Category Archives: Culture

Flirting with Tyranny

ByCandlelight

It is easy for me to imagine them having dinner together on their anniversary.

The scene is dark and romantic, one of those undiscovered hole-in-the-wall restaurants that only the locals know, rugged brick walls and old wooden rafters, and the kind of food that men have quite literally died for.

They always come here.

Every year, the same restaurant, the same table even.

A happy tradition.

She’s wearing her favorite copper number.  

She wondered, earlier, as she pulled it out of her closet, if she shouldn’t start looking for something a little more fashionable, but sitting here now, basking in his smile, she knows she looks good by candlelight.

Mister top hat and tails, across the table, is looking pretty good himself.

Oh sure, he’s a little heavier and a little grayer around the temples, but he’s still the same sweet guy she’s carried a torch for these two-hundred and forty-two years.

Such a long time ago, and so much has changed.

Why, they were just children when they first met.

She was an entirely new idea, unrealized and untested in social situations.

And he was a brash bit of a country bumpkin, eager to get out from under daddy’s shadow, and prove his worth in the wide world.

The families were scandalized, she smiles to herself, enjoying the memory, but here we are, almost half way through a third century, and going strong.

He’s been talking to her, throughout her musing, chatting about work, or the neighbors or something, but now she notices that he’s stopped.

She’d been looking, not at him so much, as through him, and into memories of days bygone.

Now, she’s back, and along with the sudden silence, she notices that his eyes are no longer meeting her own, but are instead, glancing toward something just over her shoulder.

Something, or someone, behind her, at the bar.

And then, as if it had never happened, his gaze is back and he’s amiably chatting again, as if he’d never stopped.

But now she is studying him more closely, and listening more intently to the other voices in the restaurant.  She becomes aware of a group of male voices behind her, murmuring among themselves, and then the clear, bright laugh of a woman in their midst.

And his eyes move again, with the laughter, and she knows exactly what he’s looking at.

And his eyes come back, and she smiles and he keeps on with the small talk.

But they dart back again soon enough, as the noise behind her rises a bit.

She takes a sip of her wine, and then, while pretending to gauge its consistency by candlelight, she raises the glass to observe in reflection, the scene at the bar.

Half a dozen nation states, bumbling fools the lot of them, all fawning over a women she knows all too well.

Tyranny, in a little black dress, just soaking up the attention.

And not, mind you, from her little ‘admiration society’ at the bar.

Vamp!

Putting her glass down, carefully, she glances back to her husband, who seems lost in thought, his eyes averted.  And a moment later he snaps back into focus, guiltily, realizing he must have been caught.

“Yes Sam,” she says, using the old pet name, “you were saying?”

“Oh, well only that…,” he continues, with just the briefest look of relief.

And the just as quickly he’s gone again, and this time his eyes narrow with the kind of obvious hunger she would have sworn, before tonight, that he’d kept for her alone.

“I wonder what that was,” she thinks to herself, “did she smile at him and toss her hair?”

“Or maybe she flashed him a little leg.”

“Or a military parade.”

She closes her eyes.

For just this moment she can’t bare to look at him, looking at Her.

She remembers him for a moment, as he was those many years ago, when he dropped to one knee in this very restaurant, and proposed.

“We hold these truths to be self evident…,” he’d said then.  She’d nearly swooned.

They’d had their share of troubles of course.

Early on, there was the slavery addiction that had nearly driven them apart.

Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, McCarthyism…, just bumps in the road she’d thought.

Smiling, she remembers how he’d taken her hand, all those years ago, and suddenly she feels his touch again now.

She opens her eyes to find a look of concern on his face.

“Are you all right love?” he asks, tenderly.

“Yes,” she answers back, holding his hand tightly for a moment before releasing it.

What had he been saying a moment ago about work?  Something about detention camps along the border?  What else had she missed?

“The wine may have given me a headache is all.”

“Would you like to leave then, call it an early night?”

“Oh, no dear, we haven’t even had dinner yet.  I’ll be fine.”

“I’m glad,” he says, and seems to mean it.

Then he glances over her shoulder again and smiles, like the brash young nation he used to be.  The one who had told her that she was all he ever wanted…,

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Politics, Uncategorized

Experiments in Nonconformist Blasphemy

One of the great truths which we learn from an early age is that words have power.

“Baby’s first words” are a much anticipated moment of celebration and achievement, captivating every parents attention.  And from there, their power only grows and expands, shaping the way we think, and molding the universe to our will, one small piece at a time.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…,”

There are not many passages from the Christian Bible that I’ll agree with as wholeheartedly as those first few words from the Gospel of John, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The Word, however, is not any individual God, it is a power that WE share with the gods, it is that which makes them our kin, which draws their attention to us, and ours to them.

Language is the medium through which the human will finds its greatest expression.

Words are power!

Even, sometimes especially, the bad words.

Which is why our parents take such pains to make us understand that certain words are beyond us.

These are the naughty words.  Not to be used or even thought of.

Because we haven’t earned the right.  Because we don’t know enough, as children, to take responsibility for the power in those words.  And because it’s embarrassing to have children throwing around phrases that you yourself normally wouldn’t use in public.

But the children see, and they listen most intently, and they learn.

They learn far more than we adults might want to believe.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

And if you believe that, you were probably raised by wolves.

Words can and do hurt you, as every child knows.

Why else did they invent the counter spell?

You caught that, right?

“Sticks a stones may break my bones…,” seriously, think about it.

Think back on your childhood and say it out loud.  Feel the sing song cadence in the words weaving a web of protection around you, diminishing the power behind the curses hurled at you by those other kids.

Because they ARE curses you know.

As kids we called it “cussing” but to cuss is to curse, it’s the same word.

I guess most of us never realized that the schoolyard was a hotbed of magical combat.

“I’m rubber and you’re glue…,” is another common counter spell used among the kiddos.  This one is actually pretty sweet, as it is designed to not only shield against an offensive curse, but to reflect the power of that spell back upon the child who uttered it.

But as children we never realized what was going on beneath the surface.  We just steadily increased our personal arsenal of “mean things to say,” picking up more colorful phrases from our parents and friends and media, along the way.

And these come in a number of categories.

There’s a whole litany of racial slurs available to bigots of every stripe.

I am happy to say that over time I have fully excised these from my speech, and with them, that specialist subcategory which deals exclusively with sexual orientation.  I was never particularly comfortable with this branch of profanity anyway.

Then there are the “dirty” words, those of a specifically biological nature and frequently sexual.

Crude?  Yes.

Course?  Obviously.

Convenient?  As fuck.

This whole category of words exhibit tremendous versatility while still retaining their inherent shock value, this despite repeated use in modern media.  Judicial use of profanity is one of the rights and privileges of adulthood.  Whereas, tossing these words around lightly and frequently is typically seen as the juvenile behavior of someone trying to prove something.

And finally, there is Blasphemy.

And this is a category that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Here’s where we get into the real meat and drink of cursing.

“God Damn You!” – is a curse of the highest magnitude, essentially beseeching the Christian deity to cast your enemy into the pit.  As curses go, it’s both blatantly sinful and in most instances, extreme overkill.

This goes for most variations of that particular theme.

Even just uttering the word “God!” in either exasperation, disgust, or if you’re very lucky, extreme pleasure, is held as a sin of the first order by most of the modern monotheist traditions.

Now for those of us who don’t follow those traditions, it’s not that big a deal.

Atheists aren’t traditionally worried about offending anyone, particularly not folks they consider imaginary.

Polytheists, don’t typically believe in a hell to which anyone could be damned.

I usually just leave the damning business to the book thumpers.

“God” however, is just too ingrained as a part of speech for me to drop it entirely, so I just slap a plural on it and let the “gods” work it out amongst themselves who I’m talking to.

But now we come to the man himself.

“Jesus” – to his friends.

“Jesus Christ” – if you feel the need to be specific.

“Jesus H Christ” – on those particularly formal occasions.

“Jesus F*cking Christ” – if you accidentally drop a heavy weight on your foot or discover a family member listening to conservative talk radio.

What to do about Jesus, when you don’t believe in Jesus, but he’s stuck in your subconscious and pops out every time you’re stuck in traffic.

Well, for the longest time I tried not to worry about it.

Not my god, I thought, not my blasphemy.

But more and more, I’m thinking Moses got it wrong when he carved those tablets.

Any publicity is good publicity, and here I am, spitting out the name of a deity I don’t believe in, under my breath, and doing it with energy, with emotion, putting real energy behind the words.  It’s some kind of stealth proselytizing!

It’s doesn’t matter if I’m doing it with negative intent, I’m still evoking the name of “the Christ,” lending power to a spiritual construct that I firmly believe has been dragging our society down since the time of Constantine.

I am in no particular hurry to offend my gods, but I really think that we polytheists and pagans need our own blasphemy.

Why should we keep sending all that excess energy into the opposing camp?

So I’ve been experimenting lately.

Trying things out, but with limited success.

“Jesus Christ” is just so ingrained at this point, and the cadence of the words, in English at least, is a perfect bit of marketing genius.

So, coming at it from an Irish Celtic perspective, I’ve been trying…,

“Nuada’s Hand!”

As an expression of anger or disgust, invoking a deity who lost his hand and his kingship in a single blow feels somewhat fitting.

And maybe…,

“Nuada’s Shining Hand!”  For when you need that little extra oomph!

I don’t know.

It’s the best I’ve come up with so far.

I’ve been trying to meditate on them, to find that spot in my head that Jesus occupies and to transpose one god for another, but it doesn’t quite feel natural to me yet.

And that in itself is irksome.

If anyone out there has suggestions for me, I’m open to hearing them.

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Filed under Culture, Magic, Modern Life, Proselytizing, The Gods

Sunday Morning Ultimatums..,

“You live, you die. There are 2 destinations. There is no 3rd choice. Believe in Jesus before it’s too late.”

An old friend of mine from high school posted this yesterday morning.

He followed it up with a bible verse, but I didn’t bother to read any further. I lost my taste for Sunday morning ultimatums a long time ago.

And usually, I just let these things drift by, unnoticed and unremarked upon. My social media feed is chock full of Jesus, and it all just becomes so much white noise after a while.

For the most part, these posts and comments are of the “god is love” variety. “God shaped me, Jesus is my reason, God guides my every step…,” And I might occasionally smile to myself and wonder how the poor fellow ever gets anything important done when he’s so busy playing ‘seeing-eye dog’ to a population of folks who are too bloody insecure to get up and walk on their own.

But once in a while you get one of these “believe in him or you’re going to burn” comments, which so perfectly illustrate the lie behind all those other love filled exhortations.

Because, my friends, if you feel like the best you can do is to frighten folks into believing, I have to assume that either you are desperately trying to shore up your own lack of faith, or you’ve noticed that donations are down and that new private jet isn’t going to just buy itself.

The world we live in is not so black and white as they would have us believe. And neither, I am sure, is the next.

We live, we die, we live again, and I’ve little doubt that there are a multitude of realms in between, where we might wander for a spell, before we make our way back.

So save your threats, my Christian friends, because if you have to resort to these kinds of tactics, you’ve already lost the argument.

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Blood and Soiled

This must be one of the saddest photographs I have ever seen.

Why do we teach our children the wrong things?

Why do we teach them to hate, to fear, to believe that if we give one man respect, or dignity, or just a fair chance in life, that we must be trying to take those same opportunities away from another?  Why do we teach our children that the land is ours, by right of blood or edict from on high, when we are only the latest insects to crawl across its surface?  Why do we teach them that one man is different from another, better than, superior, when the story of our genes tells us that we all come from a singular place and time?

Why are we dressing our littlest ones up in the raiment of hate?

And when did Nazi Cosplay suddenly become cool?

Don’t tell me it was THOSE people who did it!  Please, don’t try to put it on someone else.

It was us.  How could it not be?

There are people walking our streets and living in our neighborhoods, who think it’s okay for one group to round up another, to remove them from their homes and fence them in like animals, to starve them, abuse them and ultimately exterminate them.  And these folks didn’t time-travel here from Germany in the early 40’s. They grew up here right alongside us, went to the same schools, studied the same history books.

So how could they have learned to hate so well?

I wonder.

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On the level

I read a story, a few weeks ago, about a fellow who took a carpenters level with him on a cross country flight, in order to prove that the Earth is flat.

His experiment, it seems, was based upon the following argument: If the Earth is a sphere, an airplane pilot cannot fly on a level course, because to do so would cause the plane to go careening off into space.  Therefore, he, the pilot, must correct for the rounded Earth slipping away below him by occasionally dipping the nose of the plane downward, which action would be easily noticeable on a precision instrument purchased at the Home Depot.

I may not be explaining this as clearly as I should, so I whipped up a graphical aid.

Now, I do try to treat “fringe groups” with a certain amount of patience and good will.  Recognizing, as I do, that my own belief in multiple gods, puts me right out on the edge of things, in many peoples eyes, it seems only natural that I treat other groups with the same friendly manner that I hope people will express toward me and mine.

Is Scientology your thing?  No skin off my nose.

You like pineapple on your pizza?  I’ll just pick those off of my slice, if that’s okay.

You preferred the Star Wars prequel movies to the original three?

….ummm, I’m sure you have many redeeming qualities.

I draw the line with Flat Earthers.

If you truly believe that we are all the victims of a “Global Conspiracy” perpetrated by every school, corporation, government, and independent scientific body on the PLANET, throughout over 2,000-years of history since the day when Eratosthenes proved mathematically that the Earth was a sphere (and only missing the actual circumference by a few percentage points), and if you’re evidence for this is “Well, it looks flat to me,” and/or “The Bible doesn’t say anything about us living on a ball,” then I am done with you.

Yes, my flat earth friends, you have been lied to for the last two-thousand years.

Just not by the people you think.

And it’s not even a lie, really.

At least, I don’t think it was done intentionally.

The ancient tribesmen who wrote those chapters of your holy book were working off of their own observations.  And the world, to them, looked flat.

Now I realize that this takes us into a touchy subject area.  Because, of course, a great many of the Christian faithful believe that scripture was written by God through the hands of men.  The “Inspired Word” they like to call it.  So, in their view, the Bible wasn’t written by a bunch of yokels who could have got it wrong, it was written by God himself and no part of it can be false.

And yet there is plenty in there that is demonstrably untrue.

So what to do?

Well, most of the particularly faithful people that I know, have made some accommodation for themselves in this area.

Maybe God only told the people who were writing things down, things that he knew they could understand.  Maybe God showed them the whole complicated mess, and they could only grasp a small portion of its true shape and function.  Maybe he wanted to keep things mysterious for his creation, and so relied upon vague verbiage to keep his followers guessing.

The line, or lines, that these folks draw, between truth and misprint, seem to move and twist with circumstance, but at least they are there.  At least these folks are trying to reconcile a system of belief with the mechanics of the physical world around them.

The Flat Earth Brigade will do no such thing.

They cover their eyes and stop up their ears and they congratulate themselves for the purity of their faith against opposition from every quarter.

But they are wrong.

What they cling to is not faith.

That’s a thing we call desperation, and it is a desperation that seems to be on the rise.

Today, they are taking levels aboard airplanes, and we point, and we laugh, and we shake our heads in pity and disbelief.

But we have all seen the things that small groups of religiously fervent people are capable of, when they believe that they alone hold the truth, and that the whole world is set in conspiracy against them.

We should never rest too comfortably upon the strides we have made.

Any tool made to create, can also destroy, even something as simple as a level.

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Fan the Flames

The gods of our ancestors are everywhere around us, though we barely know them.

Their sacred places have vanished, or become ruins, overgrown and crumbling curiosities of a bygone age.  Their sacred names are misremembered and mispronounced, uttered without the reverence and caution that should attend the power which those syllables invoke.  Their sacred stories…,

The stories we have, the myths, the legends, are but fragments of a once rich tapestry, burned almost completely away now, by time and forgetfulness.

For those of us who are driven to seek out the old ways, there is but scant evidence of the gods left to be found in this world.

We pour over the bits that we can still find, while sifting through surviving folk traditions and songs, looking for anything we might have missed.  We speculate and we argue about the fragments we do uncover.  How do they go together?  What do they mean?

And still, for all that effort, we seem to know more about the lives of the Dinosaurs, who at least had the courtesy to die and leave their fossilized remains for us to dig from the Earth.

Let us speak now, of one such nearly forgotten god.

Oghma

Sometimes called Oghma the Honey-Tongued – because he is a god of eloquence, a master of poetry, and the father of writing.

Sometimes called Oghma with the Sun’s Countenance – because he is a solar deity, or because he exhibits a divinely radiant aspect, or because he likes to cause trouble in academic circles and he knew that taking on a Sun related nickname was a sure way to get people writing papers.

We know that he is the brother of the Dagda, the husband of Étan, and that he has at least two sons.  We know that he is one of the Champions of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of Ireland, and that his strength is second to only one among their number.

We know that he fought in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, and that he died there, or that he didn’t.  The stories have it both ways.

The Irish gods do have a nasty habit of dying in one story and showing up again in some later tale.  Which may have something to do with the impermanence of death when it comes to the gods.  But more than likely, it has to do with the fact that these stories were written down by Christian monks who were trying to…,

…who were trying to…,

…we really don’t know.

We haven’t a clue as to exactly what these guys were trying to accomplish.

We do not know their true motivations or what they may have changed along the way.

We don’t know how well they knew the stories themselves, or why they chose these particular stories to preserve.

Is Oghma really just a flagstone flipping superman with a sunny disposition and a way with words?  Can that possibly have been all that the mythology of the ancient Irish had to say about him?  Or were there stories upon stories, now lost and forgotten because they didn’t fit whatever criteria the monks used to determine what should be saved and what should be let go.

Or were they written down and then lost again.

We may never know.

We owe these unknown monks a vast debt of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean we should put too much trust in them.

Let us take a side trip out of Ireland and into the ancient forests of Gaul where another god, or maybe the same god, named Ogmios, once roamed.

He too, was a god of great strength, usually portrayed as a Gaulish Heracles.  But, unlike the Greek Hero, Ogmios is also said to have been a god of great eloquence, who’s power of persuasion was so strong that silver chains dangled between his wagging tongue and hooks embedded into the ears of his every listener.  As a consequence, every mortal within the range of his voice would joyfully gather close to do his bidding.

The little we know of Ogmios comes to us through a handful of Gaulish inscriptions and from a brief description by the 2nd Century Greek satirist Lucian, a fellow who lived long after the Gauls had been conquered, and one not overly sympathetic to the gods of his own people, much less those of long dead foreign barbarians.

Oghma.

Ogmios.

As I said at the start, his holy places are gone, his name misremembered, and his stories are, at best, the stuff of rumor and speculation.

His priesthood however…, his priesthood is as powerful as ever, and it has never waned.

Just don’t look for them among the folks who actually believe in him.

His priests and priestesses are those who write and who speak in a voice we can still hear long after we are parted from them.  They speak to us across the depths of time (think of Shakespeare or Clemens), and they move us with their words even today, when words seem to have so little value.

Only a few nights ago, as I sat with a few hundred others, and listened to Neil Gaiman reading from his stories and poems, and answering questions in a thoughtful, ever friendly manner, I could see in my minds eye, those thin silver chains growing link by delicate link, could feel the hooks sliding deep into my own ears, and I knew that, though he believes the Gods are things created by story, he is every bit the vessel of their power.

Later, reading through his introduction to his latest volume, a retelling of selected myths of Norse Mythology, I found this bit:

“We have lost so much…I wish I could retell the tales of Eir, because she was the doctor of the gods, of Lofn, the comforter, who was the Norse goddess of marriages, or of Sjofn, a goddess of love.  Not to mention Vor, goddess of wisdom.  I can imagine stories, but I cannot tell their tales.  They are lost, or buried, or forgotten.”   —Neil Gaiman

We who believe in the gods of our fathers know that particular feeling all too well.

We were born to find the stories, to tell them, to share in their wisdom, and to bask in their glow.  These things are as much a part of worship as any ritual or prayer.

But the previous generations have not been kind to us, and all that are left to us are the last fading embers of a once great fire.

And yet even that can be light enough, if we are careful.

We must learn what we can from the old stories.

But we must be willing to play with them as well, to prod and poke them until the hint of fire within begins to glow stronger through agitation and exposure to the air.

And we must be open to invention.  It is through Imbas that we allow the gods to speak through us, to fan the flames of creativity and to tell their stories in our voices, for new generations.

It is long past time to fan the flames.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Mythology, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Our Lady of Themyscira

There are people out there who worship superheroes.

I am not one of them.

But after having watched the new Wonder Woman movie, twice, one could almost…,

Oh, I’ve heard all the rationalizations, the misapplied references to Jungian archetypes, the quotes lifted reverently from Joseph Campbell’s books, the endless suggestions that the gods are merely manifestations of the collective consciousness, and that the superheroes, having achieved iconic status within western culture are every bit as valid a target of our mental energies as any of the “old gods”…,

I’m not buying it.

But if that’s your gig, the writers and marketers are certainly happy to sell it to you.

No, the superheroes are not actual gods, but when handled correctly they do have the power to inspire us, to lift us up from our own troubles, and to free us from the limitations which society and gravity would impose upon us, if only for a little while.

And, for a long time now, Wonder Woman has been my favorite.

Oh sure, I started out pretty firmly in the Superman camp.

I mean, what little boy doesn’t want to discover that he has amazing powers due to his secret alien parentage?

But we grow up a bit, we become angsty, our worldview darkens, and we glom onto the Batman, reveling in his trauma induced war against a bizarre criminal underworld.

Or, anyway, that’s what happened with me.

And I still buy his books, along with those of the Green Lantern and a smattering of other titles.

But it gets expensive pretty quickly.

If you’re one of the popular superheroes, a Superman or a Batman, you’ve probably got a dozen titles with your name or image on the cover, including monthlies, crossovers, and one shots.

Wonder Woman really only has the one title.

They say it has to do with marketing decisions, and the difficulty in writing a female lead who will be interesting and popular among young boys.  And sadly, that’s probably a big part of it.

But it’s not just the woman in the title.

The gods are in there too.

And I think that scares the crap out of them.

I love Wonder Woman because, even before they revamped her origin and made her a child of the gods, she was a gift from the gods.  Sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon queen, she was given life by the Olympian gods, and sent to the world of men as an ambassador of peace.

I have always been perplexed that, in a medium where literally ANYTHING is possible, comic book writers almost never treat the gods as actual gods.  They are invariably aliens with magic seeming technology, livings in some dimension, removed from our own.  Or they are creatures of limited power, created by human thought and belief, languishing in a universe that no longer prostrates itself before them.

The gods are almost never written as actual gods.

Except in Wonder Woman.

For a long time, I thought this must have something to do with the publishing houses not wanting to rankle a largely Christian audience.  But I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard any of my Christian friends complaining about the presence of Hera or Apollo in a Wonder Woman comic.

Mostly they just seem put off by the fact that she doesn’t wear pants.

“She’s dressed like a whore,” one of them told me, a few years back.

Yeah, you try to think the best about a person, and then they make an idiot remark like that.

But for a while there, the artists gave us a Wonder Woman in pants.  And it looked terrible.

Oh how this new movie must be making their heads spin!

So I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new movie, and for the most part it has exceeded my expectations.  But the revelation, in the first few minutes of the movie, that Ares has murdered all of the other gods of Olympus…,

It seems as if the bravery of the comic did not translate so completely to the silver screen.

If the gods are dead, we don’t have to write for them, we don’t have to explain them, we don’t have to be worried that people will be offended by their presence.

Maybe Ares was right, and we don’t deserve them.

But it’s not about what we deserve.

It’s about what we believe.

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Filed under Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Religion, The Gods