“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.

“Fear” is the wrong word

I recently read a fascinating article on Atlas Obscura about the subject of “taboo deformation” (when we call something by a word that is not its true name).  I immediately had some issues with it.  On the surface, this doesn’t come as a great surprise- AO is a fascinating cabinet of curiosities, but the writing (and research) is uneven and not necessarily checked very well.  I signed up for an account there in order to be able to do a near-complete rewrite of the article on the Tortuguero Stela (a key piece of evidence used by promoters of the Maya 2012 phenomenon).

The article on taboo deformation doesn’t have that kind of problem, though. Instead, the author uses the word “fear” where they (in almost every case) should (also) be using “reverence”, “awe”, or even simply “respect”.

The article accurately describes the origin of humorous pseudo-expletives such as “dagnabbit”- an unwillingness to use the “true name” of something, especially while swearing. There’s a very good linguistic discussion of the process.  The author traces it back to (amongst other things) a curious phenomenon in many Western European languages- the word “bear” in English (for example) is not actually descended from the proto-Indo-European word for bear (*h₂ŕ̥tḱos, from which we get such works as “Arctic” and possibly even the name “Arthur”).  The bear is a powerful and dangerous animal, words have power, so people wanted to avoid invoking it directly.  But our of fear, or fear alone?  I think it’s more likely that this circumlocution comes from awe and reverence for something of such great elemental power.

Likewise, the substitution of (for example) “gosh” for “God” isn’t done out of fear but reverence or respect.  So is using “darn” or “dang” for “damn”- after all, damnation is a divine prerogative, and it would be disrespectful for mortals to tread in that area.  And changing “fuck” to “frick” (or my favorite, the Irish “feck“, although that one seems to be a bit more complex) or using the word “crap” instead of “shit”- that’s not fear.  That’s just skimming the edge of whatever society defines as polite language.

I think this points to an impoverishment of our language these days, probably driven by a similar poverty of the imagination.  Words like “awesome” have lost their original spiritual sense, and the idea that someone could revere and respect a powerful force of nature or the divine, as well as fearing it, just don’t seem to occur to most people, the author included.

Dealing with my Catholic past

A recent post by John Beckett got me thinking.  I was raised Catholic and it (and other aspects of Christianity) definitely did me some damage.  Although I’m fond of Western Ceremonial Magic as an area of study (and occasional LARP character background), it just doesn’t work for me… and a lot of that has to do with its explicit Christian groundwork.  I’m not much of a magician (and not into the ascension/transcendence/etc. aspects of Ceremonial Magic in general), so I don’t find that to be much of a hindrance.  On the other hand, a lot of hoodoo uses psalms and prayers, and that bugs me a bit (although it seems to work).

But I do have some Vodou lwa who walk with me, and a lot of them have Catholic saint imagery associated with them.  For many reasons, that doesn’t bother me.  Most sources that I have read are pretty clear that Vodouisants appropriated those images and reinterpreted them- because the images were easy to get, attractive and resonated with them as much as for camouflage from the Catholic church.  There’s not necessarily any identification or connection implied- e.g., St. Patrick is used as an image for Damballah because of the snakes in the image (amongst other things), not because Damballah and Patrick are in any way related.

Also, for me, the lwa themselves have often expressed a preference to me for those images. Erzulie Freda wants the image of Mater Dolorosa (the one with all the golden heart lockets) over Her shrine; Erzulie Dantor wants the Black Madonna of Czestochowa over Hers.  Others are less picky- Simbi Andezo prefers dragon and snake imagery, and the Gede like just about anything with skulls and such.  If it bugged me, I suppose I could work with them to find substitutes.

I guess the point here is magic is about what works for me.  Devotion is about what the Powers want, and how that resonates in our relationship.

Poem for a friend

Sometimes Brigid has me write poems for specific purposes, or for specific people.  This is one of the latter cases; a good friend who is also one of Her children is going through some rough health issues, and found out that there is a deeper level of work going on…

Hammer and Anvil

Lady, never let me forget that
Your flame is not solely set in the
Heads of poets, or lies within the coals
Wakened from last night’s smooring to
Joy on the hearth.  It also dwells in
Your forge- trying our metal, forcing it
To glow red to yellow to white to
Be seized and beaten, spark-showering
On Your anvil.  As You hammer, I only ask:
Make pure my steel,
Make true my blade,
Make keen my edge,
And grant me, in Your mercy,
Quenching in Your well.

“Respect rather than politics; relationality rather than ethics; interpretation rather than scientific facts.”

An excellent post by P.S.V.L. on the purpose of religion from a polytheist viewpoint, and how it’s all too common to “[mistake] the separate fields of science, ethics (a branch of philosophy), and politics for religion, when in fact none of these are synonymous…”  A lot to think about here- it’s long but well thought out and worth a read.  I’m going to have to give it a good re-read at some point…  It’s certainly going to inform part 2 of my thoughts on the so-called “Maxims of the Fianna”

Guest post: Prayer to Brigid for Peace in These Times

By Tirani Realta, a fellow child of Brigid:

Prayer to Brigid for Peace in These Times

Oh Holy Brigid, hear my prayer,
Oh Exalted One, hear my prayer,

Mother of the Hearth-fire, hear my prayer,
lay Your hand up those who fear for their lives,
and fear others different from them,
and those that fear retribution,
and bring the peace of Your gentle flame to them, so that their hearts and eyes may open.

Master of the Forge of Creation, hear my prayer,
lay Your hand upon those who work for justice,
and those that fight for peace and equality,
and those who stand watch over them upholding their oath,
and lend Your mighty strength to them, so they may do their work well and with honor.

Keeper of the Flame of Inspiration, hear my prayer,
lay Your hand upon those who turn away,
and those who cannot find a way to help,
and those who struggle to bring our feuding kith together,
and bless them with Your creative ways, that they may find the path to peace and equality.

Mistress of the Healing Well, hear my prayer,
lay Your hand upon those who mourn their beloved dead,
and those who are wounded in heart and soul by the division of our kith,
and who have been injured in body and mind by the struggle for equality,
and pour out Your healing waters on them, that their sorrow be gentle and healing begin.

First to Mourn, Keener of the Dead, hear my prayer,
lament the fallen who have died only because of the color of their skin,
and lament the fallen who have died only for the oath they swore to protect and serve,
and lament the fallen who have died protesting injustice and opening eyes to inequality,
Cry out their names through all the worlds, that the fallen may be honored by Your Voice.

Oh Holy Brigid, lay Your green mantle over our nation,
that we may come together in peace, and healing, and love,
and that we may number our injustices and find ways to mend them,
and that we may walk together as one people into a brighter future.

Oh Flaming Arrow, hear my prayer,
Oh Shining One, hear my prayer,
Great Mother Brigid, hear my prayer,
Amen.

(click on Tirani’s name above or here for her FB post containing the poem and note)

The Problem of Diarmuid and Grainne

As a devotee of Fionn MacCumhaill, I’m always happy to find books dealing with his legends (and those of the Fianna in general).  So I was very happy the other day when Monster Alice pointed out a lovely book to me in a used book store:  Dermot of the Bright Weapons.  It’s about Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, one of the most famous of Fionn’s Fianna.  The illustrations were just beautiful, and it was in decent shape for something published over 75 years ago, so I snapped it up.

Half the book is devoted to possibly the most famous story of Diarmuid, Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (“The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne”).  In short, it goes like this:  Gráinne is betrothed to Fionn.  She doesn’t want to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather, so puts Diarmuid under geasa to elope with her.  Fionn pursues them, although the sentiments of the Fianna are more inclined to the eloped couple.  Lots of adventures happen, then Aenghus Og (Diarmuid’s foster father) intercedes and makes peace.  But some years later, Fionn and Diarmuid are on a boar hunt, and when the boar gores Diarmuid, Fionn refuses to heal him and lets him die.

I’ve never been happy with this story.  It casts Fionn as the villain- he acts completely inconsistently with his character in other stories.  I have to remind myself that I’m looking at these stories as myth- and in myths, gods and heroes and other Powers often act in ways that aren’t right by human standards.  Myths aren’t about us, they’re about the Powers, so our values don’t necessarily apply.

A lot of the literary use of this story frustrates me, though.  It got sentimentalized  by a number of the “Celtic Twilight” authors;  the retellings of the story have a tendency to focus on the romantic love aspects, an anachronism at least, and make Fionn out to be some sort of vengeful ogre.   Gráinne tends to come out looking pretty bad, too. But if you remember some other aspects of Diarmuid’s background, the bones of the story become a spare, harsh, but beautifully complete tragedy:

  1. Diarmuid is under a divine curse that he will be killed by a magical boar.
  2. He has a “love spot” which makes him irresistible to women who see it.
  3. Gráinne is fine with being betrothed to Fionn (a grandfather back then wouldn’t necessarily be all that old… and remember what Kissinger said about power).
  4. But she sees Diarmuid’s love spot and falls for him.
  5. She puts him under geasa to elope with her.
  6. Fionn quite justifiably pursues them.
  7. Aonghus Og makes peace, but Fionn still bears a grudge (understandable).
  8. Fionn tries to keep Diarmuid from going on the boar hunt by telling him about the divine curse.
  9. Diarmuid ignores the warning (hubris, a classic tragic flaw) and is gored by the magical boar.
  10. Fionn’s grudge and the curse combine and Diarmuid dies.
  11. In some versions of the story, Gráinne forgives Fionn and ends up back with him.  If she was under an enchantment (from the “love spot”) all along, this makes a lot more sense.

Stripped of all the nonsense, this is a compelling and heartrending story, and works much better as a myth.  It’s not a happy story, but that’s not what myths are for.

Poem

[Something I wrote a couple of months ago…]

We cannot do this: see the world as They do-
Somewhat removed from time, suspended in
A suffusing, after-storm light, wet gold
In the west; a renewal even at sunset,
A promise more freighted with subtle awe
Than a rainbow; a pregnant peace, cloud-
Formed magic on high meeting the damp below.

Or as She sees it, as all Muses do-
All things as words to a poem, parts
To the greater work, fuel or tool or
Metal ready for the forge; gems to set
Just so, refracting; the shape emerging
Under patient hands, carved or pulled
Or picked out by paint, shaded into life.

But They cannot (choose not?) to touch direct
The world of hours; upswing, downfall,
Chrysalis-change; our senses are the ones
To take in this dust and delight, our hands
The only to mold the mortal; They may guide, order,
Even drive our actions, but our blood, brains,
Will and thews are the means of making.

Incarnation and life purpose

Today’s reblog led me to think of a poem I’d posted last year, and to thinking about my views on incarnation and life purpose.

Someday, I’ll get around to editing and updating the personal “Credo” I wrote during my studies at Cherry Hill Seminary, but for now, let me just give this brief summary of the relevant part:  I believe that we all have an eternal part – our spirit – that lies partially outside of time, and that our mortal lives are something that is an expression of these spirits, a venture that we take in order to do things in time, in matter, that we can’t do any other way.

This is not to say that we choose every part of our experience, or even any of it.  Our wills have function, we may choose to enter into a certain place and time, a certain body and culture, but we give up most of our control in doing so.  Forces in the world shape our lives, forces we have no power over. Our wills contend with billions of others.  Nature can never be wholly predicted.

Our spirits also have alliances and friendships with, and duties and obligations to others.  and above all, there are the Powers- the choice of place and circumstance may be more (or even all) Theirs, rather than ours.

But just as we don’t have complete control, we don’t completely lack it, either. The ratio of control to lack thereof isn’t constant; it rises and falls, sometimes in cycles as regular as the tides or the seasons, sometimes in jumbled turbulence like the boiling of stormclouds.

This complicated balance was behind the poem I linked to above, but you can extend the metaphor even further.  Even the most “primitive” seafarers, without keels or charts or compasses, had a vast lore and fund of skill that allowed them a surprising range and reach in their explorations.  And even in the modern era, with GPS and radar and computers, today’s seafarers still run from the storm, run aground on the most charted reefs… and have to watch out for pirates.

 

The Past is Not Gone

A useful discussion of the so-called “Law of Attraction” and an intriguing approach to the necessity of ancestor veneration.

Drinking From the Cup of Life

There’s a popular New Age aphorism: we create that into which we put our energy. It’s generally understood to mean that we get what we focus on, that if we spend our time and energy on what we desire, the universe will manifest it. The same thing happens with what we fear.  It’s meant as encouragement, as a reminder that we can get what we want out of life, as long as we keep focused and stay positive.

It’s also bullshit.

Self-improvement gurus sell it under the name “The Law of Attraction.” The self righteous imply that it explains why the poor are poor and the sick are sick.

The reason it’s bullshit is that it’s a vast oversimplification of a complex phenomenon. We are co-authors of our realities, that much is true, but it’s not a matter of simple intent, or focus of imagination.

Our actions shape the world…

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