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,