Saturday, September 17, 2005

Worshipping the creation

It is commonplace for Christian critiques of Paganism to admonish us to "worship the Creator, not the creation." (See for example Focus on the Family's Dare 2 Dig Deeper: Breaking the Spell, a pamphlet for youth describing the so-called dangers of Wicca). The implication is that Pagans worship "creation," or nature. But to say that Pagans worship "the creation" is to commit the fallacy of begging the question: if we call nature "the creation," that presumes a creator. And most Pagans, like atheists, won't grant that there is a creator who stands outside of nature and creates, like a potter at his wheel. To make the point another way: Goddess is not the Judeo-Christian God in a skirt.

That is why the problem of evil isn't a problem for Wiccans and other Pagans. We don't believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful God who should have stopped the Holocaust, or Hurricane Katrina. (The problem of evil asks how such a God can also be all-good, given that he allows bad things to happen to his people.) Since Pagans don't believe in a vengeful or retributive God, we don't say stupid things such as, God visited the hurricane on New Orleans to punish the people for their sins.

Pagans don't believe in sin, and we don't believe in that God. Rather, we "believe in" the creative and destructive forces of the universe. We honor, not "worship," the cycles of nature. We believe in living in accord with nature and learning her lessons. For example, it is foolish to warm the seas, build a city below sea level, destroy the protective barrier wetlands and let the levees crumble, permit poverty to flourish among the people of that city, and have no plan for evacuation. A hurricane is a force of nature, but its severity and its impact on human lives have everything to do with humans taking responsibility, or failing to take responsibility, for our roles within nature. For we, too, are a part of nature. Human intelligence and human goodness are ours to use or forsake. We are given many gifts. But we accept few of them with humility or gratitude.

Starhawk says that human beings are co-creators with the Goddess. That reminds me of an old Jewish aphorism: "Why did God give us wheat and not bread? So that we would participate in creation." We are part of the creativity of nature. We are part of the conscious universe. By praying, performing ritual, and moving energy, we acknowledge our human role. We live not only in the more familiar, material world, with its vast resources, but also in a liminal space where we can converse with the spirits of place, the animals, and the ancestors. Our humility is not that of subject towards king, but of participants in the web of life and death. We can ask for help and guidance, just as we can offer those things when we are asked. By watching, listening, feeling, and applying our intelligence, we can learn our place in the fabric of things. With arrogance, hierarchy, greed, and willing submission, we kill ourselves and our earth. With humor, generosity, respect, humility, and loving kindness, we honor the Goddess, however we conceive of Her, and we honor ourselves.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Starhawk: "A Pagan Response to Katrina"

Essay reprinted in full, and absolutely worth reading the whole thing (via Goddessing):

Feel free to post, forward, and reprint this article for non-commercial purposes. All other rights reserved.

As Pagans, as worshippers of nature, how do we respond to an event like Hurricane Katrina, one of the most destructive natural disasters in the history of the United States? What does it mean to 'worship' something that, with one breath, can wipe out a major city? Do we see this as punishment, retribution for some Pagan sin? As an object lesson in the reality of climate change and global warming? As an overheated Goddess batting away some of the oil rigs contributing to her fever?

Of course, no one can speak for all Pagans. There is no overall Council of Pagan Thealogy to hand down an official dogma. But here is my own answer, as a priestess, teacher, writer, activist and thealogian.

Pagan religions are not punishment systems. We don't worship Gods of retribution, but a Goddess -- or Gods and Goddesses -- of mystery, in many aspects. The Goddess has immense power, both creative and destructive: the power that pushes a root out from a tiny seed and sends its shoot reaching for the sky, the power of the earthquake and the volcano, the rain that feeds the crops and the hurricane. We respond to that power with awe, wonder , amazement and gratitude, not fear.

The great powers of nature have an intelligence, a consciousness, albeit different in magnitude and kind from our own. Everything in nature is alive and speaking: the deep, crystalline intelligence of the rock heart of the planet, the fungal threads that link the roots of trees into the nerve-net of the forests, the chattering birds and the biochemistry of plants and mushrooms are all communicating. Our spiritual practice, the practice of magic, is about opening our eyes, ears and hearts to be able to hear, understand, and communicate back. And those powers want us to communicate with them. The Goddess is not omnipotent -- she is co-creative with human beings. She needs human help to create fertility and regeneration. The elements, the ancestors, the spirit beings that surround us want to work with us to protect and heal the earth, but they need our invitation.

Nature is also human nature. Our human intelligence, our particular, sharp-pointed ability to analyze, think, draw conclusions and act, our esthetic/emotional capacity to thrill at a beautiful sunset, our deep bonds with those we love and our empathy and compassion for others, are all aspects of the Goddess Herself. Indeed, she evolved us complicated, contradictory big-brained creatures precisely to experience some of those aspects. Or to put it simply, she gave us brains and she expects us to use them.

As a Witch, as a priestess of the Goddess, I make daily time to meditate and listen, ideally in some place where I have direct contact with nature. I rarely use an indoor altar any more -- instead I sit in the woods, or at least, in my garden, quiet my thoughts, open my eyes, look and listen. And what I've been hearing lately, in company with every other person I know who is in tune with the deep powers of the earth, is anguish, distress, deep rage, and dire warnings. The processes of environmental destruction, in particular, the overheating of the earth's climate, are already underway. A few weeks ago, when we were preparing for the Free Activist Witch Camp that Reclaiming, our network of Witches, offered in Southern Oregon, I asked, "Is there any way to avert massive death and destruction." The answer I got was an unequivocal 'no'.

"The process has gone too far," was the answer. The image that came to me was river rafting and shooting the rapids. There was a point where we as a species could have chosen a different river, or a different boat, or a different channel. But now we're in the chute. We can't turn back. We can't stop.

There's a command in river rafting, used in extreme situations: "Paddle or die." If you paddle, you have some power -- not enough to change the flow of the river, but enough to steer a course and avoid crashing on the rocks. If you give up, the river will most likely flip your boat, and you will drown.

When we emerged from the woods, a little-reported item in the news media, hidden away on the back pages, informed us that vast stretches of the tundra were melting in Siberia. If we were collectively using even a minimum of our human intelligence, this news should have been trumpeted on the front page with all the alarm of a terrorist attack, for it is far more dangerous.

Global warming increases the intensity of storms. Turn up the fire under a pot of water, and the bubbles will be bigger, faster and stronger. Hurricanes draw their energy from the heat in seawater. The Gulf of Mexico is abnormally warm -- and hurricanes have doubled in average intensity in the last decade and a half. Hurricane Katrina was a natural phenomenon, but Katrina's progression from a Category Two up to a Category Five as she crossed the gulf was a human-caused phenomenon, a function of our choices and decisions, our failure to steer a different course.

The forms and names we put on Goddesses, Gods, and Powers help translate those forces into terms our human minds can grasp. And so the Yoruba based traditions that originate in West Africa have given the name 'Oya' to the whirlwind, the hurricane, to those great powers of sudden change and destruction. Santeria, candomble, lucumi, voudoun, all include Oya in some form as a major orisha, a Great Power. Offerings are made to her, ceremonies done in her behalf, priestesses dance themselves into trance possession so that she can communicate with directly with the human community.

No city in the U.S. has more practitioners of these traditions than New Orleans. On the night the hurricane was due to hit, I made a ritual with a small group of friends to support the spiritual efforts that I knew were being made by priestesses of Oya all over the country. We were in Crawford, Texas, at Camp Casey, where Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Itaq, camped near Bush's ranch to confront Bush with the painful reality of the deaths his policies have caused. Many of the supporters there were from New Orleans, worried about their homes, their friends and families. The overall culture of the camp was very Christian -- we found no natural opening for public Pagan ritual, although a number of people did indicate to me quietly that they were 'one of us.' But our little group gathered by the roadside, cast a circle, chanted and prayed.

We prayed, speaking personally in the way humans do: " Please, Mama, we know what a mess we've made, but if there is any way to mitigate the death and the destruction, to lessen it slightly, please do." That same night Christians were praying and Orisha priestesses were 'working' Oya, and the hurricane did shift its course, slightly, and lessened its force, down to a Category Four.

And New Orleans survived. Not without loss, and death, but without the massive flooding and destruction that was feared. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

And a day later, the levees failed, and the floods came. They failed not from an Act of Goddess, but from a lack of resources. The Bush Administration had systematically cut funding for flood control and for repairing and increasing the strength of the levees. The money went to Iraq. Much of the Louisiana National Guard was also in Iraq. FEMA, the Federal Agency responsible for responding to natural disasters, had been gutted, defunded, refocused on terrorism, and its directorship given to a Bush
political crony with no experience in disaster response.

Now, weeks later, New Orleans remains under martial law. Official efforts at relief have ranged from inept to brutal, and the lack of planning and concern for human life, the punitive quality of the official response, seem deeply linked to prejudice and racism which devalues the lives of the poor, especially if they're black.

But ordinary people of all faiths have responded to this disaster with caring and compassion, with massive donations and relief efforts, and with shock and rage at a government which so completely fails to embody the values of human decency and respect for life that it claims to represent.

The Goddess does not punish us, but she also doesn't shield us from the logical consequences of our actions. Katrina's destructive power was a consequence of a human course that is contemptuous of nature. A Native American proverb says, "If we don't change our direction, we're going to wind up where we're headed." Katrina shows us a glimpse of that awful destination.

And she also shows us hope. We can change, and if we truly awaken to the need, maybe we will, before it is too late. The outpouring of concern and efforts to help, the hope, determination and vision of some of the citizens of New Orleans who remain, the grief we feel for the dead and the losses and the compassion that a huge tragedy evokes are the tools we need to set a different course, one that honors nature and human life, that uses our human intelligence to restore and regenerate the natural world, awakens our compassion, and kindles our passion for justice. When we set a new course, all the powers of life and growth and regeneration will be flowing with us. And when we ally with those powers, miracles can happen.

------------

SOME PAGAN RESOURCES:

THE PAGAN CLUSTER -- the group of Pagan activists I work with, will be sending a team to the area in October. For information and donations, see http://www.pagancluster.org/.

......

THE BLANKET PROJECT is an ongoing spell of compassion with the goal of providing handmade blankets to survivors, symbolizing the intention to blanket the country with compassion and caring. For information, see http://www.theblanketproject.com/
or email info@theblanketproject.com.

......

E-WITCH PAGAN AUCTION

Look for items marked NOLA PaganRelief: www.e-witch.info/
I will be donating an original manuscript and a limited edition, signed, numbered leather-bound 10th Anniversary Spiral Dance

.......

HOUSING BOARD FOR PAGAN HURRICANE SURVIVORS and those who can offer housing
www.ironoak.org.

.......

OFFICERS OF AVALON: officersofavalon.com
An organization of Pagan police officers and emergency service providers, they have already made one supply run to Mississippi, reports are on their webpage as well as information on how to donate.

.......

TEMPLE OF DIANA is accepting financial donations to be sent to the best organizations involved with hurricane relief efforts. Send your donations in any amount, and payable to Temple of Diana, with "hurricane relief" in the memo, and send to:
Temple of Diana
P.O. Box 6425
Monona, WI 53716

-------------

SOME GENERAL PLACES TO SEND AID:

REBUILD GREEN: www.rebuildgreen.org

Hurricane survivors who have remained in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans are determined to remain, rebuild their city with environmental awareness and a social conscience. They have set up the first functioning medical clinic for ordinary people, and have other projects in hand. They desperately need funds.

......

FAMILIES AND FRIENDS OF LOUISIANA'S INCARCERATED CHILDREN are doing intense work among the shelters and prisons with displaced youth, mostly African American. Believe me, the Red Cross and the Christian charities won't be pouring out relief to this group! They can also use some volunteers (especially African American) and many gifts in kind. Send a check to the "FFLIC Hurricane Relief Fund" to:

920 Platt Street
Sulphur, Louisiana, 70663



......

THE VETERANS FOR PEACE BUS that was at Camp Casey in Crawford, TX has now gone down to Covington, Louisiana to do relief work. They also need donations of money and computer equipment.

Make a donation to Veterans For Peace Chapter 116: www.vfproadtrips.org


Tax deductible cash donations can be send to:

Veterans For Peace Chapter 116
28500 Sherwood Rd
Willits CA 95490

Cell PH 707-536-3001

......

FOOD NOT BOMBS (www.foodnotbombs.net) will be providing food for refugees. They can use volunteers to prepare and serve food, and, of course, donations. You can make a financial donation on line or mail checks to:

Food Not Bombs
P.O. Box 744
Tucson, AZ 85702
Please call (1-800-884-1136) or email us if you can join them on the bus or help with gas money: katrina@foodnotbombs.net

.......

Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of The Earth Path, Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, The Fifth Sacred Thing and other books on feminism, politics and earth-based spirituality, including the co-authoried Pagan Book of Living and Dying. All are available at . She works with Reclaiming , a network that offers training in earth-based spirituality and ritual. She teaches Earth Activist Trainings that combine permaculture design and activist skills, and works with the RANT trainer's collective that offers training and support for mobilizations around global justice and peace issues.

Donations to help support Starhawk�s trainings and work can be sent to:

ACT
1405 Hillmount St.
Austin, Texas
78704
U.S.A.

To get her periodic posts of her writings, email and put "subscribe" in the subject heading.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The religion/spirituality meme

This meme appeared at TurtleHeart's, too. It was started at A Pagan Sojourn. Sojourner has links to those who have responded so far.
1. Why do you choose the religion you embrace?

It makes sense to me that the universal divine creative force is female, is Goddess. Wicca teaches me to love myself as a woman, as queer, as a sexual being, as an animal. ("You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles in the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." - Mary Oliver) Wicca, like yoga, permits an embodied spirituality; we meet spirit through, not in spite of, our bodies. Wicca reveals to me an enchanted world. It teaches me to look beyond and behind my rationality, which I have overvalued to the point of fetishism. Wicca makes sense to me psychologically; here I am influenced by the Faery Tradition of Victor and Cora Anderson, Starhawk, and Thorn Coyle. Wicca honors the Younger Self. It honors poetry and the mystery at the heart of existence. Nakedness of all kinds is holy.

2. How religious are you? How often do you practice your religion?

I study often. I practice ritual frequently but sporadically. I observe the wheel of the year, the solar and lunar holy days. I pray. I acknowledge the presence of the divine daily.

3.Why is this religion the right one for you?

It's a gut feeling more than anything. Wicca feels right. It makes me happy. Many Witches believe that we were Witches in past lives, too. I'll drink to that.

4. How does the practice of this religion improve your life or what benefit do you recieve from its practice?

I am more grounded. I have a strong sense of myself on a path, a journey, and I'm learning to trust the signposts. I have more compassion for myself and others. I am more likely to trust my intuition. I am more open to the movement of energy and the way that affects our dense bodies. Wicca permits me synchronicity. It helps me understand myself and others better.

5. Are you spiritual as well as religious? Or is one more prevalent then the other?

I don't distinguish between spirituality and religion.

A book meme

TurtleHeart tagged me for this meme ages ago, and I'm finally getting around to it.

What is the total number of books you own?

I'm guessing between 1500 and 2000. I have no idea.

What was the last book you bought?

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

What was the last book you read?

The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir (A novel that examines the extent of individual moral responsibility under times of widespread crisis - in this case, WWII in France)

What are five books that have been particularly meaningful to you?

1. Little, Big by John Crowley (Magical realism, a family saga, and faery religion)

2. The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk (A detailed and hopeful vision of the future; gorgeous and starkly inspirational)

3. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (The founding text of modern feminism, and a visionary if ill-understood work of art)

4. I'm not Stiller by Max Frisch (Mid-century Central European fiction examining the instability of personal identity)

5. A Room of One's Own by Virgina Woolf (Began my passionate devotion to women's art and creativity.)

6. Feminist Theory From Margin to Center by bell hooks (Jolted me out of my white girl's perspective and gave me respect for the role of men in feminist movement)

Monday, September 05, 2005

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina

I've been blogging incessantly about Hurricane Katrina at my other, more public, blog. I haven't the energy or heart to continue here. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of New Orleans.

I keep three blogs. My oldest blog is widely read, and I blog under different psuedonyms here and there. I started this blog specifically to talk about the more interior aspects of my spirituality, which is why I rarely talk about politics or my work here, and why my blogroll here is limited to Pagan blogs. My third blog is quite specialized; I'm using it to write my dissertation. If this blog is silent for a few days, it's usually because I'm busily writing somewhere else. I very much value the space I have here to write about my spiritual life, and I appreciate the small audience that has formed here. Blessings to you all.