Songs for Aengus Og

11 Sep

1. Sweet Disposition – Temper Trap

2. Metamorphosis – Peter Glass

3. Love Theme / Arrest – David Hirschfelder

4. Birds – Emiliana Torrini

5. Prince Briotanách – Clannad

6. Fools rush in = Bow Wow Wow

7. Perth – Bon Iver

8. Gently Johnny – Paul Giovanni

9. Violence and Variations – Bear McCreary

Letters to Poseidon

27 Aug

It is a rare thing to find novels which depict the gods. It is even more rare to find gods in the writing of non-Pagan non-fiction writers who are also Dutch. And this is exactly what I have found.

Cees Nooteboom is a Dutch author whose travel literature I adore. His latest book is a collection of short essays mixed with letters addressed to Poseidon. Many Pagans would not recognize this as a devotional work and Nooteboom himself probably thinks he uses Poseidon as a literary tool. At one point he admits the gods are not real, but yet he keeps writing to one. And the letters – apart from showing a deep knowledge of the ancients – are very intimate. Nooteboom knows Poseidon. And though Poseidon does not seem to reply directly, he does speak from the pages.

Letters to Poseidon

The book ends with this paragraph:

“You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?

Nooteboom wonders if Poseidon has seen Jesus walking across the water. How must it feel to see those feet upside down? And what of the doge’s ring? He also addresses the different depictions of Poseidon in Homeric and classical texts, but also in modern art and literature.

“According to Kafka you have never seen the sea, one time at the most, when you climbed Olympos with effort. There the sea lied, deep below you. Big, grey, and moving. The latter it he does not say, that is what I say. The mountain on the island where I love is not as high as Olympus, but once a year I climb upwards and see the sea. Big, grey and moving, as I said. Because you exist beneath the waves, you do not fully know the element that you rule. I am not sure what I have to think about that. A tired god under the sea, that’s how Kafka sees you. underneath a transparent, moving ceiling. Someone who is always counting, (…)”

Oion also makes an appearance as his patron saint: “

I know him from the winter nights in Amsterdam, when I see his shape above one of the canals. He is a winter man then, high and cool, always moving with is dogs, but in the month of August I find him again on my Spanish islands, he appears there at the end of the night, just after the Pleiades have risen above the horizon, and he flees away in the light of the dawn that once seduce him. (… ) I am always happy to see him, a mortal who was loved by goddesses, and who had the gods against him.”

Surely, even if he is no Pagan himself, this is pagan to us Pagans.

I return with post-lughnassadh syndrom

15 Aug

I am back. I am not so vain to think I have been sorely missed. There has been a lot of wonderful writing to read, even when some polytheists whose writing I usually enjoy, have withheld their lettered creations from the world. I won’t be apologizing for my absence, for such a think would be incredibly dull and probably the last thing you were hoping for when and if I would return, if you were hoping at all.

My silence too has, in part, been induced by the super hero controversy. I was not offended or hurt, though many damaging things were said. The reason for this empty blog space was that while some of the questions and remarks were petty, many more were overwhelmingly complicated and profound. Questions about theological differences, the relation between myth and fiction, and how easy a religious state of mind may be strengthened or weakened through popular culture. These are questions that matter.

And thus I hesitated, wanting only to write something meaningful or at least noticeable in this mad rush of Pagan and polytheist writes to respond. The things that were lost’, that was my hypothetical title of this hypothetical blog post. It might have come sooner if I was offended more. Offence or anger might have had overcome my zealous perfectionism.

And while the Pagan Layman remained empty, I kept gaining followers. So now I write to you, my dear readers, for hospitably is a virtue. I write as if we are having a cup of tea in front of a good fire. And I find that the words come more easily then I expected. And instead of writing something big and important, I write of something small. I write of the joys of a good summer.

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Post-Lughnasadh syndrom

It has been two weeks after Lughnasadh and though more warm summer days are to come, I find that autumn’s melancholy has already struck. I look back upon this summer as if it is over. And for me, that first awareness of the shortening days, marks the start of the fall season. It is present in my mind even when the signs in the nature that is outside are not yet clearly visible.  Over at The Allergic Pagan, John Halstead embraces this feast day as High Summer, not as its end, experiencing a mythological disconnect. He writes:

“Since it is the middle of summer, it is also the beginning of the end of summer.  This is the moment when the flower of summer is blossoming at its fullest, and tomorrow it will begin to wilt.  This day is like fruit that has ripened to the point where it is its juiciest and tastiest, but on the next day it will begin to rot.  The meaning of this day, for me, is that pleasure is fleeting.  We must enjoy life while we can, knowing that it cannot last forever. “

This is exactly how I feel at present, as if I only become aware what gift summer is when it is about the end. Yet I do not feel the disconnect that Halstead that describes when he says:

“The association of the Lughnasadh with mourning does not correspond with the actual seasonal conditions.  According to the Lebor Gabala Erenn (“The Book of Invasions”), the god Lugh sang a song of lamentation for his foster mother, Tailtiu, on this date.  The middle of summer is not typically thought of as a time for mourning. “

When we think of mourning, we moderns may think of dead things, of deserts and bare trees. We recall the utter despair of loss, its bleakness, and winter may come to mind. Yet, I connect to Lugh’s lament deeply, and especially so at this time of year. Lughnasadh marks the end of taking things as they come, an end to careless days of joy. Lugh was given in fosterage to Tailtiu until he could grow strong enough to challenge Balor. And when he finally defeats him, he looses his singular purpose and must embrace the wider responsibility of kingship. Loosing a mother figure forms another breaking point. There is no time to fully mourn this loss for the harvest time is coming, the boundless summer energy must be harnessed. This is a loss in and of itself.

When I think of Lugh giving this big feast in name of his foster-mother, I think of him honouring and celebrating summer one last time. Tailtiu gave her life  to clear the land for agriculture.  She died to secure a good harvest. and it is up to Lugh to use this sacrifice for good purpose. Furthermore, the place of her death became the site of the great assembly, symbol of kingship and its responsibilities. As such I feel that the myth of Lughnasadh perfectly fits Halstead’s description of fruit being at it sweetest and equally bitter sweetest.

I long for long July nights even more in September than I do in December when the memory of summer has faded and winter merry-making is in full sway, Those pleasant days in early fall are the best and worst. In Dutch we call this time in early September ‘nazomer’ – aftersummer, a  word which can refer both to a second late summer as to being past summer proper.

Buckets of blueberries!

It has been an amazing year for blueberries. It has been a very warm and sunny summer (do you notice me talking already in the past tense?) and I feel blessed. Earlier this year, I reported them to missing and feared them to be gone forever. But this year I could just lie down underneath a bush and pick berries by the bucket without moving. Yet now almost all blueberries are gone, and only the memory of it is left. Bitter-sweet indeed. Even the promise of blackberries does not lift my longing for its blue cousin.

Days of love-making

And after a long time of involuntary celibacy, I spent a few wonderful days making love. But now my lover has gone to a different place, a different world even. And despite the wonderfully vivid memories and future’s hope, bitter-sweet again seems the most appropriate word.

Lengthening the shortening days

I think we want Lughnassadh to be high summer, we will it so, but still we realise that the summer is nearly over. Of course an inhabitant of a low-lying damp country such as myself may have some further tricks up her sleeve. I will be travelling to Sicily this autumn, away from autumn and towards summer. An Italian autumn may equal a Dutch summer in warmth and pleasure. So bye bye, melancholy, for now.

Worship: anything is not everything

16 May

“ And while other things can be made into acts of devotion by grafting elements of worship onto them, without those elements it just does not qualify. Worship is done for somebody or something else – and that’s how you can instantly tell the difference. If you take Dionysos out of the equation and nothing changes – you’d still be doing the same thing in the same way and getting the same results – then it’s just not worship.” Sannion at Witches and Pagans.

I belief that anything can be a potential act of devotion. But that’s it, it is potentially so. My weekly run can be a devotional act, but it can also be just a run. And then to decide that this should suffice as my main religious practice, long after the deed is completed, is dishonest pretence. What matters is our mindset during the act itself. Anything can be a devotional act, but not everything is. It is important to know the difference, and the difference is us. We can remain passive consumers, hoping that a some revelation will magically descend upon us, or we can actively engage with the world around us and the gods and spirits within.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that it’s not difficult to make these into proper devotional acts.

It does not require much … what is required is to take a stand, to dare shout the names of the gods, not caring who hears them … or perhaps shouting loudly because we do care. Because we want those ancient names to be heard again, if only by the gods themselves. Words are powerful. We all know that some things only become very real if we say them aloud, and we do want the gods to be real, right? I have always been frank about my doubts concerning the objective reality of the gods. This is not about that, really. This is not even about theology. But if we wish to experience the gods as real, we must embrace their names. To say their names is the most basic devotional act there is, a practice of recognition and acknowledgement. To know the gods in any way, we must invite them. That is common courtesy, and frankly common sense. It also my first step to re-ignite my own practise.

Drinkin a glass of wine can be revelling in the glory of Dionysus. It can also be a way to escape boredom. Which is it this time? And what can it be the next?

Allison Leigh Lilly here below, has eloquently commented that we need not include the gods in order to have a meaningful religious experience. This is true. If we want to experience a sunrise in its own right, we need not say  ‘Aurora’  to be in awe. Yet … we must do something, something more than just take a picture and move on. To turn it into a religious moment, we somehow must express our awe. Connection makes sacred. Expression makes sacred. And if its gods you want to connect to, we must reach out to them.

Nature religion – whether it includes the concept of gods or not – means we cannot just be on the outside looking in. We should sing, dance, build cairns, kneel, pray, create. I need to do this. I need to do more. Religion is more than hoping for mystical experiences and counting them afterwards.

Idunn’s apples, Nehalennia’s apples, Manannán’s apples … apples all round

2 May

Manannán is a god of orchards.
Nehalennia is a goddess of apples harvested and baked into pies.
Idunn’s the goddess of the apples untouched on the tree.
Aengus, in my mind, is the god of cider.

I need to know about apples and their gods.
I cannot eat raw apples and move. It is the one fruit that is sure to nauseate me.

I have just realised that all the gods that I am attracted to, have some connection to apples, even Persephone, the pomegranate queen. Pomegranate in Dutch is ‘granaatappel’  (grenade apple). And the base word ‘pomme’ is French for apple.

Apples all round.

Idunn’s basket by Dabygos Studio

The Theft of Idun’s Apples, using puppets:

Apples exhibit the three primal colours (red skin, white flesh, black seeds) and, like all other natural phenomena with this property, are a manifestation of Otherworld power. We have seen that the dead are thought to eventually  reach Eamhain Abhlach, the land of apple trees, where Manannán Mac Lir has prepared the Otherworld Feast for their eternal enjoyment, and it is possible that the Otherworld apples, eaten by the worthy dead, were considered to be agents of that final spiritual transformation.

from The Celtic Apple Branch by Alexei Kondratiev, p.119

On heroic living

28 Apr

How to write about heroism without sounding like a pompous ass? I am not a hero, or a teacher of heroes or the bloody Pagan pope. For there can only be one … and it simply is not my style. My voice is not the voice of solemn authority, nor that of the satyr. But I do have voice and some things need saying.

A Pagan ethics must be an ethics of virtue, a striving for excellence. This does not mean we will all excel at living. Excellence is not a democratic concept. If some can be excellent, others must be mediocre. And being a fearful creature myself, suffering from performance anxiety, this is not a particularly pleasant notion. Being very intelligent and highly educated, and thus privileged in many ways, failure must be my own fault. This, above all else, is what holds my generation back from living a good life and I certainly do not wish to add on to this fear and paralysis. So why do I plead for heroic living?

I have been inspired by Drew Jacob, Rogue Priest, who in turn is inspired by heroic myth.  His religion is the heroic life. He seeks out challenge, tries to learns new skills at every opportunity and attempts to create a life-style that encourages heroic acts.

“I stopped thinking of stories about heroes as fantasies that reality can’t match. They’re not. Stories about heroes are based on our highest aspirations. (…)

Heroic myths are not meant to be stories, they’re meant to be instruction manuals.”

This is a heroism that I admire and can strive towards: striving for excellence as an internal need, not a working of a check-list handed to us. My generation should dream bigger dreams and care a bit less of what others may think. We need to think heroic and act heroic. And stories can help us take the first steps.

The concept of the hero is an interesting one, one that highlights the ambivalent relationship, the tension, between individual and the wider community. We can only live the heroic life by shacking of the may be manacles of societal expectations. To be excellent is not to answer to expectations, it is to transcend them. At the same time, heroic life choices may not always be conducive to the larger society. Antigone acted heroically, but needed to break human laws to do so. We admire her exactly for taking that risk, but it is not surprising that her reasons do not satisfy Creon who needs to maintain order and uphold the law (even if it is an imperfect law).

Drew Jacob defines heroism as doing acts of great service to others, but this has not always been its first characteristic. The heroic quest is foremost the quest of the individual, the quest for adventure and personal fame. The ancient heroes – most famously Achilles – defy authority, are rebellious and usually are not viewed as role models. The hero is unique and therefore impossible to imitate. Furthermore  from the perspective of the leaders, societies would not be better of if everyone aspired to be an Achilles. Throughout the Illias Achilles endangers the larger Greek cause, because of his need for personal glory and revenge (and a woman). Of course Agamemnon does not represent the best of Greek society, but he does represent the societal need for order, a practical reality Achilles discards. He recognizes Agamemnon to be a lesser man. Achilles was not a great hero due to his moral compass, nor because he lacks one, but foremost because of his beauty and strength (which were given to him, rather than acquired) and exactly because of his rebellious nature. He wanted to be an excellent warrior and all else had to give way. Heroes can have high moral standards, but these have never been necessary to their status. Heroes do not have to be altruistic, honest or even competent to be recognized as heroes. They must do great things (or appear to do them).

Minerva Restraining Achilles from Killing Agamemnon

Alcibiades is another good example of a hero who was hard to fit in a society. The Athenians relied on him greatly in times of war, but the man was a great danger in times of peace. This golden boy, Socrates pupil, enjoyed flirting with the Spartans, steeling other men’s wives, and he even wanted to abolish democracy. Yet, he was also a great hero to the Athenians and saved them on more than one occasion. Heroism is about the individual quest, but one can only be a hero if others recognize them to be so.

In her masterpiece Heroes Lucy Hughes-Hallett, argues that even though Antigone’s greatness and her choice of death moves us greatly, her sister’s Ismene’s choice for life is the harder of the two. Odysseus too desired to go home above all else. His desire for life was stronger that that of glory. And Achilles admitted to him, down in the Underworld, that death really wasn’t all that great. Perhaps it Odysseus that we should think off when we picture the ideal hero: the adventurer that returns home in the end, he who tries to balance excellence and prudence.

Naturally, Drew Jacob’s take on heroism is a more modern one. Moreover, his focus on Irish religion probably means he thinks more of Cú Chulainn, son of Lugh, or even Lugh himself. Yet if we are to view the heroic myths ass instructionals, we should consider closely which heroes we wish to emulate. For someone like me, who suffers from performance anxiety (and a whole bunch of other anxieties), breaking free like Achilles may be the healthy thing to do. But there is a necessary darker side to heroism, we should not forget. The classical hero always stands alone, breaks the ties that bind him to other individuals be sacrificed in order to achieve greatness, and perhaps sometimes the price will be to high. The heroic legends are not just instruction manuals for heroes, they also show outsider perspectives and how societal and individual virtues may come into conflict.

Hero stories should inspire us. And Drew Jacob gives us some excellent notions on how to do this (adventure, travel) and making it sounds like great fun as well. Living heroically is not the same as fitting in, living up to other people’s (high) expectations. It is living the best live that we possibly can. It is striving for excellence from an inner calling.  This will set us free and do the world a great deal of good.  The ancient stories and legends may serve as instruction manuals – though they do not provide a step-by-step program for us to follow – but they are more than that. They also show the individual greatness is sometimes at odds with other virtues. That is life, viewed tragically.

Making right: connecting to ancestors

18 Apr

I apologize for my recent absence. Last week I wrote about work troubles, and Friday last I tried to make amends, to put myself in right relationship with the ancestors and the spirits. This I intended to write about -, but then on Saturday my work contract was terminated about which I was informed though a casual e-mail. I had to mull things over before I could write about it, plus I had a festival on Sunday for which I needed to prepare. On the upside, I have a lot of free writing time at present.

Last Friday, at dawn, I visited the local burial mounds on the heath to honour my ancestors. I cleared the site from plastic and other trash, and I pored milk in the deep blue pools. And I prayed to the gods, fervently.

Bronze age burial mounds at Regte Heide

Bronze age burial mounds at Regte Heide

For the first time in a long while I felt truly at peace. I spoke the following words of the SDF’s morning devotional, and they felt truer than they ever did before.

And may the day unfold in peace,
And may this peace be born within,
And may my heart be set ablaze,
That I might shine into the world.

A stark flew 6 feet above me, which is a rare sight. And on my way back home I came across three deer, rabbits, and birds of prey. And it was as if those animals confirmed that I had restored my connection to the sensuous world and my ancestors. I had reclaimed my place within Wyrd.

Ancestor-worship has often seen as the first step of modern pagan practice, because our ancestors are supposed to share and thus understand our human experience of the world. Yet I have never experienced them as standing closer to me than the supposedly grander gods. And thus ancestor-worship does not have a prominent place in my life. Whenever I do something small for them it is out of duty, not out of a sense of connection, and even less a personal need. I honour my line of descent. Through the ancestors, I honour the cycle of time.  In short, I honour the ancestors as an anonymous group. And thus my relationship to them remains rather abstract.

I have lit candles for my grandmother –  the one I never knew and of whom family members say that I resemble her a great deal -, but I never tried to connect to any other specific ancestor. To be frank, in my mind, these people are gone. I honour their memory by remembering them, learning about them, and in in this way their wisdom or energy travels with me. I also have developed a keen interest in my genealogy. As the spirits connect me to place, the ancestors connect me to the cycles of time. However I still do not believe they as individuals are still here to be met with.

I believe we all leave an imprint on Wyrd, and I entertain the possibility there is something intangible that survives our bodies somehow. I do not however, believe in individual separate souls that either hang about or transfer to an Otherworld. It follows that I do not believe that they can come down to advise me or support me in any literal way. And how can I connect to something or someone, when I deny those to whom I intend to connect to?

There is little logic in my problem. I am not certain of the objective existence of the gods at all, and somehow this bothers me a great deal less than this small ontological uncertainty concerning the ancestors. I have come to accept that the gods exist even if I do not know how they come to be in existence. I am not even seeking for naturalistic explanations any more. The gods exists somehow, and that is enough. Yet my ancestors have walked on this earth, that much is certain, and thus logically, they were very objectively ‘real’  at some point.

Still, I am in need a new concept, a new idea of who the ancestors are. Or at least what they are or could be to me. I open the anthology This Sacred Earth and find, to my surprise an essay by David Abram whose book Spell of the Sensuous I mean to purchase when I have the funds to do so. In this essay called “The Ecology of Magic”, Abram argues that it is a mistake to interpret shamanistic encounters with the gods as either supernatural, or as happening in realms entirely “internal to the personal psyche of the practitioner”.

“It is not by sending awareness out beyond the natural world that the shaman makes contact with the perveyors of life and health, nor by journeying into the personal psyche; rather it is by propelling awareness laterally, outward into the depths of a landscape at once sensuous and psychological, the living dream that we share with the soaring hawk and the spider and the stone silently sprouting lichens on its coarse surface.”

In short, in oral, tribal cultures, the gods still dwell in the sensuous world itself. And this, says Abram, also holds true for the ancestors.

“Ancestor-worship” in its myriad forms, the, is ultimately a another mode of attentiveness tot non-human nature; it signifies not so much an awe or reverence towards human powers, but rather a reverence for those forms that awareness tales when it is no in human form, when the familiar human embodiment dies and decays to become part of the encompassing cosmos.

This helps me. It helps me to think of the ancestors out of the human box. It’s ok that I do not know the ancestors as persons. And somehow, the ancestors feel far closer to me when I stop trying to put familiar human faces on them. They are not the ghosts of Christmas past, appearing shortly before returning to their Otherworld. They are here. Ever living being carries them.

And suddenly, I see them in many faces, but many are not at all human. The ancestors are only faceless because they are shape-shifters: the personification of metamorphosis. But even then, it is not their faces that matter most, it’s that I dare show them my true face.

Source quote: David Abram. The Ecology of Magic. In R.S. Gotlieb (Ed.), This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment, pp. 476-491. You can find some of his other essays for free here: http://www.wildethics.com/

“Your soul is in your keeping alone.”

15 Apr

At long last spring has arrived. The cold polar wind from the north-east has finally abated and is now replaced my something different entirely. Last week, the rains came rolling in from the Atlantic west, as it should, and softened the bare dry ground. Yesterday was the first pleasantly warm day with a temperature of 23 degrees Celsius and it being my mother’s birthday, it was a time of merry-making in good company and with equally good Belgian beer to quench are thirst. And for sunshine and easy fun, we were very thirsty indeed

Weeks behind schedule finally some green is appearing and the daffodils are in full bloom. Unfortunately this sudden warmth is causing trouble for some animals. The tomtits are in danger running out of food for their young ones. Many have yet to lay their eggs which hatch only after twelve days, but the caterpillars, their source of nutrients, turn into butterflies overnight. But watching the clouded yellows, I cannot let these matters weigh me down.

Spring has lifted my spirits.
Or rather, it had.

This morning I went to work relatively cheerfully. A beautiful sunrise and a good night sleep made it possible for me to rise at 6.15 h. without feeling my head had swelled up to twice its normal size. And despite my job being a low and low-paid  telemarketing , I felt re-markedly grateful for it, or at least for the money and the colleagues it brings me. But when I arrived at the office, ready to do my part, my bosses told me to go back home.

The company that our company works for is at fault for this. The product that we have selling for them is also faulty, or worse, a means to rip people off. Last week I was sent home as well on account of a computer system failure, but apparently this was just a rouse since the complaints have started to flood in. My bosses are looking for new clients but it is yet uncertain when work is resumed.

I am not a salesperson at heart. And from the start I have none this was a product that is making the world worse rather than better, even if our company did not know that this particular client was bending its own rules and lied to us about their services. So, though I am pressed for money, I am rather relieved. My moral compass tells me, this is not what I should spend my time on Earth doing. Selling stuff to some fools who do not bother to check where their money goes … was not really the issue. It could even be fun, a game, a competition. But providing a listening ear to people who share their disappointments in life and then to use their insecurities to make a sale, well, I was not at all comfortable doing that.

And I never, before taking this job, could imagine myself doing this. But after months of being on the job hunt, it was the only company that offered me a place and the colleagues were agreeable, the managers supportive and relaxed. How far would I go to make ends meet? What’s worse, spending my savings in order to receive financial assistance of the government afterwards, or working a job that makes the world just a little bit poorer.

This is what ethics is. It isn’t thinking about what one would and should do in certain hypothetical circumstances, it is about acting today and taking responsibility. And I think about all those people who form part of a system that almost forces them to impoverish life on earth,to prevent their kids from living in poverty today. How can I possibly blame them? And it makes me very sad, and almost without hope. And our political leaders are too busy identifying and framing the present economic troubles to start solve them. Perhaps I should go into politics, for it is too depressing to merely read about it and do nothing.

I remember a speech in the film The Kingdom of Heaven (the director’s version, you mind, the theatrical one sucks). The King of Jerusalem, brilliantly portrayed by Edward Norton, addresses and teaches the hero of the story:

A king may move a man, a father may claim a so, but that man can also move himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice.

This hit me like a brick.

Most Pagans acknowledge that we are but little things in a much bigger interconnecting web. Experiencing this interconnectivity, to be able to connect the dots, is an exhilarating thing. My most valued religious experiences have been like this, feeling yourself to be in the flow of things, knowing that it will bring you where you need to be. To work with Wyrd instead of against it, to be in sync with all those other acting voices, that is my dearest wish and purpose. This is what started my interest in Paganism.

Our souls extend beyond ourselves, and thus are in inevitably the hands of others. Yet there is still truth in this quote.

The present political-economic system of which we form part of is not, and never can, be in full service to the flow of life. It is not equal to Wyrd. But neither is Wyrd itself a Utopia or even a democracy. There are always others who have power over our fates, those who can make the flow reverse if they would wish it so. And it is our smaller actions that lend support to this system. To be a Pagan activist, is to recognize these sources of injustice and fight them. Even though we recognize we have to be practical in the choosing of our first duties, we cannot just say ‘virtue was not convenient at the time’.

That’s too easy.

“But I was told by others to do thus” is often a poor argument, whether those others are fellow pagans, powerful rich men, or gods.

I feel the need of atonement. I wish to do well, like in my former employment, I helped people gain control back over their household and over their lives. All I did was cleaning houses, but at least I made a difference.

I used to be an idealist, and now I am turning into a cynic. And I do not like it. But my soul is in my keeping and instead of blaming the system for my feelings, I should use these feelings to prompt myself to action. I have sharp mental faculties, I have education. They should be put to work, into true service. If I put myself down, I limit not only myself, but also the good I can do for others.

So as of this week, I am a Pagan activist, in search of an active service.
And if there are experienced activists among my readership, please feel free to ask for my service if you think I can be of any use. (Do please remember I live in The Netherlands). Furthermore, keep an eye on http://paganactivist.com/: a pagan activist collaborative.

Honest about headcovering

13 Apr

When I pray, I cover my head. Coincidently I also cover my hair, but that is not my intent of purpose. When I stand before the gods I cover my head. I believe I would do the same if I were completely bald.

For many women covering is precisely about their hair. They dyeing or cutting of their tresses, or even creating an up-do, may even remove any desire to hide their hair through other means. For others, putting their They may view their hair as a source of pride, something sacred to protect or they simply do what the gods bid them to do. Yet in practice, in the discussion groups I am part of, covering often means covering one’s hair rather than one’s head. We have talked about why we cover our hair, ways to braid it, choosing between growing it out or cutting it short. I enjoy a good girly chat about types of conditioners now and again, and my hair style does affect me but, in my case, it does not affect my relationship to the gods as much.

Groups focussed on covering are usually women-only. And many Pagan women also feel a sense of bonding with other women who cover for religious reasons. They see Muslim women as their political allies or admire their scarf-tying styles. However, I do not often share these feelings. If I cover, I do not think of my fellow Pagans, nor of other women across the world tying their scarf. I support them as culturally liberally minded person who believes that we should all be able to wear whatever cloth we wish. But otherwise, I do not feel any bond. Perhaps it is because I know most Pagan women only sought community after deciding to veil themselves, I know I did. We do not veil because we are part of a community that supports and encourages that choice. All of us, all us Western Pagans cover because of our own individual choice.

Neither does covering put me back in touch with my femininity, not really. Occasionally I tie a pretty scarf when I go out, and yes I feel more assured as a woman. But when in prayer or meditation, I do not feel more ‘womanly’ because of the scarf. Rather, I feel more contained, more formal, putting a veil between myself and any distractions. In no way, it’s about my sexuality or gender then. To me the statuary of Augustus or Marcus Aurelius evokes this particular way of being much more than a random image of a lovely woman in a lovely scarf, who usually is an exceptionally beauty too.

How about this man?

The Last Magician of Rational Thought by martinfowlie

The Last Magician of Rational Thought, a photo by martinfowlie on Flickr.

I may have much more in common with him than with that woman who happens to tie her scarf in the same fashion as I do. I do not begrudge women to discuss these matters among themselves, I did so too at first, but head covering is not just an woman’s issue. Among Pagans at least, I do not think it should.

And as for the notions that women’s covering is a relic from Medieval times, when all women who belonged to a man covered up, yes their is truth in that. But it was not just the women, all men wore head-gear as well. Up to world war II all men, when out in public, wore hats or caps. The hat was a symbol of quiting the private sphere, and entering the civic one, where different rules of conduct were to be obeyed. And I must say, many times, I wish the boundary between these to spheres was a little more prominent today. How often do I overhear people on the phone talking about how they found another man in their wives’ bed or how their criminal law-suit is proceeding. How often are people making themselves at home, whilst they are clearly not at home! Head-covering is not just about male-female relations and not just about the remnants of patriarchy.

The internet encourages a lot of lazy copying. People start to think like a google search machine.We often assume that if a certain kind of information is proliferate must be right or important or interesting. Last month Del wrote about the current proliferation of newly wedded loki-wives. One of the main concerns – which was ignored by many readers – was the danger that these god-spouses would unconsciously create a homogeneous template for newcomers to follow. The blog post was not an intent to silence their voices, but rather to correct our skewed perspective and to include those people who remain under-represented. Some of this is unavoidable. But we should try to not let the joy of finding like-minded spirits turn into mindless copying. I applaud Del’s and Aine’s attempt to tackle the hard questions without sparing themselves.

I feel there is some danger of creating such a template when it concerns head-covering. When a person starts to cover, he or she may feel insecure or vulnerable and thus look for guidance in private groups. This is great. It is a good thing that safe heavens exist. But a problem will arise when these groups end up in merely praising each other’s headscarf  and avoiding any confrontational debate. When differences are downplayed, a template may arise, especially when groups grow exponentially in numbers. Newcomers may then come to understand that we are all in service of Hestia, or that we all cherish our hair, or that we all embrace our femininity by means of the tichel scarf.

I just feel there are other stories to tell and other potential story-tellers to tell them. Perhaps there is a story of a middle-aged Ares-worshipper who wears a tall hat whilst in procession.

Within interfaith work too, downplaying differences is not the way to go. David Dashifen Kees, and in response John Halstead of The Allergic Pagan, are enthusiastic about the creation of a Pagan chapter within the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.

It is an ideal organization for us to be involved with.  It recognizes that a person’s deeply held beliefs are not likely to change.  Further, these differences, when not understood, are what lead to resentment between different religious and non-religious communities rather than understanding.  Thus, the foundation uses dialog–or as they term it, “honest contestation”–as a way to foster that understanding.

The beginning of understanding is only possible when we recognize our differences, our particularities. And we can only recognize what is visible. This holds true for interfaith and intra-faith work alike.

We are comfortable in sharing, in sameness, but we learn through reading new stories, meeting different people, struggling with ideas that are alien to us. Do we learn through embracing all Muslim women as our sisters? Should we not first listen to their individual stories, and then see what we have in common and also where we may part ways?

I cover, because when I enter in ritual, my mind is on the gods alone. I cover my head in preparation in order to attain the proper mindset. It is as if I have gone through a door, only I haven’t moved. The scarf or hood is a filter, a veil. It shields me from rain and dust, and my own wandering thoughts, and brings me closer to the ground. I do not always cover. When I swim in the sea at dusk, in the embrace of Manannán, I do no such thing.

I do not cover my head because I am woman;
or because I am a homesteader, which I am not.
No god has asked this of me.
and yet, I do so for the gods, and because of the gods.
This is part of my story.

Image

Beautiful ravens

9 Apr

Watching Game of Thrones put ravens into my mind.
And Galina Krasskova also did something to that effect.

Dynamic Raven by Martin Hsu. Available at http://martinhsustore.blogspot.nl/

Dynamic Raven by Martin Hsu. Available at http://martinhsustore.blogspot.nl/

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Raven Art Drawing by Lauren Gray. Available at Etsy-store TheHauntedHollowTree

Ravens by Masahisa Fukase

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