RD on Americans and their cars

After I mused about how Asphaltia’s influence spread along with the interstate highway system, it is interesting to see Religion Dispatches picking up on a related theme. The piece describes Michele Bachmann’s promise to return gas prices to $2 a gallon as tapping into some of Americans’ self-constructed myths about the sacred and the self:

The federal highway system — the real America — on the other hand, operates as widely dispersed, center-less system for individual travelers on separate routes, an enactment of the American protestant primordial act: the prioritizing, centering and sacralizing of the individual in pursuit of their own happiness.

I would argue that although Paganism is about connection, at its best, it tries to balance the individual and the group, prizing both and the connections between them. This is why grounding and centering can be a group act as well as an individual one. What do you think? How do Pagans construct their myths of the center, the sacred, and the self, and how do they relate to this idea of cars and travel?

Contemporary Deities: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or, What Would Buffy Do?

This is a guest post by Ka Wahine Ahi, High Priestess in the Order of the White Moon and foundress of the Sisters of the Rising Moon school.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go.  I happened to catch an episode while flipping channels.  It was entitled “The Witch” and I was totally awestruck by this teenage girl who could take charge, kick ass and save the world.  Her merry band of Scooby friends, as her support network and co-ass kickers, added the right balance of personalities and emotional intensity to the show.  Following the heroic exploits of our beloved Buffy rose close to the level of religious devotion for me.  Friends and family knew better than to call on Tuesday nights from 8-9 p.m.!

I was thrilled and inspired to find a young woman who was tough enough to survive the onslaught of vampires, demons and zombies, while remaining a vulnerable, sensitive human being.  And, she was no dumb blond.  All in all, she was everything that I could have wanted in a female superhero.

By season four, I was a devoted fan.  Her role as the Slayer began to take on larger meaning for me.  What if we were all “slayers” in our own ways?  We didn’t have to fight supernatural critters, but, we could fight wrongs that were in our own sphere of influence.  Buffy became a role model for me.  No, I didn’t patrol cemeteries brandishing a nice, pointy stake in my spare time!  She had qualities that I aspired to attain for myself.  A constant theme on the Buffy fan sites was “WWBD?  What Would Buffy Do?”. I started to consider that in practical ways, like, she wouldn’t back down from a challenge or a difficult situation, and she’d find a way to overcome the forces of evil with a sense of humor, style and backup from her friends.

In Episode 77, “Primeval,” Buffy annihilates the Big Bad, Adam.  As Buffy faces off with Adam, the gang performs an “enjoining spell” to add their strengths to hers in order to make her stronger.  Here’s the spell from the script.

The power of the Slayer and all who wield it.
Last to ancient first, we invoke thee.
Grant us thy domain and primal strength.
Accept us and the power we possess.
Make us mind and heart and spirit enjoined.
Let the hand encompass us. Do thy will.
Spiritus… spirit.
Animus… heart.
Sophus… mind.
And Manus… the hand.
We enjoin that we may inhabit the vessel, the hand…
daughter of Sineya…
first of the ones…
We are heart…
We are mind…
We are spirit…
From the raging storm…
We bring the power of the Primeval One….

Buffy, super-empowered, speaks in Sumerian:

Sha me-en-den. Gesh-toog
me-en-den. Zee me-en-den.
Oo-khush-ta me-ool-lee-a
ba-ab-tum-mu-de-en

Several years later, I began serious study and exploration of Wicca, as it became obvious to me that Goddess was the way to go.  As I progressed, I found an article online about Chaos Magick and using all sorts of interesting characters in ritual, from Star Trek to Bill the Cat to Bugs Bunny.  I had a “Eureka!” moment.  Why couldn’t I call on Buffy, the Slayer, as Goddess?  Why couldn’t I call on the Power of the Slayer to empower me when I need it?  It was so obvious!

As the Scoobies used the enjoining spell to empower Buffy, I used the Sumerian chant as my personal empowerment spell.  I called on Buffy the Vampire Slayer to instill in me the Powers of the Slayer, grant me the strength, courage and sharp mind to conquer the undertaking that faced me.

I have continued to use the chant as my own personal empowerment spell.  It has found a special place in my book of ritual and in my spiritual practice.  I also consider the Scooby Gang as representatives of each of the Elements, as in the enjoining spell, and have called the quarters with Willow, Xander, Giles and Buffy.

Not long after this spiritual breakthrough, I found a pendant online for sale.  It was very simple.  It was oval-shaped, made of pewter, enameled in red.  There was a raised cross in the center, and in each of the angles formed by the cross were the letters WWBD.  I could hardly resist!  (And, I got the replica of the Sunnydale High School ring too!)

I wear this talisman for empowerment and inspiration.  When I’m in a difficult situation and it seems that there’s no way out, I consider the inscription on the pendant.  What Would Buffy Do?

Note: Script excerpt from buffy.wikia.com.

Contemporary Deities: Asphaltia

Names and titles: Asphaltia, Our Lady of Traffic, Changer of Stoplights, Who Bestows Parking Spaces.

Symbols and correspondences: Good luck charms hanging from rearview mirrors, especially bells or chimes as representatives of Air, Element of movement and travel

Offerings or ways to worship: Incense, either beforehand to ask for a safe and smooth road trip, or promised in the midst of difficult travel and lit to her afterwards – do not stint a promised offering!

 

I think Asphaltia first started to take shape in my mind when my partner’s parents gave us a good luck charm for the rearview mirror of our car. It’s a Celtic cross with small bells hanging below it. When a really bumpy patch comes up, the bells can jingle surprisingly loudly, or bang repeatedly against a parking tag. LitSpouse announced once that he was going to take the bells off, and I told him equally quickly that no he wasn’t, because the bells were the Pagan part of the charm, since they invoked the Element of Air.

I knew that I made that connection in part because of Hermes, god of travel and communication, in the ancient Greek myths, who was clearly associated with air. But Hermes didn’t seem to fit, in my mind, with the rather unique spirit of car travel today. Automobiles and especially highways are uniquely recent means of travel. It was in thinking about interstates, urban roads or highways, and, yes, traffic, that the name Asphaltia occurred to me.

I think Asphaltia’s origin myth has a lot to do with heat, for all that she’s mostly associated with air. The vulcanization of rubber and the development of asphalt concrete, both heat-dependent processes, were necessary steps in the evolution of today’s car-centric transportation culture in the US. I think she became more firmly present in the US through the spreading construction of the interstate highway network; I imagine it as the flow of Asphaltia’s spirit across the land.

Part of that spirit may be uniquely American, or at least have some some American-specific features here. I’ve been to Europe just enough to know that the transportation culture there is quite different. The most interesting example of this was the way roads in Ireland are marked: with destinations rather than road names. The roads have names or numbers, and some major highways (interstate equivalents) are referred to by name, but nearly always with a destination attached. Something like “I-395 south” wouldn’t be a reasonable description there; even on a major highway sign, it would list the name of the next primary population center, and would tend to omit the directional descriptor. All the small road signs that I saw gave “To [placename]” rather than the name of the road.

One possible conclusion I drew from this was that in the US, a road is a place in and of itself; you can be “on the road,” and if someone calls me while I’m in the car and asks me where I am, I would normally give the name of the street as the first response: “I’m on 295” is a perfectly reasonable statement here. Depending on context, I might go on to add details about direction and/or destination, but roads are places to be.

I got the impression that in Ireland roads are not places to be in any important sense. You’re always going somewhere, and you would describe yourself as in between origin and destination. This approach treats roads as inherently liminal. It makes more sense in a country where it would be unusual for a road trip to last more than a few hours, and even a very long road trip might only take two days. In the US, I have regularly made road trips of six or eight hours; those involve an entire day, and so it’s more natural for me to have an idea of place attached to that situation of traveling. I’ve also been on a cross-country drive, which took a week but could easily take ten days.

In some way, transitory can be a persistent state of being in the US. With the development of the interstate network and the economic adaptations that cater to it – notably fast food and motels – we have in some ways created a specific sub-culture in which the liminal state of travel is considered completely normal.

At any rate, I think these things contribute to Asphaltia’s current situation, especially in my own life. Since her name occurred to me, she has taken on a more definite character, and while she can be hard to understand, she’s not exactly capricious. I imagine her as being just as frustrated by traffic jams as we are; when I’m in one, I try to focus on visualizing the roads as a free-flowing network, with air or water coursing through them, and I blow out a calm breath to will it to be so.

Contemporary Deities: Eris and Weasel Wicca

I’m going to feature some pieces and guest posts further exploring contemporary deities. If you’ve got one to suggest, please write to me at literatahurley at gmail.

One of my favorite examples of a ha-ha-only-serious approach to religion is Weasel Wicca, self-described as “a toon trad.” While this is not just about a single contemporary deity, I think it is a great instance of the contemporary understanding of Eris (or Discordia, goddess of chaos) that has emerged in the last half-century. There are also Discordianism and the whole meta-schema of Chaos Magic, but those are both too big for me to tackle here, so I’ll stick to Weasel Wicca for now.

On the other hand, the description of Weasel Wicca does mention Galanthus, saying she was turned into a weasel for lying to Juno. I didn’t find any examples of this myth on a quick search, so maybe a reader can enlighten me: was this an old myth that is seldom mentioned, or is it a new myth? Either way, Galanthus might count as a contemporary deity.

The most interesting thing about Weasel Wicca, though, is that it is in fact a well-thought-out approach to Wicca; it has a myth of its own and a thoroughly adapted ritual, with the major Wiccan components easily recognizable but also uniquely reinterpreted: invoke East by squeezing the squeaky toy, invoke South by hiding the matches, and so on.

Weasel Wicca also perfectly captures the attitude of every person I’ve ever met who lived with a ferret. The trad is designed for them, and as such I think it’s a great example of how we adapt and invent myths and rituals to suit our times and circumstances.

In that spirit, grab some holy Fhood and Bhooze, or not, and with the acceptance that “reality can always use a little bending,” as Weasel Wicca puts it, let’s talk about contemporary deities.

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.”