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9/11 One Witch Won’t Forget!

September 11, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m not really that excited about America. That is, I’m not particularly patriotic. I think most demonstrations of patriotism are closer to fascism. I’m the kind of person who quit saying the pledge of allegiance everyday because it has “Under God” in it…you know who else did stuff like that? The Romans. And Nazi Germany. But there’s something about 9/11 that makes me feel grateful and happy to be in America and to be an American.

My experience of September 11, 2001 was quite different from many peoples. I was 18, and had graduated high school in June. For the previous three years, I’d been saving money for a trip to the United Kingdom, and through a very odd series of coincidences, I was saved from a mess of trouble. My trip was to be 15 days, and I was scheduled to fly from Seattle to New York, and then on to London. A week or two before the trip, I had the travel agent (we had those back then) change it to a direct flight from Seattle to London. When I arrived at the airport with my parents in tow, the plane was grounded due to mechanical failures, and my travel agent pushed the entire venture back one day.

As a result, I was not on an airplane on Sept 11th flying to New York. I was still in Ireland, with a ticket home while everyone else was freaking out. Absolutely, the Gods were looking out for me then.

Because I was on vacation, the company I was touring with didn’t want to ruin our experience by telling us of the horrors at home. I had been in a bus most of the day, stopping and shopping at little towns. I should explain that, over there, by simply opening your mouth and speaking, people know exactly where you are from. So every time I asked a shop keeper where the restroom was, or the time, or where the bus would come from, they would apologize and treat me extremely politely, but with a grave solemnity. It was only at the third or fourth person that I stopped to ask what was going on. They showed me to the TV, and I could see these buildings and it looked like they were on fire. Everyone was speculating–an accident? an explosion? No one thought terrorism. I watched the second plane hit the towers. People in the shop gasped. Someone from my tour group was crying. All the Aussies and Kiwi’s kept asking me how I was going to get home. That was my thought too.

As a result, I barely knew what happened. By the time I returned home, everyone was burned out and grief-stricken from talking about the details. It was all about what to do. There was a cry against terrorism, and I watched my country unite against hatred and desperate to do something and not knowing what they could do.

Over the next couple of years, it was only with the specials on TV coming out that gave me the details. I think because it was so abstract for me when it actually happened, that I didn’t really deal with the emotions of it. It’s been almost a decade, and I still can’t stand to see the footage of the towers falling. 9/11 is more real for me than Veterans day or even Independence day. The emotion is really present for me. I feel for those families that lost someone, I grieve for the people who felt like this was their only option. My heart aches for soldiers and their families who are fighting to keep us safe–my heart even goes out to those families whose soldiers are fighting for our stupid excuses. I hate war, but Athena has taught me that it is sometimes necessary, if done with thought and care. This was wasn’t, or we’d be done by now and Osama Bin Laden would be charged for crimes against humanity.

9/11 is still real for many people, but there is a difference between being angry and scared at being attacked and in taking it out on people. Muslims did not do 9/11 to us FUNDAMENTALIST CRAZY PEOPLE did! That is something I’ll never forget. Muslims died in 9/11 because our country honors the fundamental right that people have a right to their religion. America welcomed them with open arms as immigrants and the children of immigrants. Just like they did with my ancestors coming from Germany, Ireland and England. The only difference is about 150 years, but we are all still here together as Americans, and every one of us was attacked that day.

So when I hear about FUNDAMENTALIST CRAZY PEOPLE burning Qur’ans, it, no offense, gets my panties in a wad. I’m pissed about it! How absolutely un-American (but I’ll support your right to do it, so how American is that??). When I hear about FUNDAMENTALIST CRAZY PEOPLE booing and hissing at a fellow who wants to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero, I’m embarrassed at the reaction of my people. Clearly they didn’t learn what I learned from 9/11. What happened to that Unity? What happened to people being open and accepting and tolerant of other religions? Why does our unification have to be at the expense of someone else? Why does the spread of Democracy have to be so…undemocratic. WTF?

Have you read the Qur’an? Did you know it has many of the same books as the Bible? It has a lot of beautiful poetry. I keep a translated copy next to my Book of Mormon, the Tao Te Ching, and a book about Hinduism. Because being American is about letting every voice have a say, and every person have an equal opportunity for happiness, and it is up to me to learn what these voices are saying and where they are coming from. I protect their right to speak because I know if we can silence one group, we can silence another. Pagans are all about polytheistic plurality. We see diversity as a good thing because diversity in nature makes a healthy ecosystem for everybody. My magic is to stand up and speak. Yes. It is that important.

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Read Periodically

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

A great way to get to know the Pagan and Wiccan culture is to subscribe to magazines and periodicals that cater to those of us who fancy the magical. They can help you learn the “who’s who” of the Wiccan world, and you’ll pick up customs and etiquette (not to mention find out where to get some sweet stuff!).

In the Witchful Thinking Store, I’ve added a section for magazines and periodicals such as calendars. There are some great ‘zines for organic gardening, green living, homesteading and, of course, tattooing. But there were some great magazines out there that (for some inexplicable reason) I can’t seem to get into my store. But I’m excited about them and want you to know about them anyway!

One of my favorites is Witches and Pagans, the magazine for, well, just what it says. It used to be PanGaia, the magazine for thinking Pagans, but they merged it with one focused on natural magic. The result is a great publication with articles on spellcraft, astrology, Wiccan lore, ethics, theology and the occasional archaeology report. Plus issues focused on magic, music and much much more.

SageWoman is focused on celebrating the journey of women and finding your inner goddess. It is full of rituals and wonderful writing. Some of your favorite female authors have probably written for this publication.

These are all published by the same company, BBI Media, which means you can totally subscribe to them all and save some cash. Some even come electronically so you can save paper (or if you just prefer to archive your magazines on your hard drive). They also have a magazine dedicated to older women and mothers called Crone. So there is really something for everyone. I was able to get that one in the store, so check it out there!

If you know of any magazines or periodicals that Witchful Thinking readers might be interested in, send them to me! I’ll add them to the store or at least share.

Eat Me

August 3, 2010 3 comments

I watched Food, Inc. While eating dinner. Then I stopped eating dinner and started crying.

Ya’all may not know this, but I have an aversion bordering on phobia of animal carcass. This includes chicken, beef, pork, etc. that you would get in the grocery store. I know that meat contains many bacteria that can harm me, and am extremely careful of cross contamination. I don’t like to eat meat off the bone and prefer to see it ready to cook and eat. I do eat sushi and rare meat only because I know it has been handled well and am educated in food safety practices.

So watching animals get slaughtered was a bit much for me. Knowing where the meat came from, and how it got there, and how awful it is –it made me sick. The worst was the pigs. And the screaming. I honestly couldn’t tell if they were screaming or if I was.

There is absolutely nothing humane or honorable in our production of meat. That animal is not a creature of the Gods, but a product–nothing more than an arrangement of biology. That’s what a factory system believes.

Our food is being genetically modified and patented. Big corporations are suing farmers out of business or keeping them like slaves, always owing the company to keep up with upgrades. It is inhumane to people as wages are minuscule and people are taken advantage of until they are useless, then thrown away. Upton Sinclair is still relevant in the way we process foods.

I want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. So how does a small person take on a giant corporation? We vote. With money. I will no longer spend my money to support this disgusting system. I will vote for representatives and legislation which shares my values. I’m going to do my best to eat local, whole food–food that was treated with honor–food that is nutritious, not technological.

If you’ll excuse me, culture, I’ve got a planet to save.

Does your religious beliefs influence the way you think about these topics?

Sacred Images?

July 8, 2010 2 comments

I’m always looking for creative ways to celebrate the Gods. In particular, I have altars around my home to invite that energy in, so there is an altar to Demeter, Hestia is in the kitchen, and Aphrodite at the door so naught but love shall enter in. Athena, of course, is next to me at the computer. You get the idea. But the other day, I ran across these: Aphrodite Barbie and Athena Barbie.

And I thought to myself…are these sacred images? Or are these images profaned by becoming so commercialized? I mean, BARBIE of all toys!

I can imagine myself, as a little girl, absolutely LOVING these toys. I wasn’t big on dolls to begin with (I think I had one Skipper doll and a New Kid on the Block as the entirety of my personal collection). But I loved stories, and Greek mythology, and would have enjoyed playing with these dolls. It is only as an adult that I came to believe in the sacredness and truth that the Gods bring to our lives. As a kid, I would have kept my dolls in my toy box, amongst the lost marbles (ha!), Jurassic Park toys and stuffed animals. Only as an adult would I consider putting a toy on a shelf and never playing with it.

And these aren’t exactly toys. You see, they cost upwards of $300, as highly desired collectibles.

Here is the artistic conundrum, then: if pop art is profane, then putting sacred images into pop art should thus profane the sacredness, right?

I dunno. I’m sort of intrigued by this idea of using a toy on the altar. Maybe we’ve gotten too serious about this whole sacred image idea anyway. Who better to loosen it up but Barbie, the fun-loving spoiled perfect beauty. When it comes down to it, isn’t Barbie really Aphrodite anyway? Isn’t the act of playing with a beautiful woman, dressing and undressing her, doing her hair and picking out her shoes just worship of Aphrodite?

And then we have Athena. Isn’t Athena what Barbie isn’t? Athena, like all Goddesses, is beautiful, but she doesn’t use it, even as a tactical advantage. Athena is what Barbie wishes she could be, but can’t. I mean, Barbie can be a Vet or a Pediatrician, but she’s not President, or a Tenured Professor. But the act of playing with Athena Barbie to solve problems and outwit your opponents (that Ken! Always wanting a date! Whatever will I do?!) could potentially be a worship of Athena. I dunno. I’m troubled by it.

Still, I want it for my altar, or for when I have children (let them be girls!) I would let them play with these sacred images instead of the pop culture perfection that is Barbie. They’re a little out of my price range, so I might have to settle for this instead:

From "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Theif" Toy Zeus

What Would Zeus Do, indeed. I bet he’d have a go at Barbie Aphrodite. And I guess I don’t have a hard time believing that a hot Goddess Athena would pop out of his head…

What do you think? Does having the Gods as action figures intrigue or disgust you? Is it sacred or profane? Can you mix the pop culture with sacred culture? Would you put toys on your altars or use them in magical work?

Paganism and Race

April 25, 2010 21 comments

First let me say that I have always intended that this blog be a place of learning, where nothing is really off the table as long as the discussion is polite. I believe passion and intellect can live together in harmony. I am also working on becoming a better person, and my posts reflect my attitudes and beliefs in the here and now. Of course, people are individuals, and talking about any individual as a whole group is always tricky. So of course I recognize that what I am saying might not be true for all people. But for the sake of the discussion and the idea, I am talking about race and culture–a collective experience that might not be true for each individual. That being said, please, gentle reader, read on!

I was recently reading a post in a private message board about someone’s deep desire to see the Paganism revival become more multicultural. She lamented the fact that there are few people of color who worship with us. She was quite worried that maybe we weren’t being open and accepting enough, which surprised me, given the attitudes of Paganism towards sexual/gender minorities, those with alternative lifestyle, etc.

Um, I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but Paganism is about as White as you can get. Our beliefs are based in Celtic reconstructionism, Greek philosophy, occult knowledge which comes out of Western Europe, the witchcraft trials that also came out of Europe, folks beliefs out of the UK and, well, Western Europe.

So why would someone with Chinese, African, Pacific Islander, Indian or Native American ancestry be at all interested in our religion?

Truth is, people don’t convert to our religion, they overwhelmingly see it as “coming home”. What it is is a return to our ancestral roots, to our own White culture. When most of our ancestors came to America, they worked hard to assimilate, which is where we got the idea of the melting pot. After awhile, it didn’t matter if you were from Ireland, Italy, France or Britain, as long as you spoke English. In our race to assimilate (pardon the pun), we forgot our background. But as part of the majority, White people were able to keep to themselves and exclude racial minorities from taking part in the formation of culture. While this happens to a much lesser degree today, one honestly has to acknowledge that the majority of White culture has assimilated Western European values over time.

This will probably be very unpopular, but race matters. Yes, we are all human beings, deserve the same rights, etc. But the truth is that our cultures hold different values. As part of our own White privilege, we aren’t necessarily able to see the forest for the trees, and miss the markers that make our culture different from others. Neo-Paganism is the ultimate expression of that culture.

Take our value of Personal Responsibility. It’s this idea that we should strive to become the best individuals that we can, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make something of ourselves. It means that we are in charge of our own fate.

This idea is entirely Western European, and very very American. Many cultures, even today, don’t share these same values. Take Chinese culture, for example. To them, family is the most important thing, and your birth order determines your role in the family. Older siblings may be required to care for youngsters, and the youngest is required to “be the baby” perhaps their whole life. Consequently, your fate is determined by the needs of your family as outlined by your father.

Many African-Americans have historically been denied equal access to jobs and education–which sort of puts that whole individualized fate thing out of the question. Many see the Black community (such as the neighborhood, or the church) as an important piece of identity. To leave that community, even if it is in your best interest, might be seen as denying your roots. Joining a Pagan community might be understood as assimilating into White culture, and abandoning one’s Blackness. Upon return to their home community, they might be subject to “authenticity testing“, in which the community (often children or immature adults) “tests” them to see if they are “Black enough” to come back to the community. It is a very difficult position to be in.

Pagans and many Americans see personal responsibility as a value that should be embraced by everyone, but by expecting that, we are pushing our values on other people–this is oppression, and obviously not our intent. Perhaps this is why we do not proselytize–to avoid this oppression which, for many, was the reason they left their original religion to begin with.

Paganism is a return to roots, it is a look at our heritage religion before Christianity. So think about this for a moment: If you are Chinese and want to return to your roots, you practice the folk religion of China, or become Buddhist or Daoist. The Japanese return to Shinto. An African-American might turn to the African folk religions, or a blended one like Voudoun. A Native American would look to their tribe and find religion there. There is no need to turn to European roots to fine ones own roots. I believe that is why the Heathens, who celebrate the Norse religion, don’t interact much with the Pagan movement–they have their own movement!

Those are just a few examples of the hardships a racial minority would have in joining the Pagan community. While we welcome those who truly seek our path, no matter what their background, I don’t believe we will ever have a truly multicultural religion for all people. That’s what Christianity tried to do, and clearly that didn’t work for everyone, or else there would be no need for Paganism!

So let’s just accept that our religion is for us, and strive to make it the best it can be in serving the needs of the people actually doing it. Let us strive to remove our blocks and hang-ups about race by working on ourselves and becoming aware of racism and discrimination in society. Let us strive to be open to others without pushing our values upon them, but in respecting that their values have deep roots, even if we don’t agree with them.

So Mote it Be!

*I got the information about culture and race from a few books:

Ethnicity and Family Therapy” and “Counseling the Culturally Diverse

What it Means to be a Church

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I realize the word “chuch” in a Pagan context gives folks an almost knee-jerk nauseated reaction. The vast majority of Pagan and Wiccan practitioners are converts from monotheistic religions, mainly Christian denominations (I think I’ll leave the discussion of conversion for another day). When we trade in the previous religion for the Old Religion, we naturally expect to leave certain ideas behind, and are eager to embrace and try out the ideas that are new to us. Some people have experienced a kind of spiritual abuse from their former institution, and will require some healing as they make their spiritual escape.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! It is one thing to reject an idea because it doesn’t work for you, and another to shut down and never give the idea a chance.  The first time I heard of the ATC, a Wiccan church, I too had a knee-jerk reaction. As a newbie know-it-all, I’d never read about Wicca having churches, and wasn’t about to investigate a horrible institution like the ones my friends and I “escaped” from. I met a priest there, who I hit it off with, and we’ve had a wonderful friendship that began almost ten years ago. He told me about his experiences with the church, and what the church was about. I invited myself along to the next ritual, and the rest is history. I’m really glad I gave the idea of a church a chance.

The Parthenon was a Pagan church. Should we tear it down because Pagans don't go to church?

Typically, Wiccans practice in small covens, as solitary practitioners, or at public festivals and rituals. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For many finding a coven is difficult, and finding one that you want to learn from and dedicate yourself to is even harder. As a solitary practitioner, you have the mobility to learn and practice whatever you please, yet you don’t get the opportunity to bounce ideas around and ones practice can get stale. Public festivals are big and fun, but they are also rather expensive, and the price of admission doesn’t guarantee the quality of the ritual experience, or that you’ll agree with the ideas presented, or that you can learn with 1,000 other people present. Networking is obviously a big concern for Pagans as demonstrated by the large amount of networking sites for different areas. I know whenever I go to a new place, I want to know what groups are there and what activities are going on!

A Wiccan or Pagan church is a place to do that networking. It provides a different kind of group experience. Psychologists generally define two types of group cohesion: intimacy and integrity.

Intimacy is more like what you would experience in a coven setting–the group bonds emotionally, and creates group-mind through a common feeling of belonging and friendship. Decisions are made democratically or, most often, through consensus. Groups that follow Dianic Wiccan and Fairy paths tend to prefer this kind of arrangement. It seems to me a very feminine form of leadership and group cohesion.

Integrity is what you are likely to experience if you come to the ATC–the group bonds over a common purpose. Who “belongs” is based on rank, with higher ranking members expected to contribute more time and energy to the group. Hierarchy is valued, and decisions are made by members of sufficient rank with the group’s best interest in mind. Gardnerian and Alexandrian derived traditions, as well as those with Masonic roots, arrange themselves this way. This group cohesion style suggests masculine virtues.

Academically, I don’t see how one could be better than the other, although individuals may place greater value on one style at certain parts of their life. Both are perfectly valid ways to run a community, and both have their downsides too: intimacy could violate confidentiality for a group member or never achieve anything because of personal problems, and integrity might be run by power-hungry dictators.

At the church I go to, both are present, but integrity is the most obvious to visitors. Rank is given to those who have demonstrated hard work and dedication, and who choose to become a part of the tradition. Intimacy comes only through time, and is based in personal relationships, which no amount of rank can force to blossom.

Why a Wiccan Church is Valuable

  • Rituals are open to anyone. No one has to vouch for you. You can show up as a complete stranger and be perfectly welcome.
  • You do not have to believe the same thing to attend ritual. Many who come faithfully practice other religions and are educating themselves about Wicca.
  • There is no commitment, unless you want to. Even tithing (another dirty word!) is of your own free will, although we do bless it for Threefold return, so tithing is in your best interest.
  • The church supports the community through programs, festivals, education, and counseling.
  • The church can be a political force, representing lots of people for a single cause, such as getting the Military to provide headstones for fallen Pagan soldiers.
  • The church is a place to meet like-minded people, network, and form intimate bonds. Many tradition members work with covens that are not affiliated with the church.
  • Donations are tax-deductible. If you’re going to give your money to a charity, give it to one that supports your people!
  • The church provides clergy, often ordained, who can offer spiritual counsel and perform ritual services for the community–in no way are they attempting to force dogma, but rather help individuals who ask.

A Pagan church isn’t about belief or dogma, it is about praxis (that is, what one does). We gather at church to support the same causes, to worship the Gods, to participate in self-changing magic, and to learn from each other. The church is a tool for those who are sincerely growing into better human beings, and offers a kind of community unique in the world of religion in general and Paganism in particular.

Pft! I had WAY more badges than this lady did!

While coven work is focused personal growth, a church is focused on service to the community, an element I believe is crucial to personal growth and often overlooked. Working on projects with others and holding positions of responsibility gives you a chance to grow into it in a safe place, where people will support you and encourage you to succeed. The rank system is a way of easily identifying those with certain skills, which is important in a big organization, and is a tangible visual for personal growth. If you want to know what it is like to display your personal growth, ask a Girl Scout to show you her badge sash–it is the same general principal.

I occasionally will hear snippy comments about the validity of churches in Paganism and Wicca, but I honestly recognize it as that newbie know-it-all knee-jerk–very different from constructive criticism, which has actually interacted with the ideas. As a new religious movement, we are in the process of creating our religion, so the discussion of what is and isn’t Paganism is not a closed subject, but one that is evolving as we explore different ideas.

Here are a few Pagan churches:

Join the Fanclub on Facebook!

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Hooray for social networking! Witchful Thinking is now on Facebook! If you have a profile, join us there to ask your questions, join the discussions, share news and information. This is a great way to share articles and meet like-minded folks, and invite your friends to the fun.

Hope to see you there!

Jamie at Witchful Thinking