Tag Archives: PVE2010

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.

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.

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

032910 191

  • 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.

    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

    So long as our love shall last: Pagan Values Project

    Before my first marriage, I liked this phrase couched in the Wiccan handfasting ceremonies I’d read. “So long as our love shall last.” It delighted me with its realism…with its implication of freedom. Before I read that statement, I never associated marriage with freedom or happiness. I saw it as duty, something to do for the sake of stability but ultimately one of many culturally expected choices that stand between you and life’s possibilities. I don’t remember what age I developed a distaste for marriage – certainly I still held a taste for romance. I just remember observing that the interesting, happy people, in relationships or not, were not the married people.

    Of course, as I write this I’m in my second marriage. There is certainly love there, along with duty, promises made and the straightforward pragmatic appreciation of the stability we give each other. Marriage itself isn’t just a romantic proposition: you can’t actually live on the oxytocin high being in love gives you, and you couldn’t sustain that over years and still be alive. ((Or you wouldn’t be in very good shape if you were.))  Marriage, like it or not, is also a business arrangement. You’re partnering up your life and resources with another person’s life and resources. Ideally you pick well: someone you have fun and good sex with, who shares your perspective on child bearing and rearing and who finds your friendship just as enriching as your romance. In many ways, marriage isn’t romantic at all. It’s the reason that so many arranged marriages still actually work.

    I married my first husband riding the high for a surprisingly long time, and when I came down I realized what huge mistakes we’d made in choosing each other. Ultimately, it was a total failure, but because I loved him I stayed for years after I realized how badly we’d erred in choosing each other. Then, one day, after almost a year of my ex husband barely touching me and rarely interacting with me, I woke up beside him one morning and realized that I no longer loved him.

    It was a terrible moment, and while my self-loathing has passed, I hope never to revisit that blank feeling ever again. While I tend to suppress my emotions, I can feel at least some affection for the people around me, but in that moment on that morning I felt absolutely nothing for him, not annoyance, not welcome, not hate. Nothing.

    The love no longer lasted. On my end, the marriage was done.

    Unfortunately, my ex still loved me, or at least appeared to. And in our wedding vows, he declared his love to last “forever” whereas I had added “so long as it shall last.”

    I had no idea how to navigate “what happens when it’s no longer mutual.” As a longtime carrier of unrequited love (happened to me a lot, possibly because of high anxiety levels) I felt powerful empathy for my ex’s situation, and I tried to make myself feel for him again and just couldn’t do it. So it left me with a moral dilemma: since he made the vow of forever, was I therefore required to stay forever? Certainly that’s how he intended it. But since I didn’t, and I didn’t love him anymore, was I obligated to leave?

    As you can probably tell from my recent remarriage, I left. Right or wrong, there are limits to doing the right thing, and Wicca doesn’t promote the idea that martyrs receive their rewards in heaven for choosing to live miserably in the present. I left, and I had to trust karma to let me know if the decision was right or wrong – but certainly karma could not reverse that decision anymore than my ex could.

    This leads to another concept: happiness as a moral value. Wicca/some neopaganism are among the only faiths that place a moral, if sometimes unconscious, value on happiness. But for now I’m sharing my experience and the dilemma of a lopsided “love lasting” scenario.

    A short update on Divorcing a Real Witch, and Pagan values month

    The update:

    060310 007
    actually, I'm in my mid-30s.

    For those of you who do follow my other blogs, particularly Fat Chic and my livejournal, you know I’ve been out for a blogger’s conference hosted by Lane Bryant. If that tells you anything about my core values, it tells you that I’m far from anti-establishment. I think the establishment, such as it is, belongs to me, and I’m willing to work with that. The weekend preceding the conference was the wedding of some dear friends, and as their official sanity anchor it meant strategic involvement on my part. This has thrown me a bit off my schedule, and has led to spiraling despair usually dumped in a notebook and shelved.

    I was on a strong track with the writing last week, but even a short trip can throw me off, so I’m once again revisiting the carefully constructed habits. Making sure I exercise daily. Eating a decent breakfast. Trying to organize the time I spend with friends well. Stashing all the things that make me crazy and insecure so I’m fit for interaction with society. Making time for yoga, meditation, prayer and sunlight.

    Also, stuff is broken. My livejournal crossposter is indeed neither crossing nor posting. The survey for Divorcing a Real Witch only loads if the planets configure and someone sneezes at the right time. The humidity has worn the adhesive off the picture hanging strips that attach images to the walls of my home, and my husband just drilled holes in our apartment wall because wireless became completely unreliable for three weeks.

    So, this said – I’m getting back on track as best I can. I’ve been discovering a yen for writing fiction, and the noose-like conviction I indeed cannot write fiction is fading. I am still writing and revising the book proposal for Divorcing a Real Witch, and researching markets, researching PR, researching who to talk to and when. I am steeling myself for rejection and lots of “this is not what we’re looking for at this time” type stuff – back when I really trolled the field in my 20s, I was always invited to submit again, but rarely if ever did. I’m sure the same will happen with my fiction when I get that ready, too.

    So there is is, you have your benchmark of where I’m at. Oh, and here’s a sample Table of Contents on the book.

    Pagan Values Month
    I do intend to participate in this, although my thoughts are considerably scattered on the topic – because it’s a scattered topic. There are few things that make me feel simultaneously hopelessly ahead and hopelessly behind as talking to other pagans, not just about values practice but about anything, really. While I realize those most into obtuse obscura are the most full of shit, I’m sensitive despite my tough demeanor and I occasionally end up getting conned for awhile.

    I may not stick to this outline, but I think for this year, I may focus on a single aspect of pagan living/values and take it from there. Logically, a series on values surrounding divorce would probably be the closest to my wheelhouse right now, followed closely by values concerning marriage.  Last year’s discussions focused on sex, but I did get a big sidetracked.

    I guess I’d overall like to focus on the following:

    1. When is divorce acceptable, and when is it required?

    2. Why get married at all?

    3. Perceptions of freedom within a marital agreement (or why I struggle in marriage more than I do in long-term relationships)

    4. Life besides parenthood

    There is also a discussion I’ve wanted to bring up: pagans are a community of people with strong values, but we are not necessarily a community of shared values. For instance, I know individuals who consider cursing the worst thing you could do to yourself and someone else – and others who see refusing to curse a wrongdoer as a moral failing in itself. See? The topic spreads like dropped marbles.

    I’ll be rolling up my sleeves and taking part of this stuff on this week, so stay tuned. Just keep in mind that because I’m Wiccan, I am fully prepared for my values to change as my situation changes.