Paganism and simplicity

When a lot of Pagans start out, they get a bit of the “gear witch” vibe about them.

They buy stuff. Lots and lots and lots of stuff.

In the Pagan community, there’s so much stuff to be had, so many fabulous tools and toys. It can all be a bit overwhelming. And if you like to spend and possess and have lovely things, it can be real easy to start collecting a lot of stuff.

I went through this, and a lot of my friends did too. Tarot sounds interesting, so you collect a few tarot decks plus some books on the subject. Runes sound great too, so before you know it you have a few sets of rune stones and some books about them too.

You figure you must have a Wand (everyone knows a you’re not a Real Pagan[TM] unless you have a Wand!!!) and you must have a Blade (because they’re cool too, and a Blade has different energy).

Before you know it, you’re eyeing off those fancy swords online and wondering which you can afford. Or how many. Maybe a collection. Yeah…a collection would be great.

It all adds up, and builds up, and when you add the candles and bells and Tibetan singing bowls and God and Goddess figurines and chalices and cauldrons to the collection, no wonder so many Pagans are drowning in stuff! Plus the clothes – you feel like, as a newbie, the right ritual robes and capes will give you pagan “street cred”.

So you buy, buy, buy.

It’s all very addictive. And very, very easy to do.

And very, very wrong.

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Paganism comes from within

All the stuff in the world won’t make a person a Pagan. Which is a good thing. We’re a bit selective like that! Likewise, I’d argue that any path that encourages you to buy and own lots of stuff is a fool’s path.

You’ll find lots of Pagans with lots of fancy stuff all around the world…and they’re usually the silliest Pagans of the lot. They’ve forgotten that the Divine is immanent. Within us. It can’t be bought or sold.

The more stuff you collect, the harder it is to focus on the inner self, your connection with the Divine, and what really matters. Fancy stuff is just a temptation; a lure. A diversion from the truth.

A diversion from the truth.

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We all know that of course. It’s written clearly in one of the most valued early texts in modern Paganism, which is the Charge of the Goddess:

    “…If that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

    For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.”

You won’t find Paganism in stuff, and you certainly won’t find Divinity. All the tools, and toys, and robes are just props.

You could even call them diversions for the weak-minded. They help set the scene for those who can’t focus without them. They hold no real power by themselves. Only living matter can do that: living energy.

That’s what we Pagans do: channel energy; create energy; focus energy. A wand in the end is just a stick. A blade in the end is just a hunk of metal. This is the real truth. Connection to the Divine comes from within, not from these lifeless things.

If you want to find the Divine, get rid of everything that isn’t essential. Then you will find what you truly seek.

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My great-great grandmother knew Gerald Gardner!

I’m sure you’ve met one. Who knows – maybe you are one. You know, those Pagans who claim lineage.

Some claim to be descended directly from Gerald Gardner (Britsh Traditionals).

Still others claim to have been part of some hidden coven in the New Forest that taught them everything (oh wait! That’s Gardner again).

Gerald Gardner. Creepy looking dude, huh?
Gerald Gardner. Creepy looking dude, huh?

From then on, of course, they’re infinitely better and so much more Pagan than you.

Feel insecure and insufficient yet? Yep. That’s the idea.

My potted history in Paganism

You want to know my Pagan lineage? Here it is: I got interested in Paganism through various books as a teenager, and then got together with a few like-minded friends. And we made stuff up.

We flew by pulling ourselves up by our shoelaces.

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We knew nothing except that we wanted to learn. So we supported each other in the learning process, did a whole stack of courses and training, some more reputable than others, and gradually started figuring things out.

Some stuff worked, other stuff really worked, and a lot of stuff didn’t work at all. We were really, really eclectic! We read everything we could get our hands on, from Campbell and Frazer and Kramer to Starhawk and Fox and Buckland – and a whole lot besides.

I was involved with two main covens through the 90s and early century – MoonSpell Coven (which I originated) and then Akasha Coven, which I created and for which I was the HPS. Many of the members of those groups are still practicing, and almost all of them remain my friends.

Akasha in particular was very active in the wider Pagan scene in Melbourne, Australia, offering classes and public gatherings that attracted large groups of people and were very sucessful. My involvement in the Pagan scene wound down when I had children and just couldn’t keep up with the hours required for regular work.

But lineage? I have none. None of my friends do either – or they didn’t when I was working with them. Maybe they do now. But I still don’t. I’ve been in the Pagan scene since I was a teenager, I’m 43 now, so that’s about 25 years of practice, and I’m still unlineaged.

I’d say I’m pretty experienced now. I’m still considered a Pagan Leader in certain circles, and quite knowledgeable, but I feel like a novice in a lot of areas. I’m learning all the time. I love learning all the time! I’d never call myself an expert, although I know quite a bit by now.

Time is, change is…

That’s just it with Paganism though. It’s such a huge field that you never stop learning. Nobody is ever really an expert – not of everything, anyway. If anyone calls themselves an “expert” or starts giving themselves titles in my presence, my Bullshit Detector starts twitching. Like a Timey Wimey Detector, it goes Ding! when there’s Stuff.

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Does lineage matter?

The truth is, lineage doesn’t matter. Not one bit. The whole point of Paganism is that you do what you want, what works for you – without the need for a clergy. So you certainly don’t need someone Uber Important telling you what to do.

No practitioner is more important than the rest, simply because of who they happen to know or claim to know. Or claim to have learned from.

I’ve been fortunate in my time to have taken classes with some of the “big names” in Paganism. Did they teach me anything that was intrinsically better than what I figured out on my own? No. Maybe I’m just not someone with a “groupie” mindset, but although the experience of working with these people was generally good, it didn’t make me a better practitioner.

What has made me a better practitioner has been experience. Years and years of it. Making lots of mistakes. Learning from lots of different people from all different walks of life. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t – and doing the figuring out for myself.

I’ve made some big balls ups in ritual. Some of them at large public events I was running. I’ve stuffed up, screwed up, and ballsed up. It all helped me learn. I’ve had to learn humility, and I’ve had to have a healthy sense of humour.

Skills for becoming a better practitioner

I can’t reiterate it enough – a piece of paper, or a certain lineage, or a course from an education centre, no matter how reputable – none of these can make you a better practitioner.

What will make you a better practitioner is learning to listen to your own, inner self.
Learning to take in what works for you, and toss what doesn’t.
Learning to discriminate between the good and the not so good.
Learning to accept that everyone is different, and that what works for your friend may not necessarily work for you.

Having a sense of humour will make you a better practitioner, as will learning to not take yourself too seriously.
Learning that you will always, always be a novice in the world in most fields will help, while recognising that most of the people who claim to be adepts are actually novices too is also useful.

Learning to have a fully functional Bullshit Detector is a valuable asset. Learning that most people are just fumbling along in the dark is another useful asset. And being especially wary of anyone with titles or claims is a real, serious asset – hang on to that, no matter who you meet or what they claim to be!

Lineage isn’t important. The biggest fool can train, and the biggest fool can make claims. What is meaningful, in the end, is what you choose, what is purposeful and worthwhile for you.

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My path continues…

Like I said, I have no lineage. It is meaningless to me. I’m self taught, and taught by many, and taught by Life, and taught by the Goddess Aphrodite. That is humbling and empowering and enough for me.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to teach many, many others, and help them find their own paths, their own journeys.

I started on this path 25 years ago, maybe more. I’m excited to see where it leads me. But one thing I do know – I don’t need titles or claims or lineage or Big Wazoo outfits to impress anybody.

This journey is for my Goddess and for me.

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50 Shades of DAFUQ?

I’ve been re-reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

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Before you go cringing at me reading it let alone re-reading it, let me explain.

I first read the book about a year and a half ago. I have a background in literature, and I generally try to keep up with what’s it the bestseller lists. Especially when a novel comes out of nowhere, the author is unheard of, and suddenly everyone is talking about the book.

Fifty Shades (soon to be a major motion picture – ohhh, aren’t we lucky!) matched all of the above criteria. Plus it was rumoured to be about BDSM, a topic of personal interest (to put it politely), so it piqued my curiosity.

I grabbed an e-copy, and started reading. And was appalled.

Fifty Shades of Stalking! Fifty Shades of Creepy! Fifty Shades of I’d Call The Cops!

The first thing that struck me was that the love interest, Christian Grey, was more of a stalker than a Dom.

What Christian Grey REALLY looks like!
What Christian Grey REALLY looks like!

He was downright creepy, and I’d have been more inclined to call the cops on him than take a roll in his “Red Room Of Pain” (major LOLs at that!).

But also, the whole thing was just wrong. It got everything wrong. (Except for the playing to Spem In Alium thing – that was kinda cool actually…)

Fifty Shades of So What Was Wrong With It?

It made kink out to be some sort of mental illness. Like people who do this sort of play have something wrong with us, and it takes a good vanilla girl to set things right. It supported the old, and completely wrong, assumption that kinky people have all been molested as children and suffer from mental illness.

Apparently in Books 2 and 3 of the series, Ana (the protagonist) “heals” Christian Grey from his kinky habits and they go on to live happy, vanilla lives. Presumably with 2.3 kids, a white picket fence, and a BMW in the driveway.

Major vom voms.

Kinky people are normal. Just kinky

I look at myself and my play partner, and we grew up in very typical, normal, healthy families. No broken homes. Not molested as children. Or ever. No horrible “Uncle Fester” types grabbing a grope the moment our parents’ backs were turned.

We’re just kinky because we like to play that way, just like people who are gay are born that way too. Or people who are straight are born that way too.

From my observation, we’re no more likely to have mental illness than the rest of the population, although there does seem to be a higher percentage of geeky / nerdy types among the kinky set than the general population.

Fifty Shades of She Didn’t Do Her Due Diligence!

How the author of Fifty Shades could have got it so completely wrong is beyond me. All I can think is that she’s not the slightest bit kinky herself, and did a minimum amount of research with Mr Google before deciding to write the novel.

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It’s a shame too, because had just a few things been changed (okay, well, quite a few things!) she could have used the novel to educate instead of denigrate.

Fifty Shades of OMG it’s a WHIP!! Run!!! Run for your life!!!

BDSM can look scary to the untrained eye. Yes, we do play with people’s comfort zones and boundaries. It’s a way of living life on the edge. Living a little bigger and brighter and darker. Seeing the world in all shades of the spectrum – not just shades of grey, you might say.

It’s not for everyone. Most people are happier without kink. It doesn’t suit them. That’s fine.

A lot of things that people do can look scary, or even crazy, to the untrained eye. Strapping a pair of planks to your feet and shooting fast down a snowy mountain (skiing), or taking a running jump off a cliff with only a few nylon pieces of fabric to hold you up (paragliding), or sitting in a metal tube thousands of feet above the earth with nothing but air between you and the ground (flying in a jet aircraft) – all these seem foolhardy to the uninitiated.

Some people like to live life safely while others like to experience everything life can offer. We all live life along a spectrum of what we want to experience or are willing to experience.

The choices are ours alone – it’s only when those choices are taken away from us, as portrayed in the Fifty Shades book, that experiences move from being consentual to being abusive. Ana is in an abusive relationship with Christian, not a healthy kinky one.

Fifty Shades of A Complete Disgrace

So what has all this to do with Aphrodite? Quite a bit actually. As you might remember from the Charge of the Goddess,

All acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals

Yet this book twisted something that is usually about pleasure, and often about love, into something that was more about mental illness and stalking and insecurity.

Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t portray a loving, kinky relationship. I should know – I’m in one. It portrays a relationship of mental abuse and stalking, of complete mental manipulation where the recipient is NOT consenting or enjoying what she is receiving. It’s abusive, plain and simple. Everyone I know in the kinky community would advise Ana to get the hell out! I sure would.

Kink is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be pleasurable – otherwise we wouldn’t do it. It’s supposed to be cathartic, and a way of finding release, and experiencing sensation, and moving towards a deeper experience of reality.

It is often about Dominance, but not in a petty, stalking sort of way. Fifty Shades might have done the world a service in the end, by encouraging lots of newbies to experiment. But I can’t help thinking the overall result will be negative, because the vanilla, majority world will believe that the kinky world is one of stalkers, abusers, and the mentally ill.

In closing, if you’re intrigued by BDSM, don’t believe a shred of what you read in Fifty Shades. Instead, go find your local kinky community leaders, and join a local group. You’ll find they’re a lot more normal than Christian Grey. Or join an online community like Fetlife if you find face-to-face too intimidating at first. Above all, though, go with your gut.

Play safe. And have fun. That’s what it’s all about 🙂

The simple Pagan

Paganism seems to be so full of stuff – have you noticed this?

And Paganism – and Wicca in particular – attracts the stuff collectors. You know the type. I call them Gear Witches. They have to have the right cape, the right robes, the right wand, the right blade.

Druids at Stonehenge. They look the part, don't they?
Druids at Stonehenge. They look the part, don’t they?

They look terrific, and have all the trappings, and every book ever published about new age anything sits proudly on their shelf at home.

But the heart of worship, and of dedication to a God or Goddess, isn’t about stuff. It’s nothing to do with what you have, or buy. It’s about intent and what you do.

In fact, I’d argue that the more stuff you have, the more you’re distracted from what you should be doing – which is honouring the Deity you have chosen to honour, in every single act of your life.

Simplify, simplify, simplify…

So I’m saying, throw it all away.

Give it all away. You don’t need it all.

You don’t need books to tell you what to do. You don’t need the right cape, or fancy robes. You don’t need a Hollywood-style setting to be an effective servant of the Divine.

Finding yourself is often more about casting off the trappings of consumerism than enveloping yourself in them.

For example, marking the elements can be as simple as filling four plain glasses:

Earth, Air, Fire and Water: capturing the four elements in simple glasses. Paganism doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. It doesn't have to be about *stuff*.
Earth, Air, Fire and Water: capturing the four elements in simple glasses. Paganism doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. It doesn’t have to be about *stuff*.

And dedicating yourself to a powerful Goddess can require nothing more than an apple.

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Sometimes learning takes time

I speak from experience on this. Because I used to be the Queen of the Gear Witches. LOL.

I had everything you could name, and more. I spent a lot of money on having the right stuff. I think I somehow figured that if I looked more like someone else’s idea of what a Pagan should be, that would make me more Pagan-ish.

Or something.

Of course I was wrong.

And you’ll see Gear Witches at every event. They’re there, in their floaty robes, with their long, flowing hair. They look the part.

But looks can be deceiving.

Ask yourself: are they looking the part to convince you? Or perhaps to convince themselves?

Don’t get me wrong: if you choose to wear clothes of a certain style because that’s what you like to wear, then that’s absolutely fine.

But if you’re wearing a look in order to somehow fit a part, to become a role, or to attract attention, then you’re fooling nobody in the end, except yourself.

Return, return, return…

I think the time has come to bring Paganism back to its roots. If we’re about being in tune with nature, and in tune with ourselves, how can buying a truckload of stuff be the right thing to do?

Shouldn’t Pagans be living lightly and simply on the earth? Honouring the Gods with our deeds, spending our time and energy on doing what is their work, rather than time and energy on buying stuff that creates an image?

I think so.

So what I’m saying is, don’t buy the books. Don’t spend your dollars. Don’t collect the stuff.

Instead, spend your short time on this beautiful earth being what you will, not spending your money trying to be something others expect.

Madonnas and whores, and that awesome double standard

Are you a Madonna? Or a whore?

For a long time the whole Madonna-Whore Complex gave women two roles – we could be “pure” as wives, mothers and virgins. Or we were “dirty” as whores – women who enjoyed and appreciated sexual fulfilment.

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Madonnas and whores – the two categories for women.

Nothing in between. The thought that sex could be a normal healthy part of a person’s (particularly a woman’s) life was, and is still, problematic for people who see women as either madonnas or whores, as pure or impure.

Because sex is such a massive stepping stone in the madonna-whore world, such a huge item of goods to be traded and sold by a woman’s father on her wedding day to the prospective husband, it can never be seen as a normal healthy thing that humans simply do because its enjoyable and natural.

In the Madonna-Whore world, virginity is of incredible importance. Without her virginity, a woman is worthless. Soiled. Trash.

And a man who has had sex with many women? Well…

fortunes-men

Have you ever noticed how there are so many words for a woman who has had sex (or a woman who people think has had sex) but there are very few for men?

slut

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The outcome of “sluts versus studs”

So we get the politicalisation of contraception – because only a whore would need it. Once a woman is married, her role becomes simply that of “Mother” or “Prospective Mother” and contraception is an unmentionable. Although almost all couples use contraception in modern society, it’s an unmentionable topic. People pretend it doesn’t happen.

And we get the politicalisation of abortion. Only a whore would abort. A “nice” pure girl doesn’t get pregnant in the first place (because she’s “abstinant”). And if she does (whoops!), she’ll marry the father and have her Happily Ever After.

Except life doesn’t always work out that way. And atheists have a lower divorce rate than religious couples. Hmmm…something seems to be going a bit wrong.

This very narrow view of women – as pure or impure, madonna or whore – stems from patriarchal religions, is tied up with the old worldview of women as chattel and property, and is directly at odds with the direction society is headed in. Hence the clash between the patriarchal churches and society at large.

And the churches are losing. You can see this very clearly in the political landscape in the United States at the moment, the likely collapse and fragmentation of the Republican party – it has aligned itself with the old, white, extreme right religious sects of society, and is finding it simply doesn’t have the numbers. Those numbers are reducing at a very rapid rate, reflecting the way society is changing.

So what’s happening?

Sex is coming out of the closet. That’s what’s happening.

Women are starting to talk about sex, we’re starting to proclaim loudly that it is natural to enjoy sex – with however many partners of whatever gender we wish – and that whatever sex we happen to enjoy does not value or devalue us as individuals. It is simply something we, as human beings, do.

The changes we’re seeing in society, and the death of the madonna-whore complex, are part of women’s movement towards full equality as human beings. That’s all it is.

A group of people cannot be equal as long as they continue to be put into boxes for their behaviour and stereotyped. The “purity” concept needs to die – and the sooner the better. Purity is a concept that should be attached to clean water, or safe food. Not to women and girls. Not to people. We’re not a commodity. We’re human beings.

Aphrodite is a Goddess who represents the sexuality and power of women. She is strong, and fearless – and yes, she is sexual, and sensual, and beautiful. That is why she is intensely uncomfortable for people who have traces of the Madonna-Whore complex instilled in them. Because we’ve been taught that sexuality should be secretive, that is doesn’t give us strength and power. Yet it does.

This is why I think women need to embrace Aphrodite and what she represents. Make peace with our beauty, our sexuality, our sensuality. Be proud to say we enjoy sex. With whomever we choose. In whatever way we wish. Our bodies are our own to use as we desire.

That is why we do the Slut Walks, and why we support the womens shelters. That is why we do NOT bitch against other women, or criticise them for their sexual choices. That is why we support the right to choose, and the right to have safe, freely accessible contraception. Because all of these things are about the right to control our own bodies.

I’m no Madonna. I’m no whore. I’m a human being. And so is every other woman on this planet. It’s time to throw the boxes out the window. None of us is pure, or impure. There is no such thing as virginity – I’m tossing that out too.

We’re all just women. And we’re amazing.

Breaking open the Broom Closet

I had an interesting experience today.

I was at the gym with a friend, and The Question came up.

“What do you believe?” asked my friend.

!!!!!!!!!

A bit of backstory. I’ve known my friend (platonic relationship) for about a year now. He’s terrific, and I trust him absolutely when it comes to…friend-type stuff.

He’s a really great guy, don’t get me wrong. And he’s “into” what a lot of people would call “nutty stuff”. We’ve been having conversations about aliens and crop circles and so on, and I think he’s more inclined to believe in all that sort of stuff than I am (I’m dubious).

So I know he’s open-minded. And he’s a cool person. And I like him. And I trust him.

And I’ve got a pretty strong impression he knows I’m Pagan anyway. Just various things that have been said along the way, over the course of a year. Plus I’m pretty easy to find on the net if you look me up and add “pagan” or “witch” to my name.

BUT…that’s a whole lot different to me actually answering The Question outright.

So I sort of answered something along the lines of “You’d think I’m even loopier than you do now if I told you!” And the conversation took a different turn: he didn’t push it.

Coming out of the broom closet…

And now I’m wondering why I didn’t answer The Question.

The truth is, I’m pretty much in the closet these days. Ever since a Major Stalking Episode a few years back where I had death threats against me. It freaked me out, and made me less inclined to trust people. Just a bit.

These days, people who have known me for years know who and what I am. And I still get old students (from Coven and classes I’ve run at various points) who call me by my Craft name when we meet. But I don’t tell general, newer friends and acquaintances that I’m Pagan. It’s a “Need To Know” basis only. I don’t exactly hide it, but I don’t wear a pentacle any more.

But it isn’t just that.

The Question puts you on the spot. Yes, you might be totally willing to talk about Paganism in some contexts (like the pub, with a beer in your hand). But in other contexts (like in-between sets of leg extensions), you’re not really in your spiritual comfort zone.

And The Question is actually one of the BIG Questions in life – it is part of all the most complex and spiritual and sacred aspects of who I am.

Opening the Broom Closet door…

It’s all kind of silly really.

I mean, like I said, I’m pretty sure he can guess what I am. But guessing and knowing are two entirely different things.

I get the strong vibe that he’s dead curious. Who wouldn’t be? If you’re an open-minded kind of person, Paganism sure makes a change from meat-and-three-veg Anglicans that swarm around the streets. I sense he’s not just curious, but desperate to learn. He’s waiting for a teacher.

I just don’t know whether he’ll freak out, and I won’t have a friend any more. I mean, Paganism WTF? Running around naked WTF? Knives and swords and ritual sex WTF? And this whole immanence and God and Goddess thing WTF?

Of course, it all makes sense when you’re in it and work the magic and see it happening and feel your power grow. And everyone starts at the bottom – casting circles and lighting cauldrons.

But to an outsider – yep, it’d be weird. Weirder than aliens and crop circles all right.

In the end, I guess we’ve got to open the door to let the muggles in. The friendly, curious muggles. Because that’s what we all are at first. I remember my muggle days. And I’m glad there were people willing to open doors for me. I thank them for that.

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. And the other way around? I’m just not sure I’m ready to be a teacher again yet.

But the students are appearing, over and over again now. I’m getting lots of requests, lots of people asking.

Maybe I’ve been on leave for long enough, and it’s time to get back to work. To pass on what I’ve learned, to teach again face to face.

Maybe my friend is teaching me more than I realised.

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