Archives for posts with tag: religion

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.

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.