The Struggle for Radical Inclusion

I’m getting very tired of hearing other opinions, especially when those opinions are openly against another person’s belief, the color of their skin, the way they dress, what they choose for themselves, or those against an entire religion. Yet, that feels like it’s all I’m surrounded by. And not only am I surrounded by those opinions I know now I have family members with those types of beliefs. And what is worst of all, it is now confirmed that people I chose to be a part of my chosen family and those I looked up to have opinions that demean and belittle others.

Each time I have heard about someone else close to me who has a believe that excludes others, it makes my heart ache. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s a story on the news about things that people are doing against each other, it hurts too. You pray for those affected and do what you can if there are monetary needs or petitions to sign. But when it gets close to home, things get really bad for me. Heartache turns to outright anger, bitterness and a whole hell of a lot of pain. But yet, when the talk from family or friends turns to those sore topics, I have still tried to be civil. I agree to disagree, or bring up reasons why things are not the way the person who is biased claims them to be. Even when my own uncle comes out against others for the color of their skin, I still try to ‘play nice’ for the sake of the family. I still try to listen, to understand, and to get them to understand where I am coming from.

There is a reason I was doing this. The thing is, one of the biggest problems this nation faces today is that we aren’t listening to each other. We aren’t recognizing there is an allowance for differences of opinions. There was a time when being ‘democrat’ or ‘republican’ meant that ideals were different, yet everyone believed in being civil, and both sides strongly felt they were doing the right thing for the nation. There was a time not too far in the past when civil debates could be held without fear and even political candidates stopped their constituents from throwing angry slurs at their opponents during rallies.

But unfortunately, those times are long over.

Today, it’s not just an opinion about whether or not to tax something anymore. Today, the differences of opinion are about large swaths of people and whether or not they have a right to education, a right to live and worship as they choose, or even just a right to exist. And I can understand why those beliefs are held. Some people that hold opinions against others do it out of fear, or they do it out of experiences they have, or they do it because that is what they were taught. And almost always those with the opinions of exclusion don’t think they are doing anything wrong. For example, I was recently told by someone that equality currently exists between a gay couple and a straight couple if the gay couple had at least a couple doctors to go and see. Sure, not all the doctors would be willing to see them because of their ‘christian’ faith, but because they still had a choice of some doctors who would take them as patients it didn’t matter if others wouldn’t see them. I couldn’t help but think if the situation was reversed that they wouldn’t think it was equal, no matter how many times they said they would feel the same way during that conversation.

No matter what it was justified it with, this person was talking about the exclusion of a human being. They were excluding another life, another spirit, another soul. They are excluding another in which, in many different religions, is believed to be that which has been made in a likeness of God – the very God they claim to worship. If that wasn’t bad enough, by excluding that person, many break a second tenant that is said in many different ways based on the specific religion, but basically boils down to ‘do not judge others’.

So here is where, in any conversation with someone whose opinion is being sliced to shreds, the cherry picking begins. Either I’m looking at something the wrong way, or I don’t fully understand the verses being spoken about, or another verse overrides what verses or holy books I’m quoting from. It doesn’t matter. In my personal belief system a human is still a human, and until they do something that clearly shows they don’t deserve it, respect for who and what they are matters deeply to me.

Automatic respect of others is radical. Automatic respect is the hard road. Recognizing the difference of opinion and accepting it (not approving mind you, but accepting) is ridiculously hard, especially in this polarized nation. But it’s what I’ve tried to do, time and time again. I’ve recently been in conversations with others that my husband has outright told me he would have immediately quit the conversation and stormed out of the room. Not because he nor I were being disrespected, but because the person was so passionate about their belief that they were right. This person wasn’t an outright hater or excluder, but they certainly were on the slippery slope to allow exclusion to happen and not find it to be wrong.

But I have to admit, even though I do my best, I still get shaken to my core. Recently in the Society for Creative Achronism (SCA), the ruler of a kingdom who has made racist statements on social media elevated a known racist to the highest honor of the kingdom, even while the other members who had a say vetoed the elevation. In another kingdom, months earlier, royalty decided to wear clothing with swastikas clearly sown into the embroidery. And today, I’m forced to recognize yet again that someone in my own household shares radical opinions about Muslims. This is someone who swore an oath to be kind to all, generous with their time, who is known as a caring individual, and yet, it seems to me now that these traits are just part of the ‘game’ that is the SCA, and not what they strive to be in real life. This is truly disheartening and sad.

Unfortunately, because I’m getting hit by this over and over, it makes me wonder about my own personal guidelines on dealing with these people. Do I give more benefit of the doubt than I should? Do I need to follow the example and turn away from anyone who even speaks about exclusion being right, even though it may not be outwardly racist or bigoted? And if I do, doesn’t that just mean that I’m becoming a part of the polarization, and not part of the solution? It breaks my heart that I have to consider these things. I have watched my own parents become bitter as they got older because of the beliefs and actions of others, and swore to myself that I would never become that way; that I would always seek the good in others no matter how hard it was to find, and only quitting if the actions of that person became threatening to me, my friends or loved ones.

Now I don’t know if I have the strength left in me to not be bitter.

But for now, trying to be open is the requirement I have set upon myself, not only as a personal ethical code, but for me, a religious one as well. So I keep trying. I keep listening. I keep trying to get both sides of the story, and try to change others minds when I can. Many are perhaps a lost cause. Probably many more than I’m willing to admit to myself right now. And perhaps there may be need of more distancing myself from those who don’t want to see another side. Perhaps those whose beliefs include exclusion of any kind should be distanced, their businesses not be patronized as much as I had before. And perhaps I withdrawal from the SCA even further than I have previously. And perhaps these things aren’t being done on my part out of malice or anger. Perhaps I simply need to do them for my own sanity. Perhaps then I might have more mental energy to engage someone who might actually listen and come to understand.

I can still hope.

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The Trial of the Flame

flame_by_vexix1887
Photo from Deviant Art

Well take my hand, and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Oh take my hand, and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

Now well within the cold dark battlements,
Black raven calls my name.
Never’ fore have I explored this backside of my brain.
There amongst those misty ruins likes this port of death and pain.

Take my hand, we’ll make a stand,
Through the trial of the flame.
Well take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

Gonna take this long trek down the shoreline.
Where the sea awaits me there,
If you do not fear it friend,
You’re ‘bout as mad as can compare.
Lost souls, and ghosts and phantoms are there awaitin’ in the rain.
So take my hand and walk with me through the trial of the flame.

Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

How does it happen now good lad
Black raven calls your name?
On this dismal voyage through a world that reeks of death and pain.
So clear the smoke it’s vastness so infest your mortal brain.
Take my hand I’ll lead you through this trial of the flame.

Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

 

 

I may not have all of the lyrics of this song correct, but they are as close as I can get them from listening to Garold Amadon’s album “Tillerman’s Rye”.  This song for me is speaking to a lot of trials that I seem to be going through lately; with the fibromyalgia, the changes in my social groups, my work and in my spiritual life.  It’s funny, Tillerman’s Rye came out over 20ish years ago now and those lyrics are still as meaningful now as they were then.

We aren’t meant to be stagnant beings on this planet.  We are meant to learn, grow wiser and to help others.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to hurt along the way as we stretch ourselves.  We can only try to keep moving forward, keep pushing, keep striving for what is right for us and for our communities.

 

(Song by Garold Amadon, off the album “Tillerman’s Rye,”  available at his website)

Poem: I fly

The draft around me
I feel the sky
Wings outstretched, taut
I  bob and weave, leaning  into the wind
I see my prize

Water splashing around me
I dive in
Chaos reigns and could kill
Only a moment I have
I claim my prize

Pounding hard now
I regain my height
Heavier than before
But yet I overcome
I have my prize

I shall live a day more

Death…and Detroit

Language warning here – just sayin’…

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 31: Anthony Bourdain films Parts Unknown Queens in New York, New York on November 11, 2016. (photo by David Scott Holloway)

Anthony Fucking Bourdain. Gone before his time from a disease that doesn’t give a shit if you are rich, are poor, physically healthy or have the best supportive care network on this earth.

I’ll admit, I thought Bourdain was a big time jerk and arrogant ass until he took his show to Detroit for the first time.  And I realized when I watched that, he ‘got’ it.  He ‘got’ Detroit. Bourdain loved Detroit. It didn’t all come out on that show that night, but I could see it.  He understood the grim reality of those who live there.  He understood their loss, he understood their resilience, and he understood how they just continue to move forward when everything feels so very much stacked against them.

“Detroit looks like motherfucking Detroit.  As it should.” he said in the show.  “Those who watch this show, smugly thinking, “That could never happen to my city” are dreaming.  Detroit’s problems are America’s problems.”

I’ve been a “Metro Detroiter” on and off for about 17 years.  I wasn’t born in the city, but still I have a fondness for it and it’s hardships.  I’ve been angry about the ‘ruin porn’ and I was pissed as hell about the fact that Detroit entered bankruptcy and screwed the pensioners that still called the city home.  I’ve driven 8 Mile, Telegraph, Gratiot and 696 back and forth to work, worked in the RenCen retail areas and when I was really lucky, took in the occasional Wings game at the Joe.  I even scored a pair of tickets to the Auto Show at Cobo center for my boyfriend and I once when I barely had enough money to scrape by.  That was back when the auto industry was still doing somewhat well.  But that changed soon enough.

And now, after hearing the news today, I now understand a little better why Bourdain got Detroit.  And perhaps I understand it a little more than the average person does.  Because depression fucks with you just as much as the people of Detroit have been fucked over by the auto industry, politicians, the state of Michigan and by billionaires like Matty Moroun making riches even now off the city’s blight.  Depression sucks your will to live ever so slowly, making mincemeat out of the joys you once held dear, making you think that you aren’t worth the air going into your lungs.  It hurts, and it hurts bad.

“Detroit’s Problems are America’s problems.” Bourdain said.  He’s right there too.  Suicide rates in the past decade have gone up 33% in Michigan, compared to the national average raising by 30%.  Both are grim statistics.

Perhaps one reason Bourdain had a love of the resilience of Detroit is because he willed that resilience within himself.  If he had anything like the depression I’ve battled with, I’m sure thoughts like that crossed his mind.  I bet he had days where he was proud of himself and his resilience, beating those demons for another chance at another day.  I bet he’s thought of the Detroiters he met while he filmed Parts Unknown on those days where the battle came to a draw and thought, “if they can go one more day, so can I.”  And he’s probably thought of those Detroiters on the days where he couldn’t bear to go on, wondering how the hell they actually did it; how they survived and made it bearable day in and day out in an a place that he compared to Chernobyl.

Maybe he was trying to get some of that resilience to rub off onto him.  After all he was working on a documentary about Detroit before he died.  And he consistently spoke fondly of the town in almost every interview, even going so far to say he wished he could say he was from Detroit, because that would be the coolest thing he could ever say.  In one interview he described Detroit as:

“Beautiful. Magnificent. The boundless hope and dreams and optimism of its builders is reflected in the architecture. I feel anger seeing the extent to which it has been allowed to crumble. I feel hopeful. And I feel a tremendous appreciation that people have stuck it out and are proud of their city. They’re loyal to it. It’s truly a great city and the font of so many important American economic and cultural improvisations and movements. That it could have been allowed to come close to failing is a national disgrace.”

And the fact that he, like many other people in this nation couldn’t openly talk about the depression they faced is also a national disgrace.

Now, in the aftermath, perhaps knowing that this larger than life person who said he had the best job in the world lost his battle means that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I fight my own battles.  Perhaps I can recognize a little better that my own struggle is real, and it’s hard enough to take anyone down.  Perhaps I can start being a little bit easier on myself on days when it’s the worst, and push off those harder tasks until tomorrow, when I might have a bit more mental strength.  Maybe I can try to find even more healthy coping mechanisms to keep fighting.

Maybe this Metro Detroiter can find that resilience Bourdain was looking for.

Lifeline Suicide Prevention Hotline

To Write Love on Her Arms – Help by topic page

Finally Coming to Terms with My Own Paganism

countryside daylight grass hd wallpaper
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Lately I’ve come to the realization that my personal pagan theology doesn’t ‘fit’ with anyone else.  I don’t call myself a wiccan, druid, heathen, Lokian or even a polytheist or pantheist.  Sure, I can fit into all of those labels from time to time, but they don’t always describe my personal religion or my spirituality.

That realization has at times given me comfort, but other times I’m distressed by it.  Not having a label means that I don’t ‘fit in’ with a specific pagan group.  And while being solitary is awesome, there are times you just wish that you had a group around you to celebrate a holiday, full moon, or other special occasion.  And don’t get me wrong, I do have pagan friends, but because my path is so personal, none of them will ever ‘fit’ into my personal paganism.  Even my husband’s paganism doesn’t fit my own.  His has his own personal beliefs and history with specific forms of divinity that very much revolve around his forge.

I don’t think I’m the only one that fits in this category of not-fitting anything.  Many people in my pagan community have to use more than one label in order to describe their specific paths.  Sometimes it’s because their paths span pantheons, sometimes because they span different traditions.  The more paganism grows as a religion, the more labels are going to be necessary to explain the differences.  And the more argument is going to occur about what the definition and intent of that label actually is.

So perhaps not having a true label is the right way to go.  Perhaps in a way that is where paganism needs to be headed.   After all, we are all unique individuals.  We all have different talents and needs.  We think differently from one another.  We  communicate differently.  It makes perfect sense that our paganism would be different.  Even if we practice in the same coven, that doesn’t mean that we do our personal ritual and disciplines the same as our coven sisters and brothers.

 

Our Different Paths: Too different to connect?
Our paganism is also going to be different because of our own past experiences.  There are those who came to paganism late in life, while others were born into this belief system.  Still others had different training prior to joining together in a specific tradition or style.  Those are all things that will influence the individual work that we do.

So if we are all different, then how can you say any particular style or tradition is the ‘right’ one?  How can we say if you don’t do this specific style of heathenry, or that you honor a specific God it means that you aren’t doing it ‘right’?  Really, you can’t.  Because one person’s version of heathenry is not going to be right for someone else.  You may visit the same topics as someone else when trying to figure out your path, but if a particular practice doesn’t feel right to an individual,it may not be because that individual isn’t trying hard enough.  It may just mean that the particular practice doesn’t fit that individual.  Instead, something else will have to be found that ‘fits’ better.

There are always caveats to any rule in paganism.  So even though I say perhaps we need to get to a place where labels aren’t needed, I know there is a caveat here.  We pick and choose our paths, and perhaps some of us will choose to work under a specific teacher.  in those cases, perhaps a specific label WILL fit for the time they are with that teacher, or that coven.  There will be people who are happy in a coven and that is where they choose to stay.  There will also be people that follow a certain heathen teacher and choose to stay on that specific path under the guidance of that teacher.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But I don’t think that particular style of paganism is meant for everyone.

Growing up in primary and secondary school here in the United States, it was pounded into my head that we are a ‘melting’ pot of people from many different areas of the globe.  People came here to start a new life.  They brought their culture with them, and that culture morphed into things we see and take for granted today.  Mardi Gras/Carnival, St. Patrick’s day,  and Paczki day are great examples of this.  While somewhat watered down or modified, these are still ancestral traditions that have made their way into common holidays celebrated by the general population.  It makes perfect sense to me that our ancestors would also look to us to follow other traditions in ways that would celebrate our ancestry as a whole, and not just a specific piece of that ancestry.  Add the matter of oathed or claimed ancestry and an entirely new facet of someone’s personal paganism is born.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that my paganism is going to be exactly that; mine.  Others have given me the labels of Lokian, Heathen, Witch, Shaman, Spirit Worker, Druid, Bard, Spiritualist, and perhaps they all fit, in their own way.  Perhaps more general terms would be better to explain like the Venn Diagram discussed in John Beckett’s essay on the Big tent of paganism.

 

The important bit that’s easily forgotten
But there is one very important part of this conversation that seems to get missed.  The definition of a religion for a pagan means that which who you are as defined by your actions.  Being defined by our actions means we own our beliefs.  We own our beliefs so strongly that we act upon them.  We don’t just debate them or talk about them for a couple hours once a week and go back to being whoever we were before the conversation.

So when someone decides that someone else’s belief is wrong or judges that belief, it isn’t something easily dismissed.  Because it’s not just a judgement about a simple religion.  We have internalized our belief systems enough to act upon them, so that judgement is about someone’s very nature.

Perhaps that is why we seek people out to worship with in the first place, and why we get so heated about others criticizing our beliefs or the labels we give ourselves.  And perhaps it’s why I feel so very radical when I say my own way is good enough.  Perhaps it’s because too many of us have been brought up in another way, where the only religious validation that we may get is from others.  And now we are asking others to validate our beliefs as before, but our paganism is so individual, we cannot get that validation.

John Beckett has recently written posts about pagan unity, and what paganism will look like in the future.  I agree with his optimism.  But I do believe that more of us have to come to terms with our own personal systems of belief being exactly that – OURS.  Let’s recognize that we are all unique and different and come to terms with that.  Let’s also recognize that everyone else’s religion is just as valid as our own before we open our mouth to judge something we don’t understand.  And let’s work on getting these two skills down first before we start attempting to unite as a whole.

 

 

Poem: Loki Speaks – An Explanation of my Oath to the Flamehaired One

I’m putting this out slightly under duress, but perhaps it’s time it comes out.

I’ve said I have an oath to Loki, and I do.  But the type of oath I have is one that in the past people have scoffed at, especially with the Marvel Loki being Tom Hiddleston, who is absolutely very easy on the eyes. I of course am talking about the oath of a Godspouse.

Pagans who don’t believe in Godspouses are going to scoff and claim it has something to do with either with a person not being mentally there, wanting attention in some way, kidding themselves, trying to feel more important than they are..and lots of other reasons.  Especially when it comes to Loki. When the Marvel Loki first hit the silver screen there was a litany of love for him from many a young lady. And that litany was full of fights between ‘spouses’…”He likes me better” and other youngling nonsense.  And frankly hearing all about this craziness is just what helped me push all of this under the rug as long as I have.

Pagans who believe Godspouse relationships happen often point to the belief that a Christian nun is “married to Christ.”  or that Christ is their ‘bridegroom’.  I don’t remember the actual quotes from the bible right now to get more specific than that, but I do know they are there. Pagans who believe in that type of relationship have also pointed to other cultures and oracles in the ancient time as well as the writings from that time to prove a spousal relationship is true.  And I don’t doubt the writings are there. For me however, I simply decided that if it worked as a relationship for someone else to have with deity, then that was what worked for them and I really didn’t have a right to say either way. I didn’t understand it, but perhaps I wasn’t meant to.

And once I made up my mind about whether or not a Godspouse relationship was ‘real’ or not, it happened.  A candle to Sigyn, the first one I had lit in many years in tribute to a Goddess for helping me through the fibromyalgia was put on my house altar.  And it was left to burn the entire night.  Loki took that as the open door. And he showed up in my dreams that night.  And the next night.  And the next night.  And every time he showed up, I forced myself to wake up. Because I didn’t want him around.

My husband thought I was sick as I barely had any sleep those first few days.  Until I told him what was going on.

After lots of talking, and lots of discussion and the figuring out of issues, I oathed to him as a mentor/teacher. The work I did in that relationship with him was very interesting, and it helped me tremendously. A year later after the mentor relationship was almost up, he said he wanted more.  And the Godspouse relationship was discussed…and discussed…and discussed…and finally taken.

I didn’t tell anyone about it back then.  Actually I only started talking about it openly a couple of months ago.  But now that it’s come up more than once in discussions on chat boards, I figured it was time to get more information and my stance on it out now.  And one of the reasons I’m talking about it now is because of the assumption that everyone almost automatically makes about it.

The Godspouse relationship I have with Loki isn’t about being his ‘bride’ as much as it is being in a relationship with someone who understands who I am. It’s a relationship based on understanding the deep and dark issues that I’ve had to deal with for a very long time.  it’s the type of relationship where the couple work through those things together. And the people in that relationship both heal and grow. Now perhaps Loki doesn’t need to ‘grow’ as us humans do, but I still think he gets something out of this.

As anyone who has been married for more than a couple years will tell you, husband and wife relationships are not just about romance and sex. They are also very much about talking and about getting things out in the open. In a healthy marriage, you can talk to your spouse about everything. And you must constantly adjust to new mannerisms, new issues, and new unexpected things popping up. This is a person that you are living with 24/7.  You get to see them at their worst, you get to see them at their best, and you get to see them in everything in between.

My relationship with Loki is very much like this. He has access to every part of me, and because of that I have nothing I can hide. And in return for that access, he has helped me get through some pretty rough things. He has helped to lift barriers that I could not move. He has calmed and taken care of me, and he has made me stand up for myself. He has put me in positions where I had to trust him completely, and he has shown me that I have more control than I think.

So where does the poem come into this?

As it did several years ago when he asked for more, he asks it of me again. And the first step I guess was to write this post and share the poem I wrote a couple weeks ago. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope I have made you think about something that is dismissed too easily as nonsense.

Loki Speaks

I hear you my love
Your call beckons me
What is it you require?
What, darling wench, stirs thee?

Do you not feel me enough?
Do you not feel my touch?
Dare I touch you further?
Take you every time you beckon?

I could, you know
Drive you to madness unknown
Drive your soul from corpeal form
Make you only mine forever

Yet you do not start at that
A price you ‘ve paid before
You know my madness
And revel in it

What do you ask of me?
What do you require?
More lessons, perhaps,
Learn to play in the fire?

No more lessons have I to teach
Your spirit is as whole as it shall be
Your strength now must be grown
Knowledge the reward for the persistent

Do not fear my love
My madness shall be your comfort
My chaos shall ease your stress
I am here, I will not leave my prize now

You may not feel my presence
You may not heed the heat of my desire
But I am just a breath away
You are and always will be connected

Remember these things.
Remember my touch
You will do well in your endeavors
I shall simply watch and enjoy

Poem: Hail to Thor

Hail to Thor
Whose lightening frightens
As  it reminds us
Of how needful  we truly are

Hail to Thor
Whose thunder awakens
As it pulls us
Out of mundanity for a moment

Hail to Thor
Whose storms bellow
As they tell  us
How small we  are

Hail to Thor
Protector of Midgard
As we hear his call
And see his power

May we always be respectful of his protection