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

29 June, 2012

M is for Mythology

I sometimes get the impression that a lot of people are confused about mythology.

I suspect that growing up in a Christian-dominated culture is part of this.  I commented recently on this elsewhere, actually.  The question of the historicity of Jesus is a constant thread of discussion about Christian mythologies, with a whole lot of people basing their comfort with the theology of the religion with whether or not a particular person lived, died, and was resurrected in a particular way.  It's a fascinating frailty, and one that I think promotes the nutcaseries of Creationists, who, too scared to imagine a universe in which their historical figure may not have been precisely as depicted in their mythology, have a need to literalise all the rest of their myths, too.

(Yes, there exist a number of religions with historical founding dates and known personalities involved in their foundings, but very few of them are strongly focused on the particular person of the founding figure as opposed to their teachings.  It's my very unstudied understanding that this is one of the reasons that Islam finds Christianity to be an imperfect implementation of the teachings of that particular god - that Christian theology got hung up on the messenger, rather than the message, thus requiring another prophet to come along and correct the more egregious mistakes.)

(Though it is of course quite common for outsiders trying to demonise groups to start accusing them of being effectively idolaters worshipping their founding figure - that is, after all, how "Gardnerian" became an appellation for a particular denomination of Wicca.)

So on the one hand, there's this strange notion that a myth has to be a statement about history and the world in order to be functional, which is a legacy of a cultural rooting in a religion that has mythologised history as foundational; on the other hand, there is the post-Enlightenment idea that what is important is the verifiable, the factual, and that is all that counts as "real".  So not only are myths historical, but they have to be factual to be valuable.

Can we kinda drop this nonsense and actually pay attention to the function of myths?

Someone who deals with this stuff sociologically will tell you, more or less, that mythology is the corpus of sacred stories dealing with cosmic truths.  (And 'religion' is the translation of sacred story into functional belief and action.)  And cosmic truths are not the same thing as facts, because facts can never provide you with meaning.  "Meaning" is one of those things that can only happen inside your head - or someone's head.  The structural processes of meaning can be codified into story, possibly even sacred story, but they will never be intrinsic in the scientifically measurable modern world.

In Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, the character of Death made this point quite sharply when he said (if you will forgive my lack of smallcaps):  "Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy."  These are things we make, not things that we find; our stories tell us how to make them, or how to fail.

The realm of meaning is one that is navigated in part through shared cultural landmarks, and I think in the modern day a lot of that has been separated from the spiritual.  We may still think that 'red' is a good mark for danger or peril, and use it to say 'stop' as a result, but we don't have that laced through the rest of our lives, we no longer have our ritual procedures written out in red ink above our liturgies, nor is the red and black of the land something that most of us are living with every waking hour.  When folklore comes up that ascribes meaning to events or makes connections between things, the ordinary thing to do is to say "superstition" and dismiss it.

And the gods get turned into big cosmic babies, or the sneering "beard in the sky", because the stories about them become more and less than they are.  Because the ancients must be idiots, Thor is just "Oh, this is the story people told to explain why there was thunder", and now that we have science, we don't need Him.  The most trivial, superficial aspects of the gods are thus all that remain, and the concept that we can know how thunder happens according to science and hear the rumbling of that goat-drawn chariot just doesn't appear to cross the mind.  We do not care, anymore, about the coming rain in partnership with the lady of the wheat-gold hair, so the meaning of the marriage of Thor and Sif isn't something that anyone bothers to think about; our boisterous common folk are schooled into nine-to-five jobs or inappropriately, well, common, so their large-appetited and raucous defender becomes unworthy of honor.

And that's not even one of my gods.  I'm sure if I actually, like, knew something about Norse powers I'd be able to do more in-depth things.

But these are ways of expressing things within the world.  If the moment of creation - call it the Big Bang if you like, it doesn't matter - was the orgasm of a deity, what does that mean about our relationship with sexuality?  If humanity is the tears of a deity, do we care about whether they were shed in joy or sorrow?  If the sun becomes weak and frail when His daughter leaves in a snit, what does that say about the importance of women, of family, or of harmonious social relationships?  If both order and chaos stand to place the crown upon the king's head, what does that mean about power, rulership, the nature of government?  If a powerful, beautiful god becomes terrible and destructive when not aligned with the hand of love, what does that mean about power, about beauty, about awfulness, about love?

These are sacred stories.  They are not a periodic table of deity, a historical recording of events, or an engineering plan.  We humans are creatures primarily of kronos; They are primarily of kairos.  In Egyptian terms, we function primarily in djet, linear time; They in neheh, cyclic time.  Every time is, or can be, the First Time; every moment is simultaneously unique.

In religious work, we combine djet and neheh into a spiral of time, and become cosmic.

25 June, 2012

H is for Handholding and Headpatting

Every so often, some little kerfluffle goes around, about how the poor fragile newbies really need to be coddled and condescended to so that they will not flee from the big scary pagan world, and how people who are more established in their religion have some kind of obligation to provide education to others solely because they are more established.

Back to being the dancing monkey and listening to people sound like they got their social cues out of Derailing for Dummies.

When I am in various pagan communities, I am there to hang out with other people with religious perspective kind of like mine.  That doesn't make me a resource you can mooch off of, your own personal pagan-oriented search engine.  You cannot plug search terms into me and get the secrets of the universe.  I have other things to do with my life, even when I'm talking to other pagans.

I am not in the mollycoddling business.  And, too often, I hear people talk about how newbies need to be mollycoddled, wrapped up in cotton wool and never, ever questioned, jostled, bumped, or unsettled, lest they flee for more welcoming environments that will not correct their errors, contain substantial conversations about significant matters, or treat them like adults.

Apparently we are supposed to hearken back to when we were new and terrified of all this ookyspooky religion stuff, much like in order to do other basic tasks in our lives we are supposed to hearken back to when we were hot pink badgers with an unfortunate skin condition and a desire to sing Gilbert and Sullivan.  (Remember: learning things is horribly, horribly dangerous and should totally provoke an adrenaline reaction at all times.  That is why they shoot off cannon at irregular intervals on school grounds.)  We are supposed to remember all those kind and patient elders who took us under their wings, guided us to our true destiny, and informed us about everything we wanted to know, until they vanished in a cloud of rainbows and butterflies and released us into the world with the fading cry, "Now, pay it forward!  It doesn't matter if they do the work!"

Be nice, they say.  Because being mousy and inoffensive is a virtue, after all.  None of us have moral codes that value courage and discipline, or truth, or pride in oneself. Nothing should ever be questioned, fact-checked, confronted, or discarded.  It is all about who has the nicest little china tea sets with petits fours.  (I do not knock petits fours.  I love petits fours.  But I am looking for more than children's tea parties in my religion.)

So a few things to straighten matters out.

I was not put on this planet to make your life easier.

If you are seeking out religious services in particular, it would be contrary to my duties and obligations to make your life easier.  In the short term, at least.  If you want my services as a priest, then expect to have your ass kicked, because that is the service that I offer in that role.  I do not do confession and absolution.  I do not offer warm blanket snuggles and affirmations as to your special place in the universe.

I am also not going to pat you on the head and feed you babyfood because you have decided that you're not up for interacting as a functional adult.  I have kids.  You are not one of them.  If you cannot actually interact from a framework of basic competence, if you insist that you aren't worthy of my time and attention, I am going to give you the basic respect of agreeing with you and not investing in you before you are worthy.

I was not spoonfed.  I did the same damn thing you did - I got books, I read them, I tried things, I played around with what did and didn't work, I stumbled across people who had some stuff in common with me, I did things with them, sometimes I hit something that really resonated, I worked from there.  You want your next step?  Here are mine:  I found organisations that did instruction at some point, and I did their coursework - and critiqued it.  I started to do independent research.  I broadened my field of study.  I read poetry.  I started to cross-reference things I knew with other things.  I thought about what I needed in order to get what I had to have.  I found individuals who were offering training, and I made agreements with them because I met their standards as a student, and I did their work.  Go, and do likewise.

I am not doing universalist religion.  I do not care whether or not you put your name on the dotted line. I am not a pimp for the Divine, nor am I a door-to-door theology salesman.  It is up to you to decide whether or not you buy, and what terms you're willing to put in that contract.  I really, genuinely, completely do not give a flying fuck at a rolling donut whether or not you think that I am too mean for you to join one of my religions.

I am not your teacher.  I am not anyone's teacher right now.  That isn't to say that you can't learn anything from talking with me, given that I know a bunch of Stuff, but I do not have any obligation to give you any of that Stuff.  I certainly don't have an obligation to give you the particular thing you're asking for - and being your teacher wouldn't give me that obligation either, given that if you're asking for something that I know to be useless or counterproductive I'm not going to bloody well encourage you.

In the event that I do, in the future, become your teacher, you do not set the lesson plan.  I will know what I am attempting to convey, and what you get from me will be angled toward conveying that, not whatever shiny shit you are chasing around because you think that the right goddamn crystal will solve your personal problems.  If you don't like what I teach, in that case, you are 100% welcome to find a compatible teacher, because I am not going to change the instruction just to satisfy your neuroses.  If you don't want the lessons I'm actually offering, you don't want me to be teaching you.

I am not going to express contempt for you by assuming that you're incapable of participating in a conversation among equals as an equal.  I don't care if you're new; I probably don't notice if you're new, being not privy to your life story and unlikely to read your engaging and detailed personal introduction (and if I do, I'm quite unlikely to remember that engaging and detailed personal introduction was you, specifically, as opposed to 'some random person on the internet somewhere').  If you want someone to treat you as a little child who isn't capable of knowing any better or hearing the truth, you want someone else.

22 June, 2012

M is for Monsters

(Okay, not doing a catchup post. Doing an on-time-ish post.)

Let's take a moment and crack out the OED.

"Monster. [OF. monstre, ad. L. monstrum, monster, something marvellous; orig. a divine portent or warning, f. root of monere, to warn.]"

A marvel. A portent. A warning.

A revelation.

There is monstrousness threaded through myths, and sometimes it is even spoken explicitly: the minotaur, born as a result of cheating Poseidon of His due, perhaps; Fenrir, chained; Balor and his oddly-placed and evil eyes. Warnings. Consequences. Dire circumstances.

Sometimes, people make much of dealing with inner demons, facing the beast within, skirting the edges of the monstrous. Sometimes, they even do the work.

There are deities and powers of the borderlands, and some of us love them. How many tender, tasty witchlings will call upon Lilith as the strong woman who walked away from Adam, a feminist icon rejecting a patriarchy of Abrahamic monotheism well before Abraham, and "forget that the next part after your co-opted icon parts ways with Adam and goes her own way is and she begat monsters, and she becomes terrifying", for example?  Perhaps they are young enough, some of them, to be human children, in Her eyes.  Perhaps they are delicious.

How many happy dancers wish to spin a round with the fairies and never imagine that someone will have to pay a tithe to Hell?  Oh, but we don't believe in the Devil, so obviously those nasty rumors are false and the fey-kind are perfectly safe.  (I have some watching me, these days.  It makes me nervous.) And anyway, they're pretty, right, and monsters have, as they say, a fearsome countenance.

It's like summoning a bannik into your bathroom.  Hope that the people who find that in someone's crap 101 book are, for the most part, not skilled enough to pull it off.

Here is a thing: there is a monstrousness about being pagan.  This is a thing about the present that cannot be dismissed or discarded, and it is not trivial.  Sure, in ancient days, some people had beliefs as a matter of ordinariness that were a lot like these, but then is not now - and calling upon then as a talisman against now is about as effective as sacrificing the wrong bull to Poseidon.  There is a thing about being off the edge of the map, the bogeyman summoned to keep someone else's children in line.  Of worshipping idols and other things forbidden to the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.  Stepping outside those boundaries makes people something else, and sometimes, in fits and starts, people notice, and get anxious, when one responds to "But of course we want God to bless America!" with "Which one?"  (And thinking of my country, and thinking of my God, I am left with the horrible suspicion that, recently, He has.  He is not one to let people leave their monsters uncontemplated, shall we say.)

(And of course some people revel in the trivialities of their something elseness, lording their super-special distinction in having a goddess and a god, OMG wow, over those "mundanes" or gods-help-us "muggles".  In this, the monstrousness of pagan belief and practice is overwhelmed almost entirely by the different monstrousness of being an asshole.  This is not one of the interesting monsters.)

We are none of us safe.  And you can take that as a statement about personal security, or you can take that as a statement about being mad, bad, and dangerous to know, or you can take it any of a number of other ways: these are all true.  And yet we have the capacity to walk in beauty like the night - at least if we can deal with the unsafeness.  Not by pretending it away; not by conjuring up our Mr. Hyde to get away with the things that Dr. Jekyll would never do, oh gracious no.  By becoming whole.

This is a truth of the world:  the wolf will have his portion.  And if he doesn't get it any other way he will take it off at the wrist.

11 June, 2012

K is for Kinky

(I know, I know, I still have an H, two Is and Js, and are we on L last week? to do, but hey, something is better than nothing.)

Yesterday, my lion and I had a brief conversation about a flogger.

A bit of it went something like:

"So it's yours."

"No.  It belongs to Set."

He looked quite bemused.  "... oh."

"There are things that I am not permitted because of my relationship with that god.  That's why it lives on the shrine."

"I would be interested if you could tell me about that sometime."

"I am not permitted to fear pain."

And we talked a bit from there - that the item was primarily a reminder touchstone, and that as an item whose sole purpose is to inflict pain goes (though really, it's not terribly hardcore on that front at all, a middling thud with an edge of sting; it is, however, beautiful), it serves as a touchstone of the restrictions I have as part of my service to Neb.y.

The intersections of sexuality - especially kinky sexuality - and spirituality can be very fraught conversations in pagan community.  People who often have a definition of "worship" that includes being beaten-down, abasing the self, or requires them to think of themselves as shitty human beings often, unsurprisingly, have conceptual issues around service and ownership relationships with deities.  And that's without getting into the whole OMGPAIN factor, where there are occasionally overblown or half-manufactured rants about torture and other such nonsense, or people arguing that pain play is intrinsically in opposition to the body, or any of a bunch of other bullshit.  (I wonder sometimes if they're in ignorance or denial of the practices of flagellation and other forms of pain interaction as worldwide mystical practices - including among certain Christian saints.)  Sometimes it's possible to have a sensical conversation about it; sometimes it's not.  It's always touchy.

"... actually, I was wrong.  I am permitted to fear pain.  I am not permitted to allow fear of pain to prevent me from action."

"That is a subtle - but significant - distinction."

"Yeah.  I don't think He'd like it if I didn't fear pain."

"Fear of pain is useful!"

"Also, my god is a sadist."