Monday, July 1, 2013

Becoming An Animist

Welcome to the Animist Blog Carnival, July 2013!

Originally, this topic was floated as "How I became an Animist". I couldn't write it that way. I am constantly in the process of 'becoming" something. The only constant in my (or anyone's) life is change.

I have always been an animist. Since animism can stand beside any religion, I know animists of every stripe, although they would not necessarily admit to it. Most people I know are animists. Its in our bones and guts. 

Next time a bit of technology malfunctions, watch the way one speaks of and to it. Listen to the way people speak of their tools, their houses, their cars; "Come on sweetheart, just a little further." "Fucking bastard, don't you crash."

Oh, but Paganaidd...that's just a way of speaking. People don't really believe that. 

Yes, but like things said in jest, these little comments are a window into the subconcious, intuitive self. Our intuition is a thing that has worked very well for our species and lately (last thousand years or so--a blink in the time of the planet) we have abandoned our intuitive selves. So perhaps the problem is that people don't believe it and thus lose their ability to clearly see that we are but a little species in a larger intricate system. The core of my own animism is understanding that I am as much a part of a natural system as my gut bacteria is part of me.

I am a big technology fan. I'm an early adopter and a geek. I love gadgets (although some just don't speak to me). I am just as likely to muse about my relationship with concrete and steel as with wood and water. This week I spent from Monday to Friday without any home Internet access...You can bet I was appealing to the spirits of communication and electricity. Configuring my new modem and router I alternately cajoled and scolded them. 

Wherever I go, I try to find the local spirits. I've been asked if I mean "Spirits" metaphorically--most people who know me, know I am very rational and not really woo at all. I suppose on one level, I do mean it as a metaphor,however on another level I perceive it as the literal truth. The spirits of place are palpable and distinct. Detroit is not Chicago, although they have many things in common. The Adirondacks and the Green Mountains are completely different ecosystems, although they are separated by less than seventy five miles.

And yet, I wasn't that aware of my own animist tendencies until recently. I mean, I knew how I felt about things, but I had that strange idea that seems rampant in our culture that religion must be old and handed down from on high to be valid. It didn't occur to me until recently that my peculiar way of thinking about things was a kind of spiritual inspiration. All those weird stories that popped into my head when I tried to get in touch with these impressions and perceptions were more important to me than the mythology of the long dead.

Since I opened myself to my own revelations, they've taken on a life of their own. One of those positive feedback loops that is so common in natural systems. The world communicates with me, so I communicate back and vice versa. I become an animist as I realize my own animism. 

Here are the views of other Animists on the theme of Becoming an Animist:

The Animist Blog Carnival HQ

Naturalistic Pantheist Musings sends us an essay about the influences that shaped their Animism

Allergic Pagan asserts, "Today I am an animist"

Therioshamanism says "I lost my religion and gained the world."

Naturebum gives us a lovely meditation and a Zen sort of poem.

Jesse Wolf Hardin Blog speaks.

Three links, one for the Earth Medicine Alliance, one for Graham Harvey, and one for the actual youtube interview.

Earth Medicine Alliance

Graham Harvey

Earth Medicine Alliance interveiws Graham Harvey, author of Animism: Respecting the Living World

John Dougill interviews Kazuhiko Kiyono,a Shinto Priest trainee Blog: Green Shinto

Heather sends us three posts

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paganaidd Returns

Imagined conversation in my head:

Paganaidd: "Hey, Internet"

Internet, "Hey, Paganaidd. Where you been?"

Paganaidd, "Ummm...busy?"

Internet, "Uh, huh..."

Paganaidd, "No, really! Health issues! Job Loss! Chaos! Locusts! Frogs! Really!"

Internet, "Hmmm...Well, don't let it happen again."

So, here I am dear reader. Back again--don't know how regularly I can post, but at least you know I'm alive.

I'm hosting the Animist Blog Carnival for July. It goes live on the 1st of July, so stay tuned.

If you'd like to dash off an essay, musing or article, feel free to email me the link.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cultural appropriation?

Many years ago, I realized that I'm as close to Family-Traditionalist witch, as one can get.

My mother was a bit of a witchy person. She was Catholic, but in that odd sort of saints-are-almost-gods sort of way. I couldn't tell the difference between the lives of the saints and the Greek myths when I was growing up.

And my mother was full of spells--I mean prayers--for every purpose.

For all that, she was quite devout, was very well versed in Doctrine and even taught Catechism.

My grandmother was born around 1900 and she was the right age for going to seances during the 1920's. In the blackout, they used to do the Ouija board of an evening, having nothing better to do. She was reputedly a pretty good medium. Although, she always said that Mrs Next Door moved the planchett.

My mother and I were fascinated by ghost stories.

Some time in my teens I learned to read Tarot cards. I used to read my mother's regularly.

Is it any wonder I ended up Pagan?

But, there was no secret-tradition-that-was-handed-down-since-the-burning-times. There's just stories, superstitions, and things that my mom always did that have long since lost their meaning.

Then, I have this name my father gave me, because he loved the Arthurian Legends, and they'd just come to Montreal. He was feeling homesick, so he gave me an ethnic name. Little realizing the effects it would have on my life.

Every time I meet someone at a festival who's taken it as a "Craft Name" I want to say, "Look, you didn't get beaten up on the playground over it, so you can't fucking use it."

I don't say that, of course, but the urge is there. Petty? Probably. But all I can remember is that I struggled (perversely at times) to keep some dignity and my name when I was constantly told that if I just let people call me by some diminutive, my life would be easier.

It would also be easier if I pretended not to be so smart, learned to not be a fashion disaster and learned how to tell people apart (I've got faceblindness).

I also get people who look down at their noses at me, convinced that I have taken on this "powerful" name to make myself feel important. I usually get along with those people, eventually.

So, this is my teeny tiny experience with cultural appropriation. It is certainly not on the same level as other's experiences. But it is the experience I draw upon when I'm trying to explain why cultural appropriation is wrong.

In every group, there's always the urge to prove one's cred. That's human nature I think. In some groups, it's easier to spot the posers. Like with military people; the guy in the corner of the party, talking about how many people he shot in Iraq? Yeah, he probably spent his tour of duty in Germany.

In Pagan and New Age circles, there's often someone who's made a name for themselves by talking about their journeys to the Astral, and thing like that. They often take money for "initiations".  They do the plastic sweat lodge thing, write a lot of books filled with repackaged "wisdom".

Stay away from those guys,they're just scary.

I was talking recently about cultural appropriation with friends and how much of a struggle it is to figure out what is appropriation vs what is already a part of American Culture.

The biggest enemy of American Animism is hipster-ism--that "Look at me! Look how cool and special I am." The craving to be a "unique and beautiful snowflake."

My daughter brought it up yesterday when we were having dinner. We were talking about dreadlocks and the politics of hair. Her position is that white people shouldn't do them because A) unless you have the right hair, they look terrible and B) it is serious cultural appropriation.

The person she was talking to had the position that one should be able to do whatever one wants with one's hair.

We talked about Celtic hair and how there is such a thing as Celtic locks, but they are different from African locks.

I love the look of locked hair. If I could get mine to do teeny tiny ones, I would love that. However, I can also imagine the African American woman looking at me and thinking, "I got/get beaten up on the playground for that. You can't have them."

As a Pagan and an American Animist, I have been examining my own beliefs for cultural appropriation. So much that is American is appropriated though. Every group that has come here, whether voluntarily, forced to flee here, or dragged here in chains brought their gods with them. Coming here, they met the gods of this land and everyone was changed.

It's all so complicated. The obnoxious and egregious appropriations like the Victoria's Secret ads are easy to spot, but what about the small things? When my children were little, they were each given a dream catcher. My daughter and I now ask the question about whether that is cultural appropriation. Hm.

The Gods are not static. Even the Abrahamic God with his tomes of literature, changes depending on who's looking.  For years, I played it safe doing the Celtic Recon thing, but it never quite worked. What kept happening was that these weird gods would show up in ritual and in my head.

The most extreme was Kali Ma. I was skeptical that She was really calling me, so I told Her, "Give me the means to make a pilgrimage to one of your temples."

Bang. The very next week I discover that there is a Temple to Kali in Laguna Beach California. The money for airfare appears from the aether, as does a place to stay. The entire trip, every obstacle was removed from my path. So much so, that the plane arrived 15 minutes early due to a tail wind. The bemused pilot informed us that a tail wind going from east to west is actually pretty rare. The Swami at the temple had time to sit and talk to me about how and why Kali Ma chooses people. He essentially said, "Yeah, she does this. Get used to it."

So, I am a devotee of Kali--but I have always had an affinity for Goddesses with bad reputations. I do not worship Her as she is worshiped in India, but she seems content enough with what I do offer.

So, are my little Kali figures cultural appropriation?

The latest goddess to call me is Santisima Muerte. She at least is an American goddess. Although I am not of  Mexican descent, I can claim her patronage as one who works on the roads at night.

An idea occurs to me; perhaps she is the Road God's consort?

I appealed to her for a homeless friend and again to her for a friend in the midst of divorce. She protects the powerless and impoverished.

But, she is the saint of a group of people who are deeply oppressed. Do I have any right to appeal to her? To display her symbols?

I suppose it's to do with respect. Understanding that I am a guest in her shrines.

Daughter and I have talked about it at length.  Thinking about pagans with their craft names, it wouldn't be obnoxious if they didn't show my name off as proof of their pagan cred. If I didn't get accused of being  one of those very hipsters every time I turn around.

So, I approach these deities very gingerly, with respect. Like one would if one were the guest in their house.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Maple Sugaring: The Trees Announce Spring.

I don't celebrate Imbolc. Like other Pagan holidays, it has never spoken to me. It doesn't work in most of North American, in fact. I have never lived in a place where the weather on February second made one iota of difference to whether spring would come early or late. 

No matter what the calender says, spring in Vermont begins with sugaring. The very first day of spring is the day you see the first maple tree tapped.

The sap buckets sprout on the trees long before the snowdrops, but the weather has turned. Even if we get a cold snap now, we are aware that it will only last a day or two. The snow has taken on the specific texture that skiers say they enjoy and I warn the kids not to make snowballs of to hit their father.

It is not just the temperature that has changed. The quality of the light is more substantial as the angle of the sunbeams are steeper. Every bodily sense understands that the long cold is breaking up. Winter is shrouded in silence or it roars with wind. Spring announces itself with song, even before the birds return. In the sugar bush the sap drips into the galvanized steel buckets creating a high pitched musical plink.  A dozen of these on a sunny day sounds like a couple of people riffing on high pitched steel drums. The base line is provided by the stream that is chuckling then roaring as the ice breaks up.

We have snow on the ground up here in the mountains, but it's mostly gone on the valley floor.

My neighbors for whom sugaring is a commercial exercise are up and down the street with their tractor and our grey muzzled dogs play together, running up and down the trails. 

Maple sugar is a wonderful thing. It is the only form of sugar that does not lend itself to the Plantation System. A sugar  bush can only be tapped for about 6 weeks out of the year. The rest of the year the maples just grow happily in their forest with only minimal help and protection from humans.

Sugar Maples are only found in North America. From Cornell University:

Distribution and Habitat: Sugar maple is one of 148 maple species found in the Northern Hemisphere, which includes about 90 native and introduced species in the United States. The range of sugar maple in North America extends from Nova Scotia and Quebec at its northern edge, west to Ontario, southeastern Manitoba, and western Minnesota, south to southern Missouri, and east to Tennessee and northern Georgia (Figure 2). Sugar maple is most common in New England and the Great Lakes states as well as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Sugar maples can be grown in other places, but they will not yield sap without the specific weather available in these specific parts of North America. Thomas Jefferson apparently tried to sugar in Virginia, to no avail. In order for tapping to happen, there must be warm sunny days and freezing nights.

When I tap the trees, I ask for their permission. The first time I did this, I worried that the trees felt the  way I would feel if somebody stuck a needle in me and bled me. To my astonishment, the overwhelming feeling I received was pride and happiness. 

I have often asked myself, when I commune with the spirits of the land, if the answers are just my imagination. It's oddly reassuring to get these completely unexpected answers.

These trees are  proud of themselves. They are happy to be tapped. Strong healthy trees are tapped. It's almost a status symbol (as much as trees have the concept of status) to sport buckets or sugar lines.

Maple trees are prom queens of the arboreal world, "Who else?" they ask, meaning the other trees, "Who else can gift you with this treasure?" They gown themselves in red in the autumn and preen because they are the belles of the ball.

One of those strange myths that just appears in my head occurs to me. The trees seem to tell me that they are hear to help the People, both four footed and two footed, survive the until end of the winter. February and March are famine months. The sap that browsing animals can glean from chewing on the bark of the maples provides valuable calories. These trees see themselves as saving the whole forest, every year.

There are no GMO maple trees (yet) and since the trees are North American, there's no need to look for the free trade label.

Maple sugar that comes from my own trees is as untainted as any food can be in this world.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Movies, Myths and Virtue

A culture transmits its virtues with its myths.

Mythic heroes aren't necessarily gods, but they can be. Always, they are expressions of values and ideals specific to a culture. Sometimes they are subtle, more often they are exaggerations of desirable qualities and the dreams a culture holds dear.

For the last 100 years, American Myths have been created and promulgated by Hollywood. We have exported our myths and they have returned to us.

Myths are always changed by the people who come into contact with them. The reasons American Myths are, like everything else American, a mixture and a hodgepodge. Often conflicted and self contradictory.

Virtue, according to the Wikipedia, is defined as moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristicsvalued as promoting collective and individual greatness.

In today's world, the concept of Virtue seems rather quaint. Childish even. So our myths which keep the Virtues alive are pitched to children. However, a group of humans without an overarching code of conduct, a stated or implicit set of Virtues is not a community in any sense of the word. The agreed upon Virtues are not necessarily something we expect everyone to have, but they are ideals to strive for. In a community, a person with enough Virtues is considered respectable, a person who does not is an outsider.

Each community self defines Virtue and from this our ethics and values are formed. Within the various American subcultures, certain Virtues are valued more than others, but I do believe there is a unique set of Virtues that pretty much most North Americans can agree on.

Social pressure is stronger than laws for controlling the behavior of community members.

I feel strongly that it's long past time to claim our Myths and our Virtues.

I really enjoy comics and I watched The Avengers again. A classic bit of myth from Marvel Comics and Paramount. I enjoyed it, partly because I love comic books as a genre, but more, Avengers is a wonderful example of US American Myth.

For those who haven't seen the movie, and are not comic book people, The Avengers are a team of super heroes. Their leader is a mysterious figure that answers to an equally mysterious, quite literally faceless, Council.

The Femme Fatale is a Russian immigrant by the name of Natasha Romanov AKA Black Widow. The first time we see her, she is tied to a chair, apparently awaiting painful interrogation. By the end of the scene, she has beaten up the bad guys with said chair and picked up her high heels to go find another assignment.

There are two Smart Guys on the team. One is Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. Genius, billioniare, playboy, philanthropist. Sort of Bill Gates with super powers. He also plays the Handsome Rogue.

The other Smart Guy is Bruce Banner. He is sweet, kind and tormented. With "astounding anger management issues". He's got a Jekyl and Hyde thing going on, turning into the Hulk when he gets pissed.

The By-the-Book Soldier is Captain America. He was trapped in ice from WWII and is a man of his time. He is the military man who is accustomed to fighting wars without moral amibguity.

Rounding out the team is a  demigod by the name of Thor. They're properly ambiguous as to whether Thor is really a God god or just some really impressive superhero.

So, a list of some of the Virtues portrayed in this film, in no particular order:

There is an absolutely stunning moment in the film, when our team is surrounded on all sides by hostiles and they prepare to fight and die back to back. This is powerful in our myths, that the power of a team

In the film, the war they fight is a clear cut, just war. No messy moral ambiguities. Unlike most of the United States' wars. The Bad Guys are clearly marked.

That is one of the primary American Virtues; to fight in defense of Home and Hearth. We dislike thinking of ourselves as an Empire. We like to talk about "just" wars. Most powerfully we use the concept of the "just" war to salve our conscience over the crimes committed in our names.

Interestingly, Captain America, who is a man of his time, is the conscience of the group. Originally a soldier from World War II, he reminds the other team members that although  a soldier should follow orders, "Just following orders" is never an excuse. 

By this I mean the "Nothing upsets me, I always think with a clear head and I am rational" sense of the word. This is one of the most highly prized of the North American Virtues. I think that (like all the other Virtues) this one is easily misunderstood. Many people I know think "cool" is a sort of callous cynicism. That hipster I'm-so-cool-the-world-bores-me attitude of studious nonchalance.

People who've been in scary situations know that true "cool" is the person who takes a deep breath and thinks about what needs to be done. Cool is Shackleton in the Antarctic. Cool is the crew of Apollo 13. Cool is the pilot who landed a commercial jet on the Hudson.

Every character in this movie is deeply, deeply cool.

This is related to, but not the same as Justice. An unjust law that applies to everyone equally is fair but still unjust. 

The courage of the superheroes is never in question--they're superheroes, but there is a lovely (although predictable  moment where an elderly man refuses to kneel before the villain, "I will never kneel before men like you." he says.
The villain replies with, "There are no men like me."
The old man sighs, seeming to resign himself to his fate, "There are always men like you."
The villain raises a weapon to destroy the elderly man and Captain America appears from nowhere to defend the old man.

Most symbolic because it is Captain America. The conscience of the group fighting a just war to defend an ordinary but courageous man from evil.

Oh, and there's another guy. Phil Coleson. At first glance he is merely a support character. A special agent, he is the teams handler and go-fer. A little lacking in the social skills dept, but extremely affable, very good at his job, and very, very ordinary.

Or he is on the surface.  He has ordinary strength, speed and agility for any athletic human, but this looks unimpressive next to the showy superheroes.  What he lacks in special powers he more than makes up for in competence.

You see, Phil makes competence into a superpower. Phil is the guy we could be, if we were really, really good at our jobs. 

He is a special agent, so he is a marksman. He's really, really good with his gun. He's got normal hand to hand skills, but he's really, really good at it. He specializes in logistics, so people always have everything they need. 

Most powerfully, he understand what makes people tick. He's really, really good at managing them.

There are other Virtues I could unpack, but those are the ones that leap out at me. Mythic heroes are reflections of what we could be. Arguably what we should be. Sadly, Virtues in North America appear to have been relegated to the realm of fairy tales.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Size-ism, Able-ism, Disgust and Compassion or If I'm a Pagan, how come I meet Christ so often?

In my first post in this blog, I mentioned that one of the Gods of my house is Christ in his guise as homeless dude.

I've met Christ several times in my life--Not literally (I don't think, but perhaps I'm wrong), but in the "I greet the divinity within you" sort of way.

Last week I met him in the form of a possibly drug addled, traumatized, toothless, middle aged white man.

The thing is, whenever I've met Christ, He's always in the form of someone who would normally inspire both fear and disgust. It is my obligation, my intention, my wyrd to overcome both, in order to see Him.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle just before we got there, about accepting a women to the shelter because she had higher medical needs than we could cope with. The medical supervisor called around to the various shelters that handled nursing home level of medical needs. For hours she did this. None of them would take her.

The problem was not her medical issues: She walked with a cane and needed help getting in and out of bed. She communicated just fine, albeit slowly. Had control over her bodily functions. She was on numerous medications, had a bunch of chronic problems. This would doubtless why she was receiving the level of care she was getting.

The problem then? Her weight.

In what I can only think of as rampant size-ism, these places complained that they couldn't find a bariatric (specially made for fat people) cot (we had one, we could have sent one). They complained that they didn't have equipment. They complained they didn't have staff.

In other words, she was too fat to be sheltered.  At less than five foot, she probably weighed 400lbs. She had a lot of the issues that one would see in a person of that size. So, they would turn her away because of it.

The woman was kept hanging like this until Mister Toothless White Guy says to the shelter manager and medical supervisor, "You know what? I live in the same building as her. She's fine. We'll (the other shelter residents) help her out. She should stay here."

And as it turned out, people did help. People made sure she got three meals a day, they talked to her, they helped her to the bathroom and the shower. Perhaps there was some comments about her size, but I never heard them.

One of my night shifts, one of the other night staff came to tell me that this woman needed help getting to the bathroom. There was a look on his face that I really couldn't place. The nursing supervisor was catching a nap and I was really reluctant to wake her. On the other hand, the worker seemed to be implying that this was a major undertaking. I decided to see what I could do without waking the supervisor. I figured I could always call her  if I needed to.

I went down to the dorm and found the female police officer and the male shelter manager trying to help her up. They both were clearly uncomfortable, but mostly because this involved helping someone rather intimately.

I was concerned that, the way everyone was acting, that we had to carry her to the restroom.

Really, it was surprisingly easy. She had some of the typical motor control issues that you see in stroke patient but she was able to swing her legs out of bed with only a little help. She was practiced at using her cane to pull herself up. From there, I walked beside her to the restroom. Really, I was only there to make sure she didn't lose her balance.

I asked her if she needed help in the rest room and she said, "No, thank you." and I just waited outside. When she was done, she walked her own self back to her bed, with only a very little bit of help. She needed help getting into her bed, as again, the motor control on her legs was not good.

That done, I left, wondering what all the fuss was about.

In retrospect, I realize the male shelter workers expression was disgust, that great killer of compassion.

I'd heard that before. I know that Kali is all about overcoming disgust, but I'd never had it brought home to me what a huge deal it was.

Our fat woman had some problems that inspired disgust in this normally (I'm pretty sure that people who don't have compassion don't work for the Red Cross) pretty compassionate man.

First, and most obviously was her size. Second was the fact that she was a little whiffy--she'd been wearing the same clothes for days because she'd lost literally everything and (big surprise) we didn't have any clothes that would fit her. She also had trouble bathing, because (another big surprise) she really couldn't do it herself.

The man muttered darkly about her but I didn't catch it (ok, I was mentally going "lalalalalala I can't hear you!"). It seemed to be a weight thing, as though her weight issues were causing the other things. Actually, given the neurological issues, I doubt she could have done those things anyway.

This was when Toothless White Guy entered the scene. He very politely asked if he could have a word. I really though he was going to complain about her. Instead, he asked me if I could make sure to write  a report for her case manager, outlining her needs. He spent a long time with me. There was no condescension in his manner, no sense of anything but pure concern.

Toothless White Guy had nothing in the world but the clothes on his back.

I mentioned how sweet I found our lady. He agreed that she was very sweet, but then very seriously told me, "And even if she were an asshole, she'd still deserve the care."

He smiled toothlessly at me,and I realized I had, for perhaps the third time in my life, met Christ.

As I said, not literally, but I cannot think of anything quite so Christ-like--going out of his way to care for a woman who frankly is suffering from a type of modern day leprosy (the social stigma, not the actual disease). No one would have blamed him if he had just ignored the whole thing, it wasn't his problem. But his actions inspired the compassion of others. I noticed how many people helped this woman, before I left. All people who didn't have to. She never lacked for company or help.

I found myself thinking about a friend of mine, wishing I could offer more concrete help. But she lives three hours away from me has Mulitple Chemical Sensitivity and I don't kid myself that I am anything but toxic (I don't do scents, or cosmetics, air fresheners, but we have a wood stove and I use cheap ass shampoo and Arm and Hammer detergent on my clothes so they don't smell) to her. I worry about her and have done what I can. She's another one suffering from metaphoric leprosy, only hers is of the "Middle-aged-woman with weird health care issues" variety. This makes her a bad patient. She is the bad poor person because she won't shut up. She doesn't "know her place".

Another friend who is fleeing a bad marriage suffers from it too. All those people she thought would support her have evaporated. Again, I can only offer my sympathetic ears

Having met Christ, I think a prayer to him and hope he can help the all the people who need it navigate the Byzantine maze of so-called aid organizations. Perhaps Christ is the patron God of those who seek compassion?

A little note about my use of the term "fat": "Fat" is a descriptor, not a value judgment. It is an adjetive like "Short" or "Tall" and is preferred by many size positive people.


All The Creatures

So here's where I've been sleeping. It's the weight room in the athletic building that the Red Cross is using as a shelter. I brought my backpack and hiking gear, which seems like a good decision. They are currently short of housing for shelter volunteers and since I'm so short term, I'm happy to stay at the shelter and sleep on a cot.

 The shelter I am working in is one of those that can accommodate animals. They have a heated trailer out back staffed by volunteers. We went outside for some kitteh and puppy therapy.