30 DoA #13: Cultural Issues

Wayland the Chick?

13. What modern cultural issues are closest to this deity’s heart? This strikes me as a rather odd prompt, but then again, I’m not usually one to project my ideals for social justice onto my spiritual practice. However, if there were anything Wayland would be concerned with in our present day American culture, it would be the desire for instant gratification. Perhaps this tendency could even be expanded to a general lack of foresight.

American think they know what they want, and they want it NOW. Sometimes with a “please,” more often with a foot stomp. The tantrums will only increase a resources inevitably become more scarce. Wayland is the embodiment of patience, and of attention to detail. Though I’ve never asked him, I’ve often wondered what he thinks of our “give it to me now” culture. This is a being who first waited for his wife to return, then waited again, biding his time to escape his captors and wreak his vengeance. He is focused, determined and not easily swayed in his path.

In more ways than one, Wayland’s behavior in the lore is anathema to our current modus operandi. If traffic isn’t going fast enough, we indulge in road rage. If we’re sad, we medicate ourselves with food, alcohol, and drugs. We act as if this age of abundance is never going to end, cracking open our Mother’s bones to suck the marrow in a frantic attempt to preserve an unsustainable status quo. We care little about the world we will leave for our children, or more importantly our children’s children’s children. Even Wayland, in his thirst for justice made provisions that his unborn child would not be harmed. That’s more than can be said for the rest of us, blind to the consequences of our momentary satisfaction.

If we are to survive, if any part of our great stores of information and knowledge (notice that I do not include wisdom here) is to be preserved, we must learn the lessons of patience and perseverance on an intimate, physical level. Hone your tools, learn a pre-industrial craft, put some of this amazing opportunity to good use. Practice patience as you persevere against these challenges, cultivate diligence alongside your cabbages.  The slow and steady may not be as glamorous in the short term, but those who heed the Smith’s tale, and others like it, will have a head start–maybe even enough to save a species, if not a world.

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Too Many Alphas

The pagan community needs fewer leaders.

As usual, scandal has set the ol’ brain to boiling—in this case the allegations against Kenny Klein. Happily, I came across these thoughtful posts by Yvonne Aburrow and Sarah Lawless (an oldy but goody), which made me consider this idea again, that we actually suffer from too many leaders rather than a dearth.

Throughout the blogosphere I read, “We need more teachers!” Or, “We need to train the High Priestesses and Grove Fathers of tomorrow!” Or, worst of all, “We want everyone to be a leader!”*

No. No, we really don’t.

First of all, not everyone can, should, or wants to be a leader. That’s fine, and frankly, it’s the natural order of things. Leaders provide the public face of a group—having a single point of contact is a proven way to interact effectively with the broader culture. With any luck, a pagan/polytheist leader will also converse with leaders from other spiritual traditions and with government as necessary. They spearhead events, found publishing houses, and raise temples. They have tough, tough jobs, and frankly, I don’t envy them.

However, we have plenty of people for the leadership role already. The problem is not that we need newer, better, more leaders (with frickin’ lazer beams!). The problem is that we need to support the ones we do have. And part of that support includes calling our beloved elders on their shit.

This brings me to my main point: what we desperately do need are good betas.

Often called second-in-commands, or right-hands (or left-hands if you’re a Themelite), these are the people who can act as both assistant to and conscience for our leaders. This requires a certain strength all its own, one that is not generally fostered or recognized in our communities. Betas aren’t flashy. There’s little name recognition for them. A good beta must not be a yes-man or -woman to the resident alpha or Big Name Pagan. They know the rules of the group, and will enforce them equally across the board.

So how do we encourage betas? I wish I had a good answer for that. I think the most important thing is to realize that they are not simply failed alphas. They have their own skill sets that need to be nurtured. Often, betas are the people that the a group member will feel most comfortable approaching if they have a problem. This is where betas can use the most support, in learning how to receive accusations against other group members and not automatically dismiss them because of a power differential. With them rests the responsibility for ensuring that complaints are heard and survivors/victims are supported, especially if those complaints are against a community leader or BNP. The beta is in that rare position of being able to call out a community leader when they’ve violated the rules of the group. It can be with kindness and love, but it still must be done for the bonds of trust within the community to remain strong.

Coming back to the opening sentence of this post, “The pagan community needs fewer leaders,” when accusations are brought, the accuser needs to feel heard and respected regardless of whom they are accusing. If the accuser wants to, support them in filing charges with the authorities. If those accusations are substantiated and convictions are made, we need to act to remove the convicted from positions of leadership within our communities—let’s take a lesson from the Catholics here, and not cover up abuse when it happens.

If supporting survivors means that means we end up with a lack of leaders for a little while, so be it. I’ll take fewer leaders and BNPs of quality over the alternative any day.

 

*To be clear, if you are solitary, then by default you have sovereignty over your practice. The whole “every man is a priest, every woman is a priestess” (filched from Martin Luther, by the way) is absolutely true when it comes to personal practice, or practice within a family unit—take ye olde pater familias model for example.

Xenophilia

Ok, here’s another entry I kinda made up. There’s been a ton written on xenophobia–in fact our agricultural practices show how deeply rooted the fear of the other is in our culture. Part of my own goal when it comes to both my spiritual and physical gardens is to promote diversity as much as possible, i.e., to not exist in a monoculture.

Most uses of the term xenophilia are not necessarily complementary, especially in regards to cultural interactions. In biology, however, it can be used to describe the introduction of a new species which is accepted in the same niche as another species. And this is where those of us who practice traditions rooted in other lands can benefit from the example. Some species that are important to Druidry in Britain and Ireland simply don’t grow in New England. Take yew, for example. There are North American yews, but they are a completely different critter from the long-lived giants of England and Wales. So in my own practice, I see the Eastern Hemlock as fulfilling a very similar niche.

Thus, there are many different ways to incorporate the biodiversity of our surroundings into our spiritual practices in responsible ways. Maybe it’s as simple as substituting rosemary for white sage if you’re not in the desert. Or perhaps it’s fighting the way mechanized agriculture is conducted by growing your own Spiritual Victory Garden. Whatever form your xenophilia takes, embrace the other and live in all the colors of the spectrum.

Adoration Calendar

ad·o·ra·tion (d-rshn): n. 1. The act of worship.

2. Profound love or regard.

While I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, I’ve also been having a difficult time figuring out what to call this part of my practice. I’ve also been worried about offending people with my opinions about worship;  but taking Gordon’s only blogging tip to heart (“only ever post something that gives you trepidation…. [o]therwise you’ve probably just pitched shit at everyone”), I’m writing about it anyway. Here we go.

For the record, I’m violently allergic to the pseudo-Christian way in which many devotional polytheists interact with their gods.* In an effort to distance myself from that mode of thinking, for quite a while I’ve been defining my practice as not involving gods. However, that’s not entirely true. I do have relationships with several “large” beings—what Waincraft would call “Powers”**—but devotion doesn’t describe my practice.

Thus, I’ve been looking for term other than “devotion” for a while now, and yet again I have discovered how the thesaurus is my friend. Devotion, with its current connotations (at least in the Pagan blogosphere) of servitude/slavery and low self-esteem, is  something of which I wish to avoid. But adoration, that’s another story. I do adore my gods. I love them, I’m inspired by them, I share food and drink with them as I would my mother and father. I do not worship them for why would one worship one’s own family?

Bearing the aforementioned information in mind, the following is a rough outline of my calendar of adoration, presented using the Waincraft titles for the Powers as those resonate most strongly for me.

The Star Mother/The Holy Earth—Beltaine/Samhain axis. The outermost circle of the wheel, the beings who encompass the whole of my practice. These two ladies are the balance between the supporting ground and the inspiring skies.

The Lord of the Green/The Lord of the Hunt—Alban Eilir/Alban Elfed axis. The second circle of the wheel, the god who guides me through the wood, and the god who guides me through the otherworlds. They are the balance between growth and decay, tutor and psychopomp.

The Red Lady/The Witcher—Imbolc/Lughnasadh axis. The third circle is the goddesses who bring magic into my life, though passion and patience, sex and death.

The Long Flame***/The Maker—Alban Arthan/Albin Hefin axis. This is the innermost circle, the creative dance that fuels my reason for being. These gods embody the Divine Twins, the Fire and the Smith.

First draft of my adoration calendar. The order of the wheels are reverse here, with the Star Mother/Holy Earth on the inside and the Long Flame/Maker on the outer ring. I tweaked the design between taking the picture and writing the post, what can I say?

My celebrations now span three days (with the exception of Alban Arthan, which lasts twelve). On the eve of a high day, I acknowledge the fading of one influence; on the day of, I celebrate the zenith of a second; and on the day after, I welcome the beginning of a third and new presence in my life. I began working this model at Imbolc this year, and I’m looking forward to see how well it suits me in the year to come.

The other tweak I’ve made to my celebration schedule is to try to observe the cross-quarter days at 15 degrees of the fixed signs (Aquarius, Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio). In many ways, this works very well for solo practice as it is much less likely to conflict with other Pagan groups who follow the calendrical cross-quarter model.

There you have it! A work in progress for one Druid’s personal practice.

*I’m also violently allergic to the rampant improper capitalization of pronouns and common nouns, but that’s a rant for another time.
**This is a collective noun, whose capitalization does not irritate me for some reason. Go figure.
***Long Flame is my personal epithet for the Lord of the Winds, for those following along in the Waincraft lingo.

Wyrd Night

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As the last few hours of 2012 come to a close (by Western reckoning, in any case), the time comes to examine the fabric of our fates, or wyrd. The weft is made up of threads of Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Spirit, and the manner of their weaving is left largely up to the individual. The warp is the wyrd background against which we all create our patterns. Unlike a loom’s warp, wyrd isn’t quite fixed, as it changes in response to the choices and actions present in the weft; but it is largely beyond our conscious control when compared to the threads of the elements and nwyvre.

One way to try to read the influences of wyrd, of fate, can be through divination. Tarot, runes, ogham (the bane of my existence!), astrology, scrying, are all viable tools for sussing out the flows of the Weird Sisters’ Well. Seeing possibilities in the pattern can help to guide one’s choices, but we must remember that we are all ultimately masters and mistresses of our own fates. To believe unerringly in any reading is to doom oneself to being a victim of whatever the seer proposes.

In preparation for the oracular work of this night, I like to take this day to clean house, both literally and metaphorically. With the end of the gifting season, there will be many things in our homes which are no longer needed. Drop items in local clothing or book boxes, or find families in your neighborhood who might appreciate hand-me-downs. Go through your ritual tool kit. What do you use regularly? What can you give away? Tidy your shrines and altars—house wights like nothing better than this, and it will solidify your relationship to them for the coming year. Take out the trash and recyclables.

Then when your home is in order, consult your preferred method of divination for the coming year. I find a monthly pull to be most useful, though there are many spreads available which can provide various levels of detailed information. Write down the results, stick them on your refrigerator or calendar. Then, once a month refer to this reading. Use it as a guide for aspects of your life on which to focus, or as warning of areas that may be troublesome in the coming month.

And if you don’t like what you see, for gods’ sakes, CHANGE IT.

Warmth under a shining sky,

A.V.

High Summer

Lichen, peeling from drought.

Thinking about the Imbolc–Lughnasadh axis of my year’s Wheel, I realize that I’m struck with more than a little melancholy during each of these seasons. I have always had trouble getting into the celebratory groove, because for me, these holidays are more famine than feast. For me, they mark extremes of lack: Imbolc of food, and Lughnasadh of water.

Most often, Lughnasadh is celebrated as the first harvest, a time of plenty. But it’s origins lie in the death of a goddess. Growing up just south of New York City, Lughnasadh was the time of drought. Thus far, this is also proving to be true in New England. The brook that lies to the west of my home, deep in conversation land, has dwindled to a muddy trickle. The latest batch of tadpoles struggle in ever smaller pools of water. Even the lichen in the forest browns and curls up from lack of rain.

Humans are not immune to this—if anything we’ve exacerbated the problem with our golf courses and aerial sprinklers. The neighboring town is already on a level IV drought alert, having started out at level I in late April. Too many people use too much water and the aquifers and reservoirs just can’t keep up. It’s frustrating, and something that my own community tries to mitigate though rain barrels, water-saving faucets, and soaker hoses. But we, too, despite our best efforts are far from living lightly on the land.

There seems to be a perpetual pagan Pollyanna attitude around the holidays, the feeling that we should be celebrating, dammit.  I’m thinking that a better attitude is one of observance. Not every holiday is joyous. Some are somber. And that’s ok. We can’t and shouldn’t be expected to be happy all the time, especially in matters of spirituality. As pagans, realizing that pluralism should extend not just to interfaith efforts, but to our own beliefs will give us a richness of meaning to holy days that often feel one-dimensional at best, forced at worst.

—A.V.

Words of Wisdom

This whole piece is very satisfying, but the following really hit home:

System Hubris.

SO fucking tired about hearing about how X is the real deal because it is 1) written in a renaissance grimoire 2) an African Diasporic Tradition  3) uses proper herbs and ingredients 4) doesnt use any herbs or ingredients 5) makes the best use of energetics 6) has no use for “energy” in magic … You get the idea. Pick one or make your own.

Basically if you can do something really fucking amazing repeatedly, please teleport your wizardly ass over here and shit your alchemical gold brick on my coffee table. I will accept that you really have done something well beyond what other systems are doing. Until then, I dont want to hear about how Crowley and GD are lame and get no results, but you do.

If you have to piss in someone else’s cup to make me think your water is sweet, I am not even gonna taste it.

—Jason Miller, “Things We Need to Escape the Gravity of