Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Good News and The Bad News

So in case you haven't heard, Pagans and Wiccans made it into the news this week. And there's good news, and there's bad news.  First, the good news.

Fox News reported on the University of Missouri's new religious guide for professors, which includes information on the holidays of several religions, including paganism, and ideas for accommodating students of those religions. I feel that attempting to schedule around all religious holy days would be impractical, and that it would make more sense for professors to accommodate students on an individual basis. But still, it's exciting that we made it into the guide.  The original article...

No exams on Wiccan, Pagan holidays at University of Missouri?

But the good news only lasted for so long before Fox decided to insult Pagans and Wiccans with inaccurate info and portrayals on Fox and Friends Sunday today.

Click here to experience the train wreck for yourself.

Friday, February 15, 2013

An Unnecessary Silence: Why Pagans Don't Need To Keep Quiet About Monogamy

   I've been in a relationship with my husband for about five years, so my interest in committed love isn't new. I've searched for resources on the caring kind of committed, monogamous love I talked about in last week's post, the kind that is a choice and an action(See "On Love" if you missed it!), and I've noticed a trend. The people who are talking about this kind of giving love and these kinds of relationships are often conservatives of the Abrahamic faiths, most notably Christianity. Just try Googling the term "loving your husband" and several of the links on the first page will take you to Christian sites. I've gone to books and blogs of other faiths on this topic on occasion, for lack of anything else promising to go to, and some of these resources can be helpful and inspirational to a point. Ultimately, however, I come to biblical admonishments to be a faithful spouse, or to love a certain way. Even if I frequently agree with what they're getting at, the assumption that those things are mandated by the Divine simply isn't applicable to my perspective as a pagan. I'm interested in this kind of love outside of a Christian worldview.

   If I were to guess, I think the immediate reaction of some might be, "There's no place for that discussion in paganism. She's talking about restrictions, about rules." Though I'm talking about restrictions, I'm talking about self-imposed restrictions. When we enter into a discussion on this topic, we know up-front that there are no external expectations on us. The Divine's not telling me that I have to be monogamous, and I'm not telling anyone else that they should be monogamous. There's no sacred text mandating such a choice. It's simply a decision that some of us make. When we realize that the topic begins on a foundation of choice, then a valuable, distinctly pagan discussion can occur. It is this same foundation of freedom that we so value, and a discussion on this kind of love does not seek to devalue it.

   I can't accept that there's no place for a discussion of monogamous relationships in the pagan community because I know that I am not the only monogamous pagan. And as long as that is the case, there is a place to apply our spirituality to this area of our life, as to all others. Bronwen Forbes, in her article When Did it Become Unfashionable to Be Monogamous? on The Witches Voice, has written about how she felt out of place at a pagan festival because of her monogamy. Pagans are open to people of all colors, all genders, all sexual orientations. We include those who see the gods as literal, distinct beings, those who see them as hazy deities unified by some sort of great universal force, and those who believe in no god at all. It would be absurd to think that the monogamous are not heavily represented among us, and a great mistake not to also be open to all modes of being in relationship with others, including monogamous living. Whether this is truly a widespread problem, or simply the experience of some pagans, it's important for those of us in committed relationships to realize that if we opt out of potential opportunities for "free love" or tend not to flirt with others of the opposite sex, we are no less pagan.

   I feel that the silence on this topic within our community may be due, in part, to its loud expression among Christians. Many of us hail from Christianity and have no desire to go back. When we found paganism, we weren't looking for a religion for aesthetics, and we may very well abhor the idea of denial of self, even to the Divine(I know I do). If we talk about commitment and selfless love, we might feel like we're being like them. We tend to react against things that remind us of something we've tried to distance ourselves from. If something brings back bad, guilty vibes from my Christian days, I know I tend to shy away from it. This is why I have trouble with prayer, and have never felt comfortable asking the gods for help. This is how I feel, and yet, it could be argued that there is a place for prayer and the discussion of prayer within paganism and I wouldn't disagree. The Christians do like to talk about staying married and loving their spouses, but that doesn't automatically make the topic inapplicable to pagans, especially if we're already interested in staying in relationships and loving our partners.

   The reason a discussion on committed monogamy is warranted is simply because it is the experience of some pagans. To be pagan is to apply our paganism to all facets of our lives, not to confine it to the ritual circle or the Sabbats. Many of us are interested in love, no matter what manifestations it may take, and we need to explore what it mean to us as pagans. Once we begin this process, we can take part in meaningful discussions about its every facet and every type, including the monogamous kind.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wishing You a Low-Stress Valentine's Day

   Really, we should be taking time out to be with our partner all throughout the year, not just on some arbitrary day in February. But Valentine's day is so entrenched in our culture that it's hard to escape, so here's my list of a few fun, easy activities to get into this Valentine's day. (And if you don't think Thursday is the best day for romance, just wait 'til the weekend. I'm pretty sure the Valentine's police won't come for you.)

   Warm Bodies is out in theaters and it's a fun and kooky alternative to all the seriousness we so often partake in on Vday. This horror/comedy/ romance offers something for everyone, including both you and your partner. Click here to watch the trailer!
(Rob and I saw it this weekend and we both loved it!)

   Make a special treat for a night in. This fluffy raspberry mousse has the added bonus of being pretty darn healthy. If you're loving the chocolate hearts, but not the idea of all the extra work of making them, just grab a bag of Dove hearts and plop one on top. (Seriously, don't make Valentine's day stressful for yourself. There's no love in that.) Get the recipe here!

   What simpler way to show the love than by writing a short note for your significant other? Leave it somewhere your partner will find it throughout their day, or, if public professions are more your style, post a Facebook status about what they mean to you for all your friends and family to see.

   Ah, the blanket fort! Construct a simple fort of sheets over your bed, if you can, or over piles of blankets on the floor using chairs. You can order in and enjoy your time together in your fun, romantic fort, remembering that good to be silly sometimes.

   Not everyone's in a relationship, and Valentine's day can feel pretty rough if you have to be in the midst of people professing their love for one another all day long. Remember that love isn't the exclusive domain of couples, and use Valentine's day as a time to share your love with family, or to show yourself some love. You could bake a special treat and take it to loved ones, or plan a special night for yourself. Movie, hot bath, massage, chocolate? It's up to you! (But I'd definitely recommend including the chocolate.)

   All it takes is a little imagination(and possibly some Googling) to find easy, fun ideas to celebrate your relationship and make time together special. Choose something simple that both of you can enjoy, and focus on what you have together that is so special.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Valentine's day!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Question of Belief

  Over at The Wild Hunt, Sabina Magliocco has answered criticisms of her recent presentation"The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism," which she presented at the Conference for Contemporary Paganism this past January. Some readers seemed to misunderstand her intentions, though she specified that she was using the term "fundamentalist" to apply only to those who believe that others should hold the same literal beliefs they hold, not simply to anyone who holds literal beliefs. Still, some have justifiable misgivings about whether it is a good idea to use the term, fearing that it could come to be used to describe any pagan who holds such distinct beliefs. Magliocco's original presentation, as well as her remarks on the blog, are being discussed widely throughout the pagan blogosphere, not only stirring up discussion and debate about use of the term "fundamentalism," but also about the very place of belief in religion in general and paganism specifically.

  In regards to most spiritual things, I hold an agnostic stance. I simply don't know the answers, and I don't have strong enough feelings on those matters to warrant the adoption of specific and distinct beliefs.  I do interact with multiple deities, but I choose not to worry too much about whether or not I believe in them, or whether or not I need to.  Don't get me wrong, it's that I'm too lazy to bother considering belief at all. I enjoy pondering theology alone and discussing it with others. The issue is simply that, though I'm most definitely not a materialist, I sometimes feel a skeptical lack of certainty.  It doesn't stop me from having experiences of divinity, but it does affect how I might explain my religion to others. If asked, I would point out that the deities are not seen only as hard-and-fast, literal beings, but also as containers of energy which we have created with our collective consciousness, and also as archetypal beings.  These multiple explanations allow me to to work with these deities no matter which explanation I accept, or if I accept them all.

  There are two distinct beliefs I do hold. I believe in a supernatural force that created the universe, and I believe that we do not cease to exist when our body dies. These beliefs are true of practitioners of a wide range of religions and spiritualities, and they could just as easily land me in Christianity or Hinduism as they could in paganism. They can therefore clearly not be said to be the thing that distinctly identifies me as pagan.  For some, belief is essential and central to their practice.  But for others, like myself, it is other factors that include us in the pagan community. It is our connection to the earth, our connection to something bigger than ourselves, our identity with certain social ideals, the fact that we find meaning in the archetype of the ancient pagans or the gods. It could be any of these things and more.

  As a pagan who does not place particular emphasis on belief in my personal practice, I tend to identify with Magliocco's concerns. I want paganism to remain a "big tent," as some have put it, a community that I can continue to feel that I belong to in spite of my beliefs or lack of them. I feel that it is both natural and justifiable for those of us who fall into this category to be particularly sensitive about the issue of "fundamentalism" because we would be the first pagans to potentially have our "paganness" called into question if such a perspective became widespread within the community.

  The bottom line is that I don't care what you believe or don't believe. I might sit with you at the riverside discussing theology for hours, but at the end of the day, we are pagan and we are in this together.

Marienne's Bookshelf: One of my favorite pagan books is Witch Crafting: A Spiritual Guide to Making Magic by Phyllis Curott.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Getting Acquainted with the Lorax

  Since watching The Lorax on Netflix the other day, I've been constantly singing songs about Thneedville. I thought the  movie was a lot of fun, complete with full animated musical numbers. But besides that, the theme of the movie is something I've been thinking about. I've always been a little...okay, very skeptical of environmentalists. They just always seemed so indignant about every little thing, and I wondered why they weren't more worried about all the suffering humans than all the suffering trees.

   For the record, I still believe we need to keep a balance between our concern for the planet and our concern for those of us on the planet. But that said, I'm a pagan, for Pete's sake. I can't get away with not even considering the environment. Eventually the contradiction inherent in that proposition pops up its annoying little head and yells, "Hey YOU! I'm herrree!"  A lot like the Lorax, now that I think about it.

   There's a lot for me to learn and I'm not going to try to learn it all overnight. I mean, I'm not a total failure. I think littering is abhorrent. But I'll be giving thought to issues as they come up. Starting with the fact that the typical paraffin candles I use in ritual cause indoor air pollution, a topic brought up in this recent post over at Letter from Hardscrabble Creek. I'm pretty partial to real candles, so soy or beeswax may be viable alternatives for me.

How has identifying as pagan affected your views on environmental activism?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Remembering Bob Marley

   Yep, if you didn't guess, today is the 68th anniversary of Bob Marley's birthday. I just watched Marley, the documentary, this week. If you have access to Netflix, be sure to check it out!

   I thought I'd share a link to "The 100 Best Bob Marley Songs," which was posted on this date last year. Each song has a description and full audio. Just click the image below, and enjoy!

"One thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Love and the Committed Pagan

   If you search the word "love" on, you'll get definitions like "a profoundly, tender passionate affection," "a feeling of...deep affection," and "sexual passion or desire." Merriam-Webster gets a bit closer to the complexity of the word by covering all types of love, including love of your old schoolmates, love of your children, love of baseball, and love of the sea. Love is defined in many ways by many people, and since it's a descriptor of the immaterial, no one can really proclaim that one is right and another is wrong. But for the purpose of exploring love in the context of a committed relationship to another, some sort of definition is in order. We know that we're talking about a romantic relationship. We're talking about a relationship with someone who we hope to spend some significant part of the foreseeable future with. We experience some kind of warm feelings of affection for this person, we find sexual satisfaction and pleasure with them, and we act as one another's companions. If this is the relationship, what is this thing we're supposed to be looking at, "love"? Is it the feeling of affection? The companionship? For this month's series, I am going to define love as "devotion."  I think this is the most meaningful definition for a committed relationship because I believe that love within such a relationship is both a choice and an action.

  First, let's talk about "choice." Oftentimes, individuals don't consciously choose the initial feelings that they have for their partner, so the idea of choice with regards to love is pushed aside altogether. This initial chemistry may be the result of endorphins, pheromones, common ground, and who-knows-what-else, but the simple fact is that feelings are constantly in flux. Some individuals gauge the strength of a relationship (and whether or not they should remain in it) by their feelings toward their partner, but it is my belief that it's impossible to maintain a long-term relationship with this standard.  Emotions are changeable even from minute to minute. If we don't accept that keeping a relationship strong long-term involves making a "choice" to love our partner, we will inevitably feel forced to exit the relationship at some point out of the belief that we are not being true to ourselves. I'm not talking about anyone forcing themselves to stay in a relationship that is extremely damaging, either physically or emotionally. No one deserves to be berated, cheated on, physically abused, or miserable forever. What I'm talking about is maintaining a relationship between two people who are both willing to work to keep that relationship strong, in spite of the ebb and flow of your emotions toward one another.

  The second part of our definition is action. If we think about love as an action, your interpretation will be a little different from mine and mine will be a little different from the next person's. That's because it will naturally be based on our life with our individual partner, and what we know about them. If your guy loves jogging and has always wished you'd come along, suggesting a jog could be a way for you to actively "love" him. If I suggested this to my guy, on the other hand, he'd think I was trying to think of ways to actively torture him. This kind of love is about doing things, big or little, that will make them feel appreciated, loved, or happy. Because these things could involve compromise, this kind of love might be seen as "selfless." That's not my favorite word because, as a pagan, I'm not really for denying the self. But it is about using moments to really try to care for your spouse, making that moment less about you and more about them.

  With this definition, we have a foundation to work upon. We know that love can be both a choice and an action, and these identifiers will be useful to us as we work to strengthen our relationships. Next week, we'll consider the pagan community's outlook on the ideas we've looked at so far, and ponder whether or not there is a place in our community for this type of discussion (see An Unnecessary Silence: Why Pagans Don't Need to Keep Quiet About Monogamy). Until then, happy loving, and can you guess what tomorrow (Feb. 6) is? (I'm not telling you. You have to wait 'til tomorrow!)

Marienne's Bookshelf: I'm currently reading The Real Witches' Craft by Kate West.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Imbolc Blessings

   Remember, if you live somewhere where it is snowy and cold and nothing like spring right now, that there is life even in death, even beneath the layers of freezing snow. And be sure to check out Teo Bishop's reflections on this Imbolc season.  He encourages us to "Keep vigil to the fire in your heart."