Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pagan Insights #8

A few days late, as is becoming tradition.

In Your Own Words
Winter's arrived. The seasons are always a bit temperamental here, but a southerly blew up the country yesterday and plunged temperatures into the single digits all day. Now my southern friends are probably used to that, but here in the north we are certainly not, especially as the first real cold day of the year. My bedroom was frigid and damp all day. Today isn't terribly much warmer. And it occurs that I still have not held a Winternights and Alfablót ritual. Tonight would have been just the night for it, and I even have some red wine to hand, but before I knew it it was 2am, so it will have to wait until tomorrow. I do like the cold. Winter is my favourite season. 

Post a Pic
Hmm. Oh, I have one for you, actually.... It's the park where I run with the dog. The sun was setting and it looked rather nice.


Musical Musings
I've recently joined Spotify, so I'm much better equipped to find music to listen to. On the other hand, Pandora has things like Ambient Radio, and that's where I go usually to find meditation music. Tonight I was at a loss, though; at some point I had liked a few beautiful piano pieces and now all I was getting was piano pieces. I wanted some really, you know, synthey sort of music. In the end, I put on Gregorian Chant Radio instead, and it was pretty wonderful to meditate to. One of the things I dream of is a monastery environment where Pagans might go to rent a cell for a few weeks or months, and meditate, garden, write, maybe join in some group activities like choir or chant or guided meditation. I envision it being a quiet place where no one speaks unless it's necessary, and there are lots of books and high places where one can sit cross-legged and look across the valley. 

Action, Action
The daily prayer continues. I do skip some days, if I've just remembered when I'm already in bed and it's cold and I'm comfortable and I think "oh, sod it". I've slacked on my meditation, and felt it's lack in my mental health, so trying to fit it back into my day. I do get bored, though. I'd really like a simple course to follow along with, maybe with a forum or something as well, a good community, and with a Pagan theme. But who am I kidding! Ha. Most of the meditation sites online are selling something. I'm not sure how much I can be bothered digging through the dross to find the gold.

I feel more together than I have in a long time... like my spiritual life is a part of my every-day life in a way I've been struggling with for a while. I feel more whole. Additionally, I think things that were set up a long time ago are coming to pass, and my struggle with anxiety is a part of that. I'm coming to terms with growth and with change as beacons of hope. Things die back and grow green again. I'm moving forward and trying not to be afraid of it!

Monday, May 20, 2013

I talked a bit the other week about (some) Christians taking things for granted. I think that's one of the things I experience issues with personally as a Pagan in comparison to some more popular religions: the resources to which you have access. I don't complain much, and I'm not really complaining now... These are just small irritations that many other religious people don't find they need to worry about so much.

Book-wise, we do tend to lack serious academic works. Ronald Hutton is our champion in this area, of course. If you're a reconstructionist you have more luck in this area, but with some exceptions, the writer tends not to be a member of said religion, and some of the older works can be a bit insulting to the adherents, as if monotheism was the inevitable end product of the evolution of spirituality. Not that the author being non-Pagan is a particular issue in many cases - so long as they're respectful - I'm merely thinking of centuries and centuries of Christian studies. Compared theological Christian works, we come up short. (Trouble is, I suppose, far too few Christians actually delve into those centuries of Christian thought. C'est dommage.) On the less academic side of things we're more well-represented; one could complain that most of them are flakey nonsenses, but Christianity has its share of those as well, so that's OK.

Related, there's sacred texts. Oh, yes, you're bound to be able to get your hands on a copy of Works and Days for a few dollars without too much trouble, but say you wanted a presentation copy, or something small and beautiful to slip in your pocket. Maybe a gilt-edged, leather-bound copy of the Havamal, or the Homeric Hymns. You'll have no trouble finding a tiny copy of the New Testament, or a huge copy of the bible in whatever language or translation you like to pass down through your family. You'll have a shit of a time trying to do the same for most Pagan texts. When you travel, you'll find a copy of the bible in your bedside drawer but it's a rare hotel that will provide a holy book that is relevant. You have to bring your own along to swear on in court or other places. - But, really, it's the lack of beautiful editions that bothers me most. I really want that tiny little gilt-edged Havamal.

I think most of us make do quite well with altar tools. Many are relevant to other religions also, and there are any number of websites that will sell chalices, hammers, or athames. A nice offering dish is a bit harder to come by.... one might end up scouring junk sales and so on. But it's easy enough to make your own with that sort of thing, too. 

On the other hand, finding a place to worship can be more difficult. Now I'm not one for group worship much myself, but when one is out and about, or perhaps travelling, it would be nice to be able to stop in somewhere for some peace and quiet worship or to pay one's respects. It's a way of touching base, particularly if one does not have a travel altar or similar. Christians can find a church in any city, usually even in their personal denomination. And what churches! There are some beautiful, spectacular cathedrals around. I spent an entire day in Canterbury Cathedral and adored it for its own sake, and can't help wondering wistfully how much more I might have enjoyed it if it was erected to my own gods. As an animist, I think old buildings have a soul of their own, and I think of many great churches as monuments to the dead as much as anything else (they are, after all, buried underneath the floor), so I can enjoy them quite well, but even so. A nice glade, even. A park is all very well, but there is no peace or privacy. Having a small garden for Pagan worship in a city, maybe with a few shrines to various pantheons.... I think that would be lovely.

And apps! My kingdom for a nice little altar app, maybe with a bowl of water and a deity statue and a candle or something to mess around with.... you know? Finding religious apps is difficult. Most of them are Christian or Muslim: there's copies of the bible and koran, social prayer apps, personal prayer apps, devotional thoughts of the day, etc. When you search "Paganism", the top results include Muslim and Christian apps. Most of the Pagan ones are spell books or sparkly wallpapers. The only one I really quite like is Daily Asatru. I feel like I go on about this a lot... I don't know... I love my smartphone, and how I can organise my life through it, so bits and pieces that are faith-related, that I can take with me every day, would be pretty cool.

A lot of this is just a numbers game. We don't have this or that because we're too few, or too new. Maybe financially there's no reason to invest in a public place for Pagan worship, or whatever else. Maybe you're not inclined as a hotelier to buy copies of this text or that if no one has ever enquired about them. And that's fine. It's worse when you ask about something and the person in charge, rather than discussing logical reasons why support for your religion is lacking in an area, acts like your religion isn't legitimate or does not take you seriously. 

There are a lot of much more complicated issues to do with having an uncommon religion that reach into every day life. Do you raise your child in your religion? Would you even feel safe doing so? If the child mentioned your religion in certain company would that be OK, or would you feel incredibly uncomfortable? If you start up a Pagan business like a bookstore, or indeed a public worship space, will it be vandalised? If you're in hospital and need to talk to a chaplain, is there one available who understands your religion? Will your wishes be respected regarding your funeral? Can you find a person of your religion to perform services, like marriage? So these things are pretty minor in comparison. But they are day-to-day things, and their lack is something I've become accustomed to in the same way that someone might take the church down the street or the bible in their hotel room for granted.

Monday, May 6, 2013

You Can't Be a Christian in the Army Any More (pfffff whatever)

Perhaps you have heard that Christians in the American military have been reminded that bullying their fellow soldiers into submission is Not OK. All of a sudden, a million Christian blogs cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. Christians are the persecuted minority! You can no longer be Christian in the military! Christians are the only religious group whose fundamental right to free speech has been revoked! &c. 

This, may I remind you, mere days after the National Day of Prayer, along with its presidential speech laden with monotheistic language. (Separation of Church and State? What's that?)

The straw that broke the camel's back for me was this blog. It's not just the hyperbole that drives me mad. It's the utter self-centred blindness and lack of empathy it must require to just not see the people around them who have it less great than Christians because of what they believe. Every American president has been a Christian. Do we really think a non-Christian stands a chance at that office, at least in the near future? An atheist president? A Jewish one? God forbid, a Pagan one? I'd say the Jewish candidate would have the best chance at a shot, myself. Many children in America are told they could grow up to be president one day, and it must hurt when they finally realise that their religious beliefs essentially disqualify them.

The problem is privilege. Christians have it, and some of them want desperately to keep it. Any challenge to the preferential treatment they get and a certain type of Christian will have a temper tantrum. I'm not speaking of all Christians, but nor an I speaking only of the Bill O'Reillys of this world; some of the nicest people can turn into utter little bitches when someone suggests everybody be treated the same way.

Like it or not, some aspects of Christian privilege in the USA are cultural, and are ingrained enough that they will take a long time to remove. Take Christmas, for example.... I live in a mostly secular country, and Christmas is still a national holiday. (On the other hand we are lazy as hell when given the chance, and not likely to give up a day off.) The churches on every corner in some states aren't likely to go away either, so long as people are still attending. But so much could be changed. I mean, are the prayers in national events really necessary? A National Day of Prayer? Really?

I've mentioned before that most Christians I've met have been excellent and empathetic people. I don't like to be reminded that some of them even outside the far-right teabagger set have their heads so far up their arses they are in danger of drowning in their own digestive juices.

The concept of someone who says they love everyone as Christ told them to actually thinking it infringes on THEIR civil liberties when people tell them to stop bullying, cajoling, and threatening non-Christians under their command, non-Christians who are supposed to be their team-mates, just blows my fucking mind. The fact that they then think Christianity is a breath away from being made illegal.... I mean, what planet do these people live on? Are they really that self-involved?



(PS: I know my readers are mostly mature and kind people, more so than me for the most part in fact, but just in case, please don't throw a million harsh comments at the person's blog I linked above. I thought you'd like to read it as some of the things she says are astonishingly ignorant and selfish, but I dithered about linking it in case I inadvertently sent 20 angry people to her comments section.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pagan Insights #7

I'm supposed to do these at every full moon. "I'll do it tomorrow", etc etc. So here we are at - so my phone app informs me - 63% waning gibbous and I haven't written one up yet. Oh well. All things in their time, I suppose.

In Your Own Words
Time gets away from me. It's "Old Year's Night" sometime next week. I have it on my calendar.... the 5th. I don't know when I'll hold Winternights. I feel like I only just finished Winterfinding. I do always like touching base with Lady Hel, but right now I don't have anything to give Her. 

I'm still moving forward with my practice slowly. It's taking time to get back into things, and I don't want to rush it and then have a freak-out or something. I'm enjoying incorporating the spiritual back into my life gradually, without putting pressure on myself.

There's also that sensation, occasionally, of newness, of that thrill and enthusiasm I had when I was fairly new and ignorant. The person you were Back When, who pressed her nose against the magic shop window and coveted a simple silver pentacle, who saved up for Cunningham books and wrote out chapters verbatim in an exercise book of shadows. I'll never get that back, not in the same way, but off and on I've been feeling a little of that energy again. Maybe it's just nostalgia.

Post a Pic
This month a link to a picture. This one is from Deviant Art. I blogged it on my tumblr, and within a day it had 200 notes. It's now at over 700. I'm not sure why it appeals to people so much. But it's an image I keep thinking about just because of all those notes (why don't all my posts get that many notes??) and it's evocative. What does it make me think about? trad craft, but not really mine. I'd be sitting, cross-legged, probably in any old clothing, maybe building a cairn in front of me or drawing pictures in the leaf litter with a stick.

Musical Musings
I've been lax in my meditation, as always, but I try to find time in the day. I've been heading over to Pandora and trying out their "ambient" radio station. I like some songs better than others, and not all to meditate to, but it's good to have a go-to for meditation music when I'm in the mood. 

Action, Action
I've been keeping up my daily prayer, for the most part. It's adding a sort of structure and stability to my daily life, and a richness, even though it only takes a moment. It weaves the gods into my every day. I like having more of an option as to Who to pray to each day; I've only been at it a couple of weeks, but the option of greeting the same deity every week or exploring other deities with links to that god is quite interesting and I think adds more of a richness to the activity. Last time I kept to the same god every night, and grew bored pretty quickly. This way I can reach out to or thank gods Whose influence I am feeling or Whose blessing I am seeking. 

I am finding the daily worship, however minor it may be, personally beneficial on many levels. I think - though I could be wrongly attributing this - that it's proving helpful to my anxiety recovery. I feel loved, I feel warm, I feel comforted. I also feel more of a sense of direction and guidance, as if I was flailing around loose and have been tied back down.

This relates to the previous - the reminder that daily prayer, while it may take a while to have a noticeable effect, can influence one's life. Both the boring prayers where you feel nothing much, to the ones that take you up with something approaching ecstasy, and you raise your arms and cry out in passion and wonder, and give you a new take on the gods.