If in some aching dreams you too could pace
sleepless with the choice we find ourselves in,
and hear the fear and loathing we will face
as people tell us aught we do is sin;
If you could feel, with every cramp, the blood
ready to gush forth from ectopic wound
to salve your conscience in its crimson flood
and leave behind my lifeless form marooned,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To women ardent for a martyr’s glory,
The new lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro blastocyte mori.
With acknowledgement to Wilfred Owens, I repost this as the only response capable of expressing my response to the news that Ohio’s statehouse passed the so-called “heartbeat bill” yesterday. This abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest will lead to deaths if it is signed by the governor (famously anti-choice) and survives court challenges with judges appointed by the incoming administration. I am terrified.
This is another entry for the I Hate Patriarchy file:
My partner and I are in the midst of buying a house. As part of this process I have gone to a moderate amount of work to educate myself about the basic mechanics of houses. Learning about why icicles look pretty but are a bad sign, what a stack is, what those things poking out of the roof are, why they’re there, and so on. Identifying soffits and baffles, sump pumps and stacks, grade and drain, and on and on.
Somewhere along the way I realized that I was having to learn this stuff for the first time not just because I have spent my adult life in apartments but because when I did live in a house, my mother didn’t teach me. Because she didn’t know. Because Patriarchy.
I vividly remember her helping me with a class project in middle school that involved some kind of very basic nailing pieces of wood together. I was having trouble with it, and Mom wasn’t very successful either. As she wrestled with it, she grumbled, “I wish I’d taken shop class!”
Back when she was in school, the girls took home economics and the boys took shop. Home economics taught Mom very little, because as the oldest of four (soon to become five) kids, she was already helping run the household. But she remained uninformed about mechanical type matters and that ignorance often made her nervous and even angry.
My grandmother didn’t learn these things either, even in her adult life when she was living in a home alone. So she never taught Mom. I don’t know how much my father knew, but as he was raised without his father, I don’t think he ever had an opportunity to learn, because his mother wouldn’t have known about mechanical matters either.
I’m not talking about advanced handyman stuff here. I’m talking about things like how a septic system works, and how often it has to be maintained, which is necessary knowledge for someone who lives in a home with a septic system. As a result, I wound up dealing with a major septic issue at her house at the same time my mother was in the hospital having surgery. This is the equivalent of not realizing that you have to change the oil in your car, except that with a house there’s about five major systems that you have to think about, and the issues can be more subtle in terms of building up over time.
Mom didn’t maintain her house well, and now I realize that was because she didn’t know how. Admittedly, she could have done more to learn, but the same barriers that prevented her from learning as a child or a young adult still made it difficult as she got older, and it’s hard to realize what you don’t know. As a result, over the last few years and especially the last few months, I’ve had to deal with a series of issues at her house that have been unpleasant.
Her life could have been better if she had known these things. My life could have been much, much easier if she had. But she didn’t, because Patriarchy.
I’m glad it’s easier for me to educate myself about these matters, and that I have the opportunity to overcome the prejudices and blind stupidity that hurt my mother and that have made my life more difficult. But I shouldn’t have had to overcome those barriers.
The longer I live, the more I see the wisdom in the saying that the personal is political. The political certainly is personal: the prejudices have affected me and my family in terms of emotions, health, and finances. Taking back some control, overcoming those barriers in my own personal life, is nothing less than a political act to try to make the future a better place – for myself, for my family, and for everyone.
The suit of Cups is all about Water, so it has to do with emotions and relationships. The Three of Cups is a card of relating to others, and it has special resonance for goddess worshippers who know that several goddesses take on a three-part form, or can be understood as part of a triad with other goddesses. The ritual below is written arounnd the general theme of Maiden, Mother, Crone, but you can substitute instead any three-part goddess you work with more closely.
The image on the Motherpeace card is a celebration by a river. (See the Motherpeace image by selecting 3 of Cups from the drop-down menu.) I also particularly like the image in the Robin Wood Tarot where three women are dancing holding chalices marked with the moon phase symbols.
In this ritual we’re going to offer libations to the goddess in her three parts. Using this ancient method of celebrating and honoring goddess will strengthen our relationship to her and also represents the way we are participating in the continuing river of her presence poured out for us.
Chalice or your favorite drinking vessel
A bowl to pour your libations into, unless you can do ritual outdoors and pour directly on the earth
Liquid that you like to drink – it could be water, wine, milk, tea, or anything that you would share with Goddess
Prepare your altar with any Goddess images or decorations you like, especially symbols of the triple moon, or a trio of white, red, and black candles. Put your Tarot card on your altar along with your chalice and bowl to receive your libations.
Ground and center yourself.
Cup your hands in front of you and see the light and energy of the full moon filling them. Cast your circle by walking around the perimeter and pouring this light out to mark the edges of your circle.
Call the Quarters using these words or your own:
Air, powers of the East, inspire me as I share my thoughts and words with Goddess tonight. Hail and welcome!
Fire, powers of the South, light my way and warm my heart in celebration with Goddess tonight. Hail and welcome!
Water, powers of the West, fill my cup so that I may pour it out in libation to Goddess tonight. Hail and welcome!
Earth, powers of the North, receive what I pour out in libation for Goddess tonight. Hail and welcome!
Invoke Goddess using these words or your own:
Clever maiden, merciful crone, loving mother of us all, Goddess, I invoke you in your triple form.
I honor you, I praise you, I love you.
Hear me, guide me, and bless me this night and always.
Chant “We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return / like a drop of rain rolling to the ocean.” You can use the words alone, or learn the tune here:
As you chant, take your chalice into your hands and direct your love and devotion to the Goddess into your chalice. When you are done, dedicate the cup to her by drawing the triple moon symbol )O( in the air over the cup.
Pour three libations. During each one, name the aspect of the Goddess to which you are offering, and thank her for her blessings and/or ask her for help with her special gifts. For example, you might say:
Maiden, youthful, beautiful, and free, I offer this drink to you. Help me celebrate my independence with joy.
Mother, loving, gracious, and kind, I offer this drink to you. Help me give birth to my hopes and dreams.
Crone, wise one, merciful, and strong, I offer this drink to you. Help me honor my own wisdom with grace.
When you are done with your libations, drink the rest of the cup to take Goddess’ blessings into you.
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases that have to do with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for insurance plans to cover contraception. I renew my prayers to Justice and to Columbia:
Justice, be not blind, but look into our hearts with piercing gaze and discern the ill intent of those who would rule over others with theocratic mandates full of hate.
Let their will be weighed as naught when you lift your scales that judgment be not swayed but find the rightful balance to help us live together in pluralistic peace.
Columbia, matron goddess of your district and our government, stand firm atop the wall of separation between church and state, to ensure that women have control over our own bodies.
Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it.
Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty?
Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private.
This law is currently unconstitutional as a result of a Supreme Court ruling. But Cuccinelli is arguing that it’s a vital part of protecting children from sex offenders, which makes no sense. Moreover, it’s offensive to me as a woman, a Wiccan, and a feminist.
The actual case where the law was declared unconstitutional as a result of SCOTUS precedent involved at least one seventeen year old. I agree that there’s a metric crapton of potential problems with someone in hir teens having sex with someone in hir 40s or 50s. But if Cuccinelli has a problem with 17 year olds having sex, he could try to raise the age of consent, or prove that the situation was not consensual. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s specifically argued in favor of keeping the parts of the law (that are unconstitutional) that ban private consensual non-commercial adult (above the age of consent) behavior.
In fact, Cuccinelli is a major reason that the provisions of this particular law governing non-consensual sex were left vulnerable to court challenge. In 2004, a bipartisan group in the Virginia General Assembly backed a bill that would have brought the law in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling. They proposed to eliminate the Crimes Against Nature law’s provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor.
In 2009, he told a newspaper why he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result of Cuccinelli’s homophobia, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.
While Cuccinelli tries to spin his efforts as “Virginia’s appeal to preserve a child-protection statute,” this amounts to little more than his attempt to restore the state’s unconstitutional ban on oral sex.
This matters because it shows that Cuccinelli is willing to fight a dead letter over a culture war issue. It matters because he’s willing to mislead people with moral panic over child endangerment to do it. It matters because this anti-sex agenda is what Cuccinelli really thinks is worth working on, and it’s what he thinks will make him win. You’d better believe it’s what he’ll act on if he does win.
And quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess:
All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.
The idea of “acts of love and pleasure” is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.
Cuccinelli is actually making a version of the Two Boxes argument about what kinds of sex are permissible and not permissible. Nearly all “slippery slope” arguments about marriage equality are versions of this. (Cuccinelli gets double Conservative SexHater Points for pretending that outlawing consensual adult oral sex is a way of “protecting our children.” Score!)
The Two Boxes argument says that the Christian god has designated certain kinds of sex as “good” and other kinds as “bad,” and that there is no other possible way to differentiate between allowable and not-allowable actions in our secular civil law. Therefore, if you allow one “bad” thing, you’re allowing all “bad” things. Slippery slope: people will gay-marry their dogs! The Two Boxes argument is extremely simplistic. By contrast, my ethics – both my secular civil reasoning and my religious understanding – tell me that we can draw a different boundary based on enthusiastic consent.
In the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the connections between my civil feminist understanding and my Wiccan understanding. There’s already been a lot of great feminist explication of this ethic of consent. I think that we should determine our secular, civil law on the basis of secular, civil reasoning. I am not trying to substitute my Wiccan standards for Cuccinelli’s Christian standards. I am trying to explain why my Wiccan standards coincide with my secular feminist standards. With that in mind, Cuccinelli’s efforts really are offensive not just on a human rights and feminist level but to me as a person with a different religion with different standards.
I think that the idea “acts of love and pleasure” contains the seeds of the concept of affirmative, enthusiastic consent. This concept differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable sex on the basis that some people can’t engage in love and pleasure. That might be because they’re not people: lampposts, dogs, box turtles; it might be because they’re incapable of consent: under the age of consent, handicapped, intoxicated, etc. Either way, the standard concepts of “love” and “pleasure” don’t apply.
Ultimately, my understanding relies on the idea that sex is a cooperative activity that is done by partners together. Sex is not a thing that men do to women as objects. Sex is not a thing that women have that men try to get or take. Sex isn’t just about men and women. It’s about people, and their consent, to acts of love and pleasure.
Those ideas, deep down, are what scares Cuccinelli, and his fellow culture warriors, spitless, pun intended:
People – consent – love – and pleasure
If you care about those things, whether for civil or religious reasons, or especially both, then you ought to find Cuccinelli’s latest actions reprehensible.
PS: Regarding the first statement: There. Now you can start blaming me, right after the makers of Witch-sploitation movies, for causing people to claim that they’re Wiccan when they don’t have the first clue what Wicca really is.
The only reasonable response to the fact that the armed forces are dropping their ban on women in combat positions is: It’s about damn time.
Women have been exposed to combat in various ways for 20-odd years, depending on how you count. Certainly since September 11th women have been in a war with no front lines. More importantly, they’ve been a vital asset for working with civilian women in the population. The ban on women in combat has been a polite fiction, a way of soothing peoples’ consciences at the cost of harming the careers of military women.
I agree with Hecate and Echidne that I wish we didn’t have wars and combat, and I’m sorry that anyone is fighting in them. But while we do, one of the very least things we can do is be darn well honest about what women are doing in those situations.
Of course the religious right is losing their collective minds over this, but that means they haven’t been paying attention to reality in the meantime. I’m also particularly amused that this happens just a few weeks after the Military Officers Association of America, a private organization that my dear spouse joined for the job-networking benefits after he gets out of the service, announced that the winner of its annual essay contest was a piece about how women shouldn’t be in combat. It was full of the usual essentialist tripe; something about women as the creators of life shouldn’t be in a situation of death really rubbed me the wrong way, and another part basically saying that America wouldn’t have been able to handle it if pictures of a woman’s dead body (possibly with, gasp, private parts showing!) were shown on TV made me convinced that the author hasn’t actually looked at American TV in the last 20 years.
Very little will change because of this, almost certainly nothing that your average civilian will notice. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and it will matter to the women who have been held back because of it. So: it’s about damn time.
Now we need to fix the problems some of those servicemembers, male and female, face when their spouses aren’t recognized as spouses. DADT repeal was a good step – that was also recognizing a basic reality. Now we should treat their families on equal footing. DOMA has to go.
Absurd? Sure. But once you rule out all regard for fact and memory, then there’s no avoiding the absurd. If evangelicals let their leaders get away with this “abortifacient” lie and with the Orwellian pretense that it’s not a contradiction of their past teaching, then those leaders can get away with anything.
The ones who lose in this, over and over again, are women. Period. Salon had a piece that links to a shocking study about how often pregnant women’s rights are infringed simply because they’re pregnant. Increasingly, this is done by law enforcement officials simply deciding that certain laws about children apply to fetuses – a sort of personhood-by-sherriff move. Salon describes this as an anti-abortion tactic. It’s not. It’s an anti-woman tactic. They’re not stopping abortions by pretending that pregnant women aren’t allowed to drink wine or be in a bar, they’re controlling women’s behavior. The study’s author concludes:
There is no gender-neutral way to add fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses to the Constitution without subtracting all pregnant women from the community of constitutional persons.
The double talk shows that the motivations they claim are a lie; the only truth behind it is a desire to control women.
Since we’ve discussed why stereotypical “love spells” are unethical and almost always a reflection of rape culture, I want to mention two kinds of spells that address the desire for a relationship in ethical ways.
One good approach might be called the wide-field love spell. Someone who wrote to me put it very well when zie said: “I asked the universe to bring me MY love, the life-altering love I was supposed to find, rather than identifying anyone in particular.” That particular spell worked smashingly well for hir, and I’ve heard other similar accounts.
It should be fairly clear that this kind of spell isn’t treating someone else as an object of manipulation. There are lots of ways to do this spell; most of the differences depend on how specific you are about what you want that person to be like. Some people advocate more specificity, possibly right down to physical details, while others place their trust in the universe and/or deities about some or all of the fine points. (See also: “And her hair shall be what colour it please God!“) I think there’s some interesting discussion to be had about why some people prefer one approach over another that gets down to how and why we think magic works, or why we use it the way we do, but either way, it’s ethical by my lights.
Yes, you can use the “specificity” approach to try to get around the uncertainty. But if you say, “Dear Universe, please bring me My One Troo Luv, whoever that might be. I want him to be somebody in my second-period algebra class who has dreamy green eyes and plays soccer and is named Travis, or somebody just like him, for the good of all and harm to none, so mote it be!” then you are missing the point of not manipulating people. Also, the universe will laugh at you and Travis’ identical twin brother who is a real dork will follow you around for the rest of tenth grade. I’m just sayin’.
Another way that we avoid ethical concerns is that instead of casting a spell on someone else, we find a way to cast something else for a similar intent on ourselves. In the area of relationships, this usually amounts to casting a spell on oneself to make oneself more lovable and/or attractive. Notice that this has the same effect of widening the field, removing the issue of manipulating an individual.
There are also plenty of ways this can go wrong, of course. You can try magic to make yourself more attractive – and I have a strong suspicion that an eyeliner pencil or a makeup brush would work just fine as a magic wand – but if you fall into the trap of superficial thinking, you may be disappointed with the results. It might attract a superficial response, or it might attract a response from someone you can’t stand for other reasons. If instead of concentrating on appearance you work to make yourself more lovable, that’s a laudable goal and possibly will help you address some of your own internal issues but no guarantee of a satisfying relationship.
These approaches both involve a lot more uncertainty than the stereotypical “love spell.” That’s not an accident. Treating other people ethically involves not trying to control every detail of every occurrence, because to treat others ethically we have to recognize that they are full human beings in their own right, with their own histories, feelings, thoughts, goals, and motivations. This is about a lot more than free will: it’s about treating someone as a person, rather than objectifying them into a thing to be controlled. Being open to the unexpected, including even pain and loss, is what makes the joy and wonder of a real relationship possible in the first place. That’s the real magic of love.
Someone emailed me with questions related to my recent writing about the ethics of love spells. They indicated that they emailed me because I don’t allow anonymous comments, but when I replied by email, the reply failed. I’m posting their questions (anonymously) and my response here instead.
OK, so what about spells that make someone who’s in love with you go away? Those also interfere with a specific someone’s free will but are considered moral by a lot of the same people who consider love spells too coercive.
For starters, this can’t be rape because there’s no sexual contact.
This is another place where I think that “no interfering with free will” is an unintelligible ethical precept. If we’re affecting others, we’re interacting with and possibly curtailing their free will. The people who actually propose this standard don’t usually adhere to it; it’s shorthand for something deeper, and in the case of love spells, I think one of the deeper reasons that certain kinds of love spells are wrong is the way they are part of rape culture, which is why I think it’s important to talk about that openly and clearly, not fall back on a shorthand that actually obfuscates.
Try applying the standard that I suggested as one evaluation tool among many: would equivalent action in the real world be legal and/or ethical? For most ways of doing this spell, the answer is a resounding yes; take the example of a restraining order. If you shape your work to carry an intent like “leave me alone” (rather than “do not contact me,” because negative phrasings are often ineffective), what you’re doing is ethical by my standards.
It can be structured as a reactive boundary; if the person doesn’t approach you (physically or with communication), nothing happens. If they do, they get rebuffed. If you believe in/abide by the Rule of Three (or Law of Return or some similar precept) be sure to fine-tune what you see getting “bounced back” at them as the least harmful way of doing things: “go away,” leaving off the “you bastard!” blast of anger.
On the other hand, if you have an intent like “so-and-so will lose hir job with our employer so that I don’t have to be in contact with hir anymore,” you get into more iffy territory. What would the mundane world equivalent be? Well, if you’re going to go to your employer with a complaint of sexual harassment, I would definitely do magic in support of that. On the other hand, if it’s a personal relationship outside the workplace that went wrong, a whisper campaign to have the person lose all respect and be hounded out is definitely not ethical. The corresponding action in the real world may or may not be legal, but I think the fact that most of us wouldn’t want it to happen to us combined with hazy legality is a good enough indicator that it’s unacceptable.
But what if what you’re saying is true, and you just want everyone to know so-and-so really is a bastard? Well, you could do a “sunlight” spell, one with the intent that the truth of their actions be revealed, but these kinds of things are tricky. What’s the mundane world equivalent: taking out ads on the sides of buses declaring so-and-so a bastard? Writing a scathing blog post? Those actions are extremely difficult to manage, often bouncing back on the writer in very ugly ways even if they’re saying nothing but the truth. Making the statement is generally legal, and I would agree that these spells are generally ethical (not always), but a spell for this is at least as tricky to handle as the mundane action, and usually much more difficult to pull off without crossing ethical boundaries – see below about intent getting mixed up.
Also, what about spells to make someone love you who already wants you sexually, but doesn’t want a relationship? Are those considered rape by your standard? They’re not forcing someone into sex (that’s already freely given) but into, well, love.
The last question you ask is a harder one.
No, those wouldn’t be rape, if the sexual contact is freely consented to. On the other hand, if Person A is having sex with Person B, and A wants (more of) a relationship but B doesn’t, there’s a distinct possibility that A may be consenting to the sex in hopes of building a relationship, or with an ulterior motive, or simply to satisfy the desire to interact with B even in the absence of any other kind of relationship. None of those are, in and of themselves, rape, but they are fertile ground for all kinds of terrible relationship problems, even for a “solely” sexual relationship. The idea of doing a spell to create a romantic relationship on top of that foundation fills me with dread. There are so many ways it could go wrong – especially if it succeeds.
The relationship starts, and A decides B really wasn’t ready, or the relationship is a bad idea. The relationship starts, and B is madly, soppily in love, until it drives A nuts. The relationship starts, and A realizes the sex wasn’t all that great, it was the idea of not being able to have more that was the driving interest. And even the best case is suspect: it works, they get married, live together for 15 years and raise two kids, with A wondering all the while if B’s love is really real or just the result of the spell.
And how would you feel if you found out you had been the target of such a spell? If it were me, it would run the risk of destroying a relationship. He doesn’t feel like he can attract me on his own, so he had to compel me using magic? Not cool.
To return to my earlier rule of thumb, this is a case where it’s very hard to imagine a specific mundane world equivalent. That always makes me suspicious of such spells. It would be possible to structure it with a specific mundane equivalent in mind: a spell equivalent of your mutual best friend telling your desired partner that the two of you would be really great together, for example. But in my experience, what’s actually going to drive the spell is your desire for a relationship, not your burning desire to plant the seed of the idea and accept rejection peacefully, so it’s extremely likely that what you’ll actually do, magically, is raise and send energy for having-a-relationship purposes.
If you can’t hold the specific intent without something else springing up mentally or emotionally, then you can’t do magic for that purpose alone. Can we harness other kinds of emotions towards a specifically visualized end? Yes. Being honest, can most of us really totally repurpose the intention of something that’s as personal and deeply powerful as desire? Not very well.
Overall, this is a case where I think that while it might or might not be ethical, it’s such a bad idea even in the best scenarios that it is a very foolish thing to do.
You read that right. In a recent Iowa case, a dentist fired an employee because she was so attractive that he and his wife were uncomfortable. Several sites have covered this as the “firing attractive employee” case, and that’s bad enough. But when you get into the details, it seems there’s something they overlooked:
But sometime in 2009, he also began exchanging text messages with Nelson. Most of these were work-related and harmless, according to testimony. But others were more suggestive, including one in which Knight asked Nelson how often she had an orgasm. She never answered the text.
In late 2009, Knight’s wife found out about the text exchanges and demanded her husband terminate the dental assistant because “she was a big threat to our marriage.”
That looks like sexual harassment to me. I don’t know what the legal nuances are, and I’m not saying she should have sued him, but when a boss starts asking me about my orgasms, that’s inappropriate. So let’s call this what it is: firsthe sexually harassed her, then he fired her for his bad behavior.
The court ruled that the dentist wasn’t discriminating against her as a woman when he fired her, so it was legal. Apparently he was only discriminating against her as an attractive woman, and that’s a-okay. That’s awful. But the way that others are reporting on this story while neglecting what makes it really reprehensible just goes to show how we still don’t take sexual harassment seriously.