Thursday, August 24, 2006

"She is the most radical thinker of our time"

Sound crazy?

[I've been admiring the alchemical images over at this site. This one is the hand of the philosophers by J. J. Hollandus, Vienna, 1773.]

I've been thinking about the dearth of women among the ranks of the hipster gurus. Ken Wilbur, Daniel Pinchbeck, Andrew Harvey, Rob Brezny - these are the guys I'm thinking of. Where is the connection between guys like these and the thealogians I admire, women like Dianne Sylvan, Stephanie Rose Bird, Starhawk, Carol Christ, Z Budapest, Diane Stein, Susun Weed? You may think I'm comparing apples and oranges, men who build world systems vs. women who write down the Goddess. But I'm thinking of anyone who could count as part of the alternative, progressive spiritual turning. Where are the women? The thinkers, the visionaries, the web crawling mavens. No - the question isn't where are the women? The question is, why does the guru hero-worship belong to men, and why don't those men discuss the women's ideas and influence? It's like two different worlds.

I know the women are off having visions, making art, writing books, and otherwise changing the world. You can't really afford to give a shit about what the big boys are doing. But what can I say? I want a little glory, press, even shero-worship for the women. I want a woman to be called "the most radical thinker" and "greatest philosopher" of our time. Can you imagine?

Monday, August 21, 2006

The stylish witch

I've been thinking about style, or aesthetics - the way we dress the world around us. It's one of those areas of life that's trivialized as feminine (or is that feminized as trivial?), but an appreciation for beauty and the cultivation of taste have been regarded as virtuous pursuits since at least the Greeks. I don't confuse taste with expense; I think extreme wealth is in very bad taste. Indeed, I prefer the creativity evoked by economic limitations (but not poverty; poverty is just harmful - it ain't romantic). Sonja inspires me in her fervent commitment to busting people's preconceived notions about witches' aesthetic (although she may be more heathen than witch these days, but never mind - heathens probably have a worse image problem than witches). We're not all living in country cottages surrounded by herb gardens, or gothic industrial lofts, or our parents' basements. If you're a Pagan and at all interested in this stuff, leave a comment describing your own aesthetic.

I'm torn between a Japanese-inflected Scandanavian modern - wood, leather, and other natural (appearing) fibers, and clean lines - made accessible to a plebe like me by Ikea, and a more magpie, colorful, eclectic, somewhat kitschy, but never twee, style. (I couldn't begin to find a photo on the internet.) I think these styles capture different parts of my personality perfectly, and taken together - not that they work together - express my tastes pretty well. I like handmade things - quilts, clay plates and cups, paintings by local artists. I like bright color, and I like quirky.

And of course, there absolutely must be stacks of books.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


There is an excellent trio of posts over at A Pagan Sojourn discussing beliefs about the afterlife from Buddhist, Heathen, and more general Pagan perspectives. Well-researched and intelligent; definitely worth a look (and a cup of tea - it will take a few minutes to read through the pieces).

I myself am inclined toward the view quoted last in Nixie's entry, a view that seems to me expressly Pagan: We choose to incarnate so we can enjoy the pleasures of earthly life, or, "I came back for a good cup of coffee."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Stupidity, wisdom

[snipped the bit about my own stupidity]

In that spirit, some wisdom from Pema Chodron seems in order.

1. The mundane details of our life eat us up. Therefore it is important to keep asking ourselves again and again: What is the most important thing? Since death is certain and the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing? Let that perspective be your guide.

2. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. At the gut level, you might want to go for the most comfortable thing. Always go for the stretch. Sometimes the stretch is to stay, sometimes to go. Sometimes to say Yes, sometimes to say, No. You don’t always know. The key is to be willing to go through the shedding and unmasking process.

3. Rest in the insecurity. Remember that when we lose ground we habitually panic and look for something solid to hold onto: that’s a description of samsara. Go at your own pace. And don’t push it. But continue to train in resting in insecurity.

4. Don’t believe everything you think. If you can follow this advice, you will be in good shape.

5. Take exactly what appears as your path.

(Via Al, In Pursuit of Mysteries)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Magic in the history of science

Most people think of magic as being antithetical to science. The standard scholarly view in the history of science has been that the scientific revolution of the 17th century was a decisive break from the magical views of the past. But recently, some historians of science have argued that the development of science was contiguous with the practices of magic. For example, the argument would go, it's not the case that alchemy stood in the way of the development of chemistry; rather, alchemists laid some of the groundwork for the development of chemistry. Fascinating stuff.

The Elizabethan magus John Dee explicitly allied himself with mathematics and science, leaving Cambridge and traveling to the Continent in order to pursue his studies. In England at the time, his allegiance to science was considered anti-intellectual, since university education emphasized humanities in the tradition of the Greeks, especially philosophy, philology, and rhetoric. Dee's alliance with science - note, not with magic - also made him suspicious to the Church. Fortunately, he had a patron and defender in Elizabeth I.

The novelist John Crowley has based many of his works on the idea that the laws underlying the claims of magic used to be true in the same way that the laws underlying the claims of science are true now. There has been a shift between worlds, if you will: what was true then is no longer true now, but what is true now, by the same token, wasn't true then. Now we have Egypt, and our Egypt has its history, but that history is different from the history of the country that once was Ægypt. (I hope I got this right; if you're intrigued, start with his novel, Ægypt.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

An open mystery

(The painting at right is called "Medicine Woman," by Melissa Harris, from her Women and Magic series.)

I've wanted to blog more often, but I'm too enchanted by the weather and the season to spend any more time than necessary looking at a computer. The days have been clear and sunny, the nights cool, the humidity low. The harvest is coming in, and we're feasting on fresh, local foods. Since we got so much rain earlier this summer, everything is lush and green. It's a sensually extraordinary time, these days after Lughnasadh. Pleasure is simple.

Still, I have so much I've been thinking about and want to write about.

Having come to witchcraft out of feminist spirituality, herbalism, and love for the earth, I haven't known much about the occult tradition in Western thought. (I've read Ronald Hutton, of course, but that's about the extent of it.) Through a series of - ahem - coincidences having mostly to do with my job, I've begun learning more about the history of Western occultism and discovering the sources for many neo-Pagan beliefs. At the same time, I'm noting the differences between gnosticism and Hermetism, for example, and my own Wiccan beliefs. For example, it's very important to me that the body and the world not be conceived of as hindrances to spiritual "progress." And I put the word "progress" in scare-quotes because I eschew all those metaphors of forward, upward, transcendence, enlightenment. Also, whereas I like the idea of initiation as a rite of passage and a transformative experience in itself, I don't think initiation should be used to keep out the riff-raff - to keep the mysteries secret from those who allegedly can't grasp them. As I've said before, I think that when (serious) neo-Pagans speak of the mysteries, they speak not of secrets, but of things that can't be fully conveyed in words or cognitively grasped.

It's an interesting question, whether Wicca and other forms of neo-Paganism are ultimately meant for masses of people. On the one hand, we're a rapidly growing family of religions, although our numbers are still relatively small. We often speak of paganism as simply being the spiritual practice of the pagans, the (apocryphal) country folk, who lived close to the land and honored the agricultural cycles. Maybe Paganism, then, is for everyone who wants to give it a try. On the other hand, we have zero investment in convincing others to become Pagans. We often identify with those who were either honored or outsiders in their societies - the priestly Druids, the village herbalist, the shaman. Most people are (were) none of these. Certainly Wicca, and Druidism to a lesser extent, suffer from fluffy-bunny syndrome. There are those who claim to be Witches (or, Goddess forfend, warlocks), or Druids, or Asatru who have no freakin' clue what they're doing and are doing it for all the wrong reasons. There is a tremendous amount of study, dedication, and practice that goes into participating in any of these traditions. They aren't easy paths. Maybe Paganism will ultimately always be a rarely-chosen spirituality.

I advocate standards, but not gate-keeping. I don't think that only initiated Witches are real Witches. As we continue to mature as a family of religions, our trendiness will wax and wane (cf. Buddhism). While I admit my ego has some investment in being special, different, and counter-cultural - I hate to admit that, but it's true - my deeper self knows she's found her path in this lifetime: to delve into the mysteries but not to cling too tightly to secrets.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I didn't plan to usher in Lughnasad in my hot kitchen at midnight, wrestling with a chicken.

Take and eat...

The chicken grew up healthily, running around on a farm near here. I hope she had a good chicken-life. Goddess knows most of her sisters don't. If Pagans talked about sin, then I would say that the way we treat other animals is one of our gravest sins.

This is my body...

For 11 years I was a vegetarian for ethical reasons. Meat wasn't necessary to sustain life, I reasoned, and so it was wrong to kill for matters of convenience or taste. Furthermore, the meat industry is cruel to animals - human and non-human - and to earth, polluting, poisoning, and otherwise squandering natural resources.

A few things happened to change my diet. Addicted to sugar, I visited a nutritionst who told me to start by doubling my protein intake. Then my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, and all the soy protein I was eating became verboten. And I read a remarkable book by Kathryn Paxton George, who argues that the vegan ideal is sexist, racist, ageist, and classist - that it relegates all but the most robust, healthy, privileged to a position of moral inferiority.

Given for you...

To live in accord – that, I believe, is a key Pagan value. We seek to find and honor our place on the earth and in the family of beings. The dominant culture doesn’t honor this ideal in the least. Our treatment of animals makes this clear. It’s an enormous violation to raise animals for food in factory farms, and in numbers to support the fast food industry. The animals suffer, the people working in the meat industry suffer, the earth suffers, and we suffer because we consume them. We create, full-cloth, a cycle of suffering as only human beings can.

When you do this...

To live in accord, and to eat meat, means to eat animals that were raised locally and humanely. Kathryn Paxton George argues persuasively that many people need meat in their diets. She also defends ethical, aesthetic semi-vegetarianism – eating meat and plants grown locally and healthfully, in moderation, and taking pleasure in food. Being closer to the source of my food makes it more difficult to deny what I’m doing when I eat an animal. I become more intimate with the cycles of life and death. And because I love my dog so deeply, and think every day about what it means to give him a good life, I also think about what it means for other animals to have a good life.


Beings and plants die so that you and I can live and flourish. This is one of the mysteries, and it’s difficult to face. We must take care not to pervert or deny the cycles of life and death - whether by killing people in war or labor, polluting rivers and seas, taking more than we need. Indeed, given what humans have wrought, we have a special responsibility to heal the cycles. Witches and other Pagans may have a special role to play. Our spiritual values place us in a position to articulate much-needed visions for healing. The work that Common Ground is doing in Louisiana seems to me a perfect example of Pagan vision and action.

Remember me...

The earth provides everything we need, including death. She recycles and renews, provides our breath, food, water, and endless inspiration. At Lughnasad we’re still in the height of the growing season, but we harvest the first grains, taking life, to sustain us through the winter. Thus does death come in the midst of life.

And remember yourself...

I stayed up late on a hot night to roast a chicken so I could eat good protein this week. I thanked that chicken as I prepared it for the oven and as I tore the cooked flesh from its bones; I thanked it for providing its life so I could eat. It’s a complex thing; I’m not convinced I deserve that chicken’s life, though I need it. I saved the bones for soup stock and the pan drippings for my dog. I wanted to take that life consciously, in as full an awareness as I could muster, and use every bit of the gift. On this, the first of our harvest festivals, let us give thanks for She who provides and vow to honor Her ways to the best of our abilities. So mote it be.