Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Religion versus Spirituality: What a Crock!

The annoyance came to me while on Facebook. This picture (to the left), posted by a couple people on the same day, right on the heels of a debate that I had (in a small group of pagan-esque seekers) about cultural appropriation in spiritual practices.

In the debate, one particularly offensive member of the group misquoted Crowley (stating, "do what thou wilt" as a way of saying- "appropriate away, if it works for you".) I cringed, then took on that issue. And took it on, and took it on, and took it on.

Because the idea that we are ENTITLED to whatever we are attracted to is pervasive in this culture- and people fight to keep that "entitlement". No one wants to believe that they are being racist or some similar ism.

It has been couched as the "religion versus spirituality" debate. But that is a false trope.

The media tells us we "deserve" what we desire through news, commercials, and entertainment. Most people in the United States (and elsewhere) actually believe it. (If you can afford it, that is. This is why I think cultural and spiritual appropriation are so commonplace in the US- it's essentially low cost or free (monetarily speaking)- so anyone can do it.) But theology is not for sale. Anyone telling you otherwise is a religious profiteer. These folks are usually selling you a book, a workshop, or something from their pagan shop most of the time, ever notice that? How convenient eclecticism is for these folks who have something to sell- there's always a new product line!

It is my experience that people who appropriate other people's spiritual practices, cherry picking this and that without deep understanding of historical or theological context (and studying those traditions in depth for quite some time) are hella defensive about their "practices"- defending them by calling names ("bullies" or "elitists") on those who would call them out on their offenses.

So people fight me on this point A LOT:
"It works for me."
"Who are you to criticize someone else's spiritual practices?"
"Each path is individual! You do what works for you, I'll do what works for me."

Do you notice any commonalities in those statements? The common thread is ME ME ME.

From my original Facebook rant:
The word religion actually means "to retie" and the function of religion is to retie a person to everything else. It's about connection (for my religion, it re-ties me to other creatures (including humans), other living beings (plants, non-corporeals), and the land. 
Spirituality is about individualism "I do this, this works for ME". It is about the individual (which is why it works so well in capitalist systems- everyone is looking for the shiny new thing right out of the package. This works well for Deepak and all the other capitalist gurus out there, be they New age, pagan, or otherwise.)  
People who insist on only doing things THEIR WAY never advance spiritually. They pick things that are comfortable. Religion isn't about comfort- it's about connection. And damn if that isn't uncomfortable some days (anyone who takes public transit knows what I mean.)
I call bullshit on individualism wrapped up in a "spiritual" package.

Irresponsible eclecticism is cultural appropriation. It is white supremacist thinking (regardless of who individually is appropriating). It is capitalism** applied to theology. Which I also call "New Age"- because New Age is about providing a product or service, for a cost, to address your "spiritual need". It's the "take a pill" mentality.

And make no mistake, Deepak Chopra is all about New Age thinking. He profits wildly from "spiritual" capitalism pumping out feel-good platitudes that challenge no one. Because again, spirituality is not about challenge. It's supposed to make you feel good about what you are already doing or not doing. It may inspire a new hobby or interest- but only so far. "Spirituality" is for dabblers.***

This picture's sentiment irritates the crap outta me, particularly in pagan circles. We should be better than this. Our ideas, theologies, holidays, and more were appropriated by folks that wanted to convert or exterminate us. And we do it to others? No, I say. And I will speak out when I see it happening.

Deepak is so fucking wrong- the quote is just plain wrong. Religion is a set of traditions but it does not exclude personal experience at all. There is room for gnosis in religion. And religion does not *have to* include belief. My religion does not need belief, as I have experience and deep gnosis that tells me what is true. Deepak is being reactionary and throwing the baby out with the bathwater (for a tidy sum, I'll add snarkily).

"Spirituality", on the other hand, is a watered down term that is basically meaningless because there is no specificity. It could be anything. Just like that term "pagan".

*It should go without saying (but because this is the internet, I will say it anyway to avoid assumptions on the part of a reader) not ALL authors, shop keeps, or teachers are cultural appropriators (or even eclectics). Many are deeply rooted in a specific tradition and do the work of their calling. But beware of eclectics and dabblers who ride the latest wave of shiny (This week, traditional craft! Last week: conjure!). They have no substance.

** I can criticize capitalism for multiple blog posts in and of itself, but for the sake of this post, when I say "capitalism" think, "making money off of anything and everything possible- including ideas and other living creatures".

***There is nothing wrong with dabbling. I have dabbled in plenty of things. But call your "practice" what it is. Dabbling does not a complete theology make. Dabbling does not lead to mastery. And that is what a true religion does- religion is designed to make us masters of ourselves. And that means tackling the hard stuff.

Sidebar: I understand that many criticisms of religion (ie. "organized religion" or abrahamic religion, or even more narrowly, Christianity) come from people eschewing all organization and structure. They do this because they have been stung by hierarchy. Shit, we ALL have. But that approach is foolish.
Structure and hierarchy are not the same thing. (Shit, even the word hierarchy has been co-opted. It doesn't have to mean "unilateral power over people and things". It simply means "structure" too. ) And ALL living things need to have a structure to survive and thrive.  Folks who have valid criticisms of systems of power and their abuse owe it to themselves and the struggle to know what it is that you are criticizing and to be specific about it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Idiot Box

As Witches who are more focused on inward processes than outward (see previous post) and working for change in the worlds (magic) rather than maintaining the status quo- TV is a troublesome concept at times. Especially when raising a child.

TV and mainstream media actively shapes us into fearful sleepers. I firmly believe this. At best it is "entertainment" (which is to say, distraction- which can be OK if it is not constant) and worst, it keeps us from being effective Witches and human beings in relation to one another.

Media gets us to believe everyone is a potential threat at worst, competition at best. It teaches that the gender differences reflected in our culture are intrinsic and create a huge chasm of difference between "men" and "women" (and that there are correct ways to be male and female and that there are no other options than those two gender assignments). It promotes a violent culture and treats violence as a way to solve problems. It creates a shameful relationship to sex and sexuality. I am, in short, not a huge fan. 

That is not to say that I do not watch certain things*. I have regular shows that I appreciate (most of the time) and I allow my son to watch* commercial free shows and movies that I select. We can do this because we only have our TV monitor hooked up to a Roku box. This gives us greater control of media in our home and also is cheaper than most people pay for the boob tube. 

We were given a TV for Xmas (Free! We would never have bought one, frankly.) and bought the box (for $60, total- so no ongoing fees for TV other than internet, which we use anyway!). We see Netflix (commercial free, $8 per month), streaming movies (also commercial free, and the most we have paid is $4 for a movie, but often they are free with our subscriptions), HBO Go (access given to us for free by a lovely friend!) Amazon Prime (for which we paid $50 a year -and- get free two day shipping in addition to a library of streaming for free) and Hulu Plus (not commercial free- so only the adults watch Hulu). 

The best part of this arrangement is that my kid is not indoctrinated with weird pop culture crap and commercialism because we actively choose what he watches. We choose programming that fosters empathy, compassion, and learning. Why anyone would pay a hundred plus dollars a month for TV is beyond me. We paid an annual fee for Amazon prime and currently pay $15 per month for our monthly subscriptions, which is all the media we can handle (often we have too much in our watch lists to "consume" anyway).

We make sure to leave the house every day (even if it is just playing in the yard)- we go to the library, the park, the zoo, the science museum, over to other kids' houses. We play inside too- play dough, coloring, games, using our imaginations. We take care of gardens and houseplants and animals. We cook together. We teach our son about numbers and letters and the passage of time (calendar and clock games).

In short, we LIVE!

*What do I watch? Game of Thrones (adults only! too violent!), The Newsroom, Real Time with Bill Maher, Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Community, Modern Family, Bones, Misfits, Downton Abbey. All of these are interesting- all have problems. Modern Family has no class analysis (how does a real estate agent and a stay-at-home mom afford such a gorgeous home and three kids, two in college, in L.A.?) Real Time is informative but Bill Maher's Dawkins-eque stylings on religion get tiresome sometimes. Game of Thrones (I am also reading book five) is a world that is riddled with racist, misogynistic, violent problems but it is a fascinating tale.

What does my son watch? Shows that foster cooperation (Wonder Pets, Go Diego Go, and Dora the Explorer). Shows that educate him on numbers, counting, reading and phonics (Sesame Street, Super Why, Leapfrog movies). I also let him watch movies that foster spirituality and an animist outlook (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service) or cultivates empathy and compassion (Up, How to Train Your Dragon, Wreck It Ralph). And you can bet that we talk about what is happening during and after the show. We want to make sure he is getting the right messages.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Am Weird.

...Or should I say Wyrd? Recently, a former professor's Facebook post and a blog post have made me decide to start a dialogue about what make us Weird.

Let's start with a definition, shall we?
weird  (wîrd)
adj. weird·er, weird·est
1. Of, relating to, or suggestive of the preternatural or supernatural.
2. Of a strikingly odd or unusual character; strange.
3. Archaic Of or relating to fate or the Fates.
a. Fate; destiny.
b. One's assigned lot or fortune, especially when evil.
2. often Weird Greek & Roman Mythology One of the Fates.
tr. & intr.v. weird·ed, weird·ing, weirds
Slang To experience or cause to experience an odd, unusual, and sometimes uneasy sensation. Often used with out.

So, I am weird in the traditional sense (as I believe I am led by old Fate herself in my spiritual path, which includes working with spirits) and in the modern slang sense- odd and unusual. I think I have always been this way (as I was always grappling with difference, even as a small child). It is only as an adult that I embrace it and live as gracefully as possible as a perpetual outsider.

Even in an outsider's religion, I am the weird one who often does not fit. My former professor (mentioned above) calls himself Khalvat Dar Anjuman on Facebook. This name is a phrase that means "in seclusion even in the midst of a crowd". As a Trad Witch, I identify with that term deeply- we Witches are always in-between, never fully in one group or even in one world. And as a person who cares deeply about religion AND politics, I identify with this term even more so in human company.

I am the one who is often "too political" for many spiritual folk and "too spiritual" for the comfort of most radical political folk that I agree with. I am often not quite *in* any community fully. I am willing to bet that there have been blog posts here or on the Witch Mom Facebook page that my readers and friends just shake their heads at- "Why is Witch Mom posting about CISPA?" or "Why is Lily so damned religious? Why does she defend other religions? Doesn't she know religion causes so many wars and problems in the world? Why does she defend belief?" To me, these issues are inextricably linked. I care deeply about our world, both human-created culture and society and nature and our connection to it. So I am the weirdo.

So what else makes me weird?

I am a Witch that believes Witchcraft is not for everyone. I am not selling Witchcraft to the highest bidder, nor am I teaching for money to spread the gospel of my views hither and yon. I am not wanting to be a BNP (Big Name Pagan) and build myself up as celebrity or guru.

I am an anarchist. This means that I believe in people working together in small groups to govern themselves as collectives, coops, organizations that use direct democracy, households and what have you. I believe that governments are too large to really incorporate democracy and so what we have settled for is representation (that doesn't actually represent us anymore). I am a socialist when it comes to large projects that affect us all (like health care and education and possibly food production on a small scale). I am a communist when it comes to how I want to belong to any group- be it a household, project, or neighborhood. All of these definitions fall under anarchy. Your mileage may vary.

I am a parent who believes in cultivating a free thinking questioning child, not a blindly obedient one. When my child is not listening to me and not doing what I ask, I talk to him in terms of cooperation, not obedience. When he gets time outs, it is because "Anti-social people often end up alone. No one wants to be around them." Hitting and name calling is anti-social, and he is isolated in that case because it is a natural consequence of his behavior. I do not indoctrinate my child with ideas about gender, either. We watch media together and talk about what he sees. He naturally eschews media violence, as I naturally did as a kid. I think he is highly empathic (as I was).

I am polyamorous. This means I think that I am wired to be in multiple loving relationships simultaneously. Unlike some poly folk, I do not believe that this makes me superior to monogamous people. I think poly is a wiring issue, much like other kinds of sexual orientation. It is just IS. Some people are mono, others are poly. There should be no moralizing around the issue.

I am queer. For me, this means that I am attracted to people, whether they are male, female, or other. I am highly selective and persnickety, so I am not attracted to everyone, but if you look at my relationships, you will wonder what my "type" is. It's hard to tell from appearances and identities of my partners. Truth be told, I am sapiosexual, and passion, intellect, and humor are the things that attract me. My partner (also a poly queer Witch) and I are often mistaken for a nuclear monogamous heterosexual family. People can think what they wish- but we are not.

From http://saratoday.wordpress.com/
I do not consume as much as many Americans and desire to consume less. I wish to live sustainably and small. A tiny house or even a converted bus or vardo are things that I fantasize about almost daily. I covet solar panels, compost toilets, and a scrap of land to grow upon. I would love to travel the world with my son, healing people in exchange for food. I would also love to grow a lot of my own medicine and food and raise bees and make medicine for my community (have started that one already!) I have purged most of my possessions and will do another purge before we leave Ohio in an attempt to be more minimal. What do I need? This question is not the same as "What do I want?"

I have a driving passion to heal and create beauty. I am going to learn acupuncture and TCM because I want to add that modality to the my healing skills of energy healing and western herbalism that I already have at my disposal. I craft, do DIY, and make art. I do this because I must.

What makes you Weird?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

Julia Ward Howe first proposed a "mother's peace day" in 1870 with her "Mother's Day Proclamation", below.

She was a wife and mother in a suppressive marriage and witnessed atrocities of the Civil War. It was her belief that women should have more social responsibility beyond tending to her husband, and she used her gift of pose to spread this message:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why Do We Hate Children So Much (Links)?

After being a parent for several years, I can only conclude that our culture hates children.

Some adults ignore my son when he tries to talk to them. He looks at me, bewildered and says, "They're not answering, mommy." I shoot them a glare and say pointedly, "Yes honey- some people are just rude."

Some adults roll their eyes if Rowan's emotions run away with him and he is loud about it (He is learning how to be in control of himself- but it is a process that requires practice. No one is born with it). These adults are the same adults who do not want to be in close quarters (airplanes, elevators, restaurants) with him and freak not-so-subtly when he arrives.

The world includes humans of all ages, and I call bullshit on this artificial construct of being in "adult only" space we have created.

Below are four links that speak to this topic.

What is "adult privilege"?

How other cultures raise infants and children and why ours is so problematic.

Adult privilege run amok makes family travel a nightmare.

Expectations of public behavior are often stacked against children and those that are different than the political norm.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Silence, Simplicity, and Solitude: A Way to Focus Within (In Preparation for Meeting Your Fetch)

In our culture, we are driven to distraction by almost everything. We are constantly asked to give up silence in exchange for constant chatter- background music or talking, traffic noises, social media pinging our phones and who knows what other complications.

We are rarely alone, even if we live alone. We often make these choices ourselves: we see being alone as a failure (why wouldn't you want to be among friends or others if you could- does it mean you are unloved?) or fearing what feelings might arise if we don't have the chatter of company. This is not meaninful connection- it is mere distraction. We are not fully present with one another and having a meaningful exchange- it is mere habit and diversion from inward processes.

We cannot even go somewhere alone without interruption: stores have music soundtracks and announcements, people wish to engage our attention everywhere, and we must constantly focus outwardly to keep our bodies safe (from traffic, from others, from running into things).

These outward distractions serve to lull us into a kind of sleep. It is the sleep of constantly looking outward and focusing on anything but ourselves and our parts. It is the sleep of an automaton- someone who doesn't really think about much other than surface things throughout the day. People who live like this all the time are what I call sleepers. Witches are not sleepers- they cannot function properly* when constantly distracted. Witches function when they can access all their parts at any time and use them to optimum effect. This cannot happen when in beta brain activity all the time.

BETA WAVES - 14Hz to 20Hz. Beta waves are associated with normal waking consciousness. They are present when you are focused on activities in the outside world.
ALPHA WAVES - 8Hz to 13Hz. Alpha waves are likened to a light 
meditation. They are prevalent when you daydream. They will 
become stronger when your eyes are closed. 
THETA WAVES - 4Hz to 7Hz. Theta waves occur during heightened 
states of creativity and are found with a deep meditative state. 
DELTA WAVES - .5Hz to 3Hz. Delta waves are found in a deep sleep 
state or unconsciousness. Also, Delta waves are common in very 
deep meditation.
Distractions and allowing yourself to fall into routines of distraction keep you in beta- not allowing for the other three patterns that are associated with Witchy work. Beta does not allow the self work and inward focus that is required of a novice working to prepare themselves for a life of service that -is- the Craft. In order to function in a Witchy (sorcerous and shamanic) capacity, you need to be able to be in contact with your Fetch- which cannot happen when we are constantly distracting ourselves with others, media, and shiny things- in other words, being in beta.

What is a Witch to do to achieve other states?

First, We must identify what distracts us. One exercise is to take an audit of our week. How many times do you look at a screen each day (mobile phone, computer, television, etc.)? How many of them were absolutely necessary for your livelihood (survival) and how many were just distractions?

How many times are we alone- with no other company (including partners, children, and other people we live with)? Are you -ever- alone? Are you only alone in the bathroom and a car? A car cannot count, as you must focus outwardly on traffic to survive. Bathroom could count as being alone, though!

How many times do you seek out silence- both in yourself (you not speaking to or focusing on others) and in your environment (turning everything off and being in quiet isolation)?

How many times did you purchase or receive something unnecessary for your survival? “Shiny things” can serve as a distraction as much as noise and people can. Some people distract themselves with these kinds of purchases all the time.

Once you get a general idea of what your obstacles are, you need to implement the three S's: silence, solitude, and simplicity.

Silence: I prefer to focus on “necessary speech” rather than a "complete and utter silence" exercise. This allows you to function at work and constantly T.H.I.N.K. about what you are about to say (Thoughtful, Helpful, Informative, Necessary, Kind). Rather than not speaking at all (which could relieve some types of all responsibility of analyzing their patterns (Such as wearing a sign that says, “Sorry, I am not allowed to speak right now”.), the T.H.I.N.K. model makes a Witch constantly look to her ideas and actions and it provides greater insight into how often unnecessary speech occurs. I recommend starting with the practice for a week and increasing the commitment from there. Eventually, we want to get to the life choice that all speech is necessary and none is superfluous. (Easier said than done!) Be critical- you need to be able to be honest with yourself if you spoke unnecessarily and not justify it. Are you ready for radical but compassionate honesty with yourself?

Simplicity: fast from purchases (other than food) for an entire month. Do this while actually actively “window shopping” at places you love to frequent. While this may sound like punishment, I assure you it is not. Allow yourself to feel the longing of possession and let it wash through and over you. Revel in the beauty of said object and “consume” its beauty with your senses without acquiring it. The goal here is appreciating beauty without the need of possessing it. Once we can master such a skill, it applies to the world in general. Sleepers have divorced themselves from the rest of creation- thinking themselves isolated, separate, and often “in charge” of the rest of creation. Witches know that we are all one and a part of all creation. Possession of anything is, in fact, a lie. Once we master our desires for “things” we can master our thoughts of “control over” others.

Do not misunderstand me: being a Witch (instead of an ascetic in another religion) does not mean we must deny ourselves pleasure and beauty. These are temporary exercises putting you in the right frame of mind. They are not to deny you anything- they are actually offering you different worldviews to the tired capitalist patriarchal model of possession of beauty instead.

Solitude: To be effective, a Witch simply must have solitude regularly. That is the only way spirits, gods, and other beings will be able to communicate with us.** Often, the only time a Witch is alone is in Dream. This is simply not enough. Setting aside time for nature walks, a sitting practice, and just being alone with no media (not even a book) is paramount. Ideally, this would happen every day- but it is understandable for those of us with partners and families that this could be difficult. But it needs to happen regularly- several times a week at a minimum. What can you do to ensure that this time is available to you?

*Witch is a job title, not an identity (although Witches identify so strongly with their function that they cannot help seeing the world in a different way than most sleepers- which cause people to confuse it with an identity instead of a job).

**Often, we assume a voice we "hear" is a spirit or god, but it actually a part of us (and not necessarily a part we should be listening to!) because we simply canot access the brain states to hear them. And even if they manage to get through the chatter of beta brain- think about how many more messages we would be getting if we shut off monkey mind more often!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Why I am not a Pagan

While I know many of my readers identify with the term "pagan", many of you may be surprised to know that I do not. I have used it as "cultural shorthand" at different times (online and in person), but I am finding the term less and less useful.

What do I mean?

1. "Pagan" is meaningless.

Historically, it just means "country dweller" and as most pagans are actually urban or suburban folk, the term isn't being used accurately.

Currently, the term is used to define... who? The more you try and pinpoint what "pagan" means and who is and is not included, the term becomes less and less useful. When it comes right down to it, it does not mean anything other than what we are NOT. We are not in an Abrahamic religion. So what?
And that makes the term as reactionary and useless as atheist. (Atheists have a word to describe them which does not define them and what they stand for- it only defines them in relation to others and what they are NOT.)

So now we have Christian pagans, atheist pagans, and who knows what other flavor. As I say, the term is meaningless. There is no belief system or anything that actually defines what we are.

2. Not all pagans do this, but since there is no code of conduct or agreed upon rules "pagans" often are very appropriative of other people's religions- cherry picking bits that "resonate" with them, and leaving other important context, history, and hard-work bits aside. It lends itself to a flavor du jour ethos that can border on racism (depending on the trad currently being cherry-picked).

3. Tribe and kin are important to me- so are keeping secrets and oaths that protect those folks. Some of the pagans that I have met do not have oaths to honor, nor do many seem to care about your oaths. I have heard eclectic pagans chastise people with traditions and secrecy as being "elitist" (as if we are required to share with anyone who asks!).

4. I have also people defend their eclectism and general paganry as "finding their path". But to be honest, when you cherry pick, you tend to only be attracted to things within your comfort zone and eschew other things that are more challenging and difficult. This is NOT spiritual growth. It's actually the opposite. Comfort and attraction are not the goal of spirituality and religion.

So how do you identify? I am a Witch. And there are more specific definitions than that, of course. But that requires and in-person conversation over tea! If you identify as pagan, how do you define that term (for yourself and others)?