Beltane – Sacred Sex

I’m continuing to republish a series of articles. This one was originally written in 2012.

In addition to the four Elements, on the cross-quarter days of the Wheel of the Year this year I’m going to explore four major themes or concepts that I think are deeply important in Wicca. Please note that Wicca is not the only kind of Paganism that there is and that even within Wicca interpretations vary widely, so this is not authoritative about anyone else’s practices or beliefs. It’s offered as food for thought.

Wicca is not a religion based on a text. Even the forms of worship vary tremendously, with nothing resembling a formal liturgy that is widely accepted or agreed upon. Most Wiccans, though, are familiar with a few important pieces of writing and many use them in ritual at times or consider them important reflections of the religion. The best-loved of these is Doreen Valiente’s The Charge of the Goddess.

The Charge exists in many forms and has been revised over the years by different practitioners. Here is a version by Starhawk, a famous feminist Pagan author. I’ll note that some people use the whole thing, but I personally only use the section from “Hear now the words of the Star Goddess…” to the end. In British Traditional Wicca, the Charge is read at each ritual, and others may use the Charge similarly, especially near Beltane. The reason is simple. One of the most oft-quoted lines of the Charge says:

Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.

In Wicca, sex is sacred. This has a lot of metaphysical connotations: the union of Goddess and God is seen as the source of everything, and stories of that union take many forms. But it’s also about the purely human. Beltane is traditionally a fertility festival, even more so than Ostara, perhaps; as we begin to enjoy the longer days and warmer temperatures of spring and summer, it’s natural to be interested in making whoopee. And as we noted at Ostara, our nonhuman neighbors also tend to engage in acts of love and pleasure with great enthusiasm around this time of year.

But for me, it’s important to understand that this valorization of sex is about a lot more than it can seem. Yes, “all acts of love and pleasure” certainly refers to intercourse, and it also refers to a lot more than that; any loving act of pleasure is included, regardless of the genders of people involved. It doesn’t say “acts of love and pleasure that lead to conception” or even might lead to conception. To me, it’s a bit misleading to say that this is about fertility – unless one expands the concept of fertility to mean a lot more than simply making babies.

One of the ways I like to express this is to say that it’s not as much about having sex as it is about making love. My partner and I make love with each other in all kinds of ways that happen fully clothed and outside the bedroom: he makes dinner, I do the laundry, he gives me a foot rub, and we go to sleep having expressed our love for each other with great depth and passion, just not with “sex” per se. Don’t get me wrong – sex is one of my favorite ways of making love – it’s just not the only one, or the most important one for all situations.

Think also about the meanings of the word “intercourse.” Yes, it is usually used only to refer to sex these days. But historically, its meanings have included what today we might call “dialogue” or “exchange,” where people engage with each other in any number of non-physical ways. To me, these too can be acts of love and pleasure. When two friends have an engaging conversation that leads to the creation of a work of art, I can see that as a kind of non-sexual “intercourse” which has also brought forth something new in the world. And if a work of art has a life of its own, as we often express it metaphorically, then this too is a kind of fertility, of bringing new life into the world.

These expanded ideas of intercourse and fertility make my understanding of Wicca one where sex is sacred not because of sex acts themselves, but because it is one of the most wonderful, vital examples of a whole class of activity – all acts of love and pleasure. Wicca is about connections: connections within nature, connections to deity, and connections between individuals. All acts of love and pleasure that create and celebrate connections between people, especially ones that are fruitful or productive in those people’s lives, are sacred.

This weekend, participated in a ritual that included dancing the Maypole. The Maypole has a long history as a fertility symbol. But what struck me about it, as I steadied the pole and my friends whirled around me, was not the pole itself, but the network we wove as we did so. This wasn’t just about union between two people; it was also about community, coming together to celebrate how our interconnections are important to the fabric of our lives, and how those interactions bear fruit in so very many forms.

And those are what I celebrate this Beltane. Yes, I include plenty of bawdy humor and making love both in and out of the bedroom with my partner, but I also celebrate the ways that I connect with others: through song and story, image and word, through all the myriad interconnections that make my world the vibrant, vital place that it is. One of those is the Slacktiverse, and so I celebrate each and every one of you, too, this season. With that, I wish you many acts of love and pleasure, of many different kinds. Bright Beltane to you all!

Mabon: Jewels and Fruit

Grounding and centering.

I breathe in, and out. I sink my roots down, deeper, deeper. Breathe. Sink. Breathe. Sink.

When I am grounded, deep in the dark, I find the Mother. I spread my hands before her, and my tears spill through, becoming jewels that tumble into the soil.

I know instinctively that they are not for me. These are what I need to leave behind. They are fixed in form, and they need to be returned to her. I look to her to ask what I should take to nurture my soul.

She points to the dirt. And then I see the tiny, hairlike fibers of my roots that quest between the crumbs of the soil, finding the minuscule fragments of nutrients, the miniature droplets of moisture. The fragmentary crystals of minerals and elements that are what I can absorb and turn into something else, something of myself, something living. There are droplets of compassion, particles of patience, fragments that will feed me.

I draw deep; each one is small, but my roots are questing wide and deep, and they quench my thirst and feed my hunger quickly, richly. I draw myself up, pressing upwards, unraveling shoots and branches.

The Father shines down on me. I turn my green face to the sun, asking implicitly what I am to do; I cannot reach so high so quickly. Don’t worry, he reassures me: I am here to help draw you up. He is right, and my branches grow and spread into a gorgeous canopy.

I grow, breathing in air and basking in fire from above and pushing it down to feed even my deepest roots, drinking in water and drawing in nutrients from below and sending them pulsing skyward to provide the raw materials to my highest branches.

In between appear apples, dangling from my branches like drops of fire, like the most precious jewels on gossamer threads, but more beautiful, so much more beautiful as living things that carry within themselves the promise of life.

This is the dynamic balance of Mabon.

Continuing Education for Pagan Clergy

As I crawl out from underneath the summer crud I caught last weekend, I’m starting to put together my continuing education plan for my priestess work. That leads me to ask: what do others’ plans or approaches look like?

For those not familiar with it, continuing education (CE) is a requirement for licensure in many professions. I’ve encountered it primarily in the context of health care professions, where CE credits can be gained from activities like reading a journal article and taking a multiple-choice test, attending a workshop and completing an evaluation, or participating in more traditionally structured classes. A certain amount of CE credit is required for renewal of licenses on a regular basis.

I’m not advocating anything as strict as licensure requirements for Pagan clergy. They’re unworkable in a wide number of ways, not least of which is that ordination or initiation is not something that can be revoked. But I would probably be impressed by an organization that ordained clergy and required them to demonstrate adherence to certain minimal standards in order to remain “in good standing” or current with that organization as long as the standards are reasonable and clearly laid out, etc etc.

Be that as it may, I’m going to try to set some standards like that for myself. Have others done this? How?

In health care, there are a number of goals of CE requirements: keeping up with advances in the field, broadening one’s base of knowledge and skills, and maintaining fundamentals. I think we can analogize most of those to Pagan clergy.

So what should be included? Off the top of my head, here’s a few things that I’m thinking about:

*Advances in the field: Stay aware of current Pagan news through blogs, websites, periodicals; read major new books that come out.

*Broadening awareness: Build my list of resources for people who come to me with problems that aren’t primarily in my domain or that bridge multiple domains, especially things like mental health, violence, abuse, addiction, etc. Attend rituals that are in other traditions or forms and read fundamental texts in other branches of Paganism.

*Maintaining fundamentals: Build on basic skills and knowledge of Paganism/Wicca and related fields through reading and workshops on things like meditation, ritual, magic, etc.

I’m tentatively thinking about creating a set of goals that have a mix of these things that I want to accomplish on a quarterly basis, with some flexibility to allow for the fact that a lot of my face-to-face CE will probably happen at yearly gathering like Sacred Space.

I’m writing about this here because I want to hear about how others have handled this and because I’m hoping that I’ll use my blog as a way to report on my CE work. In health care, a CE credit requires more than just going through the motions or being physically present at a workshop; you have to demonstrate that you’ve accomplished something or acquired knowledge or skills. One of the best ways I can think of to do that is to write about what I’ve studied. And I’m hoping you all will help keep me accountable, too.

So what do you think? What would Pagan CE look like to you?

Holy places

I visited the National Cathedral last week, and I was struck by how odd it seemed to me as a holy place.

Don’t get me wrong; the cathedral is beautiful and well worth seeing and can be a pleasant place to visit. I have been in churches that simply felt malevolent, or at least hostile, whether through their severity, triumphalism, exclusionary nature, or otherwise. None of that was present here. But nonetheless, it felt slightly wrong somehow.

This was an unusual reaction for me, one I didn’t expect. In an earlier part of my life, I had regular occasion to attend a beautiful neo-Gothic church of slightly smaller but comparable scale, and I very much enjoyed it. I have also enjoyed visiting churches and cathedrals with long histories overseas.

Perhaps that’s part of what seemed odd here; the cathedral is in some ways still under construction, most noticeably in terms of repairs necessitated by the earthquake last year. This cathedral uses very old forms but is in fact extremely young, not having been hallowed by the repeated use of decades. But the church that I loved so well earlier was of comparable youth; of course it made a difference that when I attended there I was Christian, and so felt uplifted and included by its awe-inspiring form.

The Cathedral was awe-inspiring, but it was also a huge statement of power, power in its most potent contemporary manifestation: money, or economic power. Now that I’m a member of a minority religion often confronted with the hegemony of Christianity and sometimes discriminated against as a result of that hegemony, that power no longer felt like a natural assumption that could be ignored. Yes, it is a form of these people’s devotion to their god, but it is also an extremely tangible symbol of that fact that so many people have been willing to put so many resources towards this one project over a sustained period of nearly a century. And work on the cathedral is still underway.

It’s a reasonable assumption that the magnitude of that undertaking means that the church could motivate those people to put their resources to work in other ways as well. Economic resources go hand-in-hand with social and political capital. Since this is the relatively liberal Episcopalian church we’re talking about, I don’t find that quite as terrifying as I would if it were a Christian Dominionist organization, but it’s still somewhat nervewracking. The Anglican Communion is still split over marriage equality, for example; I can’t imagine how a queer person who wanted to get married would feel seeing the inside of that building, but I don’t imagine it would be entirely positive.

As a Pagan, though, it also struck me how isolated this worship space was. A Gothic cathedral creates a miniature world all its own within its walls. Even the light of day or night is harnessed through stained glass; the images tell stories in pictoral form, often beautifully, but still separating the viewer from that light. I ended up wondering whether someone who went there regularly would be able to trace changes in the sun’s path over the course of a year. I know in the previous church I attended, I could see some differences based on season, just barely, but wouldn’t have been able to put them together into a regular pattern.

(Two asides: one of the lovely windows was all about Moses and depicted Moses wearing “Egyptian” garb. One person in the tour group commented on that as a surprising choice. The tour guide couldn’t come up with a detailed explanation but said something about how Moses was “basically Egyptian.” He was raised as an Egyptian prince. I was left, once again, wondering how many Christians actually read that book they talk about so much.

On the other hand, the Space Window with a piece of moon rock from the Apollo XI mission is amazing, especially when I think about finding the divine in all of nature, see below.)

But even more than the light, what struck me as odd about the cathedral was how unchanging it is. You can’t tell what season it is, or what the weather has been like lately, or what the near future is going to be like. There are no beings there besides human beings.

In fact, it reminded me a bit of some Christian conceptions of heaven. It’s just people, relating to their god, in an eternally unchanging way.

To me, that’s not about life. That’s something other than life; it might be the highest conception of joy for some, but it verges dangerously close to concentrating so much on the other world that the people involved might not be any use in this world. Now, the Anglicans do a lot of good in the world, and the Cathedral hosts a lot of programs, some of which I’ve enjoyed, so I’m not accusing them of that. But I think it might be why the architecture seemed so weird to me, especially for a holy place.

My understanding of Wicca is about connection. If you look at the roots of the word religion, one explanation is re-legio, reforming the bonds (like ligaments) between….what? Well, between everything: me, the trees, the earth and the Earth, other people, other beings, other animals…everything.

A dear friend said, quite accurately, that nature is my cathedral. It’s where I experience that reconnecting with everything that is. It’s the most awe-inspiring thing I can think of to see and feel and know, deep down, that I am part of this overarching web of being, ever changing and ever living, always different and always connected. Why would I want to shut myself away from that behind stone walls so thick I can’t tell what season it is and glass so colored I can’t see the sun and moon light?

 

Tam Lin: a reunderstanding of desire

If you haven’t heard the Tricky Pixie recording of Tam Lin, go do that. I’ll wait. Really. (Eventually I’ll even edit in the right link, promise.)

Tam Lin is a story and a song that can be told many ways. For me, it might be a revolutionary reunderstanding and reclaiming of desire. I reclaim sexual desire of multitudinous forms even in the face of societal disapproval:

She’s come to the roses growing wild

she’s pulled a single one

when a wild young man appears

and cries ‘O, lady, let alone!

‘How dare you pull my roses out,

How dare you break my tree!

How dare you run in these green woods

Without asking leave of me?’

Says Janet fair ‘this wood’s my own

My father gave it me

And I can pluck myself a rose

Without asking leave of thee.’

This is my new motto: “I can pluck myself a rose / without asking leave of thee.”

QUILTBAG people ought to be able to pluck their roses without asking leave of the state, or, quite frankly, anyone. And if I want to use contraception, or have an abortion, I shouldn’t need to go begging leave. Roses and thorns will sort themselves out without any mortal pretending to superior authority apportioning them. I promise.

Reality’s funny that way, and really, the only way to be in a free relationship with reality is to honestly acknowledge and claim things like desire and love and the many other manifestations of the driving force of the universe.

There might even be a Christian idea hidden inside there. If our bodies are what God the Father gives us – and I don’t subscribe to that notion, but let’s just theorize – then “this wood’s my own, my Father gave it me…” might have tremendous theological resonance. Even if you want to replace “wood” with “hortus conclusus” or something similarly medieval…the conclusion is radically modern in terms of indivIdual rights, even for women, over their own bodies.

Whether you call it authenticity, or desire, or love, or any of its other myriad names, I think that some of the most beautiful pieces of art emerge from explorations of this theme. And if you want to cut off or limit the loving working-out of this moving force of nature, then you are the one who is unnatural, and you are the one driving yourself towards death, and you are the one who simply cannot stop and smell the roses, in your own garden or any other.

For that, I pity you.

Is “gods” part of the problem?

No, I haven’t lost my grammar marbles. I’m wondering whether the using the term “gods” contributes to some of the problems people have with the idea of deities, powers, or what-have-you.

When I was responding to M. J. Hall’s post, I tried to use the term “gods” where she did, but when I talk about my own ideas, I use terms like deities. The word “gods” presents male or masculine type deities as the norm, and female or feminine as the “other.” This is just as wrong as saying “men” when you mean “people.” It explicitly excludes half of all humans. And while the theaological questions of sex, gender, and deity are not simple, this gendered language is still exclusionary.

And while some people like Starhawk use “Goddess” to refer to an all-encompassing idea of the divine (and the divine within nature), I think that’s equally exclusionary and wrong. My partner has difficulty identifying with “Goddess.” I’m not going to cut him out, either.

More than the problems of exclusion, though, I think this gendered language persists because of patriarchy, and I wonder if the history of patriarchal monotheisms continues to shape our ideas of what “gods” might be in ways that are affecting the conversations we have.

In addition to saying deities, I also use the terms “powers” and “spirits.” I’m still sorting out what I think those things mean, and whether they’re different, but I have noticed that when I use these kinds of more open language, it expands the possibilities I can envision for what deities might be like. I don’t automatically assume that deities, spirits, or powers have to be omniscient. Or omnipresent. Or even eternal.

In some ways, I think a lot of polytheistic deities might be similar to what most Pagans would describe as nature spirits. Instead of being the spirit that epitomizes a place, though, they are anchored in a culture, or an idea, or an archetype, or a myth.

These kinds of conceptions of deity lead to entirely different possibilities for understanding power dynamics between people and “powers.” Even when we’re not explicitly discussing gendered power, I think the problems of a monotheistic masculine God as the apotheosis of patriarchal power-over continue to dog our possible conceptions of deity, especially when we continue to use limiting gendered language.

How do issues of gender and power play out in your ideas about spirits? Does it make a difference what words you use?

Rituals of change: Why women’s spirituality can really use Inanna’s story

Trigger Warning: Rape, power abuse within relationships, victim blaming

One of the biggest changes I’ve gone through in my life is re-understanding parts of my relationship with a past partner as not just difficult but fundamentally wrong. As the relationship developed, it became more and more obvious that he was taking advantage of me in oh so many ways. This culminated in intimate partner rape.

Carol P. Christ has come out with a story of her own about a relationship that involved, at the very least, abuses of power. As she relates, understanding what happened to her, in retrospect, involved a lot of changes. Most powerfully, she judged herself for “letting” this happen. She should have known better, she should have recognized it, and so on an on with the internalized victim blaming that is one of the strongest tools patriarchy has ever invented.

What helped her get out of that was ritual, a ritual of self-affirmation of a kind that has a lot of prominence in women’s spirituality because of the sad fact that so many women need it. (Yes, plenty of other people need it too, including for sexual and relationship abuse. I’m not trying to exclude them, only to speak from my own place of experience.) I love that she created her own ritual in her own words. I want to share my similar experience and suggest why the story of Inanna may be especially suited to this kind of ritual re-understanding of self.

When I wrote the “Call to Inanna,” I wrote it with many situations in mind. Almost any kind of facing the darkness and reclaiming one’s power, I thought, could be a motivation for doing this ritual. I had seen a lot of discussion of Inanna’s experiences as an archetype for women and women’s rituals, so I thought I’d create my own version of it. No big deal.

Little did I realize that this was not an accident. As I wrote that, I was in the midst of the process of understanding how wrong that past relationship was, which culminated in me being able to name the worst of it as rape.

That naming was a tremendously powerful, positive experience for me. As soon as I named it as rape, I felt different in my body. I felt safe within my own skin in a way I never had before. By realizing that what happened to me was wrong, that it happened without my consent, I was able to reclaim my rights to myself, to my body, to my ability to choose what I do, with a partner or by myself.

If you want to use these terms, I went straight from “victim” to “survivor.” Those are loaded terms, and I haven’t even begun to engage with the wider discussion on what they mean and how to use them, but that’s how I would use them. I had been a victim in silence for years; when I spoke, I became a survivor.

Along the way, I had learned how wrong it is to blame the victim of rape. She doesn’t give consent by remaining silent. She didn’t give consent by what she wore, or did, or said, or anything else. I’d never applied those conclusions to myself, though; I continued to judge myself and to exonerate my rapist by rationalizing that when I stopped saying no, because it wasn’t doing any good, I had okayed what happened to me. Suddenly I realized that I had never given my consent, and that my feelings of shame and revulsion shouldn’t be directed at myself, but at the person who violated me, my body, and my sense of self.

As I was dealing with this, I thought I might do a ritual to reclaim myself from that experience. Suddenly I realized that I had the answer: as if dropped in my lap from the Queen of Heaven herself, I already had a ritual designed for facing the worst of a past experience, coming out of it, and reaffirming oneself afterward.

So I did. It became in some ways more than just self-affirmation; it became a rite of passage, of empowerment, from someone who had had bad things happen – had maybe “let” them happen – to someone who had had a bad thing happen, yes, but wasn’t defined by that. As I separated responsibility for the rape from myself and identified its true source, my own identity grew and blossomed into a woman with the right to own myself.

This is only my story, but the fact that rape and abuse are such staggeringly common experiences for women is why I think the story of Inanna is so prized by the women’s spirituality movement. That story certainly can be used to understand other harrowing experiences besides rape, and as a spiritual transformation all on its own, but I think a lot of women who have been through experiences like this desperately need stories to help them understand how they became a piece of meat…and then became a person again afterwards.

Missing the point of metaphor

Metaphors aren’t false or true. They’re both at once. That’s the point of metaphor.

Ok, let me back up.

I recently started following John Halstead’s blog, and while so far I have only skimmed the surface of his suggestions for a new taxonomy of Paganism, it seems like he engages with “naturalistic” Pagans a lot. Just that term seems weird to me; are most forms of Paganism not natural enough? Apparently this is at least in part an attempt by some atheist Pagans to differentiate themselves from people who actually believe deities exist.

Sometimes these folks use pagan and sometimes they use Pagan. I’m going to continue to write Pagan with a capital P because it’s important to me as part of getting Paganism recognized as a “real” religion and not just a philosophical stance.

This matters because today John and Star are both talking about a post over at Humanistic Paganism that asks “Why do people want supernatural gods?” The author, M. J. Lee, describes herself as small-p pagan. She admits that she feels animosity toward hard polytheists, and spends the piece weighing the pros and cons of believing in gods, but ultimately she derides people who believe in real gods as being too literal.

Star is understandably angry about this and questions whether a creeping evangelical atheism is starting to claim the p/Pagan label. I don’t think so, but I can completely relate to how she’s feeling. Another post I skimmed over at The Allergic Pagan was engaging with a piece at Humanistic Paganism that was similarly questioning “god talk” in Paganism. I have been quietly annoyed by that approach ever since.

See, I have a loud and insistent internal voice of skepticism. And like most people in our community, I came out of a Christian background with a lot of assumptions about what it means to be a deity, and a lot of assumptions about how people and deities interact. (To quote House, “When you talk to God, that’s prayer. When God talks to you, it’s psychosis.”) I’ve spent a lot of time processing that, and I’m not going to be able to address it all here, but I’ll try to hit a few high points.

Deities don’t have to be omnipotent and omniscient to be deities. That’s a Christian and monotheist misconception. My deities are not. In fact, it’s important to me that Pagan stories describe the relationships between people and deities quite differently. I ended up finding that a very humanistic aspect of Paganism as a functionally polytheistic religion.

But more importantly, I’ve had direct experiences of deities. This is something I continue to struggle with because of that internal skepticism. When people talk about the Goddess telling them something, or Hestia asking them to do something, it’s easy to joke about that, to edge around my own discomfort by falling back on the overculture’s stereotypes and assumptions. But I don’t have that luxury any more. I can’t weigh the values of a humanistic Paganism with no “god talk” vs the values of thinking of deities as more than myths, because at least some of them have made themselves known to me directly.

As a result, I have to allow multiple perspectives to coexist in my head and heart simultaneously. I remain skeptical of each and every contact with deity; I do not take anything on faith. And at the same time, I continue to cultivate those relationships at the same time that I understand deities as myths, and metaphors, and more. I continue to work with other deities who may be “only” myths and metaphors, and I leave those questions open, with multiple possible answers coexisting within myself.

And from that perspective, it can be damned annoying to see someone question whether I am being overly literal because other forms of religious understanding are not “enough” for me. I’m not trying to define atheists out of Paganism. I will happily do ritual with people who think deities are “only” metaphors, as long as we can all agree on the basis for the ritual and our practices within it.

But to me, M. J. Hall’s piece doesn’t look like an attempt to understand Pagans who believe in deities from their own perspective. That’s a charitable interpretation, but she’s framing the question entirely within her own understanding rather than trying to cope with what are two potentially incommensurate frames. Similarly, The Allergic Pagan’s subtitle is “My search for the sensible transcendental.” But the transcendental isn’t always sensible, by its very nature. There is no opportunity for me to answer Hall’s question by saying, “Because I know them.” There is no place for me to describe the entirely un-sensible experience of having contact with deity.

And yes, Star is also understandably upset that some people are taking small-p pagan and running with it in a way that seems designed to justify each and every thing said by the fringe Christians who want to “fight the green dragon” and deride everything from Earth Day to recycling as bizarre “pagan” rituals. The folks trying to be “humanistic pagans” may not want to be recognized as engaging in religion at all; while I can respect that, it comes across to me as undermining all the work that has been done to get Paganism, big P, recognized as a “real” religion. The Pentacle Quest, for example, is just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m not trying to be literalist or fundamentalist; since I have multiple perspectives within myself, I can certainly coexist with others who have other perspectives within the same religion, if we want. But Star is right that people who are aggressive about proselytizing a- or non-theistic understandings can seem to be trying to undermine and even deride religion, and it’s worth examining whether they are part of the same religion or of an allied philosophical movement or something else entirely.

I don’t know where M. J. Hall falls in all of that, and I’m not going to try to guess based on one snippet of writing. But what is clear to me is that she fundamentally misunderstands the idea of metaphor, and I think that’s part of the problem here. Her conclusion seems to be setting up people who believe in “real” deities as separate from people who believe in deities as metaphors. She even talks about “true or false metaphors.” That’s an incoherent phrase.

Metaphors aren’t true or false. They get their power from being both true and false, all at the same time. I don’t see deities as either “real,” powerful, interventionist beings or else “only” myths. I have seen, and continue to see, and to relate with, deities that partake of both, and may even shift back and forth. To me, this is the real challenge of being Pagan: existing in the midst of this complexity, of myths and metaphors and old stories and new stories and….

To quote my friend Hecate, it’s all real; it’s all metaphor; there’s always more. That’s where the magic happens.

The love of the body

Brigid's Cross Tattoo

…if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you shall never find it without.
-Doreen Valiente, The Charge of the Goddess, Starhawk’s revision

One of the things that neither of my parents really passed on to me was the love of the body. That’s partially because they were both raised in fairly grim Protestant sects which always distrusted the body when they did not outright disdain it. Moving away from that was part of what drew me to Paganism and to Wicca in particular. But I still find that there are lots of Pagans and Wiccans who spend more time getting away from their bodies – whether it’s in meditation or trance journeying or astrology – than being in their bodies, loving their own bodies, loving themselves.

I just recently got my first tattoo: a Brigid’s cross on my shoulder.

Brigid's Cross Tattoo

Tattoo by Paul Roe at Britishink. Image by blogger; please do not reuse.

Tattooing has a history of being a shamanic practice in the broad sense of the term, a practice that is a purposeful spiritual transformation for the person going through it. I certainly think that taking my matron’s symbol into me – into my flesh, literally – is having a deep effect on me in ways I couldn’t expect. Right now, it’s taking my love of my body to a whole new level. I’m experiencing the love of the body in way that’s very joyful. It’s not at all the grim calorie-counting, crunch-requiring kind of self-hate that is prevalent in our society, especially among women subject to the pressures of commodification. My sensuality is cranked to eleven. I’m making “healthy” choices for myself without guilting myself into them for the first time because they feel inherently right in my flesh in a way they never have before. So do the pleasures! As a result, I’m living, and moving, and acting so much more vibrantly, being more aware and more present, that it’s simply amazing.

This is a kind of mingled wild desire and joy that I have seldom experienced before; it’s Beltane, all right, Beltane coming calling in my own person, heralding the turning of the Wheel, helping me celebrate it in new ways. It’s my matron’s healing and forging and poetic inspiration deeply immanent within me. It’s the love of the body.

How are you experiencing the love of the body?

More proxy Mormon rites: Jefferson and Hemings?

Trigger Warning: Rape

Like proxy baptisms, Mormons also perform proxy “sealings” – what most people would call a wedding or handfasting. It turns out that plenty of historical figures have had this rite performed for them, including Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings.

An article at Slate points out

The nature of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship has been one of considerable historical debate. Could love actually pass between the most influential man in America and a mixed-race slave he owned? Could Hemings genuinely consent to Jefferson’s sexual advances? Could she really say no? Because slaves were denied control over their bodies, what went on between Hemings and Jefferson—and, of course, countless other slave masters and slaves in antebellum America—is rightly regarded by most as abusive. Perhaps on rare occasions these sexual acts involved true mutual intimacy; but because of the inherent power dynamic, today we’d consider this sex forced. We’d call it rape.

Sealing a slave master to his slave is at least as troubling as the baptism of Holocaust victims, the practice of which the LDS Church has officially condemned.

I’ve been raped by an intimate partner. I’ve been through the murky confluence of consent and coercion, not as badly as a slave, obviously, but badly enough that I can say this is reprehensible. Consent belongs to each person, and each person alone. This isn’t just like rape apology, this is rape apology.

And I’ve heard the explanations: this is an act of love, it’s not binding unless the souls involved want it to be so, etc, etc, etc. To which Joanna Brooks has a pretty good reply:

But one element that has consistently gone missing from conversations I’ve witnessed in LDS circles is the acknowledgment that other religious traditions also have theological views of memory, the afterlife, and the connection between the dead and the living. From these non-Mormon perspectives, Mormon posthumous rites appear as a presumptuous claim on humanity’s dead.

The Slate article also has an example of a proxy baptism rite that I would have no problem with: two young Mormon men died before being baptised, so they were baptized posthumously by proxy. Fine; we have good evidence that this was what they wanted while they were alive. I’m glad it was a healing experience for the families involved.

But no one, NO ONE, gets to tell me who I’m linked to for all eternity. When done that way, it’s not an act of love. There is no way that Mormons can in good conscience refuse to acknowledge that others have different views of the afterlife and that acting as though they have a lock on both metaphysics and sexual consent is disrespectful to everyone who disagrees – dead and alive.