So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

31 December, 2012

A is for Apotheosis

Your purification is the purification of Heru

Your purification is the purification of Set
Your purification is the purification of Djehwty
Your purification is the purification of Dwn-Anwy
Your purification is the purification of your ka
Your purification is the purification of your purification
and this purification of yours also
Is among your brethren, the gods.
- Pyramid Text 36

Your brethren, the gods.

What kinship is there between the human and the divine?

Well, there's the ka, of course, as explicitly mentioned - which is fundamentally the many-divided and multiply-intertwined ka of the Creator, differentiated unto millions.  But the ka is a different sort of identity than is addressed with "you", most times, so that is at best only an incomplete suggestion of an answer.

The word for 'god' in Egyptian can be translated with, I feel, more nuance, as 'divine power'.  And I would suggest from that that there is a gradation there: one can have divine power, and one can also be a divine power.  Certainly, there are cases in Egyptian lore of a human accumulating sufficient netjer to become netjer - Imhotep being a primary example of such a person (who was not previously a bearer of the Kingly Ka, which complicates the whole divinity question a touch).

Heka - the most commonly discussed power of magic - was a gift granted to humans in order to "ward off events", or something rather like that.  It is a divine power.  (It also means 'activation of the ka', and thus resonates with that deep divinity.)  Akhu, another magical word, is also the word for "ancestors", and indeed the ancestors are commonly thought of as closer to the gods in some ways than the living.

But there is the inner truth, the personal netjer, that ideal and aspirational being, the personal power within.  That which you are the only one who can achieve it is bound up with that personal divinity, that personal place.  The intimate and most individual of powers, the purification of which is also the purification of your brethren, the gods.

Who is this flower above me

And what is the work of this god?
I would know myself in all my parts.
- "The Flower Prayer"

30 December, 2012

Z is for Zenith

The more one cares about paying attention to astronomical phenomena, the more there are these moments, the points at which things reach their height, from which they then drop.

The celestial falcon, the distant one, spreads his wings over the skies, the sun at peak, the noonday light blue and gold over his wingfeathers.  This may be only a moment, but it is an eternal moment: to be fully ensconced and balanced within power may only happen for an instant, but it is an eternal instant.

The falcon remains in the heights.

Noon will come again.

The stars rise and set.

Time is an endless dance of zenith and descent, revival and climb.

Ascend and descend; descend with Ra, sing into darkness with Ndi.

Ascend and descend; ascend with Ra, rise with the Great Float-User.
Ascend and descend; descend with Nebet-Het, sink into darkness with the Night-bark.
Ascend and descend; ascend with Aset, rise with the Day-bark.
- Pyramid Texts 222, mostly as translated by Faulkner

Y is for Yard Spirits

Taking a moment to wander back from the fields of the abstract and philosophical for a moment...

I think it's important to get to know your local spirits.  It's not like the only spiritual world one can find is either off in the realm of the gods or out in the deepest wilderness; the local life participates in an ecosystem, is shaped to a land with a history, and has things to say.

Part of living within the world and as a part of it has to be living with the realities of right here and right now.  And that can mean learning about the life cycles of dandelions, cultivating the acquaintance of bats, and sitting on the back porch having a long heart-to-heart with whatever entities happen to hang out in the backyard.

They have things that they care about, attitudes, preferences.  And they vary a lot - the personality of my front yard spirits is rather different from that of the back yard spirits.  Some spirits are permanent residents; some will be more transient visitors.

If nothing else, learn to listen.

Perhaps give a little back.

28 December, 2012

X is for X______________

Okay, yeah, whatever, that's excessively meta.

But that's where you sign your name on the dotted line.  Put down your mark, all of that stuff.

It's worth thinking about what you put your name to, where you put your commitments.  And this isn't just a "which god do you swear to" (or by, or at) sort of thing.

Because your commitments are a part of how you build your worth, your personal authority: the point of pride that is your personal law.  Your discipline, the spine of your practice.

This is the root of magic, among other things: being able to stick to your intention.  Whether your magic is based in word or will or some other thing, you need to bloody well follow through.

It seems like a simple thing, but it really rather isn't.  Everything slips, everything loosens up at times.  Meaning to do it isn't doing it.  (And that's what Yoda was on about, right?  Don't intend, act.)  This is one of those Witch's Pyramid points, to will, to put creation in motion in the forms you demand of it.

This point of pride, of action, these things make up how your identity is defined: what you follow through on, what you affiliate with, what you allow to shine.

(I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant's faithful one hundred percent.)

26 December, 2012

V is for Vino Veritas

Hetharu is the Lady of Intoxication.

There's a lot to be said around that, and a lot of it is actually kind of difficult to express.  I mean, there's the obvious point that the use of alcohol is not something problematic, but it's hard to avoid that on a culture that is heavily constructed around beer in any case.

But here is a thing: one of the effects of alcohol is what gets called "lowered inhibitions".  It brings forward all of those desires that one wouldn't admit to ordinarily, and takes the brakes off, meaning they're more likely to happen.

There is a peculiar honesty to alcohol.

I suspect that's where "in vino veritas" comes from, that sense that people who have been loosened with that particular drug will show something less constrained, something that is in some way more real.  (It will reveal people whose secret desires are foul and antisocial as well, which is knowledge worth having at times even when dealing with someone who is a "good person" when sober....)

Not all the things people feel constrained from are awful.  Some of them are small things.

It's worth knowing where the narrow spots are, sometimes.

(Tipsy, I stop fixing my typos.

I make broader, more expansive gestures with my hands.

I poke people in the nose.  Generally people I'm close to who won't mind.  Much.

I pun.)

25 December, 2012

U is for Unexpected

One of the basic tools of humor is surprise.

Juxtapose something expected with something surprising and bam, there's that funniness creeping in, the sudden jolt of rupture.  There's the unexpected, and the unexpected often makes people laugh.

Religion - if really done right - often works the same way.

Doing the work, really doing things, eventually it makes shapes that will shift suddenly.  And religions are work, they come with obligations.  (This isn't to say that everyone who claims a given religion is good at doing its work - but that doesn't change the nature of the thing.)

If the work is to comb through one's life in order to figure out how to be better to other people, well, eventually some realisation is going to demand a change.  Sometimes a hard one, and that's not going to be expected, it's a result of doing the work.  The same for any other religious principle - of adhering to the rules, of developing personal strength, of whatever else.  It changes people.

Initiations are of course one of the more dramatic forms of changing people, and they - also - work with the unexpected.  The sudden putting together of pieces to make for the moment of sudden realisation.

If it just keeps being the same, all the time, nothing calling for change, for deeper work, for more dedication, for more something...

... is it really having any effect?

21 December, 2012

Z is for Zep Tepi

Zep Tepi: the first time.  (Sometimes translated 'the first occasion', or similar other things.)

Here is the crack of cosmic dawn, the Big Bang if you want: out of nothingness, light, matter, form.  All things in their proper place, the divine order making itself manifest, the out-folding of being from the spark of potentiality.

The heart of ritual is Zep Tepi.

The heart of the temple is Zep Tepi.

If you have no Zep Tepi, you got nuffin'.

Most seriously: there is an instant of crystalline perfection, that first moment, that first blink of dawn, utterly pure, utterly right.  That is the origin point of being.

And because it is the origin point of being, it is everywhere, an immanent presence.  Now exists - in all its glories and all of its muck - because Zep Tepi.

Which means you can get there at any time.

It is always, always possible to come to alignment, to open, to find that perfect note.  The song is always there, waiting for your voice.

The candle you light always has the potential to be the First Light, because the First Light is why there is a candle.  The incense you burn always has the potential to be the breath of the gods, because the breath of the gods is why there is incense.  These are ever-present, ever-available, there is no falling away and being lost from the possibility of clarity because clarity is wound-through and a part of every moment of living, if you just know to reach for it.

This is the Original Sinlessness.

You inherited it.

20 December, 2012

W is for Worship

A pet peeve: pagans who appear to be afraid of the word "worship".

It's really a thing.  "Oh, I don't worship gods.  I work with them!"  "I honor them!"  "I am devoted to...."

But never worship.

All of those acts of religious devotion directed towards a deity? Not worship.  Somehow.

Showing reverence and adoration?  Nope, not worship either.

It's a weird thing to me.  All of this activity that is on a literal level worship is defensively declared to not actually be recognition of the worthiness of the gods to be honored.  And I know it's a connotational thing for some people, the whole history of experience in religion that was big on self-abasement and all, but self-abasement is still a different thing than worship.

I think sometimes it's something more insidious, though, kind of a Buddy Christ phenomenon.  Working with gods, being a kind of professional colleague, it feels like being more important than worship, which recognises and differentiates between categories in a kind of rank-acknowledging way.  And that rank thing, it's touchy, isn't it?

And sometimes there actually is stuff about meeting the gods as a comparative equal, individual to individual, but I do tend to think that that needs to come with respecting the existence of differences.  A god is still out there manifesting on a much more cosmic level than I manifest, so if the standard of equality is "two manifesting beings", well, we've got that, but it remains a difference of kind.  And if worship requires a difference of kind, well, it's there.

I light my candles, I burn my incense, and you know - if you're out there lighting candles and burning incense to me you're a bit confused, and probably have a bit of category error going on.  Different categories, different types of attention paid.

It's a thing.

19 December, 2012

U is for Undefined

I was in a conversation earlier today that kind of orbited around the subject of what one calls one's religion.  Which is an interesting subject in a lot of ways, because there are times where - if one even has a simple word - the more one goes into a particular path or way of being, the less the simple word describes it.

It's worse, of course, if there isn't a simple word or phrase to run with, if the explanation to "what is your religion?" comes in pieces and assemblages of concepts, not in a handy label that someone can then take away, look up, and gnaw on in quiet.  At least if I say "Kemetic" someone has something to start from, and while they might get it bass-ackwards in practice there's at least a thing to point at that will get all but the most clueless aimed in roughly the right direction.

But of course that gets less and less true the more you look at it - and not because I'm a wacky Crafty mystic.  Or not just.  Because for all that state cultus would be largely the same no matter which Egyptian god was tucked away in the heart of the temple, that doesn't mean I do state cultus.  Or that the gods I deal with were the sort of gods who had temples dedicated to them.  And when you get personal with things, the sorts of things that people are called to do vary widely, and since I'm household-oriented which is not exactly a going thing in a lot of mainline Kemetic practice, it goes ...

... well, pretty sideways, without touching any of theological points, differences in reconstructive practice, differences between mortar choices, concurrent practice, or anything else ....

If you want to know what's really going on with someone, the handles aren't going to be good enough, not unless you get a whole big heap of them in a pile together and achieve critical mass.  (When writing a short bio for a conference I'm going to be presenting at, I cited "Egyptian reconstructionist", "student of the Craft", and "hardworking mama" as critical threads - and that's all religious information, even though some people will pretend that the third one isn't.)

And then there are directions where it has to go undefined.  The same conversation led me to starting to make math puns about divinity, and I suspect there's some truth to this: that the practice of mysticism is pretty much a process of division by zero.  The rules don't work there anymore, and you can get nothing or the infinite or for all I know a ham sandwich out of it, because this is undefined.  The divisor which can be spoken is not the eternal divisor.  There's a tension between nothing and everything, between the bounded and the endless, that rattles around in the asymptote that can be drawn between the infinite and the negative-infinite, encompassing all things when nothing is on top.

I don't think I'm a liminalist.  Or at least I'm not a liminalist anymore, which is a funny place for someone who has for a long time self-defined in shadows and penumbras.  But it's not the fringes I'm there for, anymore, it's the bridges.  That funny place in the world where the entire span of being from one infinity to its negation hums on the one point.  It's not the boundary-zone between worlds, it is Yggdrasil, you see what I mean?

Aleph ... NOT.

18 December, 2012

S is for Sovereignty

It is all well and good to talk about sovereignty, about personal sovereignty, about sovereignty goddesses, and all that stuff, but it is not as easy to do that work.

The trick to self-rule is knowing how big you are.  Which is an interesting thing, in a world that wants to simultaneously crush and inflate people, now, isn't it?  It's almost as though there are people who would benefit from most folks not knowing how to own themselves.

Having permeable boundaries and an inability to defend them, so that minor offenses can escalate into major ones without causing a hassle.

Having no sense of responsibility or consequences for actions, and thus being able to blame The Bad Parenting or The Culture of Violence or The Difficulty Being a Whatever These Days or Falling In Love Makes Everyone Stupid or whatever other handy-dandy get out of jail free is being pawned off here.

But go back to the beginning.  To govern yourself you need to know who you are.  Not what other people want you to be, not what the little voices suggest, not what a history of glamour or pain would like to bind you to.  To know your actual strengths, your actual weaknesses, the actual steps you need to take to reach your actual goals.

Working on that will keep you busy for a few years.  It is not simple work to find yourself in among the coils of everything else - there's a lot of clutter in the average mind, after all.

And of course, then there's the doing it.  And accepting the consequences of each of the parts of it.  Because the thing about sovereignty is that - even if one chooses to do a job, or take a service role, or become a priest of a god, or anything else - one bears the burden of that work.  "So and so told me to do it" is no more a free pass than "I had a troubled childhood."

The thing about troubled childhoods is, okay, it sucks to have one.  Much like it sucks to have triggers.  But - much like the damn triggers - it's a thing where, okay, at some point "Mama never loved her much and daddy never keeps in touch and that's why she shies away from human affection" or whatever the sad story is, it's nothing other than a tether: hold on to that to have a reason not to do otherwise.

Actual liberty is hard work.  It does not allow for excuses.  It is the singing octave of power, that vibration of the self acting as itself, moving to its own music.

To own oneself fully is a freedom that is difficult to bear, because the responsibility of it can be overwhelming.  This is the call of sovereignty.  This is the seat of power, and the heart of governance.  The sacred path to the holy kingdom is the apple of your I.

In order to say "yes" you must also be able to say "no".  And in order to say "no", you must also be able to say "yes".  There is no escaping the nature of meaningful choice.

And bear the responsibility for either choice.

17 December, 2012

Q is for Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

(Yeah, I know.  But 'queer' and 'questions' were too predictable-feeling, and anyway I write about that sort of thing all the time and doing it over just didn't give me any warmfuzzies.)

It's always an interesting question, the one of "Who is one answerable to?"

One of the reasons that a lot of pagans have anarchic tendencies is that, having grown up observing Organised Religion Tee-Em, well, a lot of us see that Organising tends to encourage people to get themselves into positions where nobody will feel able to call them on their shit.

One of the other reasons that a lot of pagans have anarchic tendencies is that they don't want to get into a position where someone will have the authority to call them on their shit.

Both of these approaches have their problems.  (She said blandly.)

Here's a fact of life: we're all of us going to be full of nonsense at some point along the line.  Sometimes it'll be a lot of nonsense, sometimes it'll be a little nonsense, but there will be nonsense.  With a little luck, we'll usually be able to notice that we're talking bollocks and stop doing so without making damned fools of ourselves - or doing harm to others.

I tell you something: there's stuff I dealt with when I was younger, where I genuinely don't know even with adult perspective how much of it was "real" and how much of it was some sort of contagious delusion.  (I can only be grateful that it was perhaps less grand than The War On The Astral and was less publically proclaimed.)  But one of the things that I think good about that time in my life is that - while a bunch of folks got quite wound up about it - we then went and dealt with it, and as far as I know nobody did a whole bunch of talking it up as a grand mystical experience or proof that this particular bunch of young folks had an especial type of experience unfamiliar to anyone else.  Or what have you.  We kept a decent watch on ourselves.

And that's part of the process, isn't it?  Run checks.  Try a couple perspectives on to see how what I'm doing looks if I don't assume that it's "real".  Whatever.

I wrote a bit of a checklist a while back which I will now cannibalise:
  • Is this thought/experience/role/claim something that serves primarily to inflate my ego or serve as self-aggrandisement?  Is it a claim of specialness or separation from others?  (Is it heavily distinguished from the types of experiences that other people have claimed to have within my knowledge, for that matter?)
  • If the information from this process is about me, is it something personal to me ("I need to pursue this work/clean my room/quit my job/etc.") or is it something that I think other people should know about me?  Do I make it all about me even when it oughtn't be?

  • What fraction of stuff-about-me is "That's awesome!" or "I'm so cool!" and what fraction is "Fuck, I have to deal with that?" or "You want me to do what?"  (Work doesn't mean it's genuine, but actual effort required is more plausible than the universe handing out free cookies.)

  • What are the actual risks - to myself or others - from listening to the little voices and doing what they suggest?

  • Is the danger of listening to the little voices commensurate with the value of what is being pursued by that action (to both me and the entities thus proposed)?

  • IS MY SHIT SORTED RIGHT NOW?  Because if my shit is unsorted, then it's much more likely that I'm hearing my own emotional damage than something external, or my own insecurities, or simply my own potential for an epic stress meltdown.

  • Do I currently have the capacity to express good judgement in my ordinary life?  Am I expecting myself to have better ability to make significant choices than evidence suggests is a good idea (perhaps because I think dealing with esoteric/spiritual/whatever stuff will have fewer consequences than staying up so late that I get late to work in the morning and can't do my job or something)?

  • Am I working with spiritual/magical/religious tools that are supposed to produce this kind of experience, or is this totally random crap that I'm trying to organise?

  • If I am dealing with a known entity, is the sort of stuff I get from that entity consistent with other experiences of that entity?  With the lore, with the experiences of other practitioners, with mythology, with recorded ritual practice, etc.?  Do I get confirmation of unexpected details when I do further reading or talk with others?  (I had a fascinating confuence of similar experience when talking to other dedicants of Neb.y about our hair color ... which was also consistent with the lore.)

  • If I am in fact making up this experience, how would my behaviour patterns change, and are those other behaviours notably improved?  If I clean my room as part of a spiritual devotion that's one thing - but if I do spiritual devotions instead of cleaning my room, that's rather another.

  • It's worth having a checklist to keep a watch on oneself.  It's also worth having a community who can help run this and other checklists for each other.

    But the problem in greater pagandom is a lot of people run into groups that don't run any sort of checklist.  It doesn't matter what crap they make up - they'll run into someone who'll believe it.

    This does not serve us well.

    11 December, 2012

    R is for Red

    I can't write about Black without writing about red.  (Of course, the post about Black was way more important than this one, so if you missed it the first time around on the guitar go read that one first.)

    The Red Land and the Black Land is sort of the founding drama of Egypt - the desert and the fertile strip along the Nile, Set and Wesir.  There are a lot of these dances to be had in mythology, the brother/other tango.  And a lot of people want to offload the "bad" onto redness - much like they do onto blackness, though it's generally a different bad.  Red is for rage and lust and all of that stuff that good people don't do, right?  Red is that sign to Stop Doing That, or the mark for danger: don't go here, don't try this stuff, stay away.

    Red is also at the root of "rubric", the set of instructions and procedures for a ritual, written in red ink.  Write your names of dangerous beasts and demonic figures in red - and write your gestural procedures and your steps of what to do in red, too.  This is a guide, a structure, and it crops up in rather more than medieval manuscripts; you'll find those red-written liner notes in the Book of Going Forth By Day, too.

    Red is for blood, that dangerous color to see on the outside of your skin - but redness flows through you all the time, and it is that redness, that blood, that pulse that unifies your parts, causes your organs to function as a whole.  (This is not a statement about biology; this is a statement about etheric anatomy from an Egyptian perspective.  The fact that it's also kind of true physiologically is also a thing.)  That redness is made of iron, your life built out of the deaths of stars quite directly.  (Trace elements are trace elements, but iron is the star-killer.)  That redness is fire, and its heat is what drives your personal engine.

    Which isn't to say that I'm okay with that sidelining of those red emotions, the rage and lust end of things - because those are things which are filled with life.  The idea is not to not have them, it is to have them in appropriate circumstances, to deal with them appropriately, to keep them aligned and, as a different tradition would put it, under the hand of love.  That these things can be a manifestation of the destroyer is a given - but that simply means that they are not an exception to everything else.  Treating them as such because of their intensity is a good way to go completely askew, and that pulls things out from under the hand of love ... and thus more free to smash shit up.

    Redness is not the enemy.

    10 December, 2012

    V is for Version Control

    One of my stock rants about other reconstructionists has to do with footnotes.  Basically: there's a lot of stuff out there, but not a lot of stuff that says "And I got this from this book, this teacher, or this document; this part of it I made up as a bridge based on this related culture, this modern practice, or this looking really shiny."

    And in this subculture which talks about resources and references and historical accuracy, there's also a lot of games of telephone, in which someone's offhand comment gets blown into canon, or a personal practice gets taken for ancient procedure, or some other thing gets reinterpreted into unrecognisability by the time it gossip-chains its way around to its original source.

    And this means that the corpus of standard procedures tee-em gets turned into a hash - a process which is not helped by the tendency of some recon-types to treat academic research as if it were the Bible in the hands of a particularly pernicious young-Earth creationist.  There's research of various degrees of datedness mixed in with the bridging material someone created for a coven, someone else's interpolations from African Diaspora Religions, a stray leavening of the Golden Dawn, the thing that that priest said once which was certainly an ancient source somewhere right?  It's a mess.

    It has no version control.

    One of the things that I try to do with my work is footnote.  (I actually, at one point, got an email from my boss when he was putting together the ebook version of my book, saying I owed him a bottle of something because formatting footnotes in an ebook is apparently a real pain in the arse.)  It's not enough for me to come up with answers to things - I want other people to be able to know where I got them.  To be able to check my work, come up with alternate interpretations, or go further without having to first reconstruct my footsteps in order to figure out how I got where I was.  Can't do that without having the work in context.

    I have a calendar; it's in its first revision.  I explicitly note that, because version control means that at some point I will supercede it with something that I like better, whether that's for completeness or for accuracy or for fiddly bits of math or whatever else.

    I'm a syncretist; I work within multiple religious traditions and construct bridging material so that they do the same thing.  And that's multiple layers of versioning - tracking where things came from, revising things for better fit and coherence in the long run, and so on.

    The structure around the system, the stuff that reveals where the system came from, it matters too.

    No version control means that thing we did a half-assed job on that one time gets done over and over again even when we have better resources because we've forgotten that that was a hack job.  It's just The Way We Did It, so it might be the traditional thing to do... right?

    07 December, 2012

    Y is for Years

    I think it's something about becoming a parent that has given me a greater tendency to look at the rhythms of years.  It's also something about being a calendar nut, religiously, and doing that building work, trying to get a sense of rhythms of the year from that way.  Some of it has to do with the holistic look at the year I was asked to take as part of my training, figuring out my own seasons of action and recovery.

    Twenty years pagan, now, more or less.  I suspect maybe someone might start taking me seriously.  Probably coming up on ten of those Kemetic, goodness, I almost might know what I'm doing by now.  Time is a complicated and confounding thing, and I'm not used to being on the experienced end of things - but I suspect, these days, that I might be.  Seven years studying the Craft, on and off.  And so on and so forth.

    I think about the shapes of years.  Ebbs and flows, where they flex.  Solar years, stellar years: not quite the same thing.  Twelve-month lunar years, thirteen-month lunar years, lunar years with great years to keep things evened out a bit: also complicated.  When does the year begin?  Solstices are nice points, with their extremes of day and night; other events might matter more, though, and the shapes of things are complicated.  The Western secular calendar year is not well-attached to its origins anymore, and the why of when things fall is one of those things that takes research too.

    It's worth thinking about our years.  When do you fall in love?  When do all your projects stall out?  What are the patterns, if any?  (It's interesting to me how oddly similarly my personal calendar maps to the school calendar in the United States, in its way, as if I never shifted the shape of my year from my childhood - or as if that particular set of rhythms happens to be one congruent with my own, and someone who would rather start their new projects in the summer rather than the autumn would be stymied by the vagaries of grade school.)

    A year is a huge span, and a blink: having children certainly changes the view of time.  A year ago there was an infant blob in the house, fussing and squalling, and today a toddling gleeface tacklehugged me on her way to investigating the books left out on my floor.  That is huge.  And yet I so often feel I am doing the same things all the time, the things that I've done every day, and the only way I can tell that I've actually been working is that the shit I'm shovelling has changed.  It's an Aegean life, sometimes.

    I don't know.  I'm philosophical tonight, or something.  It's getting towards winter, which is a time for secret growth for me.  Perhaps that means philosophy, in its season.

    06 December, 2012

    J is for Justice Comma Connective, A Rant

    I am making a political post and a back PBP post simultaneously.  Fear my power of multitasking, or something.

    Another black teenager has been shot and killed for no damn reason whatsoever in Florida.  It's just ... what the everliving hell.  What on earth is going on in a world where people are so separated from each other, so disconnected, that a guy can not only shoot up another car because its music was too loud, but - upon hearing that he had killed someone on the news later - not consider that this might bloody well matter?

    Every so often I hear a lot of Kemetics handwringing about the fractiousness of Kemetic community, about how, well, aren't we supposed to be together and supporting each other and interconnected and isn't that what ma'at is all about?  And instead we have factionalism, backbiting, vicious behind the scenes gossip, accusations of petty theft, the occasional hex, ranting about thoughtcrimes, the odd bit of speaking ill of the dead, and a lot of stuff that looks like petty witch wars without the witches.

    Oh woe is us, with our diaspora condition and our petty little self-absorbed personal vendettas.  How can we truly make a community when yadda yadda yadda.  It's nice to live in a goddamn bubble, isn't it?  Where the fates of the maybe couple thousand people in a tiny minority religion are the important community to connect up.

    I think maybe a little bit more connective justice concern might maybe be directed to shit that actually matters for once, rather than whether this schismatic group of Egyptophiles can be seated with that schismatic group of Egyptophiles at the next debutante party.

    Some gaps actually signify a bit more than others.  Some communities are actually real and on the ground, where people actually matter to each other.  The good opinion of some supposed co-religionist I'll never meet is less significant to me than the life of some black teenager I will also never meet.

    05 December, 2012

    I is for Inspiration

    Inspiration is a fiddly thing.

    Sometimes it gets talked about as a divine gift, a state of ecstasy that can only be courted, not created deliberately, a magical blessing.  (And many artists of various sorts - I first encountered this as a writer, but I've seen it in other fields - have commented that depending on inspiration to get any art done is a good way to guarantee that no art gets done.)

    It's treated as a will'o'wisp, a thing over the horizon that will lead one to the promised land.  Perhaps it's pursued like any other form of ecstatic experience, carefully, within its own time and place, circumscribed by rituals.

    There is this idea that one can give oneself over to it and be transformed, that it will lead to great art, or at least something better than the usual Pagan Rhymed Couplet Sing-Song To A Dirge Tune.

    Inspiration, if you break it down ...

    ... is a drawn-in breath.

    What you say with that is unspecified.

    04 December, 2012

    R is for Railway Spine, Battle Fatigue, Shellshock, and Other Clever Ways of Saying PTSD

    I have a problem.

    I don't trust the world.

    The theological upshots of this for a person dealing with a non-transcendental religious system are not minor.  (If I were looking to get out of my body and get to heaven, not trusting the world would probably be some kind of bloody bonus.  Of course it is a vale of tears and a source of trauma, right?  Pfeh.)

    All those immanent, pan(en)theistic, naturally manifesting gods and spirits, they're part of the world, right?  And the world ...

    The world has a lot of things in it.  And a lot of my experiences with those things have been unsettling.  (And I'm explicitly being personal here, not geopolitical.) I'm not just talking about sexual violence or harassment here, though that's the obvious thing that people leap to and something that's on the mind lately.  There's bullying, there's emotional abuse, there's lack of privacy, there's disrespect for boundaries of all kinds, there's a lack of awareness of the potential for differences among people leading to the erasure of some experiences, there's the full panoply of -isms and -phobias, there's ....

    A long time ago I happened to look up the symptom-set for PTSD and I had all of them but one.  My liege, training to be an acupuncturist, says that the defensive layer of my energetic bodies is hair-trigger and twitchy, which he suggests may be part and parcel of the same sort of thing.  And, in all things, my response to the world's minor inconveniences and issues is to ... go away.

    Dissociation is a skill, actually, and it's one that I'm pretty damn good at.  Reflexively good at.  It's not just the year or more of my teenage years where I have no memories written to disk, though that's a pretty primo example of not being in the world or of it.

    And being reflexively good at absence is a bit of a problem when cultivating presence.  When the work has to do with being embodied, with engaging with the world, the fact that there's a soul-presence that responds to the concept of the world by whining like a tortured puppy and retreating into a corner to minimise potential avenues of attack is ... a problem.

    It's not a problem I know entirely how to address, though I've been talking with my inner puppy a lot and asking about what could help....

    (I think "railway spine" is actually "whiplash" but you know that works as a metaphor too.)

    03 December, 2012

    J is for Juxtaposition

    It's not unrelated to syncretism, actually, the setting of things against each other to form a contrast, the way contrasts and shifts produce enlightenment.

    But it matters, really.

    It matters to see that the crown is placed - the plants of south and north bound together - by both Heru and Set, that order and chaos combine to produce this whole.  It is not something achieved by one overwhelming the other, but a tandem function, strength as an individual and the collective heart of the community.

    When a symbolism works with contrasts - the bird and the snake, red and black, male and female, whatever other things are framed as dynamic balance with each other - there are always those stark places where one meets the other face to face.  And those places matter, fundamentally.

    One of the things that bothers me about my surrounding culture is the mutually annihilatory contrasts.  Good and evil, say, that whole Manichaean god-and-devil dance in which each is attempting to destroy the other, or whatever the fuck that's on about, and the world doesn't actually work that way at all so it all comes across as trying to turn reality into a big game of chess to me.  There Are Two Sides, They Are White And Black, And There Is Nothing But War.  Doesn't look a whit like the real world to me, so whenever I run into this kind of cosmology I'm at a loss.  It's like talking to people who are seriously waiting for their Hogwarts admission letter, really.

    The real world is predator and prey, and there is no mutual annihilation there.  If the prey 'loses', vanishes away, obviously the predators die off.  If the predators vanish, the prey die too - starving in the winter because there are too many of them to survive on the forage, if nothing happens because their weaker members are no longer culled.  You put those together and you don't get Good Vs. Evil World-Annihilating Cagematch, you get a self-balancing ecosystem.  You get synergies and transformations and all kinds of interesting and flashy stuff.

    That's what real juxapositions produce, this flash of something larger, more complex, in the give and take available.  These create edges, liminal spaces, in which one can find transformational magic.  This and that has its realm of thisandthat, even when it is an interplay of opposites.

    02 December, 2012

    S is for Syncretism

    A lot of pagans are pretty down on eclectic pagans.  With good reason, of course, because a lot of eclecticism is done really crappily, with a lot of shallow cherry-picking of shiny objects out of their context and not a whole lot of thinking through systems and their implications.

    One of the nice things about syncretic practice is that it requires at least one reasonably whole system.  One coherent worldview resonates with another set of practices, or even a few singular things, and eventually they can glom together tidily.

    I started out what I thought of as dual path a number of years ago.  And the thing I found was that the more work I put into each path, the more it resembled the other.  While the trappings - the structure of ritual, say - were very different, a lot of the values, core goals, and even symbolism were very similar, so I find myself now reaching from one system into the other when I perceive a gap or something more directly addressed by one system.

    It's all one thing.

    It's hard to talk about what it is, though.  I talk a lot about my reconstructionist stuff, in part because I think it is an obligation as a reconstructionist to talk about my practices, my sources, and so on, in order to make the entire structure more accessible to others who can then build upon it and elaborate to meet their own needs.  I don't talk about my Craft stuff as much, because it's more personal and harder to talk about, and because other people don't need to know.  But actually as I do the work with these things, they're the same, and it's not straightforward to draw a line and say 'this is reconstruction' and 'that is Craft'.

    I'm pretty sure I'm Not A Real Recon by a lot of people's standards, because I have this other stuff that threads through, and I patch my gaps with something other than whistling and vigorously flapping academic books over the holes in the hope that nobody will notice the vacancy.  And the 'other stuff' isn't academic - patching with different cultures' academic works would probably be more okay, if it's all "Okay instead of Egyptian I'm going to do Graeco-Egyptian and extrapolate back a bit" - which I also do.  But talking about a line with a nameable founder, that's way too woo and recent for a lot of reconstruction.

    (To which I say "Unscrew you, at least I put footnotes in my work so you can fucking well go check my references yourself.  I may not be recon enough, but that's more than most of the 'legitimate' recons can be bothered with doing.")

    It's nice to have the resonance box that can be built between multiple systems, especially when they're the same instrument in the end.

    30 November, 2012

    X is for Xeper

    Like a lot of folks who hang with Set (at least the ones who aren't twitchy about Satanists), I'm vaguely familiar with the existence of the Temple of Set.

    And one of the things that the Temple of Set talks a lot about is this concept: "xeper".  This is the word commonly transliterated "kheper" by Kemetics, which can be found in the name of Khepri, the One Who Comes Into Being, and the closing word of many prayers, "kheperu", may it become.

    So it's an interesting thing.

    I've been known to refer to Big Red as the Lord of Initiations.  That power of transformation, that which destroys the life that was before in order for there to be a new one, the new revelation.  (This is narrower than my usual framework of initiations, but Neb.y is not exactly a gentle fella, and he comes with the big guns.)  This concept is not entirely unconnected with the sort of self-realisation and quest for enlightenment that a lot of Satanist organisations put forward.

    This idea - xeper - becoming - demands transformation, change, an evolution towards the fullest self.

    It's not a bad idea.

    Who do you want to become?

    And why aren't you doing it yet?

    29 November, 2012

    T is for the Tree Goddess

    One of the things about gods is that they have theophanies, particular appearances and mysteries tied to that appearance.  (I know several people for whom the question "Which Brighid do you get?" is a sensical question.)

    And life can get interesting when multiple gods have the same theophany.

    So consider the Tree Goddess.  She appears in a number of mortuary texts as a shelter for the dead and source of food for the spirit.  Sometimes she turns up in vignettes as a tree with a woman's head and breasts (and the sycamore fig, the relevant tree, produced sap referred to as milk, so those breasts are rather more literal a figurative than many).  She was a manifestation of the only large tree that grew in pharaonic Egypt, a source of food and shelter and timber.  The gate of dawn was a pair of sycamore figs made of precious turquoise, and the sun passed out between them in the morning.

    The Lady of the Sycamore, Hetheru, can be assumed to have the fig as one of her theophanies.  And she brings herself to sweep through that filter: the lady of joy and wealth, perhaps her intoxication coming in the form of a fig wine, the stately lady who is Queen of Heaven.  She comes as the healer of Heru's wounded eyes, and she comes as the Lady of the West who shelters and welcomes the spirits of those who go forth upon their mooring day.  The Tree Goddess is therefore filled with regenerating life, the magnetic draw towards joy that characterises being and creation.

    Nut also appears as the Tree Goddess, as lady of the coffin and womb of the dreaming dead, extending her shelter and protection to those beneath her branches as well as those she conceals within her body.  She comes as starry heaven, mother of all things manifest including her grandfather the sun, and perhaps those twin sycamores from which he emerges at dawn are her thighs as she births him.  The Tree Goddess is therefore filled with the power of manifestation and eternity, the light of the unwearying stars, and the birth of reality.

    And also, the Tree Goddess is Aset, whose shapeshifting might shall not be limited to merely animal forms.  She comes as the lady of the throne, the one who establishes and nurtures power, whose standards are high and whose glory is great.  She comes great of magic, whose words are underlaid with the ultimate power of the name of the Creator.  She comes as the mourner of the dead, who throws open the coffin and pleads with eternity for the return of temporality.  The Tree Goddess is therefore filled with power and dedication, with yearning and with continuity, the power that takes what is ancestral and makes it live in the now.

    Here she is, the great tree: her roots sink deep into the earth, twining with her (Nut's) husband Geb in eternal aching, separated save for this touch at the horizon.  Here she is, the great tree: branches embracing heaven, reaching to mingle with her (Hetharu's) husband Heru in eternal celebration, a house great enough to hold him.  Here she is, the great tree, cradling each star as she cradles her (Aset's) husband Wesir in his eternal reign in the lands of twilight and dawn, standing at the boundary between worlds.  Here she is, the great tree, offering food and drink, offering shelter and healing, her strength an eternity and her trunk reaching across even the horizons between all worlds.

    28 November, 2012

    L is for Lord

    It amazes me sometimes how touchy a lot of pagans are about the concept of entities with power.  For all that there are folks styling themselves Lord Thissythat and Lady Suchandso, the concept of lordship, of actual power and authority, that's a thing.  I mean, there are branches of pagandom who react to any overt acquisition of power as "power-over" which is defined, for some reason, as a bad thing in and of itself.

    Hierarchical structures are anathema to a lot of pagans, I've noticed.  Knee-jerk reactions abound, whether it's to bowing to the restrictions placed by a teacher, having a person make a decision rather than coming to some form of consensus, valuing the input of people with greater experience commensurate with their knowledge, or to respecting the gods.  Obedience is frequently equated with abasement, and "... is whatever you want it to be!" is a fucking battle-cry.

    And I come into this and refer to one of my gods as Neb.y - which means "my lord".  I come into this as someone who has heavy power-oriented Stuff in my sexuality which I am not ashamed of or willing to repress.  My skills are in realms of support rather than governance, and are best used in support of a competent governor.  None of this is stuff I'm willing to set aside in order to pay lip service to a community that treats distinctions of status as illegitimate - because in that community I am unable to do my job.

    And that's what some of this stuff is about, the job.  I Am My Own Authority only gets me so far - because while I may be my own sovereign, I do not command the resources to do everything I want to do.  I have to deal with other entities, each of themselves sovereign, to get what I want, rather than declare by fiat.  I may make long-term agreements about relationships with those other governors, mortal and divine both.  (I may have my name on the deed, but the bank still holds a mortgage, okay?)

    The appearance of power is pretty commonly appealing - Lardy Whoosisface is proof enough of that - but the entire shape of actual power, which comes with both responsibilities and the ability to change the world - that's a touchier thing, now, isn't it?  People don't want a god that gets called Lord, that's too Christian after all, isn't it?  And it suggests that there might be a rank difference, that someone might be able to make a decision that other people are expected to care about.  And we can't have that, oh no.

    Back in the dark ages, I took a summer course in etymology.  One of our assignments was to go into the Oxford English Dictionary - an epic exploration involving the full-sized volumes in the college library - and investigate the origins of a common word.

    The word I was assigned was "lord".

    It derives from hlaf-weard (I may be spelling that wrong).

    Which means "bread-guardian".  The governor of basic sustenance for the community.

    27 November, 2012

    I is for Icons

    Here's a thing that's pretty popular: statues and other representations of gods.  I tend to refer to this category as "icons", in part for reasons I've gone into before.

    There are, of course, several different ways of interpreting what an icon is or how it works.  There is of course what, in many ways, is the most superficial: This Is A Portrait Of The Deity.  The representation is both literalised and limited to what can be achieved in the medium, and here we find the echo of the people who talk about "idols" - the use of images to limit and constrain the divine, to provide a refuge for the literal-minded.

    In Egyptian thought, the statues are not images of the gods, but ways in which people choose to represent and symbolise the gods.  The gods have many forms, many appearances and manifestations; we select from among them.  In fact, not all of the appearances of the gods are known even to other gods, and they will introduce themselves by adding familiar attributes to their appearances or deceive each other by appearing in an unfamiliar manner or even trying to pass themselves off as other gods.  (And certain amounts of Egyptian ritual magic depend on a human managing to pass themselves off as a relevant god, besides.)

    An icon is a particular kind of tool, one which can help a person come into relationship with a god by giving them a framework for understanding a portion of that god.  It is a particularly powerful type of tool for that purpose, because icons can themselves become ways that the gods reveal themselves - rather than a theophany in a dream, a chance encounter in the natural world, or something like that, the icon itself is a form of the god, and can be related to and respected as such.  In Kemetic practice there are of course ways of "opening" icons, to make them a literal divine presence at all times; personally, I find that the theophany of a simple icon - so long as it is the right icon - is entirely sufficient to anchor a sense of presence, of relationship.  It gives me someone to talk to, y'know?

    The right icon matters a lot.  Years ago I commissioned a portrait of Hetharu: she stands before a great heap of modern-world musical instruments cascadng in glorious profusion, clasping her hands together with joy.  Here is a world of abundance, an amazing wealth beyond flute and drum and harp and sistrum.  Saxophones and bagpipes and electric guitars, oh my.  This is an important image to me - not a central icon, but an icon nonetheless, a reminder of joy in abundance.

    When I can sculpt again, one of my projects is a Heru-Sa-Aset icon.  Because I could not formulate anything to relate to him for a long time with traditional iconography, until I found something that fit, something a little askew but still in tune with what is said about him.  And so there is the space to make the queer bit of statue that will serve me as an icon there, where the traditional poses and forms will not do.  So that I can build relationship there.

    Q is for Quiet

    One of the things that I wrestle with a lot as a parent is that it's hard to find space for quiet.  I don't have a regular meditation practice; if I had had one, it would be shot all to hell a lot of the time, because there's a one-year-old and a three-year-old here and I am by default the parent who's on duty and available, and there is no such thing as silence.

    But really more than silence, the important thing is the quiet.  And quiet, fortunately, is easier to find.

    There is a quiet space at the end of each breath, between the inhale and the exhale - or between the exhale and the inhale.  An instant of stillness that can expand, that can make space for there to be space.

    It's easy to lose track of the possibility for quiet, especially in a universe full of yammering.  The job, the schoolwork, the children, the responsibilities, the laundry, the tea kettle: they are all so loud, and it makes it harder to remember why any of it matters.  It becomes a cycle of noise, rolling from event to event without rest.  (But the rests are written in musical notation.  Some vocal notations include suggestions about places to breathe, as well; perhaps more people could do with notations suggesting places to breathe.)

    I know several people who embarked on particular courses of study, or particular difficult labors, as matters of spiritual or religious devotion, and who have since gone through periods of being so overwhelmed by the work that the heart of it, the place of meaning that's why the work matters, got lost.  Because there isn't enough quiet.

    Or the tendency of all the things, the tasks, the responsibilities, to overwhelm a sense of self, the becoming the job instead of the person with the job, or otherwise getting simply buried.  There is no quiet to be had here, in deadlines and the need to take out the trash on time.

    It's easy to get lost, without the quiet.

    Your breath is always with you.

    19 November, 2012

    W is for White Elephants

    (Yeah, I am totally bouncing around in this thing and not getting a damn thing done on time.  Life exploded in the summer and I'm still putting together the pieces.  Here's one I'm gonna pretend is on time, ish, rather than spur-of-the-moment topical!)

    A number of years ago, my aunt gave me a pair of porcelain elephants for Christmas.  I was never entirely certain what to make of this, to be honest - my family is certainly down with the snarky jokes - but I've moved the white elephants around with me because that is, of course, what one does with white elephants.  Never quite sure what to do with them.

    Take that as a little frame story.  I'll get back to the elephants in a little bit.

    A couple of weekends ago, I was at a religious retreat.  I'm not going to go into a whole hell of a lot of detail about this, but suffice it to say that I had a major life-transforming experience and have been spending the last few weeks figuring out how to put the pieces back together.

    And one of the things that I've been working on is figuring out how to better actually deal with the whole self-respect dealie, which (between various things well-chronicled in the archives) is not one of my better skills.  And it's an important thing to do, and to actually make space for, and it's something that will reliably slip out of my grasp as soon as I have any stress in my life at all, at least going by my track record.

    Now, one of the topics we discussed at retreat was time, and having a healthy relationship with time.  And the idea was raised: build an altar or shrine to time, make offerings, make prayers, deal with this Power as any other god or godling and see if being polite to it helps.

    And while I have issues with time, they are nothing at all compared to my issues with self.

    So I - while putting my room back together after the various crises that made me have to take it apart - decided to put up a me shrine.  Partly recognising what I have, in fact, done, partly aspirational.  I'm riffing on some chaos magic that my liege and I talked about years ago, the idea of writing up a character sheet for now and figuring out where to spend the points and how to get to the skillset that one wants to have on one's character sheet, and so on.  Make a space for it.

    So I dedicated a shelf on the bookcase I was shelving tonight to this little project.  I unrolled a scroll of Ma'at that I'd never had a home for (indicative of something, for sure) and set it up so the shelves themselves hold Her in place.  Some tools I use for magical self-maintenance can go up there, sure; all the books I contributed to (or wrote) on one side of the shelf to remind me of real accomplishment; the weird black heart a friend gave me; my Lilith icon, since She's certainly one for demanding a bit of fucking self-respect ... and I propped the corners of it all with those two white elephants.

    You see, white elephants, they have a bit of a troubled reputation, because they're those things you can't get rid of.  That's the idiom - nobody wants them, they kick around as tchotchkes forever, what have you.

    But back it up a little.  The white elephant is particularly sacred and holy.  Being given a white elephant is an extreme honor, being given the caretaking of something so precious and rare.

    Yes, it's high-maintenance taking care of a me.  But it's nonetheless a sacred trust.

    25 October, 2012

    P is for Purification

    It doesn't, in this moment, matter where it comes from.  Whether it is the stereotypical Slavic melancholy I inherited from my mother, who inherited it from hers, which is tangled up in the ancestor work I am doing with that line.  Whether it is situations that are hard right now, and my exhaustion.  Whether it is the kink in my neurochemistry that predisposes me to it.  Whether it is all these things.

    I pour myself a drink.  I cannot figure out how to alleviate the pain that matters, so I settle for something that I know will loosen my trapezius, release the muscle tension that is sending ripples of pain down my arm.  I do not have the power to fix what I suspect is stress tangled up with habits of depression, possibly tweaked a little harder by the spellwork I am doing, trying to untangle threads of suffering.

    The drink is good.  The proportions may be a bit off, but they're off in a direction I like, a limey sweetness that balances the alcohol.  I drink it slowly, enjoying it as much as I am able, much like I enjoyed the relief I bought with an afternoon of some of my favorite music, which bought me enough space to dance with the children for a little while, Little Foot taking my hands and spinning and stomping with glee, suggesting that she took joy in the same music that sustains me; the younger child, who I need a nick for, clutching her bottle in both hands and bouncing up and down on the side of our dance floor.  My collarbone pops; my medical self-indulgence is working.

    I finish the drink, take the cup to the kitchen, pause, and partially fill it with water.  I breathe, reaching for clarity - purify me, make me true - and pour the pain into the cup, whispering the prayers.  "From You, all things emerge ... even this."  Even this.

    Even this pain is holy.  Even this.

    As I drink the water, I comment to a friend that the alcohol loosens inhibitions.  Because I want to cry.

    I do not cry easily, though this is less tight a complex than it used to be.  The lessons taught by brutality are not easily unlearnt.

    I take the cup of water from the ancestor shrine, pick it up to partake of its magic, and the same impulse to prayer comes to me.  I silently repeat "I am pure, I am pure, I am pure."  The verbal prayer, so familiar, cannot wrest itself free; the silence is overwhelming, the ritual consumed by the simple outpouring of pain.  Myself, my grandmother, the thread between us that encompasses my mother perhaps.  I crush the heavy pewter cup against my chest, silently trying to grasp the prayer through the roaring sound of the rushing, wrenching, agonising feelings.

    I refill the cup, return it to its place, whisper "For your ka" to the closed doors of the shrine.

    The water runs hot, not cool like an offering.  I step into the shower, start to wash my hair, lean my head against the coolness of the tile, and sob, just a little.

    I know that I am crying, not because the sound of the water would obscure the sound - not like the time I could only cry in the rain, away from everyone else, protected by isolation and a weather through which nobody would follow - but because the water itself allows the pain to flow, releases the clenched and twisted muscles, frees the energies that bind me.

    Your purification is the purification of Heru
    Your purification is the purification of Set
    Your purification is the purification of Djehwty
    Your purification is the purification of Dwn-Anwy
    Your purification is the purification of your ka
    Your purification is the purification of your purification
    And this purification of yours
    Is also
    Among your brethren
    The gods.

    - Pyramid Text 36

    12 October, 2012

    P is for Preparation

    Sometimes, the hard work in magic, in ritual, in whatever, is heavily in the groundwork.  In the preparation.  Not in what one does, but in getting ready to do things.

    For the last few weeks I have been doing preparatory work for a ritual.  The ritual involves my maternal grandmother, the child of Polish immigrants, and, among other things, her troubled relationship with her own heritage which has led to me not having a sense of my own.  There are important things in here, in my religious practices, in my personal life, in my arc of healing, in my own becoming a mother: and Little Foot has, as a middle name, this grandmother's name.

    I tend the shrine.  Not as regularly as I perhaps ought, but I light the candle, I offer water, I burn incense.  I cultivate mindfulness of this particular thread of bloodline, even as I give blood to the medical personnel who are analysing it for traces of this particular heritage.  I think that I do not have enough in my shrine for this piece of heritage, and wonder where the jewelry boxes are that have this grandmother's gifts in them, the costume-jewelry pins in the shape of cats and a few similar things.  (We are still not moved in to the new house, and so many things are hidden away in storage.)  I spent this morning going through photographs from my childhood, pursuing the names of relatives, reawakening old memories, coming to new understandings from moments caught in time that I was too young to read, before.

    There is something deep working here, as I look through the photographs, as I see things and have the context of an adult to bring to the occasionally blurry moments in time long ago.

    My father is visiting.  He had been planning to visit a few weeks ago, but changed his plans because he had to take a business trip.

    To Poland.

    He brought me the usual collection of oddments and endments, and, almost as an afterthought, asked me if I would like some Polish coins.  I said yes. (I have an odd collection of international coinage, mostly brought from his business trips, though I did once startle someone immensely in a hotel room in Minneapolis when he said to me, in a bit of an in-joke, "You are [...] and I claim my five pounds" and I promptly fished through the pockets of my jacket - which I had brought with me on a trip to the UK a couple of years before - and eventually managed to produce five pounds in miscellaneous loose change.  This was perhaps not the expected joke result, to be four thousand miles from home and presented with a punchline in one's native currency.)

    He handed me a pill bottle's worth of coins, reserving one of them, a little thing about the size of a dime.

    "This one is special," he said.  "They're pretty rare, and it's said that they're lucky."

    "Because they're the equivalent of a penny?" I asked, turning the coin over in my fingers and attempting to read the back.

    "More like a quarter penny."

    I studied my Polish farthing for a moment, and thought about magic.  As I reach back towards my Polish grandmother, speaking of peace, speaking of connection and continuance, I am given a little piece of luck from Poland.

    Preparation can also come with signs, I suppose.

    28 September, 2012

    T is for Transformations

    (Look at me doing a PBP on time!  Holy shit what!)

    Important truth of the universe: the shit doesn't stay put.

    Things change.

    One of the ways that people do religion wrong is using it to attempt stasis.  It's not that this system, these tools, this work changes you: it's that it provides a good set of excuses to not do anything.  (You know you have made a god in your own image when it hates all the same people that you do, right?)

    Even the most passively performed religion still tends to posit some sort of ideal, which the practitioners are at least expected to think about moving towards.  (So pick a religion to passively ignore with an ideal state that seems useful/appropriate/valid/worthwhile/appealing, damnit.)

    The more you actually take this sort of thing seriously, the more change it will make.  It's not a coin-operated system where you put offerings in gods and get back what you want in this fleeting moment.  I mean, you may get what you want at times, but there's a lot of backfill on that.  If spiritual stuff leads to more and more navel-contemplation and self-absorption, well ... is that the stasis creeping in?  The perverting it into a dodge for change?

    If you're going into the mysteries - Craft traditions, attempts to reconstruct ancient ways, other things - then this is even more so, because a mystery religion is explicitly about transformational experiences, and if you back down from the work for that it's a damn good way to get hurt.  Or, simply and straightforwardly, to fail: to not get accepted for the initiation, to have nothing happen, to be turned away from the teacher for not learning the safety procedures, or whatever else.

    And the risk there is a deep one, identity-deep: because the thing about the way the shit doesn't stay put is that one doesn't know where it's going all the time or, indeed, whether or not it is going to hit the fan. Initiatory work means rearranging your spirit in some fashion; even if one's not going for Specific Transformational Experience there is still the process of, say, becoming a better devotee for a god, or better embodying the virtues of the religion, or other things that actually matter, and which will, in the long run, change who you are.  And you can't know from the other side for certain if who that will be is who you wanna be.

    Not that you can tell that about getting up in the morning either, but when making deliberate choices it's good to know if you are the sort of person who can live with having made those choices.

    25 September, 2012

    O is for Ordinary

    Yeah yeah yeah I am so amazingly behind I know I know.  But I just made a list!

    I'm sure I've touched on this before - certainly on the post on Goals - but it's worth coming back to.

    Sometimes people will sneer about Beltaine-and-Samhain pagans (like people sneer at Christmas-and-Easter Christians), or possibly in my case Wep-Renpet-and-Opet pagans or something, I don't know what would be appropriately iconic really.

    It's all kind of backwards isn't it?  As if religion orbits primarily - or even solely - about whether or not one properly celebrates a Special Day.

    Here's a thing I'm coming to as a reconstructionist, though.  The Special Days are at least 200-level religion.  They're not the fundamentals, they're shiny things.  And sometimes they can distract from the fundamentals.

    I write about ka theology a lot.  Ka theology talking about family and food and sex and magic.  This is not special day stuff.  This is today, tomorrow, next week, next month.  This is Little Foot asking me for a glass of milk just now.  There is no "I'm going to put off eating until the next holiday", even in a holiday-packed ritual calendar.

    I think a lot of people get caught up in What To Do For The Holiday, to the extent that everything gets kind of dropped when there isn't an impending holiday or other obligation.  I do it too, hell; there are times that noticing an upcoming festival on my calendar is what kickstarts my arse into getting back to regular daily practices, breathing exercises, that kind of thing.

    But that's the thing:  I have the ordinary stuff too.  I have the putting away the shopping carts and the theology of lunch, I have ordinary things to deal with, to get back to.  I have foundation.  I can say "I'm losing track of my sense of time" and fall back into the time liturgies that I learned and wrote to attempt to recenter myself, like I did recently.

    The ordinary stuff is the basics, the where we are in the fundamental beginning.  When the ordinary is stable, then we can move on to advanced stuff like what to do for this holiday or that holiday.

    18 September, 2012


    I was given two tools: a wine carafe and a knife.

    The first lesson was the knife.  I hated it, I hated the task: being held to a standard of challenge, of knowing the standard and being unyielding when the standard was unmet.  Of being, not cruel, but hard; of offering the support of critique and voicing an awareness of failure.

    It was Ordeal work - both in supporting the Ordeal I was serving as challenge-master for, and in finding in myself a place where I could do this thing, rather than do what I wanted to - rather than be softer, gentler, more cuddly, more gracious, a haven rather than a fight.  And I did the work.  And it was hard. And I became stronger.

    And I was glad of the resting time afterwards, the space to recover.  Holding to the knifework is hard.  The surgeon's mind - knowing when is the time to cut and when is the time to put the knife away - is a sharp and dangerous place, and it is not easy work.  I had longed for the place I thought of as more of the carafe - the healer, the sustainer, the refuge - and having to cleave to something sharper was exhausting.

    There is a common false dichotomy in the gendering of tools - the knife as active, the cup as passive - the phallic nature of the thing that penetrates taking that masculine, dominating, urgent energy in symbolism, while the thing that contains and holds is that vulvar feminine, submitting to its contents, patient.  This is all through a lot of ceremonial magic and other things, and cultural things, and perhaps it infects the brain even when one doesn't symbolise the hieros gamos by stabbing something in the wine as a matter of standard protocol.

    The idea is that the knife is work, and the cup just kind of sits there.

    This idea, of course, is bullshit.

    Even at its most simplistic, the vessel to hold power must be as strong as that which it holds or it will fracture.  That strength must be a held strength, something that sustains, not the sort of burst strength of a single action.  To cut takes strength in a moment; to hold takes strength over time.

    Hold the power.  Hold it available.  Be the well, the place from which strength can be drawn.

    Hold the image of the possible so that it can be found as a reflection.


    Try not to run dry.

    02 August, 2012

    Readercon: On "Socially Awkward"

    I don't know how many people who are currently reading me have any feelers in the SF fandom community, something which I have been on the fringes of in the past and may again, someday, if I ever get back to working with fiction routinely.

    But in any case: there was a recent convention called Readercon, which happens to be located about five or ten minutes from where I lived until last fall.  I never managed to attend; I had always been Meaning To Do So Sometime (one of the founders was enthusiastic about my potential enjoyment of the con; eventually, I also had a friend running programming), but honestly my social resources are sharply limited so I don't get out much in general.

    Genevieve Valentine, an author attending the convention, was sexually harassed by a Big Name Fan, Rene Walling.  Readercon had a policy of lifetime bans for harassers, which had been implemented previously; Walling got a two-year suspension.  The internet exploded.  You can find a collection of posts on the subject here.

    Among the many things that has been said is, roughly, "But but but but what if this man is an Aspie!", a matter which has been responded to by others.  And people have even noticed that, y'know, maybe this particular "sexual harassment is done by socially awkward people, so we have to be forgiving of their disability" strawman is perhaps the prime way that geeky/nerdy subcultures forgive assault and rape.

    And a couple of people said something that i'm frankly embarrassed to have not come up with on my own:  if we're going to make spaces that are extra-forgiving of people who are socially awkward, how about the socially awkward women that are getting hit on, huh?

    You know why this is embarrassing?

    Because the fact that I'm a socially awkward woman is kind of a big chunk of why I have GODS-BE-FEATHERED FLASHBACKS.

    (And is not unrelated to why I haven't had the spoons to go to Readercon in the first place.)

    I actually saw a conversation that raised "Well, what about socially awkward women?" as a question that was promptly derailed into "Well, they shouldn't be touching people without consent either!"

    As if.

    As fucking if.

    There's this goddamn myth that women are all fucking supergeniuses about body language, about indirect and oblique communication, about communicating in fucking smoke signals.  That, for example, "autistic" is something that only happens to people marked "male", and that the rare woman who is socially inept is the Creepy Stalker Ex type.

    And apparently the fannish communication system doesn't have space for the wallflowers, the lurkers, the people who spent too much time reading to actually know how to talk to people easily.  At least ... if those people are women.

    Don't know how to communicate - either subtextually or verbally - that attention is unwanted?  Get very flustered by social contact that is outside of a reasonably small comfort zone?  Tend towards that often-ignored 'freeze' response instead of fight-or-flight in social situations that go over a very low stress threshhold?  Only able to communicate with anything resembling fluidity with people one knows well and has had time to build a cognitive model for?  Get completely overwhelmed with anxiety when a situation might lead to any form of negative response?  Highly dependent on sidelong watching of other people to figure out whether or not behaviour is inappropriate?

    You might be "socially awkward"!

    And you might be all of that and appear female.  'Cos that there?  That's me at the age I was nearly raped.  It's still me, in a lot of ways, I just have much more sophisticated coping mechanisms than I did twenty years ago.

    Now let's imagine someone like that.  (For some of us this will be easier than for others.)  They don't have to be "on the spectrum" or anything; as far as I know I'm allistic.  Let's imagine that she's participated in fandom online, gotten to know a few folks, and been convinced that a convention is a social gathering for people basically like her: sharing enthusiasms, probably a little socially awkward in some ways but we understand that and it's okay, we make allowances.  She checks her budget and decides to try a con.  Maybe she travels for it; maybe there's something local to her.  Doesn't matter.

    She makes it to the con.  She makes it to registration, picks up her badge, gets a program, looks at interesting panels.  She finds a few names she recognises, makes note of them, wonders anxiously if they will remember her, if they'll actually think she's worth spending any time with in the vastly more energy-investing meatspace.  She lurks at the back of panels, completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of people present - and even a small con is gigantic.

    (Back when I went to cons, I don't think I ever did more than two a year.  They completely wrecked me, in that 'that was fun while it was happening but now I have a hangover that will last at least two weeks from just the amount of social management it required to get through that without dying of mortification'.  I actually had an easier time with larger cons, energy-management-wise, due to the sense of anonymity they provided me.  Get to a certain size and the standard billing of fandom as being a place for people-like-me who should be treated as extended family becomes the giant laugh that it actually is, and I stop trying to figure out if I'm going to offend Distant Cousins Francis and Alex with something about my posture, my lack of conversational segues, my incorrect jargon terms (like saying "sci-fi", gasp), my tendency to fall totally silent, or my interruptions.  Or, you know, any of the other weird things that I tend to do and don't know about and thus have inchoate anxiety about whether or not I'm causing distress by.)

    So.  She's at the con.  It is completely overwhelming, beyond what she entirely anticipated, but she is at least more or less enjoying herself, in a stressy kind of way.  Eventually she ventures out of the more regulated spaces of the panels or the anonymous free-for-all of the dealers' room into the consuite, or a room party where some of her online friends said they might be hanging out, or something.  Yes: she is brave enough to venture ...

    ... socialising.

    Maybe someone notices the unfamiliar face and strikes up a conversation.  Maybe there's a Moxie-drinking station set up in the corner (for those not in the know: Moxie tastes like flat root beer with a Listerine chaser, and I would not know this if it weren't for a con).  Maybe she gets some cheese and crackers and sits down to amiably listen to the conversations, because that's comfortable and reasonably safe.

    Now: someone approaches.  He's a little too close, a little too familiar, maybe a little handsy.

    And she freezes.  Maybe she looks around to see how other people react: whether they're standing too close to each other, touching each other, or indeed whether they notice how this guy is behaving and find it notable.  She doesn't know if she feels unsafe because he's violating social norms or because she's socially fragile, and she knows that she's socially fragile, so hey - that's probably the way to bet unless there's countervailing evidence, right?  Because that's definitely true.  And nobody's finding the guy out of line, so....

    This isn't me.

    But I damn well know it could have been.  Fuck, I had a six month relationship that started basically that way and ended in attempted rape; all I would need for this to be actually me would be to have done that a little older and in a different venue.

    And I damn well know that if it had been - and by some miracle I had managed to try to report it or even talk about what happened in coherent terms - someone would have come out with "You know, there are a lot of socially awkward people in fandom.  It could just be that."

    Because, I guess, being the person trampling someone's boundaries is more awkward than being the person who can't figure out thing one about defending those boundaries?

    (It couldn't possibly be that those people are more 'people' or more 'in fandom' than their targets.)

    23 July, 2012

    L is for Love

    I touched on this briefly when I wrote O is for Obligation, but, y'know, advantages of writing things out of sequence or something?

    There's this really common narrative in understanding of religion around here, the whole 'god is love' thing.  Now, again, I'm just going to note that this is one of those places where Christianity is leaking into other things and leave it; it's a thing that's out there.

    Love and the divine is complicated.  Let's start there.

    One of the reasons that I drifted out of Christianity was that divine love wasn't satisfying to me.  The love of that god was something that I could recognise, but it was far too generic and impersonal for me. "I love you because you exist" mostly left me wanting some sort of personal relationship, something that cared about me as something beyond a breathing entity.  Yes: the divine powers love existence.  The divine powers are working to uphold and support existence, that's what They do and what They are, which means that you - as a thing that exists - are precious.

    But that doesn't mean all that much.  The mosquito that got swatted yesterday was equally precious, because it was equally in existence, and now its remains - which still exist, are just as precious.  As those remains decompose, become part of the humus, and support a new life that will feed on their nutrients, that will also be precious.

    "The gods love us" as a generic is a very, very, very low standard.  And I think the people who say it mean something a whole lot more significant than "We exist in the matter/energy matrix that the gods preserve".

    We're used to that sort of anthropocentric thinking.  We talk about being a danger to nature, as if - should we make the planet uninhabitable to ourselves - it will destroy the world, rather than simply ending ours.  Or how the world was made for us, as the special pinnacle of creation, even though our knees are laughable from a structural engineering standpoint and our retinas are all installed backwards.

    The idea that gods might not always have humans as their prime concern - or indeed that there might be gods with no particular interest in humans at all - is an uncomfortable one.  "But the gods love us!" is a shield against the indifference of the rest of the world to our individual uniqueness.  But, like I said before, 'A storm god taking a fancy to ya is not going to give you electricity resistance 10; this isn't D&D. If you're lucky, it'll give you the sense to keep in out of the rain.'  The love of a storm god doesn't keep you from getting electrocuted; the love of a war god may very well get you killed.  Probably gloriously.  But even so, from your point of view, you're still dead.

    This isn't to say that gods don't form personal bonds with individuals, because They obviously do.  But that's not something that comes from god-dom, it comes from individuality.  It is of necessity a personal thing, not a generalisable one.  And that's something that will come of individual resonances, attractions, dedications, needs: it's not an entitlement.  Treating it as an entitlement is a good way to discourage it from happening, for much the same reason that guys who whine about how all the bitches would rather go out with jerks don't attract a lot of women.  But it's better to look for love from people who live in your world - which means to expect to find it among people who live the life you do, not glamorous movie stars, and not gods.

    A lot of myths talk about gods forming personal relationships with humans.  It tends to make that human's life harder, overall, whether because of being brought more intimately into divine conflicts, being expected to shoulder more of the weight of the universe, or simply having more stuff to deal with.  It's genuinely a whole lot safer, in a lot of ways, to only have the level of interest from a deity that's along the lines of "I am doing this profession, and thus the god who is particularly interested in that profession appreciates me".

    Not that safety is high on the list of standard human motivations. ;)

    I will conclude with a major flip on the concept of love and gods.

    I was once asked by an atheist something like, "What's the point of worshipping a god that isn't omnipotent?"

    Which I didn't know how to answer, on multiple levels, starting with, "Well, it's a lot more useful to deal with entities that actually exist than ones that don't"....

    But really, the core of the question comes down to being asked "What's the point of love?"

    And someone who would ask that question - or who doesn't know that's the question they're asking - I don't know how to begin to talk to.

    20 July, 2012

    O is for Obligations

    A post I made on a message board got reposted - with permission - recently, and made a bit of a stir in a certain corner of the pagan blogs.  And part of that was, I think, that I talked about the big scary O: obligations.

    It's all well and good to say you want a relationship with a god or goddess, that you want to be special and important in your religious practices, but that's not something that comes for free.  You may love and adore that particular entity to amazing levels, but your adoration does not obligate a response.  If you want a close relationship, there's going to be something you have to do.

    "But the gods love us!" some people cry, in that usual kum-ba-yah kind of way.  But when love is generic - when you appeal to the concept of agape in the divine - it isn't that sort of intense, personal connection that some people want to have.  That's not "my god loves me because I am me", that's "my god loves because I am", and that's a different sort of thing.

    The sort of thing that gets personal connection is personal work, personal dedication.  It doesn't just come for the wanting.  It doesn't matter how much you want if you're not stand-up enough to do what it takes to get it.  (And really, if you fill yourself up with desperate need, there are plenty of entities out there that will say "That looks like a tasty snack!" and will happily impersonate whatever deity you fancy in order to nosh on your spicy brains.)

    I was seventeen or so when I fell in love with a god, and you know something?  He wouldn't fucking speak to me.  There were things that I needed to do to be worth His time (one of which was "get out of this Wicca phase and start actually paying attention", as it happens).  And that's only the beginning.  It doesn't get easier with more intimacy, and people don't always get what they want immediately.

    And even if it's not a relationship with a deity that commands obligations, there are obligations that come with religion itself.  Some of those are devotional or ritual acts.  Some of those are social behaviour standards.  Some of them have to do with relationships and how one conducts them, with care for friends and family, with relationships one forms with entities native to the unseen realms.  Some of them have to do with self-care and taking responsibility for one's own actions.  There are various things which, if you say you are part of a religion, if you just don't do them, eventually people will wonder if they can take you at your word.  (At a bare minimum, if you, say, routinely defraud people, you're bad at most religions.  Incompetence may not be a sin, but it's certainly not a virtue.)

    The sort of relationship you have with anything has dependencies on the sort of work you're able to do for the relationship.  Just like you're not gonna be an appealing date if you never bathe, never pick up the check, and never show up on time, you're not gonna be an appealing devotee if you don't do things that a deity values, offer useful veneration, or otherwise act like a worthwhile investment.  The first responsibility of deities is to maintain the useful running of the cosmos, and if you're not contributing to that actively, you're not helping, and you're not going to get the sort of personal caring attention that gets given to people who actually contribute something to the work.  (You might get the sort of personal smiting attention that gets given to people who are actively in Someone's way, but that's probably not what you're hoping for.)

    Religion isn't something that you put on like a set of earrings and then get showered with adoration from the cosmos.  It comes with obligations, and the deeper you want to go, the more you'll be expected to carry.

    Related reading, this post that I saw at Aedicula Antinoi while I was thinking about writing this one.

    13 July, 2012

    N is for Nice

    You're so nice.
    You're not good,
    You're not bad,
    You're just nice.
    I'm not good,
    I'm not nice,
    I'm just right.
    I'm the Witch.
    You're the world.

    "Last Midnight," from Into the Woods

    I am not sure if Graydon would mind me quoting something he said years ago in another internet universe, so I will paraphrase instead:

    "Nice" is behaviour which is socially unobjectionable.  It does not have to intersect with truth, and thus it cannot be a virtue.

    I commented earlier in the PBP about one form of expectation of 'niceness', but that's far from the only form that ever puts in an appearance.  It's not even the first one I've talked about in this project thing.

    It bothers me a good bit when people try to nice up paganism.  (This came up in a discussion, mostly in referring to dealing with deities.)

    Let's get real.

    One of my patron deities is best known for fratricidal murder.  This is not nice.

    One of my religious paths is unabashedly and unashamedly sexual.  This is not nice.  (The fact that there is social objection to eroticism is a whole other barrel of rant, but it's still undeniably true.)

    I have a religious obligation to the development of personal power.  This is not nice.  (The fact that there is social objection to genuine power, also.)

    I don't even have a clue whether or not I'm technically a fucking Satanist, but regardless this is not commonly considered nice either.

    (And that's not getting into the fact that polytheism itself is a matter of the socially objectionable, because that's a level of social objection that I don't generally grant the legitimacy of addressing.  But nonetheless, this is a genuine factor: being pagan, itself, in some environments, will be taken as being not-nice.  This is why people hang out in the broom closet.)

    You know?  I could go on.

    It does no good to not acknowledge these things.  Deities, for the most part, are not nice, though some may be more often than not pleasant, at least so long as you don't call upon them in one of their epithets that specifically isn't.  The natural world is certainly not nice; that charging bull will not respond to a citation from Miss Manners about how goring people is indecent behaviour, and aconite will stop your heart even if you ask nicely if you can pick its flowers.  A spirit doesn't have your best interests in mind just because it's not got a body.  Being socially unobjectionable can be useful - in certain social situations, so long as you can achieve your goals that way.  In non-social situations, or social situations in which it's impossible to get what you need by being nice?  Nice and five bucks will get you a latte.

    There's a bit in Terry Pratchett's Maskerade where Granny Weatherwax draws a hatpin from her witch's hat, grins the sort of ferally savage grin that rather suggests that she is enjoying herself profoundly, and declares, "Let's do some good."

    Granny: not nice.

    Damn good witch, though.