“Original sin”

So, during the current (necessary) focus on the terrible problem we have with cultural and systemic racism in this country, I’ve hear the term “original sin” applied in a number of ways- to the enslavement of African peoples, to white privilege, to racism. I don’t know how far this usage goes back- there was a book published in 2016 that used it in the title, but I suspect that the metaphor is older than that. I can see why it’s used and taken hold, and how it could be a powerful and persuasive point. For Christians.

But I’m a Pagan. We don’t believe in original sin. It’s a Christian concept, and it has no place in our worldview. As a Pagan, I believe in acting from my virtues, not from my faults. So let’s do that- work for racial justice out of compassion and kindness and integrity, because it is the right thing to do; not to atone for being bad, but because we are good- and want to be better.

Edited to add: Also, the “original sin” rhetoric feels to me like an attempt to manipulate via guilt. Manipulation via guilt is (amongst other things) a tool of Christian domination… and, as this post states most eloquently: feeling guilty is not a form of activism.

A Neighborhood Ancestor

In the latter half of the 2000’s, the ongoing development boom in my area swallowed up a venerable affordable-housing complex nearby. I was a bit cynical about the developers’ promise to build new units, but they did. A few years after it opened, the space between it and the office building next was made into a park dedicated to a former Arlington County Board chair- Ellen Bozman. The park- Ellen’s Trace- is a lovely, quiet refuge from the urbanized area, and has plaques celebrating Bozman’s long career of service to the community. She was champion of smart growth for the area, and a passionate advocate for integrated social service programs, public transit, public education- and fair housing, which made the placement of the park even more appropriate.

I got one of those “Is it an idea or a little poke from the spirits? Does it matter?” pings- Ellen Bozman is an Ancestor for Arlington, and the park makes a fine shrine and memorial to her. I felt I needed to do some more work to make this manifest, though. To start with, I found out her birthday (April 21st, today as a matter of fact) and resolved to walk the park, reading the plaques an placing flowers on that day or as close as I could.

I also found that there was no Wikipedia page for her and I decided to fix that. See the link above- it took a little wrangling with the site guidelines about photos and such, but it was worth it. I’m proud to say that it was the very first page I created for the site, and I’m happy to see that others have added to it.

Hail Ellen Bozman!

The Duergarbok

Some years ago, I was commissioned by Andvari to write a poem about His folk, the Duergar.  Raven Kaldera asked me to submit it as a contribution to the book about the Duergar that Asphodel Press was going to be putting out.
 
Well, the book is out and my poem’s in it!
 
The Duergarbok: The Dwarves of the Northern Tradition
 
I’ve had a chance to read an advanced copy and the whole thing is very well done- great writing, fascinating content, and put together with appropriate craft and care.  Especially recommended for followers of Spirits of Craft and Making, and/or those interested in the Northern Tradition.

 

Myth, Mythographers, and Context

In a recent post about how gods sometimes claim people, the comments section had another involved and sometimes heated discussion of an old question:  “If the gods are virtuous, why do Their stories sometimes involve Them doing unvirtuous things?”  Beckett himself addressed this in the comments, a link back to an earlier post, and in a followup post, and made some excellent points.  But I think I have something to add to this.

To start with, myths are stories about the Gods, but they are stories written down by humans.  Often, the writers and recorders are outsiders, people of different faiths and even of different cultures.  Snorri Sturluson was a Christian; so were the monks and secular writers who wrote down the Irish myths.  For that matter, all the Classical writers who wrote about the contemporary Celtic and Germanic religions were Greek or Roman pagans.  All of them interpreted what they heard through the lenses of their beliefs and cultures.

Even when myths were written down by those of the same faith and culture, the writers were still people, and their thoughts and ideas had an influence on what they wrote.  I’ve touched on this matter before, but it’s worth restating. Myths as written down are lensed not only through the prevailing culture and attitudes of the time, but also by the religious, political, and artistic agendas of those doing the writing.

And cultures and cultural mindsets change over time- Ancient Egypt had something like 3000 years of written history, and it’s a mistake to think that their culture and religion remained static over that time.  The shifting focus of afterlife texts, the rise of local gods to national prominence, the syncretization of gods with similar attributes, the many forms of the myth cycle of Osiris, Isis, Set and Horus… all these were shaped by the beliefs and concerns of the time, and of those who wrote them down in that time.

Myths and stories are still a valid portal to knowledge of the gods.  But we have to exercise discernment.  Much has been written in Pagan and polytheist circles about the “filter”- the set of unspoken and unconscious assumptions and values (monotheist, materialist, dualist, etc.) that have shaped our lives, that shape the culture we live in.  As  polytheists and Pagans, we have to be aware of this filter, and work around or against it as necessary.  But we also have to remember that our ancestors had filters of their own, and take that into account as we practice our discernment.

Evolution at the Ancestors service

Recently, I ran across the lovely poem Evolution, by Langdon Smith.  Even though it’s based on obsolete science and has a few other issues, it stuck with me.  When the UToS ancestors service was coming up, I got a strong feeling I should recite it there to honor the spirit of Evolution, that force of Love and Time that has brought about the life of this world.  I adapted the poem a bit, and it was chosen to lead things off, right after the opening songs.  I recited it to a heartbeat of drumming, and it seemed to work really well, lending a distinct presence to the rest of the service

Here it is, with some links added.  I haven’t marked my edits; it should be fairly easy to figure them out… I removed the “brutish Neanderthal” characterization, and split that section- the art referenced was produced by early Homo Sapiens Sapiens– made it more polytheistic, changed a few pronouns, etc.

Evolution
By Langdon Smith (updated by Hugh Eckert)

When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
In the Paleozoic time,
And side by side on the ebbing tide
We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
Or skittered with many a caudal flip
Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
My heart was rife with the joy of life,
For I loved you even then.

Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
And mindless at last we died;
And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
The hot lands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
And crept into life again.

We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
And drab as a dead man’s hand;
We coiled at ease ‘neath the dripping trees
Or trailed through the mud and sand.
Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
Writing a language dumb,
With never a spark in the empty dark
To hint at a life to come.

Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
And happy we died once more;
Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
Of a Neocomian shore.
The eons came and the eons fled
And the sleep that wrapped us fast
Was riven away in a newer day
And the night of death was passed.

Then light and swift through the jungle trees
We swung in our airy flights,
Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
In the hush of the moonless nights;
And oh! what beautiful years were there
When our hearts clung each to each;
When life was filled and our senses thrilled
In the first faint dawn of speech.

Thus life by life and love by love
We passed through the cycles strange,
And breath by breath and death by death
We followed the chain of change.
Till there came a time in the law of life
When over the nursing sod
The shadows broke and the soul awoke
In a strange, dim dream of Gods.

I was thewed like an Aurochs bull,
You were strong and lush and fair;
‘Neath our brows so deep our eyes did keep
The sparks of new wisdom there.
Lit by the glow of our precious fire,
Safe in our rock overhang,
When the moon hung red o’er the river bed
We worked and we danced and we sang.

I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
And shaped it with careful craft;
You took a limb from an ash-tree slim
And fitted it, head and haft;
Then we hid us close to the reedy tarn,
Where the bison came to drink;
Through the brawn and bone we drove the stone
And slew him upon the brink.

Loud we called through the moonlit wastes,
Loud answered our kith and kin;
From west to east to the crimson feast
The clan came tramping in.
Our lives were full, our lives were short,
Too soon they came to an end,
And mournéd we lay underneath red clay
Until we should live again.

Next you were the chief of a hunting folk,
And I was your shaman mate;
Our tribe made its home ‘neath a tent of bone
And skin from a mammoth great.
For we followed the trail of a foolish bull
With all of our cunning and wit,
And drove him down in blood to drown
In a covered and spike-filled pit.

You carved that feat on a reindeer bone
With sure and steady hand;
I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
That folk might understand.
For we had heart and thought- and art!
Ere modern laws were drawn,
And the age of sin did not begin
‘Til our primal days were gone.

And that was many millennia ago
In a time that no one knows;
Yet here tonight in the mellow light
We sit at Delmonico’s.*
Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
Your hair is dark as jet;
Our years are few, our lives are new,
Our souls untried, and yet –

Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
And deep in the Coralline crags;
Our love is old, our lives are old,
And death shall come amain;
Should it come today- well, who can say
We shall not live again?

The Gods wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
And furnish’d them wings to fly;
They sowed our spawn in the world’s dim dawn,
And I know that it shall not die,
Though cities have sprung above the graves
Where the crook-bone folk made war
And the roadways snake past the frozen lakes
Where the mummied mammoths are.

For we know the clods, by the deathless Gods
Will quicken with voice and breath;
And we know that Love, with gentle hand
Will beckon from death to death.
Then as we linger at luncheon here
O’er many a dainty dish,
Let us drink anew to the time when you
Were a tadpole and I was a fish.


* Never been to the one in NYC, but I’ve been to Emeril’s Delmonico in NOLA… yum.

“Climate Worship”

My first reaction to this article was to laugh hysterically.  The amount of right-wing pearl-clutching in it is almost ludicrous… I had to check to make sure it wasn’t from a parody site.  As someone commented on the site where I found the link, “Did they just call Greta Thunberg a witch?”  Seriously, though the amount of hatred that Ms. Thunberg has been attracting is… well, unsurprising.  Ms. Thunberg may or may not be Pagan (odds are against it)… but she is an exceptionally brave, intelligent, and articulate young woman and I wish her success.

But there is a point buried in the paranoid babblings in that article.  While the movement to challenge and stop climate change itself isn’t Paganism (it’s not a religion at all, although certain approaches toward it are parareligious), it’s often been argued that Paganism is essentially environmentalist. I wouldn’t go that far, but…

Certainly, environmentalism is central to a lot of Pagan belief- Nature is, after all, one of the four pillars holding up the Big Tent of Paganism.  Anyone whose focus is strongly on Nature is going to be interested in the health of the environment.  For that matter, those who are Devoted to nature-focused Powers are almost certainly going to be involved in at least some aspect of environmentalism (sometimes unexpectedly, says someone who recently did some work in that direction at the behest of a certain Irish sea god…).  It’s probably most accurate to say that there is a strong overlap in the Venn diagram between Paganism and environmentalism, and has been for decades.

The article that sparked this post ends with this sentence:  “The pagan barbarians from the north are back circling outside the citadel.”  Yes.  Yes we are.  From the south, the east and the west as well.  And if your so-called civilization means ignoring and even enhancing the ongoing climate crisis in order keep the 1% happy… your walls will not save you.

 

Honoring the ancestors of my profession

In my day job, I’m a software developer.  I was fascinated by computers as soon as I discovered them, and ended up graduating with a degree in “business” (i.e. not computer science) programming.  I’ve worked in the field for over thirty years now.  I honor the ancestors of my profession- people like Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Admiral Grace Hopper

Recently, I’ve been geeking out on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, including through the excellent BBC podcast 13 Minutes to The Moon.  I just finished the episode covering the guidance computer and those who created and programmed it and… well.  My life has been shaped in many ways by the wonder of the space program; it and science fiction literature were profoundly formative influences on my imagination and creativity.

But that episode made me realize how much the space program shaped my career.  The Apollo guidance computer pioneered the use of integrated circuits (ICs) in computers, and the Apollo program itself consumed 60% of the world production of ICs.  The very term “software” came to prominence because of the program, and the modern principles of software engineering came out of the work of Margaret Hamilton and others involved with Project Apollo.  You could say that without undue hyperbole that the modern computer industry was born in that time.

So, it’s pretty fair to say that my career wouldn’t have existed without the trailblazing work that the computer scientists, software engineers, and programmers who were behind the Moon landings were doing, around the time I was born and into my early childhood.  They (and their families), like many others in the project, paid a great cost for that triumph- long hours, isolation, marital and familiar stress, health issues.  I honor what they achieved, and the doors they opened for me.

Hail to the ancestors of my profession!

Bealtaine and Fionn

So, a while ago I posted an entry describing my personal sacred calendar.  In it, I mentioned that I wanted to find the right day to honor Fionn, but nothing had come to me yet.

Flash-forward to a few days ago, when I found myself ruminating on the approach of Bealtaine, and the fact that it never really resonated with me even when I was keeping the standard Pagan Wheel of the Year.  I mean, I honor the sacred sex aspects of it, I like the Maypole dancing and the singing, and I realize the deep power and mystery that lies there… but it just isn’t personally significant to me the way it is to others.

But then it hit me:  Bealtaine is the beginning of the “summer half” of the old Irish year, when the fianna would  leave their winter quarters to go back to living on the land, hunting and fishing (and making trouble, on occasion)- and Fionn is the king of the fianna.  And what was Fionn’s first creation after he had gained the salmon-wisdom?  Why, a poem praising Maytime!

May-day, season surpassing! Splendid is color then.
Blackbirds sing a full lay, if there be a slender shaft of day.
The dust-colored cuckoo calls aloud: Welcome, splendid summer!
The bitterness of bad weather is past, the boughs of the wood are a thicket.
Summer cuts the river down, the swift herd of horses seeks the pool,
The long hair of the heather is outspread, the soft white bog-down grows.
Panic startles the heart of the deer, the smooth sea runs apace-
Season when ocean sinks asleep- blossom covers the world.
Bees with puny strength carry a goodly burden, the harvest of blossoms;
Up the mountain-side kine take with them mud, the ant makes a rich meal.
The harp of the forest sounds music, the sail gathers-perfect peace.
Color has settled on every height, haze on the lake of full waters.
The corncrake, a strenuous bard, discourses;
The lofty virgin waterfall sings a welcome to the warm pool;
The talk of the rushes is come.
Light swallows dart aloft, loud melody reaches round the hill,
The soft rich mast buds, the stuttering quagmire rehearses.
The peat-bog is as the raven’s coat, the loud cuckoo bids welcome,
The speckled fish leaps, strong is the bound of the swift warrior.
Man flourishes, the maiden buds in her fair strong pride;
Perfect each forest from top to ground, perfect each great stately plain.
Delightful is the season’s splendor, rough winter has gone,
White is every fruitful wood, a joyous peace in summer.
A flock of birds settles in the midst of meadows;
The green field rustles, wherein is a brawling white stream.
A wild longing is on you to race horses, the ranked host is ranged around:
A bright shaft has been shot into the land, so that the water-flag is gold beneath it.
A timorous tiny persistent little fellow sings at the top of his voice, the lark sings clear tidings:
Surpassing May-day of delicate colors!

(source)

So tomorrow I’ll light His candle, pour Him a drink, and read the above poem and one of His tales.  And I’ll build on that from there.

Happy Bealtaine!  Hail Fionn MacCumhaill!

resized_mi_heroes_of_the_dawn__1914___14566385007__fionn_by_beatrice_elvery

Praises to Brigid

Once upon a time, there was LiveJournal.*  I haven’t posted there for over a year, but I was digging through my account and found this (from twelve years ago, almost exactly:

Because I have dreamed of beauty

Sing within me, oh perilous Muse,
Bright mistress of my soul’s fire;
Your mantle lies still swirled around
This world- warp and weft embedded,
Emblazoned in the lines of light,
Dragon-fire in the deeps of the land.
Untie that knot of memory, return,
Descend in imbas into my secret self;
Set your flame within my head
That I may frame, focus it in words,
Blaze it in beauty through the land.
My heart is always home for you.

Mighty Brigid, threefold Flame, my Muse of Fire, how can I praise You enough? You are the blaze on the hillside, the whisper in the well, the shield of the house. Your spirit inside us inspires- guides the healer’s hand, the smith’s hammer, the poet’s pen. You set the cool head aflame with ideas, seeds of bright beauty that sprout and grow, entwining all the green and grey and blue of this fragile world.

Bright Arrow of Fire, Victorious and Gentle One, when have You not been near me? I have been a hawk above a cliff, a hound on the trace, a salmon in a pool. I have been father, mother, son, daughter, infant and aged, dead and alive and neither. I have made worlds, shaped them, ruined them. Above and beyond and within, You have been with me through all of it. On my left and on my right, before and behind me, above and below me, within and without me- I am always in the compass of Your glory and grace.

Thrice-shining One, Beauty of the Upper Airs, Hearthkeeper and Comforter, accept my thanks. Guide my art, grant me imbas and imagination; let me draw compassion from Your well; make me sure in the works of my hands.

Light-casting, Triumphant Brigid, mighty and gentle, nine times hail!

Essay on Brighid from the IMBAS website

 Brigid, the Energy of Creation

*It was a good place to write various things, and to communicate with friends.  But it started to wither for various reasons, and then the Russian company who bought it moved the servers to Russia, and most of my friends ditched it wholesale in the face of various (IMHO legitimate) concerns.  I haven’t deleted my account, though I haven’t posted in over a year.

Imbolc 2019

Into the ice wind and snow sting, I trudge
A path to ring my neighborhood, layering
Another fine line of fortune around the land.
Your fire in my deep within leads me on,
Your song (one of so, so many) drives
The rhythm of my feet. Wearing red,
I carry Your flame; engraved above
My heart is Your sigil. I warm
To my task, returning home to light
Your candles, offer You mead and music
And a story that is litany to You.
The cold-bringing winds cannot quench
This blaze; whatever the season, You
Whisper this blessing in my words.

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