Pagan Blog Project: Insidious Sexism within the Liberated Pagan community

I don’t normally wear my angry feminist hat in public. I have found that it a) can’t change a moron’s mind and b) has more of a backlash from the “f” word than it does good. But I have been noticing a trend within my pagan community and can’t stay silent any longer.

How many of you have a Facebook page? I know, Facebook is a huge waste of time. But we are still addicted and it still has its uses.

Today, I logged on to see this:

This photo had been “liked” by a friend of mine, an educated, liberal, feminist, pagan man. And this isn’t the first time. How about this quote that was under a picture of a female soldier:

While you carry a purse, she carries a 65lb rucksack. While you shop with your girlfriends, she cleans her rifle with her battle buddies. When you wear heels, she wears her combat boots. Instead of the make-up that you wear on your face to make yourself look pretty, she paints her face for camouflage. While you kiss your husband goodbye for the day, she kisses hers goodbye for the year. Don’t forget about the women who serve.

There are a million more I could post, but I won’t. My point here is that this is all sexist. It is!!. Its cloaked in terms of liberalism and feminism and if I were to ever mention to my male friends that they are being sexist, they would be horrified and probably accuse me of being too sensitive.

But these are sexist. They perpetuate the same stereotypes as more archaic forms of sexism. The picture of Thelma? There is the idea of sexual availability, access to even the most asexual women. There is the idea of a man’s ideal body hidden under the “nerdy” exterior. There is the idea of male approved sex available as well, in the idea of “dirty” sex. I am gonna tell you straight out: most forms of porn that involve “dirty” sex also involve female debasement in some way shape or form. Not to say that all “dirty” sex is like this, I’m a huge proponent of BDSM and fetish’s. But the idea offered here is that this woman is available to anyone who asks, at any time.

And there is still the divide of dichotomies: nerdy vs stupid, curvy vs skinny, Madonna vs whore.

As for the quote… really???????????? So there are only two types of women, the ones who shop and carry purses and spend money, and the type who perform traditional male tasks like going off to war? What about the single mom who hasn’t spent money on herself in years? The college student living off of Ramen noodles? The woman trapped in an abusive/arraigned/dead/unhappy relationship? What about every woman who isn’t a part of that image painted? Yes, I am pro-female military. I am a veteran. But I am also pro-women. So if you really want to talk about women in war, lets talk about the rape statistics, the racism in portraying all female military as white and pretty, the harassment, the debasement, the guilt a woman feels when she leaves her children or spouse behind, the fact that lesbians just NOW got the right to kiss their SO’s goodbye and hello in public.

I’m just tired of it. I don’t want to be told what kind of woman to be. I don’t want intelligence linked to how I look or how sexually available I am. I don’t want to be “bad” or “shallow” if I shop or eat food or wear makeup.

I just want it to stop.

Part 2 – I can’t think of a snazzy title but this follows “when Hope fails”

Yesterday, in my PBP post, I talked about depression and hope. I glossed over the reasons for my childhood and it was in a comment that I was reminded that the depression that I face stems not from some genetic anomaly but from the choices and actions of those who were supposed to protect me as a child. I am all about talking about things that “polite society” abhors, so lets throw off the pretenses and really talk about this. I welcome all comments at the end, because I want to open this discussion, I think the things that drive us to paganism have some common factors. So here goes. (If my family is reading this, you might wanna stop. I have no qualms about discussing the past in this public, albeit anonymous, setting.)

I was an abused child.

No, in the modern lexicon, I am a survivor of child abuse.

That’s not quite right either.

I was forged and shaped in the landscape of an abusive home. The same actions that drove me to renounce Judaism at the age of 7 (“No God in his right mind would let my Mom be this mean to me.”) also fertilized the roots of anxiety, depression, and yes, an eating disorder that I just can’t seem to shake, even as a full-grown adult. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I love my family. I have found a way to feel compassion towards my mother, my father and my two sisters. And as an adult, I have a pretty great life. But the fact remains: the house was a horrible place to grow up.

Imagine a mother with undiagnosed OCD, and depression and anxiety that can be traced through her family. Her father was hospitalized 3 times, one of her younger sisters committed suicide when she was in her late 20’s. Imagine this mother with three young children, an education in psychology, a growing case of OCD in the form of hoarding and no job. Imagine this woman with such a need to control her environment that she measures out every morsel of food that is eaten in the house.

I was 6 when my mother went mad. I can remember what I was wearing, what she said, how it happened that I was forever labeled the “bad child”. I won’t tell you the details but it never got better. There was emotional, physical and mental abuse. There were locks on the doors, including my bedroom door, then on the windows, then on the refrigerator and the cupboards. I was an atheist at 7, suicidal at 9. I was a scrawny child with no friends, stealing food from other kid’s lunchboxes and digging in the trashcans for scraps. And this continued until I left and joined the Navy at 18.

So yeah, I was depressed. I was raging angry with no where to turn and no one to take it out on. At age 7, the child psychologist told me I was a compulsive liar, because my Mom had told her so. At age 15, the school therapist, after the fourth time I had run away and been brought back by the cops, sat down with me and asked “So how can we make your mother happy?” At age 16, my mom decided she would be my therapist and tried to get me to talk about my problems.

Okay, I’m not going to bore you with the rest of my life. Quick summary: at 18 and fresh out of boot camp, I was so severely depressed that my roommate called my mother who called a chaplain on base to try to talk to me. At 19 I was raped in the military and was blamed for the rape by the base commander. At 22 I had a nervous breakdown and ended up hospitalized for a week and misdiagnosed as bipolar.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but I’m not “over” my past. It still gets me riled up.

I read a quote once, I don’t know if its true or not, but the words have haunted me for a long time: Depression is anger turned inwards. And another concept from my days as a woman’s studies major: Anger is the only emotion that society keeps from women because anger is the only emotion that demands action. So on the one hand, we have people who are denied the propulsion of their anger. And on the other, we have anger focused at ourselves. That is a very destructive, very profitable for big business, concept. Instead of teaching people how to use their anger to fuel their intentions, we medicate them into semi-comas. Yeah…. what a glorious way to keep the sheep in their pens.

And that is why I refuse to forgive. Wikipedia  (I know, I know, don’t shoot!) defines forgiveness as “the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.” My mother will never apologize, never change her behavior, never be anything more than what she is. I can recognize her as the flawed human she is, with all of the compassion and empathy that entails, and still not forgive her. Anger is my tool. Without the outward propulsion of my anger, I dissolve into depression and lose myself in the process. So no, I will not forgive. I can change the way I interact but the anger is my own.

I know not every pagan was abused. I know not every abused person is depressed. I know not every depressed person was abused. But there are those of us who straddle the three. There are many reasons why someone becomes a pagan. Abuse from many many different factors might just play a part.

And that is why depression is a tool for me. Its a signpost saying “Look and see where you are feeling ineffectual. Look and see what external or internal process deserves your action.”

 

Call (a poem)

Call –

and I will part the veil of black.

Call –

and I will walk the hidden path

and let my footsteps fall into the silence, unseen.

Call –

and I will kneel at the altar of bone and worship in dusk and grey.

Call –

and I will speak your words

and let my words fall into silence, unbidden.

Let Death come.

Let Death call.

Pagan blog project – when Hope fails

Hope is the thing with feathers

Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I am a firm believer in not hiding anything of myself, so some of my posts contain information that is usually not discussed in polite society. This is gonna be one of those posts.

I have suffered from depression since I was a child of about seven or eight. I came from a horribly abusive home and my depression and anger is what helped me survive. I have been suicidal numerous times in my life, been hospitalized and medicated and still struggle with things that you would not think a 30 year old would still find herself under. I have a great life right now, a full-time job I enjoy that pays well, a home, three cats, my own car, a loving fiance and an amazing step-daughter. And it is still a struggle every day to do anything other than sink my head beneath a pillow and drown out the sorrow.

 

Most of us can identify hope, even if we dont have the corresponding words for it. And most of us can identify despair, especially in these tough times when we find ourselves struggling. But how many of us, I wonder, have silently acquiesced to living side by side with despair and depression?
Hope is that which moves us forward. I firmly believe this. In our spiritual practices, hope is why we keep doing what we do. Its why I talk to the voices that answer. Its why people continue to become nuns and priests and pastors and ministers. We, as human creatures, are constantly moving towards hope. I think its part of what keeps us alive and evolving. We hope there is something better on the other side after death. We hope we aren’t alone in the Universe. We hope that the person we marry really means the vows that were said. We hope that the job we do every day is worthwhile, will still be there. We hope against everything, against any indication that we might be wrong. We hope for a future.

The flip side of this is despair, or depression, which has the ability to destroy the soul and destroy hope in the process. It drags us down and turns the days into a long, black line of sameness, where getting out of bed can be as much of a chore as visiting the in-laws. Depression isn’t something that is talked about very much. Sure, we see the commercials on TV and the representations of umbrellas and balloons with sad faces on them. But the push in western society is always to solve the problem and make people “normal” again. Your value and worth as a part of society is in how much you can work and buy, not in your inherent value as a human being.

I think we need to look at depression and melancholia in a different light. Did you know that many of our most famous artists, musicians and poets had some form of what we would now term mental illness? Lord Byron was bipolar. Blake was depressed. So were Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Michelangelo, Mozart, Newton and Nietzsche. And that’s just a few names. What would our modern world look like without these influential people? And the question you have to ask is: what would our world look like if these people had all been fully hopped up on modern medication?

Because what no one wants to admit is the fact that depression (and other forms of mental illness) and genius tend to go hand in hand. We live in a world where every little sniff, cough and sneeze are dowsed with pills. Nothing is allowed to run its course. And we are paying for this over-medication with drug-resistant bugs. I have a patient at work with an 8-inch hole in his leg and MRSA. Its not pretty. And we are also over-medicating every little mental bump. Look at the rise is diagnoses of ADD and ADHD. I am beginning to believe that we are medicating our children and the general population into a easily-controlled biomass who can’t think for themselves or fight back.

Depression brings us closer to death and the black. It forces us to contemplate our issues and failings. It demands that we DO something, anything, change our path, rethink our patterns, rework our lives. Yes, it can be a “black pit of despair” that leads to suicide, but it can also be a signpost along our road, one which points out what is not working and what needs fixing. I try to see my depression as a warning sign. It lets me know when I am too stressed, when I haven’t been taking care of myself, when I need to stop and change something. Its a stumbling block, yes, but its there to keep me from truly being pulled in by the undertow.

So what do we do as pagans if we aren’t willing to buy into big medication? We keep reaching for hope. We have a huge arsenal of things at our disposal as pagans, things which include prayer, meditation,  homeopathy, crystals, and herbs. Mother Earth has placed a huge pharmacy at our fingertips. We just have to reach for it.

Pagan Blog Project – the dance of the Hedgewitch

Here is a new term for you: Hedgewitch.

What, pray tell, is a Hedgewitch and why would I pull this term out of my mixed bag to gift to you, darling readers? Because. Okay, I know that’s less than helpful but bear with me and I shall try to eventually bring this to a fruitful end.

Hedgewitch, and its corresponding hedgewitchery, is a word that is not often heard in modern conversation. Hedgecraft is a form of  witchcraft that combines aspects of witchcraft and shamanism, inspired by the traditional witchcraft and cunning folk of Europe and parts of Asia. To call oneself a Hedgewitch is to basically call oneself a shaman, a sense of reclaiming of a title and power long denied us. So you can see where the boundaries of my spiritual identity become blurred.

It used to be that the native healers lived on the outskirts of town, between the wild of nature and the chaos of civilization. They were held in esteem and feared with the same breath. When you had an ailment that your mother couldn’t cure, or needed a curse or a charm, you knew who to go to. These are the cunning folk, those men and women who dedicated their lives to the knowledge of nature. The “hedge” was literally the border of town and so has become a symbol of walking between worlds in our modern lexicon.

To ride the hedge is to journey to the Otherworlds in shamanic journey work. The hedge becomes the thin point of the veil, and those who are talented or stubborn may learn to step through to other realities.

Hedgewitches often refer to shamanic journeys as “Walking the Hedge”, “Riding the Hedge”, “Oot and Aboot” or “Crossing/Jumping the Hedge”. They also have a tendency to spend much of their lives with one foot on either side of the Hedge, which makes them eccentric to say the least.
A Hedgewitch walks freely into caol ait (Gaelic), the “thin places” between one world and another. More experienced Hedgewitches learn not only to find such places, but how to use them effectively and how to open them even when the Hedge, or Veil, is at its thickest between the high days. – Juniper

On the other hand, we have shamanism. Shaman is a word that was stolen from the Turkic word šamán, from the Tungusic cultures of Siberia. It was brought to the english language sometime in the 20th century by anthropologists and sociologists and has become a great big giant sticky ball of CULTURAL APPROPRIATION (said in a scary deep voice). Western versions of shamanism became popular in the 60s and 70s, and quickly evolved into Michael Harner’s version called “core shamanism”. That is: shamanism removed from any cultural, spiritual, social or environmental context. Lets whitewash something sacred and inherent to communities and cultures world-wide and sell it to the desensitized westerners willing to pay $300 for a weekend to learn how to become shamans. Excuse me while I wipe the excess sarcasm from the computer screen.

Let me just put a few ideas out so every one understands:

  • There are no shamans in Native American culture, each tribe has their own title of respect for their spiritual leaders. Calling them shamans is a form is racism and elitism.
  • A weekend does not make a shaman, the gods and spirits do.
  • No one in their right mind chooses to undergo a shamanic initiation. Raise your hand if you are just itching to die and be reborn multiple times?
  • Shamans are also not allowed to walk away from their practice, this results in madness and death. A shaman talks to the spirits because they have to.
  • Without a culture and a community, there is no shaman. The whole point of a shaman is to serve the community around them as a bridge between realities.

So why do I vacillate between the words shaman and hedgewitch? Because I’m a white girl raised in Southern California and living in America. Its as simple as that. Shaman is not a term from my lineage, it is a term stolen from a remote tribe. Yes, its still easily understood and helps people to identify me easier than hedgewitch or spirit-touched or god-owned does. But it still carries its own baggage.

“Gender and Death” from Lady Hela

Written at Hela’s prompting:

You discuss gender and androgyny and sexuality, but these are all limited human terms to point out this: who is reproducing with whom and what is beneficial for the community? People used to think it terms of the whole, but the whole has been whittled down to individual persons and its no longer a matter of community survival, but individual expressions. Death is beyond gender and sexuality, Death is the only thing in existence that “reproduces” from a void. I welcome a new language for a new time, when we open discussions with new definitions that are true for ourselves.

I invite you to consider yourself from the void, not from the abundance, so that instead of lacking, or not contributing, you are building from a base. Instead of a “family tree” to keep growing, we see an empty field. Instead of a history that you must continue to build upon, I present you the blank canvas of your life. Instead of accepting others language and definitions of yourself as male, female, femme, butch, androgynous, you become you.

I know that some of you wont get this, some humans see the cage as part of their skeleton and some see the cage as dressage and some wonder why people wave smoke in their face and call it a cage. Language is a living, breathing, growing organism. Do not get trapped by it so far as to not see your way out.

 

Cat, you are struggling to fit the Gods and Goddesses into fallible human language and fallible human ideas. Stop. Remove ideas of gender. See them for who they are. Love goddesses become death goddesses. Reproduction becomes a manipulation of power. Choice is there, hiding behind the human legends. Choice is power. Wyrd is power. Orlog is power, all flowing behind the stories, all telling a different tale. See Inanna. See the many faces of Artemis. Look for the power that has been stripped from them.

 

 

 

Pagan Blog Project – patron Goddess

Someone asked me last week to speak more about one of my patron Goddess’, so here you go.

Not much is known about Angrboda from the lore, so lets start from the very beginning.

In the beginning were the giants. They lived in two lands, one of fire and one of ice. In the middle, where the fire melted and the ice began to flow, a Jotun grew. His name was Ymir and he slept soundly between the elements and the darkness. From the sweat under his armpits, two more giants grew, a male and a female and from his legs, another giant was born. The only other being uncovered from the ice was a giant cow, who sustained the giants on her milk and licked clean the first God from a block of ice. This God married a Jotun and fathered a son, who married another giantess, who gave birth to Odin and his brothers. Odin and his brothers are bothered by the fact that they are outnumbered by the “savage” giants who were there first, Ymir keeps reproducing in his sleep. So Odin and his brothers put together a plan and eventually slaughter Ymir in his sleep and butcher his body and from the flesh they create the nine worlds. They also create the first man and woman from driftwood.

The giants end up with 4 of the 9 worlds. Muspellheim is the land of the fire giants, and is pretty inhospitable to anyone who isn’t a fire giant. Think of a constant volcano. Niflheim is the land of the frost-etin. Think Antartica times 100. Ymir was created from the poison river of Niflheim, Elivagar, melting in the heat of Muspellheim. These two were the first, created from primal elements, and are the basis for all the other worlds. The third land is Helheim, Hela’s land of the dead, where anyone who didn’t die in combat ends up. The Aesir had hoped to wrestle control of this land from the Jotun’s but alas, wyrd will not be denied. The fourth of the giant’s lands is called Jotunheim. It is filled with primeval forests, animals that long went extinct from our land, and many many many giants.

In the middle of Jotunheim is a magical cesspool. It is literally a sinkhole of magic, described as almost radioactive, with the ability to mutate and transform its inhabitants. After generations of births, the giants who live in the Ironwoods are a strange lot. There are quite a few shapeshifters, seers, witches, healers, intersexed and trans gendered individuals and deformities. In the Ironwoods, there are 9 tribes, each vying for control of the tribes and the magic.  After a fierce battle between Farbauti the Cruel-Striker, Chief of the Lightning Clan (and Loki’s father) and Angrboda, the Hag of the Ironwoods and Chief of the Wolf Clan, Angrboda now holds the title of “Chief of Chiefs” and controls the Ironwoods.

Still with me?

Angrboda met Loki. She fell for him, he for her. She was quite a bit older than him but they adored each other and she took him as her consort. They lived in her hall, on the outskirts of the Ironwoods. After awhile, having lived together and not having any children, Angrboda decided she wanted babies. So she and Loki moved to a hut in the middle of the Ironwoods and proceeded to use the strange magic to give birth to three children. The oldest was Hela, half human and half dead, destined to rule Helheim and fight against the Aesir at Ragnarok. The second child was Jormundgand, a were-snake who currently circles Midgard and is destined to kill and be killed by Thor. The third child was a werewolf, Fenris, who stayed more and more in wolf form as he got older. Fenris is chained with dwarf chains in a cave, until Ragnarok, when he will kill Odin and Tyr, and be destroyed himself. Fenris is a god of dark chaos and has no control over himself, is purely primal. Between the three children, we see a common theme. In Jormundgand we see creation and rebirth, in Hela we see death and in Fenris we see chaos and destruction. So Angrboda is the mother of chaos, death, destruction and rebirth.

Later in the Lore, we start to see Angrboda interact with the other Gods of the Aesir. Angrboda knows the prophesies of Ragnarok, she is a seer after all, and has begged Loki to keep the 3 kids a secret and not tell anyone. But Loki and Odin have become blood brothers and Loki can’t keep a secret, so Odin knows about the three children hidden in the Ironwoods who will bring about the end of the world. And he decides to do something about it. he sends an invitation to Angrboda to a feast, to speak about Loki. And since he is hiding somewhere with his younger wife and hasn’t seen the kids in who knows how long, she agrees. When Angrboda shows up at the hall unarmed, Odin locks the doors of the feast hall and burns the building to ashes with her inside.

Odin then flies to Jotunheim. He tries to pick up Hela, but is a little freaked out by her half-rotting side and instead grabs Fenris and Jormundgand. Not knowing what to do with a snake, he tosses her into the ocean and binds her to the waves. Fenris, he brings back to Asgard and tries to tame and raise as his child, but no one can control Chaos anymore than they can control Death, and so Fenris ends up chained in a cave and Tyr ends up with one less hand. And Hela journeys to Helheim to wait for her mother’s ghost.

Loki returns to the Ironwoods to see his family and finds the hut empty and his children gone. Slowly, he figures out what happened and goes slightly mad with grief. He tries to convince Hela to come home, but she has begun to collect the dead around her and he can see that she belongs in Helheim. His other two children are beyond his grasp. The only thing left to do is rescue Angrboda’s heart from the ashes of the fire and try to use the magic of the Ironwoods to save her. And as each member of the tribes gives up a little of their blood and soul and magic to the heart, Angrboda is reborn.

(To read a beautiful rendition of this story, try Angrboda’s Children by Raven Kaldera. He’s pretty controversial but the story is just gorgeous.)

So who is Angrboda to me and why do I chose to follow her as a Goddess? She is a wisewoman, a seer, a shaman, a shapeshifter, a priestess. She births chaos, death and rebirth. She teaches deep, primal magic, hunting, prophesy and sometimes even sex magic. She is the great wolf mother and is fiercely protective of her tribe.

She came to me when I was talking to Odin. Odin is a well-known shamanic god, having done the whole, eye-in-the-well, hanging-on-a-tree-bleeding thing. And I was interested in learning more about being a shaman. So imagine my surprise when Hela’s mom smacks me upside the head. There is more that one shamanic god in the Norse tradition, seidhr is not the only way to prophesize. Some of us have Etin blood flowing through our veins and we seek to reclaim the lost lore.

She is strong and fierce and neither kneels nor backs down from the truth for anyone.

She is a survivor.

I am a survivor.

All Hail the Mother Wolf.

 

A Call to Angrboda by Elizabeth Vongvisith

“O hail to you, Chieftain of the Iron Wood folk;
Yours is the rulership kept strong with your will.

O hail to you, mother who gave birth to Death;
Yours is the spear that never errs in flight.

O hail to you, wrathful one, maker of sorrows;
Yours is the furious rage that gives no quarter.

O hail to you, mother of wolf and serpent;
Yours is the love shown in strength and firmness.

O hail to you, defender of Jarnvidr;
Yours is the courage that does not doubt itself.

O hail to you, wise Hag of the holy forest;
Yours is the knowledge that is ancient and depthless.

O hail to you, sorceress-queen reborn by magic;
Yours is the heart that can never be destroyed.”