Friday, July 29, 2011

Rituals: Celebratory or Reflective

For or better or for worse I've cultivated a reputation on the Pagan lecture circuit as a guy who likes to party and whose rituals are generally alcohol soaked. After a Convocation ritual this year I googled myself and found this note: "Saturday evening, despite a few trepidations after the Lansing folks told me about Jason Mankey’s ritual techniques (many involving alcohol).*" Yeah I put on Morrison Rituals, and we drink and praise Jim, but other than that my rituals don't involved much more than a few sips of wine, beer**, or cider (sometimes I might have a bit more than a sip during cakes and ale, but it's not mandatory that everyone join me, in fact, don't, that's more for me).

I certainly see alcohol as a sacrament, no two ways about that. Alcohol is one of the building blocks of our civilization, it's also the only culturally acceptable mood transforming drug we have left in our society (with the possible exception of caffeine, but I need that just to get to even). I worship gods that like the vine: Pan, Dionysus, Aphrodite, hell even Jesus had an affinity for the grape. Alcohol is definitely a part of the religious landscape, especially in the Western World.

I will admit that many of the public rituals I do at festivals are well, festive. Even ones with nothing more than a "ritual sip" like the Pan Ritual I did a few years ago are rather boisterous, to the extent where one might think there's a lot of alcohol there even where there isn't. When I try to do a more tame ritual, like this year's "Traditional Greek Ritual" I find myself ramping the energy level up a bit just due to the expectations. When fifty people tell me they are looking forward to my ritual and you can see that glint of Morrison/Pan expectation in their eye you have to switch things around. So yeah, Jason and party rituals do have a connection, but "party," "ritual," and "Pagan" belong together.

Picture yourself 2400 years ago in Ancient Greece preparing for the Rural Dionysia. The Rural Dionysia was a celebration and it was a religious event! You've got parades going on, with giant phalluses in them, and later dancing and singing contests; all in honor of the great Dionysus. Those were civic and religious celebrations and I'm betting the wine flowed freely. I like going to ritual where there's an expectation that I'm going to have a good time, that I'm going to have fun. We compartmentalize our lives a great deal in the modern world. Religion goes in this box and is only pulled out at certain times. Our social lives exist in another box, our party box is under the bed etc. I prefer to throw all of my stuff into one giant drawer and to make as many events as possible a religious experience. I want to wake up excited that I'm going to partake in a devotion to Pan or Dionysus or Aphrodite or Ariadne (or Ari-grins)!

One of the things that I always felt was lacking in Christianity was celebration. Singing dirge like hymns or bad contemporary pop on a football sunday is not my idea of a good time. Add to that a sermon which is probably scolding me for something and you've really got a downer of a morning. Where's the joy? Where's the breaking of bread and drinking of wine with friends and loved ones? Sorry, a congregation hall filled with 400 of my best acquaintances just doesn't do it for me.

My God once said to me "Merriment and mirth to me are great honor for the joy of the folk is my reward." What's wrong with celebrating joy? What's wrong with having fun in a spiritual context, whether its having a few ciders, indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, or watching Oliver Stone's "The Doors?" I'm not saying that every party you have needs to be a ritual, but at certain times ritual should contain genuine heartfelt laughter. My Lady once told her children "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." I live that, and I love that, and I think it's one of the reasons my religion is superior to others.***

Ritual should of course be serious at times. I can't imagine a frivolous Samhain celebration, it's a meditation on death and rebirth after all, and there are times when ritual requires restraint. I'm not so far down the path of hedonism that I've forgotten that. I've written several extremely serious rituals over the years. The best thing I've ever written was a Beltane ritual composed after the death of my Grandmother. Instead of being the more airy, light Beltane most of us are used to, it was an outlet to deal with great sorrow while finding myself in a world of rebirth. Not all moments are going to be cider-soaked, and not all moments should be devoid of that soaking either.

In my mind group rituals tends to be (and sometimes these two things can be combined):

*A pure celebration of a season, event, deity, or transition.
*A reflection on a particular season, event, deity, or transition.

When I'm at a festival with 100 of my closest friends it's easiest to make public ritual about celebration. Often times we are celebrating a god, but in some ways I think we are just celebrating being "there." Festival is "a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time." It's exhilarating in some ways to be out of mundania. It's certainly possible to do more serious ritual at a festival, but it's a bigger challenge, and most of the festival isn't in the proper head space for it anyways (at least the people I hang around). My favorite festival presenters usually have a drink in their hands by 10:00 pm.

While something like Samhain can be construed as a harvest celebration, most rituals in honor of it aren't constructed that way. They tend to be reflections or acknowledgments of how the Wheel of the Year has transitioned to a quieter, more reflective time, and how that time is an opportunity to remember those we've lost. It's a necessary ritual, a yearly soul cleansing in some respects, but it's not a celebration in most instances.

Even as a Panhead I take the time to reflect on Him. It's not all just about the wineskin or the lechery, he's a god after all, he does have things to teach me, but celebration is a part of His worship. So celebratory worship is a part of me, and a part of what I do. I'm certainly capable of presenting uber-serious ritual, but only when the time and place call for it.

*The actual note was pretty positive, and can be found by clicking here.

**Or I did drink beer. Pretty sure I'm allergic to it these days. I can have two beers and feel horrible for 24 hours. I can drink eight ciders in the same amount of time and feel like a million bucks in the morning.

***Key words there "I think." Obviously I think it's superior, or I wouldn't do it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Polyamory Part Two

The same day I write a piece about polyamory for this blog, there's a big post about it on the Wild Hunt. While my post was about the definition of polyamory and how I look at it, The Wild Hunt looks at it from a legal perspective. There are cases currently winding their ways through US and Canadian courts dealing with the subject of consensual polygamy.

While I'm in favor of polyamory, and even polygamy if that's how people choose to live their lives, I do have some concerns, and they tend to be financial. If you could engage in a plural marriage, and you were without health insurance, wouldn't you do it? The amount of abuse that could go on in a situation where a person has several legal partners boggles the mind. That's before we even get to the issue of divorce and child custody.

I've got no problem with a Mormon man having ten wives, if those wives came to him willingly and of adult age, which is not always the case in some fundamentalist LDS sects, but how would issues like health insurance work out? What credit reports are run when renting an apartment or buying a car?* People should be free to live their lives however they choose, without it being a crime, but I'm kind of in favor of limiting the financial benefits of marriage to just two people.

Of course as I write those words I also feel like a hypocrite, because I'll always believe that "marriage" is an institution that the state and religions shouldn't define. What truly constitutes a marriage is up to the individuals involved.

*Sounds silly, but I can just picture a different person in a relationship of ten filling out the credit app each time the group applies for something and then the group running away. It's sad that I'm so cynical sometimes.

On Polyamory

For better or for worse, "polyamory" has become entwined in the Modern Pagan movement. For those of you not in the know, polyamory means "many loves." Those who practice the lifestyle often simplify it by stating "I'm poly." I have difficulties defining polyamory, probably because the word love throws me off. Many who are poly probably think of the lifestyle in clinical terms. For them, it's defined as ethical or responsible non-monogamy. Ethical because there's no secret girlfriend in the corner, and responsible because safe sex techniques are practiced.

To me, polyamory has to be about more than just safe and truthful sex. It has to be about "loves." Being "in love" is not something that happens easily for me. In the last fifteen years I've been in love twice, and in each of those cases it took months, sometimes years, to "fall in love." Loving and being "in love" are two different animals. Love is something we feel when we care for someone, being "in love" means that your life now suddenly revolves another individual, that their well being is more important than your own. I love a lot of people, but I'm only in love with Ari, she's everything. This is where polyamory and I hit a brick wall.

The concept of responsible non-monogomy is very appealing, and reflects the reality in which we live. Over 50% of married individuals have sex outside of marriage. Having sex outside of marriage doesn't mean that you don't love your spouse, it means you give into biological urges, or perhaps there is some need not being met in your current marriage. While sex outside of marriage is still rather taboo in our society, it's also really common, and our programed over reaction to it is rather laughable.

I don't have a problem with sex outside of marriage or relationship, as long as that sex outside of a coupling is an agreed upon aspect of the marriage or relationship. What I don't like is calling an "open relationship" polyamory. If polyamory truly means "many loves" than being in a polyamorous relationship should mean that you truly love the people are you with, and not just love for twenty minutes, but a very deep personal connection.

I went to a polyamory workshop at the Starwood Festival a few years ago and was rather shocked at how those in attendance seemed to define polyamory. I felt like I was at a swingers convention (not there's anything wrong with that), not at a class about fostering deep loving relationships. There was a statement from one girl there that stood out to me. She was talking about how she had decided to take a second (or third or fourth, I have no idea) lover and that they were now in a polyamorous relationship. They had been out two or three times, and now they were "polyamorous" together. I don't know about you, but love takes longer to take root in my heart than that. If she had simply talked about dating the guy, or her obvious attraction to him, I wouldn't have batted an eye, but by using the term polyamorous she implied being in love, and I just didn't buy it. Why was he a poly relationship and not just a "boyfriend?"

I'd probably define myself as polyamorous, but a non-practitioner. I truly believe that you can be in love with more than one person at a time, and that it's possible to make such situations work. The thought that I might be "poly" first occurred to me several years ago when I realized that I was probably in love with my best friend. At the time I was in love with Ari, but this guy (yeah a guy), and I were pretty close, and I felt like I could tell him anything, and I was probably "giddy" half the time when we were hanging out. Now our relationship wasn't sexual in anyway (other than holding hands once in the Castro down in San Francisco), but I felt like I'd take a bullet for him, and that his happiness was just as important, if not more so, than my own. To me, that's what polyamory should be about.

A few years later I fell in love with a girl while being in love with Ari. That period is probably my most "polyamorous" especially because said girl and I used each other for emotional support. That's the real test in some ways, how much of your emotional well beings are tied together? When it's a certain percentage that's a real, loving relationship, not a hook up or just a girlfriend. I found the situation untenable, as did both women involved. There were more tears than moments of joy, and the "second girl" was the one who truly broke everything off. It was impossible to be a solid source of emotional support for two people, and the two women involved didn't have their own relationship, perhaps if they had been friends before me, it might have been different, but I digress.

My dip into the pool of polyamory was probably not typical. I know many polyamorous couples or groups where everyone is truly known to each other. Two guys in a polyamorous relationship with the same girl might watch football together or something. That's really possible, and over the years I've seen several people navigate the chopping seas of polyamory with some success, but I've probably seen more failure than triumph.

For those of you outside of Paganism this post has probably make you uncomfortable, or maybe you are a bit shocked, but Pagan sexuality is generally not conventional. The majority of Pagans I know in relationships are monogamous, but instead of being a very large majority, they are more a plurality. Pagans just have a very open view of sex. It's not a sin, it's not a cosmic litmus test, it's also not something 100% associated with "love." I worship Pan, he's a randy fellow, and in his world sex and love don't collide at all. "Panic sexuality" is about lust and animal attraction, it's about giving into baser instincts and celebrating the impulses that make us human. I fully feel as if those impulses are there because we are meant to act on them, and in some ways that's true.

According to biologists our DNA is not made for monogamy. We have a natural impulse to seek out other partners. In this, we are a lot like most other animals on this planet, who aren't monogamous either. It's better for the gene pool if we spread our DNA around, which is why "panic sexuality" is so hard to control and why monogamy is so hard to be successful at. That's why I'm in favor of "open relationships" and "polyamory." It's not so much a fight against nature that way, and by being open and honest, a relationship is not pissed away because of a bad decision in Vegas.

I also worship Aphrodite, who does equate love with sex. Sex with someone you love is a different experience entirely, and some of my most transcendent moments have come when Ari and I have had our clothes off. It wasn't the growling snarling sex I've had in moments of panic sexuality, it was something all together different, Modern Pagans are often capable of separating the two.

That doesn't mean we all engage in orgies or have key parties, it generally means we are just better when it comes to talking about it. I think there's a perception that polyamory or even an open relationship is about strictly having as much sex with as many different people as possible. I don't think that's the case. Those types of relationships are more about managing emotions and urges, so that relationships can grow and prosper.

On paper polyamory sounds like a winner, but in practice I think it probably fails more often than it succeeds. I think it fails more often than not because of jealousy, and a lack of balance in relationships. I've seen too many people, both male and female, engage in polyamory where one half a couple has several outside partners, while the other partner isn't allowed any. The problem of course isn't in the sex, it's that one person balancing the emotional needs of three other people is going to drop the ball now and again. Someone is going to get lost in the equation, and in those moments the jealousy issues creep in. Polyamory would probably work better if everyone who engaged in it had the same amount of boyfriends and girlfriends, just to keep the distribution of the emotional luggage a bit more even.

Polyamory probably works better when the concepts of "primary" and "secondary" partners is introduced. Instead of trying to pretend that everything is even, the categorization of a relationship as "secondary" removes a lot of the expectations. I love you, but I have a husband and kid, so we can have a thing, but it will not be my priority. That's a lot more honest than having five girlfriends and telling all of them that they will get an equal amount of attention. There just aren't that many hours in a day.

Despite how this post sounds at points, I'm generally in favor of polyamory. The idea that we can't love more than one person is ridiculous, and the idea that we all should live in a monogamous state is one I disagree with. That being said, I think polyamory needs to be more about emotions than about sex. This is where I disagree with so many people who practice it today. One of the creators of the word*, Morning Glory Zell defined polyamory this way:

The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.

For me, polyamory is more about "having more than one loving emotional relationship at the same time." To me love is about more than sex, it's about emotional connections, not what my penis rubs up against. If I'm truly going to be polyamorous, and have many loves, it's the connection where someone's life becomes more important than my own that will define the experience. Ari having sex with someone else would not make me jealous, her no longer confiding in me would. I think my wife is gorgeous, but the primary connection in our relationship has to be emotional. A love is often someone I can have sex with, but it also needs to be someone into Led Zeppelin, superhero movies, and being OK with wearing a Steeler shirt on sundays. Those things are hard to come by.

In practical terms I don't think I'm in a place to practice polyamory currently. Perhaps a girlfriend on the side would work, but to be "in love" with that person? Ari is just the center of my world a little bit too much, and to throw the term polyamory into things would be extremely dishonest. I believe in many loves, but right now, I only have one.

*Morning Glory helped popularize the idea of polyamory in her essay "A Bouquet of Lovers," published in the Pagan magazine Green Egg in 1990. The term was first used a year later in a usenet group created by Jennifer Wesp. The linked to version of "Bouquet" has had the word polyamory inserted into it, but was absent in its original form. The term "poly-amorous" was used by Zell, but I'm guessing Wesp came up with polyamory, a direct result of Zell's article.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Five Books on History and Religion that Should be on Your Bookshelf

In preparation for Charles C. Mann's 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created I've been re-reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus in preparation. 1491 is one of my favorite (and most borrowed) books, and even on my fourth or fifth go-through it remains captivating reading. 1491 is one of those magickal books in my library; always engrossing, always illuminating, and always present. There are lots of books in my library that read like relics from a distant era, while only being four or five years old (surprisingly, "history" can change quite quickly), my favorites still feel "new" even after the ten year mark.

Out of the five books on this list, 1491 might be the most important one, just because it's the most jarring. For centuries we were taught that the "natives" Columbus encountered in 1492 were "primitives," not on an equal intellectual footing with their European invaders. You know where I'm going with, Mann demolishes that myth, taking it to the woodshed so to speak. Instead of a primitive society, Mann paints a picture of advanced, intelligent societies equal in most every way to their European counterparts, or at least as close as their environment would allow.

Mann is not a scholar, he's a journalist, but he uses that skill to take his readers into places not generally accessible on In a lot of ways, he's the great synthesizer; taking journals worth of complex history and field work and turning them into a readable and completely understandable narrative that obliterates what we were taught in high school. This book isn't important because it destroys the myth of the "noble savage*," it's important because Native American culture is a part of the world's history.

There's far too much time spent talking about Sumer and not enough on Norte Chico. Without the achievements of the Native Americans it's doubtful our "modern world" would even exist today. Most of our diet, hell, most of the world's diet, is due to the greatest agricultural engineers the world has ever known, the Native Americans. Mann chronicles their accomplishments, architecture, diverse cultures, and history with an unparalleled touch.

(Mann's book is based on an article he wrote in The Atlantic Monthly, you can find it by clicking here. I actually have a copy of that article in a binder full of articles I deem important.)

Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith is almost two books in one. The first "book" is a look at the fringe, violent world of Mormonism, told through the eyes of convicted killers Ron and Dan Lafferty. The second book is a mostly sympathetic look at the rise of Mormonism. If you've ever wondered what goes on inside of a Mormon Temple, Krakauer does a pretty good job of answering it.

I know that this book has taken a lot of hits in the Mormon community for its allegedly unflattering look at the Modern Day Saints, but I'm not sure that is entirely the case. Krakauer paints at times a sympathetic picture of a persecuted people, and I always come away from this book with a mostly positive view of Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism), I say mostly positive because the facts reveal a flawed human being, but hell, most of us are.

The most flawed human beings in the book are obviously the Lafferty brothers. Not just flawed, but nearly psychotic, and some of the jail house interviews are downright chilling. On his journey through the backwoods of Mormon Culture (un-sactioned by that Mormon Church down the street from you) Krakauer explains how an unyielding interpretation of faith can lead to violent action. As the most successful "modern religion" the pains, slings, and arrows of the early Latter Day Saints are similar to some of those in Contemporary Paganism. Knowing what alley ways to not go down is always useful information to have.

Bart Ehrman's Jesus Interrupted is not ground breaking in any way. In some colleges it might serve as an introduction to the New Testament, because the information in it is pretty standard stuff. What makes it a favorite of mine, is how easily accessible that information is, and how well presented it is. Things that I tend to take for granted: Paul only wrote seven of the New Testament books with his name on them, The Gospel of Mark was written around the year 70 CE, are downright foreign to some people. In Jesus Interrupted Ehrman has created a primer for anyone who wants to truly understand where Christian scripture came from.

As I write for a predominantly, but not exclusively, Pagan audience, you might be wondering why a book about Christianity is important. Well Christianity remains a dominant force in our lives, culturally and intellectually. The things done in the name of the Apostle Paul or even Jesus when those individuals never said or wrote those things is important information. I don't like Interrupted because it tears down Christianity, I like it because it returns the focus of Christianity to the words of Jesus and towards a more intimate relationship with deity. It also chronicles the construction of religious texts, a process I find fascinating.

God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch is a lot like Jesus Interrupted in that there's nothing new in it, but what it succeeds at is taking ideas well known ideas in academic circles and breaking them down into something for mass consumption. Kirsch weaves together stories about Amenhotep IV, Josiah, and Julian the Apostate with ease, providing quick sketches of various points in history without sacrificing the important details.

I do think Kirsch's perspective is a little slanted, and he's on my side, but it's only a minor quibble. What I like most about Gods is how effective it is a launching pad. When you read the chapter on early Egyptian monotheism it creates a desire to read more about that time period. When reading about Asherah and her lover Yahweh I was inspired to read even more (detailed) information. (And certainly most people don't need more information than what Kirsch provides, I'm just a glutton for reading punishment.)

As a Pagan I also like reading about ancient pagan religions and how those paganisms were acted upon in the Ancient World. I've always been a big believer in trying to understand how the ancients viewed their gods, and a book like Kirsch's saves many of us the ordeal of slogging through academic books. One of my biggest criticisms of this book might be the extended title, there really wasn't a war between poly and monotheism. I don't think polytheism knew it was under attack until Julian the (Great) Apostate. For a more fascinating account on the war I recommend reading A.D. 381 and The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman.

Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon did in one fell swoop what's taken hundreds of years in Christianity to do: separate the myth from the reality. For decades the myth of Modern Witchcraft was that Modern Witches (Wiccans) were direct descendants of at least the witches persecuted and executed during "The Burning Times." Those witches then passed down a secret religion that was finally brought out of the broom closet in the early 1950's, obviously Hutton doesn't quite by this rather incredible sounding origin story.

The evolution of Modern Paganism that Hutton chronicles I find far more fascinating than the gallows history first articulated in the 1950's. In Triumph Modern Witchcraft emerges from a multitude of sources: Freemasonry, Romantic Poetry, Ceremonial Magick, Cunningcraft, and Archeology. Instead of a fictitious past, Hutton gives Paganism a solid footing in the real world, and writes about it with joy and a real energy that's usually absent from an academic work.

Despite critics in the Pagan Community, Triumph is not a demolition derby or "Anti-Pagan." There's nothing to be ashamed of when you can trace your lineage to Shelley and Keats. There are some problems with the book though. The second half, dealing more with Gerald Gardner and the earliest public Witches, would have benefitted from some more field research in the New Forest area (where Gardner first discovered Modern Witchcraft). Fortunately there's Wiccan Roots by Philip Heselton to fill in some of those gaps in Hutton's research. There are many Pagans still angry about Triumph, and I'll admit it's flaws, but I never thought that Hutton was trying to belittle our faith or tear down Paganism, in many ways a true understanding of our origins is a lift up.

*The real "savages" always went by the names of Pizarro and Cortez, but that's just my opinion.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Goodbye Harry Potter

Like millions around the world I went to see "Harry Potters and the Deathly Hallows Part Two" over the weekend. Like most people who saw the movie*, I was happy with it. I didn't cry like my wife, or plan my weekend around it or anything, but it was solid. I liked how the movie simplified the ending. In the book there was way too much stuff about wands, and it was kind of exasperating.

I certainly didn't think it was the best of the "Potter" movies. There were some slow parts, and a few WTF moments.** My favorite movie was probably "Goblet of Fire" with "Prisoner of Azkaban" a close second. In many ways "Prisoner" was the superior film. The tone and look of that movie changed that entire franchise, setting it upon a solid adult footing. The first two films were fine, but they were puff pieces, glazed confections lacking heart and soul. "Prisoner" gave the Potter franchise its heart. The only reason it's not my favorite of the films is because the story is pretty weak. "Goblet" works pretty well as a stand alone story.

Before the first movie came out I thought I should read the first book, which I thought was pleasant enough. I passed it along to Ari and then one of my roommates who then proceeded to read the rest of the books as quickly as possible. I managed to just read one a year until about "Goblet" when I finally gave in to Ari's yelling at me to read the rest so she could talk to me about them.

Unlike some of my friends I'm not convinced that J.K. Rowling is a "great" writer. The Harry Potter books are fun, and enjoyable, and I'm all about anything that gets people to read. Rowling is certainly a talented writer, she's not Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) whose prose made my brain hurt, but I never saw her as the second coming of Dickens or DeVere. My biggest problem with Rowling is that I never felt much emotion for most of the characters. The death of Sirius Black felt like a non-event (in the movie too), and that's the kind of thing a truly great writer would turn into an emotionally moving moment.

In defense of Rowling, as the series went on her writing continued to improve. The death of Doby for instance, a character I didn't really care for, did pack some emotional punch there at the end. Unlike a Meyer whose stories just grew more and more absurd, at least Rowling continued to get better. Her writing grew with her audience, a good thing to quote Martha Stewart. By the time the fifth book came out Rowling was worth about a billion dollars too, so she didn't have to improve, but she did. Kudos.

When "Hallows Part Two" finished up Saturday evening I stayed in my seat for a bit enjoying the score as the end credits rolled. So much of Harry Potter the directors and producers just got right, or lucky with, depending. The whole series was just superbly cast, from top to bottom, and the "kids" grew with their rolls. There was always the chance that Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, or Daniel Radcliffe might have turned out to be horrible actors, incapable of handling the more mature things later on, didn't happen. The music was always a treat, having John Williams (Star Wars, Raiders) compose the initial themes and then handing those themes off to other composers later in the series created this amazing aural palate of light and dark.

Back to those end credits though, as they played I couldn't help but think of all that has Harry Potter has done for the Pagan and occult communities, which was absolutely nothing. I love that Harry Potter had no real "witchcraft" or sorcery in it. Despite the idiotic howling of a few idiots on the Right, Harry Potter has been no gateway into the occult. Potter was a modern fairytale, pure and simple. My Methodist grand-mother liked Harry Potter, the only people who didn't were the ones who were just looking to hate it.

One of the most curious aspects of Potter is how unreligious the entire series is. The only holiday that really gets celebrated or mentioned is Christmas. At Hogwarts Christmas seems to be an entirely secular affair (keeping with the tone of the books/movies) and only once does it ever come across as anything more (Christmas Eve in "Hallows") and then only barely. Gods aren't talked about, magick circles aren't cast, and quarter aren't called. Magic is about potions and wands with unicorn hair in them, it's fantasy at its best.

Now I'm sure that somewhere along the line some teenager went from Harry Potter to "Teen Witch" but those kids were going to find "Teen Witch" at some point anyways. Besides, if you read Potter and then tried to recreate it with modern Wicca you'd be super disappointed. I know Oberon Zell has tried to market himself as Dumbledore, but I don't think it's really gotten a whole lot of traction outside of our little community.***

People who are attracted to Paganism are going to be attracted to it, period. There's no one "gateway" book or anything. It attracts religious seekers. We don't proselytize (or shouldn't, and if you do, please stop) it comes to who it will. If Harry had truly been a Pagan gateway . . . . . stop and imagine the chaos for a second. Millions of teenagers begging for to join your circle or coven and to be taught "Defense from the Dark Arts" classes. I would have converted to Catholicism.

With those words I wish you well Harry Potter, and we'll see you again when you become a saturday morning cartoon series or J.K. writes another book set in her wonderful, magical, non-religious world.

*According to the informal "lots of people said nice things about it online" poll I conducted inside my head.

**Spoiler: The biggest WTF moment happened at the beginning where Luna Lovegood is at the beach-house hideaway with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and then suddenly at Hogwarts when the "Big 3" decide to go there. My question: how did she get to Hogwarts? And once she got there, why wasn't she on a torture rack?

***Though if we are going to have a Dumbledore, it might as well be Oberon, though (I had a comment here and then thought better about writing it. It wasn't all that mean either, I like Oberon, but decided not to post it, feel free to ask me in private).

Monday, July 4, 2011

The (Pagan) Declaration of Independence

American Conservatives, and especially Evangelical Christians on the right, have a tendency to claim "ownership" of America's Founding Fathers and the documents they wrote. Any serious student of American History laughs at such claims, many of the Founding Fathers were deists* and America during the Revolutionary War Period was an extremely unreligious nation. Those who write the narrative control the narrative, but today I'm writing the narrative, and where Evangelicals see a Declaration of Independence full of references to God and Jesus, I see a document expressing Pagan religious beliefs.

There are only three religious references in the DoI, and none of them mention Jesus, and only once is the word "God," used, and even that usage is very untraditional. Most of us are familiar with the DoI, but our ideas about it have been warped by the Far Right and their contention that it is a religious document. While reading it this morning I was struck by how much the DoI echoes modern Pagan thought, and how that might make Michelle Bachmann's head explode.

Of the three references to the Divine in the DoI, two of them are in the document's first paragraph/sentence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Hmmm . . . Laws of Nature? Capitalized Laws of Nature no less!?!? Modern Paganism is ruled by the Laws of Nature. Our holidays are dictated by the turn of the seasons, our lives governed
by the idea that we are a part of nature not apart from it. Compare this to the Evangelical Creed ripped from the book of Genesis:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

That horrible misunderstanding of one little verse in Genesis has created generations of individuals who feel as if they have no responsibility to take care of the Earth. A document extolling "The Laws of Nature" and "Nature's God" seems to imply that our Founding Fathers revered Nature, and would have wanted us to take care of it.

The one reference to God in the DoI is not a traditional one, but a specific ode to "Nature's God." It's impossible to determine exactly what Thomas Jefferson meant by including Nature, but this is obviously not Yahweh. Nature's God doesn't sound like a deity giving "dominion" to human beings over every natural thing upon the Earth.

When I think of Nature's God I certainly don't think of the angry Yahweh who always seemed more preoccupied with cursing "his people" than reveling in His creation. The metaphor of Jesus as shepherd is a bit more "Nature's Godish," but it doesn't quite fit the bill. The Pagan part of me wants to make Jefferson's "Nature's God" into an early Pan/Pagan prototype, but the timing is off. Pan didn't really re-awake until the early 19th Century, three decades after the DoI, and in Great Britain. However, many of those feelings that led to the reawakening of Pan could have been a part of Jefferson's life. To many, the theology of Christianity does not fill the need for a deity that is truly a part of nature, Nature's God could express the desire for a natural deity that brings balance and justice, all within the "Laws of Nature."

The last reference to deity in the DoI might be the most well known:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Creator is obviously a reference to deity, but it is obviously not a reference to Jehovah. Creator is gender neutral, the cosmic matrix could be either male or female. The use of the term Creator states a belief in a higher power, but it does not define that higher power, nor does it endorse any higher power. That Creator could be the Great Goddess, or Jesus, or Allah, the Founding Fathers in their wisdom did not endorse a particular "god" for their new nation.

There is one rather seemingly explicit Christian reference at the end of document (added against the wishes of Jefferson), where the phrase "Divine Providence" is used:

"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

(Divine) Providence generally refers to the actions of deity in the world. It's not exclusive to Christianity in any way. There are several references to providence in Jewish writings, and was the title of a book by Christian mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg** published in 1764. Even in this most "Christian" of references can be looked at as something far more inclusive and tolerant than the Evangelical Right would have us believe. Besides, if the Continental Congress had wanted to put "Jesus" in the DoI, they would have done so.

While many will try to warp the ideas of Jefferson and the Continental Congress this Independence Day by weaving Jesus and the Old Testament into a document they are absent from, I will celebrate my country's birthday by praising "Nature's God," and thanking Jefferson for making religious freedom and tolerance a part of this country from the very beginning.

*Deism in a nutshell: there is a God, that God created the universe, and then left that universe to its own devices.

**While I won't say that Swedenborg had a huge influence on Modern Paganism, he's had a huge impact on the "New Age" movement in general and was an influence on Christian Spiritualism and other "heretical" Christian movements