Month: April 2008

Happy Beltane

It happens that this blog post falls on Beltane, or Beltane eve depending on how you celebrate it. I hope that all of you who observe have a holiday filled with the joy that we have been given by the grace of having bodies.

I am always a font of advice and opinions when it comes to the way we conduct ourselves with our own sexuality. It makes me annoying, but since they’re my opinions, of course I want to inflict them on someone else. What’s the point of having an opinion unless there’s someone to roll eyes at them? See? There you go.

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I have a lot of thoughts on self-image and how it manifests in our spirituality. Since Beltane is the sexual holiday, I think that self-image and sexuality is as good a place to start as any. I’m not going to play the blame game with how we’re taught to think of ourselves sexually within the confines of Western culture. If you’re reading this, you’re (hopefully) an adult and you have taken full responsibility for your actions and your spiritual growth. If you’re not legally an adult, come back when you are – right now your parents are legally and spiritually responsible for you, and you don’t actually get to have freedom of religion until you are legally an adult.

I don’t think that Western culture is oversexualized. I think it’s over-powered. Sex and sexual attractiveness is not about pleasure and connection when we see it in media portrayals; our modernized fairytales talk about sex as a negotiation of power. Either it’s sexualized violence – because there still remains the misapprehension that rape has a damned thing to do with desire – or it’s about sexual manipulation, and then we get treated to such gems (I mean this sarcastically) as Rock of Love and anything involving a plastic person named for a popular hard liquor.

I think that Pagans have struggled to correct this within the substrata of the subculture, but it keeps running into our own personal connection and the truth that a lot of those who convert to Wicca and other neopagan faiths do so because they feel powerless within their faith of origin. Casting a spell or spooking a stranger does feel pretty damned powerful. So does the claim that sexual freedom is part of your faith – and all too few really stop to talk about what responsibilities come with that freedom unless they’re part of a BDSM circle. For those of us who like our ice cream vanilla, however, there’s a lot of ingredients information still missing when it comes to engaging in sexual interplay because even while sexual attraction is mostly about biological preference, we still have the culturally instilled perspective that our strength and value to a group is dependent on how many people want us physically, or how many people we’ve been with.

I think we know the basics: some taboos are in place for excellent reasons, especially those concerning children.

Most of us are conscious about birth control.

I still think too few of us are conscious about our own self-esteem and taking a time out to identify why we’re attracted, if it is physical and emotional compatibility or if it is about a need for short-term or long-term partnership status. We have the sexual freedom, we know what we’re supposed to do to be sexually responsible with our partners, but we don’t know how to be sexually responsible to ourselves beyond avoiding birth control and disease avoidance.

In other words, one of the valid options of sexual freedom is the freedom to abstain, whether that’s permanently or until you are in the right place emotionally and physically to get the best benefits possible out of a sexual connection. If it’s really about power, the power to refuse is potent indeed – and it allows you to hold out until the sexual choice is about pleasure only.

What ye Seek, so Shall Ye Find

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This shot was taken right outside of Downtown Minneapolis. What you see in the background is the Mississippi – and right after that, if the show went further, you’d see skyscrapers. When I hear my fellow Pagans talk about how they feel “cut-off” from their spirituality by living in a city, I think of this – and assume that those people are not really looking.

Pagans are Normal People

I admit it. Over the last years, I wussed out. I went from being a vocal activist for the religious freedom of myself and others to someone hiding in a corner, watching in horror as the plot to 1984 unfolded in real life before my eyes. I really don’t like to think about my silence. I did have people to protect, at the time, people who aren’t part of my life anymore. That said, I don’t think my 8 year silence was of particular cost to the Pagan community.

While our civil liberties in the US are a shocking mess the cause for Pagan tolerance has gained purchase. It’s not perfect, by any means: if a murder victim happens to have a book on Wicca on the shelf the police always feel some screwed up need to report it, even though the book was probably not the murder weapon. But the language with which Wicca and other neopagan faiths as a trend has become less filled with black cats and imagined goat sacrifices, and veers more towards the truth, even if the truth is sometimes unflattering.

I have read the following descriptions, less than kind, but based on real people rather than on imagined crimes:

  • Fat losers in black T-shirts
  • Tuck in your shirts, and buy sizes that fit properly. That’s all. Really.

  • Angry lesbians
  • Far more stereotype than truth; this mostly comes up when people get worked up over Willow on Buffy.

  • Some trashy guy trying to cop a feel
  • I encounter this in reality far more than I care to. Misogyny and misandry are both unfortunately prevalent among Pagans.

  • Damn hippies
  • Depopularized due to bad behavior at music festivals; repeated on King of the Hill and South Park. Clean up after yourselves, seriously.

I know perfectly well that Pagans as a group are much more complex than that, and that trying to distill ourselves down to any one segment of society is a disservice to us all. I also know that some people like the hippy clothing and the freedom to live as they imagine themselves. I also recall well the phase I went through where I took great delight in making the “normal people” feel uncomfortable and I’m not really clear on when I became one of the normal people, but here I am, with a normal wardrobe to match.

I’ve read and heard firsthand a few arguments – and a few outright screeds – against “normalizing.” After considering, I have to disagree. It is possible to be as eccentric as you like – without making it a “pagan thing.”

Looking at the World through Multiple Revenue Streams

I’m a Pagan writer in that I happen to be Wiccan, and I happen to write for publication. Not all the topics I write about are occult related, though due to a strange double-scarcity I find it easier (minimally so) to get my occult-topic work published. Since what I have written to date focuses on the short-work market – magazine articles, book reviews, blog and Internet posts and other concepts that cater to the attention-span deficient – I haven’t exactly found my way to great riches and fame through my writing.

Having had a few years to step back and observe, I don’t think anyone has, even the book and novel writers. The only wealthy Wiccan I can name off the top of my head – besides that guy that won the lottery – is Fiona Horne. And her money didn’t come from books, they came from her music career; her books are really just an extension of herself as a brand. From a business perspective, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I know our audience: if you bring up business savvy there will be someone who gets unhappy with it and sees it as aspiritual. Nevermind that but for the grace of commerce we wouldn’t have the books that we do.

Writing on Pagan topics alone does not, as far as I can tell, sustain anyone. We have a niche market, and while there’s some financial support in that niche market, it’s still a niche. And Pagan writers aren’t the only ones who have to face this; writers of other genres also make limited funds; when it comes to not being able to carve out a living from writing, it’s actually a writing economy thing, not a Pagan economy thing.

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I was recently at a convention where I sat on a panel with other professional writers, and nearly all of them a)had someone to support them while they worked or b)had a 40 hour a week job where they could surreptitiously work on their books. One writer even reported that she used her vacation time every year to finish her novels. In a world where mental health professionals are telling us to use vacations for vacations lest we work ourselves into early graves, that’s got to fall on a frowny-face diagnosis.

In my graduate school detour, when I mentioned this difficulty, my professor replied, “Find a patron!” In other words, sugar daddies are the way to go. While my personal health has had to win out over my personal morality on that one, what my professor said, half-joking, wasn’t that far from the truth. The writers of other genres that I know that are writing full- time are on fellowships and grants; even those that stumble into a bestseller are more likely to stumble on a reduced student loan payment than they are into any kind of lasting wealth. Most of them, like me, however, are operating with a sideline business or pouring coffee while vainly hoping for someday.

There are no big breaks in print writing these days, and while blogging for money is at the moment a rage, it’s probably not going to hit the Pagan circuit. OK, let’s face it, it’s not going to hit the Pagan Circuit or it would have happened long ago. Just like writers of every other genre, we live in a world of multiple revenue streams. While writing can be a source of income, it’s just one source of income. I would venture a guess that most writers also work a full time job or run at least one other business.

So you can imagine my amusement, when at the panel,  when I stated that I run a natural perfumery and I write, another writer asked me which I was going to choose. She didn’t recognize any irony in that whatsoever as she went on to talk about her full time job.

I think there hovers the misapprehension/dream of the possibility of “writing full time.”  While a retired minority may do it, that doesn’t really happen. Well-known writers like Starhawk and Z. Budapest travel, teach and host workshops for a fee; others run occult shops and sell their skills as astrologers and tarot readers; I would guess that most, however, work a 9-5 or 6-6 and then stay up entirely too late working on their manuscripts as they can.

A writer isn’t just a writer. A writer has to juggle life within and life without, both financially and spiritually.