Beauty

Today my friend Lily White Lefevre sent me this blog post about making life more beautiful instead of trying to make it better. In it, the author says:

“Beautiful is the stuff that reaches right in, puts electrical paddles on our heart, and shocks us back to life. It’s the stuff that wakes us up. It’s the stuff that makes us good-ache, like easing off stiff shoes after hours on our feet. It’s the stuff that quenches.

Beautiful is a million little moments.”

And for me, that’s what Wicca is. In the midst of hardship, life, frustration, anger, grief and anxiety, Wicca is a way for me to make the world around me a little more beautiful.

In college, I had some serious medical issues and had a few terrible years. I had given up on religion, because I couldn’t find anything in Christianity that called to me. The church was an ugly place in the midst of an already terrible world. Life was bleak and there was no joy to be found. When I realized I needed spirituality in my life to balance out my physical and mental space and sought out new ways to find it, the world changed for me. Beauty came back to me. What had been a bleak, depressing time in my life was transformed. Magic, ritual, acknowledging the gods and spirits in the world around me, allowed me to see my life differently. The relationships I built with the people around me changed as well. Art, music, creativity all came back to me.

This is what I try to explain to my students. No matter what is going on in the world around you, you have the power to create something different, to create beauty to fill that void. When I raise energy for the gods, I do it out of love and respect and to make sure that the beauty in their worship continues, but also for the joy it brings me. Ritual is a dance of balance that creates beauty, grounded purpose and relief from the daily grind. Even when I practice working rituals, I come out of it feeling centered and lighter than when I went in: “For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and mine also is joy on earth.”

It is so easy to give up on beauty. We see it as being a perk, something that is unnecessary and that can easily be set aside. It is something so easily lost in the midst of everything else. But beauty brings things to our lives that better never can. It is not a hardship, it is not something I have to force. In a world where I have to do things that I don’t want to, Wicca is beauty and I can’t imagine a life without it.

mari_mari_lwyd

Mari is a goddess that always brings me joy! Painting by and copyrighted by my partner.

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God in Every Man, Goddess in Every Woman

One of the very first assignments we give to students who are studying with us is the “God in Every Man, Goddess in Every Woman” assignment. It’s a way for students to start learning about the Gods and to make them aware that the divine is in and around us all the time. We tell students to take a person in their lives and compare them to a God or Goddess. We ask the student to tell us about the God or Goddess and then explain how the person shares similar characteristics or qualities with that God or Goddess. By looking at the people around us and seeing how they share characteristics with the divine, it becomes much easier to recognize that divinity within us as well.

One of my students gave us her first entry today and I thought it was extremely well done and very well thought out. I thought I would share it here (with the student’s permission). It certainly made me think and I think it will make you think too!

Athena

(My Beloved Sister) and Athena (The Virgin Goddess of Wisdom, Courage, Strategy and Warfare)

According to myth, Zeus was so fearful of the conception of the child that had been prophesied to be even more powerful than Zeus himself (king of the gods and ruler of the universe), that he tricked the mother, Metis (cunning, wisdom and prudence) into becoming a fly and then swallowed her. He was too late, and Athena grew inside him while Metis forged her a suit of armor. The hammering caused him great discomfort that eventually culminated in a massive headache. When an axe was used to split open his head (presumably in an effort to relieve the headache), Athena sprung from his head fully grown and armed. Instead of his rival, however, she soon became Zeus’s favorite child, and was even entrusted to yield the power of his lightening bolt. In contrast to Ares, the god of war, violence, and bloodshed, Athena is associated with the strategy, valor and generalship of warfare and is accompanied by Nike, goddess of victory. She is a virgin goddess, but is loved and revered by the Athenians who look to her as the patroness and guardian of their city.

My sister* is strong, intelligent, and fiercely independent. She is righteous and responsible in her actions, holding herself and those under her care/authority to the highest standard. Though she may appear cold and objective in her relationships, she is exceptionally generous, protective and loyal. She has a brilliant mind with a natural aptitude for math and science, and her impressive education has made her a force to be reckoned with.

Well beyond her years in wisdom and maturity, her competence and understanding levels have consistently surpassed expectations since early childhood. In many ways, it was like my sister was born fully grown and armed. She was able to demonstrate levels of judgement, reason and responsibility you can’t expect from most adult men before she reached puberty. Though to a certain extent, I believe that her maturity and armored personality are a result of early influences and circumstances, her strength and intelligence are unique, and not everyone could have adapted and excelled with such grace.

It is fitting to compare my sister to a virgin goddess, especially one who is most often depicted wearing a suit of armor. Growing up, she always emphasized the importance of modesty, and even still, she is constantly telling me to be more careful in concealing the things that make me vulnerable to others who could hurt me. Even as a newborn, Athena is never naked. My sister is a virgin in the sense that she is untouched and unknown to pretty much everyone, even me at this point. She is unexposed. And though I know there are scars beneath that armor, she is protected, whole and unbroken.

Our father taught us that the knowledge and wisdom from great books are like armor. He used that analogy too. He said he wasn’t exposed to books like The Art of War and The Prince and Atlas Shrugged until he was in college, and that when he discovered them, it was like building a suit of armor. He was finally able to understand the world around him, protect himself, and succeed. In an effort to arm us, and give his own children the head-start that he believed would have spared him so much struggle and pain, he gave us these books, and many more, all before we started high school.

I was a disappointment on this front. I was not able to appreciate the brilliance of Machiavelli and Ayn Rand at the age of 13. And you know, I don’t beat myself up for that, I don’t think most people can. Those things started clicking much later for me, and like mythology, many things still are sinking in at the right time for me. I tend to think my father wouldn’t have been so shocked and disappointed by my reading and comprehension level if it hadn’t been for my freak of a sister who came before me (just kidding, she is a goddess…).

My sister not only read the books he gave her, but sought out the writing of every great philosopher, poet, novelist that he ever quoted (which pretty much makes up most of our dialogue). What’s more, she actually understood them and could have intelligent conversations about them as a preteen. I attend a liberal arts university and I can honestly say that my sister was more well-read as a 16-year-old than any college student I know.

And yet, even though at times I could almost believe that she literally sprung from his head as his mental conception of the perfect child, the two of them have spent countless nights fighting until dawn. Her persistence, intelligence and strategic approach have definitely provided him with a worthy sparring partner. The appreciation and mastery of the art of argument and war that he has always respected and encouraged in her has also lead, I’m sure, to some excruciating headaches (I know they have for me).

Like Athena, however, my sister’s strength and intelligence have made her the favorite. Her loyalty and hard work have earned her his favor and trust, and just as Zeus empowered Athena to share in the power of his lightening bolt, our father has gifted and entrusted my sister with power and opportunity known to very few. Though a great weapon and power in itself, it is only in addition to the already impressive force that she is on her own. The mere force of her will has been enough to defeat even her most formidable opponents in battle. If, however, there is ever a time when this is no longer true, she is equipped with the gifts and support of a very powerful ally.

While her spirit is confident and unflinching, she remains unassuming and heedful of the constant flux of threats and opportunities around her. There is a simultaneously intoxicating and sobering quality to her determination that should not be taken lightly. She is never unarmed, and she is never unprepared. She is strategic and offensive in her
interactions with the outside world, and others look to her as a leader, guide and guardian.

She is courageous and unrelenting in her endeavors, and her achievements are both grand and well-deserved. She is wise, skilled, accomplished and respected in her field, and as with Athena, victory is at her side.

*Name ommitted to protect the innocent 🙂

Pagans and the Modesty Issue

When I was a child, my parents taught me to respect my body. They explained the changes that my body was going to go through at an appropriate age. They also explained sex and contraception, and told me that they would always be there to help me if I needed them. Most importantly, they told me that if I ever had any questions, no matter how embarrassing, to come to them to ask: they would tell me the truth.

My parents were both teachers and understood the importance of teaching me how to respect my body. Were they trying to encourage me to have sex? Definitely not! In the midst of all of this, they lectured me on the morals and ethics and possible repercussions of a sexual relationship. They gave me a very balanced view of my own body. And while they were at it, my father gave me some good rules for being aware of situations, so that I wouldn’t easily walk into bad ones. This was all wrapped up with a dollop of good common sense.

The term “modest” was never brought into any of it. And remember, I was brought up in a Christian household.

I associate the word “modest” with monotheistic religious values. I know that this is not the only meaning or context of the word, but usually when I hear about women dressing “modestly”, it’s in a religious context rather than anything having to do with age appropriateness or basic common sense. When I hear about women needing to dress “modestly” all my hang-ups about the patriarchal society that we still live in come to the surface. I think of all the Right Wing conservatives who keep hacking away at women’s rights and seem to want to take us back to the Dark Ages.

“Modest” is also not a word that I associate with Paganism.

And yet…this word seems to be cropping up a lot these days in Pagan forums. It started with the issue of women veiling. OK, I may not agree with that, but if your patron/ess is telling you to veil, you veil. It is also the decision that you, as an adult, have made for yourself. I can get behind veiling for religious purposes. There are Pagan groups out there who veil (or robe, or hood)..but not for being “modest”. I see modesty as a way that patriarchal society controls women and tries to control how they regard their bodies. But of course, I’ve already made my thoughts on this subject known. (Read Star Foster’s blog Veiling: A Different Take On Pagan Womanhood for more on Pagan women veiling).

But I’ve also seen the discussion start to branch out elsewhere in the community.

The PaganDad wrote a blog called “Control Yourself”. I go to a lot of festivals, all of which are “family friendly”. And I even think it’s one of the best part of festival to get to see all these little kids running around together and having a good time. The pirates have marshmallow fights with the fairy kids every year. But sex and ecstatic behavior are also a part of a lot of people’s worship/practice in the Pagan community and festivals are places where we Pagans go to let some of these behaviors out. It sounds like, in his situation, that particular festival was probably badly handled, but unfortunately, a lot of Paganism is just not really child friendly. If you take your children to Pagan events, you have to realize that there is the possibility that they are going to be confronted with very adult situations, and I’m not just talking about sex. A lot of what we do in Paganism is very adult subject matter that children just aren’t going to be able to easily understand. There is a reason that most groups won’t accept children.

Another flurry has been going on over the recent blog by Friendly Atheist blogger Amanda on “The Ugly Side of Modesty”. This blog voices her objections to SecretKeeperGirl.com, a Christian website that is trying to teach girls tricks to make sure they’re dressed “modestly” in some really creepy ways. Amanda says: To be clear, this has nothing to do with peer pressure, purity, or an individual’s empowerment: This is about control. There is no sane reason that an eight-year-old should be worrying about whether or not their potential future cleavage is showing when trying on clothing. Advocating this kind of insanity only creates paranoia and concern over the nebulous, constantly changing, unseen forces that dictate “modesty.” And I think this sums the issue up pretty nicely. When you start talking about modesty in these contexts, its all about control and nothing else. So what’s my upset here? The conversation comes to me via the blog Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom and her response called “Modesty, a “laughable non-problem” for Pagans?” .

Pagan Soccer Mom makes a very good point that little girls shouldn’t be dressing like adults. We can probably all agree that there is a level of age appropriateness that should occur. I was extremely disturbed by some of the comments that showed up after she posted the blog, like:

We teach our 8 yr old who acts 30 that it is important to show that she deserves respect in how she dresses. We don’t allow belly shirts or shorts that are too short. She hates showing her belly but will walk around the house without any guilt and we have to remind her that daddy doesn’t need to see her body.When she forgets a towel or other piece of clothing.[Sic]”

There’s something about the line that “daddy doesn’t need to see her body” that somehow, just really creeps me out. Is the child’s father a pedophile that she needs to protect her child from? This line is oddly reminiscent of the language in the SecretKeeperGirl ads.

One woman made a very valid point, she said:

I don’t see much of a correlation between modesty and self respect. But that’s just me and those are both dependent on an individuals definition of morality, current social construct, culture, etc. Maybe if humans weren’t consistently being raised to see the human body as a purely sexual object it wouldn’t be an issue? *shrug* my personal opinion is that the modesty=self respect issue just continues to support the “she was asking for it by the way she was dressed” aspect.

Pagan Soccer Mom’s response was:

I don’t think anyone here is saying that an 8 year old girl is “asking for it” when her parents dress her up in something that isn’t age appropriate.

But I think that she’s deliberately missing the point here. When we teach girls to be “modest” in these contexts, we are teaching them that other people can’t control themselves in reaction to their bodies. We are, in effect, creating victims. Why aren’t boys being taught to be “modest” as well? Why are we still encouraging young girls to become victims of society’s double standards? Self respect is acknowledging yourself and all of your own decisions to create a healthy, confident lifestyle. The young Pagan girls that I’ve met, those raised at clothing optional festivals, have had some of the healthiest understanding of and respect for their bodies of any young adults that I’ve encountered. Why are we letting this monotheistic ideal seep into our community?

I think that the Charge of the Goddess sums all of this up pretty succinctly. “And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye are truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise. For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and mine also is joy on earth; for my Law is Love unto all Beings…Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” I don’t see “modesty” having anything to do with this at all. We need to raise our daughters to be empowered, responsible and self aware, not “modest”.

To Read the Rede

A discussion over on Camylleon’s blog reminded me of the fact that I’m pretty sure the Wiccan Rede is probably one of the most misunderstood pieces of Vogon poetry ever cited. I hate it when I walk into occult shops and see plaques with “And it harm none, do what ye will!” plastered all over. I see it on t-shirts and posters, pens and embroidered pillows. It just won’t go away. And needless to say, that wording isn’t even correct!

All in all, the Wiccan Rede has a lot of good stuff in it (even if it is horribly worded). But I think that it’s almost completely ruined by the fact that people like to ignore its entirety. When people focus solely on “An it harm none, do what ye will”, the importance of everything else it talks about is lost. People seem to forget that while that last line is a nice little bit of wording, it really doesn’t sum up the rest of the Rede, and that there are, in fact, many more lines to it (25 more, to be exact).

How come people like to entirely ignore the lines “Deosil go by the waxing moon, singing out ye Witches’ Rune, Widdershins go by the waning moon, chanting out ye Baneful Rune”? Isn’t this saying that there is a time and place for both light and dark? It also says, “fairly take and fairly give”. We see this with the Charge of the Goddess as well; people like to ignore that there is also a Curse of the Goddess, though it is much less known. The line “When misfortune is anow, wear the star upon thy brow” refers to shielding in defense of yourself. You can’t just cite one line of the Wiccan Rede without looking at other parts of the liturgy and understand that there is a greater whole. Unfortunately the world is not all puppies and rainbows. Wiccans get a bad reputation from their blindness in regards to this balance of good and bad. “An it harm none, do what ye will” would be great in an ideal world. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a much more complicated and scary world.

Maybe it’s because I started my Pagan life as a pirate and not a Wiccan. The Wiccan Rede is not the end all, be all of my ethical and moral decisions. You have to take these things with a grain of salt. There is always a dark side to the light. There’s a reason that darkness exists. It always goes back to being balanced. I don’t usually see things in shades of white and black. I live very much in the grey. One of the things the pirates discuss a lot is the fact that you need to know your shadow self. You need to understand your bad side and what that side of you is capable of. If you aren’t aware of this, you can’t guard against it. You have to acknowledge it to understand it and to understand why the things that part of you may want to do are wrong and why they should be restrained. If you want to put it a modern context, look at Freud’s idea’s of the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. Negative impulses exist, and always will. You can’t just sum up an entire ethical framework with something like “An it harm none, do what ye will”. Life is just not that simple.

We were just discussing the Grimm’s fairy tale Sleeping Beauty at a Pagan meetup. When the evil fairy shows up at the party to curse Sleeping Beauty, the last fairy who hasn’t yet given her gift cannot undo the curse that the evil one has given. She can mitigate it, make it much less severe, but once spoken, the curse can’t be entirely taken back. A friend of mine pointed out that you can also see this in the story of Esther in the Bible. The King can’t just take back his order for the massacre of the Jews; all he can do is allow the Jews to fight back. This is a good example of the threefold law. Anything you say or do, can never be entirely taken back. Usually, once something is said, it takes on a life of its own and the next time you hear it, it has grown threefold from whatever might have been originally. This is why the threefold law is so true. It’s not saying that you can’t ever cause harm, it’s saying that if you do, it’s going to grow much bigger than you expect and when it comes back on you, its going to have greater consequences than  you originally considered. It’s also saying that this is true of any good you put out there. “An it harm none, do what ye will” is therefore not as simple and straightforward as people like to misconstrue.

In the traditional Wicca of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Wiccans were not afraid of the dark side of the Craft. They recognized that when you worship Goddesses like Hecate, Cybele, Demeter, the Morrigan and Hel, you weren’t necessarily going to be working with “the light” all of the time. When you read Aradia it is full of death and violence and curses. People were not afraid to go after those who were attacking them. (Whether or not you believe that Leland was given something that was actually “true” Witchcraft, the book Aradia was certainly instrumental in shaping early Wicca). In the eighties, Wicca began changing into a much more “Neo Pagan” sort of religion and started to become side tracked with political correctness. The Starhawk generation changed Wicca into a pretty religion. Wicca lost its bite. It was at this point that the last line of the Wiccan Rede became the penultimate line.

For me, it comes down to accepting personal responsibility. You have to hold accountability for your actions and you have to know when an action is appropriate or not. Decisions like these are very rarely simple. And sometimes you have to stand up to someone who is malevolent and send everything that they’re doing to you back to them. What if you don’t and they go from you to someone who is much less able to handle whatever it is that they’re doing? We need to get over “An it harm none, do what ye will” and focus on how we can protect others who are in the Craft; by looking backwards, we can move our ethical thinking forward. There’s no reason the last line of the Rede can’t be a solid foundation for our Wiccan morals, but it isn’t the only way to approach life, especially when you want to ignore all of the Rede’s other ramifications.