Friday, August 31, 2012

Pagan Insights #2

It occurred to me that I could do these on the full moon. I've always wanted something to do on the full moon but never been able to find something I liked. I've never found a full moon ritual that really sat well with me and when I go to think of one myself I find myself at rather a loose end, not knowing what to do or what to say. So I haven't done anything. This isn't a ritual, but it's a way of taking stock and maybe doing that at the full moon isn't a bad thing. (Then again, maybe the new moon would be a better time for it. Maybe I'll give that a go next month.)

In Your Own Words
I feel like things have been difficult lately. I don't even know why I feel that way, because I've no reason to. I've skipped Idis-thing - I waited for the right day, and then when it came I delayed, and delayed some more... and now I wonder if it might not just be better to combine Idis-thing and Ostara and make a goddess-oriented day of it. I try to do it when I smell spring in the air but this year the day really fell when the tuis returned to the kowhai tree in the back garden. You know it's spring when you see them around. Maybe tomorrow I'll pick some flowers for the altar, or something. Or maybe I'll wait until the beginning of September, a little closer to the Equinox, and do something then. But at the same time, though things have been difficult and feel difficult - just to get momentum going, you know? - I'm also feeling renewed interest in shaking off cobwebs and maintaining regular practice of things like meditation. Must be a spring thing. It's past time to open all the windows.

Post a Pic

One of the said tuis. This picture is from a couple of years ago, but it more or less exemplifies this time of year for me. It's a nice treat to have them visit each year, as they sing very beautifully.
I also went and posted a whole heap of images of Odin on my tumblr the other day, and this one was one of my favourites. But hardly anyone else seemed to like it. I love the knowing half-smirk, the feather in his hat brim, the windswept trees behind him.

Musical Musings
This song isn't a Pagan one, or even Pagan influenced, but it struck a chord with me (and is also fucking awesome). It is The Killing Type, the newest AFP single with her band the Grand Theft Orchestra. She wrote in her blog about the verse that begins "I once stepped on a dying bird, it was a mercy killing" and how even though she relieved the creature's suffering, the act haunted her. She concludes she is not the killing type. And I feel much the same in many ways. I like to think that should it come to it, I could kill to eat. I like to think I could kill to defend my own. But I've never been put in that situation. I've been put in a couple of mercy-killing situations, animal-wise. In one I almost gave it a go, was going to smash a mouse with a brick and couldn't do it. In another I didn't even think of it, I put the wee mite in my pocket, took it home and kept it warm until it died. Honestly I'd rather be the woman passing around the mead in the mead-hall and tending warrior's wounds than out slaughtering anything. I mean, can't we just talk things through? But then, killing a person in battle seems much more do-able as an act than killing an animal to save it from suffering. Is it because battle is entered willingly, or maybe because humans are so much more aware of their own death? And nature is harsh and cruel. Still, no need to make it any crueller, I suppose. So much of Heathenry - no, that's wrong. So much of the Heathen community seems to be about being war-ready. I'm fine with being strong and fit, fine with being able to fight, fine with bleeding, fine with carting off the dead. But I'm not the killing type. But then again..... is that unusual? Sometimes I think people who go on about war would be scarred for life if they ever found themselves in one. That those posturing with swords and axes and being Big Tough Heathens would go to pieces if put in a situation of real violence. I don't think I'd go to pieces. I think put in a situation where I would have to kill someone, I'm not sure I could actually do it, and I might end up killed myself for hesitating, and to be honest it would be easier to run off and hide than to end up in that situation. I'm not sure if that counts as cowardly or canny. But I do sometimes feel less of a Heathen for it. That's the stress on the whole "warrior" deal, as if that was the only aspect of palaeo-Heathen culture.

Actually I had a dream once where I smashed someone repeatedly in the head with half a brick because I had no choice. It was super disturbing, because after the first rush of blood, and you have the upper hand, the fight goes out of you and you know you have to finish the job, and it's just this sort of awful thing, smashing this guy in the temple and hoping he dies soon. But that was a dream... I don't mean to imply I truly understand that experience. Still, I woke up feeling disturbed by my own actions.

My Great Grandfather killed a heap of men in WWI and never got over it. He wasn't at all keen on the whole malarkey but they dragged him off to the Somme in the end. I guess he wasn't the killing type either.

Action, Action
Last time I talked about how I'd sucked at keeping up with weekly blótar. Not much has changed, but I'm more aware of the tasks I've set before myself and better at remembering to do them. I didn't hold blót this week but I did burn a candle for Hel, and sat before it and honoured Her. It's good, because honouring Hel more often is one thing I always mean to do and fail to do by the time the next Hel-honouring blót rolls around and apologise for. It will be nice if I can keep checking in and don't have to apologise next time. And I can do more than one a week if I like.

This one is hard. I'm not sure I have many Eureka moments, and when I do they're not always things I like to share. I mean, I had an interesting prayer experience a couple of weeks ago, but it's not something I'm going to write about on here. I had difficulty even putting it in words to record it in my spiritual journal. Oh, here's one: I often ponder on Tyr's parentage, and I was reading the Lay of Hymir or whathaveyou the other day. Snorri I think notes Odin is His father once, but that's not noted anywhere else and in the Poetic Edda the Jotun Hymir is named as His father. We don't know His mother. Interesting that Tyr is Jotun-kin and no one questions that He is Aesir or suggests He should not be worshipped. Tyr is beyond reproach. Yet Loki's parentage is pointed out again and again, and He is named Jotun and not of the Aesir on His parentage alone. If Tyr is beyond reproach it is because He is steadfast and honourable and so on; I mean I love Tyr and hold Him in very high regard. But if one is going to criticise Loki it should be on His actions and not His family because otherwise it's a bit fucking inconsistent isn't it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Christians

I don't know about you, but by and large, I have generally positive experiences with Christians. I've been invited to forum discussions with Christians and found them both kind and polite. I've visited many beautiful churches, all of which have been welcoming places tended to by welcoming people. 

Here are two prime examples of such churches, if you'll allow me to share. 

The first is from the town of Hythe in Kent, England. They get quite a few visitors as the church is exceedingly old, and at the door hangs this message:

One positively weeps at the inclusion of others, the desire to share, and the welcome they provide to everyone. Motherfucking St Leonard's representing for Christ, yo.

 The second is a church in Edinburgh, I believe an Anglican church. When I entered, the priest was having a great time playing the organ, either in practice or just for enjoyment. Either way his pleasure was infectious. At the back of the church was an area for small children to play quietly, and up the front, near the altar:

This, dear reader, is a collection of tenets from a variety of religions that are similar in some way to the "Golden Rule", all lined up together and lit from within. (I mean yes the Rede isn't representative of Paganism as a whole but I am willing to overlook that because of the inclusive beauty of the thing itself. They meant well.) The church, by the way, was beautiful, and I recommend visiting. St John's Episcopal Church. Check out those stained glass windows. Spectacular.

These churches, and others like them, are my predominant impression of Christianity. (Or at least, Christianity outside of the United States. There are only so many Bishop Gene Robinsons to Pat Robertsons. But by and large I choose to dismiss the United States as being a bit behind the times.) It was therefore a surprise, when invited to join in discussion with Christians as I mentioned above, to see them making comments that were insulting and offensive.

They didn't mean to make them, mind you. Not maliciously. That is to say, they didn't mean to offend. But that's part of the problem; they don't understand why the comments offended. They don't practise empathy with non-Christians. Perhaps they think they do. One of them painted his Pagan friends as people who felt they had been "abandoned" by his god, and hurt, and talked about how much he wanted to show them his god's love. Yet I'd wager those Pagan friends of his do not consider themselves the lost souls he imagines them to be. Another described all non-Christians as being unable to properly engage in a religious dialogue because they had no understanding of a spiritual life. I countered this, and explained why it might be offensive to make this sort of comment. His reply? He "knew the truth" and had no need therefore to research into other people's religious practice. His reading of the bible had told him that only Christians were spiritual people, and that's all he needed to know; he believed that, he knew the truth, and therefore anything else must be untrue. 

This outright dismissal of non-Christians genuinely surprised me, because as you see above, I've been conditioned to expect Christians to be kind, welcoming people. These comments were not only unwelcoming, they deliberately shut out of dialogue any non-Christian and dismissed their opinions on the basis of a... I want to say "misunderstanding" but that term seems too polite. The idea that a person thinks ignorance is righteous disgusts me. And I don't consider it representative of their god's supposed love. Be nice to other people, and listen, and help others without expectation for conversion, or I'll consider you a shitty excuse for a Christian because I've seen how good Christians can be. I've seen how Christians can reach out to non-Christians and respect their faiths enough to learn about them, and find in those faiths something to celebrate, and fucking dialogue with people without disrespecting them or their beliefs or their gods. Those Christians show me what is good in Christianity by their actions and while I'm fairly sure I don't believe in the divinity of Christ, frankly I don't think that it's too important when it comes to respecting those who choose to follow his example. 

So get your shit together, unspecified number of Christians. Other Christians are making you look like super-shitty people. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Last week I held my Candlemas. (I've started calling it First Rite of Spring for some reason, which is cumbersome but less inaccurate than "Candlemas" or "Imbolc" would be.) It was pretty amazing, and got me thinking about things like those little moments of formality in ritual that one includes even if one's ritual itself is rather relaxed and informal in tone. Wearing particular items, getting out particular altar decorations or tools, washing, anointing. Things perhaps one does not even think about any more, they are such a part of one's religious observance. I've also been wondering over nudity and why it feels so important an aspect of ritual in my religious witchcraft.

I felt a sudden compulsion, that night, to decorate. For the Gods. My mind turned to daydreams of an altar-room, where I could hang banners and paintings on the walls and set sculptures on shelves. And I managed to spill candle wax on my altar cloth, so I'm in the mood to find another one of those. Something to embroider, perhaps? Or the work of someone else? I think the easiest way to go would be to buy more of the material of my present altar cloth, and then another that would be easier to wash when more wax inevitably spills. And then I got out my paints for another purpose and started thinking it would be pretty neat to paint the altar itself. 

At present, though, no move has been made in any direction. I have left the idea to percolate.

I've been slacking a little on my threefold religious week. That is to say: my idea to do lore study, non-lore study and a formal prayer or blót each week. I still like it as an idea and occasionally remember to actually do it, but too often I've been thinking "oh yeah! I should to that tomorrow" and then forget for the next three days. Weeks seem to run through my fingers like sand or water. So much to do, so much to do. And I end up doing so little. In some ways I feel generally out of sorts and wonder if it's a hold-over from my appendectomy. While I'm mostly healed, I still can't exercise the way I did, and it's frustrating to feel normal and yet be reminded here and there that the healing process can take a while when muscle protests or stitches pull. Instead of a "you're officially better now, get back to life as normal" it's more of a process and it's left me slacking when it comes to picking things up again.

Idis-thing soon. I'm in a place, Heathenry-wise, where I want to start fine-tuning my holiday calendar. I don't Charm a Plough because a) I don't own a plough and b) the ground here doesn't freeze. I don't know why I feel like that second part is important. Anyway, the assimilation of knowledge is a bit of a long slow process when it comes to where I'm at right now. If you've ever wondered to yourself why so many Heathen groups and kindreds seem to celebrate things at different times of year, or have a different number of holidays, this is sort of why.... there's no set text or how-to book that.... actually that's wrong, there ARE how-to books that tell you when holidays are, but then you aren't at a 101 level any longer and you realise that those books are rather simplistic in the times assigned for holiday dates, and really when you look back at the texts it's more confusing, and should you hold Mother Night before Yule or at Idis-thing? And how many autumnal holidays are there? And is Yule held at the winter Solstice or later on when it gets colder? ....yeah. But there's no easy answer to those questions because our sources say different things. The Heathen world incorporated a fair-sized chunk of Europe and a considerable length of time, and things were done differently from here to there. So it's up to you. And being up to you, you sort of have to do all the research yourself and then decide how and when you want to do things.

Meanwhile, Idis-thing. I don't know what I'm going to do this year, quite. Or when; I hold my Hedgecraft holidays according to astronomical dates, but my Heathen ones are mostly season-based. I'll hold Idis-thing when I smell spring in the air. I'm not sure we're quite there yet, but it must be on the horizon. Having said that, I haven't gone outside much lately. I should probably do that.