Tag Archives: ethics

Warriors, Free Expression, and the Love of the Goddess

Standard

pentacle-seasons

As you know if you read my previous post, I am involved, increasingly passionately of late, in activism related to reproductive rights and individual privacy. This work increasingly brings into my vision the inextricably related tide of extreme sexism that has been rising in public life over the past few years.  The public voice for this movement comes from the obstructionist Republicans, those who believe the Tea Party to be a worthy constituency, who feel Rush Limbaugh is a worthy spokesman, and who feel empowered to declare this a Christian nation.  This faction has set about forcing us all to live by a fundamentalist, unkind (and, I believe, inaccurate) version of  Christian dogma in which the big government that is staying out of their corporate crimes is empowered to evaluate all personal decisions and impose cruel consequences on those that don’t conform and don’t have resources for the fight.

I won’t go into all the ins and outs of why it is clear this nation is not now, and never has been, a Christian nation.  Thomas Jefferson et al. said it better than I ever could.  What is written on a dollar bill is not determinate of our spiritual zeitgeist. If it were, we would all be Masons. People who busily deny all of biological history on this earth are easily capable of revising the past couple of hundred years of social and political history without even breathing hard. Arguing against them is a waste of time.

But I will talk about speaking out, and how advocacy is part of being a priestess for some of us. And I will talk about how our community too seeks to silence voices that raise uncomfortable truths and challenging perspectives.

I am a priestess of the goddess Hekate.  To me, she is a teacher and patroness.  In return for her loving guidance and her teachings, I offer up my service to her.  And what that really means is that I strive to bring every act and choice in my life into congruency with my understanding of how to walk on the Earth gently, with love and compassion.  Clear sight, and the ability to summon strength and focus are among her many gifts (along with an unusual tendency for large black animals to come into my life).  My offering in return is to be her hands, her voice, and her heart in this world. “All acts of love and pleasure are my [the Goddess’] rituals” (emphasis added) is part of Wiccan liturgy. (If you can call it that – Abrahamic models superimposed on pagan worship usually are a poor fit because they imply more uniformity and more obligation than would be accurate. We need our own vocabulary for these things. But I digress.)  We are charged to move in the world with “beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence”.

Most pagans I know do really well with the mirth, and the reverence, and with honor in the sense of trying to generally treat others well.  It’s the compassion, strength, power, and other forms of honor that seem to cause problems. Those of us who choose to use our power and strength and sense of personal and spiritual integrity to advocate, to speak out against intolerance, or to hold up a mirror that reveals flaws, are not always supported by others in our community.

Paganfolk tend to sort into a few archetypal categories. We have healers, we have bards, we have artisans,  we have those who tend the earth and her creatures, we have priest/esses, and we have warriors.   Most of us are more than one of these.  Those of us who have been formally trained as Wiccans have been encouraged to develop skills and strengths in different areas.

Warriorship, though, is misunderstood by many and taught by relatively few.   And warriorlike behavior is often actively squelched because, somehow, it does not conform to pagan community ideas about how to be loving.  Warriorhood is seen as at best a necessary evil; a commenter on line who was seeking to support my activism said that she wished the warrior role was no longer necessary.

How can we eliminate an entire archetype?  Why would we want to? Each of our possible roles has a critical part in shaping our societies; each reflects another face of the divine. Warriors don’t need to be violent, or cruel, or fanatical.  Warriors can use their strength and honor peacefully and with integrity to support positive change and succor the weak.  Warriors enact what we Wiccans tend to view as the masculine aspect of divine love.

Neopagans generally view Love as an important aspect of the divine. “Love is the law….”, “…[the goddess’] love is poured out upon the Earth”, and other passages commonly taught affirm this.  But the understanding of love of course varies with the person.

My Hekate is a dark goddess, and her teachings are about the mysteries of the inner places, of the borderlands between light and dark, presence and absence, life and death, growth and decay.  She has great compassion for all the world’s creatures, but that does not mean she will stop them from working and going through trials of learning.  Her love is the active form, the one the Greeks called αδαρε.  Agape is intentionally applied love, meant to bring balance and healing when events have created loss of well-being.  This, for me, is the love of God Herself.  Acting from a place of center, with clarity about my own roles, reactions, and ego boundaries, cultivating self-possession and reaching out from that strong core to help others, acting as a responsible steward of the beautiful earth and all its children, are the work of my priestesshood.  Warrior actions, including activism, are one way to do that work.

The Goddess’ love is also, to me, often “tough love”.  Balance exists in all things, and we don’t get to experience the rewards without doing the work and facing the challenges. Witches generally understand that digging into one’s own shadows, seeking self-understanding and compassion for oneself, is the central process in learning to find one’s divine strengths.  But when a member of the community holds up a mirror that shows some of the less than appealing stuff and asks them to think about changing it, they tend to react with complete affront.  I can’t count how many times I’ve been castigated for not being “nice” because I said something when witches were acting in ways that were damaging those they thought they were helping.

I have been recently chided again for speaking. I was told that I must have terrible and tragic “anger issues”, and then virtually ostracized through indirect comments by a pagan on-line group because I called out a member for using sexist language and assumptions as the basis for posting negative comments about a woman who most of us don’t even know.  Well, what was said was, prima facie, sexist.  And we are usually better than that. But how are we going to be better than that unless we allow our Warriors to speak up when they witness injustice?  If we are not willing to examine our own behavior, and consider changing it, we aren’t being honest, or honorable, or humble.

Another member of said group told me that divine love is completely accepting (thus snarkily implying that I was a failure as a priestess because I did not quietly accept what had been said).  He seemed to think that if I wanted to act out of love, I would just ignore the sexist cultural assumptions that are rising like alligators in a swamp all around me.  Because accepting would mean I wouldn’t upset anyone by pointing out that their behavior in perpetuating these cultural assumptions is part of the problem.  And upsetting people isn’t “nice”.

This version of all accepting, “nice” love reminds me most of the Buddhist concept of “idiot compassion”, where the actor’s ego issues compel them to afflict others with help that actually harms in the long run.  Idiot compassion is not based on true understanding of the others’ needs. “Idiot compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good to somebody. At this point, good is purely related with pleasure. Idiot compassion also stems from not [having] enough courage to say no.”  –Chogyam Trungpa (emphasis mine)

Well, I am blessed by my Goddess with the courage to say no.  I am formed by many many years of working with the dying.  I know that not speaking because you don’t want to upset anyone is manipulative and self-serving; you withhold valuable perspectives and truths from them based on your own desire to avoid emotional challenge.  I know that being nice is not the same thing as being kind, or honest, or honorable, or strong.  I know that true loving compassion grows out of respecting others enough to tell them the truth, to challenge them, to hold them to a high standard. The goddess did not charge us to have “niceness and social harmony” among us. She charged us to compassion and humility, honor and strength.  She charged us to be her Love. She trusts us to be her Voice. She wants us to act as her Hands.  Turning away from those imperatives because we are afraid to rock anyone’s boat, because we think preserving people’s damaging illusions helps anyone, is a spiritual failing.

The end of the world, the beginning of the world

Standard

 

ixtab

It’s 12-12-12.  For some reason the odd coincidence of this date’s numbers has people excited. So does the fact that the Mayan calendar ends on 12/21/12.

Now, one could argue that the Mayan world ended a long time ago, so fretting about this is kind of like my house burning down but being upset because the calendar that survived will end later that year.  Why is the Mayan calendar ending? Well, one reason is that the Mayans were destroyed a long time ago, so they haven’t had a chance to update it lately.

Another reason is because this is a cusp between two ages in Mayan time.  It’s the sensible time to take down the Quetzalcoatl calendar and put up the new one featuring pictures of Ixtab, the suicide goddess (always depicted with a noose around her neck).  We are moving into a new age, allegedly one in which humans will transcend all our flaws and learn to connect with each other spiritually to create beauty and harmony on earth (or on other noncorporeal planes, depending on the exact New Agey myth you buy into).  We will move into a place of wisdom in which we are able to claim our true birthright as magical and spiritual beings.  We will give up materialism and cruelty and social inequity and economic definitions of human worth.  We will transcend the mundane.

Some folks have pretty entertaining ideas about how this will play out. I’ve been told (apparently in all seriousness) that Jesus Christ is one of the rulers of the universe now, part of some kind of Cosmic Coordinating Committee that is talking to the New Agers through channelers.  Oh, he goes by a different name now as a member of the CCC, but they know who he really is….must be the bloody robes that gave him away.  Hard to travel incognito with stigmata.

And what do I think?  Well, I think that all of the above ideas about where we’re headed are probably right (except the Jesus thing and the CCC).  Being a witch, I embrace science, and I am a firm Darwinist.  It makes sense to me that we would evolve in our capacities.

We no longer allow evolution of our physical bodies in the “first world”. We devote a great deal of resources to facilitating the survival of flawed physical bodies of children with what should be fatal birth disorders, to helping people with clear severe  physical flaws reproduce anyway.  Nature can be harsh if left to her own devices, and we’ve chosen not to do that.  So….our bodies are what they are.  We aren’t selecting for the strongest, most functional, healthiest bodies any more.  If we didn’t have appendectomies, we would probably eventually not have appendices.  But we do, so we’ll keep them, and a bunch of other physical risk factors that eventually would breed out of a naturally selecting animal population.

So our evolution will have to be on some other plane of our existence, because the one thing I am sure of is movement.  Nothing stays the same.  “She changes everything she touches, and, everything she touches changes.”  So if we are not evolving as a species physically anymore, what’s left? Our minds, our hearts, our spirits, and our psychic capabilities.  But evolution is a slow process, and this kind of evolution takes work, and who wants more work?

Humans have an odd habit of picking a certain day when everything will get better all of a sudden.  Thinking the Golden Yak will swim up the bathroom drain is easier than thinking one might have to go out and create one’s own soap scum (thank you Ren and Stimpy).  Magical thinking is adorable in toddlers, but annoying in adults.  Life does not get better suddenly without our effort.

And in some respects, it won’t be able to get better no matter what transcendence happens nine days from now.  The best and most cogently analyzed climate change data appears to indicate that it is basically too late to fix that problem, or to moderate our behavior so we are not accelerating it as extremely.  Long after I am dead, but probably not before my friends’ children are old, the water levels will rise and the climate changes  that go along with this will result in a complete inability to maintain our current “civilization”.  I think of the earth as a sleeping dog and humans as fleas. Eventually she will yawn and stretch, and scratch vigorously, and the irritating pests that have thought they were in command will be destroyed.  A tragic apocalypse for the fleas, a momentary annoyance for the dog.  The earthquakes caused by fracking, the floods and megastorms caused by polar ice cap melting, are just the first yawns and twitches.  Just wait until she stands up and shakes herself off.

Apocalypse predictions are not new.  In 634 BCE, the Romans thought their city would end as a result of the mistaken analysis of a prophecy involving 12 eagles.  Turned out 1 eagle ≠ 10 years.   An understandable mistake, right?  And we keep coming up with this kind of stuff. In the past ten years alone, the earth failed to end and the “rapture” failed to occur and the aliens failed to show up dozens of times.

For some reason, humans place a great deal of weight on calendars.  Which are, of course, something we made up in order to convince ourselves that we are in control of time’s mysteries (and to make sure we all get to the drum circle at the same time).  So looking at certain dates as auspicious simply because of their numbers is completely circular reasoning.  Why is the date 12-12-12?  Not because of some numerological miracle, because we numbered it that way!  It could as easily be 328/213/99, if the calendar had been designed differently.  So imputing received wisdom to this kind of thing is just plain silly.

But we keep doing it.  And getting our hopes up for a transcendent change in humanity that will happen because it’s a certain date.  So we won’t have to fix anything in our day to day lives, individually or collectively, and we won’t have to work on becoming wiser, better, stronger, and more beautiful,  because all of a sudden one day things will miraculously turn into something better for everyone – or for those few who believe the same delusion as me, anyway, and who cares about the ones who are wrong?  Often, the prophesy indicates that the others, the ones we don’t like or don’t agree with, will be swept away, leaving the earth/humanity/Age of Aquarius/end times/(insert post-apocalyptic vision of your choice here) to those the prophet likes.  So belief in a lot of these prophecies boils down to:  I don’t want to work hard to improve myself or my society, but I would like it very much if everyone that I disagree with would be killed suddenly, and me and my friends would take over, and then we wouldn’t be held back by Them anymore, and we would all become divine beings and fix our problems and live happily  ever after.

Guess what? It’s not going to happen.  No matter what 12/21/12,  or any of the other myriad projected apocalypse dates already on the calendar, brings, we are still going to have to learn to deal with those we don’t like or agree with. We’re  going to have to learn to project the outcomes of our actions and inactions, and use those projections to make responsible choices for the future of all beings.

Each day a new world forms around us.  Each day, old ideas and technologies die and new ones take their place.  Change is incremental, not apocalyptic.  We can sit on our duffs and lazily wait for a catapult to launch us into some fantasy of the ideal world, or we can start walking toward it on our own two feet.

Expecting responsibility

Standard

Well, okay, so here is a post that directly talks about what it’s like to be a witch in a world of muggles.

One of the things about neopagan ethics is that through a variety of pathways it always comes back to one simple statement, which my revered teacher and friend Albert Webb used to state repeatedly:  “You’re responsible.”  For what, you might ask? Well, pretty much everything. Certainly, for all your choices, your decisions, your actions and inactions, for the predictable impact of all of these on other beings and on the Earth.  For finding out what the rules are, and (assuming you’ve chosen the situation) following them.

This proves to be one of the aspects of being a witch that makes it difficult to interact with our current society, which seems to bend over backwards to assure people that 1- they are not responsible when they fuck up; 2 – that everyone always gets “do-overs”; and 3 – that whining is an appropriate way to get do-overs.

I have worked very hard for a number of years on the spiritual discipline of developing clear boundaries.  Yes, that’s right, spiritual.  We witches have a precept called the Rede that is one of our major ethical principles.  (There are various versions out there, and some other time I’ll rant about the details of how they play out when they are considered from an ethical perspective.)  But one phrase that’s always there is “do no harm” or its semantic equivalent. Well, if you don’t even take the time to figure out who is responsible for which actions and their effects, it’s impossible to apply this principle.  So knowing what’s my problem and what’s not my problem winds up being a focus of a great deal of spiritual work for the true witches among us.

As a result, I get very irritated by people who seemingly have spent no time thinking about who is responsible for their lives, their actions, and (dare I even use the word) their consequences.

I’m grading undergraduate papers now.  This is an activity which gets most faculty in higher education very cranky because it raises all of our concerns about the dire fate of humanity when the illiterate generations take over the world.  I am feeling particularly cranky because I’ve had a number of students who earned otherwise mediocre to horrific grades, who then got dropped to a zero because part of their alleged work was plagiarized. (This, after a nauseating amount of information and support provided to get them to handle this issue correctly.)

Oddly, it’s the bad papers that are more likely to be plagiarized (you would think it would help, but it doesn’t).  If I think the student truly had no clue and they’ve been conscientious in every other way, they get one week to rewrite and resubmit (with a grade penalty). But if they “hid the evidence” or otherwise have been remiss, such as failing to fix the problems pointed out in previous feedback, they get a zero and I’m done.

So here’s where we get to the issues of responsibility: a significant proportion of these folks seem to believe that it’s my fault if they fail.  And that I’m somehow responsible for shielding them from the consequences of their choices.  And so here come the emails and phone calls (which usually come when I’m grading the next inadequate effort, and am not in the mood).

Here are a few goodies:

  • The student won’t get reimbursed for poor grades by an employer who is paying for their degree.  Right on! I think to myself, while telling the student that their employers’ policies are unrelated to my expectations for performance in the course.
  • The student wants to inform me (because of course I’m clueless) that she will fail the course if she gets a zero on this paper. Now, I wrote the syllabus, and the paper is worth 25% of the grade, and she’s not been a stellar performer all along, but….thanks for telling me that.  No, I won’t change the grade.
  • The student tells me that she was pretty sure there was a big problem with the paper, so she asked her teenage son (who is good with computers, and thus the oracle for her online courses apparently) – but he said it was okay, because the same paper had been plagiarized by a lot of other students.  I take a deep breath and say, “Maybe next time you are concerned you should ask the instructor, who is likely to be more familiar with the standards for the course than your son is.”

And on and on we go.  Somehow these folks managed to get through a whole semester in which this issue of using and crediting sources accurately was presented in many ways, over and over again.  And most of them got it, and did a good job. Some of the ones that didn’t get it, got in touch and got help and that was fine too.  And then there are the ones who are too clueless to notice how clueless they are, or who think that because I’m in a different state (of the Union, not of mind) they will get away with lying to me.

That’s the thing that I hate most. These people are liars. To me, to themselves, about the creative work produced by others, about their own role in choosing their outcomes.  And that’s one thing that is absolutely verboten to me, by my own understandings of what it takes to be an ethical witch.

Lying to anyone makes it impossible to honor the divine spirit within them.  I cannot view someone as a God or Goddess and then lie to them.  I cannot claim my divine nature by lying to myself or to others.  I cannot make the most of myself, foster my own growth, if I cannot be honest about my motivations.  I cannot learn if I do not grapple with the sometimes lamentable consequences of my choices.  Whining and expecting others to fix it is not courteous, it is not reasonable, but most of all it is against my religion.

Wouldn’t it be entertaining if I tried to shove my religion down the throat of the religious right?  If they were not allowed to lie because it’s against my religion, they wouldn’t be able to talk at all some days. But, I digress…..