Month: June 2010

Bigotry is as bigotry does

Minneapolis Gay Pride 2010 shot by puppethead on flickr

Minneapolis boasts the third largest Gay Pride celebration in the United States. The contributions of gay culture here are quantifiable: without the influx of gays in the 80s and 90s (some cast out of their homes, others just seeking their own) a good chunk of the urban renewal that has enlivened Minneapolis would never have happened. When a gay couple moves in next door, my first thought is “Up go the property values!”

The first real friends I made in Minnesota were all in some way part of or allied to the gay community. I was struggling with yet again being an outsider, a status that will never really change for me, and while I didn’t exactly find home, I found acceptance. The kind support of the people I met helped me overcome the homophobia I’d been ingrained with growing up, and opened up paths to freedom within and without that I had never previously imagined.

Now, a decade later, I have friends gay and straight, black and white and occasionally striped, but all mostly liberal. It’s sad, but I don’t particularly enjoy debating – I’d rather just let those around me live with parallel opinions and trade recipes; except in the case of those with really poor character those opinions were come to through life experience as valid as my own.

I am proud of the contributions that the gay community has made to Minneapolis. I am proud to call certain gay individuals my friend, not because they are gay, but because they are people of good character. I uphold their rights to marry, to love and to go about their lives with the same expectation of safety that I have. (Which really should be a lot better than it is for all of us.)

At the same time, I uphold the rights of others to peacefully express their opposing views on this and any other subject.

I have followed the situation with Pastor Brian Johnson with interest. While I completely disagree with his stance on homosexuality, I have to say that the Pride board was dead wrong about this one. It suggests a loss of perspective that is the predecessor to bigotry. The reaction is totally understandable: it’s impossible not to take an anti-gay preacher personally when you are gay. When someone’s politics is directed at your very personal life, your emotional response will fire off first. That’s definitely what happened here, and in the process, the board forgot:
Loring Park is public and belongs to all taxpayers.
First amendment rights belong to the opposition, as well.

As it is, Johnson got some interesting reactions as he passed out Bibles. Many were outright immature, and much of it was about thinking of Loring Park as “pride only” space when it is, in fact, public space – space that conservatives have a right to use, too, and not just those Log Cabin people.

The point of Gay Pride originally was to assert the rights of gays to participate in their whole community. At some point, as happens when subcultures spring up, it became more about the gay community. Johnson and the legal battle he was involved with is a grim marker of this loss of perspective: everyone in the world is in this together, and over-isolating and segregating yourself will lead to the people who set me free becoming the bigots. I hope this does not happen.

A few more values

I have some personal values that I would not consider universal to all Pagans, but that I do find important enough to look for in those I call friends. I think these make an important difference in my life, and can improve the lives of others around me, too.

Curiosity, and Wonder – to greet new ideas with exploration rather than immediate fear and/or negativity. A basic desire to see where things go, to fall down the rabbit hole and to explore unknown worlds. I really think it’s a must for any competent witch.

Positivity – this is not “I never get angry” or “I’m blissful.” Positivity is hard work, not Pollyanna-esque optimism. It’s working to find the good in a situation, but also to make good where a situation is bad. This is where you can bitch and bitch about the people you can’t control, or you can plan for the situation as a whole without overfocusing on individuals, personalities or pettiness.

Open-Mindedness – this likely pairs with curiosity, but doesn’t. There are of course limits on this, but it is the ability to listen to and genuinely consider a foreign idea. While I may not accept the new idea, I will at least listen to it, and in some situations try out the idea to see if it works. But I will not just assume something “won’t work” or is “pointless.” I allow for the potential to be surprised.

These are traits I uphold as values personal to myself, and values I look for in friends. It’s taken me a long time to distill what I look for, but now I know it it really does make a significant different to me in whom I choose to befriend.

Divorcing a Real Witch intensive survey: beta testers needed!

I’d still like to get a few more beta testers for the Divorce and Wicca survey I have up. It’s long, but allows you to skip non-relevant to-you questions and you can save and come back. Betas need not complete the total survey. Betas also need not fit the survey qualifications. Right now I just need to know that the survey works and will continue to work as it gathers more data.

Also, aside from Witchvox and the Wild Hunt, any recommendations of places I can promote it are very, very welcome. Also, when the time comes, tweeting it, reposting it to your Facebook, or posting it to your own groups will be much appreciated.

I do plan on posting on the Pagan News Service group on Google, and I am plotting in my head for an article series – one for Witch’s Voice (highest readership) and on the advice of Gordon at RuneSoup I’m also thinking of pitching some articles for an “Advice from a Witch on Divorce” article to various women’s magazines. I may be a little too late, hard to say – I would guess that most monthlies are doing their fall issues now.

I got some valuable advice yesterday about what else I will need to do to get this book off the ground, so I’m hanging in there.

So if you want to beta test leave me a comment and I’ll follow up with you by email.

Happiness: the other white light

My first hint that Wicca was intended as a happy path came over a year after I’d started down it: my not-terribly dour Christianity at some point morphed into a not-terribly dour but quite serious approach to what I considered to be my intended path. I started off because of my strong beliefs about natural stewardship (Christian terms to denote my still-Christian thinking at the time) and, in moments of raw honesty, because Wicca showed me a chance of clearing the icky energy around my then-dismal love life.  I didn’t find the Charge of the Goddess until I got my hands on some Doreen Valiente lurking in my university library’s shelves. ((This was in 1996, well before the neopagan mini-Renaissance.)) I saw the Charge of the Goddess my very first time online, sometime after I encountered the commands of the Magus (now often renamed the Witches’ Pyramid.)  That was the first place I read, “Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.”

Because, for all my levity I am and was a rather serious soul, I took this not as the call to pleasures aplenty, but as a serious responsibility to embrace joy thoughtfully. Perhaps this is why I never quite plug in with the ecstatic movement, much as I’d like to. From what I recall as to my first thoughts about this was, “This is in the divine voice,” followed with, “Oh, so gay people are totally OK then.” ((It was an issue I’d been wrestling with at the time.))

What appealed to me was how the happiness was balanced. It wasn’t just a hedonic fest, but in fact something much deeper, balanced, and allowing for reason.

It didn’t occur to me that happiness rated highest among those values.

About six months after that, a coven came to visit the new witches at Mankato State and to impart a little bit of knowledge to us. While I don’t remember much about it – one guy who couldn’t quite draw an inverted pentacle, and thinking that they were sweet people – one young man was recently divorced and clearly struggling. He said something like “Following your bliss does not mean abandoning your responsibilities.” These were clearly the words of a man in need of help, feeling lost. I did not know anything about Joseph Campbell at the time.

But, as I learned, “following your bliss” was essentially the same as “Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law.” ((Thelema, not Wicca, but sometimes gets muddled in by eclectics.)) Finding what truly brings happiness is a long, difficult journey, and while it’s by no means a “do whatever you want,” as to get to what you truly want always requires at least some impulse-control, it is in fact a responsibility. You are responsible to doing right by yourself. You may never achieve happiness, but you are responsible to yourself to pursue it.

Clearly, responsibility is a BIG core of my own values, and I like to think is among other neopagans as well.

In my case, I avoided taking responsibility for myself by placing my perceived responsibility to others above my own needs. I did not really want to marry anyone, ever. But I was in love (really.) When I found myself disappointed by my spouse, I usually pushed it aside. I told myself to accept that people don’t change (still true) but since I’d committed, I had to see this through – so on some level I was also slut-shaming myself. My family disapproved of cohabitation, so I pushed up the wedding. My mother was concerned I wasn’t married or “serious” at the same age she was. ((She is, like many mothers that lack self-awareness, often frustrated that I have not and will not live her life or follow in her footsteps.))  I also had the serious issue of finishing college looming before me, and my two-three jobs alone were not going to pay for it. I was actually in a very unhappy situation, and did not enter the marriage with the love and joy that you’re supposed to.

So, at the time of my divorce, I found myself in a dilemma: I took all those vows. But I was also miserable. There was not making mirth or feeling joy. I chose constantly between the needs of my passive-aggressively demanding spouse or my own; when I chose my own – or actually, just conceded to the relentless demands of my job – I was greeted with dishes to wash, a home I’d cleaned messed up or my ex, inert before a video game.  While all was minor by itself, factor in 16 hour days while trying to get a graduate degree and it was stressful to the point of unfair. With children it would have gone right into the unseemly.

When I finally, after a heartbreaking day, let my soul speak to my husband instead of the social voice of his ever-tired wife, I found myself asking for a divorce. I was shocked to hear myself say it. But when I finally stilled, I needed something so badly that it outranked my vows, my perceived responsibilities, even my relentless job. I needed to be happy. And to be happy, I had to leave.

Divorce did not lead to instant happiness. It took years. While I’m happy now, it was not an easy journey and still takes vigilance and time out to truly listen to myself. I’ve found that happiness is not the same as years of hedonistic responsibility. To be able to listen to yourself demands care of yourself and others, because it’s when you get sucked down into negative patterns – all too often in the pursuit of short-term pleasure – you lose the ability to genuinely hear yourself.

It wasn’t just my ex that was forced to struggle with my own path to happiness: I was always trying to do something to bring happiness to another person, falsely convinced happiness would return to me. My efforts were always taken advantage of, but in truth, no one was going to give back what I wanted, and I realized that half my problem was that I was unable to actually verbalize what I wanted. I didn’t know how to ask for happiness.  The people around me instinctively knew that, and most dropped me or were dropped by me as my personal development brought me to a place where I could truly ask for what I need.

So happiness is an inner value, where sometimes we struggle against our urges but most of the time we fight for them – because it’s not just smiling and clapping your hands. Happiness is work, and that’s what makes it a valid value.

Note: Thorn Coyle also wrote an ecstatic perspective on joy. It’s much shorter, more pagan-writing traditional and well worth the read.

Divorcing a Real Witch: Update

I thought I’d let a few of you all know how it’s going on the Divorcing a Real Witch project. In sum: slow and steady. The initial beta test of the poll on Wiccan divorce experience failed, so we (meaning my husband) moved it to a different server, and after an initial slow load time it appears to work in every browser. So now I’m looking for new beta testers.  Contact me if you’d like to test the poll for me.

I’m also working on the second draft of the first two chapters, and trying to assemble something remotely usable as a proposal for prospective agents. In the process I’ve become frustrated with others in my craft and my Craft. I’m starting to suspect the reason I get so many patronizing and useless responses is because certain people just don’t want to admit it when they don’t know something. This reveals a lot about the reason for the abysmal state of publishing on pagan topics. ((Seriously, “try Writer’s Digest” or “Writer’s Market” is not a helpful response, since I already did it. Pointing me to AgentQuery after I MENTION AgentQuery is also NOT useful. And telling me to “do my homework” when I’ve just demonstrated that I have deserves no more and no less than a middle finger up your nose. Grr. ))

Happy Solstice!

These photos are from the Minneapolis annual Solstice celebration. The theme this year was “Water Rites” and my dear friend Brenda was one of the dancers in it. This modern dance ceremony marks the point of highest sun in the sky. That’s a big deal in Minnesota, where winter lingers and controls so very much of our lives.

This took place along the banks of the Mississippi River, and yes, this really is what Minneapolis looks like. It’s a powerful combination of urban and nature, harmoniously interwoven.

The core values of neopaganism – as I understand them

Graffiti in downtown Minneapolis
This is a list post, mainly, but to me it’s an important list. When we talk about “pagan values” we often think of it in terms of ethics, morals, codes of conduct. Most definitely those hold a place in values discussions. But values themselves are not moral, or ethical, or even purple. Values are the fundamental concepts that spur the invention of all those moral and ethical codes. Most values are summed up in one word. For instance, I can generally see a person’s core values by walking into their home, and you can see to some extent mine. When I visit my friends who live closest, their house is a mess – but it’s filled with fine objects, beautiful fabrics and art. This tells me that their core value is beauty. When you come into my home, you find a place to hang your coat, a clean kitchen and despite cluttered bookshelves a lot of open space – this tells you that in my home, we place a value on order. I also value beauty, but I consider it a secondary value, after knowing where the hell I left my shoes.

Here is my summary of Pagan/Neopagan values as I’ve experienced them in fifteen years of practice:

  • Individualism/Freedom
  • Happiness
  • Creativity
  • Experience
  • Pleasure
  • The natural world
  • Home
  • Honor
  • Sovereignty/Consent
  • Knowledge (this is consciously low on the list: there are a lot of neopagans I’ve met who place a minimal value on this as is told by their actions.)
  • Intuition/natural instincts
  • Self-acceptance of bodily impulse

Most neopagan traditions do not seem to set out in and of themselves as a rebellious path. I rarely get the sense that the founders (for those where we can know the founder) started off the trad with a religion left behind in mind. It is simply an arrangement of these values that caused people to set forward with their own point of view. The rebels generally try to change a system by defying it; neopagan religious founders often just kind of did their own thing without stopping to relate to any previous path beyond “this was useful, I wonder how it applies to my current situation?”

My own values do celebrate this core, but I am one of the people that complicates it. Note that I did not put the usual comments about “nature-revering” or “looking to a past/future” time of improvement. Certainly I respect nature like I respect anything with the potential to kill me on a whim – and that’s nature for you – but then I confuse people looking for strict definitions by luxuriating in my urban lifestyle, which I consider much more simple than life in the agricultural spaces often celebrated by other pagans.

I bring this list up not just to point out commonalities and difference in concept between pagan religions, but also because, for the next step in my divorce series, I need to explain happiness. Placing a value on happiness flies in the face of contemporary mainstream culture. And its role in divorce is profound.

Pagan values month: a roundup

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  • Pax offers a listing of organizations explicitly founded with Pagan civil rights involved. That some comments still call for such organizations when they exist doesn’t suggest a weakness in centralization of information, although that is a problem. It suggests that a lot of people still don’t dig deep enough in understanding their own religious culture, or simply get distracted along the way. It’s a combined problem of too much information and not enough work (sometimes for entirely valid reasons)  in getting at that information. Life skills classes in general are good for pagans and non-pagans alike; even so, I’m seriously considering assembling a curriculum that teaches everything from why government is personal to how to check your credit reports. While not a specifically Pagan need, I have found by far the most information voids on such modern-culture survival skills amidst my own.
  • Over at Earth Healing, there is discussion about intuition as a core value – the idea that we are innately good, and know what is good for ourselves, and so to trust our instincts as a gift that preserves us.
  • Pax also has a good post on Disconnection and how it’s affecting forming a pagan values core.
  • Want to contribute to Pagan values month? See how over at Pagan Values blog.

    Time keeps on slipping…

    It’s Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning and I feel like the week’s already gotten away from me. I blame the depressing weekend. Typically I have an established routine: get up, artist’s way work, write, blog, lunch, afternoon physical projects, a walk, and then husband-related stuff. At the moment I’m instead facing a schedule upheaval. Gone are my Friday artist’s dates, but in their place I have free access to the car on Wednesdays. This allows me to run around fulfilling errands and maybe sneaking in artist’s dates, if I’m careful to moderate those errands.

    Also, Mike caved to my pleas and let me get that $99/two month membership dealie at the YWCA. Not a fabulous deal – only $!6 less than the monthly fee anyway – but more than sufficient to thoroughly tide me over until community ed begins again at the end of September. I definitely can’t afford $58 a month year round, but for two months I can swing something a little less. This forces me to drastically alter my writing schedule, as now I get up and catch the bus to the YWCA. I’m aiming for daily if I can do it. I can drive on some days, and parking is astonishingly cheap for members. Even so, getting to twelfth street is always a bitch.

    So my good intentions are already a bit rattled. I still have serious plans for the Pagan Values project, including a links roundup and much – much – to write down the line. But I also had another Llewellyn contract come find me, and I realized during rewrites that I need to completely split up a chapter I originally planned to including in the Divorcing a Witch Book Proposal.

    I’m sure I’ll get used to it in a week or two. For now, it’s just making sure I do something – just a little – towards all my goals every day. Of course, posts here range from 500-1000 words typically, so “a little” is relative.

    Situational ethics in Wicca and Divorce

    One of the great dangers – and arguments against- situational ethics is rationalization. We want to think we’re in the right so badly that we sometimes convince ourselves we are acting rightly when we are doing no such thing. At the same time, this causes a few conscientious people to make themselves miserable in the name of correcting or preventing themselves from doing wrong. It’s a figure 8 cluster, so it’s harder to see it when we’re caught in a reasoning loop because there’s an extra turn. I don’t think people are inherently good or bad – but I do think a lot of people have ended up culturally programmed to work against themselves, and in the long run they end up doing a lot of wrong/hurtful things to each other as they conflict relentlessly with their inner truth in such a way that it ends in a lot of moral compromises.

    I am predicating this on the idea, first of all, that morality encompasses strictly what you do to/for others. What you do to yourself is your business. ((Obviously this also bears discussion in instances of suicide, depression and self-mutilation. But it’s a separate issue, and right now I’m operating on “you have the mineral rights to your own body” approach.))

    In the case of marriage and divorce, all marriage is about you and your other. There’s no way to avoid that. There’s also, no matter what the status of the relationship, another factor: no matter how traditional your marriage agreement, your marriage is FILLED with situations and situational ethics. That’s part of what life together involves. While the concept that “marriage is about compromise” fails to take into account newer methods in conflict resolution, it tacitly acknowledges this situation. Absolutists make terrible spouses.

    So when you’re looking at divorce, you have to accept first and foremost, there’s just no way you can be objective. Also, even if you know with absolute certainty you are the person acting rightly ((and are not, in fact, rationalizing))  you may never see satisfaction on that – and so you have to rely on faith and karma for the emotional resolutions you deserve. It’s one of the hardest situations you may ever confront morally, because you’re walking through a moral fog: you’re miserable, so something is clearly wrong, but 1)you made promises to stay, and promises have a high – the highest – value in Wicca and 2) you can’t be 100% sure you’re not rationalizing, and in most non-violent/non-infidelity divorce scenarios right/wrong is not that clear cut. You also must face the undeniable fact that culture is psychological oxygen: just because you choose/are called to a religion that brings you to the fringes of your given society does not mean that society’s core values aren’t in you somehow. And in the US, society’s core values are boiling and tumbling right now – now that we’re remembering that the “perfection” of the 1950s was actually a myth, we’re rediscovering ourselves outside of television images and presumption of religious tendencies towards Christianity.

    A truly, 100% ethical divorce may or may not be possible. For every couple that divorces for a given reason, another couple stays together despite that occurrence.  If you’re looking for a “right” in divorce, there isn’t one.


    This post is written for the Pagan Values Month Project

    Essays are original materials, but are in part inspired by my work on the book Divorcing a Real Witch