Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Playing at Pagan

I wrote the bulk of this post after finishing Witch Crafting by Phyllis Curott. Something she said near the end of the book stuck in my craw. I've been musing over it for a while now, asking others for their thoughts.

Curott is not alone in what I'm about to discuss - those who have read The Spiral Dance by Starhawk will recognise it. It is the concept of the gods not as real entities, but as, to use Curott's words, "anthropomorphic metaphors".

I know there are Pagans who don't believe in gods. That's fine. There are Pagans who view deities as archetypes or, indeed, anthropomorphic metaphors with whom one can work to understand more about one's own mind, in a Jungian sort of way. But I had, heretofore, imagined that most of these not-really-theistic Pagans were up front about it. You come across them, from time to time. Even if one disagrees with how they refer to the gods, they tend to be honest about their beliefs. But, as I have discovered, it is not always so.

What I don't really understand is why a person would bother spending so much time and effort writing about deities they don't believe in, from the standpoint - or the guise - of a religious person. Why spew forth love over ten pages for a goddess you don't actually think is real? Why, indeed, hold ritual several times a year for a deity you don't believe exists? Why the pretence? It seems so dishonest.

I suppose it would explain all the rampant disregard for deities, cultures and myths you get in these books. They're not real, so why does it matter? Of course there are no mistakes (as Curott cheerfully tells us). It doesn't matter if you call in the wrong god (!) because not only is he just an aspect of this other god, this other god himself is just a metaphor.

But that reduces whole traditions down to just play-acting. People writing books about playing at being Pagans. You can understand it when teenagers get into it for a month or so, hold some dramatic rituals in the part and then lose interest and refer to it as their "Wiccan stage". Because... well, OK, you can't really understand it, but at least they have the excuse of youth, and at least they tend to get over it fairly quickly. But this sort of thing is on a whole other level.

Is this because so many people have based their practice on Wicca, but have not been initiated? have no way to contact the deities of Wicca? That would make sense; they try to contact the deities and, with no luck, assume said deities are metaphors and then focus their rituals on self-help and general back-patting.

For me rituals are always an experience of closeness and worship and dedication and love and friendship with the deity for whom that ritual is held. They are, usually, moving and important experiences. I'm fine with the concept that a ritual might be more for me than the gods, because I sometimes do get that impression from the gods while performing ritual, depending on the ritual in question. But I just have a great deal of difficulty with the idea that they have so little focus on the deities. If they're not a part of your faith, then they're not a part of your faith. Be honest about it.

There's a term, play-gan, and I forget who came up with it. (Sorry.) Pagans who view the whole thing as a giant LARP. Not believing in gods but pretending to hold rituals for them because it's fun... or something. It's fun to pretend to be a witch, or a Pagan, or a mysterious person in black who holds rituals with candles and knives!

I just... I don't understand it, and I find it both frustrating and upsetting.

Especially if you don't believe in the gods and then you go and write a book about the gods and how you worship them. I mean, not-really-theistic? Fine. Hold rituals your own way in your own space? You know what, totally not my business, like, whatever. Write books about your love for the goddess you don't actually believe in? That's where I get totally confused. It feels seriously dishonest to me. It does. Sorry.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Playing with Threads

When I was younger, I very much liked Tamora Pierce (actually, I still do) and I read her "Circle of Magic" series. I love storms and I was overweight and shortsighted, and more at home with books than with people, so I identified strongly with Tris, the storm mage. She matched me far better than any of the other circle-of-four mages, and in many ways I feel still does. I still wear glasses though I'm no longer overweight, and I'm still more at home with books than people. I still love storms more than nearly anything - wind and rain, thunder and lightning.

But I've come to realise I am also very much a "thread" person. Storms are impressive, and fun, and exciting, but thread is practical. With thread you can join two things together, mark things as your own, create clothes or latches or jewellery. When I make a new cord for a pendant, I do it by plaiting together three strands of thread, and I weave energy into them as I do so. A plaited thread can store energy. Embroidery can weave intent into cloth. I have a fondness for cross-stitch, as it's very simple and can also be done while one's mind is elsewhere. There's a sense, when one stabs one's needle through the cloth, of prehistory; I feel an echo of bone needles stabbing sinew through leather. That, though, is something I will never do, as if I was to do it it would be something of a waste of good leather! Other people can do it better than I, so I will leave them to it and buy the result of their craftsmanship. But I do like the sensation of needle-stabby, and I like making an image from something so simple as a cross. 

I would like to do more in the way of devotional pieces, but there are few good Pagan designs and the make-your-own programs are a bit strange. I wouldn't like to try a devotional piece designed through such a program and have it come out looking awful. So for now I focus on a face of Jack Skellington.

Knots have a finality to them. Witches' Ladders and knot-spells are some of my favourites because they are simple, but also because the act of trapping energy - or fate or desire - within a knot makes a great deal of sense to me. Of course, a knot spell isn't "right" for everything; tying knots isn't going to be the solution to every problem. But I use them when I can, because they appeal so much to me.

A part of me also rebels against the thread, because I associate embroidery and sewing - along with baking, cooking, housekeeping - with housewifery, which has never appealed to me and which I find rather repellent. Sandy from Circle of Magic was never really my sort of person, and nor was her mentor Lark. They were homey people, and I'm more what you'd call a hermit. I will, occasionally, bake, but I feel out of sorts when doing so unless it is early autumn and the right-sort-of-day to be baking. (I have made scones in the past. Honestly that's the only thing I can remember baking.) I'll also make something if I really have a hankering for it, but that's about it. I don't like to cook anything that takes longer to make than it does to eat, because I feel a time deficit if I do. I'd rather buy clothing than make it myself. But I like the sensation of cross-stitch, so occasionally I'll feel the need to do something with my hands while I watch TV, and off I'll go to buy a cross-stitch pack or a set of threads. I've discovered I prefer bookmark packs, as when you've finished you get something useful out of it rather than something you'll put in a drawer and forget about. It's also a bit of a mission finding designs that aren't insipid and distressing, but there are more little "Fuck You" collections around nowadays. I found one on flickr not long ago with a Black Books quote: "Whores will have their trinkets". Best thing ever. But, as I say, a part of me does not like the idea of working so much with thread. That's a part of myself that I ignore because thread is practical, and I'd be a fool to discard something so practical, simple and easy to find in favour of something big and flashy. When in need, a bit of stray thread from clothing will work just as well.

Even the act of tying things together has an appeal and a finality that works so well in my craft. Thread joins like to unlike. Thread transforms - but it doesn't transform in the manner of cooking, or of chemical reaction. Thread transforms in the manner of change of state: water to ice to water. Thread can be unpicked. Knots can be untied. It can be cut or unwoven. Pull in the right place and a whole working can be undone. Thread echoes magic; you can twist it around your fingers into shapes or capture someone's wrist. Other things can be tied - sheep gut, wire, plastic - to make music. Rope can hoist a sail or keep secure. Knots are magic.