Ostara – Seeds of Love

I’m going to start posting a sequence of articles about the Sabbats that I wrote for another website. This entry has been lightly edited to bring it up to date. Please note that this entry in particular was meant to focus on inter-religious connections between Wicca and Christianity for an audience that was not very familiar with Wicca.

In my yoga classes, one of my teachers has been emphasizing the metaphor of resting at the end of a practice as a time of germination. In his words, we choose the seed by setting an intention, then we prepare the soil – the body – by doing our practice, and then we rest and reaffirm the intention, planting it within the body and spirit. After planting it, we have to give it time to germinate, to begin to grow. That waiting period can be difficult, and that’s the way I’m experiencing it this year.

Ostara, the name of the Wiccan celebration of the vernal equinox, comes from an old Anglo-Saxon goddess of the springtime or of the dawn named Eostre. The Anglo-Saxon monk Bede noted that during the process of Christianization in England, the people had transferred the goddess’ name to the new Christian celebration of Easter, which occurred at about the same time as the older spring festival.

The Christian celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred at this time of spring because it was immediately after Passover, the Jewish celebration of the exodus from Egypt. The date of Passover is based on the Hebrew lunisolar calendar, and as a result, Christians celebrate Easter on approximately the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox.

The equinox itself is the time when day and night are of equal length, in perfect balance. Days have been getting longer ever since the winter solstice, of course, but now they finally catch up with and overtake the nights. But the celebrations around this time of year aren’t very much about the sun and moon; they’re actually very earthy, with all the imagery of bunnies and eggs and things growing and bursting forth.

The celebrations are much more about agricultural concerns and very human needs and desires than about where the sun is.  (Of course, this is all from a Northern Hemisphere perspective; in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the autumn equinox, celebrated in Wicca as the harvest festival of Mabon. With such earthy, personal matters, though, I’m going to write from my own perspective.)

Depending on your latitude and climate, Ostara might be the time of preparing the fields, doing the planting, or the time that the first shoots start to show the promise of later bounty. In Wicca’s mythological cycle, these processes are all celebrated at Ostara, along with the cheerfully reappropriated bunnies and eggs.

Wiccan mythology places a lot of emphasis on fertility, both literal and metaphorical, after all, and most Wiccans aren’t shy about the bunnies and eggs being blatant fertility symbols, nor about celebrating the feeling that like the ground and the plants and the animals, our bodies too are waking up after a long winter’s sleep. The larger metaphorical theme of life’s renewal makes the Jewish celebration of being freed from slavery and the Christian celebration of Jesus coming forth from the tomb a natural fit with the seasonal imagery of budding and germination and hatching.

Of course, everybody’s so excited about this – and it is exciting! – but in the flurry of jelly beans and chocolate bunnies and pastel eggs, even nature-oriented Wiccans often miss how much dramatic change is going on. Chicks have to break the shell of their eggs to hatch, and seeds that germinate don’t just break rocks – they have to split their own hull first.

We’re all happy about the increasing sunshine, but sometimes the accompanying changes are harder for us to accept. Sometimes it feels like we’re not just the chick that’s hatching – we’re the eggshell. Or, at least, the shell is a part of our life or our mindset being pecked at and cracked apart, and even if we want the result, the process isn’t easy and it isn’t comfortable.

This is how love works. Love transforms us from the inside out. It makes something inside you swell and move and never give up until it cracks open the old you and something new and full of life emerges.

It’s like when you’ve been having an awful, furious argument, and then the other person finally gets through to you that your comfort comes at the price of afflicting him. The new realization blossoms inside you and splits open your prejudice, your stereotyping, your assumptions, until they fall away like the chaff they are. Your understanding and your empathy and ultimately your love change you, from the inside out.

My teacher is right about the importance of the rest phase, though: usually this process of germination happens much more slowly. There’s another Christian celebration, a less well-known one, that’s actually tied directly to the vernal equinox: the Annunciation, which was a life-changing piece of news for Mary if ever there was one. The process of pregnancy isn’t just about birth: it lasts nine months, and likewise, although germination happens quickly, the growing wheat also takes more than that glorious moment of the hull splitting open to get all the way through to the harvest. But now, at Ostara, we celebrate because we know that process is starting again, and that’s what matters. We know, too, that change in our lives isn’t easy and is rarely instantaneous, but we know that it happens, and maybe we can feel it starting again right now.

The occurrence of the Annunciation in the middle of Lent is one of the few times that the Christian liturgical calendar really seems like a cycle. It’s a reminder that Easter and Christmas are deeply, intimately related. Wicca, on the other hand, characterizes sacred time as explicitly cyclical: the Sabbats make up the Wheel of the Year, after all, and it is constantly turning and constantly coming back to the same points.

We know that the days will become shorter than the nights again at Mabon, but we know that after the Mabon there is also another Ostara coming. That knowledge gives me hope that even when the transformation of love seems to have stalled halfway, when it seems like the shell is too thick to crack, that even then I can believe in the process continuing, and I can work for it and with it.

Ostara is a celebration of the victory of light over darkness, of life over death, of that which is moving and growing over that which covers it up and holds it down. Ostara challenges us to believe that love can make huge transformations and even new life possible. It isn’t easy to believe that. Sometimes it’s hard not to reinforce the shell and ignore the chick, and it’s hard to go down deep into yourself and plant the seeds and nurture them rather than staying on the surface and making more mud bricks to build the Pharaoh’s walls. And it’s even harder to do that for others.

As Mavis Staples sings, “Isolated and afraid / Open up, this is a raid. / I want to get it through to you: / You’re not alone.” We know that germination and hatching have destruction as the necessary accompaniment to change, even positive and amazing change like new growth and new life. We resist that change, often times, even when it comes from people who want to help us. And when we’re struggling through those changes ourselves, and trying to offer help to others, and we keep getting rebuffed, it’s easy to become jaded and give up.

But Ostara teaches me another response: planting seeds. My worship is a way of planting the seed of deity, and deity’s love, within myself. I want deity to grow within me, to transform me from the inside out. And then I want to go out into the world and be a seed myself, a seed of deity’s love that will transform the world from the inside out.

I want to be a chick making a change. Ostara teaches me that even when the shells of intolerance and cruelty and fear seem too tough for me to crack, deity is within me, and within the world, and that deity’s radical, transformative love is how I work in the world, pecking away at that shell, a little bit at a time. And the more that I celebrate deity in myself, and in everyone as I do at Ostara, the more I grow, the stronger I get, to peck a little bit more.

So for now, I’m planting seeds, in myself and in the world, that will grow, with each Ostara, even though there are winters in between. I believe in the chick, and I believe in the seed, and I believe in the love I’m trying to embody. Ostara reminds me that even when it’s scary and transformative, that love is the beginning of new life, of something beautiful and wonderful and worth every bit of effort.

The Omphalos Meditation: an alternative grounding and centering visualization

Grounding and centering is a fundamental part of my practice. It’s often the first thing Pagans and Wiccans learn, and it can be almost deceptively simple: connect yourself with the energy of the world around you in order to come into better balance. It really is that simple, and like many simple things, it really has many layers of complexity hidden within it. I’ve been known to say that it may be the first lesson in Wicca because in some ways it’s the only lesson.

Most of us do this through a visualization exercise, and the most common one is the Tree of Life visualization or something like it. But that visualization is exceptionally difficult for me to do when laying down. When imagining the Tree of Life, the trunk of my body, and especially my spine, become the vertical axis of the tree. I send roots out of my feet and out of my sit bones, and I send branches out of my head and shoulders.

Laying down, when I begin to visualize roots, if I begin to visualize them coming out of my feet (which are not supporting me), those roots make a hard 90 degree turn to go down towards the earth. My branches make a similar abrupt turn out of my shoulders, and the whole result leaves me with the amusing but unfortunately distracting image of a tree trying to get comfortable on a pillow while pulling up its blankets with one leafy branch.

If instead I try to have both roots and branches come out of my center of gravity, I get the unpleasant visualization of having a tree growing through my  middle with only a small area of contact as I am more or less impaled. This does nothing to help me run that energy throughout my whole body; it is frankly counterproductive.

The real problem is that when I’m trying to ground and center while laying down, it’s often because I’m sick. This is a time when I seriously need to ground and center, but also a time when difficult visualization may be beyond my capacities. If I feel so bad that I’m having trouble getting out of bed, then it’s hard for me to hold competing images (I’m laying down, I’m sitting up; my feet (roots) are in the ground, my feet are up on the bed…). It’s also a time that I need to be in my body, to ground and center in my body directly, rather than trying to detach myself and imagine being perfectly healthy and sitting or standing upright. I have to be honest about where I am and what I’m doing if I’m going to ground and center effectively at all.

I’m developing the Omphalos Meditation as an alternative. Omphalos is the Greek for navel (bellybutton), and the idea of there being an omphalos, or navel of the world, which was a sacred site, comes from Greek mythology. Multiple religious artifacts which represented that omphalos have been found, including one which was in the temple of the oracle at Delphi.

The omphalos represents a point of connection. Just as the navel is a point of connection between mother and infant, the omphalos can symbolize the connection between earth and sky, which nurture each other, or between the spirit world which nurtures and sustains life in this world.

As this source and center, the omphalos is also a kind of axis mundi. The concept of the axis mundi as a spiritual center about which the world is organized can be found in multiple mythologies. Whether it’s a pillar or a tree of life, this organizing and connecting vertical axis is a vital symbol. Our Tree of Life meditation is a kind of axis mundi which connects us, orients us, and steadies us.

The omphalos can be kind of axis mundi, marking the center, but instead of insisting on strictly vertical imagery, it is more adaptable. And because it metaphorically echoes the bellybutton, it can easily be used to make a gentle, steadying connection through that part of the body while lying down.

To do the Omphalos Meditation, lean back or lie comfortably so that your center of gravity – which is usually just a few inches down from your navel – is supported. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and steadily.

Draw your attention to your belly, your navel, and its place as the center of your body. Feel it being supported. Imagine it as the top of a pillar which extends down, through your support, becoming wider as it descends. That pillar is formed of your belly, whatever you’re resting on, the ground beneath that, and the ground beneath that. Follow it down as it goes deeper and deeper, becoming wider and wider, until you realize that the foundation of the omphalos is the whole earth itself.

Feel that connection steadying you and supporting you. Draw strength from it as much as you need.

Now see that the pillar below you has a twin, extending upwards from your center and your belly, one made up of air and light, which reaches up from you as far as you can see. The same air that flows through you and moves your belly when you breathe is caressing you from the outside. The earth below you supports you, and the sky above you comes down to meet it, touching gently, meeting in balance at this center point where you are resting.

Draw support from the sky as well, feeling it balance the energy below you. Circulate that energy throughout yourself as you need.

When you are ready, take a final breath, release the images, and open your eyes.

 

Tea and Temperance

Today, I found myself in a Tarot card.

In her excellent book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, Mary K. Greer spends a whole chapter on embodiment. (p183 ff) At its most basic, this means mimicking the posture or body position of the figure(s) on the card in questions in order to get a better understanding of the card. I believe, and more and more science is demonstrating, that we are inherently embodied creatures. Our metaphors like “cold shoulder” and “wash my hands of it” aren’t merely figures of speech – or more precisely, they are figures of speech because they reflect our embodied experiences, which run deeper than we might expect. Studies have shown unconscious physical associations with both of those phrases that directly affect how we perceive and interact with the world around us.

Greer’s example card for this exercise is the Four of Pentacles. While this is usually described as a “miser,” when I sat in the position of the person holding the pentacle in front of her chest and belly, I felt immediately as if I was shielding myself or warding something off. I wasn’t guarding the pentacle – I was using it to guard myself.

Today I had an insightful experience where I realized I was enacting another card: Temperance.

I love tea. I love it so much that I mention it on my “about me” page. But I’m not all that great at being extremely precise and exacting in my tea brewing, especially not first thing in the morning, or when there’s dishes in the sink and it’s easier to use the microwave than the kettle, etc. So most of the time, my tea tastes okay but not great. The universe has evolved a solution to this dilemma, though, in the form of the automatic teapot. I got myself one, and the heavens parted, the light shone down, the household spirits sang in harmony. Now I can drink great tea all the time. It’s fantabulous. (Those who think that labor-saving devices will lead irrevocably to decadence and the decline of civilization, sure, whatever, but at least we’ll be drinking good tea while doing so!)

But it’s also pretty dang heavy. The carafe has the heating element built into the bottom, so when you lift that plus a liter of tea, you’re suddenly handling something that’s not just steaming hot but also heavy for holding in one hand. As I was pouring from the carafe into my mug, I literally felt the transfer of weight between my hands, and noticed how much more comfortable it was to hold them both when they were more balanced.

Suddenly, there I was in the Temperance card, pouring between two vessels. But while most interpretations of this card talk about “mixing” two things, this interpretation was about weight.

A heavy weight is easier to bear when it’s more balanced. And all of you who have reached out to me, even in what you might think are “little” ways, are helping me keep my balance as I’m dealing with some heavy stuff. Thank you.

How CS Lewis Taught Me Astrology

CS Lewis’ fictional descriptions helped me understand the qualities of the five classical planets because he retained pagan elements in the Medieval worldview that he studied and loved.

I have written before about why I prefer other forms of divination over astrology, but for some of my recent lessons in the Order of the White Moon, astrology became important, so I set out to become at least minimally more familiar with it. In the process of doing so, I made a strange discovery: some of my deepest visceral understanding of astrology draws on the work of Christian apologist CS Lewis.

Specifically, it comes from the final book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, an attempt at a sort of sci-fi Christian allegory. At heart, though, Lewis is a medievalist, and like Dante, he has to make space for those virtuous pagans and their ideas that he could not bear to leave behind. (Please note that I use lowercase for classical paganism or what Bonewits described as paleo-paganisms.)

In The Discarded Image, Lewis’ book on medieval cosmology, he says, “Other ages have not had a Model so universally accepted as theirs, so imaginable, and so satisfying to the imagination.” (203) He goes on to admit: “I have made no serious effort to hide the fact that the old Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors. Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree.” (216) While he admits that there is a tiny problem in that the old cosmology was scientifically inaccurate, but being well aware of the changes in scientific ontology and epistemology around the turn of the 20th century, he feels free to use the fall of positivism as a defense for his romantic fascination.

A much more serious concern for him is that the truly classical worldview, rediscovered in the medieval period, was not Christian. He integrates his beloved Model with Christianity by, among other things, characterizing the spirits of the planets as a kind of angel, fitting them neatly into the Great Chain of Being without disrupting its hierarchical structure, following the lead of many thinkers both medieval and modern who concluded that they had found in Christianity the name of the Aristotelian Prime Mover.

The Space Trilogy reads to me as an extended series of musings on how the hybrid vigor of this revitalized (and redeemed?) medieval mythology might play out in today’s world(s). It starts out with establishing the cosmos and Earth’s place in it; the second book reimagines a new creation-redemption myth; the third brings the consequences back to Earth with a quasi-apocalyptic tale that fuses the trippy imagery of Arthur C. Clarke with the assurance of epic meaning through spiritual warfare of Frank Peretti.

Lewis was trying to work with sci-fi, but the result reads more like fantasy kludged with his contemporary technology. Since his protagonist, like himself, is a scholar of languages and liberal arts, neither of them has any interest in the science and the narrative takes pains to spare the reader any potentially boringly-detailed discussions of the technology. Much more interesting are his interpretations of the angelic beings of different orders; he dwells lovingly on the sensations of being near them and speculates about how they might exist, using all the best medieval metaphors, such as “vibrations.”

Throughout it all runs the deep certainty of the apologist and the massively kyriarchical assumptions of the utterly privileged. To me, there is also a whisper of the sense that readers can vicariously enjoy the protagonist’s place at the center of universe-shaking action in lieu of their own frustrated desires to have a more important role in the epic narrative their theology lays out for them. With all of this in mind, I should point out that That Hideous Strength, the third in the trilogy, is a deeply weird book and not one I recommend to the casual reader – but…

For me, Lewis certainly succeeded in his project to bring a deeper understanding of the Medieval cosmology to the modern mind. Near the end of That Hideous Strength, the powers that inhabit the five classical planets descend to Earth, and Lewis chronicles the effects each of them has on a core group of characters. Those accounts stuck in my mind as the most vivid ways of understanding the influences of each of these planets, much more clearly than any information gleaned from the original myths, perhaps because Lewis does write from the human perspective.

Mercury brings puns and “plays upon thoughts, paradoxes, fancies, anecdotes, theories laughingly advanced yet (on consideration) well worth taking seriously…skyrockets of metaphor and allusion.” (318) Lewis’ own allusions to the qualities of literal mercury lead to him describing how “all the fragments – needle-pointed desires, brisk merriments, lynx-eyed thoughts – went rolling to and fro like glittering drops and reunited themselves,” much as is experienced when poetry brings “the counterpoint of the mind, the mastery of doubled and trebled vision.” (319)

Lewis is more sparing in his descriptions of Venus’ effects, sparing the delicate sensibilities of his English readers. We do see that Venus brings warmth, comfort, and sweetness; good scents and a feeling of being rocked on the ocean touch “the inconsolable wound with which man is born.” (320) The effect is one of desire, but holy desire, which can never be fully satisfied in the sublunar realm.

The arrival of Mars stirs discussion of courage in terms that are the essence of British masculinity in the World Wars. The people are unafraid to die, and the martial splendor overwhelms any petty concern with dangers. Interestingly, here Lewis also alludes to Northern European mythology by syncretizing Mars with “Tyr who put his hand in the wolf-mouth.” (322)

Saturn comes next, with cold, the cold of the depths of space where even stars fizzle themselves out into the heat-death of the universe. It is the embodiment of time, “more and still more time, into freezing wastes and silence of unnameable numbers.” (323) This mastery of the depths gives Saturn a kind of immovable strength, but all its power is suffused with sorrow.

Last, in Lewis’ descent of the gods, is Jove. I get the impression that he is placed there because he is the only spirit which can overmaster Saturn, and Lewis is too much of a storyteller to leave readers on the ending without a conclusion that Saturn creates.

Lewis first describes Jove as “one whose influence tempered and almost transformed to his own quality the skill of leaping Mercury, the clearness of Mars, the subtler vibration of Venus, and even the numbing weight of Saturn.”

The further account was the first to make me understand how the adjective “jovial” was originally meant to combine kingly dignity and hearty revelry; Lewis says that under Jove’s influence, “Though you were a cripple, your walk would have become stately: though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously,” (323) and that all the characters feel as if they are at some royal festival.

The vividness and human perspective of these interpretations was what helped most as I was trying to make sense of different planets’ roles in astrology, so I can honestly say that Lewis, bless his Christian medievalist heart, was the first to teach me astrology, and his lessons remain with me today.

This sort of connection through preservation of earlier knowledge is an example of how Neo-Paganism can justifiably count paleo-paganism among its spiritual ancestors; what it means today is what we have to create for ourselves – not even the stars can tell us that.

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.

Shout-outs via the Humane Society

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association awarded Dr. Lori Pasternak  its Direct Practitioner of the Year award. Dr. Pasternak works at the Helping Hands clinic in Richmond, VA, a low-cost surgical and dental clinic. I’ve taken animals to Helping Hands before, and I can’t say enough good things about the clinic and about Dr. Pasternak. I’m delighted to see her getting the recognition she deserves. From the article:

“Surgery happens to be my talent. We should all use our talents to make the world a better place,” said Dr. Pasternak.

Well said!

Second, this month’s All Animals magazine has an excellent feature story on how humans and bears can coexist safely and peacefully. As the tag line reads, these strategies and examples prove “we can live in and with the wild without destroying it.”

Among other things, this article and the ideas behind it are a great example of framing. We don’t, for example, have to accept Bryan Fischer’s framing and metaphors that it’s “humans v. bears.” Environmentalists who accept that framing can potentially end up seeming like they support the bears more than the humans. By reframing the question as one of coexistence – even a potentially difficult coexistence at times – instead of unremitting aggression, a whole slew of different approaches become possible.

Finally, the article also provides some good perspective:

[Fatal bear attacks] average fewer than two per year. More people are killed by bees. By spiders. By dogs. By lightning.

“More people are killed in vending machine accidents,” says Andrew Page, senior director of The HSUS’s Wildlife Abuse Campaign.

These are interesting counter-examples of what fringe Christians don’t tend to interpret when they try to divine their god’s will. As far as I know, Fischer hasn’t yet claimed that a vending machine falling over was a sign of God’s wrath. I really loved C&L’s suggestion of a “wall of separation between church and weather.” Could we extend that to other extremely unlikely imputations of divine wrath such as earthquakes, bird deaths, and bear attacks?

Why the individual mandate is absolutely essential to changing our health insurance model

Skylandia has this great post up about how health insurance is not like car insurance. This is a false equivalency that’s just as bad as the idea that government budgeting is just like household budgeting, and resistance to changing the model puts women at additional risk.

I wish I could put this in front of the legislator who said that women should not get assistance paying for abortion, even after rape, because he makes sure he has a spare tire on his car. False equivalencies and wrong models like this are putting women’s lives and health at risk.

I’d like to take Skylandia’s conclusions one step farther in terms of appropriate comparisons with in the US political system. She says that a closed model – with everybody in – is the appropriate approach for health insurance, because everybody is going to need it at some point. In US terms, this is like saying that health insurance should work more like Social Security – everyone pays in, automatically, and it’s there for everyone (in reality, nearly everyone).

That’s what makes this, as Skylandia says, reliable insurance, and not a bet or gamble, like car insurance is. This is why the individual mandate is absolutely essential to improving health insurance and health care in this country. A public option would have been better yet, but it got killed off by the same people who want to get rid of Social Security. Do you see a trend here?

“Every man for himself” is not the best approach when it comes to health care – especially women’s health care, which is already under-protected.

Handparting isn’t a breaking

In some relationships, divorce (Paganese: “handparting”) is the best option, and for all those who say “But what about the children?!?” I would like to give my personal response: “I only wish my parents had gotten divorced sooner.”

Echidne wrote recently about how people who argue in vague generalities that divorce is bad for children are seldom honest about what alternatives they have in mind. Many of us know from personal experience that some relationships can’t be fixed; do the anti-divorce crowd really think that it’ll be better for children to see their parents angry all the time and fighting all the time? Or worse, that it’s a good idea for children to grow up seeing a marriage that is essentially a loveless, cold, meaningless contract to be endured – for the sake of the child? What do they think children are going to learn about themselves and their potential futures in those situations?

After my parents divorced, my mother and I went to a Presbyterian church for a while. This was 20 years ago, and in less urban areas, divorce was still relatively uncommon and regarded as always a disaster, especially for the children. The church organized a special youth group event for all the kids whose parents had divorced. They sat us all down in a circle and announced that they thought that since we all came from “broken homes,” we might want to talk about that with them and with each other.

We all looked at each other blankly for a minute, and then I spoke up: “I don’t come from a broken home. My home was ‘broken’ when my parents lived together, because they didn’t love each other any more and they couldn’t stop fighting. That was broken. Them getting divorced fixed that. My home now is not broken.”

Several other kids chimed in to agree with me, and the meeting broke up quickly. The youth group never organized another event like that.

As I look back on this, it makes me even more glad that Paganism not only recognizes and sanctifies “non-traditional” love relationships (marriage equality, polyamory, etc.) but that in general Paganism tends to acknowledge that relationships are living things: they develop, they grow, and sometimes, they die. When things die, we acknowledge that. We accept it, although not necessarily joyfully, and we act accordingly.

I love that the Pagan term for undoing a handfasting doesn’t imply that something is “broken.” It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s very acrimonious, but handparting isn’t necessarily a breaking; it can be the start of healing and renewed life, too.

Wiccan Glossary Draft: Things Wiccans read and say

See also: previous installments.

Wiccan Rede – “An it harm none, do as ye will.” Meaning “If an action does not cause harm, it’s up to you to decide if you want to do it.” Commonly quoted as the ethical standard of Wicca; encourages individuals to make choices, take responsibility, and think about the consequences of their actions.

Law of Return or Threefold Law – Idea that the intent or “energy” a Wiccan sends out (in spells, prayers, and everyday life) will be returned to that person with three times as much force. Even for Wiccans who do not believe in a literal threefold return, is sometimes used to express the idea that everything is connected, so doing harmful things is not just stupid, it’s dangerous to yourself.

The Charge of the Goddess – Piece of literature written by Doreen Valiente, commonly used in ritual. One of the few things most Wiccans would agree on considering a foundational text.

The Descent of the Goddess – Piece of mythology and ritual drama originating within British Traditional Wicca. Similar to the myth of Inanna’s descent to the Underworld; told as a story of rebirth.

Blessed be – Blessing and statement of affirmation.

So mote it be – “Mote” is Middle English for “shall” or “must” here. Used as a statement of affirmation, much like “amen.”

Go if you must, stay if you will – Phrase often used in thanking the Powers and/or Quarters for their presence during ritual.

The Circle is open, never broken. May the peace of the Powers be ever in your heart. Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again! – Commonly used as the final statement in a ritual, much like the Aaronic blessing in Christianity. (“The Lord bless you and keep you…”) Sometimes “Merry Meet!” is used as a greeting among Pagans/Wiccans in reference to this saying.

Bright blessings – Common closing to letters and emails.

Divining and Forgetting

Since the new moon falls on the start of the month this time, I’d like to tie together my new moon divination article and my latest meditation article about the skill of forgetting.

I think one of the most difficult positions to learn to interpret in the usual Celtic Cross spread is #8, the way others see you or your situation. By definition, this card doesn’t fit the way you see things. But that’s one of the strengths of Tarot – if we can forget just long enough to consider things from a different point of view.

I wrote a while back about reading ourselves into narratives, or not. Since Tarot provides multiple narratives or snippets of narrative, it challenges us and gives us options; but a querent who sticks too closely to a single (probably predetermined) interpretation of her whole present situation and possible future courses of action isn’t really engaging with the Tarot. She’s just using it to mirror back what is already within herself.

Now, I do think Tarot is a means for self-reflection, but it’s a lot more like the funhouse maze of mirrors, or a kaleidoscope, than a simple flat mirror. It’s supposed to distort our perspective to help us see other possibilities. It’s supposed to help us forget what we know, or think we know, for a little while, and maybe imagine something different, try it on for size, and see how it might or might not relate to our current situations and choices.

Since my style of reading Tarot, and using it for reflection, depends on the querent’s interpretations of the cards and impressions of how the cards relate to or represent parts of her life, there’s a very fine line that I have to walk that involves both eliciting the instinctive, first reactions (“As soon as I saw the guy on the horse, I knew who he was!”) and challenging those ideas to help the querent expand her viewpoint and potential interpretations.

That’s where position #8 comes in. If you haven’t gotten around to the work of trying out other perspectives by this point in the reading, this card is likely to try to smack you pretty hard with a clue-by-four. Of course, the danger there is that the harder it smacks, the more you want to resist, or the more totally incomprehensible you find the intended clue.

That’s why this position is often so hard to understand. Sometimes a good reader can help you; I remember once pointing out to a friend that this position indicated other people thought he was worrying unnecessarily about a decision, that he should go ahead and do what he was thinking about. Another friend and I had been gently saying that over dinner, but seeing it there in the card helped the querent forget, just briefly, about his concerns and try to take our viewpoint.

That approach requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, and it gets even harder because the outside view presented in this card is often inaccurate. People who are seeing your situation from the outside may not have all the information, or they may have particular concerns that are irrelevant to your situation. On the other hand, your own perspective is biased, too. Part of the magic of Tarot as a means for self-reflection is trying to use these differently-distorted images to help you figure out where each one is accurate or distorted, useful or an impediment, sort of like how glasses or contact lenses use distortion to cancel out your own difficulties to help you see better.

Of course, in the funhouse, even when you compare and contrast and combine the images of yourself in the short, fat mirror and the long, tall mirror, you don’t necessarily get an accurate image of yourself. It’s enough to help you see whether you’ve got spinach in your teeth, and whether your friend superglued your ears while you were sleeping, but not necessarily enough to know whether your pants are really flattering or not.

The benefit we get in return for examining these strange reflections of ourselves is that if we can forget, for just a few minutes, about what we know we look like, the wild variety of reflections gives us starting points to imagine ourselves in totally different ways. Maybe you can look tall and distinguished; maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be round as an apple. Maybe that card in position 8 suggests that you shouldn’t always assume the best about your business partner; maybe that idealized image is a suggestion to start cutting yourself a little slack, even if you know you’re not perfect.

It doesn’t have to be perfectly, totally true, just enough to give you a different vision of your current reality and your potential future courses. If you can forget what you know and try seeing things in a different shape, you can open up a whole new range of possibilities. You have to be able to imagine something different before you can start acting on it.