Pagans and Abortion

For the anniversary of Roe v. Wade I wrote a blog for Witches and Pagans about my own experience with abortion.

T. Thorn Coyle said it much more eloquently than I did. She said, “Death and life are inextricably intertwined. To deny a woman’s power over the workings of her own body is to deny her right to foster life itself.”

I am rabidly pro-choice. If you choose to have an abortion, at any stage, for any reason, that is your right. No ifs or buts.

The Pagan community is full of empowered women. But no woman can be empowered when she doesn’t have the right to choose what happens to her body. Being forced to bring a child into this world against one’s wishes is not something anyone should have to go through.

When I see people’s reactions to that original blog, I am profoundly saddened by the same sense of shame and ignorance from our community that you can find in any middle-American Bible Belt town.

We are a community that embraces all forms of love and intimacy. Why are we scared of discussing the validity of abortion?

It’s so important to tell our stories and experiences when it comes to this topic.

When I went to Planned Parenthood, I had to walk through protestors who called me horrible things. I had to be admitted through a locked entryway. I had to talk to a nurse behind bullet proof glass and I couldn’t take anyone back with me, when it came my turn to talk to the doctor, for the safety of the doctors and nurses in the clinic.

Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures there is and yet I was unable to have my abortion in a safe and comfortable environment with the care and support I deserved in a world of modern medicine.

I am not a Christian who believes that abortion will send me to Hell. I am a Pagan woman who knows that I have sovereignty over my entire self.

How can we empower women and not allow them to make this most basic, fundamental decision? I am worried that the Pagan community is losing sight of one of the most important aspects of what we are, a community of powerful women.

I recently had an experience at a local Pagan campground. I ran into a nineteen year old who was incredulous that I, who am almost thirty, didn’t have any children. She had two children, both of whom had already been taken by the state because she couldn’t support them. If this had been someone not raised in Paganism, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But she had been raised Pagan and she was just like every other uneducated, Christian girl I grew up with. When did we start forgetting to teach our daughters about how to care for themselves and their families? Was it when we asked that modestly be a value in our community?

I’ve seen a lot of arguments that state that abortion is against the Wiccan Rede. This infuriates me. The long term harm on a woman who is forced to carry a child to term that she can’t or doesn’t want to care for is much greater than the choice to rid your body of a clump of cells. The consequences of bringing a baby into the world that isn’t wanted has an effect on more than the mother who is forced to do so as well. Want to see the threefold law in effect? Then force that sort of pain into the world.

Our society already has unwanted babies it can’t care for. If you tell me adoption is a great option, I would ask, when did you last adopt a child? If you feel abortion is wrong, yet you do not help in caring for unwanted children, you are a hypocrite.

My only regret? Not being able to find Pagan resources that helped me deal with my anger and grief at having to make that decision.

I created my own ritual for healing that I did without any guidance.

I know of only one Pagan book that discusses abortion, and it was written by someone I don’t trust.

Where is our discussion of abortion in Paganism? Where are our resources? Why are we willing to ignore yet another part of the possibility of a woman’s reproductive life. We have maiden, mother, crone. We have menstrual rituals, birthing rituals, croning rituals: where are our rituals to deal with this choice?

Reading back through this, I know I sound I angry. Well, I am angry.

Angry that this sort of conservatism is encroaching on a community that treasures women’s lives.

The cycles of life and death are sacred. That cycle is reenacted through women’s wombs every month. Abortion is as much a part of that cycle as either pregnancy or bleeding.

I refuse to keep quiet about this particular topic. I refused to be ashamed of making the choice that was right for me. I refuse to give in to those who continue to try and entrap women by controlling their bodies. This is a choice that other woman out there go through everyday.

Abortion is a choice that everyone deserves to be able to have.

I’ll echo T. Thorn once again, because as always, she says it better.

I honor the cycles of life. I honor the cycles of death. I honor my power, as a priestess, to hold out a hand to both. I clasp those hands, bringing life and death together.

I am a priestess who balances life and death together continuously. I celebrate my ability to do so and to accept the pain and fear of hard choices in all aspects of life. Maybe if I do it, someone else won’t have to. Maybe by suffering and offering up my own pain, I can relieve some else’s.

Women’s rights are a battle we are far from winning, but maybe by speaking up and speaking out against the ignorance of others, we will get just a few inches closer.

And I celebrate other women who have made the same choice in the face of overwhelming fear and shame.

I celebrate those fierce warrior woman who stood up in the past to gain us the rights we currently have. I celebrate those women who continue to fight today to maintain them. I celebrate those who have had the courage to walk through the same protestors that I did.

As a priestess, as an independent woman, as a girl who grew up knowing that my choices defined the very core that makes up “me,” I refuse to give in to fear and hate. To do so goes against everything I believe in and everything I stand for.

You don’t have to approve of my own choice, but I would fight for you to be able to make a different one.

Choice is power. Choice is freedom. Choice is ownership over the self.

Without choice, we are nothing.

Advertisements

The Golem

While we were in LA, we went to LACMA. One of their current exhibits is “Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: The Golem and Its Avatars” and one of the focuses of the exhibit was the film Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World).

It was a fascinating exhibit (you can read more about it here). But the golem itself is a really interesting bit of Jewish folklore.

Traditionally formed out of clay, a golem is created in clay by a rabbi in imitation of how God created man. By inserting the word emet (אמת, “truth” in Hebrew) on the Golem, the rabbi breathes life into his creation after many other magical incantations and prayers. To “kill” the golem, the e in emet would be removed, which changes the word from “truth” to “death” (met מת, meaning “dead”).

Golems were creatures created to protect the Jews. The most famous story of a golem is the story of Rabbi Loew and the golem he created to protect the Jews in Prague in the 16th century against antisemitic attacks. The story goes that golems were not allowed to be active on the sabbaths (there are all kinds of reasons why, but one says that the golem would go on a murderous rampage instead of being protective) and so Rabbi Loew would deactivate the golem every Friday evening. One weekend, forgetting to deactivate the golem, Rabbi Loew had to trick the golem into dying. When he manage to deactivate the golem, it fell to pieces. The body was taken to the attic of the synagogue where legend has it, it will rise again when needed. While the attic has since been renovated and no evidence of the golem was found, some stories say that it was reburied in a graveyard in Prague and waits for a need to rise again to this day.

Want to create your own? This article says it can tell you how! Well, really it tells you that it’s a lot harder than you might expect.

Or, if you want a bit of a giggle, The Best of Craigslist always delivers: Looking for Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM.

XIII The Death Card

In my tradition, this is the time of year when we focus heavily on divination. Imbolc is coming up and of that’s an important time for knowing what’s coming in the next few months. In the past, it would have been the time of year when it was extremely important to know when to plant the coming crops. Of course, many of us are fairly removed from the actual planting these days, but it’s still a good time of year to stay indoors and divine what the Spring will bring.

Tonight, while in ritual, we discussed the difference between doing intuitive divination and more codified divination. As an exercise, we passed around a bag of random objects: different types of stones, buttons, jewelry, shells, ect. Each person had to choose (blindly) three items from the bag and then read someone in Circle using the items they’d picked. This was a good exercise for looking at how one can divine from anything, and how to really focus on your own intuition and inner knowledge. It was also a good way to remind people that you can see divination in anything around you, and often should. (While also pointing out that you really can read too much into something at the same time!)

I am a much more codified reader. I usually focus on the tarot and its Qabalistic and ceremonial magical background.

Which brings me to the Death card. Which came up tonight as well.

Death is one of those cards that scares people a great deal, because they don’t understand what it actually means. So let’s break it down a little bit.

It is the 13th card in the Major Arcana. Of course, in our society, this is an unlucky number anyway. In Hebrew, the letter 13 is Nun. This is pronounced as “noon,” which means fish. Fish? You say? According to Paul Foster Case, this is important because fish multiply quickly and thus represent growth and fertility. Not exactly what one usually thinks of when they think of death, right? It also gives us the idea of motion and transition. A school of fish doesn’t stay still for very long, do they?

If you notice the clergyman standing in front of Death, the hat he is wearing, the mitre, looks like a fish head. Many scholars believe this is to point out the death of the Age of Pisces, that will give rise of the Age of Aquarius. The Age of Pisces was an age of violence and dictatorships. It gave rise to industry, especially the destructive industry of the war machine. The Age of Aquarius is supposed to be an age of peace, creativity and prosperity.

We can also get “to walk” from nun from the Qabalistic viewpoint. So, as Case points out “from this are derived a great variety of other meanings such as to travel, to grow, to depart, to pass away, to whirl, to sail away, and so on” (145).

Nun is related to Scorpio, which is often associated with reproduction, though it is also associated with the eighth house of the horoscope, which is the house of death.

(In case you were curious, it is also related to the musical tone of G-natural).

Through this idea of reproduction, we can begin to see what the Death card is really showing us. Physical death is a force of change, which is also connected to reproduction and life. Case says, “Death, like every other event in human life, is a manifestation of law. When we understand the law we can direct the forces of change so as to overcome death” (146).

The main figure in the Death card is, of course, the skeleton. The skeleton represents the body. The body couldn’t move anywhere or maintain its form, without the skeleton. When put in those terms, the skeleton looses some of its awful fearsomeness. Waite said of his card, “The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher.” This again ties back into the letter nun. Thus, we see that the Death card is actually about change. Case continues to say, “It is by death that social changes for the better come to pass. Old ideas pass away with the death of the persons who hold them. New ideas gain currency as the new generation comes to maturity. Thus the actual fact of death is an instrument of progress” (149).

We can even see this in the concept of the body’s cells changing constantly. The body is essentially a completely different body every eleven years. The death of the old cells allow for the life of the new. Our body is constantly changing through death and rebirth. We could not live and thrive without this process occurring. We can also see this in our spiritual transformation. As we gain a greater consciousness of the world around us, our view points change the thoughts of a personal view point die off to embrace a view point of a greater conception (initiation helps bring us to greater awareness).

Waite changed the card drastically. He took it from being a figure of the medieval grim reaper, to that of the skeleton, a much more Pagan symbol of change. In it, Death carries a flag with a white rose on it. The white rose is a symbol of the birth represented in The Fool, who also carries a white rose.

So, through this logic, we can see the Death card as being a part of a series within the Major Arcana that starts with The Fool, is carried through by the Death Card and then finalized by Judgement, which represents rebirth.

In Waite’s card (or should we say Pamela Coleman Smith’s card…?), Death is riding over a King’s body. This shows that death comes for everyone, high or low. We also have the figure of a child and an adult, who look like they are next. This is the same idea, but here it’s that death comes for both the young and the old.

The two towers in the background, are the towers of Boaz and Jachin from the Tree of Life. These are seen for the first time in The High Priestess Card and continue throughout the deck. They represent male and female, goddess and god. The sun rising between them represents dawn and rebirth. The river that starts with The High Priestess is also in this card, which supports the Age of Pisces and the continued transition of the world. This also ties into the dead fish that farmers would use to fertilize their crops, once again coming back to the idea of growth and fertility from death.

The ship on the river is the boat that crosses the River Styx. Carrying a soul from one world to another.

So through all of this, the Death card is not about physical death, it is a metaphoric death that allows for new growth. Without death, the world around us cannot change for the better. Death is how this transition happens.

So the next time the Death card comes up for you in a spread, know that it’s actually a positive card. Even if the change itself is a hardship, it will lead to a new and better world.

Case, Paul Foster. The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

The Desert and the Navajo Trickster

Coming back from Los Angeles we stopped at several of the National Parks. I have never been in the desert like this before and I wanted to share some of the pictures I took with you. The dry land of the desert presents both the possibility of death, but also infinite life. The way the ancient people’s survived in this landscape is remarkable. Both the silence and the dryness sank into me and I was very glad to come home to Louisiana and see both trees and water!

Our first stop was Montezuma’s Well, home of ancient cliff dwellers. This little set of cliff dwellings sprang up around a deep well in the desert. Formed by the collapse of a limestone cavern, nearly one million gallons of water a day flows through these vents. The ancient people who lived here flourished around this water supply in the middle of the Sonoran desert. While the water contains arsenic and only five species of creatures manage to live in it (the main one being leeches), this was a valuable source of water.

The Sonoran Desert is a bleak place, though also very beautiful. Montezuma's Well is a rarity in the area.

The Sonoran Desert is a bleak place, though also very beautiful. Montezuma’s Well is a rarity in the area.

Built above the well is one set of cliff houses.

Built above the well is one set of cliff houses.

Right next to the well itself is another set of homes in the base of the cliff.

Right next to the well itself is another set of homes in the base of the cliff.

Live oak grows all around the well in short, scraggly patches.

Live oak grows all around the well in short, scraggly patches.

Just down the road from Montezuma’s Well is Montezuma’s Castle, one of the most famous of the cliff dwelling places. The valley these sit above is a little greener and wetter than Montezuma’s Well. Slightly more protected from the elements of the desert, this pleasant little creek valley was the home to many people over about five centuries. The people who lived here were the ancestors of the Hopi, who still return to visit to this day to perform ceremonies and rituals to their ancestor’s spirits.

These houses are several hundred feet up the cliff face and took several layers of ladders to get to. This served as protection from other neighbors.

These houses are several hundred feet up the cliff face and took several layers of ladders to get to. This served as protection from other neighbors.

A close up view. Today, visitors are not allowed up to the dwellings themselves, but when they were first discovered, many people braved the ladders to go up the cliffs to see what was inside. Many archaeologists and architects have explored and examined the ruins.

A close up view. Today, visitors are not allowed up to the dwellings themselves, but when they were first discovered, many people braved the ladders to go up the cliffs to see what was inside. Many archaeologists and architects have explored and examined the ruins.

Nearby, near the bottom of the cliff, lay another set of cave dwellings that have not managed to remain as well preserved as the ones above them. These however are more recent and more easily examined and many of the finds from the people who used to live here came from these homes.

Nearby, near the bottom of the cliff, lay another set of cave dwellings that have not managed to remain as well preserved as the ones above them. These however are more recent and more easily examined and many of the finds from the people who used to live here came from these homes.

A view of the cliffs themselves.

A view of the cliffs themselves.

Unlike Montezuma's Well, there were many trees in this area.

Unlike Montezuma’s Well, there were many trees in this area.

The next day we went to the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. Both show some of the extreme beauty and transformation of the desert.

The Petrified Forest used to be a swamp, millions of years ago. Here, the large trees were swept through the swamp that used to exist here to settle at the bottom and slowly transform over time into solid rock. This process is called permineralization, which is where all the organic material is replaced over time by minerals, that stay in the same structure as the original stem tissue. The minerals that are left behind are beautiful pieces of quartz and amethyst and many others.

While it might have used to be a lush tropical swamp, today it is only barren sand and rock.

While it might have used to be a lush tropical swamp, today it is only barren sand and rock.

You can still see where the logs were buried under the sediment for millions of years. Its probably that there are still many pieces buried underneath the earth still today. While petrified wood is not unique to Arizona, this is the only place in the world that a "forest" like this exists.

You can still see where the logs were buried under the sediment for millions of years. Its probably that there are still many pieces buried underneath the earth still today. While petrified wood is not unique to Arizona, this is the only place in the world that a “forest” like this exists.

Inside these logs, beautiful colors lurk...

Inside these logs, beautiful colors lurk…

And many crystals are still forming!

And many crystals are still forming!

Many of the logs have broken a part over the years so that you can see what crystals and quartz's are inside.

Many of the logs have broken a part over the years so that you can see what crystals and quartz’s are inside.

The Petrified Forest is known for its logs, which still lay as they have over the millenia.

The Petrified Forest is known for its logs, which still lay as they have over the millenia.

How many pictures of petrified wood can you have? In about 3 hours I took over 600!

How many pictures of petrified wood can you have? In about 3 hours I took over 600!

Right next door is the Painted Desert, another of the West’s marvels. Here, it is easy to see the various sedimental layers that have settled over the years. The soil, rich in magnesiums, takes on beautiful colors.

This area stretches for hundreds of miles.

This area stretches for hundreds of miles.

The ancient peoples who lived here left numerous petroglyphs for us to find. I think it’s amazing how much detail we can still get from these ancient writings.

This is a view of Newspaper rock from above.

This is a view of Newspaper rock from above. You can barely see the petroglyphs from here.

But with a telescopic lense, you can see the extremely detailed pictures.

But with a telescopic lense, you can see the extremely detailed pictures. The detail of the man and woman here is absolutely exquisite. Corn maiden and the hunter are telling others what time of year and where it is best to hunt in this area.

These petroglyphs a little further down the road show the kachina spirits these people worshipped.

These petroglyphs a little further down the road show the kachina spirits these people worshiped.

This is one of my favorites, I can only imagine a giant Ibis carrying someone off! This was probably a mythological story.

This is one of my favorites, I can only imagine a giant Ibis carrying someone off! This was probably a mythological story.

This is one of the wonders of the ancient world, the path of the sun flowed over this rock to hit the spiral on the left. It was an ancient way of telling time!

This is one of the wonders of the ancient world, the path of the sun flowed over this rock to hit the spiral on the left. It was an ancient way of telling time!

Again, these detailed pictures are still beautiful.

Again, these detailed pictures are still beautiful.

In this area, there was once a dwelling with over a hundred rooms! Very little remains today, other than some low stone walls and a kiva.

The Puerco Pueblo probably housed around 200 people at one time.

The Puerco Pueblo probably housed around 200 people at one time.

The other thing that amazed me were all of the ravens that followed us around all day long! They were huge and very happy to see us at each stop.

We fed them pretzels and they happily let us get up close and personal! They were excellent models!

18

19

37

39

42

49

50To the Navajo, the Raven was a trickster, who was always trying to find food! He even ate the spots off his own toes! But he was also a creator and brought light to the peoples.

The story goes that…

Once upon a time, the only light in the world was hoarded by a mean old Chief who was not disposed to share it. RAVEN, bored of fluttering around in the dark, decided this would not do. So he turned himself into a cedar leaf and sneakily fluttered into the chief’s dwelling.

The Chief’s daughter was sipping a drink and RAVEN fluttered into the cup as she raised it to her lips. Swallowing him down, she immediately became pregnant and gave birth. Which caused no end of confusion.

The baby had raven-black hair, dark glowing eyes, and was very temperamental. Whenever it was bored, it shrieked. The Chief, trying to be a doting grandpa, said: “Give the baby what it wants”. So they gave the baby a bag of shining stars. It played merrily with these, until one day in gurgling excitement it threw them through the smoke hole in the ceiling and they scattered up into the sky.

Oh dear. The baby is bored again. It’s bawling. It wants another bag. It’s driving the household crazy. It must be pacified. So they give it a bag containing the Moon and soon the baby is happy again, bouncing the Moon all over the place. You’ll never guess what happens next. Whoooosh! — up through the smoke hole goes the Moon. (Pause for gasp of astonishment from the audience).

Deprived of another toy, the baby becomes really disruptive. The Chief is tearing his hair out. The whole household is muttering. Find something, anything, to keep the baby quiet! The baby rejects all homemade playthings and points to the last bag. Uh-oh. They give it to the baby but with dire warnings. “Don’t untie it because it contains Light — and that leaks like nobody’s business.”

Now you think you know what’s going to happen. But you don’t. What happened is that the baby turned back into RAVEN, cried “Ka very much” and flew through the smoke hole carrying the bag in his beak. He’d stolen the Sun.

RAVEN spread light throughout the world and so the Chief’s daylight saving scheme came to an end. He was very disgruntled. His recorded comments contain very strong language in the Tsimshian dialect.

(This story found here.)

Ravens are found throughout world mythology. I grew up with the rhyme:

One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told.

While this is a traditional nursery rhyme about magpies, here in the U.S., it is the way to interpret the number of ravens that you see!

I was happy to do pictures for the Navajo trickster though. I think we got some excellent shots.

The desert is a beautiful, hazardous place. It’s a wonder that anyone or anything without modern technology managed to live there.

 

 

*All photos were taken by me, please don’t use without permission!