Kitty portraits

And now for something completely different! I recently got Robyn at noodlyappendage.com to draw portraits of my four cats. H/t to Mock Ramblings for pointing out Robyn’s sale, and many thanks to Robyn for her wonderful work.

I’m sharing these in the spirit of spending time with loved ones over the holidays and because I’m deeply thankful these “kids” are in my life. Remember, folks: if you’re considering getting a pet, please adopt or rescue whenever possible.

First is Jiji, demonstrating the “pet me!” pose that I’m sure will make him the centerfold of an issue of PlayKitty any day now…

Next is Kiki. Robyn successfully captured Kiki’s vision of herself as Bast incarnate who deserves unlimited amounts of worship, adoration, and gushy food. Seriously, if you plugged Kiki into a Matrix-like construct to be able to see her internal concept of herself, this is what you’d get – or possibly something with more jewelry surrounded by offerings of catnip and squeaky toys.

Next is Beatrice, as the Witch Kitty. This is the cat who, given the chance, will show up when metaphysical energy is being moved around and insist on “helping.” She would never look that happy wearing a physical witch’s hat (although I am seriously tempted to try it), but in her heart of hearts, she is a Witch, in her catly way.

And last but never least is Bianca, the one and only Clumsy Cat. She is so proud of herself for learning to sit tucked-up in a loaf like a big kitty. The whiskers-forward pose is classic Bianca; when she’s really excited about something, they get so far forward that they almost touch in front.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and is looking forward to wonderful winter holidays with loved ones, including animals, friends, and family-by-choice.

The Pride of Heaven

(Please note: This is an example of modern myth-making, which I based in part on the feline pantheon used in the novel The Book of Night With Moon. Author Diane Duane created those characters and owns them; this is written as my own exploration of the possibilities of the genre and in homage to Duane’s excellent world-building and myth-making.)

At first there were Queen Iau and her mate, the tom Urrua. They loved each other, and out of that love came life. The first litter of that life was four: First was the Lady of the East, the Maiden, named Miu, who watches over the Earth and the Spring, and she is silver tabby with green eyes. Second was the Lady of the South, Aaurh the Mighty, who is the Fire of Summer and the Flame of the South, and she is  red with bright golden eyes. Third came the Lady of the West, H’rauf the Silent, who speaks wisdom and watches over the flow of Water in its sound and in its silence and the coming of Autumn, and she is blue, all over, with eyes of a deep green. Last came the Young Tom, the spirit of Winter, who watches over the Air and the North, who was later called the Changer, and he is pure white, with one blue eye and one yellow eye.

These Four went out and made the worlds. They shared the tasks of making the worlds and the life that went into them. They watched over the seasons in turn, and all that is in the worlds. Then the Queen and the Old Tom took form in the worlds as the Moon and the Sun; they alternated watching over the worlds, by night and by day throughout all the seasons. So the Sun is called the Old Tom’s eye, the eye of the golden tiger-cat, while the Moon is called the Queen’s eye, the eye of the lilac-pointed Siamese who is the Mother of all.

Now the Young Tom looked at what he brought to the worlds, and thought that his were the least important of all the gifts. He looked at the love between the Old Tom and the Queen, and between his sisters, and he felt least-loved. In time he grew to hate the love between the Old Tom and the Queen, and he turned his eyes, his mismatched eyes, away from that love, and eventually he closed his eyes to that love entirely.

In looking for something other than love, he found hate; in looking away from life, he found death that comes out of balance. He invented something new, and brought it into the worlds: he brought death that comes out of balance, untimely, or because of hate, and he brought hate, the negation of love and life that desires destruction of another.

He brought these new things to the worlds, and wrought much grief and destruction through them. He made the darkness and the night times of fear, times of doubt, and he made the winter a time when it seemed that the whole world was wrapped in death. His sisters mourned and wept over the results, and they rose up and raged against the Young Tom and his creations.

They fought with him, and they sought to inflict his own inventions upon him: they hated him and sought to kill him. They threw him down, and he rose up; they threw him down again and again, and he rose up every time. His ears grew scarred and ragged, and yet he would not die a final death. They defeated him seven times, and their rage grew until they called on the Old Tom for his assistance. Neither they nor the Old Tom would ask the Queen to raise her paw against her own kit, but the Old Tom fought.

The Lady of the South and the Old Tom joined together to warm the world, to drive back the cold and the darkness. They succeeded in killing the Young Tom again, but they could not remove his touch and his creations from the world. They could not warm the world too much, for the sake of the life that was on it, and they could not eliminate the Young Tom for ever, and they knew that he would rise again.

Then the Young Tom thought that he would attack the Queen. He rose up and went to the Queen, and he declared his intent to her, to attack her, and to destroy the love that he felt had ignored him. She did not shy from him. Then he was curious, because she did not turn from him, and she did not lift her paw against him, and so he asked why she acted as she did.

She answered, “I love you,” but he did not understand. He did not believe her. He had dealt in falsehoods, and now expected them of others, little thinking that the Mother of All could no more lie than she could cease to exist. They strove in mind against each other, and finally she won.

Then she knew that the other Powers That Be had used the wrong approach against the Young Tom, trying to use his own creation against him. She used a different tool against him: she used the honest vision that can only come from one who loves. She looked full into his mismatched eyes, and she made him see with his own eyes again. He saw what he had brought into the worlds, and the pain that his contributions had caused, to her and to others.

And he saw, too, that she loved him; not as he had been, nor as he should have been or could have been, but as he was. He could not bear the burden of the fullness of that sight as it filled him. He lay at her feet and grieved, as his sisters had grieved, for the wrongs that he had done, and the imbalance he had caused. He wanted to make reparation, but he did not know what would be sufficient.

Then the Queen did lift her paw: she cuffed him across the ears so hard that he saw stars, but he did not draw back from her. The Queen leaned down and bit him on the back of the neck, and he purred his assent. The Young Tom wanted to give himself, the only thing he had left, to repair what he had done. He breathed out, and closed his eyes, and willed that this death would be the last and greatest, and that with this he would be able to take his creation into himself and out of the worlds. He waited for the bite that would break his neck, but it did not come.

The bite did not come. Instead, he felt himself lifted tenderly by the scruff and carried like a kitten. He did not know how long she carried him, but he felt himself grow cold and wet, as if she carried him through a river. When she put him down, he was wet all over, but she was dry. When he looked around, with his mismatched eyes, he saw his sisters, and the Old Tom.

He did not know what to say to them, but the Queen said, “It is good,” and the Old Tom curled up around his wet body, and the Young Tom felt the Old Tom’s heat warming him. His sisters sat around them and greeted him joyfully. The Queen lay down on his other side and began to wash his ears like a kitten’s, and with her licks, he felt his ragged ears become whole again. She said, “It is good. You are good. Let this ninth life be a true life, now that you have seen truly.”

He looked into her eyes, and he saw there both the darkness and the light, and it reminded him of what was called Her Eye in the worlds, which grows dark and light by turns. “Yes,” she said, “You came from me, and there is darkness in me, for all that is, is in me. But there is more than that; all the death you have brought has returned lives to me that have been made new. They live now with me, where they are ever in the light and warmth of the Old Tom. I have resolved them into balance within myself, and your choice will enact that same healing within the worlds. You have chosen anew. You have returned to us, and in this is the healing of all hurts.

“I have laid on you a heavier burden than you thought: you will not die and remove hate and death forever, but rather you will live, and use that life to make all anew, especially what is affected by hate and death. Now will night be a time for rest and growth, and winter a time of preparation for the spring. And death itself will be brought into balance: not a horror, but a transition; not an ending, but a change necessary to preserve the balance of the worlds. You will work in the worlds again, making life and love with your sisters, and the worlds themselves will rise up and help you. And when the balance has shifted, all will be brought into the Ninth Life, the life higher up and further in. And all is well.”

The Great Cat in the Sky

Hecate recently quoted the new American Poet Laureate:

Isn’t that what it’s about –
pretending there’s an alert cat
who leaves nothing to chance.

And all the jokes about Ceiling Cat aside (srsly!), this made me think of one of the best fictional depictions of a pantheon and its myths that I’ve ever encountered, which occurs in Diane Duane’s Feline Wizards books.

Set in the same universe as her Young Wizards series, all species know that there is the One, the creator, and the Powers That Be, who serve the One, and the Lone One, who is the force of entropy but a necessary part of creation nonetheless. Each species has its own versions of these, though, and sometimes multiple versions. In The Book of Night with Moon, cat wizard Rhiow and her team struggle with reenactments and revisions of feline mythology and its intersections and interactions with other species’ myth and history. In the latest installment, The Big Meow, we get a vital addition to the mythology explaining how the feline version of the afterlife came to be.

So overall there’s a pretty viable pantheon, with their stories told in a comprehensive myth cycle that covers creation, the purposes of life, why death happens, and what comes after. Although the cats don’t practice formal rituals as such, there are also plenty of examples of how different cats relate – or don’t – to their deities. All in all, if someone wanted to work with this setting, they could. But would you?

Some ideas of working with imaginary pantheons are simply not tenable for me; I couldn’t keep a straight face through even a self-subverting chaos magic ritual that called on Star Trek characters, for example. But things like the ha-ha-only-serious rituals of Caffeina, or even chaos magicians working with Bill the Cat or with ferrets, those I can all imagine doing. In my particular urban area, I have learned to offer incense and to give praise and thanks to my own dear Asphaltia, Our Lady of Traffic and Parking Spaces.

This is one of the interesting things about not being constrained by the Christian emphasis on belief. I don’t have to believe that Bill the Cat is anything other than fiction; if the ritual does something for me, (even just a good laugh) that can be a good enough reason to do it.

On the other hand, the more I work with Asphaltia, and the more I get unexpected results from those workings, the more I wonder if she’s not actually a contemporary aspect of the deity of travel and travelers who has had many forms throughout the ages.

Star wrote recently about how we don’t create meaning ex nihilo, and that our relationships with the Powers That Be include ongoing revelation. Can some of these new deities – or old deities in new forms – be part of that ongoing revelation? Does it matter if that revelation comes originally in the form of fiction, like Duane’s work, or loving humor, like Caffeina?

What do you think about fictional or invented or “found” deities or powers? Do you work with them? Only with certain ones? Why?

Finally, I raise this question because I’d also like to find out if there would be any interest in me posting a creation myth I wrote based in part on Diane Duane’s felines. I adapted the pantheon slightly and told the story in form more similar to most Wiccan myths. If you’d like to see it, just leave a note in the comments or “like” this post.

Dogs are Christians, Cats are Pagans

To restate an old religious joke, dogs are Christians – they believe in you no matter what you do. Cats are Pagans – they want to see the food in the bowl.

On an only slightly more serious note, I continue to be amused at how many Pagans and Wiccans have cats (and/or dogs, but especially cats). I think there’s something about the Pagan aesthetic of finding your own path and doing your own thing that means we relate well with cats.

Again, it’s not that Pagans can’t love dogs, but perhaps the old stories of the witch and her familiar cat are playing themselves out in the contemporary world for very good reasons…what do you think?

Familiar conversations: Are you sleeping?

Beabea: (beside bed) Mama? Are you sleepin?

Literata: (facedown in pillow) mmph

B: (jumps up on bed) Mama! You sleep??

L: (mumble) I was.

B: (climbs up on top of my back) Oh good. Now you ‘wake, you give pettins!

L: Not with you sitting there.

B: (settles down into “loaf” shape squarely in the center of my back) Whyfor not?

L: For because I can’t reach you.

B: (purrs gently) Yehs you can. Right here.

L: My arms don’t bend that way.

B: Silleh hoomins. You should fix!

L: I’ll get right on that.

Quality Assurance at Literata’s house

I just wanted to give blog readers a view into the rigorous quality assurance procedures applied to all products that come from Literata’s house:

First a detailed critique of concept is performed:

Cat looks at wand

Then significant readjustments to presentation are made:

Cat looks at wand with one paw closer to it

Then a detailed assessment of end-user results:

Cat sniffs end of wand

Catarot

This is a means of divination that is equivalent to a Tarot deck, but requires no cards. Instead you need two Twister mats, a catnip mouse, and a cat.

Lay the two Twister mats end-to-end so that you have four rows, each row a different color, and twelve columns. Label the columns from left to right one to ten and then Kitten and Senior. Each colored circle corresponds to a Tarot card. Most forms of Catarot link red with Wands and yellow with Swords, but some people say that this was a deliberate blind perpetrated by the designer of an early Catarot board to obscure some of the secrets of the true meanings. You and your cat will have to discuss this and come to an agreement about it. Almost all Catarot experts agree, though, that green means Pentacles and blue means Cups. The Kitten and Senior spots are the Catarot Court. Kittens are Pages and Knights, while Seniors are Kings and Queens. Use your judgment when interpreting genders, especially if your cat is spayed or neutered, since it may not care all that much about human ideas of sex and gender.

Basically, Catarot consists of asking your cat a question, throwing the catnip mouse on the board, and watching where your cat chases it. Each spot has an associated meaning, corresponding to the Tarot card indicated. It quickly gets more complicated than this, though. Most Catarot authorities believe that right paws indicate that the situation or issue being touched is external to the querent, and the left paws indicate internal ones. And most, but not all, Catarot users read rear-paw-touched-spots as if the corresponding Tarot card were reversed. Spots that your cat indicates with his or her head are things you should be thinking about or can anticipate in the future, while tail-touched-spots are elements of your past that might still be chasing you or pulling at you. If the cat slaps or twitches its tail repeatedly on a spot, that is an area to pay special attention to. Cats that rub their heads on a spot, almost turning their heads over, indicate that your thinking on that situation might be confused or topsy-turvy.

Whether you only read spots that your cat stays on for several seconds, or try to record as many indications as possible, is up to you and your cat. If necessary, you may collect the catnip mouse, ask another question for more information about a specific aspect of the first reading, and throw it again.

Specific actions that your cat takes, especially when not touching any particular colored circle, indicate cards of the Major Arcana. These are as follows:

  1. Magician/Juggler: Cat throws mouse in air repeatedly from one spot
  2. High Priestess: Cat lifts mouse in one paw
  3. Emperor: Cat sits in “sphinx” position
  4. Empress: Cat sits with all four paws folded under (also known as “loaf” position)
  5. Hierophant: Cat washes its tail
  6. Lovers: Cat puts head down, tail up, and yowls
  7. Chariot: Cat appears about to run, but faces in alternating directions as if indecisive
  8. Justice: Cat alternates paws batting at mouse in one place
  9. Hermit: Cat stretches whiskers out in front of it
  10. Wheel of Fortune: Cat bats at mouse so it spins in place
  11. Fortitude: Cat lays on top of mouse
  12. Hanged Man: Cat looks at you upside down
  13. Death: Cat destroys mouse
  14. Temperance: Cat washes its face
  15. Devil: Cat throws up hairball
  16. Tower: Cat poops on mat
  17. Star: Cat washes its belly
  18. Moon: Cat stares at you with large pupils
  19. Sun: Cat has pupils closed down to slits or eyes nearly shut
  20. Judgment: Cat rolls over with all four feet in the air (Card is alternately called “Tummy Rub” by some authorities)
  21. World: Cat brings mouse to you to throw again

And, of course, the unnumbered card: You know you’ve got the Fool when the cat stares at you as if you’re crazy and refuses to get on the mat in the first place.

Sincere thanks go to Sherrian for her collaboration in rediscovering this ancient form of ailuromancy.

Open-ended promises

Like many Wiccans and Pagans, I was raised Christian. Unusually, I was raised Christian by a father who had a doctorate in theology. Although Dad believed that women couldn’t be pastors, he spent a fair amount of my childhood passing on his great love of intellectual engagement with the divine, his one real skill. Since I’m also an intellectual, it has been natural for me to be something of an amateur the(a)ologian. As my engagement with Christianity changed, I explored more liberal theological approaches. Eventually, it just couldn’t stand up to what I was experiencing in my life; maybe I’ll write more about that later. Regardless, I find myself occasionally comparing previous theological approaches from Christianity to what I now believe and live, and one of those ideas came up today: the open-ended promise.

Also like other Wiccans, I’m a Cat Lady. (I have not yet graduated to Crazy Cat Lady status.) I’m just an animal person in general. Violence to animals is almost harder for me to take than violence to humans – even when it’s fictional, or happened long ago. I was reading a murder mystery today where a victim’s cat is found with her body. I almost cried. Never mind that it was the third or fourth dead body of the book, that the victim and the cat were equally fictional – it’s the cat that makes me emotional. I found myself looking at the kitten occupying my lap and petting her, telling her that I would never let anything like that happen to her.

And it’s true: I won’t. I’ll take good care of her. She won’t be exposed to crazy fictional murderers, and probably not to non-fictional ones, either. She won’t face hunger or a life on the streets like her mother did. It is more likely that I will be struck by lightning before finishing this blog post than that my kitties will have anything less than the best possible life for pampered, beloved pets. But a small part of my mind can’t help but whisper: Will you?

Will I be able to take good care of her? What if she lives longer than I do? What if a natural disaster hits, or a fire, or the zombies kill all the humans? (Lord and Lady forbid!) What if, what if, will I…? And I know that it’s an impossible promise. It’s a promise that has a million little exceptions, unspoken, except in that whisper in the back of my mind. I’ll take good care of you, I promise. I won’t let anything bad happen to you…or at least I’ll do my best. I’ll try. The whispers get louder: You can’t expect me to do the impossible; if you get cancer, I might not be able to save you. If I die, my relatives will take care of you…I’ll do my best. I’ll try. But that whisper isn’t what I say to my kitten, because it’s not very reassuring, and it’s not what I want to say to myself, either. I want to say, I’ll do it. I’ll make it all okay. Nothing bad will ever happen. I want to make the open-ended promise.

One of my favorite Christian theologians, Robert Farrar Capon, actually tells the story of the Passion and Resurrection through this lens. (Bear with me – I promise these two threads will come together in the end.) Rather than going for an explanation of Jesus’ death that depends on an idea like “paying the price” for sin – as if God the Father were some sort of super-Shylock in the sky, propitiated only by flesh, and too stupid to notice that it’s his own son who’s getting his blood spilt along the way – Capon offers an interpretation of the Resurrection as the ultimate assurance of Jesus’ promises. All human promises, Capon says, are bounded by death. They all come with the implicit or explicit limiter: till death do us part. But Jesus, Capon writes, Jesus can promise without that limiter because he is also God, a God who cannot die. And the Resurrection is the ultimate proof of that – the down payment that is supposed to let Christians believe that Jesus will keep all his other promises to them, up to and including raising them from the dead and making it all okay in the end.

It’s a lovely exposition, really. It neatly solves many of the problems liberal Christians have with the traditional interpretations of the Passion-Resurrection narrative, the kind of problems that can contribute to some Pagans’ departure from Christianity. But it’s ultimately unsatisfying to me for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that it leaves me unable to make sense of the open-ended promises I desperately want to give – and receive! – in my own life. I don’t have the power to raise myself from the dead; by Capon’s reasoning, I can’t make an open-ended promise to my kitten. If I were still Christian, maybe I’d try to make that promise by enlisting God as a sort of co-signer on the bond I’m putting down: I’ll take care of you….and when I can’t, God will step in for me! And he can do anything! Even if I can’t fix everything, you’ll end up in heaven with me, and it’ll be okay. (Yes, Virginia, there are cats in heaven.)

But I always end up back at the problem of evil, and the feeling that Christianity’s transcendent deity really isn’t a lot of help, especially in the kind of things I face in everyday life. There’s the problem that the deity is out there, somewhere, watching what happens – or worse, making it all happen, even the bad things, even the evil. It turns the whispered limitations on my promise into a kind of fending-off the evil eye, every promise accompanied with the silent prayer, please, deity, don’t send something I can’t handle. Don’t make or let something so bad happen that I have to…no, don’t think that. And if it does happen, then at least let me believe that I’ll meet my kitty in heaven, and I’ll apologize to her there, and she’ll forgive me…I hope.

Believing in an immanent deity changes the question entirely. I believe in an immanent deity, one who is present with me and in me, and my cats, and in all things. I believe that the Lord and Lady are with us even in the bad things. Instead of a down payment on a promise to make it all work out all right somehow in the end, the immanent deity of my Paganism gives me the belief that I will face whatever comes, and that I will face it with love. The Lord and Lady aren’t somewhere out there, having gone through death and come out the other side; they’re here, with me, in my living and dying, having done it before and ready to do it again. They haven’t magically escaped the struggle, the joys, the sorrows, the amazing depth and breadth of experience. They are life, in all its cycles. They are the love that makes the wheel keep turning, that brings new life into the world, that makes going forward possible.

I told someone recently that the only act of faith I have to make in Paganism is the belief that love makes life worth living. That the good times are worth it, worth all the fear and uncertainty and even pain we go through as living beings. I don’t have to believe that deity is going to make good on an open-ended promise in some other world. I have the promise, right here. I am the promise. Every time I find the love in my life that makes it worth living, I am experiencing the promise fulfilled. Every time I act in love, I am making it true, making it real, making it happen for others.

And when I make an open-ended promise with all the power of my spirit – which is a part of the same spirit that is the Lord and Lady – to another being who also has a spark of the same animating spirit, we understand each other. And I know that deity is the support for my promise, the same deity that is in me, and my kitten, and all things. Without fear, without limitations, I can make the open-ended promise, because what I am promising is very simple: I love you. And we will face whatever comes with love. Because we, both of us, are in deity, and deity in us, the same deity which is love. Love makes this life worth living, and you and I will face it together.