Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Toward the Divine Event Horizon

Toward the Divine Event Horizon (or, “Another argument against organized religion”)

Part One: Seeking the Divine Event Horizon 

A brief introduction, just to confuse you…… What is an ‘Event Horizon’?

            According to scientists, rocket scientists and people smarter than myself, an event horizon is that part of a black hole where anything sucked in is irretrievable, invisible, gone forever. It’s like when you watch someone drive out to the horizon, and *pif* they’re gone – but in a black hole’s event horizon, they’re REALLY gone – and so is anything and everything else that gets too close.
            According to general parlance, an event horizon is that point in the far distance where you cannot distinguish one thing from another – or, that point at which individual items or concepts are ultimately unrecognizable as individual, or have no discernible differences.
            According to one author – namely me, the event horizon is that point at which one realizes that
            (a)items or concepts, when under close enough scrutiny, have so many more similarities than differences that differentiation becomes irrelevant; or
            (b) if you take two dissimilar concepts on a single topic, and follow them to their logical conclusion, you will find that they reach the same results.

Did that make sense? I hope so.

            To take my definition of the event horizon to an even sillier plateau, let’s add spirituality to the mix. There are dozens of religions, with dozens of ways to worship/understand/honor/devote oneself to/follow, various forms of god/goddess/divinity/divine mystery/ultimate truth. It has been observed, I forget by whom, that the different religions are like different paths through the forest, all leading to god. (It has also been observed that, and I really like this line, ‘when scientists peer into their microscopes and finally crack the ultimate mystery of life, they will find that god has been looking back at them the whole time.”  I forget the author, and I’m probably horribly misquoting it, but anyway.)

            So you’ve got Christianity, Judaism, Islam; paganism in all its myriad forms, Hinduism, Buddhism, Humanism and a whole slew of isms, Heathenry, Native American, so on and so on. Followers of this faith worship this god, followers of that faith worship those gods, followers of this philosophy believe that (x=y), and so on.
            You could spend hours, years, millennia, debating the minutae of each religion, its practices and dogma, its pros and cons, and arguing for the validity of this religious perspective over that religious perspective.
            Or you could look for commonalities in different religious perspectives. (Here’s a tip: Every religion exists because someone thought it would be a good idea to try it that way.)

            I found a website that helps – the Big Religion Chart  has a listing of 43 belief systems, and includes origins, human situation/life’s purpose, afterlife, and more. It’s worth a look!
            You’ll find, if you scroll through the chart, that a lot of religions deal with human issues, understanding or coming closer to understanding god, knowing right from wrong. For example, let’s look at Baha’i Faith: The soul is eternal and essentially good. Purpose of life is to develop spiritually and draw closer to God”, Cao Dai: Goal is peace and harmony in each person and in the world. Salvation by "cultivating self and finding God in self," and Taoism: “Purpose is inner harmony, peace, and longevity. Achieved by living in accordance with the Tao”.
            Sure, there are a few faiths that don’t fit this altruistic model; the human situation of the Greek religions (presuming they mean Ancient Greece) is: Human life is subject to the whim of the gods and to Fate; these can be controlled through sacrifice and divination”, and Islam is listed as “Humans must submit (islam) to the will of God to gain Paradise after death”. But even there, the ultimate goal of the faith is to develop a benevolent relationship with the divine.

            So if you examine the religions of the world and look for shared interests, you’ll find that they all have the goal of enlightenment and understanding.
            But all of that is only half the journey to the divine event horizon; the inherent differences between religions are still there. Despite the commonalities of purpose, we still have a long way to go. People will argue that Islamic terrorists believe that all infidels must be killed; or that Christianity denies enlightenment without absolute devotion; maybe, but those are extremist viewpoints. If you can still see the road you’re walking on, you aren’t there yet. Keep going.
            Let’s take a moment to define what we mean when we’re talking about religion. There are two commonly accepted definitions of religion; I’ll address those and then go off on a tangent, and then we can continue toward the event horizon.
            Religion is defined as (a) re·li·gion noun 1.a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs; or (b) a particular system of faith and worship .
            Myself, I’ve always defined religion in one of two ways: either the practices and rites used in the veneration or worship of the divine; or the mere awareness, the searching for, divinity and the answers it may hold. I once heard that religion, by definition, is nothing more than the system of worship itself. That’s fine for theosophical scholars, but I wasn’t content with that. Religion, for me, means not only the practice of worship, but also the quest itself, the seeking answers.
            That’s the one I want to examine, and that’s where the road to the divine event horizon is taking us. As we travel this road closer to the event horizon, we’re also going, you may notice, backwards in time.
            People who argue that religion is this, or that, or worse, argue that religion is NOT this or that, have lost their way toward the event horizon. Don’t worry about dogma, moral codes, which hand to raise first in an invocation. That’s window dressing. Keep going. Don’t be scared.
            Don’t look at the WHAT of religion, don’t look at the HOW of religion. Ultimately, they don’t matter. Yes, we’re getting closer. See that bright spot ahead? There’s a question in your head, I can see it. We’re heading toward the WHY of religion. That’s where the different paths become irrelevant. Like I said, trappings like dogma and politics don’t matter. Leave them behind.
            Religion, in the end (or the beginning) is the yearning. It’s the hunger in the mind, the question in the soul. The fire in the cave.
            In seeking the divine event horizon, you have to be brave enough to be scared. Religion is where the soul goes when it wants to understand.
            “Dear G_d, please help me see what I am.”
            “Please help me see what you are.”
            “Help me to understand – or let me know that you understand, even if I don’t.”
That’s where every religion takes us, if we follow them to the event horizon. “Help me to understand.” That’s the commonality across cultures, across centuries, across boundaries.
            (Along the way, people have revealed some wonderful truths – benevolence is more useful than selfishness; the divine smiles upon those who help others, and so on. “Lead a good life, and the divine will reward you.”
            Or to simplify it further:
            “God smiles upon those who do good.”
            Or even further:
            “Don’t be an asshole.”
There, that was easy. The search for the Divine Event Horizon leads us to the collective conclusion that:
(1)   It’s okay not to know everything, and
(2)   We should not be assholes.

Part Two: In which we find that Organized Religion weakens the Soul.

            In the course of writing the first part of this blog, I kept hitting walls, arguments kept cropping up in my head. “But what about this aspect of that faith?” I asked myself, “What about this law or that decree?” “Wait, this religion conflicts with that one – how can they both be loving and benevolent when they are in opposition?”
            That, sadly, is where I find an argument against ‘Organized Religion’.
(Quick, time for another definition. What is ‘Organized Religion’ as opposed to, say, Disorganized Religion?
Organized Religion is just that – “a system of rites, rituals and beliefs used in the veneration or worship of the divine”.  A system, a set plan. Organized religion has a structure of practice and belief, a hierarchical system, and it (whichever version of ‘it’ you’re looking at) has drawn its own conclusions about what the Ultimate Truth is.
            In following an organized religion, you are doing just that – following. Someone else has already decidwhat the questions are, what the answers are, and how to find them. In any organized religion, someone else has already written all the rules. Someone else. Not you. (Granted, if you’re happy with knowing only as much as they are willing to tell you, if you accept that their interpretation of the divine is good enough for you, then all is well.)
            But for many of us, faith is a much more personal question. What does god look like to you? Is it the same image that your neighbor sees? Is it the same image that your partner sees? Is it the same image that you saw when you were ten?
            The problem with organized religion is that it has structure. Boundaries. Laws. (And with laws come.... politics. Remember the separation of church and state? Let's start with the separation of 'the quest to understand god' and 'someone else's rules'.)  It’s finite. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You aren’t allowed to seek the divine event horizon, because doing so might make you ask more questions than they are willing to answer. (How’s that apple taste, by the way?)  fnord   
             So being part of an organized religion, embracing the ideals, concepts, god-image, etc, that someone else has created, means that all you're really doing is following someone else's spiritual path. Where'd yours go?

(Disorganized Religion, by the way, isn’t disorganized so much as just non-regimented. You are an individual and your quest for divinity is a personal journey – you don’t need someone else’s rules, unless you just need handrails to help you on your walk.)
            If I were me, and I am, I would say that each and every one of us has the right to seek our own definition of divinity – to walk our own path to understanding.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My co-officiated wedding

Yesterday, April 23, I had the honor of co-officiating the wedding of two dear friends, Thomas and Christine. (To be fair, while I've known Christine for about 5 years, I only met Tom for the first time during the wedding rehearsal.)
Christine had asked me a while ago if I'd officiate her wedding, and of course I said I would. Then questions of faith and such crept into the discussion, and she thought that a more neutral, as opposed to Wiccan, officiant might go better with the predominantly Christian families. So during the weeks of negotiation other clergy was considered, until it was decided to have TWO priests officiate the ceremony, one male and one female. (They also had a Best Chick - Tom's best man was his friend Kimberly.)

During the discussions and negotiations and such, I'd sent Christine a wedding ceremony proposal, using many of the elements I often incorporate into my handfastings. When all was said and done, I'm proud to say, a good portion of my work was used in the final ceremony. I've done Wiccan handfastings before, but never before a crowd of people I just straight-up didn't know.

Since most of the family(s) are Christian, Christine had asked me to keep any mention of Goddess, magick, pagan, witch, etc, to a minimum. Like, none. But likewise, there was no mention of Jesus Christ, Jehovah or Heaven either. In fact the only mention of any such notion was one use of the word ' divine' in the opening statement.

But this does not by any mean say that it was a drab or un-spiritual union; the elements were invoked, energy was indeed raised just by the fact that so many people were in such good spirits during the service!

Christine had wanted a medeival/renaissance theme, so everyone who could do so attended in period garb. I really think EVERY wedding should be performed this way! People look so much better than in plain old tuxedos and formal dresses.
Reverend Jane officiated most of the ceremony, but I performed the Seven Bindings and the Eight Sacred Blessings, which I've used in every handfasting I've performed to date.    
The Seven Bindings are a part I borrowed from my friend Beth; I first saw her use them for a friend's handfasting a few years ago. Each Binding uses a ribbon, and Christine opted to use the seven chakra colors, one for each of the ribbons. It goes as follows:

Thomas and Christine, I have some questions for you.
Do you truly love each other and choose to affirm that love today?
"We do."
Thomas, will you burden her?
"I may"
Is that your intent?
Christine, will you burden him?
"I may"
Is that your intent?
(To Both) Will you share the burdens of each other so that your spirits may grow in this union?
And so the binding is made.
(First cord is tied around Christine & Thomas’s wrists)

Christine, will you cause him pain?
"I may"
Is that your intent?
Thomas, will you cause her pain?
"I may"
Is that your intent?
(To Both) Will you share each other's pain and seek to ease it?
And so the binding is made.
(Second cord is tied around Christine & Thomas’s wrists)

Thomas, will you share her laughter?
Christine, will you share his laughter?
(To Both) Will both of you look for the brightness in life and the positive in each other?
And so the binding is made.
(Third cord is tied around Christine & Thomas’s wrists)

Christine, will you share his dreams?
Thomas, will you share her dreams?
(To Both) Will you dream together to create new hopes and realities?
And so the binding is made.
(Fourth cord is tied around Christine & Thomas’s wrists)

Thomas, will you cause her anger?
"I may"
Is that your intent?
Christine, will you cause him anger?
"I may"
Is that your intent?
(To Both) Will you take the heat of anger and use it to temper the strength of this union?
"We will" 
And so the binding is made.
(Fifth cord is tied around Christine & Thomas’s wrists)

Christine, will you heal his wounds?
"I will" 
Thomas, will you heal her wounds?
"I will" 
(To Both)
Will you offer healing to each other in times of need?
"We will" 
And so the binding is made.
(Sixth cord is tied around Christine & Thomas’s wrists)

Thomas, Will you honor her?
"I will" 
Christine, will you honor him?
"I will" 
(To Both) Will you seek to never give cause to break that honor?
"We shall never do so" 
And so the binding is made.
(Seventh cord is tied around Christine & Thomas’s wrists)    

I like this because it acknowledges that yes, sometimes there are going to be fights and disagreements. But it also acknowledges that their relationship is stronger than the dispute, and they can weather it. (The audience did have a laugh at the first binding, when I asked Tom if he would burden her. Caught up in the "I do" vibe, he said, "Yes!" and then caught himself and said, "oh, wait, um, no!")

The Eight Sacred Blessings are something I first wrote in 'The Green Prince's Father', and which I've used on every handfasting and wedding I've done since. They are a way of offering the blessings of the spirits and the elements. They are:
We honor this union with simple blessings, spoken with love by friends and family.
We give you the blessing of air, in wind and thought. May the winds bring you many joys.
We give you the blessing of fire, of warmth and passion. May the flames of love fill both your hearts.
We give you the blessing of water, changing and flowing. May the deep well of emotion be yours.
We give you the blessing of earth, constant and stable. May the foundation of earth keep you at peace.
We give you the blessing of spirit, of the mysteries of life. May the wisdom of the universe be yours to share.
We give you the blessing of the sun, bringer of life. May his warmth and radiance fill you with joy and health.
We give you the blessing of the moon, lady of mystery. May her ever-changing face guide you through life’s changes.
We give you the blessing of the stars, distant and serene. May their light bring you guidance and tranquility.
As a change of form that I hadn't considered, but which I thought worked well, the second part of each line was printed in the wedding program, making it a call-and-response for the audience. So I said, "We give you the blessing of air, in wind and thought,", and the audience replied with "May the winds bring you many joys." Nice touch!

I do have a speech disability and I'm always concerned that it's going to get in the way. I feel that it did, briefly, but the families took it in stride and nobody seemed offended by it.

All in all the day was a resounding success. Even the DJ had fun, dressed up in a Merlin costume, complete with huge pointy hat.
To my dear friend Christine, and my new friend Tom, congratulations!! And may the future ahead be as bright as the love that showed in your eyes at the wedding.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An interview with the Goddess

I recently enrolled in a class at Cherry Hill Pagan Seminary, in a class studying Doreen Valiente, ancestors and the Charge of the Goddess.
My final report for the class was a rendition of the Charge of the Goddess, as if it took place between the Goddess and an interviewer.
 The instructor urged me to publish the report, so here it is. Enjoy!

An interview with a Goddess

    (Author’s note: Before the interview, we tried calling her office to nail down a time to meet, and a location, and the name by which she preferred to be called. She chose midnight, for some reason, and the middle of a forest. As for the name, it kept changing – she said Aradia one day, Diana the next, then Cerridwen. Eventually we just gave up and called her ‘the Goddess’. Although at the office we referred to this subject as ‘Sybil’.)

Interviewer: Thank you for meeting, you know we’ve been trying to meet you for quite a while.
Goddess: Yes, about seven thousand years.
I: I’m sorry? We only contacted you seven weeks ago….
G: But I’ve been waiting for you for, oh, millennia. Since your grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfathers looked up at the night sky and wondered at the stars, I’ve been waiting to sit down with you, these trees and your microphone. That’s how long I’ve been waiting for you to find me.
I: Um, alright. So if I may ask, why so many names?
G: Because different people know me by different names. Look at it this way – at home, your kids – do you have kids? I know you do, Ashley is 7 and Jeremy is 4 – your kids call you ‘Daddy’. And your wife calls you ‘honey’, and your boss calls you ‘Robert’. Your photographer calls you ‘Mr Henderson’. You’re known by many different names, depending on how people want to relate to you. It’s the same with me.
I: Wait, how do you know my kid’s names? I never –
G: I know everything. It’s part of my job.
I: Um, right, I guess. So, you wanted to meet under a full moon? What’s that about?
G: Because that way I can see you better, silly.
I: Moonlight is better than daylight? Or in a room with lights? What’s that about?
G: There’s a line from a song that you might remember. Do you? Yes – you were two when it was recorded. Do these lines sound familiar? ‘Cold hearted orb that rules the night,steals the colors from our sight. Red is grey and yellow, white. But we know which is real – and which is an illusion’. Well I don’t ascribe to the ‘cold-hearted orb’ business, but under the moon’s light you all look the same to each other. Brown skin, pink skin, red? Doesn’t matter, I know who you are, and if you open your eyes – not the ones in the front of your head – you see yourselves as all the same. So the moonlight brings everyone into my sight, but where you are all free of limiting perception.
I: And you do know it’s .. midnight, right?
G: Of course! My favorite time of day.
I: What’s with midnight? Everyone should be in bed?
G: Well answer me this – what time is it right now?
I: Midnight, like I said.
G: So is it yesterday, or today, or tomorrow?
I: It’s um, well, both? Neither? All three?
G: Exactly! We are, as it were, between times. At the stroke of midnight it’s not any time, is it. Or all times. I like the eternal ambiguity. 
I: And the once a month thing is…..
G: Guess.
I: When it’s full?
G: Bingo! Well done.
I: So, the forest, this is pretty weird.
G: Did you have a hard time finding it?
I: Yes, it wasn’t on my GPS, I almost got lost…..
G: Good. Next question?
I: What is it, exactly, that you do? Here in these trees, under a full moon.
G: I answer questions. I ask questions. I offer advice. I heal you. I make you grow, and learn, and let the world spin around me. Through me. And through me, I set you free.
I (nervous laughter): That seems like a big job…… (adjusts his tie)
G: Oh, you have no idea. By the way, you keep fidgeting in your clothes.
I: Oh, I’m just, you know, it’s late and…..
G: Remove them.
I: I’m sorry?
G: Your clothes. Take them off.
I: Now listen here, can I ask why –
G: Because I want you to. You’re the interviewer, asking me questions. You wish to understand me. Part of understanding me is letting me understand you.
I: Is this some kind of kinky –
G: Nothing kinky at all. Remember what I said about how moonlight makes everyone equal? Well if you look at a police officer in uniform, you know what he is. If you see a soldier in his combat vest, you know what he is. If you see a doctor, or a nurse, or a butcher, you know what they are. The clothes, as they say, make the man. Yes, stack them over there, thank you. Oh you don’t need to be shy, I’ve seen you naked before. Now, how does that feel?
I: Um, chilly? Embarrasing? Exposed?
G: But if someone else were to meet you right now, would they know you were a reporter? They’d see no microphone, no jacket with the company name on it. You’d be unidentifiable, no?
I: Well, okay, but I don’t see….
G: And if they were also naked, you’d have no way to judge them. You wouldn’t know if they were a politician, or a homeless man, or anything. You’d be on equal footing.
I: I suppose….
G: And without those identifying labels you give yourself, you’re liberated from your restrictions. And I might add, you don’t have a way to hide from me, either. Granted I can see through you anyway, but this way you would be consciously acknowledging that I can. It’s a way of saying, “I’m free to be myself – my inner self - before the eyes of the universe.”
I: I think I see that. Can I put them back on now?
G: Do you want to? I don’t want you to.
I: Well then can you be naked too? You’ve got all this shining robe thing on….
G: Very well. For you, I will. Not because you want to see a naked woman, but because you want to see me as an equal.
I: Are you my equal? I thought you were a Goddess….
G: I am your equal. And your mother. And your daughter, sister, lover, friend, teacher, enemy, confidante..
I: Enemy?
G: Have you ever had someone tell you something you didn’t want to hear? A boss reprimand you at work, or a doctor give you bad news? For a split second there, and this is quite normal, you despise that person, you wish you’d never asked them whatever it is. That’s when a friend becomes an enemy. But then you think about it and see their side of things, and your understanding grows. I do that.
I: So you – you’re a Goddess – don’t you always love people?
G: Yes! Oh yes. I have love for everyone. For the newborn baby who takes his first breath. For the child who learns to keep a secret from his parents. For lovers enjoying the blossoming romance – and the occasional spat. For a mother who cries out when her child is hurt. For the man who knows the pain of burying his father. For the crone, frail and wise, who draws her last living breath. I know them all, and I love them all so much!
I: So how do you, you know, show it? All that?
G: I show you, or them, by showing them a mirror. I urge them to celebrate the love the universe bestows upon them. I urge them to sing, to dance, to embrace and feast. The joy of life is revealed in the celebration of being alive! And when people celebrate, even alone, I am there. I am the light shining in their eyes, the joy I their voice. I am the tears on the cheeks of lovers reunited, and the slap of the hand on the drum-head. I am the taste of meat on the tongue, and I AM the meat on the tongue. My love is everywhere – and when people see the love they share, they see me.
I: That seems like….. I don’t know what. A secret, um, they share a secret with each other?  
G: It’s no secret. It never was. Tell me, do you remember the story of King Arthur? His quest?
I: King Arthur, yes, he had the sword Excalibur, and he sought the Holy Grail, right? Jesus’s cup?
G: Good for you! Now then, let’s re-write history for a moment. Imagine you are King Arthur. What part of you, right now, resembles a sword?
I (mimes a chopping motion with his hand) : Ummm…..
G(smiling) : Not quite. Look down.
I: I, um, oh. Oh! That’s my sword? Oh I get it, symbolism. That’s, what, Freudian?
G: Older. Freud used the idea, but I wrote it. Okay so if that part is your sword, what part of a woman is the ‘sacred cup’?
I: Oh, I get it. The whole yin and yang thing, right?
G: Not bad for your first lesson! Now, if the sacred cup is what you seek, then is the sword used to conquer, do you think? Or something else?
I: Using my …. To conquer, that sounds like, I don’t know, rape?
G: Please, don’t be so apologetic on my account. I’ve been at this a long time. No, when you use your weapon, or when your weapon is, shall we say, drawn from its metaphoric sheath, you feel empowered, yes? emboldenend?
I: I suppose…..
G: And when you feel more empowered, if you, let’s say, suddenly have the answer to a question that’s been bothering you, you feel invincible! Suddenly everything is in your grasp!
I: I think I understand.
G: Of course you do! And here’s the other side of that story – when you feel that sense of victory – and this is absolutely not restricted to men, the cock-sword thing is just a reference for you to, as it were, grasp, believe me – the sense of victory makes you feel young again! Like you see the path through the maze, everything is easy. You know the exuberant joy of youth! The cup of immortality that I offer can give you that.
I: So the sword is… or my, um, cock, is….
G: Your strength. Your will. But like I said, it’s not a gender thing. Have you heard of Boudica?
I: Boo-who? No I haven’t.
G: Okay. Marie Curie? Xena, Warrior Princess? Janet Weiss? Hypatia of Alexndria? Sekhmet? Oprah Winfrey? Mother Teresa? Doreen Valiente?
I: Some of them, yeah.
G: They all had it. Warrior spirit. Find your warrior spirit, and marry that with the love you see in me, through me, and you know what I can help you find.
I: Which is…..
G: Immortality of spirit. Oh everyone dies, sure. Eventually everyone becomes as dirt. But the spirit, that is immortal. And when you celebrate my love for you, when you celebrate my belief in you, when you use your own spirit to see beyond the maze, that – THAT – is where you find your true freedom. You know your own strength when you see yourself as I see you. Immortal, beautiful, loving. Magnificent.
I: Well that’s… huge, that’s…. wow, what do you ask for to give someone that? What, do they have to give something up, like Lent? Do they have to kill a goat?
G (laughing) : It always comes back to goats! Oh those poor goats. No, please, don’t kill anything on my behalf. Well actually, yes, yes, do. I do ask one sacrifice. There is one thing you need to kill for me.
I: And that is?
G: The fear of not being good enough. Kill that. Because you are, you always were. You are perfect, and I love you! You just need to see that in yourself the way I see it.
I: So what do you want people to do, you know, for you?
G: Easy! Celebrate me. Worship me – and worship the me that is in you, in every part of you. When you cry, I’m there. When you laugh, I’m there. When you make love, I’m there. When you see your daughters grow up and have daughters of their own, I’m there. And when you fuck up, I’m there, kicking you in the backside. I am in all aspects of your life, and all those aspects are as worship, to me. 
I: But …. Where do you start? I mean, we called to set up this interview, but aside from that, where does a person, you know, begin?
G: Have you ever looked in a mirror?
I: Of course.
G: Start there. Have you ever spent hours working on a problem only to figure it out, and say, “Oh I knew that all along!”
I: Um, sure….
G: The answer was always in you. That’s where I am, and that’s where you’ll find me. Because if you don’t know how to look inside yourself to find me, you’ll never know how to look anywhere else. Every question, and every answer, that you’ll ever face, begins right there – inside your heart.
I: So I’m….
G: You are, already, the answer to the question you haven’t even asked yet. Look up. What do you see?
I: Hmm? Treetops, stars… the moon…..
G: Stars. Do you know where you begin? Where you came from? Where I came from?
I: Lemme guess. Stars?
G: From the universe. You are one of the universe’s beautiful mysteries, and every day you see yourself a little more clearly. Every day the universe reveals itself to you a little more. And every day, when you open your eyes, you can know that I am looking back at you, and that I love you. I always have. 
I (still looking up at the stars) : That’s, it’s almost too much, it’s…. wow, this interview isn’t what I expected!
G (smiling) : Oh? What did you expect?
I: Um, talking about books, history, you know. Religion.
G: You want to know the truth of religion?
I: Do you know the truth of religion?
G: Of course! I helped your great-great-great-grandfather figure it out.
I: Okay what is the truth of religion?
G: ‘Don’t be an idiot’.
I: What, that’s it? Don’t be an idiot?
G: That’s it. Be the person you know you can be. If you pretend you’re less than you believe you are, you’re fooling yourself. Be the ‘you’ that I see. Here, at midnight, in the light of the moon. No disguises. Here, I see you as you truly are. And you are not an idiot. So don’t act like it.
I: I don’t know what to say……
G: Thank you?
I: You’re welcome!
G (laughing) now you’re getting it!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shari'a Law and the Republican Agenda

         Recent events in the world have got me to thinking. They often do. I’m wondering at the stance the “UnitedStates Republican/Conservative/Right-Wing/Tea-Party/Call ‘em what you will” has taken, regarding social freedoms and laws.
            Actually what prompted this was the uprising in Egypt to overthrow Mubarak, and the uprising in Tunisia to overthrow President Ben Ali, and several other Middle-Eastern countries that seem to be at the same point – compared with the rise in foolish (in my liberal, left-wing mind) laws proposed or enacted by several US Republican politicians.

            You’ve heard, doubtless, about Shari'a Law. It’s the set of laws central to Islamic domestic policy. Shari’a (which means ‘the way’, or originally, ‘the road to the source of water’) is inspired by, or derived from, the Qur’an and the teachings of the prophet Muhammed. It’s the foundation of law in every Muslim nation, and many Muslims living in other countries follow it within their homes. Well and good so far.
            Shari’a Law is a decisive and strict code of laws, governing everything from religious observation to who and how to marry, how to handle family matters, business negotiations, sexual relations, marital relations, etc etc.     
            Now, following the various terrorist-threat uprisings since 9-11, whether real or imagined, we in the US have been inundated with reports of Islamic terrorist threats on an almost-daily basis. Islamic extremists will steal your rights, we’re told. Islamic extremists will steal your children. Islamic extremists will do this and that and any other horrible thing we can think of. Muslims, Islamists, followers of Allah, however you choose to phrase it, have become an easy target of ridicule, and focus of fear, for anyone wanting a scapegoat. And because of the severity inherent in some articles of Shari’a Law (The punishments include amputation of one/both hand(s) for theft, stoning for adultery, and execution for apostasy ), it was an easy fear-tactic to say that all of Shari’a Law is bad. It’s not. Some articles of Shari’a Law are very tolerant and considerate, even more than some western laws. Still, the fears linger (and are promoted) because fear are easier to influence than common sense.

            A while ago, Oklahoma passed a law banning Shari’a Law , Tennessee has bills to do that same thing, and reports came out that two municipalities, Dearborn, MI and Frankford, TX, had actually adopted it! (In Dearborn, Christian evenagelicals were arrested for disrupting an Arabic cultural Festival, and Frankford, TX… doesn’t even exist!)

            So, fear mongers are happily spreading the word that “those evil Islamites” (I made that up) are out there doing everything they can to corrupt your way of life, deprive you of your god-given rights, and make life generally miserable for everyone.
            While all that’s been going on, the same people who want you to be afraid of the encroaching evil, have been passing, or at least proposing, law after law, to restrict people’s rights and civil liberties. Let’s have a look at some of the fun ones. Utah and Georgia both have proposed laws that would make miscarriages a criminal act. In Utah (again Utah!) bills were filed that would restrict gay and lesbian’s civil rights. And we still have that silly McDonnell’s observation that America has always been and is currently a Christian nation . And Gov. Walker, in Wisconsin, trying to deny worker’s bargaining rights.

            Wading through all this, I noticed an interesting correlation of activity, or perhaps a reverse-polarity-shift, between what’s happening in the Middle East – the various political uprisings and overthrows – versus the rise of Republican’s ‘antiprogressive’ bills and proposed laws in this country.

            Want a comparison? Let’s have a look…….
            Many US municipalities have laws banning homosexual acts.
            Under Shari’a Law, homosexuality is against the law and carries severe punishments.

            Many US municipalities have unspoken laws promoting Christianity over other religious beliefs, and will work to deny ‘non-believers’ the same rights they afford to Chrstians.
            Under Shari’a Law, apostasy (converting away from Islam) is illegal, and contact with infidels (non-believers) is to be discouraged.

            Many US municipalities are hard at work to make abortions illegal. Screw Roe v Wade.
            Under Shari’a Law, abortions are legal if they occur by natural causes; if the fetus is not yet infused with life (has a soul); or if the health of the mother is at risk. Abortions are illegal if they are performed intentionally, to kill the fetus which would otherwise be as healthy as the mother.
            (Interesting note here: In South Dakota, Rep. Phil Jensen wants to not only make abortions illegal, he also wants to make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. Yes, justifiable homicide! He’s also the same guy who proposed a law against the enactment of Shari’a Law in South Dakota…. because, in his words, Shari’a Law is “barbaric ... completely at odds with core American values of freedom, equality, tolerance and justice.”)

            There’s more, but my head is beginning to bleed. But you get the idea. The more that the conservative/anti-progressive/Republican/tea-party crowd want to pass laws restricting human rights, the more they resemble the harsher rulings found in Shari’a Law …. The very same legal code they are trying to suppress! Oy the hypocrisy.

            (Oh sure, they’ll rally and cry that the laws don’t matter, it’s the fact that if – IF – Shari’a Law were enacted as legal in this country, they’d have to give up Christianity and be forced to follow Islam. But, guys….you’re trying to do the same thing, just the other way round!)

            Hello, Kettle? This is Pot. You’re black!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why not Jesus too?

(author's note: this was originally presented on Witchvox, posted on August 24th, 2008.)

            Introduction: A little while ago, I wrote an article criticizing Wicca for using deities out of context, wherein just taking the name and a few base details was deemed sufficient. This started a conversation where we discussed the pros and cons of incorporating ALL the aspects - and baggage - of a deity's worship or influence. Specifically, Jesus Christ.
            In this article, it could be argued that I am contradicting that article and that taking the deity out of context IS allowed. My feeling is that knowing as much as possible about a deity is good, but letting dogma and doctrine get in the way of magick is bad.
            The events recounted in this article are loosely extrapolated from an actual occurrence, fleshed out for the sake of clarity and artistic license.


            Jenny, a friend of the Coven, sat down with us to ask a favor.
            “My husband’s very sick – I’d love for you guys to raise some magick healing for him. I know he’d appreciate it.”
            We Coveners looked at each other over mugs of herbal tea, and nodded wisely to one another.
            “Of course we’ll help, ” I said, “when would you like us to do this?”
            “Oh, next full moon, I guess – that is the best time for healing magick, right?” she said.
            “That, or the waxing moon, when it’s going from new to full, ” Moonwood volunteered. “When the moon is growing, that’s when you do positive stuff.” Moonwood was new to the Craft and to the Coven, and I gave her a smile and a thumbs-up across the room.
            “He has leukemia, they just found out, ” Jenny said, “and he doesn’t have health insurance. It’s hit us all real hard.”
            Among appreciative sounds of sympathy, Lady Manatee asked if anyone know any goddesses who would work specifically with leukemia or blood-borne illnesses.
            “Well there’s Isis, of course, ” Moonwood said.
            “Asclepius, Greek God – demi-god - of healing, ” Dragonwalker suggested.
            “Or his daughter, Hygeia, ” I said.
            “Maybe Brigit?” Lady Manatee asked.
            “Oh, no, sorry, I should have told you, ” Jenny said, “Mike’s Christian. He wants you guys to do a healing for him, but he wants you to use Jesus for the God, and Mary for the Goddess.”
            You could have heard a cricket chirp three houses away.
            “Um – hello? Pagan?” Moonwood said, “Not Christian?”
            “Well, that’s not to say we couldn’t, ” Hummingbird said slowly, “but do you think Jesus would WANT to be called into circle by a bunch of Witches? Exodus 22:18 and all that?”
            “Guys, we’ve been debating that ‘All Gods are One God’ thing for a while – here’s a good test!” I looked around the Coven, and waited for someone to challenge it.
            “I dunno, ” Moonwood said, “I think it would feel weird, invoking Jesus Christ into circle.”
            “Is Jesus a bad god for Witches?” Jenny asked. She was clearly confused.
            “Let’s just say that a lot of people in Wicca came from Christian backgrounds, and left with bad experiences. Invoking Jesus would be like, letting your abusive ex-stepfather back into the house after so many years.”
            “Wow, I didn’t know that, ” she said, “I figured you guys would be cool with the idea – with Jesus being like a rebel and a hippie and all that.”
            “Hmm, interesting point – are we opposed to Christianity because of its history? Dogma? Philosophy? Because of the Burning Times? What would—“ I smiled at myself for saying these words – “what would Jesus do?”
            “Jesus, the healer, ” Hummingbird said, catching on, “would have looked past the politics, and seen a sick guy who needs us. He’d have grabbed the incense and cast a damn circle, and joined in on us helping Mike get well!”
            “Indeed, ” Dragonwalker said, “Why not Jesus?”
            “I’m still not sure, ” Moonwood said slowly, “Christianity still feels icky to me…”
            As followers of a polytheistic faith, is there any reason we should regard some gods as ‘off-limits’? If all gods are indeed one god, then all aspects of divinity are facets of the Divine Mystery – so Jesus is as sacred a deity as Aphrodite, or Osiris. Granted, the viewpoints of some aspects may seem cross-purposes to Wicca - I would rather refrain from invoking the wrathful Old-Testament Jehovah, for example, or Cthulhu; but all gods, regardless of pantheon or paradigm, can be regarded as part of the Divine Mystery.
            So, indeed, why not Jesus, too?

            Well, folks, a week and a half later, we did cast that healing circle for Mike. Moonwood opted not to participate, and we understood, but everyone else was there – including Jenny.
            We had a picture of Mike on the altar, and a small resin statue of the Risen Christ. We’d decided to use that instead of a crucifix – we agreed that the crucifix represented sacrifice, whereas the Risen Christ represented success and transformation. I wanted a Buddy Christ, from the Kevin Smith movie ‘Dogma’, but we couldn’t find one. Jenny brought a small statue of Mary, standing on a globe crushing a snake. We didn’t like the snake imagery very much – same reason we don’t celebrate St Patrick’s Day – but we let it go.
            Everyone filed into circle, we cleansed and consecrated, invoked the elements, and I held aloft my athame.
            “Hail, Jesus Christ! God of healing, god of forgiveness, god of the poorest of the poor! We seek your aid in the healing of one of your own. Join us in our circle of magick, oh Lord. Hail, and Welcome!”
            “Hail, Mary, full of Grace, ” Hummingbird said, “Goddess of mercy, mother of the sacrificed king, join us in our rite. We have a man seeking your aid and tender mercies. Hail, Mary, and Welcome!”

            When preparing his invocation, I'd put some thought into what Jesus, the man, would have been known for. Healing the blind, the lepers, walking among the common man, all that. I think that if you take Jesus the Christ out of the context of Christian politics and propaganda, he’s really not such a bad guy. It’s his followers, people speaking on his behalf – or assuming to – that have given Christianity such a bad rap. Constantine and his mother, for starters. Torquemada. Fred Phelps. But Jesus?
            Yeah, invoking him did feel a bit weird at first, but if you think about it for a bit, Jesus, as he was then, is one of us, really. Part of an underground – and misunderstood – religion, trying to make good. A rebel, a hippie. Lose the Christian doctrine; that was written centuries later. Think of him in terms of his mythological origins, of the archetype of the sacrificed king. Jesus the Christ is part of that myth-cycle, and as much a qualified deity as Mithras or Osiris.
            And maybe those Witches, like Moonwood, who are still suffering from the psychological damage of bad experiences with Christianity, could benefit from working with Jesus as an individual deity, without all the baggage of Christian dogma and doctrine.

Is Wicca becoming a plug-n-play religion?

 (author's note: this was originally presented on Witchvox, posted on March 2nd, 2008.)

             “Are we ready to go with the rest of the Sabbat?” Willow asked, as she helped Morganna clean wax from candleholders.
            “Yeah, I think so – got candles, new incense, charcoal, Oakwind wants to consecrate his new athame… Starsong might be late, but no worries, we’ll cut her in.”
            “I like your Litha Sabbats, ” Willow said with a smile. “Who are we invoking?”
            “Cernunnos, natch, and Razivia, for the goddess. Hand me that toothbrush, will you?”
            “Razi-who? Never heard of that one.”
            “I got it off some website, ” Morganna said, as she scrubbed the last remnants of wax from antique candleholders.
            “Razivia – I guess I’m saying that right - also called Siwa, Polish goddess of love and fertility. It said she’s married to a god named Siebog, but Oakwind always uses Cernunnos.”
            “Huh, okay. I’m game to try a new one. Let’s give her a shot.”

            An hour later, the coven’s Litha Sabbat began. The circle was consecrated, quarters were called, and Oakwind raised his new athame as he invoked Cernunnos.
            “Hail, Cernunnos, horned one! Join us this Litha as your power flares to its fullest! Come dance with us on midsummer, and share your primal magicks. Hail, Cernunnnos, and welcome!”
            “Hail, Cernunnos, and welcome, ” the coveners dutifully repeated, as Oakwind lit a green candle.

            Then Morganna held aloft a bouquet of flowers.
            “Hail, Razivia, Goddess of love and fertility! We ask that you join us this day, as we celebrate the bright rainbow of magicks on midsummer’s day. Bless us with your presence; share with us your sacred wisdom. Hail, and welcome!”
            “Hail, Raz… Razi… uh… hail, goddess, and welcome!” the coveners said, as a yellow candle was lit. Unfamiliar with her name, they stumbled through it and eventually settled on the default title.

            How many times have witches and covens all over the world repeated this scene? Many modern witch and Wiccan observances have so diluted the essence of faith, that the validity of worship seems compromised. We do have our standards, who have become universally recognized: A great many pagans honor Cernunnos, or Herne, and have no trouble envisioning a huge, stern man in a green cloak, with antlers on his head. And Gaia, called by myriad names, is seen as a rotund, benevolent woman. Athena, Herne, Odin, Osiris, a few others, have become the ‘recognized pantheon’ of 21st century pagan worship.
            There are hundreds of deities that pagans name and honor in rituals and sabbats. As a polytheistic faith, we claim to honor many deities from many different cultures, and it is not uncommon to mix pantheons.
            But how well do we really know the deities we are invoking? When Razivia, or Siwa, heard the call, how do you suppose she reacted? Was she glad to oblige and attend? Did she feel slighted because her name was mispronounced? Was she outraged at being so grossly misrepresented?

            This scenario highlights a common trend in Neopagan and Wiccan-eclectic rituals. Well-intentioned witches find a lesser-known deity who fits the spellworking or ritual focus thy want to employ, and do as much background research on the deity as is needed to fulfill the requirements of the spell.
            “I need someone who focuses on house blessings.” 
            “Who do I know that works on breaking bad habits?”
            “What’s that name of that goddess in the water? With no hands? I need to write a spell to protect fish in a local lake.”
            The deity in question is called upon to fulfill the task at hand, and no other aspect of that deity is even considered. Wicca is becoming a ‘plug-n-play’ religion. We – I do this too – simply plug in the appropriate deity of choice, flesh out the rest of the ritual, and off we go!
            If you want a love-oriented deity, there’s Aphrodite, Ashtoreth, Freyja.
            If you need help with money, there’s Fortuna.
            Sick cat? Go see Bast.
            America has been described as the ‘melting pot’ of the world. And contemporary Wicca has become a melting pot of ancient cultures, in more ways that one. It used to be that Coven-dedicated witches would devote years to their study. Modern eclectic Wiccans have the freedom of Google and Wikipedia to do their research for them; all they have to do is spend three or four minutes in a search engine, find an article or picture vaguely appropriate, and with a drag and a right-click, their ritual is written and ready to go, their research paper is written, their Goddess icon is downloaded – and they don’t even have to really read or review what they just found!
            What was, years ago, a thriving polytheistic culture, has become whitewashed and homogenized, streamlined for our convenience. No silly details to get in the way. Wicca has become a ‘plug-and-play’ religion. The problem is, the deeper mysteries of religion are being ignored, omitted, if all we do is plug in a name and a few choice details. How can we truly call upon Fortuna to help us win the lottery, if we don’t offer her the worship and devotion she deserves? To ‘know’ a deity requires faith and devotion, a lifetime of commitment. Otherwise it’s just lip service, devoid of honesty and faith. If there is no faith, there is no religion. And if there were no religion, then where would we be?

            To look at this another way: If I have a leaky toilet, for example, I call a plumber. I look one up in the phone book, maybe check a few references, and pay him when the job is done. I don’t need to know his father’s name, what he had for dinner last night, or where he grew up. None of that is important – he’s here for a single purpose. He does the job; I pay him, end of story. Faith is irrelevant here.
            But a god is not an employee or a subcontractor. Quetzalcoatl won’t punch in and punch out and expect to get paid. We can’t assume that Freyja will come at our beck and call, even if asked nicely in ritual, as if that’s all she has to do with her time. (It has been commented that modern Christians spend hours debating WWJD – or rather, WJWD, ‘what Jesus would do,’ or ‘can do’,  as if it’s up to them to decide who issued him a uniform and a nametag!)
            If you’re going to invoke a deity into circle, at least take the time to KNOW who you are invoking - give Him or Her the honest devotion and integrity worthy of a deity. Find out what offerings would be appropriate, and give something back. If all we do with the gods is call upon them when we need something, as if they live to serve our whims, to work for us, is a gross disrespect.
            And to regard them as interchangeable figureheads, one’s as good as another - that is the ultimate arrogance.  

"Yeah.... and?"

People occasionally ask me, where do I see witchcraft in ten years. Twenty. A hundred?  
            I could ramble on for a bit debating the logistics of where and how different facets of faith might mutate and grow – how will covens change? Will there even BE covens? How will our perceptions of divinity change? What effect will social networking have on spiritual dynamics? etc etc etc.  Well, religions and our approach to faith, divinity, worship and magick are always changing, every single day. That aspect of what we do is a constantly evolving and adaptive creature, and I am always amazed and delighted to see it grow, but that’s a blog for another day.
            Because beyond our personal magicks and spiritual development, which gods we worship, we have to consider how witches and witchcraft will fit in the cultural landscape tomorrow, or in ten years, or twenty. Whether we have to hide our belief, defend our right to religious freedom, worry about how families, neighbors, bosses, etc, will react if they find out – these are aspects of our life that cannot help but have an impact on how we address our belief and how we present ourselves to the outside world.
            So, my ultimate vision regarding where witchcraft stands in the social forum is…


            I want people to not give a crap less what religion I am.

            I want people to be as unimpressed to learn that I’m a witch as they might be to learn that I’m left handed, or that I like 80’s music, or that I have no problem with it if they are gay or not. It really should not be a big deal.
            Neighbor A: “Hey, your daughter goes to the same school as my son Jason. You heard they have a new teacher? Did you know that she’s …. a witch?!”
            Neighbor B: “Yeah, and….?”
            “Yeah, and….?” is a great response! ‘Yes, I know what she believes. No, I don’t necessarily believe the same thing, but that’s not a big deal either. I don’t have a problem with whatever she chooses to believe. She’s qualified to teach my children about math, or art, or history, that’s what matters.’
            There are, of course, different aspects to apathy. I think of the example here as ‘benevolent apathy’. This is not the same as ‘dismissive apathy’ (“Hey, that guy just fell off his motorcycle, his leg is broken in three places!” “Yeah…. and?”)

           When people reach the point that whether that thing you wear around your neck looks like two sticks at 90 degrees, with the lowest segment longer than the other three, or if it looks like 5 lines in a circle, intersecting at 72 degrees, or if it looks like a T with a lump at the top, really doesn't make a freaking difference, that would be delightful! Oh, having them know what they all mean would be nice, but imagine not having to be judged by someone else for wearing a ‘wrong’ symbol. No symbol should be judged as appropriate or inappropriate, except by the person wearing it.

            When you cut past all the drama and the name-calling and the misguided assumptions, the ultimate realization of someone else’s faith is that it’s just that – someone else’s faith. Something you really shouldn’t have to worry about.
            To be honest, we still have a long way to go to see this goal of mine come to fruition. It might not happen in my lifetime. But eventually, someday, someone with learn that someone else is a witch and will simply shrug and say, 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tolerance has many faces

"You have to help me," my friend implored me, "I don't know what do to! My daughter - your god-daughter - doesn't want to join us in circle. She says she wants to go to... Sunday school!"
I considered briefly what was going on. The girl in question was raised by pagan parents in a pagan household. Mom is Wiccan, Dad follows his Native American heritage. The parents observe the Wiccan sabbats, heavily flavored with Native American spirituality.
Mom was adamant that her daughter's interest in Christianity was unacceptable, and that I should talk to the girl and open her eyes. She IS my god-daughter; not only did I accept responsibility for her spiritual guidance if needed, but I had been present, by invitation, in the delivery room when she came into the world.
According to Wikipedia, a godparent is defined thus: "Traditionally, godparents were informally responsible for ensuring the child's religious education was carried out, and for caring for the child should it be orphaned. Today, the word godparent might not have explicitly religious overtones. The modern view of a godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child's upbringing and personal development"
So as the girl's godfather, my role is to see that her religious education is provided for, and to take care of her should both parents be unable to do so. Well, I know what matters to me spiritually, but I also know that we are all individual people with thoughts and ideas of our own. So I asked her - the daughter - what she thought about it all.
"Well, I do listen to my parents views," she told me, "but I want to go my own path. Only because none of the things they teach me strikes me spirtitually. And I do let them teach me. I participate in what they do, but I don't believe it. I just don't think it makes sense. But the church I am currently going to is amazing. It's not Baptist so they don't yell that you are going to hell for every breathe you breathe wrong, or every time you trip (haha) But they only explain the values of what God did, how much He loves the world, and the things to do to respect Him. And see that makes sense to me, because you can relate a little." 
Mom's insistence that the girl's interest in Christianity is a bad thing, got me to thinking.
The girl is in her early teens. She grew up around pagans, raised by pagans, and the pagan household is all she's known. So she's being a little rebellious, and exploring other possibilities out there.

Many pagans I've met come from Christian households or childhoods, and turned away from the church at some point, after hitting a roadblock, finding unanswerable questions, or simply feeling that it didn't 'fit' them anymore. We all know people who have reached this same conclusion and left the church behind them, some peacefully, others not so much. (At some future point I'll write a blog about my own views on the matter, and why I am not Christian.)
For many pagans, the Christian church symbolizes overbearing, unyielding dogma, doctrine or philosophy; a demand for obedience we are unwilling or unable to provide; and (or perhaps or) a spiritual foundation that is in opposition to our core principles. The degree of disappointment, distate, loathing, rejection, or outright hatred that some pagans feel toward the Christian church is almost palpable aspect of their spiritual path. Not all, but some; others simply feel that they 'didn't belong there.' But a common objection I encounter regarding the church is that they don't have a right to preach to others, to 'shove it down our throats'. I must agree that aggressive, in-your-face fundamentalism ultimately helps nobody, not even - if they stop to think about it - the ones doing the preaching.  
And many pagans, in wanting to assert their independence from such hierarchy, will demand tolerance and acceptance of their pagan leanings. "There must be tolerance!" they cry, "You must be tolerant of my right to be pagan!"
"But," I humbly suggest, "are you being tolerant of their right to be Christian?"

So back to the mother and her daughter. Mom has her own ideas about paganism and religion, and wants what is - in her eyes - the best for her daughter. (And I've known her since she was in her teens, she was a rebellious youth herself.) I am her godfather, and I want what's best for her as well. And I did accept the responsibility of, if needed, seeing to her religious education. But is it my responsibility to force her to accept a religion that she finds unfulfilling? I'd be no better than the in-your-face preachers. She's just trying to branch out on her own, find her own path. Will she embrace the church she's going to? Is she merely enjoying the attention of her friends and peers in the Youth Groups offered by the church she is attending? Will she find, somewhere down the line, that it's not where she wants to be, and explore something else? Only the girl, herself, has the right to say.Our job, as her parents and godparents, is to help her grow into the person she wants to be, even if that's not the person we imagined when she was born. We just have to make sure she doesn't get hurt along the way. 

To her mother, and others who demand understanding of their belief and right to practice, I ask if the tolerance they request is reflected in the tolerance they afford others.