Respect and Consent

Getting consent for spiritual practices – even ones that I might regard as inherently “harmless,” like Reiki – is a matter of basic respect for others.

Some time ago the Slacktiverse had a post about the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead and the tension between that and respect for the beliefs of the deceased. A very active conversation ensued; after reflecting on that, I became much more convinced that consent for spiritual practices is absolutely essential.

After someone defended the Mormon practice from multiple perspectives, I finally went into great detail about exactly how and why I find it extremely offensive. I don’t care if it’s an “invitation” or something equally innocuous; it goes against everything I believe in, the way I live my life, and what I want after I die.

There are lots of people who feel the same way I do. In particular, Jews have been especially horrified at the Mormons’ blithe misappropriation of genealogical information for this purpose. The suggestion of posthumously baptizing Anne Frank is adding insult to injury.

A recent post on Religion Dispatches highlights one way that some people have chosen to protest this: All Your Dead Mormons Are Belong To Us. Playing on the LDS aversion to gays, a website allows people to “convert” deceased Mormons into gays and lesbians. Though this is obviously ineffective, it highlights the disrespect for individuals’ control over their own lives inherent in the proxy baptism process. The author explains,

Finally, though, there’s the weird fact that we Jews are offended by Baptism of the Dead even though we don’t believe in it. I assume none of my fellow Israelites really believe that because someone puts a dead person’s name in a jar, that person is really converted to another religion. In other words, we’re offended by something that we don’t think even exists.

Of course, what we’re really offended by is that some living person somewhere thinks that this is okay to do, using the names of our deceased and our historic heroes. It’s not offensive because their belief is efficacious; it’s offensive because of what it reveals about their intentions and attitudes toward people we hold dear.

Come to think of it, that’s true whether the people in question are dead Jews or living gays.

There’s the rub. That’s why I won’t do Reiki or magic for people without consent: others may find the idea of contact with Reiki or Goddess or whatever to be as distasteful as I imagine contact with the Mormon ideas of the divine to be. I don’t have to agree with that position, I don’t even have to understand it, but I do have to respect it.

Some people, especially Reiki practitioners, like to say that they send energy without consent but with the caveat that the person’s “higher self” will have to give consent for the Reiki to be effective. I have several objections to that; most important is the question of why the practitioner doesn’t have consent. Is it because you’re afraid to ask, because you think the person would say no? In that case, what makes you think the “higher self” will accept? Isn’t that implying that the “higher self” is really fundamentally different from the person herself?

TW: Rape apology

Ultimately, the explanation that “the person said no, but the higher self said yes” is identical to a certain kind of rape apology: “She said no, but I knew deep down she wanted it.”

End TW

Ultimately, doing magic or sending energy without consent shows that you think your need to do this thing is more important than my right to control my own life. It’s treating me as an object for you to act on. That is one of the worst forms of disrespect and is entirely antithetical to the principles and beliefs I hold dear.

Spring in the Garage

I live in a deeply urban area; the buildings are several stories tall, parking is hard to find and often underground, and I have to drive to find a green space that I can’t see across. But as I was going to my car in the underground garage, the house sparrows that live there were singing up a storm, and the sound spoke of the onset of spring.

This wasn’t just a reminder that nature is “out there” somewhere in a pristine wildness independent of the urban density. This is my nature; this is my world, my bit of earth, my ecosystem. When I ground and center, tendrils of my roots twine around the rails of the Metro; I notice changes in the seasons in terms of the shops and businesses on my daily walks as well as in the plants and animals. I know the people at nearest stores, and waving a greeting to them gives me a sense of home just as checking in with the nearest trees does.

My home area is a wonderful example of the way that “nature” and “human areas” are not mutually exclusive; they are everywhere interpenetrating, coexisting and adapting, competing, cooperating, and thriving.

One of my friends was writing recently about how some people see anything that they don’t control as “weeds” or “vermin,” that is, things that need to be eliminated. I know some people think that way, but I simply can’t wrap my mind around it; it’s impossible for us to “control” our environments completely, even in the most monitored and managed areas. The house sparrows are a reminder of that, too – they love to live in conjunction with humans.

It’s true that most of the plants around here are cultivated, landscaped or manicured, but that doesn’t mean they’re controlled. They have their own lessons to teach me as spring starts to break out all over.

The plants around here are living within limitations; they grow and bloom, but they’re trimmed, too, shaped and directed in ways that they don’t get to choose. Even within those limits, though, they don’t just survive: they thrive. They live, fully and extravagantly, and even when they come up against those limits, they don’t let it stop them. They adapt, they cope, they manage, they deal. And frequently, they surprise us with the creative ways they do so; spring’s resurgence of vitality simply can’t be contained completely.

This is something I need to be reminded of, because I’ve been coming up against hard limits rather frequently lately. I need to know that it’s possible to be verdant and vital even while constrained.

The sparrows and the plants show me, over and over again, that life can find a way, and life will find a way.

So mote it be.

 

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.”

“Breaking Curses” a fundamental characteristic of “Apostles”

We’ve been hearing more and more about the New Apostolic Reformation lately, led by “apostles” such as Cindy Jacobs, John Benefiel, and C. Peter Wagner. In a book by Wagner about what it means to be an “apostle” today, he lays out “12 characteristics displayed by many (if not most) apostles,” although not all “apostles” have all twelve characteristics.

Number eleven on his list is “Breaking curses of witchcraft,” and in his explanation of a Biblical example, he equates witchcraft with divination and demonic possession. Number ten on his list is “Casting out demons,” by the way, so these ideas are intimately related in this present-day “apostle’s” mind.

Things get even more interesting when I read the actual Bible verses cited as examples of “breaking curses of witchcraft.” In the first one, Acts 16:16-18, a female slave who is possessed by a spirit that allows her to do divination, from which she earns money, follows the Apostle Paul and his companion around, announcing that they are exactly who they say they are: servants of “the Most High.” She urges people to convert to Christianity. Finally, Paul becomes annoyed and casts out her demon.

The message I take from that is that today’s “apostles” are supposed to be aggressive even towards people who claim to be Christian or to be working for the same goals. They are supposed to turn on their allies and coworkers if those people are doing things in an unacceptable way. They will even deprive their allies of a livelihood. I can’t help but think that this is also another example of misogyny: a female slave can’t be allowed to upstage the Apostle Paul, even if she’s telling the truth.

So if you’re Christian but you think a Magic 8 ball or even, gasp, Tarot cards (full of Christian symbolism) might be acceptable, think again. And if you do divination for money, especially if you’re a woman? Forget about it. The NAR are explicitly announcing that they are coming for you.

The second instance, Acts 13:8-11, is when Paul is trying to convert a local government official, but the local “sorcerer” is trying to prevent it. Paul responds by cursing the sorcerer with blindness. Of course, the government official converts, because he sees how powerful the Christians are.

This is the model the NAR wants to follow. This is their stated goal: offensive spiritual warfare with real, physical consequences.

Edited to add: To clarify, I don’t think their spiritual warfare is going to cause physical harm. But they do, and they want it to, and we should take that seriously. If they don’t get the results they want through curses, they might take more direct action.

They certainly want to use government to enforce their narrow subsect of Christianity. That’s what DC40 is all about. And don’t think this is solely about spiritual issues: very few people are talking about it, but their prayer networks in every state could easily be converted into networks for taking political action. Now that Perry has officially joined the Presidential race, I believe those networks and their involvement in “The Response” are intended to be a part of his campaign.

In the face of this effort, it is vital for us to work peacefully to protect our rights in all the ways available to us.

h/t to Right Wing Watch for the book excerpts

Kore and the Eleusinian Mysteries: A Tarot Spread to Encounter Persephone

I’ve finished Level 2 of my studies with the Order of the White Moon! Here’s my goddess project for this level. It’s also in the OWM Goddess Gallery with images.

The rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries centered on the worship of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. In the context of the Mysteries, Persephone was known by the title Kore, which means simply “Maiden.” Although the exact details of how Kore was worshipped in the Eleusinian Mysteries have been lost, you can use the Tarot spread in this project as inspiration for your own encounter with the goddess.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were a series of rituals that culminated in mystical initiation; they were held in and near the Greek city of Eleusis, a day’s walk from Athens, from approximately 1500 BCE to 392 CE. Even though the Mysteries endured for almost two millennia and attracted initiates from across the Hellenistic world, we know surprisingly few details, because initiates took a sacred vow of secrecy. We do know that they focused on the worship of Demeter and Kore. Reconstructing the Mysteries is a tricky process of interpolating the gaps in archaeological evidence with what we know about the myths of Demeter and Persephone/Kore. Since the myths themselves are many-layered and often conflicting, mythologists can end up going in circles.

One theory, advanced by authors following the lead of C. G. Jung and Karl Kerenyi, holds that the Mysteries included a ritual drama.  Initiates may have witnessed or even participated in a reenactment of Demeter’s search for Persephone after her abduction by Hades. The drama may have been drawn from the story as told in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter or the Orphic hymns, although there are multiple theories on exactly which parts of the many interlocking stories were told and how the drama had such a significant effect on the initiates. [1]

A second major theory emerged from scientific investigation into entheogens and their historical use. A ritual drink, the kykeon, was consumed during the Mysteries; ethnomycologists speculate that the kykeon may have been a hallucinogen. The kykeon, was made from barley, and barley can harbor the ergot fungus, which has been shown to produce chemicals related to LSD.  [2] This theory is improbable, given the difficulties of creating a safe and reliable hallucinogen with the technology of the day, especially since ergot is often poisonous. Extraordinary experiences were part of mystery cults, but any trance or ecstatic states were likely achieved through more reliable spiritual technologies such as fasting, dancing, and disorientation from sensory overload by sudden light and loud sounds. [3]

The most intriguing speculations have to do with the results of the ritual: many authors throughout the time of the Mysteries attested that initiates were unafraid of death. They reported that initiates were assured of having a special place in the afterlife which was much more pleasant and joyful than the rather dull and dreary existence led by the shades of the uninitiated. Since Persephone ruled as Queen of the Underworld, it made sense that she could provide special privileges for those who were devoted to her in life. [4]

We do know that large fire was lit in the main building on the night of the initiation. [5] One possibility is that in the climactic ritual, this fire may have been used in a symbolic way to make the initiates immortal, as the Homeric Hymn tells us Demeter tried to do with the infant Demophoon (whom she cared for while Persephone was missing). [6] Another possibility is that the rites were connected with an assurance of rebirth, since Persephone is also described in the Orphic hymns as “parent of the vine,” that is, of Dionysos (also called Zagreus and Euboleus), who died and was reborn multiple times in myth. [7]

The worship of Demeter and Kore was not just about the afterlife, though; another symbolic interpretation of the myths is that Kore is a personification of grain crops, literally the bread of life. One of the few statements we have about what went on at the Eleusinian Mysteries is that a single stalk of grain was exhibited, and even if that account is not reliable, Demeter and Persephone are both often shown with grain as their symbol or as as their gift to humankind. [8] Similarly, Hades, the god of the underworld was alternately known as Ploutos, the wealth-giver, who carries the cornucopia as a symbol of his relationship to abundance not just in terms of minerals below ground but also fertility above it. [9]

In the older Greek tellings of this myth, Persephone actually spent the summer underground, not the winter. In the Greek climate, grain was planted in the fall, grew over the winter, was reaped in the spring, and was stored for summer, often underground. Winter, not summer, was a time of growth and fertility. The heat of summer was seen as less lively and more dangerous, and summer was the military campaigning season. In contrast, winters were mild and rainy, and the time when growth was most abundant.  Kore is now thought of as a spring goddess, because retellings of the myth were adapted to fit other climates. However, the Eleusinian Mysteries echo the original Greek ecological rhythms. The  Mysteries were celebrated at the end of September or beginning of October, corresponding with the fall planting. [10]

One of the best introductions to the Eleusinian Mysteries is the first chapter of Hugh Bowden’s Mystery Cults of the Ancient World, where he describes the Eleusinian Mysteries as the most famous and best-known of all mystery cults. Bowden accepts that we cannot know precisely what occurred, but gives many details about the rituals that can be known, especially from relatively recently unearthed archaeological evidence. The festival was preceded by priests and priestesses of Eleusis going to Athens, taking with them sacred objects, hiera, in baskets. These objects were not shown to the uninitiated, and although we can speculate that they may have been statues or symbols such as a stalk of grain, we do not know for sure.

The festival started in Athens itself, where initiates had to go to the shore to wash themselves and a piglet in the ocean and then sacrifice the piglet. A few days later they walked in a processional to Eleusis, carrying the sacred objects back with them, and entered the sanctuary, where they rested and drank the kykeon. The secret initiation ritual took place at night, and the euphemistic descriptions of it usually separate it into three parts: things said, things shown, and things done. Of these, the things shown were the most important part. This was when the sacred hiera were exhibited, and the primary priest who showed them to the initiates derived his title from the role: he was the hierophant, he who makes the hiera appear.

This sacred vision, made possible by the large fire, is emphasized as the central part of the initiation by descriptions of initiates as those who had seen the Mysteries. This worship of Kore revolved around an encounter with her, coming face-to-face with the goddess through ritual, rather than on beliefs or explanations. Bowden suggests that initiates developed their own understandings of what they had seen and experienced, which helps explain the overlapping and even conflicting profusion of myths. This process of meaning-making is similar to the way we interpret a Tarot reading by reflecting on it to construct a coherent meaning in a particular context, adapting our understanding and the cards’ images to fit together smoothly.

This Tarot spread takes the form of a stalk of grain and can be an image for you to contemplate as you strive to connect with Kore. It could be done at the beginning of your relationship to her, to gain insight into ways you might try to get to know her better, or to gain insight into a past experience where you felt her presence in your life. Each position is named after something related to the Eleusinian Mysteries, indicating roles the cards can play in your experience. This spread is not as much about divination or understanding the future as it is a way to begin to have an encounter with the goddess. If you want to invoke her promise of guidance in the afterlife and potential for rebirth, light a candle, or better yet, do this reading by firelight.

Positions in the Kore spread

   9
6     8
   7
3     5
   4
   2
   1

1 – Offering: This card may symbolize what you need to give up or leave behind you as you begin your metaphorical journey. It may also be the thing you will do (rather than something to stop doing) to make an offering to the goddess.

2 – Procession: This card represents something that separates your everyday life from your experiences of encountering the goddess (future or past). It symbolizes both the way initiates plunged into the ocean and the long journey on foot to Eleusis afterwards.

3 – Torch: Something or someone who lights your way as you travel appears in this image. This may be closely related to Hecate, who helped bring Persephone back from the Underworld.

4 – Kykeon: Like the ritual drink of barley-water, this card is something that you take into yourself which is unique to your encounter with Kore, possibly something that takes the place of what you gave in offering.

5 – Basket: Representing the baskets in which secret sacred objects were carried in procession, this card holds an image of something that may have a meaning unique to you. What do you take with you to encounter the goddess?

6 – Things said: Interpret this card in the context of a communication that reflects a part of the mysteries of the goddess.

7 – Things seen: This is an experience that was part of the mysteries. Ask yourself how others have played the role of the goddess to you.

8 – Things done: Let this card inspire you to find ways that you may play the role of the goddess towards others.

9 – Stalk of grain: The way you find the encounter appearing in your everyday life afterward may be deceptively simple, but full of meaning. What will you take away from your encounter? What seeds will you plant? And what will your blessings or wealth be?

To make the “stalk of grain” shape more apparent, tilt the cards on either side (3, 6, 5, and 8) a little away from the central line.

Note that if the Hierophant card appears in this reading, it should be interpreted in a positive light with reference to the original hierophant’s role as a priest of Kore’s mysteries, and not with negative associations with hierarchy, rigidly formalized religion, or the Christian associations of the Pope.

Citations

[1] C. G. Jung and C. Kerenyi, Essays on a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis, trans. R. F. C. Hull. Princeton University Press, 1969, and Karl Kerényi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, trans. Ralph Manheim, Princeton University Press, 1991. (Transliteration of Kerenyi’s first name varied between Carl and Karl.)

[2] R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hoffman, and Carl A. P. Ruck, The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. First chapter available online.

[3] Hugh Bowden, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World, Princeton University Press, 2010, p 43.

[4] Bowden, p 26, 48.

[5] Kerenyi, p 92.

[6] Marvin W. Meyer,  ed., The Ancient Mysteries, a Sourcebook: Sacred Texts of the Mystery Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean World, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, p 26.

[7] Meyer, p 104-5. Although the phrase is rendered there as “maiden rich in fruits,” the text still makes it clear that Dionysos is Persephone’s son. A different translation of the Orphic hymns including the phrase “parent of the vine” is available online.

[8] Meyer, p 19. This account is from Hippolytus, a Christian who was writing about the mysteries in a negative light without himself being an initiate, so it must be treated with care, but the repeated grain symbology elsewhere makes it one of the more likely possibilities.

[9] Wikipedia describes Plouton and Ploutos as being conflated although originally separate; in another instance of overlapping myths, one of them he may have been Demeter’s son who was merged into the figure of the other, her son-in-law. The Orphic hymns refer to him as Plouton and wealth-giver simultaneously.

[10] Bowden, p 31.

Ways to support Columbia

Here are some ideas of ways you can participate in supporting Columbia and defending religious liberty against the upcoming “siege” of DC by fringe Christians.

Read more

Supporting Columbia, and Lady Liberty

Some conservative Christians are planning on “laying siege” to the District of Columbia from October 3rd to November 11th, and I’m going to spend that time praying that this country preserves religious liberty as one of its foundational principles and most valuable ideals.

According to Right Wing Watch, the “spiritual warfare” effort is headed by John Benefiel, Cindy Jacobs, and others. Benefiel announced in August 2010 that the fact that Washington DC draws its name from Columbia, a personification of Liberty or Freedom, “gives her a legal right to mess things up in our nation’s capital,” and that this is why elected legislators “go crazy” when they get to DC.

To counter this influence, he declared that he had used his spiritual authority to “divorce Baal” (apparently the country was married to him in some sense). He proudly recounted that when someone asked, “How can you do that?” his response was, “Well, we just did it. … I have more authority than the US Congress does.” He added that [Christians are] “the real spiritual authority.” He also announced that he had repudiated the name “District of Columbia” and renamed the area the “District of Christ.” Hecate has the links and the legal commentary; check her out!

Now Benefiel is taking this attack on supposedly evil influences a step further by coordinating a nationwide prayer effort to “releas[e] the light and sound of eternal worship over the District of Christ.” This effort is variously named DC40, Forty Days of Light Over D.C., and 51 Days of Reformation Intercession. (It’s apparently 40 days in DC and the last 11 in Philadelphia.)

The main video for this effort calls on the country to “arise as one,” and uses explicit warfare imagery such as interlocked shields and each state taking a turn as “point man” in an effort to “change the spiritual atmosphere … forever.”

Additional videos, such as “What Is DC40?” say that Americans should “come as one people,” explicitly a Christian people, to “release the same spirit as the men who met in Philadelphia had once again.” The goal is to elect leaders who “find that compromise is not the way” because it is impossible to “compromise with unrigheousness” or immorality or what is not holy. These are supposed to be “leaders once again who have a fear of [the Christian] God.”

Another video announces that “The cry of the American Revolution was, ‘No King but Jesus!'” Historians would be amazed to discover that.

The “overview” page on the website is rather confusing, with mentions of “End-Time Handmaidens” and others involved in the effort, apparently praying for or against such things as “Islam” and particular people, but hopefully the forthcooming prayer guide will clear all that up, especially since it is produced by someone who has had “foundational truths of liberty burn[ing] in her heart for years.”

As someone who has a strong devotion to religious liberty, I find this “siege” dangerous and disgusting. It fundamentally misunderstands the nature of religious liberty which was built into our country at its founding. Whether one sees liberty as an idealization or as a personification, Liberty is a very strange creature: she says right up front, “Of course you have other gods besides me.”

Her law is to allow others their reverence so long as it harms no one. In direct contravention of that principle, these people are actively seeking to change the government of the United States so that my religion – indeed, any religion except their specific sub-sect of Christianity- would be disallowed, and public laws would compel private adherence to their interpretations of their spiritual directives, at the specific expense of religious liberty, and even personal liberty, for all who disagree.

In response to this, I have made a commitment to the personification of Liberty. You may call her Freedom, as in the statue crowning the dome of the Capitol building, or you may call her Columbia, patron goddess of the district, or you may know her as the ideal of religious toleration that Thomas Jefferson worked so tirelessly to embed in Virginia’s laws and which became part of America’s Bill of Rights, the very fabric of our legal existence.

I will be spending this time making a daily devotion to her, not against these conservative Christians, but in hopes that they and I might find ways to live peaceably together in a nation that values religious pluralism. I will also be reinforcing my personal and home wardings against those who would attack me and mine, and I will follow Hecate’s suggestion of writing to my legislators, with intent embedded, to importune them not to betray the foundational ideals of our country by working with those who would see me destroyed simply because I worship a different god(dess/es) than they do. If you value these ideas or have any reverence for the principle of religious Liberty, I encourage you to take similar action.

H/t Right Wing Watch (additional links can be found from there).

My plant as an altar

Hecate has written passionately piece about how her garden can be an intensely demanding lover, especially right now, when it never stops needing her attention, and the relationship, I can only imagine, is sweaty and exhausting, and I hope satisfying. I have only a few potted plants on my balcony, so I can’t describe my relationship with my plants in that way, but it made me wonder whether I can think of one of my plants as an altar.

Some time ago, my mother sent me a potted plant as part of a gift. It’s a pretty little succulent whose glossy green leaves have a thin line of contrasting reddish-purple color along their scalloped edges. When I am good at taking care of it, it rewards me with clusters of little red four-petaled flowers. I am not always good at taking care of it, but it’s teaching me, albeit slowly. Plants are often slow teachers, which is good for me when I’m being a slow learner.

One day as I was taking care of it, I found that a sizeable stalk had gotten accidentally snapped off – possibly by the cats, possibly by me pushing it up against the window carelessly. I felt bad about this, and as I hesitated to throw the broken part away, a tiny idea emerged: Couldn’t some plants propagate like this? Actually, come to think of it, I knew that jade plants, which are also succulents, could grow from cuttings, so…what if?

Not quite sure of myself, I got a water glass, ran water in it, and plunked the little stalk down it it next to the big plant, and gave it my best wishes. Much to my amazement, it worked. After just a few days, I could see tendrils of thin, white roots emerging. Over the next several days, I added just a few crystals of Miracle-Gro to the water, figuring that it needed some nutrients. When it put out new leaves, I knew it wasn’t just my imagination; this thing was actually growing!

I had to guess at the right time and sufficient root structure to actually plant it in soil and a pot of its own, but the little sprout is now growing luxuriantly. It hasn’t bloomed yet, but I hope that it will soon. Since it’s still relatively small, it spends most of its time on my desk.

I have a little mini-altar on my desk already: an inkwell, my dip pen, and a few other symbols of the Elements and Powers. But as I was watering my plants the other day, I said something like, “There you go! That should help!” to one of them, and it struck me that the watering could be a kind of offering, a libation not just to the spirits but to the very physical beings of that little corner of earth.

So I think I’m going to try cultivating a relationship with my little desk succulent wherein I regard it as an altar, a place where I come to observe and appreciate life: its, mine, and all. The difference between watering and libation may be as simple as the words I say, and the attitude I foster within myself. We’ll see. If I’m right, and it works, then this plant may become to me, for a time, more than just a plant, being also at the same time a living symbol of some of what I see as holy.

Where do you find or make your altars?

PS: Real gardeners may be horrified by my admittedly blase attitude towards the sprouting experiment. I’m sorry. I don’t even know the real name of this type of plant, and as I said, I’m still learning. Because of my many concerns with the non-plant beings in my life, plants are relatively low on my priority list. This post is about an example of changing that. Which is my way of saying: please don’t lecture me about what I should have done. I’m working on it.

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.