Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thoughts Inspired by Reading about Feraferia

This weekend I read the new book by Jo Carson, Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path.  Reading it was a strange and magical experience and showed me some things about myself that I needed to see.

Although I had heard of Lady Svetlana, I didn’t know anything, really, about Feraferia – a path named “celebrate wildness.”  This text is an interesting invitation into the spirit of Feraferia.

Here is my honest reaction.  For the first forty or so pages, it vaguely annoyed me.  It felt kind of like a childish hippie free-love fest…or at least, what I imagine a hippie free-love fest might have been like had I been alive to experience the counterculture.  I was kind of intrigued that they were using a lot of Hellenic pieces but the tone wasn’t appealing to me. However, the art was starting to work on me.

This book is filled, FILLED with inspired, visionary art.  I didn’t always “like” it (I often did), but it started to move me.  And as I read on, what unfolded and affected me is that there is a reality embedded in this book that is a glimpse of one version of Paradise and that parts of it seep across the edges of the page and into this world.  Through this beautiful, art-filled book written by people who are living this version of reality, I was touched with wonder.  It was that kind of innocent, authentic response to beauty that doesn’t lay a bunch of interpretive content over it.  It just experiences.

I experienced this soft and subtle wonder while looking at this art, reading this book, and mentally walking along beside the beings discussed and I felt my heart opening a bit more and I had a feeling of lightness.  As someone who habitually runs on duty, this is the type of experience I need to cultivate more.  I don’t know if I will necessarily take on any of the practices in the book (although if I had a yard, I would probably seriously consider a Faerie Circle henge), but it is an important wake-up call for me that I need to seek out more experiences that evoke that type of reaction…especially as I take on more and more and more duty.

It also made me realize that at this very moment, if someone asked me to describe my vision of Paradise, I’m not sure that I could articulate it anymore…and I think that is a problem.  I don’t think my version would match the one articulated in this book, but as a magick-worker, I should be able to have a pretty good form of how my vision of Utopia would be constituted.  It certainly is a worthwhile exercise.  And one of the oldest methods of a certain type of spiritual development is to determinedly live as though one is in Paradise – which requires a clear vision of what you think Utopia is.

So, I am glad that I read this book.  I had an interesting experience, learned about an area in my own life that needs more balance, and will look at the art again later.  Many of the paintings really deserve to be the subject of meditation.  However, I cannot be honest in talking about this book without pointing out a few things that were potentially problematic.

The founder and artist, Fred Adams, is a visionary who was inspired by research into ancient cultures and then bent history to serve contemporary ends.  Now, I don’t actually have a problem with people doing that that so long as it is clear that is what they are doing and don’t portray what they are doing as accurate historical representation.  The lines here are mushy and there are things in this book that are of questionable historical accuracy.  I am particularly sensitized to the Hellenic elements.  When one of your main sources of inspiration is Robert Graves, please recognize that Robert Graves himself is an “inspired” source.  He work is notoriously historically inaccurate.  Again…if it WORKS – if it gets you in touch with the Great Ones and your magic works, then that is fabulous and since we are practitioners, that is our ultimate goal.

The other thing that  kind of bothered me and make it clear to me that this vision of utopia is not my vision of utopia is that it felt like the gender roles were really strong and, even though there is throughout a palpable celebration of the Divine Feminine, it felt like the female was always in relationship with the male.  To be fair, the same thing could be said about the Divine Masculine.  However, as a woman who is Parthenos, I have ALWAYS had difficulty relating to the Maid, Mother, and Crone archetypes because I can’t identify with any of them…they are all defined in relationship to their reproductive status and that doesn't resonate with me.  In philosophical terms, it essentializes attributes that I consider to be accidental because I experience them as accidental.  In fact, like Plato, I include human categories of gender as accidental rather than an essential attributes.  I’m not really female and I’m not really whatever age I am at the moment…I’m just temporarily presenting myself as such.   The sexual aspects of Paganism/Wicca/Witchcraft are poweful and positive for me me unless everything gets reduced to sex.  Then it bothers me a lot because it is reductionism. I also find this reductionistic propensity to be really boring.  This book doesn’t reduce everything to sex, but it is prominent and sometimes, for me, on the border of overpowering everything else.  Others for whom this worldview is in stronger alignment may find fewer barriers to appreciation than I had.

All of this being said, Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path truly is a beautiful book and the art itself makes this a worthwhile purchase.  There are also some lovely gems in terms of technique and visions, as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Saving Enough of Yourself for the Work

Time is the ultimate scarce and valued resource for mortal beings.

I think I should repeat that.  TIME is the ultimate scarce and valued resource for mortal beings.

This leads to many challenges for those of us who have a vocation as a witch, as a worker of magic, as a priest/ess.  What we know is that almost all of us have to work a full work week in order to pay our bills.  And then there is all of that "business of life" to which we need to attend....laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and hopefully having some time for building and maintaining important relationships.  This is enough to tax almost everyone in our society, but for those of us who have another vocation - a calling- the reason that we are in this time and in this place, for us, there is a whole other life to lead in the same 24 hours.

I know that I find this to be a significant challenge.

I think that one of the things that we all have to do - and I know I am working on it - is to both get very clear about what *exactly* is and is not our work.  As Byron Ballard has said in numerous places, what are your two to three things that are your work?  Your themes.  Your focus.  Not just for this year, but what are the themes for this incarnation?

Based on observations, it is my belief that our Work has two parts and that we need to be clear about and make time for both.
These two parts are the areas of your service and the areas of your growth.

1.  What are those things that you have to give to the world that are your areas of Service?   This is often your "Mission."  Sometimes you may have great clarity about what that portfolio is, but it is often a long discovery process.  At some point in time, you have to say "This is the scope of my Work."  I know it sounds cheesy, but I would encourage people to write a mission statement/vision statement for themselves.

If you don't have any idea about where to look, I am going to repeat something that was once said to me by a couple of friends, Swamis Jyotir Vakyananda and Abhipadananda.  "If you want to know what your dharma is, look at what your friends come to you for."  I found this to be a deeply important and inspiring meditation that I conducted over the course of several months.

2.  What are the lessons you need to learn or areas of growth you need to undertake?  This may or may not be directly related to your Service.  However, if you die without having grown, you have wasted an incarnation and none of us can afford that.  This really requires undertaking a serious analysis that is compassionate (with yourself) and complete.  I have found some very good insight can be gained by getting a good astrological reading here.  My limited understanding is that both Saturn and the 12th house often reveal a lot about where you have "growth opportunities."  

It is really important to balance these two and make sure that attention is given to both.  Sometimes it is tempting to focus on the first, because that is usually where your excellence lies.  That is usually where you shine.  If you are like me, it is also where you perceive your "duty," and duty can be all-consuming

On the other hand, we are in a culture that really encourages us to be very focused on ourselves and our own "growth," often at the exclusion of paying attention to service.  Within Contemporary Paganism, I think we often under-emphasize service and when people talk about their Work, they often exclusively mean their growth.

So, as I attempt to manage my time with the aim of ensuring that there is enough left of me to also undertake the Work, these are some of the methods that I am trying to use.
1.  I am trying to be increasingly rigorous about not taking on commitments that are not directly related to either my Service or my Growth.  There are many worthy things and worthwhile activities - that may be somebody else's work.
2.  I am conducting an inventory of my time and effort and looking at what things get regularly neglected and what can I do about them.  I can tell you thus far that what gets neglected for me are two things:  My physical reality/health and my relationships....both of which are foundational to the success of everything else.
3.  I am trying to outsource as much that is necessary work in terms of the business of life that I can to reduce ego depletion and recapture some time.  This includes: I have decided to have someone clean my house once a month; I am now experimenting with Diet to Go, which is where I pick up pre-made low-carb meals - because I need to be on a strict diet, but I just realistically am not managing to do it.  The barrier is time and energy.  I could beat myself up about not staying on my diet - but a better solution would just be to have the food I'm supposed to eat handed to me.  For that work that is necessary that I cannot outsource, I'm trying to find efficiencies for it and get it as routinized as possible.  I already, for example, have a virtually brainless way of choosing my clothing.  It's not quiet the Obama two suits, but it's not far off.
4.  I am really trying to inventory my decision-making and eliminate unnecessary decisions and interruptions.  For those who are not familiar with the concept of ego-depletion, get familiar with it.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ego_depletion  There is no point in raging against our natures.  It is wise to just accept and work with them by making our lives human-friendly.
5.  I am trying to get the specific work for my vocation both onto my calendar (I will do X and Y every new moon;  magical and psychic purification work on the first of each month; and schedule specific workings in advance).  I am trying to book myself into the times in which I will be writing, or studying or working on specific projects.
6.  I am also trying to figure out how not to let my daily practice get out of control where it gets too long and then I end up breaking the pattern.  Realism is good.  It is better to meditate every single day for 10 minutes than to meditate every now and then for 30.  I use timers.
7.  I am trying, as much as possible, to schedule commitments and events where I am spending time with people I love doing things that feed my spirit.  I need to get better about this, but I do have season theater tickets with some friends and have some things that I do with some people I love every single year...so those things get on the calendar.  I need to try to create similar structures with some others who I love and don't see often enough.  It just must get on the calendar and preferably in a regular rotation.  Otherwise suddenly it has been over a year and I haven't seen or talked to some good friends because I've been done in.

Anyway, these are some initial thoughts.  I would be really interested in hearing what other people are doing to manage these situations.  The older I get, the more I am aware of the limitations of time.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pagan Cultural Appropriation: When It's Good, It's Very, Very Good, and When It's Bad It's Horrid

I think most people who know me have figured out that although my blood comes mostly from Northern Europe, my primary relationships with the Great Ones - those relationships that are so old and deep that they reach out to me and are, therefore, the reason I am Pagan, come out of my stream of past incarnations and are not from Northern Europe.  I am primarily Hellenic.  One of the awesome things about being primarily Hellenic is that I don't just have to rely upon my past-life recollections (although I regularly do).  There are surviving written documents where I can verify what I remember.  Part of what I remember is that we were regularly encountering other cultures and were constantly engaged in what now gets called "cultural appropriation," and I don't have a problem with how we were doing it.  After all, Dionysos, for example, wasn't originally Hellenic, but he has long since become not only Hellenic, but one of the Olympians!  Hail Dionysos!  Our ancestors were always encountering other peoples and influencing and being influenced by them.  This is part of being human.

There are two main approaches to encountering other people's religions that are really, truly, Pagan with roots all the way back and are documented.  As far as I am concerned, when you use these approaches, you are being a good, truly old fashioned Pagan and I don't have any problem with them.

Model Number One:  The AMAZING and Novel
You are traveling in a foreign land or encountering a culture that is different than yours.  You discover something that is absolutely wonderful.  Let's say they are amazing apricots...but it could be anything--a cure for some malady, a brilliant philosophy, a new musical instrument, an entire community that has developed a particular virtue to the peak of perfection, whatever.

Your reaction is, "These are the most AMAZING apricots EVER!  How do you have such amazing apricots?"

To which you learn that in addition to whatever materially is going on (a particular hybrid, etc.) there is also a goddess of the orchards that blesses the apricots and teaches the people who listen to her how to best care for the orchards and manage the harvest etc.

At which point, determined that you, too, shall have amazing apricots when you go home, you learn everything you can, you consult about all aspects, and you take very seriously everything you have learned about this goddess.   When you go home, you begin a cult to her and share what you have learned.

Information about how to establish, build and maintain appropriate relationships with the relevant invisible beings is an essential part of the transmission of knowledge.  Not only do I not have a problem with this, I think this is a critically important aspect of what we have lost in our culture and is a huge factor in the many problems that we are facing in this world.  No small part of what I see as the Pagan project is that we have to figure out how to re-establish, build and maintain these relationships with beings in relationship to virtually everything that we do...because that knowledge has been lost.  If there are people who have this knowledge, especially about the spirits in our land-base, we NEED to learn it.  And what we do learn, we need to be sure to pass on in addition to our knowledge about the material side of things.  We need to re-weave these strands back together.

Model Number Two:  I KNOW YOU!!!
From the perspective of a distant researcher trying to untangle history, this approach is a challenge...but it is a very legitimate old-school Pagan approach and one that we do naturally, I think. I will use myself as an example.

I am in a situation in which I am encountering a particular tribe's goddess who is the Bear Mother.  When She appears, She looks really different, but I KNOW HER!  It's Artemis, it's Artemis, it's Artemis!!!  I LOVE HER SO MUCH!!!  I know it's Her.  I feel it in every cell.  I know Her in that sense of when you have someone who is a dear friend that you haven't seen in decades and you know them instantly even though they look really different.  Every bit of scholarly discernment has flown out the window because it's HER and I LOVE HER.  And look how happy She is!  I want Her to be happy.  I didn't know She liked that kind of flowers.  I will get Her some.

Again, this is truly, legitimately old-style Pagan and is all over the historical record.  For that matter, we wouldn't even have a Roman pantheon if they hadn't done this with Hellas.  The pre-Hellenic gods of that area were all aniconic. And when Alexander the Great sacrificed at the Temple of Herakles in Tyre, we can be pretty certain that this was not the name used by the Phoenicians, but that also doesn't mean he was wrong in his identification.

I believe that if we take the Great Ones seriously we are acknowledging that they are bigger than us and that our understanding of them is limited.  Therefore, I think that the possibility that we are encountering some of the same beings wearing different "masks" is something to take seriously and can help us deepen our relationships with the Great Ones.  However, it is important to realize that if you are recognizing a deity in a different culture as the same being that you know, you are speaking for yourself and do not take it upon yourself to speak for the culture of someone else.

Principles for Appropriate Cultural Appropriation
I don't see anything wrong with the two models of what I am now going to call "traditional cultural appropriation" because they imply the following:
1.  They take the Great Ones and the invisible beings very seriously.
2.  They are motivated by a desire to be in strong, appropriate relationships with these beings.
3.  They take the wisdom and knowledge of the other culture very seriously and honor it.
4.  They don't create harm to the other culture.
5.  The person engaging in them is taking aspects into their own culture and is not setting themselves up as an "expert" in somebody else's culture.

This is very different than what I consider to be the "bad" ways of dealing with cultural appropriation.  These are ways that violate #4 because they create harm to the other culture, but in ways that are typically subtle and invisible.

Model Number Three: The Baneful and Horrid
I am making an assumption that most people who are going to read this are magic-workers of some sort, so I'm not going to explain the guts of everything.  This section is primarily about thought-forms.

Most cultures have various rituals that are primarily intended to maintain the health and well-being of the culture and its relationships with the unseen realms, including the most important Great Ones to those cultures and ancestral forces.  In order to ascertain which ones we are talking about, you have to do a functional analysis of the ritual.  Many rites of passage, for example, are not just about the individual's development, they are about the continuity of the people and the culture and their over-all right-relationship with the unseen.  What you are looking for are those rituals that maintain a coherence for the culture on the inner planes.

As long-standing thought-forms, these rituals have a groove of power written into the inner planes.  They are maintained through the repetition of the rites through the ages and from generation to generation.  Most traditional cultures are under real threat.  Often through a combination of genocide, forcible conversion to monotheism (if we are including other parts of the world, it is not just Christianity but also Islam), and dislocation, the thought-forms of the rituals that maintain the integrity of "the people" are not being sufficiently reinforced on the inner planes and are weakening.

DO NOT HIJACK THOSE THOUGHT-FORMS!!!  It is baneful magic.
If you are dealing with an endangered culture whose elders are desperately trying to keep and maintain the thought-forms on the inner planes, redirecting what energy there is to flow to you and your community and/or rewriting the thought-form so that you've overpowered the traditional form...all of that is seriously baneful.

This requires some analysis on the part of magic-workers.  You have to look at the functional purpose of particular rituals and you have to be rigorous and careful about how your rituals are related to the inner-plane thought forms.

Model Number Four: The Stupid and Tacky
Most of what I see is actually stupid and tacky rather than full-on baneful.  However, there is some bane here and it bleeds into Modern Number Three, easily.  If we step back and think about how thought-forms are re-written, I am going to say that when in early Christianity and during the persecutions of Pagans many of our gods became saints, this is an example of thought-forms being hijacked.  They took our Great Ones, hijacked the thought-forms, and made them small.

So, when some white person decides to take the thought-form of a ceremonial headdress from an indigenous tribe and make it a costume or even an inspiration for an outfit to wear to a club, that person is taking a powerful sacred thought form and making it small.  However, not everything that comes from another culture is sacred.  We influence each other's styles all the time and I really like to wear clothes from other cultures.  This takes discernment and learning enough about the other culture to make a determination about whether the aesthetic piece you are taking is rooted into sacred thought-forms.  Take practicing members of the other culture as your guide in this.  If they are wearing, using, doing the thing you are wanting to aesthetically adapt in mundane situations, that is an indicator.

Most of what I see in cultural appropriation, though, is just tacky behavior.  Know something about the real-life situation of the people in the cultures you are encountering.  I will give you a personal example that I have seen a lot.  It has been a long time ago, but I used to go to Pow-Wows a fair amount.  The way to respectfully go to a Pow-Wow as a white person is to make your own ribbon shirt and make it as pretty as you can make it by yourself and by hand.  Put time and effort into it.  What you DO NOT DO is to buy an expensive traditional tribal outfit that the people who are actually in that tribe cannot afford.  That is unforgivably tacky.  I'm sure you can expand from there.

These are just some thoughts because I don't think that our discourse at this point has been sufficiently nuanced.  I don't believe in the binary that all cultural appropriation is bad.  We are constantly influencing each other and all cultures are incessantly changing...if they don't change, they die. One of the biggest dangers to traditional cultures is the demand that they not be permitted to change or they are seen as not legitimate.  That is one of the sure ways to utterly destroy traditional cultures...fossilized cultures are dead cultures.  However, as Pagans, I do think that we need to be more thoughtful about how we go about adopting and adapting things from other cultures and being mindful that we do not engage in baneful activities.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Challenges in Intersectionality

For those who are not familiar with the terminology, intersectionality is when different forms of diversity intersect, often resulting in forms of oppression that build on each other and are greater than merely the addition of the oppression generated by the different categories.  So, for example, an African-American lesbian has intersectionality with race, gender and sexual orientation that cannot be fully understood from just adding up the oppression for each category or addressing one at a time.

As a culture right now, we are struggling with trying to figure out how to deal with challenges that arise from having diversity and trying to also have some form  of unity.  Clearly the tremendous problem with state violence against minorities, in particular African-Americans, is especially pressing and has people on edge...where frankly we all should be, given the severity of this crisis.  I would rather be deeply upset and struggling with white privilege than blind to these atrocities.

However, I don't think there are good roadmaps about how to really address these issues, so it is a struggle...one of the most important (along with things like how the hell to address climate change and wealth disparity) but it is difficult to know how to proceed, even if you do have a good heart.  One of the problems that I have is that although I attend numerous diversity-oriented trainings in the hopes of getting some better tools to help me move forward as a conscious ally, I almost always find them singularly unhelpful.  Usually the reason why is that they tend to do one of two things.  First, the examples are so egregious...Donald Trump style comments...that it is highly unlikely anyone who is at the diversity training of their own free will is going to fall into that category.  The other pitfall is that everything is *too* theoretical.  I know the theory.  I get the theory from reading.  The question is how to use the theory in circumstances that are real.

So, I am going to offer a real experience in which intersectionality became real to me and I had a real understanding of some of my own challenges.  As I have said on numerous occasions, part of the difficulty with life in general that tends to get highlighted in diversity issues is that we are all walking around "in media res."  We are all in the middle of our biographies and react and see things through lenses that come from prior experiences...and those experience are generally invisible to everyone else.

About a year ago, so not long after the slaying of Michael Brown, my sister and I were riding with a friend through our neighborhood.  There was a loud altercation on the sidewalk outside of the Safeway.  At the center was an African-American woman and a Hispanic man who was holding onto her and she was struggling to get away.  She was screaming "Get your hands off me, stop touching me, I don't want you to touch me" and similar.   This was REALLY upsetting to me.  I saw a police officer who was probably already headed there, but I told him that he needed to go break it up.  Right after I did that, I looked over to my right and another African-American woman in the next car was looking at me with horror written all over her face.  I was completely taken aback and then I realized that in her eyes I was the bad guy, because she thought I was sicking the cops on a black woman.

Now, it is not that I didn't realize that the woman was black.  I am not "colorblind."  Of course, I realized she was a black woman.  It's just that at that moment, race had exactly no saliency in my mind.  Coming from my own biography I was 100% reacting to the fact that there was a woman who was screaming that a man was touching her, that she didn't want him to touch her and that he wasn't stopping.  I wanted someone to make him stop.  That was literally all I could process in that moment.

So, then I said, "I hope she's okay," because I was still really worried about the woman.  At which point my sister said, "what are you talking about?"  And when I told her that that man was touching her when she didn't want to be touched, my sister pointed out that he was an employee, he had an apron on and that probably what had happened was she was stealing...all of which, I didn't even notice.

Who knows what was right to do in that circumstance, but it certainly indicated to me that in those kinds of situations, I quickly only focus on gender and that may be the wrong reaction.  I can't say that in an adrenaline charged moment, I won't do the exact same thing again...but it was a really good example of three different immediate perceptions of the same incident.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

We Are Made Up of Stories

It has been a strange day and I should start this post by acknowledging that it has been a strange time.   I have been immersed in literature from mass psychology, sociology, literature on stigmatized identities, and then had the amazing opportunity to hear Neil Gaiman speak.  It has made for a weird stew.  I cannot disaggregate which parts of inspiration came from where, but it is from a lot of streams.  Anyway, these are my thoughts as I am currently thinking them.

I have been thinking a lot about the nature of what we experience as "the self."  It seems to me that the there is that sense of self that I have that says "this is me!" and that it is a construct that I create of myself based primarily upon the stories that I tell myself of who and what I am.  Those stories, and my self that changes with them, are constantly evolving and are essentially based not just upon my experiences and my memories and perceptions of experiences, but on the meaning that I create out of my experiences and my memories of my experiences.

I am constantly creating stories and revising stories and experiencing and living the stories that I tell myself.  All of this activity creates from moment to moment that sense of "me" that I am and it is real, but it isn't a singular thing that can be located.  I think this is what the Buddha was calling anatman.  It is never static but is always changing.  And yet, there is continuity between what was the "me" in the past and what is the "me" of the moment and what will be "me" in the future.  There is rarely rupture but a type of continuity in which I "grow" and my shape changes....which is also constructed in story.

So, this is my sense of my self, what I might consider my "authentic" or "inner" self...changeable as it is.  In magical terms, it is a mutable thought form of who and what I am that is, in an intimate way, linked with my formless self...but the formless self doesn't use language or involve itself in forms.  In the Greek, my constructed changing self would be my psyche (soul) not my pneuma (spirit) which is formless.

There is another self...or many other selves.  Every person who knows me or encounters me creates their own thought form about who Gwendolyn is.  That thought form is created from many raw materials, including  their perceptions and whatever they happen to think/feel/get triggered by in their own stories about who they tell themselves they think they are.  It is created by the disclosure that I have had with them...telling them about my experiences and letting them see my own story about who and what I believe I am.  It is created by their reactions to my story which become a part of their story of who Gwendolyn is.  In some cases, and I have a couple of these in my workplace, the identity that is created for me has almost nothing whatsoever to do with me but is an almost total projection from the creator's own story where they have put my name and face on something that is pretty much all about them.  

So, when someone is trying to interrelate with me, they are not doing so directly (and, of course, vice versa).  What they are really doing (I think) is relating to their created thought form of me.  If what they perceive and what they have constructed is pretty close to how I have constructed myself then there will be places of connection where maybe we can reach past all of the mutual projections and actually touch each other.  This, I think, is that blissful feeling of intimacy, which I think is being seen as you are.  But when there is a mismatch between your inner understanding of who and what you are and what someone else has constructed you to be, there is a deep dissonance.   It feels (at least to me) as an overpowering sense of alienation and isolation....it is like standing right in front of someone and having them reacting to a dream of themselves while putting your face on it and calling it by your name.  This kind of invisibility is incredibly painful and, at least for me, not uncommon.  It is a lack of alignment between your sense of self and your "virtual" sense of self -aka the "self" that others construct for you.  In some cases, such as the work situation I referenced above, it is impossible to have a conversation because that wall of a created thought form that has nothing to do with me is so strong, that it really is like talking to a wall.

When it comes to constructing the sense of self through stories, I think that what is important is not only attributes (female, witch, psychic, reincarnated ancient Hellene, intellectual) and disclosure of experiences that invite a hearer into the story (telling and hearing a story becomes a shared experience), but also the relative saliency of the various attributes in the thought forms is of great importance.  So, for example, it is very important for many Pagans to emphasize the saliency of their sexual identities as a primary characteristic...for a variety of reasons.  Sexual identity is given a huge priority as a valorized and essential characteristic in most Pagan identity formation.  I, personally, am pretty far on the asexual side of the spectrum.  What this means is that in the stories I tell myself about who and what I am, sexuality has little saliency.  It is barely a part of the story at all.  However, it plays a significantly larger role in the "virtual identity" of Gwendolyn that is constructed by other people and creates a gulf, even if they get the characteristics right.  The point is that the alienating mismatch between the thought forms of the sense of self and the thought forms constructed by another is not only about alignment on particular characteristics, it is also about saliency of those characteristics.

It also can lead to situations in which people don't disclose certain characteristics because of needing to control saliency.  For example, I know people who have rare genetic disorders that are always fatal....but that may take decades to present symptoms and decades of degeneration before the disease runs it course.  If they disclose then they will be "that poor person with x disorder, about whom we are so worried."  That is a human reaction.  The disease becomes highly salient.  The reality is that person could be killed in a car wreck and never experience anything from the illness.  They don't disclose because they don't want this to be a salient aspect of their identity.  Many people who have experienced sexual assault or other trauma don't disclose for similar reasons...they don't want to give it power.

But human beings are not truly independent.  We never are.  We influence each other by the stories we tell....for good or ill.  I am ultimately an optimist and an idealist, but I am a pragmatic idealist.  So, what would say is this...we most often influence each other for ill but have the possibility of influencing each other positively in profound ways.

How many of us have listened to harmful stories we have been told about ourselves and believed them?  We have taken them in and made them a part of the stories we tell ourselves about who and what we are.  I know I have.  As an example, I have been told for almost as long as I can remember that I "always exaggerate."  That is my family's line.  (Like that isn't an exaggeration!)   I don't always exaggerate.  I get numbers wrong (hence the weakness that left me open to this story) but the reality is that I am a Truth Teller who says things that are uncomfortable and potentially deeply disruptive. I spent years reflecting back and verbalizing things to my family that they didn't want to hear because they are scary; hence, I am discredited by the stories they tell about who and what I am...namely that I always exaggerate and am overly emotional.  Now the danger (besides being ignored) is that I absorbed this into myself and started telling myself these stories that were constructed for me.  In other words, in this case, I started to doubt my perceptions and my judgement.  I started to tell myself in my own stories to myself about myself that my emotions were clearly out of control and that I couldn't be counted on to judge because I was obviously overly emotional and distorting reality.  Somehow, as horrible as that both sounds and is, it is less scary than being invisible to people you love.  I tried to make my internal sense of self align with the self that was being constructed for me and projected onto me by others...to devastating effect.  I share this as an example because I don't think this is uncommon and I don't think that this makes anyone in my family "bad." I think it is human.  For the record, I have largely healed from this over time and have rejected those stories...and I think my family is finally mostly past those constructions also.  It has taken many years of hard work.  But I share this as an example because I think this kind of thing is common.  Look to the stories people tell you about yourself and don't take on board what you don't really want.

On the other hand, being an idealist, I would hope that maybe when we see something positive in another person that they can't see or that they have lost sight of, we can show them a story about themselves in which the positive is visible and strengthened so that they can broaden and enrich their story about who and what they are.  I hope that there is some hope because that is probably the most essential part of my story of who and what I am.  I am one who hopes. I hope that in reflecting back to people narratives in which they are worthy and powerful and wise and good and can make this world better (based on observations and my own interpretations of when I have seen them exemplify these attributes) that they will incorporate the strengthening of these qualities into the core of their being and make it a stronger part of their identity.  I hope so.  I hope that by consciously telling stories of goodness and striving and triumph that it will happen.  I hope and I hope and I hope.

And I hope that when I am relating to others through the thought forms that I have constructed for them that those forms are both close enough to the stories that they tell themselves about who and what they are that we can really connect, and yet I also dare to hope that I can provide them with some vision to be EVEN BETTER, even more of what THEY want to be so that they can have the chance to absorb that possibility....as a ripening of their own story, not as my projection.  I want to use my hope to show people a vision of themselves through my interactions with them in which their own highest ideals of who and what they are are made manifest.  I hope that I can purify my own perceptions enough to do this for others.

And I hope that there is someone who can do the same for me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ἀκηδία - Acedia: The Sin of Sloth is not Really Laziness

I was just challenged to identify the cardinal sin of my personality.  Personally, mine may be immoderation...but there is another I am seriously entertaining as a possibility.  It is, at least, a danger.

In attempting to figure out my cardinal sin, I looked at the Delphic maxims (relatively full compiled list is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphic_maxims) and I looked at the seven deadly sins of the Christians and that is when something else really caught my attention.  What we are taught is sloth and we think of it as laziness is not really that at all.  The original Greek is acedia, which is much closer to despair and dejection than it is to just laziness.  It is more like ennui.

Basically, the cardinal sin of acedia is when you just can't maintain motivation to keep on keeping on.  It is when you give in to the feeling that whatever it is you are facing is so big that you just kind of can't care any more.  It is when life feels pointless and meaningless and you stop caring about your duty and the condition of the world and you stop trying to make it better.

There are signs of acedia that are very similar to signs of depression, but are not exactly the same.  There is a general restlessness and boredom where you try to fill up your life with distractions because you've lost a sense of meaning.  There is a tendency to sleep more than is advisable and to either neglect your daily work or to do it without engagement.  There is a tendency to fixate on the overwhelming nature of the future rather than live in the present and do one's duty here and now.

All of this is a sin because it keeps you from being able to operate and fulfill your purpose...whatever that happens to be.  It keeps you from working to make the world a better place, which is an important duty that each of us has.

Why did this realization jump out at me?  Because when I think about our culture in general, and I think about our collective cardinal sin, I've always thought about greed...but now that I understand what acedia is, I think it is that.  I think that what I have understood as greed (amongst the 99% - the 1% it may be something else) is overindulgence in consumption as a form of distraction from the pain of acedia.  It is also what keeps us from standing up and doing what needs to be done to fix the world.  You can see it in the persistent "sophisticated cynicism" of the intellectual left when they say things like "it's all oligarchy, there's no difference between the parties" instead of getting out there and trying to make a difference.  And if you live in a place where there is no candidate running that you can morally support, then you bloody well run or find someone you can support and convince them to run!  Acedia is passivity that passes into careless apathy.  We've got to stop it.

So how do you overcome acedia?  It is through will....a capacity that we do not train and exercise in this culture and need to start doing so.  You overcome acedia by getting up, focusing in the moment, and doing what you can do today that is in alignment with your duty.  You don't focus on the distant outcome...you do what is your duty and right to do today BECAUSE it is your duty and is right to do it.  And you just keep going. As an example, I pick up plastic trash when I'm walking and throw it away.  Every time I go out, there is a lot more plastic trash in my path...and I pick it up and I throw it away.  It would be easy to give into despair about it and be overwhelmed and think that what I'm doing doesn't make a difference, but in the end, I don't want to be the kind of person who walks by plastic trash and doesn't pick it up...so I keep picking it up. That's a small example, but it is the principle in action.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Recovering and Retraining Revulsion

Jonathan Haidt, in The Righteous Mind, makes a compelling case that both liberals and conservatives experience moral outrage and believe themselves to be making moral decisions, but that the character of their morality is very different. What struck me is that conservatives, in addition to being far more authoritarian, use the emotion of disgust a lot.

So, what is disgust or revulsion? It is deeply primal and clearly is tied in with our animal natures and evolution. Revulsion is that virtually non-cognitive feeling when we encounter something that could make us sick and kill us. It is the emotion that keeps us from eating meat that has maggots in it. It is the emotion that keeps us from getting shit on our hands and then putting our hands anyplace close to our mouth before washing first. It is really, really powerful. Haidt has examples that just literally make my skin crawl and make me nauseous and it is very hard to argue against that visceral feeling and say that something is morally okay when it evokes that reaction.

The question, then, is how is it used and why. At its most basic, that intense feeling is about the survival and care of our animal selves...and is an important warning system. But over time, what has happened is that it has been used, very skillfully, to evoke that reaction to things that are not harmful. The main arena in which this has been used is sexuality. This is probably because there may be real animal-nature revulsion to having sex with close kin, that would result in genetic problems. But this feeling has been expanded to all sorts of things that, frankly, aren't relevant.  There is nothing dangerous to the survival of the animal nature about same-sex relations, nor about menstruating women, or about sex in general.  But somehow over the course of many, many, many generations, people have been trained to experience revulsion at many of these things. Not only that, but the revulsion gets generalized and laid straight on the people themselves.

 I think we are kidding ourselves if we do not realize that many people on the right experience disgust about not just same-sex relations, but gay people and lesbians, and women, and anyone who makes them feel sexual. And disgust is so strong, that it is a very effective tool of authoritarian power because it can be used to redirect hostility against those who would limit personal freedom by giving people a substitute target with such a visceral power behind it. I do think retraining these aspects comes from making it clear that those people who are experiencing this kind of revulsion are NOT moral. It is inappropriate revulsion that has nothing to do with morality.

 That then, is a meditation about how disgust is used towards things that are inappropriate.

 That's only half the problem, though. We, collectively and individually, are doing a TON of things that ARE actually harmful to our animal nature...in other words, our very bodily survival. And do we experience revulsion? Usually not! We feel morally outraged by fracking and water pollution, but do we really feel the kind of visceral disgust like we do if we think about touching rotting, maggoty meat with our bare hands? I know I don't. But I should because this is poisoning our water and that is exactly the reason why this emotion exists.

 The moral outrage on the left about all of these devastating environmental problems doesn't tend to have the power of visceral revulsion behind it. If it did, we would be making more progress. If we could retrain our animal natures to experience this kind of revulsion for environmental degradation, we would fix it...and clearly the animal nature can be trained to experience revulsion because it has been done in regards to harmless sexuality that was once not experienced that way (witness ancient Hellenic sexuality where bisexuality was the norm).

 An example of how this is working now is that when I go out and walk through the neighborhood, I pick up and throw away all plastic trash that I see....which is an alarming amount. Now, I have literally been told, "don't touch that, it's dirty." This is revulsion and disgust speaking. And the answer is, "you are damn right it's dirty...and it's going to go into the water if I don't pick it up!"

 The disgust at the possibility of this going into the water supply, where it can do real damage, has to start trumping the more immediate...which is a retraining.

 As an occultist, I believe that for all that we tend to experience ourselves as individuals, on another level of reality, we are cells in a greater mind - that there IS an oversoul of humanity, if you will. That those decisions that we make, those experiences that we have, those things that we learn all have a power to influence more than just one individual without necessarily "teaching" others. And, furthermore, I believe that as occultists, because we work intentionally and consciously with this aspect of the Greater Self of humanity, we can have disproportionate impact.

 So, I invite you to consider this challenge. Let's retrain our sense of revulsion to really call up that visceral disgust in regards to environmental degradation so that it is not only cognitively based moral outrage but has the same feeling as getting shit all over your hands (to be gross, but accurate). What we are dealing with is far more dangerous than that.