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Archive for the ‘Pagan Blog Project’ Category

E is for Entropy

 

<Putting a Woo Alert up here because this has no historical basis whatsoever and yeah.>

 

So there have been a few instances in my life, few and far between, where I have felt the Presence of something other. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

 

Once upon a time, a few years ago when I was still active-ish on Gaia, I was trying to write a real outline of my path. I’ve tried this a few times and always failed. Maybe because I’m crap at making lists, or maybe because I’m not really all that orthodoxic so trying to codify what I believe is a pointless exercise since my experience in life leads me to believe new things all the time. Anyway. When trying to think of cosmology, how I feel about…the world, the universe, the nature of deities or the divine and the big why of it all…it gets too much for my head.

 

But there’s something, some Presence, that I can almost never feel directly but I occasionally get little glimpses of, and it’s shaped how I view the universe.

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D is for Depression (written Sunday, April 14, 2013)

 

This is the reason I have fallen so far behind on this project. In some ways it’s the reason I’ve always had trouble sticking with projects like these, even (especially) when there is no consequence for giving up, when the stress is all self-imposed.

 

Because no one can be harder on me than I already am on myself.

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C is for Continental, or the Hard Easy

One of my constant worries is whether I’m unconsciously drawn to areas of study that make me appear to be a special snowflake. I really, really do not want to be perceived in such a way. Maybe it’s an ongoing rebellion against all the teachers and family who told me I was “special” and “gifted” growing up. That enrivonment inflated my ego in some ways and also made me miserably insecure in others, and after getting smacked in the face with depression and anxiety and trying to come out of that, I’ve started to accept that actually I am fairly “normal” and that “special” is not necessarily anything I need to be striving towards.

And yet I always seem to make choices with my spirituality, with my hobbies, that make things difficult for myself. Which brings me to the title of this post!

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B is for Belenos

This post has literally gone through about eight incarnations, and it is one of the reasons I fell off the PBP wagon. I just could not write this one. The other main reason is depression but that is another letter and that post will come later!

Winter is hard. I have some seasonal depression problems, and one of the hardest things about having a solar deity as a central part of my path is that it’s really damn hard to feel a connection when everything is overcast all the time and the snow never melts and there is only a paltry fraction of light in a day!

But hey, now that it’s spring, it’s easier to think about getting back on track with life, with my mental health, and with devotions to Big B, as I call him.

I find it kind of interesting that for a deity who was pretty widely-attested in the Celtic world, there are basically two pagans I know of on the whole internet who worship him.

OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: If you work with Belenos (or one of the myriad of different spellings) in any capacity, let me know! I like talking and sharing ideas and experiences and also wow, it’s lonely!

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D is for Diaspora

 

One of the problems that I seem to always come around to, no matter where my seeking takes me, is the plain and simple fact that I do not live in the places where the majority of religions that neopagan belief and practice is drawn from occurred. I have no great pull toward the pre-Christian faiths of Europe in order to reclaim my ancestry, or get in touch with my roots, or honor the gods of my ancestors.

I live in the Diaspora. And, like many American pagans and polytheists, I sometimes feel like I don’t have solid footing.

It’s a bit more than feeling unwelcome, it’s a feeling of…it not being quite genuine, to me. While I have great respect for those who take a Reconstructionist approach to religion, I can’t ever see myself as being comfortable enough with notions of place and heritage to focus on one culture to that extent.

If I were say, Irish-American, coming from a family with a distinct cultural tradition traceable to a Place We Came From, things would be different. I might feel a little more comfortable taking up the mantle of a Gaelic Polytheist, in this example. I might feel like it was something that I belonged to that could be reclaimed.

But I’m not, and I can’t.

I don’t think I’m alone in this mental struggle. And I don’t mean to imply that Reconstructionists simply go forth guns blazing and live the lifestyle of the culture they’re reconstructing without any further thought. Recons are more than just SCA reenactors. And every single Recon blog or essay I’ve come across has, somewhere or other, wrestled with the fact that (if the author is not European), their religion must be practiced in a place where their gods of old were not worshipped.

I keep saying European but to be fair, Kemetics have this problem too, and anyone working in a cultural framework that is not the same as the culture that they currently inhabit. And to be really fair, this issue isn’t limited to Reconstructionists, but those with culturally-centered paths and serious-minded eclectics as well.

How does one reconcile these things? It’s this struggle that, I believe, gives rise to the frustration felt by many new Pagans, the idea that, if they are American, they don’t really “have” a culture, that they need to find other cultures, more vibrant and enticing ones, to fill in the holes in their hearts that their lack of culture has contributed to. There is a prevalent belief that in regular everyday American life there is something missing, and due to the great American Migration Myth that we are taught in history classes, there is an idea that that something can be found if we look abroad.

And then there is the tricky, dangerous idea that this something was here all along, and it was lost somehow, and it needs to be reclaimed. And this, I think, is where issues of Native American and First Nations appropriation come into play. That somehow modern non-NA practitioners can live “more spiritually” and get in touch with the spirit of the land they live in by adopting the practices of those whose land it was originally.

This is not an acceptable solution. Indigenous peoples have had their lands and their taken away from them, I have no desire to take their faith as well, just to feel like I’m practicing a “real” spirituality.

I have heard lots of Americans describe themselves as “mutts,” and what they usually follow that up with is that they have ancestors that immigrated from all over Europe. I’m a bit of a mutt in a different way:

My ancestry on my mother’s side is British, generally, and as far as we can tell, mostly English at that. I think there was one fellow in there who moved from Ireland to Shropshire but we don’t know if he was actually Irish or (quite possible, given the time period) an Englishman whose family settled in Ireland as part of the colonization of that land and the oppression of the Irish people.

My father is African-American, and as you can imagine, that makes any search for cultural heritage quite a bit more complicated. Most of his relatives have lived in Illinois for a good long while, and that holds particular interest because my dad’s family has been REALLY Catholic for a REALLY long time, and the part of Illinois they come from was one of the places of earliest European settlement in the state. A lot of the surnames on the family tree are French. And indeed, I probably also have some Native American heritage there, from back in the early days of Fort de Chartres and Kaskaskia, but that is too long ago and too little to lay claim to. Moreover, I have no direct proof, no documentation thanks to the erasure of slavery and forced migration.

I’m not even going to begin to look at African cultures for religious inspiration. Again, that is not my right.

But the issue is more, even, than not having a right to certain cultures. It’s the persistent little feeling that, unlike the idea of non-cultural modern America, I DO have a culture, and the place I was born and raised, the areas that my family has lived in in this country have shaped who I am and how I see the world.

The diaspora IS my homeland, as far as I’m concerned. And I want to do my best to be a pagan in this land, and relate to it in a way that feels genuine and relevant to me, and is respectful of where I came from and the others who were here before me.

My culture is thoroughly Midwestern  and to be more specific, it is St. Louisan. Even without having French ancestry there is a whole hell of a lot of French culture in my hometown. I have grown up knowing (and fearing) the power of the Mississippi. I am very familiar with the probably not true but compelling superstition that the Gateway Arch protects the city by diverting violent storms. These an a thousand other little things I don’t even think about, things I learned about the world as a child and accept to be true, these are my culture. The gods that govern my homeland are the river, and the spirit of trade and the crossroads, and, with the immigration from Germany, the brewing of beer.

I’m not living there anymore, I’m upriver where the water isn’t muddy and the winters are much harsher and the European settlers were a bit different from the ones who settled St. Louis, but there is still enough of a similarity that I don’t feel like a foreigner here. And that’s good.

Funnily enough, the pre-Christian cultural areas that I got drawn into investigating actually map fairly well onto the landscape of my own American culture. Celtic animism and veneration of rivers meshes well, though I hesitate to offer prayer to Sequana when I’m standing at the Mississippi. I think I would like to keep them separate, out of respect. Whichever face of Gaulish Mercury it is that seems to keep pestering me has (UPG alert) an association with skill and trade and travel and crossroads, and again, that fits.

But this is not really a simple solution, and I think it’s going to require ongoing effort to balance and re-balance the Midwestern animism I’ve had all my life with the European deities who’ve only shown up in my life a couple years ago. It might be a lifelong task, and it will probably never be complete. But I’m not trying to create a legacy here, I’m not really building a religion for other people. I’m building it for me, based on my culture and my experiences, and that’s going to be different for every person depending on where they and their ancestors came from.

I hope I’m doing my disaporic faith right.

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Yes, yes, I’m already way behind on the BPB, and I’m working on my first B post but for some reason the words aren’t coming. hm.

In the meantime! Experimenting with a different kind of divination today, Bibliomancy! Dodger has put up some excellent posts about the subject and it piqued my interest, so this morning I’ve tried doing a reading from each of five books that I had picked from the bookshelf. These five hold particular meaning for me, and are as follows:

Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley (hereafter BCF)

W.H. Auden, Maurice (M)

Neil Gaiman, American Gods (AG)

Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts (RST)

Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass (AS)

So here’s what I got! (bolded bits are where my finger landed/what caught my eye)

BCF p 145: Hundreds of actors collaborated with the protagonist; the role of some was complex, the role of others a matter of moments on the stage.

M p 241: “Hullo Maurice, come in. Why this thusness?” He asked, a little annoyed, and not troubling to smile since his face was in shadow. “Good to see you back, hope you’re better

AG p 259: “Ma’am, you aren’t making this any easier on yourself.”

RST p 158: a million tiny moment fragments were being blown free from the wet grass in a fast stripe of pressure moving down the lawn from the hospital towards us. A large conceptual thing just below the soil.

AS p 471: Cautiously they looked inside and saw only the sleeping woman; so they withdrew and moved through the moonlight again, toward the shelter tree.

I think I can tentatively say that American Gods is snarky as hell and possibly not going to be of any use to me, Amber Spyglass and Maurice are a bit ehh possibly not helpful, Raw Shark Texts is potentially TERRIFYING (like seriously it could very well be stupid and dangerous to divine with that thing) and Borges is probably going to end up being the most cooperative and also varied in responses. So! An interesting first run, I’d say!

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Okay, I’ve had a rough week mostly involving The Cold That Would Not Die so this week’s post is both late and probably not as well-thought-out as I’d like.

Fair warning to start out, this is going to be a UPG-laden ramble with my sort of…cultural observations, thoughts on personal relevance, and maybe trying to draw some sort of conclusion about a little archaeological conundrum.

Today I’m talking about Amber. It’s a substance I’ve been casually fascinated by for, I think, much of my life. By which I mean I’d never really given it a great deal of thought other than “That stuff’s cool and pretty, I like it.”

And then came Jurassic Park. (the movie, reading the book came later)

I’m not even joking, that movie was the first instance of me actually giving some thought to amber’s properties, the spark that caused me to think, “hey, this means something.” The second of these instances came while reading His Dark Materials for the first time, and the revelation that the two main characters have about linguistics and similarities and differences between their respective worlds. Amber here, again, related to science (this time the development of electricity as opposed to resurrecting dinosaurs, so, a little more realistic, good job Pullman). And what I think, looking at these two sort of formative experiences, is that in my view of modern culture, my culture that I grew up in, amber has a specific spirit, a specific magical significance. It means something, and that layer of meaning is in some ways more present in my mind and more real for me than historically-attested uses and meanings from cultures that are not my own.

This layer of “amber” means knowledge, the storage and transmission of it, and a sense of enrichment through cultural exchange.

There is another layer, a more mythological layer, that has a couple of distinct solar connections. In the Argonautica, Apollonius Rhodius describes both of these connections, outlining first the myth of Phaeton, son of Helios who, through some sun chariot and thunderbolt shenanigans, got his ass killed and fell into a river somewhere in the mythical territory of Hyperborea (way the hell to the north, which corellates to the Amber Road that spread the trade of this material from the Baltic sea through most of the rest of the ancient world). In this story amber is composed of the tears of Phaeton’s sisters, burning drops of sunlight that dry on the sand and are carried along by the river. Apollonius then describes a different perspective on amber, this attributed to the Keltoi, who apparently view the material instead as the tears of Apollo from that one time he was exiled to somewhere, possibly Hyperborea, after flipping tables and killing cyclopes when Zeus killed his son Asclepius.

I have some very un-solid musings and questions about why Apollonius would attribute this explanation to a belief of the Celts, what sources did he have for this information, which Celts was he even talking about anyway, if that story is even true which not-actually-Apollo deity might the Celts be attributing amber to and that got jumbled up in Interpretatio Graeca, but, okay, those questions I cannot really answer or articulate right now. That would be a bit more digging than I’m able to do at the moment. If anyone has thoughts or perhaps signposts on that crazy treasure hunt, send them my way!

Anyway. From these myths amber has a layer that means death, burning, and perhaps powerlessness. And this is how greiving sometimes feels, a burning frustration, the impotent rage at something that inevitably comes to everyone.

Add to this layer the fact that amber occasionally entombs insects and the like in inclusions, and it gets to feel very…otherworldly. And a bit intimidating.  It’s got a bit of Mystery to it, how it can be solar and cthonic at the same time. Things to ponder!

So: Here’s an interesting thing:

Sequana is the lady of the Seine, in Gaulish (and/or Gallo-Roman) worship. We know she had a temple at the source of the river, that she was given votive offerings (lots of eyes and organs and pictures of travelers in their pointy cloaks) associated with healing, and was represented in one nifty little sculpture as a woman of high status with a diadem, standing Galadriel-like in a boat shaped like a duck. The duck -head at the prow holds a ball in its mouth. There are various scholarly thoughts on what the heck that ball actually is, whether a berry or an egg, a cake, just a ball, who knows. But there are a lot of Gaulish figures of ducks hanging around with stuff in their mouths. Like ducks do.

My UPG thoughts are that Sequana’s duck has a piece of amber, and let me tell you why. Sequana, being the deity of the river, likely presided over trade and travelers as well as healing, and amber is an excellent thing to trade and people everywhere just generally have liked it a lot since time immemorial. Also, getting into symbolism and the whole tripartite division of realms that the Celts seemed to have, amber to me is one of those substances that bridges land, sea and sky. It comes from the land but it has also traditionally been associated with the sun and you can burn it as incense, and Baltic amber is harvested from the sea.

Sequana presides at the source of the Seine, where the water comes forth from the earth and, if the iconography is to be believed, has an association with ducks and therefore the realm of the sky as well.

And, this is possibly the most pertinent bit, amber supposedly has ridiculous healing properties.  You cannot shake a stick (or an etsy search for amber) without coming up with a million and a half hits for Sooper Special Baltic Amber teething necklaces for babies. Because apparently that helps alleviate some of the pains and has been traditionally used in the Baltic countries for ever and ever? I can’t say whether or not that’s true, as I have no babies and I was not given such a necklace when I was a baby. But there are certainly worse things to use for a placebo effect, in any case.

…not really sure if this makes any sort of coherent sense, or if I can sum this up in any way that’s now “wow gosh folks I like amber a lot!” but there you have it. As far as my personal practice goes, I have a necklace of amber chips that I wear during some meditations and holidays, and I’ve had good luck burning amber-scented incense as offerings (not actually derived from amber but it has a scent profile that makes you think of amber, so).

uhhhhhhhh that’s it that’s all I’ve got. Next week will be better! And marginally related to this one I think so perhaps my thoughts will be more coherent by then. 🙂

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