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

25 February, 2012

On "Women's Mysteries"

A lot of people have written about the various happenings at PantheaCon recently, where, again, the question of cis-separatist women's rituals has come up. And in and among all the things about which women get into which spaces and all that, there's something that doesn't go unquestioned: the idea that there exists a "women's mysteries" dependent on cis bodies and associated with menstruation, and that this can be referred to as "women's mysteries" and somehow, magically, everyone will know what it is.

Well, y'know, the only mystery involving menstruation I care about is why it's so unspeakably horrible.

If I were to accidentally stumble into such a ritual because people were too shy about their body stuff to actually mention what they were focusing on, that would be kind of a mess for me. I'm not up for celebrating this particular vile experience, particularly not with people who are overjoyed by it. The Mirena is my favorite cybernetic upgrade ever, because it means it basically goes away.

I don't want the mysteries of my body to be reduced down to something I find unspeakably awful.

I mean. Even with my moods levelled out a whole hell of a lot, I spent the weekend recently hating myself, hating my body, filled with moderate dysphoria and dissociation, and generally kind of fucked up. Why? Because I was having a menstrual cycle. Eventually my liege stabbed me in the knees, which at least reset my equilibrium a bit. It was genuinely a horrible experience, and one I hope not to repeat.

And that's without the usual side-effects - the tremendous pain, for example. The serious emotional lability and not in good directions. The sensation of sweating filth out of every pore, like the endgame of having the flu - the sort of vile sense of contagion that requires doing a lot of time in the shower to have a hope of feeling clean. (And yes, yes, I know, Teh Patriarchee treats menstruation as unclean! But really, the whole 'no really, I need a bath' thing is not manufactured out of social pressure.)

If someone assumes that a cissexual woman is welcome and appropriate at their menstruation ritual, well...

... I exist.

Define your fucking terms. Don't call your menstruation celebrations women's rituals, because not all the women you might *want* to bring in want to fucking be there.

24 February, 2012

D is for the Divine Androgyne

(This one is probably not a shocker to the remainder of my long-term readers.)

I was actually tickled that one of last week's Pagan Blog Project posts was a takedown on some of the concepts of 'the divine feminine', because I already had this sucker in my mental queue.

In and around the edges of my reality, I know a couple of people who describe themselves as neutrois, which is a concept that I poke at occasionally. I think I've come to the conclusion that neutrois is so exactly what I'm not that it's actually kind of similar in practice, which is an interesting thing. Mostly incidental, but I'll mention it because it's actually relevant background.

As is this post from P. Sufenas Virius Lupus of the Aedicula Antonoi, from which I will quote:

The final being in this new tetrad of deities is complex, and was the result of the efforts of all three of the others working together–each can be said to have “fathered” this final being, and each can be said to have “given birth” to em, and yet none of them fathered nor gave birth to this being either in any way that would be recognizable by humans and most deities currently operating. This final being was called Panaletheia, “All-Truth,” by Panhyle; Panpsyche called em Paneirene, “All-Peace”; Paneros called em Pankalos, “All-Beauty”; but this being named emself Pancrates, All-Power. Pancrates (not to be confused with Pancrates/Pachrates of Heliopolis, mind you!) can be described as androgynous or as pan-gendered, and exhibits characteristics that could be found in every and any gender, both mentally, behaviorally, spiritually, and physically. One of Pancrates’ symbols is the lion.

Last autumn I was wrestling with an assignment for my training. For those who are familiar with the Thelemic rituals of the Stations of the Sun, it was similar work - an address to the transformational nature of the times of day, rooted in relationship with the encompassing divine. I had written several such litanies over the course of my training, all of them perfectly good poetry, none of them an improvement over the verse around which my practice had been originally built.

The original verse addressed the All-Mother in the form of a rose. I tried to address the All-Mother in the form of the lotus - my preferred Egyptian symbol. I tried to address the All-Mother as a cow, as a raptor, in all Her various forms. Nothing seemed to work right.

I commented, unrelatedly, to my teacher, that I was not yet old enough to be able to be a child.

And I dabbled, in free corners of my brain, with associating the kabbalistic Tree of Life to the Heliopolitan cosmogony, because I found it funny.

Up until.

I wrote another daily litany. Addressing the Solar Child borne by the All-Mother, who is of necessity not exclusively of one gender, because as governor of Malkuth the Child must encompass all of the possibilities that emerge from Kether and reflect the entire Tree.

That one fucking worked.

And perhaps I have been enough of the Mother and need to learn to be the Child. Heru-sa-Aset in His name of Heru-pa-Khered, the hawk, perhaps having more than a passing acquaintance with Pancrates the lion. However one wants to look at it. Here S/He is, the emerging manifestation, the Solar Child laid bloody on the Mother's lap at dawn, ascendent to rule at noon, returning to nourishment at sunset, forged and cradled anew through the night.

I had had Issues with some of the relentless maleness of power in Egyptian religion, not just in Heru's status as male but in how kingship itself was a male role to the point that Hatshepsut put on the same false beard as any other ruler. (And I think, as I put my daughter to sleep, of how I named her for a famous king of Poland.) But this Child, this Divine Androgyne, this one who Becomes as Khepri becomes, this is a Heru I know. All potentials, not just the ones that come of some form of maleness; all rulership, all governance, not just the bearded kind.

And perhaps I am old enough to be a Child now. Not a girl-child nor indeed a boy-child, but the Divine Androgyne, the Solar Child who ascends with all the other gods and bathes in the Field of Rushes before the gates of heaven.

16 February, 2012

D is for the Devil

Oh, but wait, so many pagans will say: we are not Satanists! We are not devil-worshippers! We are not the bad people bogeymen in your sensationalised and mostly manufactured news stories! We are normal people, just like you! We are not dangerous! Let us differentiate ourselves from the people we find it acceptable to be the scapegoated Other who might otherwise be numbered among us.

Oh, but wait.

I hang with Set.

I had a friend whose protector - chosen by her parents - was Loki. And I read the work of people who deal with the various j├Âtnar in various ways.

My first teacher in the Craft named her line of the tradition "Morningstar". You know, one of those titles of 'the Adversary' (tee em).

Now, obviously, I have a problem with the whole "We're nothing like them so don't persecute us (we don't mind if you persecute them)" attitude. But really, the whole "but I'm not a devil-worshipper" thing is more deeply problematic than that, as anything other than a factual correction.

It's a factual correction that I cannot provide in that many words. Because, honestly, I don't fucking know if I'm a devil-worshipper or not. Not with any intellectual honesty.

That Christian adversary figure, Source Of All Evil In The Eyes Of Those People Who Don't Do Close Textual Analysis Well? Not so much.

But, again, I hang with Set. And really, Set has a lot more in common with Judaism's ha-Satan than that guy they call "Satan" does. Ha-Satan being the title of Hashem's prosecuting attorney, whose job it is to test and prove the righteousness of others. (I actually have a fascinating book called The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, which, among other things, manages not to paint Neb.y as the boogety-boo God Of Ee-vile Tee-Em in His, like, two paragraph mention.)

And, as someone who hangs with Set, I've done things like peer at the public information put out by the Temple of Set, because hey, one good Setian deserves another. A lot of it sounds familiar. (A lot of it sounds like someone who's missing the goddamn point already, could someone slap 'em upside the head please.) But oogety-boogety Satanists, right? Not anything like us fine, upstanding pagans.

Sorry, I'm getting sarcasm in your peanut butter.

One thing I think matters about polytheistic systems is that they don't make benevolence into a virtue. (Except, perhaps, those goddess-worship groups often snidely referred to as "Jesus in drag.") Many of the Powers - even the ones who are put forward as "this is one of the good and proper ones to venerate" - are not actually all that nice. Important, necessary, possibly even in some cases in favor of the greater good, sure, but you wouldn't want your offspring to marry one.

Being beloved of Set does not mean that I can go waltzing out in a suit made of copper bakeware waving a conductive antenna at the sky when there's a front coming through. Because one of the things about storm gods is, well, when you have a certain charge built up, the lightning's gonna go somewhere. Not because lightning is evil. Because lightning goes from here to there when there's a particular buildup, and you don't want it to be you in the middle. 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.

So yes. Lightning strikes. With a combination of indifference and opportunistic exploitation. Does that make Set a devil? Or does that mean that we know something more about Set when we understand lightning?

One of the things that that first Craft teacher mentioned was that most of the lines of traditionally-oriented witchcraft work with some form of Lucifer. That dreaded force in the dark is also the initiator, the enlightener, and "Lucifer" was deliberately chosen as a term, that alternate name for Morningstar: that feared force that illuminates understanding. In the Book of Job, the trials Ha-Satan seeks permission to inflict upon Job are chosen to illuminate his piety and test out the limits of his strength.

She told a story: a vision of angels wrestling in heaven, the Good Angel and the Evil Angel. And the Good Angel won, and cast the Evil Angel out, and closed the gates of heaven to leave that force dying on the rocks. And that fallen Angel was nurtured back to health by a passing herdsman, who won from it the chance to grow through struggle, to learn, to change, to become stronger - so what is Evil anyway? And what form of Good closes the gates of heaven to watch something suffer and die from the far side of that barred palisade?

Fairy folklore has a lot of interesting things in it, and one of them is that the fey lands are those populated by spirits neither of heaven nor of hell. Or, as some put it, there is the road to heaven, the road to hell, and there is the third way, where the spirits are neither. But still dangerous, and in many ways more so than those who have granted their allegiance to a set of laws and principles. So are those devils dancing in the fairy circle, or something like? Or is that something more dangerous?

Even in non-Craft circles, this idea kicks around - the sacred monster. The Jungian shadow, which conceals and reveals the depths of power. The wild god, dangerous and compelling, with the power to transform. Sometimes the stories are clean and gentle, and sometimes that is a bowdlerisation, like a fairy tale purged of its old blood to make it safe for children. But we are not children, and we cannot run from our devils.

Every so often I toy, in my fiction, with writing a universe in which angels and demons exist. And angels are the Powers of Virtues, things to which people may aspire. The demons ... are the powers of Passion. And if this were the world, would it look all that different from the one built as virtue and temptation, where asceticism and restraint rather than that visceral, blood-filled joy in being are celebrated?

I mean, it's easy to kick everything back to "define your terms".

But when people ask me about devils, I truly don't know how to begin.

10 February, 2012

C is for the Craft

Mostly when I write religion, I write reconstructionism. I write books and research and the joy of finding a little nugget of something somewhere and bringing it out and polishing it until it shines and fits into the whole of the system. I write ancient theologies and stories written in ruined stone buildings.

The thing with recon, even the kind of deeply mystically oriented and extrapolative stuff that I do, is that it's fundamentally all known things. You could, if you got a burr up your arse, go read the same things I do and do the same work, and you might even come to basically the same conclusions. It's all out there.

It's not all that I do, of course, but that's the nature of icebergs.

Sometimes I don't talk about the Craft because, as a student, I'm not fully qualified to do so. Sometimes I don't talk about the Craft because what I do there is not that interesting to people outside my head - or I *do* talk about it, but I don't explicitly label it as religious work. Sometimes I don't talk about the Craft because the Craft doesn't want me to talk about it.

Silence is a crocodile.

Someone asked a group I was in recently what the "goal" of the Craft studies was. They compared it to an idea that the "goal" of Christianity is salvation, is reaching heaven.

I don't trust goals. Too much gets lost along the way.

The Craft is about getting my ass moving, not getting my ass to a specific location and then being done. The Craft is about relationship - within myself, with others, with the Powers, with the cosmos. The Craft is about the edges of things, the twilight space at the edge of a knife.

It's not about where you're going. It's not even about where you are. It's about how you choose to proceed.

Since I'm all about the quotations lately, let's do a bit of poetry. This is one of my favorites, and I think its relevance is obvious.

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--- electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born --- pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if --- listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

E. E. Cummings

I got the formatting from this site because my HTML skills are not up for attempting to convey Cummings properly.

08 February, 2012

B is for Black

"The blacker the body, the whiter the light – the incandescent, active virgin heart from which all comes." - Victor Anderson

I first encountered that line in a training group run by Thorn Coyle (and in fact when I pasted it into a search engine just now the top hit was her book, Kissing the Limitless). I responded with some pretty crazed mysticism about astrophysics, which is neither here nor there.

One thing that modern pagans have to deal with is our common origins in a culture that valorises whiteness. This is not just a racial thing, but yes, racism is threaded through it. (And the question of why so much of pagandom is pale is perhaps not as unrelated as some might want to think.) Anyone who has done more than a little time in a pagan discussion board will probably have come across someone asking about the coloration of their magical work: Is this black magic? When might it be okay to do black magic? Is black magic being worked on me?

And here we come across is: Black is bad. Black is malevolent. Black is scary.

"Even semantics have conspired to make that which is black seem ugly and degrading. In Roget's Thesaurus there are 120 synonyms for blackness and at least sixty of them are offensive, as for example, blot, soot, grim, devil and foul. And there are some 134 synonyms for whiteness and all are favorable, expressed in such words as purity, cleanliness, chastity and innocence. A white lie is better than a black lie. The most degenerate member of a family is a "black sheep." Ossie Davis has suggested that maybe the English language should be reconstructed so that teachers will not be forced to teach the Negro child sixty ways to despise himself, and thereby perpetuate his false sense of inferiority, and the white child 134 ways to adore himself, and thereby perpetuate his false sense of superiority." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Whenever someone asks me about "black magic", I reply with another Victor Anderson quote:

"White magic is poetry. Black magic is anything that actually works."

Reframe your paradigm.

What is whiteness, what is light?

Some people talk about white as a symbol of purity - talk about that.

And talk about the cruelty of concepts of purity, too.

Talk about the treatment of children with multiple ethnicities, and consider how many of them live in exile from the worlds of all their ancestors due to being insufficiently pure. Talk about the madness of ideological purity that makes those who will listen to other positions anathema and only the wildest, most outrageous, most pure positions put forth. Talk about the spectre of the Holocaust, talk about the murders of trans women who died because some man thought he would catch a contagion of gayness from them, talk about menstrual blood taboos, talk about the madonna/whore complex, and talk about which people never have a chance at being shoved into the tiny box labelled 'madonna' because they're already socially impure. Talk about the whole concept, not just the - here's that color again - whitewashed versions thereof.

Symbols are complicated. Using them is a precise and delicate art, and sometimes they say other things than one thought they meant, too.

"Apollo, the god of light, of reason, of proportion, harmony, number--Apollo blinds those who press too close in worship. Don't look straight at the sun. Go into a dark bar for a bit and have a beer with Dionysos, every now and then." - Ursula K. Le Guin

When I tell you I am Kemetic, I am aligning myself with blackness. This is what the word means, if you chase it back - an English noun form, from "Kemet", one of the Egyptian words for their nation: The Black Land. Black for night and black for death and black for the flesh of a mummy prepared for wrapping and black for resurrection and black for hands deep in the wealth of rich soil that comes like a miracle when the floodwaters part. Black for life. Black, also sometimes written in green.

And the Black Land is not opposed to Whiteness; its counterpart is the Red Land. Red for the desert, the barrenness of that space untouched by the sort of earth that can become rich with greenness, the earth which cannot be substituted one for one with green. Red for fire and blood, but blood is what unifies a body into a living thing, the pulse in every limb proof of wholeness. Red for the fire serpent that is the essence and protection of the sun.

Red for danger, anger, destruction, death, but black also for death and the night is not without its dangers. [*]

When I tell you I am Kemetic, I am telling you that I am black and red, and black means death and black means life, and red means death and red means life. I am telling you that it is not as simple as black and white thinking.

And when I tell you I am Feri, I am telling you to look to the night sky.

([*] Reference for these few paragraphs can be found in Wilkinson, Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art, by the way, if you want to check my notes.)

07 February, 2012

A is for Authorship and Authority

Today, my first book went on sale. (So if any of the people who said they wanted to know when I got something published are still following this blog, there it is.)

There's something about having a book out that makes me feel like a grownup. As if, up until this point, I was just another amateur kicking around chewing the fat about religion, and now, all of a sudden, I'm filed as The One With The Information. Or at least some information.

It's a little uncomfortable, as a feeling. It's not like the fact that I study this stuff in depth hasn't gotten me a few people who wanted to fling themselves at me and take me as their guru or something. It doesn't matter that I'm not looking for disciples, there are a few people who'll come at me with the "You're so smart! You know so much! I am pathetic and low! Take me on!"

(If you are pathetic and low, I don't want you.)

I mean, yes, there's something there that I think is valuable; if I didn't think that I wouldn't have spent years researching, writing, and putting together the thing. I think it's got a lot of information, and I think a lot of the information is pretty good.

But I'm still just a person. A person who wrote a book and sold the publishing rights to it, yes, but a person. The skills I used to put together the book are skills that people in general can acquire. The books I read to do the research for it are books that people in general can read (though honestly it takes a certain amount of monomania to get through a few of them). The fact that I did all that makes me something of an authority as well as making me an author.

But you, out there, you're your own critical authority too. You have responsibility to evaluate the books you read, not just venerate them and their authors. You get to figure out what works for you.

I can't do your work.

03 February, 2012

C is for Calendars

One of the things I have been, as a going thing, kind of obsessed with is building a religious calendar. I mean, I have put together a satisfactory draft, even though I am not happy with it, and I haven't done the work to work out what to do for most of these dates. (I had a notion that this year I would work out what to do for each festival by the end of the festival. This resolution lasted for one festival.)

Part of my problem is that everyone around me is fixed on the solar year. Even if I get out of realms where "holiday" is assumed to be "Christian or maybe Jewish unless hey we've heard of Muslims, they celebrate stuff too, right?" and am dealing with general pagan circles, it's all "What are you doing for this sabbat?" and frankly, some pagans are even nastier about the idea that someone might not celebrate their festivals than I have ever encountered from a mainstream monotheist.

Last October, I had a lot of people screaming imprecations at me and telling me how horrible and intolerant I was. Why? Because I (rather gently, perhaps especially for me) pointed out that Samhain was not "the pagan new year", but "the new year for those pagans who celebrate Samhain and consider it a new year". Wep Renpet falls in August. I think my liege - who does also mark Samhain, given that he's largely Celtic-oriented - probably considers Imbolc, yesterday, to be his liturgical new year. (Or at least one of them; I think he might argue he has three.) But simply nothing that Samhain-new-year-celebrator was not an equivalent set to "pagan" got me marked as scum of the earth, the sort of person who was trying to Oppress Everyone Different by ordering them to not talk about their Samhain/new year celebrations.

Calendars are complicated. I have a solar-year calendar which I'm currently using as a basic approximation for what I need to be doing, but as I noted before I'm not done with that yet. It's a beginning. I don't expect to be done with it for a good while. (For one thing I really wish I could find some sort of calendar calculation software that lets me put calculations in that depend on moon phases rather than civil calendar dates.)


I wish I didn't feel I had to fight with other pagans all the damn time for the space to have my own holidays.

I should get back on the horse and figure out what can be done for the Festival of the Lights of Nit....