A while ago (it was recently when this post was seeded, but I have poor time management skills and don’t make enough time to write), I was talking with one of my brothers, who happens to be a medic in the US Special Forces. Since it was so long ago, I can’t remember his exact words, but I do remember the surprise with which I listened to him vehemently express his disdain and disgust for overweight patients. I had a bit of conversation with him about it, but I was rather stunned and couldn’t put the words together to really express my thoughts.

Now, I’ve heard enough of other people’s experiences at this point to know intellectually that fat-shaming isn’t at all uncommon among our medical professionals. That instead of real investigation and consideration, fat people are often simply brushed off by being told that all their problems would just be solved if they’d lose that weight. In my head, I know this, because enough people have said it and it fits with how the rest of our culture handles weight that I don’t really have a reason to question the assertation.

But I’m not fat. Never have been, could be in the future but it seems pretty unlikely without some serious shift in my medical condition. When I gained the freshman whatever in college and moaned to my sister about it, her response was “What, so you don’t look anorexic anymore?” (Took me aback, rather, but I also felt reassured that at least I hadn’t now gained so much weight I’d have to Do Something About It, and Not Having To Do Something About Something is always a plus for the ADDer.) And because of this, I’d never had any occasion to really experience the effects of that prejudice.

So as I said, I was rather stunned to actually hear such in the open dismissal of an entire group of people just based on their physical appearance. I realised later that what my head had actually been shouting was simply, “No! Just no! Ok, so maybe they’re putting their health at risk, maybe there are things they could be doing differently, you can disagree with how they care for themselves all you want! But they still deserve basic respect, dammit, because they are still PEOPLE!”

And then abruptly I started thinking, how do I apply that in my own life? Because I don’t personally consider, say, Rush Limbaugh a person. If I saw a poisonous snake curl up for a nap on his chair, I would probably not warn him. I would probably turn the lights down and play soothing music to encourage the snake to stay asleep until he came in and sat on it. And that doesn’t technically jibe with the belief that people deserve basic respect simply for being fellow human beings, does it?

I can’t think of a good answer for that. Anything along the lines of “Well, you can extend respect until it’s lost…,” lends itself too easily to abuse – of course we can all decide for ourselves what lines we draw there, but once you start drawing those lines then more and more people cross the line from Fellow Human to Dangerous Other. It’s a slippery road to walk, is all I’m saying. Particularly since such a policy does not generally allow for a person to change and cross the line back to Fellow Human. Once a D.O., always a D.O.

But I’m also really not inclined to start thinking of Limbaugh, Palin, Bachman, Boehner, Cruz, et. al with anything resembling respect. Each time my co-worker turns on Fox radio in the afternoons I think fondly of that poisonous snake.

I haven’t a good answer for how to reconcile the two.

So, here’s an email I just wrote. When I started it, I actually did intend to send it. About halfway through, I realised that if I want anybody in the administration to actually listen to any of it, I’m going to have to reword it to be less hostile. Not because I think they don’t deserve to be treated with hostility, but because I know that hostility in an approach generally gets your approach immediately discounted.

(I know, I know, not everyone believes this. If they did, then people wouldn’t whinge about Dan Fincke’s civility pledge. But most of the complaints I’ve actually read in person are from people who I automatically discount because, well, they’re huge jackasses. (Also note that I haven’t read a lot of the blogger responses to it; mostly just comments on Dan’s blog and Facebook page.))

Anyway, here’s the email:

Governor Corbett,

I just learned about your suit against county clerk Hanes in Montgomery County (a man who, I may say, makes me proud to have spent much of my life there). You need to stop pursuing this immediately. Republicans love to make much about how the government should just butt out, minimize involvement. So BUTT OUT. Get your petty prejudices out of the lives of decent people.

I visited your website to find your email address, and it makes me despair for this state and the people who voted for you. Nothing that I can see on the front page of your site bears any resemblance to the truth. Creating jobs for people? By doing what, increasing tax breaks for your rich friends, so that there’s no money to support the programs that would help people get back to work, like, say, unemployment and education?

Every headline I saw click by made me angrier and angrier. “A Bright Future For Our Students.” A bright future for our students?? Really??? When you’re determined to eliminate funding any education at all and have cheerfully jumped on the bandwagon of those who want to demonize and vilify teachers?? Let me tell you, my mom IS a teacher, and in a “rich” school district at that, and the more I hear from her about state-mandated changes in their school the more I despair that my toddler will ever grow up to have a decent education.

“Helping Pennsylvanians most in need?” By destroying our natural resources, destroying the farmland that this state still relies on so that companies can drain money out of the state while pretending that offering temporary (yes, temporary – you think the gas companies are going to do anything to find new employment for those workers after they’ve extracted every last ounce of blood they can from our state? If you do, well, you’re lying) employment makes up for that.

It disgusts me that you can sit out there in the governor’s mansion and pretend that you’re doing anything, ANYTHING other than lining the pockets of your cronies. I am literally shaking with anger, right here, because you are a disgusting, miserly, selfish bastard of a human being and you’re just sooooo proud of yourself. How do you convince yourself these lies are true? Do you really believe they are? Or do you go to bed at night laughing at all the suckers convinced that you’re going to help them just because you’re running under the party on their voter registration card?

I imagine that’s more likely than you doing what you should be doing, which is going to bed at night and laying awake staring at the ceiling, nauseous over the fact that you are part of the Republican Party of Hate, the party of the rich, the party of the 1%, and so *by definition* you’re in the running to belong to the category of “worst people in America” and your policies aren’t designed to do anything but crush the people who are counting on you because hey – that’s how you get rich in this country.

If you really had any trace of decency in you, you wouldn’t be able to sleep for the nightmares.

That’s something I’d really like to be able to do, actually. Provide dreams for people. Specifically, nightmares for politicians and people who profit from politics. Every night, Rush Limbaugh would spend the entire night dreaming that he’s an unemployed Hispanic woman in rural Alabama, with three children to care for and a husband who’s been arrested for being the wrong color. And a white next door neighbor who waves the Confederate flag above the American flag on his flagpole.

I also would like to be able to re-write this email so that it’s a little more productive, but that’s not going to happen at 11:30 at night when I’m still enraged.

P.S. You can go to that snake Corbett’s website if you want, but I’m not going to link it, because even thinking about it right now makes me wish that I could punch his smug, smarmy smile on my computer screen and have it break his actual teeth.

P.P.S. See? I did good! I actually thought about what I was saying while I was writing it instead of after clicking “send”!

Thought  with this post I’d list a few of the reasons why I still attend a Lutheran church in spite of not actually being a Christian anymore. The concept can be confusing sometimes, I know. Hey, it could be worse; I could have been serving a term as a church council member during the period when I switched definitively to atheism and formally allowed myself to adopt a Pagan mindset – oh, wait. Right.

Also, I started writing this post back in March. I haven’t posted in a while, because it’s been hard to write. Not because of depression, just because of time. One of the upsides of the meds working better is that I’m more interested in doing things I always liked to do before, which means I’m doing a lot less sitting on the computer. Which does mean doing less writing. But hey, I’m working on an awesome afghan right now!

So, why do I take my son with me to St. Peter’s at about the same frequency that I attended while I was still a believer (about 25% of the time, in case you were wondering)? There’s a few reasons, but they basically all boil down to “they’s good people there.”

  • These people helped take care of me while I was away at school for the first time. Since they’re so close to the school (literally across the street from campus, which ain’t exactly large) and there are quite a few alumni there, they have a soft spot for students and deliberately try to reach out. Yes, we like it when students get more involved in the church, so that is one of the motivators. But having been on the other side of the Campus Ministry Committee now, I know that in large part the motivation is that they know it can be hard to be away from home, to be on your own (as much as college students are these days, at least), and they want to provide a soft place to land.
  • When my younger brother stunned the hell out of all of us by joining the Marines out of a clear blue sky? And I started to get bombarded with requests/demands to talk him out of it and figure out how to change his mind? And I was torn between wanting him the hell out of the military and also wanting us all to respect the first goddamn major decision he’d made for himself since forever and ALSO wondering how the hell I was supposed to have this much influence over him? St. Peter’s is where I went to break down, and St. Peter’s is where somebody took a solid hour out of their busy day, having had no advance warning, to sit with me and talk with me and just be with me.
  • I picked up my pentacle necklace at the Ren Faire shortly after I joined the church council. Wore it probably 90% of the time after that for the next three years. Closest anybody came to batting an eye at it was when I had to lead devotions at council for the first time and prior to the meeting asked the pastor, essentially, “What the hell do I have to DO on Tuesday?” She filled me in (it’s pretty generic) and then just before she finished, sort of eyed the pentacle and amended, “It should be a *Christian* reading…” (Note: I may have imagined the eyeing. I was having a shitty week and everything was magnified.)
  • Actually, now that I think about it, I tended to argue the skeptic/atheist’s point of view pretty often during whatever group discussion, council meeting or adult Sunday school or whatever, and nobody really gave me a hard time about it. They just listened, and responded, and to what I actually said rather than to what they imagined I said.
  • One “Women of the ELCA Sunday” stands out for me in particular. (I probably wasn’t there for most of them, given my attendance.) All the kids went up for the children’s sermon, which was given that day by the pastor’s husband. He asked them if any of them had ever thought about being a pastor, and then explained how when Pastor Roberts was their age, she couldn’t because women weren’t allowed to be pastors. But lots of people worked hard and pushed for change and now women can be pastors (she was one of the first women ordained in the Lutheran church, actually; I think in the second or third year after the rules changed). And then he went on to say that just like women had to fight for their rights in church, now gay people are fighting for their right to belong and we need to change the rules again. And I was just like, “How fucking awesome is St. Peter’s?”
  • February 2009, Darwin Day. Darwin’s 200th birthday was a Sunday. That morning, Pastor Roberts preached about her trip to the Galapagos Islands, and how awe-inspiring it was to be in the same place and see the same animals that led Darwin to begin formulating his theories. That’s still a golden moment for me, four years later.

I know I had more specific things in mind when I started this post, but since that was three months ago, I’ve forgotten them. I should have written them down, huh? Ha ha!

It feels a little odd to be revisiting this now, since I haven’t been to St. Peter’s since summer hours started. In part, that’s because if we go there then I miss the best hours for getting stuff at the farmer’s market, and that we just cannot have. But I honestly think part of it is also reactionary. One thing I definitely did not like while I was on council was the pressure pressure pressure to attend services more, to come to this event and that event and “show up and be leaders of the church.” I was like, “Ok, when you asked me to join council I pointed out I’m only here like 25% of the time and that wasn’t going to change, and you were all ‘Oh, no, that doesn’t matter!’ and so I did, and now suddenly it does matter?” So now that I can miss Sunday mornings without being made to feel guilty about it the second Tuesday of every month, I totally am. It’s like middle school gym class after the swimming unit ended. I had to shave every day or every other day or whatever, because we had swimming, and it was so annoying and when swimming was over I was like “THANK GOD I AM NEVER SHAVING AGAIN SUCH A PAIN IN THE ASS.” I really probably didn’t curse as much in middle school though.

I feel kind of weird hitting “Publish” on this post; it’s been so long since I’ve written one. @_@

Here I get into what sparked the last post, which is the debate I’ve been lurking at the edges of in the Pagan community about “what is Paganism?” Because other people are noticing that there seem to be quite a few of us who are atheist, and yet consider ourselves Pagan. To be fair, many people are fine with this. But there are also a number of people who seem to be saying “WELL, if THOSE people who don’t even believe in GODS are allowed to call themselves Pagan, then I refuse to be sullied by the same label!”

Those people piss me off a bit.

It’s the hypocrisy, mostly. In a recent piece that I’m not going to link to because that would require me to go look it up again and then I’d probably read bits of it again and then I’d get angry all over again, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus at once complains about how horrible some local Christians were for assuming they knew all about his tradition (the assumption being that “his people” would prefer to worship outdoors, being “Pagan”) and also about how horrible atheist/humanist pagans are for participating in rituals without actually believing in any gods. See, the galaxy doesn’t care if we do ritual or not, therefore it can’t possibly have any meaning for us.

Notice the contradiction there? Christians assuming knowledge about his beliefs and practices = evidence of how narrow-minded Christians are and how beleaguered his religion is. Him assuming knowledge of humanists’ beliefs and practices = perfectly fine, apparently. Also, it’s good I didn’t go look the article up again, because I’m getting pissed off just thinking about it.

Also in the article was a complaint about an assumption on the part of non-theists that believing in deities automatically makes one creedal. This seems like a bit of a straw argument, to me. Partly because I’m not sure how many non-theists actually think that, so ascribing the belief to all of us is more than a little presumptuous. And partly because, well, I do think Virius Lupus and his commenters are creedal, but not because they believe in deities. I think they’re creedal because down in the comments some of them went on a rant about the eclectic religious, and how wrong it is that people think they can just make up whatever they want and call it X without citing the proper historical authorities.

I’m sorry, but saying “we’re not creedal” while also saying “you’re doing it wrong if you don’t have everything you do checked and double-checked to ensure that it’s properly tied into the Ancient Tradition which was obviously the only right way of doing things” is pretty damn hypocritical. That’s “not creedal” in the sense that American Evangelicals are where sure, maybe they don’t recite the Apostle’s or Nicene or any other formally written creed, but they DO require their professors and leaders and elected officials to sign multi-page “statements of faith” as a way of keeping them in line.

The whole debate reminded me quite a lot of my days in the Christian evangelical world. What it basically comes down to is Drawing The Lines, Us vs. Them, the Right and the Wrong – and you know that Us is always Right. I saw a lot of discussion of “Whither Paganism?” and “What Is Paganism When You Get Right Down To It?” and “How Should We Define Paganism?”* But here’s the thing. We don’t really get to define Paganism. Do we have some impact on the definition? Yes. But I think it’s more precise to say that we have an impact on the connotations that the word has within our culture(s) as opposed to the definition. And again, it’s easy to look at Christianity for the parallels.

You probably have enough different belief systems under the umbrella of Christianity that if we assumed each to be devoted to a distinct deity, we’d probably double the number of known deities in mankind’s history overnight. Maybe more. It took a Pagan to point out to me that Protestants and Catholics are both Christian. When I was in college. Raised in the Protestant church, and nobody had really bothered to mention this before. There was always sort of this unspoken attitude that Catholics weren’t “real” Christians because they put Priests in between God and Man. Many Christians would not allow Mormons the label. Many Christians would not allow the label to anyone outside their own particular denomination or, in very extreme cases , their own particular church.

But all of those opinions don’t matter. To the outside world, they’re all Christians. Christ is held to be a divine figure, therefore they are Christians. Who gets the label is more up to individual adoption than the ability of Christians to sit down together and say, “Ok, what does it mean to be Christian?” Which isn’t to say that they don’t do that, or that that isn’t a valuable exercise. They do it all the time, and such examinations can be pretty darn important when it comes to figuring out your view of the world and your place in it. But all the discussions among Christians in the world are not actually going to have any impact on what outsiders think when they hear the term, and it’s going to be the same for Paganism as well (granted, it’s not really as simple as saying “this one thing is important”, but it isn’t really quite that simple in Christianity, either).

That outside view is one of the issues that I heard about recently – that oftentimes people without much understanding of Paganism or polytheism hear “Pagan” and think “nature worshiper”. I think that’s probably pretty true. Hell, it’s the main thing that drew me to Paganism in the first place. If your version of polytheism doesn’t have a particular connection to the seasons or other natural elements, it makes sense to want to dissociate yourself from the label. I’m not totally sure I buy into the idea that anybody could be following a Reconstructed religion and NOT be following a nature religion (I’d say “How could you be a devotee of Demeter and not consider that a nature religion??” but I have faith in the ability of humankind to rationalize anything), but since I haven’t made any sort of study of any of them I’m not qualified to assert that. It’s far more likely that I’m missing something than that people who have spent years developing their spiritual path have completely overlooking the blindingly obvious. ;-P

I do want to mention that since, as I said earlier, I sort of stayed on the edges of the most recent outburst of this debate, one of the things I saw the most of was actually a lot of people saying “Um, I never took this label for myself, so it really doesn’t matter to me HOW you want to define the word, because I don’t want you putting a label on me that I didn’t choose.” I personally think that’s pretty hard to argue with. I know not everybody agrees with me on this; e.g. the sort of person who says you can’t call yourself a Catholic if you don’t believe every single little thing the Catholic Church has decreed over the last several centuries, including the parts that contradict reality and each other. At this point in my life, a Catholic could show me their personal shrine to Krishna and I wouldn’t call their Catholicism into question. I’d probably ask about the story behind their path! But adding things here, removing them there – whatever you’re comfortable calling yourself is what your primary identity is, in my book.

(Spiritually speaking, of course. More simply defined labels don’t fall in the same category for me. If you eat lamb, you’re not a vegetarian. Not even a bi-vegetarian.)

So my ire is not directed at those who feel that the label connotations have shifted so that it’s not appropriate for them anymore, and especially not at those who never felt the label fit them in the first place. No, it’s just aimed at those who grouse about those horrible, horrible atheists and Humanists who are destroying their perfect, perfect religion. Because you know what? THAT connotation hasn’t shifted. People do not see the word “Pagan” and assume “atheist”. Theism is still the expectation from someone who declares themselves pagan – polytheism, at that.

To close, this is what my little boy has to say about things: hjkh Z2HJ1GCVHJFDSZH E “I did it, Mommy! I helped you!”

It may not be as involved as my own words, but it certainly is more concise.

——————————————————————-

*Please note: I have not been engaging with any in the Pagan community on Pagan topics for more than a few months, so I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling that this is not actually a new discussion, nor will it ever really have an ending. It’s kind of a human thing.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t afraid of the boogeyman. My family didn’t really go in much for telling stories like that. But I had D’Aulaire’s Greek myths, which I read cover to cover an uncountable number of times, and I distinctly remember spending some nights in bed staring at the window, worrying that Hades was going to come through it and carry me away.

I also loved the Egyptian deities. (This is probably because I’d always preferred animals to people.) I liked reading the myths, but even more I loved looking at the art and then drawing my own. I’m pretty sure that I recently uncovered (and then promptly re-covered through additional “cleaning”) at least one of a set of drawings I did of my high school literature magazine’s staff as Egyptian gods. I should post it somewhere.

Now, when I say I preferred animals to people, I mean it. Like, really. I thought people were ugly, clumsy things when compared with animals. That was the source of my monkey hate, too; they look far too close to people for me to have found them cute. I’ve been assured that even as a very, very small child I had no interest in dolls, but I loved my stuffed animals. If there had been an internet and a theriomorph subculture around when I was in middle school and high school, I’d probably currently be trying to convince you that I’m actually part cat (and there are those who know me who probably wouldn’t try to argue it all that hard…).

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say next, and I think the easiest thing may be to post an excerpt from a livejournal post I wrote several years ago. I wrote a few posts back then as I was really starting to swim through the transition from Christianity to not-Christianity, and I’ve been considering re-posting them again here and reflecting on the contents from a distance of several years and a more stable emotional state (believe it or not). But here’s the relevant bit for now:

The tipping point came close when I picked up Hal Bennett’s Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life at the Emmaus library. I liked what this guy had to say in general – in spite of a Christian upbringing, I have through my entire life felt drawn to the more Earth-centered religions, so it was always rather a problem for that I was told my entire life that Earth reverence was akin to demon worship (no one likes to hear that their ‘inherent’ beliefs are evil) – but didn’t feel specifically drawn to anything and was still in general feeling fairly detached from everything. Then, ahhh, then. I was looking for excerpts of Velvet Elvis to try to get a feel for what it said (hadn’t been to Bethlehem at this point), and I happened across a website called Read the Spirit, which had published an interview with Bell.

And they had all sorts of other interviews on there. And I kept clicking on them and following links and opening tabs and reading and reading and reading…. And eventually I found a “conversation” with a theologian named Matthew Fox, a conversation specifically about a book he’d written about men’s spirituality that involves discussion of the Green Man archetype, and the Blue Man and Grandfather Sky and other mythic figures. And I’m fascinated by this, and then I get to the end of the article and read this:

This time is a tremendous opportunity to reinvent and to recreate our ways of living on this planet. This is an opportunity to bring in a more nuanced and generous and just expression of what human economics can be, one that includes not just human beings but also the other species on the planet from forests and rivers and oceans.

This globe has to be a system that works for all of us—humans and all the other creatures as well.

And as I hear the words of the shaman coming from the mouth of the Christian, I am sitting there gape-mouthed and in tears because this is the first time, the first time in my GOD. DAMN. LIFE that someone from my own religious tradition is even implying that I do not have to suppress or hide or be ashamed of this insanely important part of my own spirituality.

Eventually, of course, I allowed myself to drift farther from Christianity and oddly (I thought at the time) towards both atheism and Paganism simultaneously. I was kind of mad about that, for a while. “Dammit, all those years of theism wasted as a Christian when I could have been happily Pagan!” rather sums up how I felt about the whole realization-that-there’s-no-evidence-for-a-deity. But books and web writings written by earth religionists still pulled at something in me – scratched a persistent emotional itch, as it were. In the end, I told myself, “You know what? The solstices and equinoctes and cross-quarters and full moons still happen whether there’s a god behind them or no. I can still do ritual, I can still call on the mythology and symbolism to express myself, and I shall be Pagan if I damn well want to, atheism be metaphorically damned.”

And after that, of course, I discovered humanistic Paganism and a number of blogs and found out that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way at all.

There are a lot of reasons why I feel more comfortable as a Pagan. One, if I’m being perfectly honest, is a certain dose of rebelliousness. Here’s a spiritual path I wasn’t even allowed to look at while I was growing up, even the symbols of which were considered signs of evil (in the general culture as opposed to my house or church in particular, so really I should probably say they still often are considered evil). So in my embrace of it now there is a tiny amount of “I am going to eat an entire box of Count Chocula for breakfast and you can’t stop me because I am An Adult, neener neener neener.” It’s not a driving factor, but I would be dishonest if I tried to pretend it wasn’t there at all. So, there’s that out of the way.

One of the major reasons – probably the major reason, really – that I prefer Paganism is because of the earth connection. I think that in general that’s become one of the defining factors of large-P Paganism. And I like being able to access a spiritual tradition that says, “Yes! These trees and birds and rivers are valuable in themselves, not as examples of a god’s handiwork, or their material value for human consumption, but simply because they are.” As I watch more and more of the land around me cleared out and covered with buildings (usually ugly ones), it’s pretty hard not to want to reach for that.

I also like the DIY aspect. I hear often that Pagans are interested in orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. Of course, you can have just as many arguments about what constitutes correct actions as about what’s correct doctrine, but still. That general attitude means it’s much easier to build your spiritual practice as you see fit, without worrying about how your actions fit with the pronouncements from On High. And, of course, as an atheist I get to pick whatever I want, since I fully admit I’m making it all up as I go along. 😀

I’ve spent a week on this post, and it’s bedtime, so I’m going to close with one of the downsides to being Pagan Atheist: it is true that it can be hard to find trust between atheists and theists when we believe that their gods are entirely human creations with no existance outside the minds of their believers. One way to look at it – and one way many atheists do look at it – is at people refusing to grow up and let go of their imaginary friend(s).

Atheists who think that way are not generally interested in being active in the Pagan community, I believe.

Another way to look at it, which I find more reasonable for me, is to recognise that Deity is the way this person finds wholeness in their spirituality. Do they need it? No, I don’t really think so. But as long as they’re not hurting anyone, I don’t particularly care what they believe. I know that this is not currently accepted Atheist Thought, but that’s a whole post in itself so I’ll deal with it later.

  1. Chrome found zero hits for “67dc f+wsa25tgs3uhhhhhhhhgh fwq” in the tab open to my Hotmail account.
  2. My phone now offers to autocorrect “Zads” to “Zadßqpj”.
  3. Opened the web browser on my phone to find a List of names of Odin on Wikipedia – somehow he actually managed to enter “Ygg” as a search term.
  4. “Showing results for Nj Jvvnl / No results found for Njjjngvvnml
  5. I have the following recent calls on my phone: “09#####0888777774477744774*445800” and “47148#3**0000000”
  6. He changed the aspect ratio on our TV. We didn’t know that was a thing it could do. We’re not sure how it changed back to normal, either.
  7. Did you know that you can actually enter the letter ‘P’ on our landline phones? You can. I don’t know how to do that, either.

Saturday night, for the first time, I experimented with a formal ritual to mark the Winter Solstice. While I’d thought about this concept before, I’d never actually done anything with it. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is almost certainly the fact that my depression had been growing worse over the last several years and that made it very difficult to do any of the follow-through necessary to implement any of the ideas I had over that time. Another one is that I had trouble finding a published ritual I felt comfortable with, as they mostly tended to be Wiccan or otherwise heavily deity-centered, and that was something I was trying to move away from. I wanted to celebrate the natural process of the turning of the seasons, not the theoretical influence of some supposed god/dess.

Actually, after my initial drift toward paganism, I skated past seeking anything spiritually fulfilling for a time. I have a strong feeling this was tied to the increasing depression, since on starting the first of the medications, one of the things to come back was the feeling of… of coming home that I felt when reading publications and meditations by Pagans. The fact that, while I didn’t notice any particular loss of emotion per se, I also stopped seeking anything that was any kind of fulfilling in any area was also sort of a tip-off that, you know, brain chemistry might be involved somehow.

So as depth started to come back into my life again, the idea of formally marking for myself the solstices, the equinoctes, the full moons became important again. For a number of reasons (are you surprised?), but in large part simply to remind myself that there is more to my world than roads and buildings and fluorescent lighting, that my trees and flowers are more than just pretty wallpaper, and that if I want to have even half a chance at growing a decent garden, I’ve damn well got to start paying attention to weather cycles and growing times and planting schedules. 😛

My favourite “religious” reading lately has been druidry. This rather surprised me, since I’ve always been fairly traditionalist and snarky towards a tradition based on a concept (druids) that we really have almost no historical record of. But I purchased a copy of the Druidry Handbook by John Michael Greer, Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America. (Online reading inspiring this purchase includes the Allergic Pagan, Humanistic Paganism, and Natural Pantheist blogs. Yes, the phrase “Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America would have sent me into fits ten years ago on multiple levels.)

And I’ve loved it. I skipped right to the middle, “The Earth Path”, nature awareness, focus, study. And said, “Wait, so you’re offering a semi-structured way to self-study ecology with focus on my own locality, in combination with allowing for spiritual expression in connection with that study? Sign me up, please!” What I quite like about the AODA versus other Druid orgs out there (Ár nDraíocht Féin, Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, etc.) is that they don’t particularly care whether you worship Lugh, Odin, Amon-Ra, Jesus, or Terry Pratchett. Not that the other groups have a rigid orthodoxy or anything like that, far from it, but there is much more of a focus on worship than I feel from the AODA.

So I’ve found a place I feel comfortable in, and more motivation to be active. But still, I haven’t quite found any sort of ritual I really feel drawn to, though I’d have been willing to settle for “not feeling silly about”. Enter the Solitary Druid Fellowship.

The Solitary Druid Fellowship seeks to provide a new way of engaging with solitude. Those who join us in a liturgical practice are, in effect, experiencing congregation in solitude. We are entering into the silence with the awareness that others in different physical locations join us in a similar, sometimes identical practice. Each of us brings our own sensibilities and style to our worship, but by joining one another in shared practice we experience a new sense of belonging and community.

(from the SDF website)

Though I haven’t felt particularly drawn to ADF, I have been following the blog of an ADF member for a few months, Bishop in the Grove, by a man who takes openness and honesty on the internet to new levels in my experience. Not in the TMI sense, which you can find anywhere, because even those who overshare still often do so in strictly controlled ways, or else simply don’t care about the impact that their words might have or that others’ words might have on them. No, reading Teo’s words you get a sense of unshielded-ness, that here is someone who is sharing who they are without fear and is genuinely interested in learning who you are, as well. It can spark some pretty powerful feeling. And Teo is the one who conceived and founded the SDF, and wrote its first liturgy, for the Winter Solstice. So I thought, OK, I’ll give it a try.

And I gave it a try. I couldn’t perform the rite on the 21st, because we were travelling from PA to NY then and there was no time. So it had to wait until Saturday. Saturday, there was crazy Long Island Sound wind all day. Like trees whipping back and forth, constant “ooooOOOOOooooOOOOOO!” background noise wind all day long. I seriously considered an indoor liturgy, but I couldn’t find anywhere in the house where I wouldn’t be disturbed and/or make other people uncomfortable, and I tested it and found that if I was wrapped up and stayed on the porch I was actually pretty sheltered from the wind so I went outside after all. This turned out to be the right choice.

I made some changes to the liturgy as written; I knew I wouldn’t be the only one. I changed the references to the ADF’s three “Kindred” to “the Universe”, using a number of synonyms as well, just so I wouldn’t feel a complete twit saying “the Universe” over and over. There was an Offerings section, in three segments to honor the three Kindred types. The language was terrific, taking beautiful advantage of repetition, and I really loved it but in the end I just couldn’t do it. It’s just too awkward to envision making a physical offering to nothing at all (from my perspective). This may be something that I can find an analogue for in the future, as I move along my path, but for now I just condensed it to a short dedication.

The other thing I did was to eliminate the divination section. I don’t have any problem with divination as a concept, since I actually think there could be value in using the random fall of dice or cards or stones to potentially open your mind to new options you might not have thought of otherwise. But since it’s not something I regularly do, I hadn’t really thought of anything and so my answer to “using the divinatory form of your choosing” was just sort of, “Uh….” So I skipped that.

I also didn’t actually have any sort of Sacred Fire. The Sacred Lighter was out of Sacred Lighter Fluid, and anyway the wind was too strong to keep a flame going long enough to light even a candle. Probably for the best; I’d planned a personal ritual involving fire and if I’d actually managed to start it I probably stood a good chance of lighting the Christmas tree on the deck on fire, given the wind. So my light was all from the window behind me and the stars out front.

“I am one and we are many. Fellowship, in solitude.” Those are the opening lines of the liturgy, and speaking them and reflecting on them did relieve some tension for me. “In my mind and in my body, I hold space in solitude/For all of those who walk alone. May they be with me in this rite.” Specifically, the knowledge that there were others out there doing the same thing, and that this liturgy was specifically designed for us to work alone with the knowledge of others were similarly working alone, removed the fear that I would start out on this ritual and stop embarrassed halfway through, feeling like a complete moron, which was always a pretty big barrier between me and any sort of ritual work in the past.

It was a pleasant experience, overall. I did laugh at the part about “this season of stillness” since there wasn’t a whole lot of stillness going on around me. Lots and lots of winter cold, but I had my mittens and coat and scarf and hat and really didn’t notice it much. I didn’t try to do a dramatic reading, just tried to read it as naturally and thoughtfully as I could, looking to see what interpretations came to mind during the actual reading. It felt… good. I find as I’m working on this post that I really am looking forward to the next one.

While I stayed seated close to the house for most of the rite, at the end I went out to the yard to make physical contact with the earth. After that it just felt right to stay standing for the closing passage, another affirmation of the one and the many. And there at the edge of the porch I could of course see much more of the open sky, and found myself looking right at Orion spread huge across the southern sky. And that is the strangely peaceful image that comes to mind when I think about the overall experience: Orion, hanging just above the wildly waving treeline, as we moved towards shorter nights and longer days and Christmas celebrations.

…Next year, my brother and I will get to do our Yule dinner, though.

I jumped on the couches one by one,

                                           Someone caught up to me.

I grabbed a pillow and tried to run,

                                           Someone caught up to me.

I tried to chew up Mommy’s hat,

             Chased a poor old kitty cat,

                             Knocked a little toddler flat,

                                           Someone caught up to me.

Oh, I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas, Mommy and Daddy are mad

I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas, ’cause I ain’t been nuttin’ but bad.

 

I barked real loud in Daddy’s ear,

                                           Someone caught up to me.

I went berserk trying to chase a deer,

                                           Someone caught up to me.

I chewed some holes in Mommy’s socks,

             Tied my leash all up in knots,

                             Then I ate from the litter box,

                                           Someone caught up to me.

Oh, I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas, Mommy and Daddy are mad

I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas, ’cause I ain’t been nuttin’ but bad.

*half-step up* Buuuuuuut

 

I share my favorite squeaky toy,

                                           Somebody’s watchin’ me.

I give kisses to a little boy,

                                           Somebody’s watchin’ me.

I wait politely for my grub,

             Wag my tail across the rug,

                             Flop right over for a tummy rub,

                                            Somebody’s pettin’ me!

Oh, I’m gettin’ somethin’ for Christmas, I know that the thought may surprise.

I’m gettin’ somethin’ for Christmas, ’cause I got those big puppy eyes!

So, magic. Or magick, depending on your spelling preference. I think I will go with “magick” here, come to think of it, just to distinguish the circle-casting, incense-burning, symbol-carving, herb-gathering type from the James Randi type (and to make it clear I am talking about the former).

I always wanted to believe in magick. How great would that be, anyway? Magick being real, I mean, not just believing in it. Mix the correct ingredients, recite the proper incantations, and watch all the forces of the universe align to, I dunno, cause that guy who kept making fun of you on the bus in middle school to suffer permanent incontinence. It would be fantastic!

But I didn’t believe in magick, because it was preposterous. I didn’t think anybody believed in magick, because it was preposterous. (My tendency to assume people apply the same sort of logics I do to life is probably one of the reasons I am not bothered by the idea of people applying critical thinking and choosing to remain religious.) Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally started reading those books on Paganism (that I’d been aching to do my whole life, by the way) and found out that yes! People do believe in magick! In the 21st century even! I was intrigued.

Or, rather, I was intrigued until I started reading some of those people’s writings about magick. Pretty much always “magick”, which is the other reason I’m using that spelling here. Annnnnnd it turned out to be pretty much “the power of positive thinking”. That is a massive simplification, yes. But I think it’s a very serviceable one. I have not yet seen any explanation of why any given person believes in magick that really sounds like magick.

The example that comes to mind immediately is one I just read a few weeks ago: a woman, thoroughly convinced of the existence of magick, I mean all out “those who question if we really believe are just scared, and they’d be more scared if they knew what we can really do!” sort of convinced, shared that her moment of conviction was the result of having done a ritual focused on water, and then noticing a lot of people at work either crying or getting angry (because apparently getting angry has to do with water, now?) and then, a week later, it rained. In Great Britain. I’m reading this story and thinking, “No! It rained? In England?? Get out! Hey, I saw a deer in my neighbor’s yard last night! It must have been a sign from Artemis! Or maybe it’s because I LIVE IN FREAKING PENNSYLVANIA AND WE HAVE MORE DEER THAN PEOPLE HERE!” (PA ecology statistics source: me.)

What I’m trying to say here is that the concept of magick as a way to make changes in reality is not a convincing one to me, no matter how much quantum physics you try to dress it up with.

Magick as a psychological tool to help make changes in your own consciousness? That concept I can get behind. I found this blog post quite a while ago and in it he sums up a view that makes a lot of sense to me. From the post, “Magic changes my mindset; my mindset changes my probabilities of successfully manifesting my will in my life.   It works by reconciling the rational and the irrational parts of myself.” The way I see it, that works.

Now one other thing that you see a lot of from magick-users is a heavy emphasis on the importance of developing your own rituals. This always struck me as silly. If you’re going to buy into this concept, shouldn’t you stick with the traditional, the tried, the (presumably) true? (This attitude is probably a holdover from my days with a set of extremely Evangelical youth leaders, and the corresponding “We know this is true because a LOT of dead guys thought it was true, and they wouldn’t have thought it was true if it wasn’t true, no?” logic.)

It was a different story, though, once I finally got to the point where I had something where I could benefit from a significant symbolic gesture like that. I’m not going into the details. But suddenly the DIY ritual instructions made sense: if the only thing you’re changing is you, then why would you want to use anybody’s plans but your own? Trying to perform a ritual that you didn’t have a hand in constructing now seemed like trying to run your relationship based on doing exactly what your older sister does, in spite of the fact that her boyfriend likes football and reality television while yours likes chess and baking brioche.

And that thought circles right back to those evangelical days. The thing about evangelicalism is that it’s very definitely a one-size-fits-all approach to religion. And even though our church was Methodist, these particular youth leaders (who, as the cool active adults, obvs had much more influence on a teenager than the religious leaders for the adults) were decidedly evangelical. Also possibly crazy, but that’s probably just the retroactive bitterness talking. Their very clear message was that this religion was right for every single person on earth and if it didn’t feel right for you then A) feelings are ephemeral and not important as an indicator of faith and B) there’s just something wrong with you.

This led to some fun cognitive dissonance for me at times, such as the Sunday School session where they brought an African convert in to speak to us and tell us how freeing Christianity was after being raised in his native culture’s terrifying animist traditions. There was much discussion afterwards about how gosh, wasn’t it horrible how he used to live, and wasn’t it just so wonderful that he’d found Jesus and been freed from all that? Except I didn’t participate in that discussion because I was thinking, “You know, animism sounds like a much more rational way to approach unknowns than Christianity does.” I didn’t say anything, of course, because as a good little Christian I knew that thought meant there was something wrong with me.

What I always found ironic was that these particular leaders always encouraged us to actively engage other belief system as a way of strengthening our Christian apologetics muscles. I.e., if you find a certain argument tempting, you should go learn more about it so you can properly understand why it’s horribly, horribly wrong. (As a high school graduation gift, they gave me a copy of the book Defeating Darwinism.) I knew this wouldn’t actually work that way though, since I knew if I read about paganism I’d just convert, since it seemed about a hundred thousand million times more appealing than Christianity.

I still wouldn’t have believed in magic, though. I either roll my eyes and shrug or laugh derisively, depending on my mood, when I hear atheists talk about how you just CAN’T be religious and hold a scientific worldview at the same time, because there’s just no way you can hold the two different mindsets in your head. Well, you can, because I did for quite a few years. If somebody had told desperately Christian high school me that they didn’t believe in evolution because the Bible told them not to, my response would have been, “Wow, you are made of pure, unadulterated idiocy.” (High school me was not known for her tact.) But I still fell in line with the C.S. Lewis-style apologetics, because they were given to me by intelligent people who I trusted, so I figured they had to work together even if I couldn’t personally explain how. Also, all the miracle stuff had happened in the past.

Ok, I think I have wandered away into another post entirely. Quite possibly one that I’ve already written, back in ye olde Livejournal days. So I’m just going to stop now, because I can’t quite figure out what the purpose of all this was.

I read this post on Love, Joy, Feminism earlier, and went away thinking,

See, THIS is why I like Libby Anne’s blog. [I’ve been saying that to myself a lot lately!] What she said about religion at the end there is pretty much what I think about it. And that’s why I don’t like atheists like, oh, JT Eberhard [remembering a post of his I read recently about Chris Stedman’s ‘Faitheist’ book].

And then I stopped, and blinked, and thought about what I’d just thought. I flash-remembered some words from Dan Fincke around the time of his shift from Freethoughtblogs to Patheos, about disagreeing with a whole laundry list of his fellow FtBloggers on some things, but still liking and respecting them and working with them.

Wait, wait, wait. Why – wait. I DISAGREE with JT on the value (or lack of value) of religion. That… doesn’t mean… I have to say I don’t LIKE him…. I don’t even KNOW him. I might like him if I did. Even if we disagreed! That’s a thing… that you can do? Whoa. You CAN.

So I came back out here and started to write a comment on Libby Anne’s blog, then quickly realised it was going to get wordy so I changed it to a post here. This paragraph only has one sentence in it that bears on the topic. Somewhere, all my English teachers are crying.

This seems like it shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept, I know. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t for me, at least a few years ago. I distinctly remember reading this and finding it very powerful. I even started feeling more charitable towards my political opposites, more willing to look at where they were coming from. I remember liking it, that feeling of being willing to get along with everyone (or at least everyone who was willing to get along back).

And then, the 2008 election happened. And all the conservatives, at least all the ones whose voices I heard, went completely batshit. And suddenly I was no longer willing to hear where they were coming from. First just the hardliners, then quickly the moderates as well, and those who looked like they were thinking about being moderates, etc., etc. My facebook block list has grown amazingly fast over the past year. And probably the depression was also feeding into this (irritability is also one of the symptoms, kids). Patience basically went out the window. And it wasn’t particularly pleasant, no; it’s tiring to maintain that level of irritation all the time. But I didn’t seem to have a lot of control over it. I’m out of practice at the whole “agreeing to disagree” thing. So yes, this really does feel like a new concept.

It’s also not one that I’m willing to necessarily extend across the board. Unless it’s somebody I already have reason to be invested in, I will probably continue to block friends of facebook friends based on frequent sexist, racist, classist, or homophobic statements (frequency requirement to be determined by me and my hormones). I don’t see any value in agreeing to disagree on “should my friend’s mom and her wife be treated as less-human-than-thou”. They should not be. While there may be hurt occurring on both sides of that argument, real, actual people are hurt through no fault of their own when discrimination is practiced. When discrimination is prohibited, the only hurt that occurs is self-inflicted hurt, by people who are affronted by the very existence of homosexuals on themselves. Ok, I’m going to end this paragraph before I start writing another, completely different blog post.

Back to JT. Right now, I honestly can’t put my finger on what it is about his writing that occasionally makes me go “graah, forget you and all of your works!!” and click away. It’s not the anger at religion, because a lot of other people I read (Libby Anne, Dan Fincke, PZ Myers, Greta Christina) have the same anger and I don’t feel the same irritation with them. I think maybe it’s because JT’s take, to me, comes across as “There is no value in religion, and no value in religious people until they stop being religious because until they do that, they are deliberately contributing to all that is wrong with humanity.” OK, I guess I can put my finger on it.

Thing is, I don’t believe that he means to harm anybody with this. It is, in fact, because he wants to prevent harm to people that he broadcasts this message as stridently as he does. Now, one could argue that someone who truly believes that being gay is harmful is acting in the same way, but I don’t think it’s quite true. For one thing, I admit that it’s hard to find somebody who could be actually harmed by what JT says except in the sense of feeling offended, which in large part is something you are doing to yourself. For another, I think if he did encounter, say, a recovering addict holding onto their Higher Power as the main anchor keeping them sober, I don’t think JT would get in their face about how they need to drop that. On the other hand, many Christians have no problem telling gays to their faces, “God loves you, but he also commands you to be somebody else.”

Besides, I’m still working on this concept. Cut me a little slack. Perhaps one day I’ll have figured out all the nuances and details of how we should decide who we accept and who we agree to disagree with and who we choose not to interact with. I doubt it though. I’m pretty sure that’s one of those lines that we all just have to learn to decide for ourselves. For now, I’m just trying to push it back so it doesn’t make a neat outline directly around my own feet.