgust for the quaint, antiquated, sometimes jarring or uncomfortable "ways of the 'primitive man'." How do I know this? Because of how polytheists and their practices have been referred to in the past several months. I've seen descriptors tossing around: from superstitious, literalist, backwards, fundamentalist, intolerant, irrational, anti-science, anti-reason, anthropomorphizing, and as having "imaginary friend" issues. These words are just shy of "primitive" and "barbaric." Like Lenina and her culture in the fictitious example above, those making these judgments about polytheism are not polytheists and only think they know about polytheism even as they are steeped in a culture that knows nothing about it and do not realize how little they know. It's like how our virginal character Lenina only thought she knew about sex.

If a polytheist responds with anything from surprise, to misunderstanding, to complete befuddlement when another proposes "religion" and breaks out the virtual reality helmets...it really shouldn't be a surprise.

Religion, like sex, is better when it's real. Too long we've mistaken a sham of what we thought was "religion" for the real thing. We've mistaken it as a "system of beliefs,"and thinking that religion is created by people about people for people. Religion is—and should be restored in human thinking as—systems set in place with the participation of the deities, the ancestors, and people, as a constant negotiation. When it isn't, it isn't religion.



Image notes: Ames developed (Pop Optics) goggles, NASA, photo in Public Domain.






Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Religion

Most people today often look at religion as a social construct created by people. Even though most people see religion and act about religion in this manner, it doesn’t make this view accurate or useful. Religion either misunderstood as only a human social construct, or used as a purely human social construct is not religion at all. We people tend to think that religion is all about us, and our thoughts, and our beliefs. There are other sides in this equation which aren’t people.

The deities exist, even as the sun, the moon, the trees, the air, all exist because the deities are intrinsically these things, of these things, and a part of these things. Whether or not a person decides to acknowledge that, ignore it, honor it, misinterpret it, distort it, disregard it, belittle it, cherish it, believe it, or disbelieve it, it doesn’t make the deities exist more or exist less, but it changes the interaction between that person, that person’s community, and the deities. The word “religion” in English is a troubled word which often notes a concept of a “system of beliefs.” This concept of a “system of beliefs” is one that many ancient people, including the Canaanites, did not have since it was known, understood, and accepted that deities exist. Ancient religion was not based on the modern idea that "deities might or might not exist." Understanding the difference in this matter, and this error of our non-ancient inheritance, is important for coming to terms with the mindset we often take for granted around us today.

Belief is not an issue because the deities exist. Belief isn’t important because instead of belief, there is knowledge and understanding. What constitutes as “religion” is what one does as an extension of that knowledge and understanding; and what one does is that which supports (or doesn’t support) an ongoing relationship among the deities, one’s community, and one’s ancestors. One’s deeds are fully integrated in one’s life and not separated out as “a system of beliefs.” To our ancients, there would be no point of building on the shifting sands of a “system of beliefs.” The deities exist; the only fallible part in this matter is people and peoples' perceptions.

Religion is—and should be restored in human thinking as—systems set in place with the participation of the deities, the ancestors, and people, as a constant negotiation.

Religion, if one separates it out from life and uses this word, refers to an interface, a hinterland of common ground for humans, ancestors and deities. The purpose of this interface is to provide useful, efficient, practical, effective, and safe(r) structures as means for people engaging with the deities. It is a negotiated middle ground between us and the deities, and as such sometimes it shifts and changes in accordance to the deities’ needs and/or the needs of people, and/or the locality, and/or the ancestors. Sometimes these things are accidentally or intentionally distorted in response to faulty human perception—but this distortion isn’t religion, it isn’t holy, it isn’t this negotiated hinterland and it should not be confused as such or attached to it in concept.

Religion is also about relationships. It is always negotiated with at least two parties in mind—humans and the deities. The people who do this negotiation are priests and shamans. The beings who have gone before and who have done this are counted among the ancestors, and this is one of many reasons why honoring ancestors and receiving their guidance is vital.

To recap—
Religion does not equal “system of beliefs”
Religion is better described as
1. Systems for people to engage in some way with the deities
2. Negotiated spaces and meeting points between deities and humans
3. Dynamic, constantly moving, constantly shifting relationships among deities, humans, and ancestors

We should also keep in mind that “religion” as negotiated terms and as dynamic relationships does not guarantee that existence is always comfortable for one party, i.e. people. There are at least two other groups at the same table. Therefore, the terms are not always what we like, or want, need, or what we think we like, what we think we want, or what we think we need. Sometimes it's about the deities’ likes, wants, needs; sometimes it has to do with the ancestors’ likes, wants, and needs. Negotiation. Compromise. Relationship. Interaction.  Sometimes this means making sacrifices in our lives, taking the time out to do that which is difficult because it restores right relations with the deities, with the ancestors, and with communities, and with people. Sometimes it means fasting or spending sleepless nights, or walking up the side of a mountain. That’s just how it is. 




So…why did I post a picture of a kid with a slingshot to go with this post? A slingshot is a simple weapon comprised of a forked stick and something stretchy attached to both prongs of the stick. The tension created when that band is pulled, when released quickly, will cause a projectile to hurl through the air. It’s the tension that makes the simple thing work. Negotiation is always filled with tension and dynamic, and it is the tension which, when used properly, can bring about the maximum effectiveness and the best arrangement for all parties, when done well. The slingshot works because of the relationships these parts have to one another and the tension-in-motion in that relationship. Religion, done well, does similarly: there are relationships amidst the parts (deities, ancestors, people) and a dynamic in these relationships.



Monday, April 28, 2014

Sprouting: Question from a Beginner

An acquaintance of mine recently asked “What would you advise someone new to polytheism?” It appears on the surface to be a simple question, but it is one of those questions that although simple can go to great depths, and could probably take volumes to fully explore. Let’s unpack this question carefully.







“What would you…”

This question is directed to me, personally, so I will answer it in accordance to my own experiences and my own background. I am a Canaanite polytheist with fifteen years of experience. Sometimes I honor other deities alongside the Canaanite deities, sometimes I am present with others as they honor deities other than the Canaanite ones, and I have friends and allies who write, share, teach, and with whom I converse. Added together as a whole, that’s a pretty good deal of experience and depth, but it is as broad as it is within certain parameters. My colleagues may or may not answer similarly, and indeed I’d invite them to answer the same question. The question here does not say “Hey, Tess, speak on behalf of all polytheists everywhere and on polytheism itself everywhere for all gods ever and tell us all exactly what to do!” (The reason I include this is not because I assume the one who asked the question thinks this--indeed, I do not. Instead, I think that some folks--albeit not the person who asked the original question--may misconstrue what is being asked and how I am answering.)

“…advise…” This is advice he is asking for. The question does not say “Tell me what to do!” It merely asks for a direction in which to go. So what follows is my offering a direction in which to go; I am not making orders. Guidance and demands are not the same thing.

“…someone new…” This indicates that this is a beginning level of experience. I applaud anyone who can freely and openly admit that they are new at something and ask for aid. We are all new at something, all of the time. Although kindergarteners have this miraculous ability to acknowledge their lack of experience and ask for help every day, these are acts which can confound most adults—myself certainly included—who have differing amounts of pride and posturing that must be overcome. For a seed to grow, it first has to sprout. Being able to come to terms with where one is in learning and to proceed accordingly is not an easy thing to do at all.

“…to polytheism?” The question is not specific to which deity or deities, which sets of deities, which cultures, which locality, and so on, so this provides a unique challenge to answering this question. Further, I do not know if or how the deities have called this person, or which deities may be involved, if any, yet. Much of polytheism is culture specific, local specific, and ancestrally specific. When I say “ancestrally” I don’t necessarily mean one’s biological family tree, one’s biological predecessors; sometimes the dead are just the dead, and ancestry can go beyond that. So, the best I can do with this question is to take my knowledge and experiences, the conversations I’ve had with other elders, and extrapolate* further into a situation that I know no more than the information in the question and what the question asks for specifically. (*Extrapolate: extend the application of a method or conclusion, especially one based on statistics to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable.)

This is also a challenging thing because we polytheists have not (yet??) gotten together to pioneer some kind of raw basic cross-pantheon bare minimum tome of advice for beginners, so there’s no one definitive resource I can point anyone to. Granted, this sort of resource would pose multiple challenges because, again, there are culturally-specific, pantheon-specific, locally-specific, and ancestrally-specific things that may not be well-accounted-for in such a resource.

This question is as limited by what information is provided for me to answer as it is broad in openness to receiving whatever information I can provide. So, here comes the meat and potatoes:

The best advice I can give is to set up a daily devotional practice. A person can do this a couple of different ways, but the most common are setting up a shrine, making offerings, and engaging in daily prayer.

To set up a shrine, make or purchase images of the deities, or print out a picture or two of the deities you would like to honor, the deities who interest you, the deities of your ancestors or your biological precedents, and / or the deities who have called to you. Set up a small area for their devotion. Make sure the area is clean and free of clutter and smells decent. Make sure it isn’t near the trash can or the bathroom. Make sure it is an area where ignorant or disrespectful hands can’t get to, and pets won’t walk all over it or try to eat the offerings. Keep the area clean and picked up—if you make food offerings, take them away from the shrine after about a day. Pray daily, and if you can make it a practice to pray at or near your shrine, all the better. Make an offering there as often as you can, but at least set a schedule for offerings if you are just starting out, for instance making offerings at least each Saturday. Offerings can include incense (preferably Japanese incense because many Indian incenses have dung in them), food (make sure you research your deities and their cultures, because sometimes there are food taboos), and drink (such as wine, alcohol, or juice). Bread and olive oil are also typically welcome. What offerings the deities want and how the shrine is best set up will often depend on which deities you are honoring.

For prayer, set a time to pray each day, but remember that you can pray in addition to that time. This can be each morning, each evening, each noon, each tea time, or whenever. Different deities may have different preferences as to which times they like or are more active, but I would encourage prayer at any time. The important thing here when you’re starting out is to engage in a practice that you can keep and build, or change as necessary (according to the deities), over time. The key is practice, ongoing, daily, regular practice. Relationships are best built over time; the more time, and effort, and sincerity you invest in the deities, the more they are likely to invest in you.

When you pray, make sure that you’re not giving them a laundry list. Don’t go before the deities and say something like “Hey, love you guys. I really need some more money. My love life sucks, so if you could fix that, that would be great. My auntie is sick, so could you take care of her? Oh, yeah, and that one guy broke up with my best friend and my bestie is really heartbroken so could you help him out, too?” First off, the deities are not your servants or anyone else’s servants. Maybe a person who prays this isn’t consciously thinking "The deities are my servants," but when they pray constantly in this manner, just looking for the deities to fix things for them, this is what their actions say. Second off, there are things one can do for oneself and others, and most deities will not help until one demonstrates that one is making effort oneself to help with those things. Yes, often there are deities who are willing to help you with these things, but you must build your relationship with them first before you start asking for all sorts of things. To do otherwise is like cold calling royalty: at best they ignore you. Instead, try starting out with a simple prayer of gratitude. If your life truly sucks at the moment, try a simple thank you for nature, and a thank you to the deities for existing and being present.

I have a pretty intense regimen of daily devotion (and what I write below is only part of it), so keep in mind that yours may be considerably less intense because you are not in the situation or position(s) I am in, and you do not have the relationships with the deities that I do. What matters is that you do your practice in honor of the deities, and that you keep your practice on a daily basis—this way you are engaging with the deities daily and building your relationship with them daily. I cannot stress enough: this is a daily thing. 

The best, but woefully imperfect analogy, I can give is this: if a person never does kind things and never tells his girlfriend he loves her, but he keeps hitting her up for lunch money, he shouldn't be shocked if she leaves him. The deities are obviously not the same as a hypothetical human girlfriend, but, if a person never shows the deities s/he cares, if a person do not appreciate the deities, if a person is not kind to the deities and cherishes them, but instead keeps asking them to do something, they won't stick around. Sometimes it's not that they don't love a person, it's that the person doesn't love, or demonstrate that love, to them.

In the morning, I bob and bow (a Canaanite practice of bobbing at the knees then bowing at the waist) at the main shrine and I make an incense offering. I keep an ancestral shrine right next to the main shrine, so I make an offering there as well, too. As I make the incense offering, I will pray something like, “O Deities, I bring you an offering of incense. Please accept it if you find it acceptable. I pray that it will bring you strength, that it will restore you, and that it will bring joy to your day.” And then I bob and bow again, and back away from the shrine. I back way instead of turning around because in turning around immediately at the shrine, one “turns one's back” on the deities. In backing away, I do not turn my back. Many times, I will make offerings at other shrines for individual deities in the house in the mornings or throughout the day or night, in a similar manner. I suggest for a new person new at practice to keep one main shrine.

Sometimes throughout the day, particularly at meal times, I will make offerings of food and/or drink and/or incense to specific deities. I will especially do this if it is a holiday, if it is the marking of an event in nature (solstice, equinox, etc.), if I’ve been told to do so by the deities or by oracle, if something magnificent or miraculous happens in the day, if something dreadful happens during the day, if I’m making reparations for wrongdoing, or if I’m cooking up something especially awesome that I want to share. I also pray frequently throughout the day as I do day to day tasks, especially if I have a moment of gratitude for something. My moments of gratitude can and do include thanking the deities for: clean water, indoor plumbing, hot water, lighters, a roof over my head, health, transportation, friends and family, food, drink, air to breathe, a bird flying by, a wooley worm, the budding trees, fire, art, poetry, sunlight, night, good music on the radio, technology, and so on. I have even given thanks for the education that pain has occasionally provided me—regardless of whether or not I like pain. Which I don’t. Moments of gratitude don’t have to be just for the nice, pretty, pleasant, comfortable things.

In the night just before I go to bed, I will approach the main shrine. I bob and bow, and then I kneel before it. I pray something like, “O Deities, I thank you for my many blessings today. I pray that you are blessed, and honored, restored, strengthened and cherished. I pray that you are remembered. I ask that you bless your people.” Sometimes I will also ask for aid in guidance and discernment, but I keep any list of needs—whether mine others’ very short, and I do this in knowledge that I do much more in our relationship (my relationships with the deities) than "just ask for stuff" all day. Indeed, I spend most of the day "just thanking for stuff."

Before the ancestors at their shrine, I pray something like: “May you be blessed O Ancestors; may you be honored. May you be restored, may you be at peace. I give thanks for the foundations you have built for us in days of long ago, and I ask forgiveness that we over time have wrecked those foundations. I ask that you aid us in restoring these foundations, and that we may honor the deities and you again as we should.”

The prayers here are similar to the ones I pray, even if I change things up: one does not typically have to memorize a specific set of words by rote to pray. Memorizing prayers and repeating them verbatim can be helpful for some practices, but it sometimes depends on the deities and on the practices they want and expect. Best advice I can give when starting out is to pray from the liver (or the heart), and be honest with yourself and with them. Know and understand that whatever you do, you're going to make mistakes in the beginning, and this is part of learning. It is how you respond to these mistakes and guidance that can offer different opportunities to deepen relationships.


Image Notes: Photo by Wetwebwork, used through Creative Commons License

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Tough Love in the Neighborhood

I have not blogged in a bit: I’ve watched, and have kept my distance, from the furor rising up in the Pagan community over the Kenny Klein scandal.  (For my readers who do not know, Kenny Klein was a well-known member of the Pagan community.) I’ve read a few posts, and I have hung my head in sadness, wringing my hands and gritting my teeth, and I have gone on in with this event and my own thoughts and emotions about it in the back of my mind.

I have not commented on it before now because I am not a member of the Pagan community. My comments on the matter are much like any comments I might make about sexual misconduct in any other community. Although I interact with members from other communities—anywhere from parents with kids, to the elderly, to Jews, to Catholics, to GBLT, to bikers—this doesn’t make me part of these communities either. Take my opinion for what it is—the opinion of an outsider. You’ve heard it said that “no one person is an island” and this is true: humanity is at least as much based on interactive relationships among humans as it is on individual humans. The Pagans are my neighbors, and I have a relationship to them as a neighbor. I am not my neighbor, I am not “the same as” my neighbor, and I don’t live in my neighbor’s house, even as I live next to my neighbor and interact with my neighbor on an ongoing basis.

As a neighbor not just to one community, but to other neighboring communities who live around me, I am obligated to speak up if there’s a problem. When I see a neighbor constantly leaving garbage on the patio instead of disposing of it, I am obligated to point out that it is a health hazard. Living around humans, it is a statistical probability that most of us will run into a bad egg within our own communities. It’s the old cliché that 5% of the people make 95% of the problems. It sucks, but that’s how it is. How we respond to these matters shapes not only oneself as an individual, but one’s community as well, and it can affect one’s neighbors too.

The reason why I speak on this matter is because of some of the shenanigans about the recent scandal(s) in the Pagan community and how a few in that community think that people should be helpful and healing, especially in regards to perpetrators. A few folks’ way of defining helpful and healing has nothing to do activities that are actually helpful or healing, and are instead more based on providing comfort, on feel-good emotions and feelings, on suppressing anger, on appearing nice, and on keeping a peace built on a dysfunctional status quo.

The Pagan community—at least some folks in it—often wants to love and be loved (or maintain a loving, peaceful appearance) so much that it forgets that holding down a perpetrator in a submission hold of group-hug will not solve the problem, undo the crime, or support a culture where doing these crimes is at the very least condemned. I attribute some of these problems to a growing political (in-)correctness surrounding cultural relativity and moral relativity taken to extremes. I also attribute some of this problem to a lack of taking personal responsibility in knowing and assessing standards, motives, and emotions.

Loving is a great and beautiful thing, but too often people confuse love with being nice, avoiding conflict, suppressing anger, and keeping an unworthy peace built on a moral ambiguity which would shelter those who prey on the weak. Peace is not any of those things; love is not any of those things. Turning the other cheek does not mean allowing someone defenseless to take that hit. When one turns the other cheek with those who harm children, this is what happens.

To love truly, one must have a clear understanding of what love is, a full understanding of one’s own emotions, one’s motives, and one’s standards, and a full accounting of one’s priorities...or all that love is for naught. Priorities include safety and healing for the victims, catching perpetrators, and supporting justice. Without this, none of that love can be fully expressed or accepted: there are potential victims, PTSD and lack of safety for the victims already harmed, and an ongoing predatory opportunism for the perpetrators. This environment kills any chance at love and can actively support an unwanted cycle of abuse. If you really want to support love and healing, this has got to stop.

I know that most of you will be nodding along here, there is nothing new here and I’m making no ground-breaking statements or revealing the structure of the cosmos. Three basic matters come to my mind:



1. Standards are useful.

Having standards of behavior, norms, ethics, morals, and boundaries are useful and help life-as-we-know-it-among-humans to function in a beneficial manner. Sticking to these standards and supporting others in your community to stick to these standards is important. Having standards is about being good people and acting like good people. Standards are about protecting oneself, each other, and those who cannot protect themselves. You don’t have to codify these standards or set them in stone. Even Google says simply “Don’t be evil.”

A few Pagans (a few, not some, not all, and probably not you if you’re Pagan and you’ve bothered to read this far) balk at the idea of having standards, and think that standards are some kind of Christian Puritan fundamentalist values stripping away at freedoms. Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, nurse, teacher, soldier, that guy walking his dog…most people have standards, most communities have standards. Even shopping malls have codes of conduct.

It is important to avoid using religion as a reason for sexual oppression, or on the other side of the same spectrum, as an excuse for sexual irresponsibility. Ethical standards, even in regards to sex, have nothing to do with any kind of spiritual or emotional tyranny, and nothing to do with any particular religion or lack thereof. Responsibility is not oppression—responsibility is a natural outgrowth of maturity, strength, priorities, caring, and love.



2. Hurting kids is bad.

Sexual abuse, child pornography, rape, pedophilia, and so on, are all bad, evil, not good, and worse-than-useless. Period. No debate, no contingencies, no explanations, no excuses, and I won’t even bother to rank any of these transgressions on a scale of wrongness. There’s no point. Sexual irresponsibility is wrong. Hurting kids is wrong. Combining the two is wrong. Wrong.



3. Healing is painful.

I’ve seen some stuff bantered about regarding how people who hurt kids are sick and need healing. I am far more concerned about the victims, their healing, and their safety. Their road to healing is long and difficult and the hurt caused to the victims has nothing to do with the victims or their own choices. The abuses done to them ruin lives.

I support the perpetrator getting healing if mostly to prevent further acts of abuse. People who commit these crimes are indeed sick—this is a given. This doesn’t change the fact that they are often at least in some way cognizant, aware, and responsible for their actions, and often just as capable as anyone of making their own decisions. They usually know that these actions hurt others and these actions should and do have consequences for them in the form of punishment and social censure.

Healing a perpetrator has nothing to do with “if I just love him/her hard enough s/he will change.” No. It doesn’t work that way. A person has to change him or herself. It is possible to love a perpetrator just as it is possible to love someone or something that has gone horribly, horribly wrong. (I neither endorse nor condemn loving a perpetrator. I condone honesty with oneself about the matter.) Trying to err on the side of love—if one chooses to do so—does not mean that one allows the wrongdoing to continue.

There’s a tale about a boy who has to put down a dog because the dog contracts rabies—it’s called Old Yeller. The boy put down his dog as an act of love. It’s very complex, messy, deep, and nuanced to love a being so completely as to acknowledge and honestly assess what is going on with that being, and to take action necessary to preserve the safety of others and to protect (what is left of) that being’s dignity and any shred of its highest self (if it has one). The boy also loved his family enough to protect them and to set and maintain boundaries. I am not making a blanket statement that perpetrators should be put down like rabid dogs. If you want to, and you want to deal with those consequences including jail time for murder one, that’s all on you. (Don’t blame me for your own decisions and choices! Besides, people are not the same as dogs, rabid dogs, or fictional stories about fictional rabid dogs.) I am illustrating that love can be a complex and an uncomfortable thing that involves a humbling honesty and a clear-headed assessment. Sometimes love is not feel-good emotions, happy thoughts, and glitter. Often love means making the toughest decisions of one's life.

However, if a person really wants to love a perpetrator—I am not suggesting that that is a good or bad thing, or if it is necessary or not—a person must understand what that kind of love entails. It’s not all s’mores and affirmations, it sure isn’t martyrdom, and it sure the hell isn’t allowing a perpetrator continued contact with children. Loving someone means acknowledging that person as that person is, not as you think they are, as you think they should be, or as you hope they will be, but as that person is right now. As Is. No guarantees. Just as some used cars are lemons, so some people are lemons too; if you drive a lemon off the lot, don’t be surprised when the transmission blows. Sometimes that person is just not a good person at that point in time, sometimes they never were, or sometimes they never will be again. One has to fully account for this. Loving someone who has done something like this means setting healthy boundaries for oneself and for those one protects. Those boundaries involve reporting, banning from events, restraining orders, court cases, and jail time. It means setting rules and cultural standards in place to deter or prevent these problems, and setting up contingencies for protecting the vulnerable if something like this, gods forbid, comes up again. Sometimes loving someone means saying no and backing that no with action consistently.

Forgiveness is something that often gets brought up in these discussions. A perpetrator can ask for forgiveness or not. A person can forgive or chose not to. That’s up to each person involved to decide, and it is a deeply personal matter. I don’t see either forgiving or not forgiving as “good” or “bad,” and my opinion does not and should not matter here anyway. Forgiving doesn’t make someone a doormat any more than not forgiving makes anyone a monster. Along with consideration in giving or receiving forgiveness are reparations that have to be done to ensure that the act is not repeated and to (try to) make up for the wrong that has been committed. And whether or not one chooses to forgive, both parties should remember that forgiveness is not a blank check.

So, neighbors, if you were remotely curious, these were my two shekels on what has been a sad situation.



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bare-Breasted Warriors

It has come to my attention recently that there have been thoughtful pieces written by my colleagues here and here about whether or not a breastfeeding mother can be considered a warrior or a hero. I propose that whether or not a breastfeeding mother is a warrior for breastfeeding obscures a larger issue: an issue of basic human rights and the stand against their erosion.

A breastfeeding mom  in our times faces opposition and conflict, which can take a form anywhere from rude stares and clucking noises of disgust, to bullying, and to expulsion, public indecency charges, or even to violence. She faces all of these for a right which was so basic in ancient times, and even in the recent memory of our elders, that no one considered breastfeeding indecent or abnormal.  If we find ourselves debating whether or not a breastfeeding mother is a warrior, then it is a warning as to how deeply broken our society is.

A breastfeeding mother is not a warrior because she breastfeeds. Breastfeeding itself has little to do with warriorhood. She could be considered a warrior because she tries to take back the basic rights which have been ebbed away; she does this out of necessity and through the means at her disposal. Breastfeeding nowadays is a often act of civil disobedience to social mores and even to some indecency laws. What a breastfeeding mother does often takes courage, chutzpah, and a certain amount of...lactational…fortitude to face the conflict that will arise when she stands for this one normal basic right for the smallest and most helpless members of society. Usually, she is not trying to take a stand for basic rights or do anything revolutionary; she's just trying to do her job as a mother. Motherhood and raising the next generation of humans to be decent people is a monumental effort especially when even the matter of feeding babies in public is erroneously controversial.

But...

The issue is not whether or not a breastfeeding mother is a warrior. The issue is not about the milk or the boobs, or formula and bottles, or good mommy/bad mommy. It’s not about loving-nurturing versus violence, or the subjective good-bad labeling applied to either concept whether one values loving-nurturing or violence more. It's not about liking or disliking mothers or babies, or humanity in general. It's not about liberal values versus conservative values.  No, this issue is more about basic human rights which have been eroded in our society(s), and the fight—even the small, quiet, everyday stands—to take back these rights.

It’s absurd and pathetic to have to take a stand for the right to feed babies in public. It is also absurd and pathetic to have to fight for the right to love, as seen in the matter of gay marriage. Yet here we are. If one has to even contemplate whether or not a breastfeeding mother is a warrior or a hero, it is because it is our society is wrongheaded from the foundations up and we have erred in creating and sustaining the situations where mothers must take a stand. Because of this issue and many more, we have everything to fight for. Everything. Even breastfeeding. Even love. And we have nothing left to lose when we can’t even hold hands with loved ones or feed hungry babies in public without conflict or the threat of conflict, arising.

We are all called* to be warriors, not because the word "warrior" has been watered down, but because we must  all take a stand for human rights even in small ways; it's our responsibility. Society is us, it is our creation, all the good and ill that comes out of it a result of our actions--not someone else's actions--our own actions. As such it falls on us to take a stand when things go wrong. Our society is so deeply troubled that it requires every one of us to take a stand to restore basic rights and restore our society with the means we have available in the capacity we can do so. *(Note that just because we are all called to be warriors that doesn't make everyone a warrior automatically. Warriors are the ones who do their jobs to protect, preserve, restore, and fight for rights by rising to this challenge; as such we should all strive to be warriors. Note too, that I am not saying that "just doing your job"--as in being mediocre and not giving a rip about others' rights--is warriorhood: it's not. What I am saying is that warriorhood is a job we must all take responsibility for and we must all try to do.)

Yay babies! Yay titties! Yay love! And yay for the warriors who fight for these rights in whatever capacity they do so, be that by piloting drones to blow up missile factories or by supporting a breastfeeding mum and sustaining her rights. (Note that I am not saying that these two activities are the same or of equal value. They are simply both useful, and they are both needed in different ways for different reasons.)

Also, feel free to take a look at this lovely image of the Canaanite cross-dressing warrior goddess ‘Anatu, who is not a mother, breastfeeding the twin gods Shachar of the Dawn and Shalim of the Dusk. 




Image Notes: The Republic by Honore Daumier. Public Domain.