The Gods Do Not Vote, So Why Are You Asking Them?

Hexing in progress. (Reuters via National Review)

When I was a kid, I read some condensed version of the Iliad for young people. I did not understand the gods.

After all, I was raised to be a Christian. In the Bible, YHWH was supposed to take care of his special people, the Jews, although sometimes he expressed his care and concern . . . oddly. The Christians continued that idea with themselves as the special people, and so on with other monotheistic religions. Obviously, God favored the “good guys.”

In the Iliad, the Greeks are the “good guys,” near as, although the Trojans are not especially villainous, just the other team. But the story is told from the Greeks’ point of view. Yet some of the gods favored on side and some the other. How could that be?1)You don’t really hear about the Trojans’ religion as a separate thing.

Later in life, having changed quite a bit, I would write about the Iliad, linking to the story of a Navy SEAL killed in combat, whose mother reflected, “He was born to do this job.”

That is the polytheistic view of life. The world is a mess. The world is beautiful. The gods are eternal (or as good as). The gods work at cross-purposes, and sometimes humans are caught between them.

Meanwhile, I see some Pagans convinced that they know how the gods vote — or would vote, if they could produce a photo ID at the polling place.

Are these the same Pagans who sneer at that subset of evangelical Christians who apparently think that Jesus is a Republican?2)After 2,000 years of worship, he is definitely a god. And maybe he is a Republican. Or like in the TV version of American Gods, there are multiple Jesuses and one is a Republican.

If you are really a polytheist, then you must accept that the gods do not vote. Their values are not always aligned with our day-to-day political values. Really, what does Aphrodite care about Colorado’s proposal to change the redistricting process or about who wins the race for Pueblo County coroner? Should I consult Hekate about my congressional candidates?

In the context of discussing a Heathen theological question, Galina Kraskova puts the issue this way:

To assume, moreover, that the Gods share our political affiliations is incredibly narrow-minded and naïve. It might help motivate us to become involved politically, it might allow us to feel a certain connection to whatever Gods we venerate, it might even make us feel better but it is a terribly humanizing view of Powers that are well beyond our factiousness, or the limitations of temporality and human foolishness. It’s really a shame that we insist on bringing our Gods down to our short-sighted level (and I think we all do this at times).

On the other hand, statements such as, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” might be comforting but do represent a kind of crypto-monotheism, especially when people capitalize History and treat it as a force equivalent to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Only God.

This “history” is apparently quasi-sentient and going somewhere other than to its own destruction. It is no coincident that the statement is attributed to a Unitarian minister.

Some Pagans I know (or know of) are working with various American archetypes 3)I  use Salmon too! in the sense of asking protection and blessing, which is OK. It’s like always ending a spell with “Or something better.”4)It is always good when you can rid yourself of annoying people by blessing them. That means not ordering the gods around: “[Deity], cause [Candidate] to win the election!”

In the mundane world, stories like “Witches Hex Kavanaugh” are great clickbait.5)For readers outside the USA, the article refers to Judge Brett Kavanaugh, recently added to the US Supreme Court after a contentious confirmation process in the Senate.

Here is the old-line conservative magazine National Review, suffering from a drop in circulation, taking a clickbait-ish shot at “progressive” Witches:

Notes   [ + ]

1. You don’t really hear about the Trojans’ religion as a separate thing.
2. After 2,000 years of worship, he is definitely a god. And maybe he is a Republican. Or like in the TV version of American Gods, there are multiple Jesuses and one is a Republican.
3. I  use Salmon too!
4. It is always good when you can rid yourself of annoying people by blessing them.
5. For readers outside the USA, the article refers to Judge Brett Kavanaugh, recently added to the US Supreme Court after a contentious confirmation process in the Senate.

How Long Until You Know You’re Dead?

People who are familiar with occult tradition — and I would put most Hardscrabble Creek readers in that group — probably accept the idea of consciousness continuing after bodily death, in some form.

Materialist medicine, however, does not, which is why this research is interesting.

Scientifically speaking, this research, which was first published in 2014, says our consciousness may still function for a period of time after our physical body is declared dead. So, in theory, a person could literally hear themselves be pronounced dead by a doctor.

There is a long tradition of such research though. I recall how some 18th-century French scientist (probably executed himself during the Reign of Terror) persuaded friends who had appointments with Madame Guillotine to start blinking their eyes as the blade came down and to keep blinking as long as they could thereafter, his way of asking the same question.

(That Wikipedia entry is kind of scary itself. How much do some of the French revolutionaries resemble the social justice warriors of today, such the ones who shouted down an American Civil Liberties Union speaker by chanting deeply philosophical slogans such as “Liberalism is white supremacy”? Read the entry for the inevitable trajectory such movements take, from outrage to radicalism to authoritarian radicalism to mass murder to collapse.)

Leading Magazine Endorses Renaissance Magic

For a special issue on “Planet Trump,” the British news magazine The Economist turns to the Tarot.

On the Wheel of Fortune, for example, you can see (if I read them right) French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (rising), German chancellor Angela Merkel (falling) and Dutch politican Geert Wilders, already described by some as “the Donald Trump of the Netherlands.”

Like Trump or hate him, I can’t think of a better recent example of the Tarot used to illustrate contemporary politics — a use for which it is well-suited.

I had to have this for my Tarot file, so I went to the newsstand and spent my $14 for it.

You have to wonder if the designer knew the phrase “greater trumps” and decided to have some fun with it. For the record, “trumps” in the Tarot sense comes from the word “triumph,” which goes back to Latin. The surname Trump apparently comes from a word meaning “maker of trumpets” (English) or “drum” (German), says Wikipedia.

Thoughts on Pagan Studies after the 2016 AAR Meeting (2)

1. A Colorado Springs hotel banquet hall, early 1980s.

A young business reporter at the Colorado Springs Sun, I am attending a big luncheon meeting of the Colorado Association of Realtors (CAR) because the speaker is someone whom I want to cover.

Before we eat, a Protestant Christian minister delivers an invocation in the name of Jesus Christ. The CAR public relations director, a “business friend” of mine,1)We have some other connections — I learn that as a teen she babysat my uncle’s kids in Denver leans over and whispers, “So much for our Jewish members.”

“So much for the Wiccan journalist,” I think silently, but I am used to being the tiniest minority.

2. A San Antonio, Texas, hotel banquet room, 21 November 2016

For the last time (see previous post), I have risen early to attend the 7:15 a.m. breakfast meeting of AAR program-unit chairs. It’s usually a light buffet meal followed by announcements about new staff appointments, policy changes, and the like. But this time, speaker after speaker veers off into The Election.

All weekend, in fact, I had been subjected to a lot of “inflation” in the psychoanalytic sense. The wrong guy won the election; consequently, the American political system would collapse and indeed, life as we know it was threatened on a planetary scale. Because it’s all about us Americans and what we do.2)Disclaimer: I did not vote for Donald Trump, but he is not the End of the World either. Get a grip, people.

Like the Christian minister at the luncheon, every speaker assumed that every other person in the hall shared his or her political position.

This assumption was richly ironic, considering that the AAR is always talking about strength-through-diversity, etc. The hall held atheists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, even a couple of Pagans, with all racial groups represented — but politically, apparently, we were a monoculture.

No hedging, no qualifying, no metadiscourse, no reflexivity — this was sermonizing, with the assumption that everyone in the room was the same.

Some of my critical theory-oriented religious-studies friends are always accusing the AAR as being quasi-theological and churchy.3)They usually maintain membership in the North American Association for the Study of Religion as well. This day they would have been right.

Leaving aside President-elect Trump, I started thinking that these “normative political and theological approaches” (to quote Russ McCutcheon’s letter) were also an impediment to my sub-discipline, Pagan studies.4)We practitioner-scholars have already been accused of being “caretakers” rather than “critics,” to use McCutcheon’s terminology.

I am more and more pre-occupied with questions of how, for example, taking polytheism seriously as a way of describing the cosmos challenges some ingrained assumptions that remain within the larger discipline of academic religious studies even in 2016.

Monotheism is just assumed, really. Galina Krasskova described a recent interaction with some of her fellow grad students:

They were teasing me (I’m obviously the only polytheist in the class, and these two knew that so we were throwing good-natured zingers back and forth) about being a polytheist who studies theology and I said something to the effect that we’re taking it back. That actually brought them up short and one said “but you never had it…Pagans didn’t have theology.” I’ve been pondering that (erroneous) statement ever since because it’s not an uncommon attitude in academia.

I am not saying that we in the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group should be doing theology, but we could be asking in a meta- sort of what what Pagan theologians are saying and writing.

We may never be part of the Big Five (or Six) religious traditions in the academy, but we can continue, as Krasskova says, challenging their “unspoken paradigms.” Our little field’s existence in the academy tests all their fine language about diversity.

Notes   [ + ]

1. We have some other connections — I learn that as a teen she babysat my uncle’s kids in Denver
2. Disclaimer: I did not vote for Donald Trump, but he is not the End of the World either. Get a grip, people.
3. They usually maintain membership in the North American Association for the Study of Religion as well.
4. We practitioner-scholars have already been accused of being “caretakers” rather than “critics,” to use McCutcheon’s terminology.

Pentagram Pizza from the Godmother’s Recipe

pentagrampizza• The archaeologist Margaret Murray played a key part in the origins of Wicca — and she was occasionally a magic-worker herself, by her own admission in her memoir My First Hundred Years (1963).

Ethan Doyle White examines her role in a guest post at Adventures in History and Archaeology, noting, “Murray’s interest in magic was not solely personal, but rather had a strong professional dimension to it as well.”

Mama Fauna goes Herne-hunting in Alaska, with unpredictable results.

• John Michael Greer writes an essay, “A Wind that Tastes of Ashes,” on the recent flap over accusations that “fascists” (never defined) and the “New Right” (never defined) are infiltrating Pagan groups. “After all, there’s another kind of power that’s just as illegitimate and destructive, and that’s the power of demagogy: the brute force of a frightened and furious mob whipped up into a frenzy by rhetoric of the sort we’re examining.”

Wicca Again as the “Designated Other”

pasque flowersPasque flowers blooming in a thin layer of pine duff atop a boulder. I love them for their precarious and improbably habitat.

Spring is slowly coming to the forest, and within it the offer of new chances, a feeling that you might get it right this time.

Travel and editorial crises have killed my blogging for the past couple of weeks. I have this huge backlog of topics and probably won’t get to most of them.

But let’s start with the topical stuff. Wicca continues to move towards being the Designated Other in the American religious scene. It used to be “What will the Jews say?” or “How will the Jehovah’s Witnesses react?” to name just two groups that had their conflicts with the dominant religious paradigm.

At the same time, to many members of the Chattering Classes, Wicca (and other forms of Paganism) is not quite a real religion. Therefore, you can have even more fun when writing about it: “Mike Pence’s New Fan Club: Wiccans.

Yes, how do Wiccans react to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act??

The religion is real to the practitioners, of course — but some of them have a little fun with the question too. (Marry a horse?)

It’s funny how things change. When the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act sailed through Congress and was signed by President Clinton, it was all about protecting the Native American Church — the Peyote Way. How colorful and traditional!

Now some columnists and bloggers put “religious freedom” in scare quotes, like it’s something icky than can only be handled with your Gloves of Irony.

As a follower of a minority religion, I still think that religious freedom (no scare quotes) is pretty damn important.

But if you want to get beyond all the idiots screaming for the social-nuking of Indiana in 140 characters or less, go to someone with a sense of the evolution of law, like Washington Post columnist and law professor Eugene Volokh.

Here is the short version: “Religious exemptions, RFRA carveouts, and ‘who decides?’ ”  He contrasts the popularity of religious freedom with the demands for limiting it for the larger good:

Yet surely religious exemptions can’t always be granted, and there can’t even be a very strong general rule of granting such exemptions (much as there is a strong rule against the government banning speech because of its content, at least outside traditionally recognized exceptions). There can’t be religious exemptions from laws banning murder, rape, theft, trespass, libel, and the like. There probably shouldn’t be such exemptions, at least outside narrow zones, from tax law, copyright law, employment law, and more.

For a longer explanation of the how Congress and the courts have wrestled with these topics and how players and teams have shifted, read his piece “Many liberals’ (sensible) retreat from the old Justice Brennan/ACLU position on religious exemptions.”

How to Ruin the Mysteries, or Religion is not Moral

In retrospect, I was lucky that the high priest of my first coven (mid-1970s) was something of a scoundrel. He was always tapping people for money and favors (“Could you fix my truck’s clutch? Oh, you’re a welder? I have some projects . . .”) — all for the good of the Craft, of course.

He was convinced of his own sexual magnetism and was always coming-on to women, in addition to the fact that he and his wife (the coven HPS) were off-and-on “swingers,” as the term was then. I discovered this when I dropped by the covenstead one afternoon and found them having a slightly awkward getting-to-know you conversation with a couple they had met somehow for that purpose. Needless to say, offers were extended to my partner and me, which we did not accept.

He could play members of the coven against each other, but treated us better than “cowans,” against whom any lie or stunt was permissible. Once when an old friend of mine, a professional calligrapher, did a large piece for him in exchange for a promised piece of silver jewelry (he was also a middling silversmith), and said piece of jewelry kept receding into the future, he brushed off my questions with “He’s a cowan, he can wait.” (The guy is still waiting.)

Most of what he said about his past, training, etc. was probably 90 percent bullshit.

And there was other stuff. But — I cannot over-emphasize this — over the three years I was part of that group (before M. and I finally left over something or other), some doors to the Mysteries were opened.

Both he and she could be effective ritualists and magicians. I can recall some intensely spiritually erotic ritual, for instance, that did not involve any swapping of bodily fluids. I was introduced to the entire Craft subculture as it then existed — including some early small hotel-based “cons”— and found a psychic space that only two years before I had not dreamt existed.

So I learned something. I learned the the Craft is a mystery religion, parts of which are not for kids or public view, and that the Mysteries are not about conventional morality. From that I learnt that one can be a good high priestess, let’s say, without being “moral.”

Later, a professor of Eastern religion would explain to me that Asian religious renunciates wore red, orange, or saffron robes to warn people that they were “hot” in a spiritual sense, but also with an echo of the slang term for sexy.

Yeah, religion — the “juice,” not the social organizations — can be sexy. Hindu gurus are notorious for sexual scandals, as are some Zen teachers, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests . . . you could go on.

Morality ought to be filed under Philosophy, not Religion.

An issue that affects both new religions (like various new Paganisms) and scholars of religion is the enormous, often unrecognized, cultural meme that “religion” equals not just a type of monotheism with a Holy Book, but Protestant Christianity in particular.

When I read about a Wiccan “church” that “followed a Christian format, complete with sermons and congregants sitting in rows, and its High Priestess wore a clerical collar similar to what Christian priests and ministers wear,”  I thought, there it is again, the dead hand of Protestantism on the back of your neck.

When a prominent Pagan writer publicized how she had flounced out of a forty-year-old Wiccan organization because it would not issue a statement on her favorite political issue, I thought of religion scholar Russ McCutcheon’s writing about the naive presumption that “religion equals morality [with] a responsibility for securing the fate of the nation-state or cooking up some therapeutic recipe for attaining self-knowledge or happiness’ (from Critics not Caretakers).

Whatever it is that makes the Craft special, I cannot think of a better way to kill it. Is there a little bit of a split here between those who lean, for instance, toward the approach of Apocalyptic Witchcraft and those who apparently would rather be social workers with pentagrams?

Those who seek the Mysteries, be they in the name of Dionysus, Nyx, Odin, Hecate, or whomever, have to understand that the Mysteries come without an official Book of Instructions.

I know, everything is connected and the personal is political. But does turning your position as, let us say, high priestess into a podium for pronouncing ex officio on this political issue or that one lead to a hollowing out of the magical self?

Or if religion is not about morality, then what does your religious position matter?

The Problem is the Drummers . . .

. . . at Occupy Wall Street. It makes your average large Pagan festival sound much better organized—and these days, most of them are—perhaps because they have (a) an end date and (b) do not try to abolish the idea of private property (“my” sleeping bag.).

From New York magazine:

It began, as it so often does, with a drum circle. The ten-hour groove marathons weren’t sitting well with the neighborhood’s community board, the ironically situated High School of Economics and Finance that sits on the corner of Zuccotti Park, or many of the sleep-deprived protesters.

“[The high school] couldn’t teach,” explained Josh Nelson, a 27-year-old occupier from Nebraska. “And we’ve had issues with the drummers too. They drum incessantly all day, and really loud.” Facilitators spearheaded a General Assembly proposal to limit the drumming to two hours a day. “The drumming is a major issue which has the potential to get us kicked out,” said Lauren Digion, a leader on the sanitation working group.

But the drums were fun. They brought in publicity and money. Many non-facilitators were infuriated by the decision and claimed that it had been forced through the General Assembly.

“They’re imposing a structure on the natural flow of music,” said Seth Harper, an 18-year-old from Georgia. “The GA decided to do it … they suppressed people’s opinions. I wanted to do introduce a different proposal, but a big black organizer chick with an Afro said I couldn’t.”

Ah, anarchy. And it can turn on you fast, eating its own.

At festivals, I have slept peacefully through all-night drumming, because I knew what it was, who was doing it, and what it meant. And it was sort of trance-y.

A lot of Americans share the protestors’ frustrations about government and business, I suspect, but are turned off by the grubbiness, the mess, the cacaphony of clashing slogans and demands.

Drum circles and giant puppets are not how you change minds in the year 2011. You can “share your feelings” and “make a statement,” but do you project the image of someone whose statement is worth anything?

Plenty of pathos here, but not much logos or ethos.