Tag Archives: pagan values

Remodeling the Witch’s Pryamid #paganvalues

To many, the very idea of recalibrating "ancient wisdom"  must really hit the heresy bone. But really, if Wicca and other Pagan religions that draw from the tenets of Wicca are non-dogmatic as they claim, then it’s high time to walk that walk. The very point of being non-dogmatic is that when we find ourselves in situations where our stated values perpetuate evil instead of good, we change those values. Any values system worth adherence must stand up in the real world and to do that long term requires change.

 

And this is why I am suggesting that we alter the Witches’ Pryamid/Pillars of the Magus just a little bit.

 

For those who may not necessarily be familiar, the Witches’ Pyramid is a call to magicians of any faith to master  the following four qualities/practices. In Wicca, each is assigned to an element, alongside the Greek humors and many other associations.

 

They are:

To Know

To Will

To Dare

To Be Silent

 

The one which merits revision at this point is To Be Silent. This is not because silence is wrong; it’s because as recent sex scandals in the Pagan community have revealed, it is much too easy to interpret this too literally and under the wrong definition. The Burning Times misinformation led many 20th century witches to shape their modern beliefs in reaction to a time that did not really exist (heretics were burned. Witches – i.e. herbalists, usually Christian, were hanged. The Inquisition did other things.)

 

Silence has become a deadly tool of evil, though when it was brought into Wicca it was meant as a way of preserving the good. The intent of silence was to first of all, honor the secrets of others. Those secrets meant names, the identifying details of lives of coven members and people that came to us for help.

 

It did not mean the Mysteries – that ban was lifted when Gerald Gardner was called to publish his books. I have deep quibbles with Gardnerianism, Alexandrianism and any asshat that throws around the term "NeoWicca" as though the Gardnerian and Alexandrian labels don’t make that clear enough. But even so, Gardner is, albeit very indirectly, a spiritual ancestor to me the way Mary Magdelene and John Calvin are to Protestants. ((I am not saying I am lineaged from Gardner. I am adding it because someone always on the alert for ways to injure their own butt will misconstrue the statement if I don’t footnote it.))  Mysteries have a way of being self-protecting as they are things you only get by living them, agrarian and bodily Mysteries alike. It did not mean magic, per se. Sharing magic and magical techniques is no different than teaching a person how to clean a gun or handle a knife. What that person shoots or cuts with it is in fact not connected to your karma and to think it does suggests a God complex. If we have free will, so do the people we teach – and controlling them rather than observing whether they live the path while using the skills is in itself an ethical violation.

 

Silence meant knowing when to hold the tongue, when to listen, when to observe.

Instead, it has been used to keep secrets for the sake of power alone, or to say nothing when evil plays out before your eyes.

 

Silence is now a tool of oppression when it was meant to be a tool of wisdom.

 

It is not the fault of silence, of course. The fault lies with our shared understanding of it.

 

So I propose a change to the pyramid – not in intent, but in word choice. Words, after all, have power and sometimes words change meaning and thus their powers change. So it is with silence.

 

Instead of To Be Silent I propose the Witches’ Pryamid say To Discern.

To Know.

To Will.

To Dare.

To Discern.

 

Discernment does what silence once bid: observe first. Understand. Recognize differences subtle and overt. Make decisions based on careful distinction, on an understanding that absolutes only work well in fiction.

 

If you see a violent situation play out before your eyes, discernment bids you to understand it. Is this a repetitive situation? The first time its happened? Is this merely the first time you have seen something happen? What were the circumstances? How will strangers be affected by your decision to act or not act?

 

If you are unconcerned with how people you don’t know are affected, why? Is that really a functional moral system? What if you replaced the word "strangers" with "innocents?" How does it look to you now?

 

Discernment will help you consider the consequences of your actions and the actions of those you observe; it is applied with a commitment to the greater good.

 

Ah silence, you are not at fault. But because we so little understood you, it is time instead to Discern.

All Acts of Love and Pleasure #paganvalues

So, for those of us that are Wiccan ((eclectic Wiccan, not NeoWiccan, asshole))  we often refer strangers to the Wiccan Rede as our expression of a moral system. Except it’s not; in practice it’s more PR tool than guideline. Either it’s treated too casually with more focus on the “do what thou wilt” than the “harm none” or it’s  taken too literally. I’m pretty sure the original author of the Rede would be horrified to hear one man I knew took a beating because he applied “harm none” without further discernment.

The ultimate Wiccan values statement is not the Rede, it is Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess ((used per the Creative Commons license issued by her foundation. Pretty sure it’s far too late for no derivative works, says one of the many poets that have indeed derived from the Charge. Does a blog post discussing it constitute derivative work or academic discussion?)) Yes, it is referenced as liturgy and used in one the heaviest of the heavy coven-based Wiccan rituals that is, but, outside of circle, it is just as powerful: it is a description of how Wiccan adherents should conduct themselves.

I’m going to go through this phrase by phrase with my own understanding of it.

1)Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who was of old also called Artemis; Astarte; Diana; Melusine; Aphrodite; Cerridwen; Dana; Arianrhod; Isis; Bride; and by many other names.

Aside from an introduction, for now I’m going to set this one aside. It’s a complex issue and I am heretical in that I don’t believe all the Goddesses are as one Goddess – but a few are comfortable forming a union, or maybe a social sports league. This is an expression of my personal experience with the divine and most certainly not specific to Wicca. Just me.

2)Whenever ye have need of anything, once in a month, and better it be when the Moon be full,

First, it suggests religious gathering/ritual once a month. It also recommends asking for help with your needs once a month. That seems about right – in a give-and-take relationship once a month is a reasonable exchange for help on both sides. The full moon is preferred. It doesn’t need to be at night, just during the full moon. Night just cooperates with most people’s work schedules. Since this itself is derived from a passage from Aradia where similar words were addressed to slaves, the implication of night would also be about safety in secrecy – which, in a society where slavery is mostly metaphorical is not necessarily the case.

3)then ye shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of me, who am Queen of all Witcheries.

So there does need to be a bit of worship worked in. It’s a give and take – but to adore someone, you generally need pretty words and pretty things, whether it’s a libation, a spritz of perfume or a lot of sincere if horrible poetry. (Valiente was a wonderful poet. I am speaking of what the poetic average just is in general.)

The location, according to this, should not be public. This is an area with rich possibility for exploration and debate. Some read this as an edict to stay in the broom closet (keep it unknown that you are Pagan.) Since this text is itself a derivative work, inspired by Charles Godfrey Leland’s Aradia factors into the shape of this intent.

Since Aradia is the tale of an oppressed population in Italy saved by the Goddess Diana, led by a female Christ ((the literal meaning of Christ is “anointed” and thus in this case it is a generic term for a mythologized savior))  named Aradia, it makes sense that these oppressed people would be admonished to hide their doings. It seems possible that there may have been some sort of culturally required break in work patterns at the time of the full moon as well. An enslaved population most certainly needs to keep any organizing and educating doings a secret. So for those that subscribe to the Burning Times motif, secrecy intended steps to avoid persecution.

There is yet another perspective on this, and one I am more inclined to in terms of what is current in society. This admonishment for secrecy aligns with a little-practiced Christian value expressed in the gospel by that more famous Christ: praying only in secret.   From Matthew 6:5-8:5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

While some Wiccans believe God/ess is ominpresent but not omnipotent, requiring prayers to actually be spoken, most likely appreciate treating faith as something very intimate between the self and the divine, rather than a decorative accessory of public morality.

4)There shall ye assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet have not yet won its deepest secrets: to these will I teach things that are yet unknown.

This is a little more complex. Certainly those who practice Wicca or other forms of the Craft learn plenty witch-to-witch. But this line also suggests why Wicca is a Mystery religion. Direct contact with the divine is often instructive; since most rituals involve some sort of direct communion/interaction, it also results in information imparted to that person about how to better practice magic, or how to solve one of life’s vexations or simply how to heal a wound. Miracle healings, while not unheard of, are fairly rare in the Craft; however, understandings of steps needed and work required to heal being acquired in a vision or similar spiritual experience during Wiccan ritual are very common. These visions and information sessions do seem to come over the strongest signal during the full moon.

5)And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye are really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise.

By the time Valiente wrote this slavery had already disappeared from the United Kingdom and the United States. Again, because the Charge is itself a derivative work it’s necessary to look at the conditions of the feudal peasants to whom the charge of Diana to Aradia is addressed. Feudal peasants were bought and sold with the land they lived on so yes, they were fundamentally slaves.

But who might Valiente have spoken of? While some might well argue women, bucking against the restrictive conditions of the 1940s and 50s, it’s important to remember that she wrote this for use by both men and women. The question is raised then: who back then saw themselves as slaves? What do we consider ourselves enslaved by now? Given that slavery and human traffic is as virulent as it has ever been, what does the spiritual practice free us from?

The way this is phrased, it suggests that we are most enslaved to our social statuses. It’s not just the wealthy among us that cling to those identities. There is a certain fierce pride to those who wear symbols of poverty, whether it’s shabby clothing or “ghetto” whatever. By shedding the clothing we are no longer influenced by those social symbols.

But that’s only for those of us willing to shed clothing. This is also why the pseudo-choir robe is so popular among Wiccan covens that don’t go skyclad. A single garment that looks like it came from the church choir bad boy is uniform enough for other coveners not to be able to identify telltale signs of social status – in those robes your best guess as to how much power a person has comes from the manicure and that’s easy to fake out by anyone with skill and an emery board.

For those of us, like myself, that eschew both nudity and choir robes… eh, we’re bad Wiccans, I guess. But I feel a lot more free in my jeans than I do with my rear hanging out or wearing a robe that I will set on fire in 3…2…1…

For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and mine also is joy on earth; for my Law is Love unto all Beings.

The simple explication: worship of the God/dess is supposed to be fun. This concept may be the most anathemic concept of all to conservative religious believers.

It also means that the Goddess wants us to experience happiness, rather than providing constant, loud demonstrations of pious misery. The God/dess loves us and loves all beings – not just the ones she has issued the charge to – and she wants everyone to be happy, not just her chosen witches. This is an artfully crafted statement – it embeds happiness as the highest value, while making love for those different from ourselves – or at least, recognizing her love for them – as equally important. The God/dess doesn’t care if someone is one of her witches or not – she loves that person all the same.

Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever toward it; let naught stop you or turn you aside.

Shakespeare, Hamlet: “To Thine Own Self Be True.” But this does level up on the idea that it is important to know yourself and act in accordance with your own interests. This also levels a powerful edict: do everything you can to be your best self, always. If you say you have a system of moral values, live them. Life will challenge these values all the time – live them anyway.

For mine is the secret door which opens upon the Land of Youth; and mine is the Cup of the Wine of Life, and the Cauldron of Cerridwen [sic], which is the Holy Grail of Immortality.

This is where Valiente veered away from the Aradia adaptation, calling upon Celtic and British mythologies. Whether or not it was her conscious intent she did make Wicca explicitly Celtic with this line. The Land of Youth is a specific epithet for a sort of Celtic heaven known as Tir na Nog. It was believed that in that land everything was youthful and abundant forever. The Cauldron of Ceridwen refers to the Cauldron of a specific crone goddess –  in that cauldron boils all wisdom. Whatever goes in the cauldron is changed forever. The Holy Grail is, in this case a dual Pagan and Arthurian/Christian reference: while Christians see the Holy Grail as the cup Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper, Wiccans see the cauldron as an embodiment or perhaps aspect of the grail.

I am the Gracious Goddess, who gives the gift of joy unto the heart.

Again, this suggests she just wants everyone to be happy. Also, that happiness is sacred. If she is the source of good in the world, then seeking real happiness is also a source of good in the world.

Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and

I think “eternal” is a later addition. But knowledge of the spirit in this case refers to two things: self-knowledge, an understanding of the self so that you know what your best path to happiness is and also knowledge of the human nature, that you become aware of the maladies of body and mind that keep others from their own true paths.

beyond death, I give peace, and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before.

Yes, this suggests an afterlife and the way it suggests it effectively differentiates Wicca from other types of Paganism and polytheism. Wicca believes in a pleasant afterlife and in a reunion with loved ones. This implies a meeting with ancestors but it’s kept vague. Other Pagan and polytheist beliefs tend to have unique takes on an afterlife from none at all to very specific realms of reward and punishment. This makes no mention of the Summerlands, the popular term for Wiccan “heaven” though that’s a fit, too.

Nor do I demand sacrifice,

Sacrifice is one of the most discussed concepts in all of Paganism and again this is what makes Wicca different from other Pagan and polytheist religions. Before I go further let me make this clear: these are not the sacrifices of horror movies. The majority of sacrificial practices today strongly resemble backyard barbecues. Think about that when enjoying some grilled chicken in a backyard. Wicca explicitly does not engage in sacrificial rituals. There are no animals offered, nor is anyone required to abstain from any pleasure for any reason.

Sacrifice is, however, different from offering. Offerings are routine and good manners in general. As we offer drinks to our guests so we pour libations, or burn incense or candles, or put out small pieces of food for the God/dess. It’s an extrapolation on the concept – and it’s also an important anchor to Wiccan religious ritual.

for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.

It’s unclear whether Wiccan environmentalist consciousness was sparked by this. That seems like something that came along later on. This does make it clear that all living things are her children – not just the witches – and “my love is poured out upon the earth” suggests that all living things have some of her essence upon them. It could be argued that all living things are actually the God/dess. as her presence infuses absolutely everything with no regard to what humanity considers good or evil.

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess, she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven; whose body encircleth the Universe;

This is still interpreted as the same Goddess or simply another aspect of the same Goddess. That perspective is part of Wicca’s liquid monotheism/duotheism. It is arguable that the Star Goddess is part of a double or triple pantheon and is actually a separate Goddess altogether.

I, who am the beauty of the green earth, and the white Moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, and the heart’s desire,

This is a reminder that the God/dess is all of nature – and makes it clear that yes, that means she includes us. She is the force that gives us desire, that is what is behind our state of constantly moving on to the next want once the last one has been sated.

call unto thy soul. Arise and come unto me.

This is an interesting ritual trick – yes, it calls coveners to stand up if they are not already. But it also turns the invocation of the Goddess into an invocation of the Wiccans present.

For I am the Soul of Nature, who giveth life to the universe; from me all things proceed, and unto me must all things return;

The God/dess is everything and is in everything. This line suggests both animism and gnosticism at the same time. Even the heaven/afterlife she promises is her – to die is to be in her because she is all.

and before my face, beloved of gods and mortals, thine inmost divine self shall be unfolded in the rapture of infinite joy.

What the Goddess wishes for most is to see each creature attain its bliss – and that bliss is again promised in the afterlife. “Beloved of gods and mortals” is curious – it seems to acknowledge that there are other gods outside of the Goddess. She has stated that she is all living things; this suggests that the gods are included in that as much as the mortals are and in much the same way. So the gods are not aspects of the Goddess but they are made from her (and yet, paradoxically, they ARE aspects of her because they are made from her.)

Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

This may be the single most upheld line of the Charge. It is the reason that Wicca has come to welcome all sexualities and all acts of consensual sexuality. There is a powerful moral key embedded in this seemingly permissive line: love and pleasure are not separate concepts: to be a ritual to the Goddess, love AND pleasure must BOTH be present in all parties for the act to qualify as sacred. The love need not be the romantic love of popular conception but it must be at minimum a cherishing and appreciation of the lover at hand.

And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

This is a call to balance with the intent of preventing a dogmatic approach to spirituality.

And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou know this mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

The path to the divine is an inner path, not an outer one. As you know yourself and come to recognize yourself as sacred, as part of the Goddess, you will also come to connect to the Goddess and actually recognize her outside of yourself.

For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.

 This is both the beginning of an individual’s life and the beginning of all that is and ever was. When you stop desiring you will come to the Goddess, but in an “embrace the desires” way rather than in the Buddhist “rise above your desires” sort of way.

This is poetry, yes, but this is also the original Wiccan values statement. Every line is packed with meaning and that means every line may have a different interpretation from what I have set down here. But it is important to understand it, because it actually has more explicit calls for pleasure-loving moral behavior than the Wiccan Rede itself does.

Wicca and the Ego #paganvalues

The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the movie Revolver, people will do insane things to protect their ego, mistaking it for their true selves.  As a person attempts to ascend the tree of life the ego often pulls that person off the ascent. I’m inclined to believe this.

It makes the movie a mind-bending bummer.

Watch it anyway. You’ll be just as confused as I am, and likely you’ll want to share.

One of things it points out is that Christians (among others) concoct the devil as a way of displacing blame for acts of evil done to protect the evil. The Rider-Waite tarot takes a more honest view: the interpretation of the devil is usually “Your ego makes you STUPID.” You are the devil. You are chained by beliefs you create explicitly to avoid responsibility, or to avoid acknowledging unpleasant truths. The Devil = DENIAL.

Denying truths never does a thing to change them.

Wicca ditches the whole devil mythos – first of all, we aren’t Christian, and Christian morality concepts are none of our business even as we live in a culture that views them as standard fare. Second, as I once said in irritation to one of those standard fare Christians, “We don’t need the devil when we have ourselves.” The human ego is the source of all evil. Not money. Not sex. Not even religion. We, human beings, commit acts of hate, of malice, and of cruelty, sometimes even for the sake of it in order to reinforce the self-image we create for ourselves.

The Ego runs a litany of deny, deny, deny, suppress, suppress, suppress  – and lie to yourself when you can’t find any other way out of owning some act you performed that made the world a worse place to be. Being Wiccan – or any other kind of Pagan – does nothing to make you immune to this. But there’s also no devil to collect your blame.

Wicca isn’t exactly an enlightenment religion – we look forward, even down into the taproots, rather than up. The mysteries lie in where and how we share the world. Even so, stilling the ego seems to make the work inherent in this spirituality happier if not easier. It means a quieter mind during meditation. It means the ability to celebrate the happiness of others. It means not, in any way, winding up like the characters in Revolver.

That in itself seems like a strong reason to ditch the ego and leave the Devil’s chains empty.

Religious Bigotry Among the Pagans #paganvalues

[Dear Geoffrey – yes, I prestacked the deck this time. I drafted this on March 23, 2012.)

Map showing the prevalence of Abrahamic (pink)...
Map showing the prevalence of Abrahamic (pink) and Dharmic religions (yellow) in each country. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least some of my regular readers have seen that chart, right? The one that maps what Pagans/occultists look down on what other Pagans? The online FAQ about it seems to forbid reprinting/redistribution, so alas, I can’t give you the pretty chart to see here. It’s well worth a look, though.

The chart is funny, because it’s true. That infographic is very accurate, and I know I’ve experienced being the looked down upon while also looking down upon someone else. I’ve even had it happen at the same time, as we all drank from the same pot of coffee.

My feminism, my paganism

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...
English: One of the symbols of German Women’s movement (from the 1970s) Deutsch: Ein Logo der deutschen Frauenbewegung (aus den 70er Jahren) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From 1998-2004, I was heavily involved in the Pagan movement of my generation. It’s fallen off – I’m not teaching classes or marching marches. I’m writing, mostly, often feeling too unsafe in a crowd of my own to spend more than symbolic time with any fellow Pagan.

I’ve come to consider Paganism in the United States not a singular historical movement, but a series of movements brought by each group of Pagans within a generation. Our philosophies may look similar, but our experiences getting to them differ. For example, I have never heard a Pagan in my age-range claim positive gain by excluding men from ritual. At the same time, the challenges feminists, with or without faith, are the same: entitlement, patriarchy, male privilege. But how people develop the attitudes we fight with, and how we experience these attitudes and assumptions is different every time.

A feminist from the 1960s era never navigated the text-message bailout or booty calls via email. The mechanics of sex remains stable but the social culture has changed as women are presumably allowed to use many of the same tools, tricks and manipulations as men.

Male privilege was just a pat assumption of the overarching culture from the 1960s through the 1980s. Male privilege for generation X and Y stems more from women’s competition with each other as so many act out on the unconscious and superfluous belief that men are necessary not just for species survival but for social survival

That these particular women figuratively screw themselves while literally getting screwed is something only a few recognize. ((Much of this “Why aren’t we hearing about abused men? etc. is happening after men are, in fact, being treated to the same consequences as the other 51% of the population. For them, equality will suck because it means everyone is now equally culpable.)

Generations XY have nothing to prove by rejecting another gender or a variation within gender, and nothing spiritual to gain from such rejection, either.

This isn’t an absolute – it falls along a spectrum, and religion of birth is usually the anchor in how far into patriarchy the pendulum swings.

More rising young Witches and Wiccans are ascending, not to seek personal power as women, but to incorporate a spiritual worldview that involves the things they love the most: the environment, other people, themselves. Many do not even give a thought to their own gender until confronted with someone determined to challenge it according to some fantasy of the “good old days” that that person himself (usually) would not actually enjoy experiencing. It may not be playing out the way perhaps Starhawk envisioned, but the core intent of our foremothers and forefathers is starting to manifest.

My journey into Wicca itself was separate from my feminist identity. The idea of a Goddess interested me, but I didn’t find it revolutionary or rebellious – my feeling about it was more of “finally someone’s being honest with me, and with themselves!!!!”
While I have been since disappointed, the disappointment resides with inevitable human failing, not with any disservice at the hands of the gods I celebrate. I came into Wicca with the idea of feminism as equally inclusive of men and women. The misogyny and homophobia woven into some of the earlier Wiccan traditions came as a surprise to me, and I naturally assumed that most Wiccans had the sense to evolve beyond them as science sped over the old assumptions, negating the absolutism of “feminine” and “masculine.”

It is only as I have aged into a range that the generations before me “take seriously” that I have learned how much misogyny persists. True to hegemonist form, certain women  will support those beliefs to their own death.

I was also surprised, but struggled to be understanding, about the traditions that actively exclude men. Patriarchy has socialized forms of purdah for 20th century American women; some extend into the 21st century. I routinely break them, going dancing sans husband or even without the protection of a group. It’s a conscious, political act on my part.

Women in my age range don’t need our husband’s permission to let a salesman in the house, (we wouldn’t for other reasons) and would be shocked that a partner would even think to demand that kind of authority. In most cases, divorced or at least abandon him if he tried to overstep the line that crosses from relationship into imprisonment.
This isn’t just a given expectation – men of our generation aren’t just casually given authority, an improvement that these same women fought to create. The authority that remains is in a casually conferred respect, where men feel free to say certain things without being forced to prove themselves while it’s still demanded that women do so. The next generation, most likely, all respect on all sides will simply have to be earned.

Right now the conflict between inclusion or exclusion of men is as much about honoring what the women requesting the exclusion have gone through as it is about acknowledging how far we’ve come. The male experience of a man born in 1980 differs drastically from one born in 1970 (and is why my partner is chosen from the more recent years.) The female experience and even thoughts about the experience differs even more drastically. Men are no longer blindly obeyed, not because men are “bad” but because it’s an outright stupid idea to blindly obey anyone, male or female. Rachel Berry on Glee said something true -and ten years before it would have been outrageous to the point of scandal: “Girls want sex just as much as guys do.” Girls and boys both want sex – and have equal capacity to control those urges.

I have never been actively feminist. I’ve never joined a consciously feminist organization, although I regret not joining NOW in college. I find radical feminists strangely behind the times, not because their causes are outdated but because they should be and are not. I do think they need some R&D people embedded with them, people who experiment with different protest, diplomacy, subliminal subversion tactics – if all you do is picket, for instance, it becomes far too easy to become blind to the signs.

My feminism just is, a core condition of my being. Despite messages all through childhood about how I was to behave a certain way, I remained convicted that I had just as much human worth as any boy.

It was, without a doubt, a condition that made me open to Wicca as a religious path, but it was not the deciding factor. I only consciously thought about my own feminism when someone else brought it up to me, their projections onto me about it, and I knew two things: my family objected to anything that made me more resistant to their abusive behavior, and women who called themselves feminist often did not have the courage required to genuinely practice it.

Demanding I be treated with respect by my family was my first radical, unsuccessful act, so breaking with them became my second radical act. (I generally prefer the subversive approach.) This happened not because I am Wiccan, but because I am feminist and I believe in my own worth.

The message that God was mad at me because I was a woman never came to roost on me; to my mind any God that had me born a woman was culpable for my gender, and since that deity did not consult me on that decision, I sure as hell wasn’t responsible for results and reactions solely based upon myself being female.

This is my feminism. It does not really define my spiritual values, but it informs it. It does inform my political values because it is simple self-interest to want access to birth control, proper health care and my own bank accounts without needing my husband’s permission.

Do I believe men should be excluded from ritual? No. Hardly anyone of my generation does. Besides, men – straight, gay, transgender – all need inclusion for social change to genuinely happen.

Ethics and Scale: Punish or Discipline?

Freud's diagrams from 'The Ego and the Id' (1923)
Freud’s diagrams from ‘The Ego and the Id’ (1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I blame a lot of warped thinking on monotheism. It’s very blamable. You want all the power, you take all the blame – and monotheism has caterwauled for all the power as long as I’ve been alive.

But in this case, I can’t blame monotheism. Human ego, definitely. Excess privilege, probably.

The conflicts I’ve dealt with in the past year, possibly the past two years, have all involved someone doing something less than perfectly – and those who decided it was their job to hold that person accountable clamoring for punishment.

That’s the process as most of us have learned it. The problem is that every self-appointed officer of the invisible law only understood the metaphorical equivalent of the electric chair. Heads rolling. Hands cut off. Loaves of bread inserted … OK, stopping there. Part of this is the high people get from drama. It’s fun to say “heads will roll!” We don’t really feel that way – even though we insist upon it. It’s just fun to see some drama and destruction. It feeds our egos and helps us down that cocaine-like anger high that makes us feel oh so very smart as we become progressively more idiotic.

A sense of ethical scale has somehow completely disappeared. It’s prison or nothing, the death penalty or getting off free. Fire them! Shut it down! Just give up!

These are not workable extremes. Most are actually pretty fucking childish to ask for unless there really is a dead body lying on the ground or a reason to request a rape kit.

One of the more workable aspects of the US justice system is the concept of a punishment proportional to the crime. But it’s also not workable: punishment often just produces more aggression. Discipline, correction, re-teaching – those all consistently work better and do not wind up creating harshly drawn characters whose only skill set involves felonies. These methods are also less gratifying, especially when you’re riding an anger high.

This is also why I keep pounding that Paganism IS NOT ONE SINGLE RELIGION. IT IS HUNDREDS OF RELIGIONS, POSSIBLY THOUSANDS. When we’re dealing with the “Pagan community” we’re dealing with a (growing) sample of individuals who have self-selected to be part of a very roughly centralized community – centralized only by our willingness to communicate with one another. Druids, Wiccans, Norse worshippers, traditional witches – we form what we call the Pagan community. The Pagan community is not the whole of Paganism. Each one of these traditions named has their own way of handling things. But when say a Druid and an Asatruar decide to work together on a project the question becomes what – or whose – ethical rules apply?

So what do you do in a subculture that doesn’t have an enforcement system because it refuses to have any form of centralized authority?

There’s what I’ve learned to do, which is not the same as what others might do. Meting out punishment is not on this list. Focusing on the big picture is.

1. Encourage others to own their shit, usually by blogging about it. This usually falls on deaf ears/uncreceptive eyeballs – it’s easier to feel pious and superior when you’ve made yourself out to be the victim. Alas, on a social level, there are rarely single-victim crimes. Also, those that scream the loudest about being offended are almost always the ones to perpetrate the most heinous behaviors while shrieking their victimhood. It’s really quite tired. If such behavior is new in my experience with a person, I hear it out and consider past behaviors or conflicts I’ve witnessed. If it’s not, I weigh this particular ego stampede against what we’ve managed to accomplish together. If nearing accomplishment comes paired with said stampede (happens often) I move on.

2. Consider the Big Picture. What are ALL the consequences of a given action? Often enough, it’s better to let something faulty continue to run and make repairs then it is to just trash it altogether. This is especially the case if there’s no one else available to make a given vehicle move. Now if that particular vehicle drives into a wall and ends up taking out an entire fleet of vehicles, then it needs a shutdown. This very rarely happens. In a more gentle phrasing, to paraphrase Julia Cameron, “the ideas come after the work has begun.”

3. Own my shit. I do see a therapist. I choose spirituality to help me with my issues. You might choose something else that works for you, that lets you forget the whole “Who am I” and just be in it without any concern for your identity. I do spend a lot of time doing what I can not just to park my ego – but to watch where I’ve parked it. It’s a lifelong process.

4. Bring up issues not in reference to yourself but in reference to the project at hand.

5. Never, ever dismiss persistent conflict as a “personality conflict.” Personality conflicts are real communication problems. The people do not need to like each other – but they sure as hell better either agree on a common goal or at least on a task division that both are willing and able to fulfill while parking egos about how the other person does his/her job. In Pagan culture, almost no one gets paid, so performance reviews are well nigh pointless.

So what happens when someone does deserve consequences, social or legal? That, my friends is another blog post, for another time.

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#paganvalues War (unavoidable political discussion)

This entry is part 25 of 27 in the series Pagan Values Month

As a Christian teenager, I did practice pacifism. The lesson I learned? Pacifism is for the popular and secure. I was neither. The worst time in your life to be a pacifist is in your teens, especially if you’re a girl. Violence is an absolute last resort after all other avenues are exhausted, and it is, like grabbing the fire extinguisher off the wall, for emergency use only. People still especially object to women standing up for themselves in this way; as men and women slowly discover the benefits of genuine social equality, this will change.

So in Wicca, where “harm none” is upheld as the salient value, it may seem strange to some that while I do not support war, any war, for any reason, I do support the basic right and need of my Wiccan and other Pagan fellows to go to war, to serve in the military, and to bear arms. I’m a fan of the first and second amendments. I am not, however, a fan of people who want to carry on about how many guns they own. It just tells me that that person has some really tiny junk. (Women included.)

It’s worth pointing out that the majority of military service men and women identify as Christian. “Thou shalt not kill,” does not get raised in their arguments often, either. The Bible here and there does say a few specific things about doing what you must to protect home and family; I believe that neopagan thinking may well fall along a similar line.

#paganvaluesmonth Free Will

This entry is part 24 of 27 in the series Pagan Values Month

There are still a ton of topics left uncovered by me this year, along with a few basic ways I might provide information in hopes of facilitating the blogging process for my fellow bloggers.  I am very much a US American in my acculturation, and this means I have the unfortunate tendency to either think “I can’t” (thankfully, this is rare these days) or “I’m going to DOITALLATONCE!” which is not just unrealistic, but can unchecked turn into a method of burning myself out until it really is a de facto “I can’t.”

I am working hard on moderating these qualities. My greatest challenge is finishing a work, and after that, sustaining the sorts of projects that are intended to be ongoing. In the efforts of caring for myself and my personal energy, I have learned that consciously only doing a little bit at a time takes me farther, faster than trying to apply massive effort and then just resting.  I will hopefully remember to refer back to this when I put up a “tips for Pagan Values bloggers” post after this one.

In the meantime, I consider this a value that goes well with my philosophies of opposition to domination and control: free will. Just as domination and control have some small grey areas ((self-defense has a hierarchy of response in my mind with domination magic as one of the last resorts)) outside the sexual arena, so does the influence of free will.

Hopefully to best communicate my perspective, I want to lay down the following suppositions, concepts, and/or ideals. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the time to explore this as in-depth as I’d like, so I will lay this down as a rough outline for an in-depth discussion, possibly next year:

  • Free will is actually a pillar of belief that can and does connect Christianity and Paganism. I’m willing to venture that most Christians believe in free will, and that most Pagans do as well. Although evolutionary biology/psychology are used as the Pagan version of the Christian concept of pre-destination, a the core of our ethical and moral decisions and discussions revolve almost entirely around the strong belief that we do have a choice about our choices. ((This fails to explain why those that believe in predestination evangelize anyway. I think they just want more people to make babies and thus church members with.))
  • Free will is sacrosanct. It is the center of the soul and mind, and is precious and private in the same way that we consider our genitals.
  • At the core of our beings, we always have a choice. Depending on the situation, we may not have choices we are happy to make. Even in the throes of drunkenness or on a high, we have a choice about our actions.
  • The core spiritual struggle to do moral right comes in the negotiation between what other humans want from us, and what our core will/connection to the Divine or free will most want. This is what sane Muslims mean when they speak of jihad. While to them it is struggle to do right in the eyes of God, to Pagans this conflict is the struggle to moderate between the demands of the overculture and the struggle to honor our own sense of what’s right.

Free will on the surface appears a pure topic. People should have the freedom at least to think what they want to think. But just as “harm none” can actually lead to immobility when applied the wrong way, free will can also lead either to immobility or worse, to just handing yourself over, if you misunderstand it.

Every single human being that interacts with other human beings is in a negotiation for his or her free will all the time. This isn’t because we are all consciously at war for domination. Certainly, some of us are, but for the most part the behavior is at least unconscious if not unintentional. It’s the pressure many Pagans know by loved ones who want us to convert to their religions and thus relieve the pressure of having their assumptions challenged by our very presence; it’s the lady at the supermarket trying to persuade you to buy her brand of frozen food; it’s the politician that knocks on your door in a handshake campaign; it’s even your neighbor calling you to ask you to keep the noise down after 10 pm.

These aren’t all bad things, these aren’t all good things. What these are are negotiations, part of the billions of lifetime transactions that over and over define the lines between your will and the will of those who live around you. In fact, it’s the absolute core of all ethical decisions and discussions: it’s all about what actions you decide to take.

Sometimes, people will try to even get you to think differently. The Greek and Roman art of rhetoric, a long-honored tradition that defines the US and other legal systems, is built around changing the minds of the people. When we practice persuasion or manipulate emotions for any reason, we are essentially tapping into the free will of others.

While manipulation is spectacularly rotten, it is also extremely common, so common that many people can no longer distinguish between persuasion – an appeal to a person’s highest ideals to change a thought or feeling – and manipulation, which is a provoking of emotions to prompt a specific response or result.

A short example

Most of the ethical discussions around magic actually do boil down to free will. We witches worry a lot about whose mind we might change and how, sometimes to the point where we over-confuse what we do.

For instance, in binding magic: I’ve read the argument that when you bind a thief from robbing your home, you are “thwarting the thief’s free will.”

Absolutely not.

The thief will still want to rob you. If you’ve performed the binding properly, he/she will simply find him/herself unable to succeed at robbing you. I seriously doubt I will get bad karma from sending out energy that gives the thief a flat tire as s/he is driving out to my home to grab my stereo.

Now, if I’d bewitched the robber to lose interest in robbing me, yes, that might be more effective – but I’ve also then screwed with his/her free will. I’ve also stolen from the thief an opportunity to grow/change by changing his/her mind about robbing me.

If I chose to be nice and not perform a binding, I’d have dishonored myself – and by that, I mean, did a poor job of caring for the life I’ve been charged to take care of the entire time I’m on this earth – and then there would be the karma of having my stuff stolen, and the feeling of violation resulting from poor self-care. Please do not take this to mean I think ALL people should bind thieves. For non-magical people, the basic effort of locking a door is sufficient to honor the self and the home. This scenario would also be one where I somehow saw the theft coming: unexpected actions by others are one of the many prices and challenges of life.

 

 

#paganvalues The Apology, and its receipt

This entry is part 21 of 27 in the series Pagan Values Month

There’s always a fuzzy point where my own values come in: they are not necessarily Pagan values, but they are values that belong to my person. I am a Pagan, and I express those values. Just as politics and religion may not separate so easily, neither do my personal and religious values – after all, just as some people can’t distinguish between their political and religious inclinations, others can’t quite distinguish between the religious and the personal. I am Pagan. Are these my values because I am Pagan? Perhaps. Am I Pagan because of my values? That may well be the stronger argument. I did not change my emotional beliefs very much at all upon my religious conversion; what changed was my understanding of history and science. (Evolution was never a point of contention when I was Christian, and most certainly not now.)  After 16 + years practicing Wicca, the line has gotten so fuzzy it might classify as a new form of penicillin.

One of those values in action that may be personal and may in some way be Pagan revolves around the apology. Here, I need to acknowledge the source: a friend recently posted to her Livejournal about apologizing to someone she felt she treated poorly. (I have no idea whether or not she treated him as she felt she did.) I said that I thought it was a classy thing to do – and I wondered why so many people, even when they do know they did something that caused real harm, refuse to apologize. I have been genuinely mystified by this for years.

Another poster did explain it to me. To paraphrase, “Whenever you apologize, you risk hearing a litany from the other person of how much you suck.”

This was illuminating for me.  Especially since it seems that we are rapidly losing protocol for delivering apologies, and if what this person said is true (and I think it probably is) the protocol for accepting apologies may well have disappeared completely.

#paganvalues The fine art of courteous living

This entry is part 19 of 27 in the series Pagan Values Month

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I generally don’t miss Indiana. The near-caste system mentality of the town I lived in guaranteed I never made an authentic connection to anyone, and while I know living anywhere else in Indiana would have produced different, happier results for me, we lived where we lived and my happiness and health was not a factor in that decision. As it is now, when I’m approached by people from my childhood via Facebook (they are why I hate Facebook), it’s strange, distorting, slightly nauseating: these beings that were never really friends want me to be interested in their children, their litany of health problems, the trivia of their daily lives. Even the interests I share put me off when they express them: I want them to keep their hands the hell off gardening and Doctor Who.

Mostly I ignore the overtures these days. A friend request without a note gets ignored. Yet there is one way to work around my resistance: an act of courtesy. One woman who was my first experience with female competitive syndrome and betrayal got through because she acknowledged my father’s death when I was at a weak moment. ((I still think she’s sniffing for when my family’s property goes up for sale.))  A few got through just because we at least made motions of friendship, and never did anything intentionally cruel to each other, or had made some effort to stay in touch during college. For the most part, the tribe of my birthplace consists of the persons most foreign to me in the world, and associating with them or even witnessing their lives through the filter of Facebook actually disgusts me.

Yet, paradoxically, these people harbor a few cultural habits, gestures of daily interchange, that I quite miss. Minnesotans did not do the following at all when I first moved here, and still don’t most of the time. These actions are small, simple, create a temporary sense of community – and when I do them in this state, I often get strange, suspicious reactions.

The two gestures from my Hoosier history I miss the most?

Waving “thanks” at stop signs, and putting a groceries divider down for the person behind you.