Archive for February, 2009

Window On Another World

The light-up marquee sign out in front of the local Southern Baptist Church provides me with endless topics of contemplation, though I’d wager that my train of thought is not heading for the station they’d planned.  Exhibits A and B, from yesterday and today respectively:

If Jesus isn’t my Savior and Lord, then I’m an enemy of God.


Even when I pray and talk to others, God hears and listens.

The first one, while not surprising, is still distressing to me.  The idea that there can be no neutrality, no indifference, that you truly are either/or, for/against, with no middle ground and no possibility of a third road.  I honestly believe that some people’s minds are simply wired very differently from others’; how else to explain the existence of a worldview that is, to my way of being, almost entirely alien?

Yes, I know, there is a Bible verse that denounces what I would call indifference or neutrality.  In addressing the Laodiceans, Jesus says:

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

(Revelation 3:15-16)

Now, I’ll admit that I’m not exactly neutral or indifferent on the subject of the peculiarly punitive God that so many seem to worship; I’ve obviously got plenty to say on the subject!  But in point of fact, I am not a Christian, and I am not a worshipper of the Christian God, and so I should in fact be entirely indifferent to his desires, just as I would be indifferent to the demands that someone else’s boss places upon them if he is not my boss.  Jesus is not my savior and lord because I have not chosen to make him so; but that hardly makes me an “enemy of God.”  My saying no thanks to their proferred gift may make me at best ungrateful, but hardly an adversary. 

Of course, when it comes to those Christians who wish to legislate their beliefs and foist them off onto the rest of us, I then become distinctly adversarial; but I’d offer that I am in those cases an enemy not of their God but of His followers.  Ahem.

As far as today’s statement goes, that seems odd too.  Does it mean that their God is an eavesdropper, who sits around listening in on conversations people are having with other gods?  That’s…creepy.  Like if I’m addressing, say, Anubis, there’s Bible!God lurking round in the alley in a trenchcoat, like some X-Files villain, bugging my house and taking his little notes?  To what end?  The sort of things I would take to Anubis would be very different than the things one might take to the Christian God, I’d think.  For one thing, Anubis has a sense of humor. 

The God some people put forth for worship seems like nothing so much as a severely dysfunctional father or abusive husband–demanding, jealous, hypercritical, paranoid, capable of homocidal rages.  Where’s the love?  (Maybe those Phelps people aren’t so far off the mark after all, even if they are utterly batshit crazy and evil.)


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From Witchcraft Today:

It is believed by witches that by acting a part you really take on the nature of the thing you imitate. This is really the basis of the cave-man’s magic. By making the clay image of the animal you wish to kill, and by knowing its name, you establish a link between them, so that when he stuck spears into it it gave power to kill it when he hunted it.  

That these beliefs may seem rather like children’s games to some does not alter the fact that primitive men do behave like this, and so do witches. By acting the part of the goddess the priestess is thought to be in communion with her; so the priest, acting as the god, becomes at one with him in his aspect of Death, the Consoler, the Comforter, the bringer of happy after-life and regeneration. The initiate in undergoing the god’s experiences becomes a witch. 

Witches quite realize that this communion does not occur every time one assumes the goddess position, but they very soon realize that by doing so they begin to receive thrills which are apt to grow more and more intense when the trance comes on. They KNOW! It is no use saying: “This is only suggestion, or the subconscious mind.” They reply: “We quite agree; suggestion or the subconscious mind are simply some of the tools which we use to help open the Door.”           

And once you have known the goddess, does anything else really matter? To attain this state there are many roads, and dancing is perhaps the easiest; the calls and the chants help, the attitude of the other members is of the greatest assistance–but the true secret is within oneself, and also to some extent in one’s partner or assistant in the art, and it is not a thing that can be forced. A quiet knowledge that you will do it, and a steady and regular performance of the rites, are all that is really necessary, although other things help. Short cuts are useful, but you must use them carefully as they are apt to lead you astray and to involve more work in the end.

You must first believe it is possible; then, use the method, or preferably a combination of the various methods that may be used together. When you have once attained the ecstasy you know that it exists and may be attained again. You must banish all feelings of can’t, fix in your mind: “I can and will.”

There are a number of spiritual powers which many people do not recognize as such, e.g. the various forms of inspiration, music and poetry, clairvoyance and magical awareness; but the greatest of all these is love. All these aids should be employed under instruction, as there are difficulties and dangers in their undiscriminating use.

Emphasis mine.  Now, let’s discuss.

I’ve been very outspoken in my criticism of what I consider to be the rampant misuse of invocative trance, and the dangers of invocation as spectator sport; and those criticisms stand, because I still think they are valid.  However, I think I’ve not been clear in presenting my own perceptions, at least as they exist at this point in time.  For the record, here they are:

I do believe in the experience of communion with the divine.  I also believe that experience is extremely subjective and individualized.  I believe there are people who absolutely believe themselves thoroughly possessed by their gods; I also believe there are people who are 100 percent bald-faced liars.  I believe I have met both!  I believe I have experienced such communion, and will do so again.  In the course of conducting such rites, I have at times felt very much different, changed, altered, somehow connected to something beyond myself.  Still fully present, and fully me, but also more than just me.  If that makes any sense; and unless you’ve experienced it yourself, it probably won’t.

All right?  All right.  Now let’s look at what Gardner said, because once I dug the quote back up and read through it, I thought “Oh, duh.  That’s how I see it, too!”  He puts it quite simply and thoroughly, I think; there’s a nice plain logic to it that doesn’t require extreme suspension of disbelief or outright abdication of higher brain function.  By acting like a thing, you take on some of its characteristics.  It doesn’t work every time, and it’s not an automatic flick-of-a-switch thing.  Sometimes you feel it and sometimes you don’t.  You don’t utterly become something else; you don’t cease to be yourself.  And it’s not a thing reserved only for the most pure and worthy vessel–anyone feeding you that line should be instantly dismissed as the bullshitter they most certainly are–that gnosis is open to anyone, and is attainable by the methods GBG indicates.  It’s not rocket science, and it’s not a bunch of incomprehensible woo.  Just another technique, whereby one can come to a more intimate knowledge and understanding of the divine.  I still twitch about doing it as performance art, and so I endeavor to make it very clear to others just what it is I’m doing or not doing, what my perceptions are, all the while–I hope!–also making it clear that there is room for their own personal interpretations of what’s happening, and that they may not necessarily jibe completely with my own.  That’s the beauty and the frustration of working in the realm of the subjective: you never know exactly what part of the elephant another person has a grip on.  Acknowledging the elephant as being many-faceted is important; but the most important thing is that everyone be able to acknowledge the elephant itself.

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I blogged on this subject elsewhere last summer, but I’m reposting here because I feel like examining the subject again (yes, I was watching episodes of A Haunting on YouTube this morning).

Begin repost:

I am starting to suspect a trend toward people writing books about their alleged hauntings or possessions or whatever, not so much for profit’s sake as to lure the unwary paranormal enthusiast into a proselytizing situation.  There’s a suspicious similarity to these tales, many of which are cropping up on shows like Discovery Channel’s A Haunting; and they almost invariably end in some sort of religious deliverance.  Then you do a little digging on teh intartubes and find the person’s website, and learn that out of their haunting has come a ministry.  Hmmm.

(To say that I doubt the veracity of many or most of these claims would be a mild understatement.  In some cases where I’ve had the dubious fortune to read sample bits of their dreadful books, I can only think that perhaps these were frustrated horror novelists who couldn’t get anyone sane to publish their dreck unless they shifted to a first-person narrative, pitched it as a True! Life! Haunting! along with the religious conversion angle, and sold it to a Christian publishing house.  But y’all know how cynical I tend to be.)

And the whole “ohnoezdabblingindangerousOCCULTFORCES11eleventy!!” thing has been done to death, brought back from the grave, and done back to death again.  Seriously.  If just reciting some words from a book you bought at the mall, or playing with a piece of cardboard with letters and numbers printed on it, has unleashed the fiends of hell upon your household, then perhaps UR DOIN IT RONG.  I’ve known quite a few witches, magicians, occultists, and the like over the course of my life, and I have yet to see any of them who’ve been demon-possessed or cursed or haunted.  The one person I have known who claimed to be demon-possessed exhibited many symptoms suggestive of undiagnosed schizophrenia (with manic features, so there was the potential for a touch of undiagnosed bipolar disorder there, too).  So, um, yeah.  The whole “witchcraft/ouija boards/meditation/etc. opens a doorway to evil forces” meme has been a part of the popular culture at least since the 1980s, when I became aware of it in the middle of the Satanic Panics of that decade. 

I suppose I should just be thankful that they’re no longer pushing the canard about rock music conjuring up the devil and his minions.  Perhaps the Dark Ones hate rap and crap music as much as I do.

End repost.

It’s not just A Haunting that follows this format; I’ve also been watching some episodes of A&E’s Paranormal State, and the Christian religious angle is very apparent there, as well.  Of the half-dozen episodes I’ve seen in the past couple of days, I can’t recall one off-hand that didn’t involve at least one big invocative prayer against the dark forces–no, wait, I take that back; there were no prayers on the episode where they determined that the phenomena in the house were being caused by a carbon monoxide leak.  That was the only one free of interventionist prayers.

Sometimes I think that people outside the pagan/polytheistic faiths are even more superstitious and gullible than the ones within.  It’s always “Oh no, don’t even LOOK at a Ouija board!” or “He read a book on witchcraft and next thing you know, he had a houseful of DEMONS!” or “That house was built on an ANCIENT INDIAN BURIAL GROUND and it’s haunted-cursed-possessed–whatever!”  You’d think a hunk of cardboard (or plastic, as today’s Ouijas are made of) or a cheap paperback cranked out by some Llewellyn hack was more dangerous than plutonium. 

Set your minds to rest, people.  The museum where I volunteer has a haunted reputation; the family who owned it were Presbyterians, not devil-worshipping seance-having Satanists.  I own a modest but reasonably comprehensive library of occult literature; the house is still standing, and the only person who’s ever come on the property and claimed to see “portals of evil” was the person with the major mental malfunction mentioned earlier in the post.  When I was sixteen or so, I found a Ouija board; someone had lobbed it, box and all, out the window of a car, and it landed in the ditch in front of my house.  I’m not making this up.  I had a few little private seances where I asked it just the kinds of stupid questions a sixteen-year-old might ask (well, assuming that the sixteen-year-old in question was a weirdo like me).  I only remember two of those things, but the answers were both perfectly accurate.  The house in which those seances were conducted is still standing; and to my knowledge, no one has ever reported seeing any demons or portals of evil therein.

Fear of the unknown is human, and normal.  Fear of the spiritual practices of those who are very different seems to be normal as well.  In most cases unfounded, ridiculous, and overblown, but normal.  The only prescription I can come up with is talking to others who have different ways, and coming to realize that they aren’t so very different under the skin–but that’s hard-to-impossible to do, since most of us are only ever exposed to the freakshow types of various faiths that the media likes to trot out for our entertainment.  The internet may hold the key, but only if all parties are willing to be honest and set their preconceptions aside, at least momentarily.  Is that possible?  In some cases, I think maybe; but the memes here are pretty deeply rooted, and fear is the most primal and hardest to eradicate of our responses.  I’ll keep blogging, in any case; even a single candle can dispel at least a little darkness.

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Pagans and headcovering

LisaM over at Those Headcoverings linked to an article about an Imbolc ritual that mentioned, in passing, one participant’s “red veil” (of hair).  This started me thinking, again, about how people of different faiths may feel a desire or a conviction to cover their heads, and the reasons for it. 

Obviously, a Christian woman’s reasons for covering will be different from those of a Jewish or Muslim woman’s; and the reasons why a Pagan of whatever tradition might wish to cover will be quite different from those of a person from a monotheistic faith.  Women’s roles in Pagan faiths are strikingly unlike those of their sisters in the “big three” religions mentioned above.  We lack the Biblical injunctions that may motivate them; concepts of male headship and female submission are–well, I won’t say “unknown,” as I’m not an expert on every extant form of paganism, but I think I can safely say that they are extremely unusual.  If anything, Pagan women may be resistant to the idea of veiling or covering simply because they associate it with female subjugation.

And yet, I know that this is not always the case.  For example, Olivia Robertson, the co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis, has said that she wears her headscarves in a particular way not for style’s sake but because of a vision she had of the goddess Isis, in which She wore Her veil in a similar fashion.  Isis is only one of the deities known to appear veiled before their devotees–and woe be unto the importune worshipper who dares demand She lift Her veil!  In Wicca, veils are sometimes worn by priestesses who are emulating or aspecting particular godforms at particular times (for example, wearing a black veil at Samhain when aspecting the Lady in her crone phase).  There must surely be other examples in other traditions, as well.

As a High Priestess of British Traditional Wicca, I was taught that my hair was to be worn loose and flowing, and crowned as it were by a silver circlet with a lunar crescent upon it.  In the FOI liturgy, various types of headcovering are suggested for the participants.  When I conduct Kemetic rites, I wear a gold circlet with a winged solar disk, which is reminiscent of the sort of crowns worn by various of the goddesses.  My patroness or spiritual parent within Kemetic Orthodoxy is Hathor, who is typically portrayed wearing a horned solar disk upon Her head.  There are no hard and fast requirements in either of the traditions that I practice, so the headcovering is left up to the desire of the worshipper, based on the inspiration provided by their patron/ess deity.

I don’t know of any pagans that feel called to cover their heads in daily, secular life, but I’d imagine there are some out there.  I’ve felt an interest in trying it myself; and if I do, I will certainly discuss it here.  I know that what I have on my head impacts my ritual performance; I certainly feel more formal and focused covered than I do bare-headed.  In that respect at least, I think I may have something in common with my monotheistic sisters.  Perhaps there are other similarities as well.

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