Gods & Groups

AT THE LAST RITUAL, which was Imbolc, while we were having our customary snack afterward, I asked the Grove if we would like to give to a refugee assistance group as well as our traditional (for Imbolc) donation to the food bank. In our world order, the deity of Imbolc is of course Bridget, Whom we see as a protector of the poor as well as the midwifery and blacksmithery aspects. And our winters are fiercely cold; and apparently there is a donation slump in the post-Christ-mass non-Pagan society.

So now is when we give to the hungry in Her name because who needs intercession and assistance, really…… it’s like the famous historical personage who’s name I don’t know (my, that fellah said a lot, almost as much as ‘anon’, neh?) who was told that the new-made laws were not ‘anti-poor’ and responded ‘I see; the rich cannot sleep under bridges nor beg in the streets as well’.

I looked around at the Grove members present; one said that our focus should, in her opinion, be local. Another countered that since we had specifically spoken to Her about the refugees we should back up our petition; the first speaker agreed and said she would be satisfied if the amounts were unequal.

“Excellent,” I said “60/40? 70/30?” The first speaker nodded and I glanced around again.

As it happened, we had a guest present. “Are you going to vote now?”

“No, we are not a democratic group. We are mostly socialists and few in number; we run by consensus only.”

We only act if we are all acting together. If we don’t have agreement we act as individuals (like when I cursed the animal abuser named ‘Seagull-Ripper’ by my son—I only reported to the group because we are all invested in the river-shore’s well-being. They were guardedly relieved that action had been taken although they were uncomfortable with it).

Anyone can do this, you don’t have to be Druids nor follow the Old Gods. Form a group of like-minded people, convert a friendship group to action, mention in a social setting that you would like to take some action and draw in the people who like the idea. Talk it over and make a plan you all are comfortable with, then do something.

In the same post-Ritual chat ‘n snack, the visitor commended us on our work after I reported on the ongoing dialogue between me and the public lands bureaucracy about our planting trees at MidSummer Ritual. (Be you sure that we will guerrilla if we are not granted permission; if we are given permission, however, we will also get free trees given us). It’s not hard; discussion fosters ideas and the person most interested in the idea makes a plan that the others participate in.

judith-one
Seed Bombs in the making

It’s fairly easy to convert talk to action in a small group: it’s impossible to lose transparency, non-participation is obvious, adjustments are fluid and quick.

I was heartened and moved by the post-inauguration Woman’s March; big numbers are good for making big statements. A lot of people show a consensus that is hard to ignore. But actually, a lot of those marchers were small action groups that had planned together what they were going to do.

All of those little stories: the choral group who had practiced over video and had never met in person until they were marching, the people holding up street-width group banners, my house-bound friend who made and sent a lot of pink hats and all of her sisters who did the same, the people who put on skits or donned costume….

Following leadership is the old way. If you elect a leader, you abrogate your involvement in the process. Yes, I belong to a nation and I pay taxes. I expect my government to engage in sewer maintenance. If my provincial leader ran on a ticket of free post-secondary schooling I would vote yes–that’s something I and my several friends would have difficulty implementing ourselves. But organizing garden plots in the yards of interested people and sharing around the produce? That’s something we can do ourselves. Teaching the dominant languages and bureaucratic form-filling in the community centres? Again, something we can do ourselves.

judith-twoI must admit, I don’t belong to those two exampled action cells myself, although I am aware of both of them and know some of the people who do those things. I don’t have dig and weed capability, but have shared seeds and knowledge with other action cells that are forming to de-grass yards.
What I do best is talk to Gods and Beings, and talk to people who don’t trance, and receive messages about what it’s like. Just like my Grove members that didn’t want to curse “Seagull Ripper” themselves, there are quite a few radicals and ecologists (not mutually exclusive groups, though) who don’t want to acknowledge that the world is full of Gods and Spirits, but can hear the World Song faltering nevertheless. They acknowledge the convergence of our goals while insisting on the divergence of our beliefs. But action is still furthered.

It’s like before I retired. One evening I was in the lab working when an assistant came down the hall.

“We have an intractable cat in treatment,” she said “and the technician told me to come and get you.”

“Okay, I can stop what I’m running.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Hold.”

“But I hold!”

“Right,” (now we’re in treatment…)”I’ll hold the front, you’ll hold the back. Now we’ll just wait a moment and I’ll tell the cat it’s all right.”

So the cat quiets down and we draw blood. The assistant is still confused.

“What did you do?”

The treatment technician, a person of science if there ever was, said,

“We don’t ask ourselves that question; Judith is doing something that works, go and get her when we’re having trouble. But don’t listen or you’ll fall asleep.”

“I can’t talk to aggressive dogs,” I cautioned “just fear.”

Eco-terrorists can operate without a speaker-to-the-Earth, but if they acknowledge that having a speaker/believer facilitates success, things work better. And, to the believer, a different level of action is undertaken. In the believer’s world, the Gods, if willing, lend Their aid to the work. In the unbeliever’s world that isn’t the case, but if they perceive that the work goes better with a believer along, then the end is achieved without their having to question what is going on. And getting the work done is important to both the believer and the un. In this case consensus of belief isn’t needed, only consensus of action.

judith-three
Follower of Manannán macLir sharing trash-picked elementary-school lunch scraps with his friends

In our Druid Grove, we have a framework of liturgical format that stays the same from ritual to ritual. When the Guiding Druid is about to declare what the Holy Day is, how celebrated, and Who will be addressed, ze always begins that segment with the call-and-response:

“Why are we here?”

 

“We are here to honour the Gods!”

That is all there can be at bottommost: expression of belief and participation. To the believers, the interactions between people and people are necessarily secondary to the interactions between people and the Gods. The critical (as in the most important, not as in the need for negative input) responsibility of the Gods-Speaker/s of the group is to facilitate the communication with the Gods. That should be the impetus that brings all the worshippers together in a ritual and helps to inform all the participants in a God’s-interesting undertaking. Pagan endeavour references Beings different from the humans present, and the attention of the humans present at Pagan events or the Pagans present at human events should be turned towards something other than themselves.

By not acknowledging the larger-than-self referential a poorly focused Pagan brings upon hirself an additional level of culpability. The Gods are not being honoured and the work is not moving forward; the positive outcome of the group activity is ‘larger-than-self’ and so is the possibility of negative outcome enlarged if the believers are not carrying their two agendas successfully.

judith-four
With one hand I pick trash for the environment, With the other I pick trash for the Gods.

And, since I have belief, I also believe that the Good Gods act to constrain the UnGods as well as the people who choose against Right Action. However, I believe that They do it following Their own agenda which is not mine, not at my behest, and often not comprehensible to me. Our communication is imperfect; I have found that a shining and unexpected asset of group (rather than solitary) communication is how much more stable and clear the lines of communication become over time in a group. What works clicks into place with practice more smoothly, and a whole group of troubleshooters is standing by to root out what doesn’t work and suggest alternatives.


Judith O’Grady

judithis an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred looks pretty amazing. Want a copy?

Mór

The Morrígna over me by day,

Bedb

In the guise of the crow.

You will tell me what to say,

Reveal what I should know.
The Morrígna over me at night,

Macha

On the wings of the owl.

You will show me second sight,

The path of right action now.
The Morrígna over me with power

An Mór Righan

Terrible, raven-black and glistening.

From Whom wisdom? Now Her

Voice speaks; who cannot be listening?

hawthorne

 

 

Judith O’Grady

judithis an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

Lay Down Your Weapons

Some years ago now, I wrote a book about speaking to the Gods, not too surprisingly titled ‘God-Speaking’ and I, as a lifetime first, went to and presented at a Pagan conference.

Heady stuff. I read a passage, talked a little extemporaneously, and then opened the discussion up. As it turned out, the locally-famous University-Professor anthropologist keynote speaker had attended my presentation and he asked what for him was a very cogent question,

“How did I know that I was really talking to the Gods?”

He offered me some choices that seemed, to him, applicable:

  • Accuracy of my God-driven prognostications
  • Ability to manipulate outcome because of my ‘in’ with the Gods
  • Recognition (and, implicitly, respect) by other humans of my God-bothered status.

I had to stop and stare at him for a moment because his qualifiers were so odd-sounding to me when applied to my perception of religious occurrence….

“No,” I explained, “those are all external-to-me yardsticks you are suggesting. My system is internal— I believe in the Gods so when the Gods speak to me I believe that the Gods are speaking.”

Then we had a back-and-forth about the system by which I differentiate Gods-speech from wishful thinking and delusional ideation and closed the discussion politely, but I could see that he was wholly unconvinced (after all, he is an anthropologist, not a believer).

However you qualify it, whatever logic you prop it up with, wherever you reference lore or Deity to support it, belief is always a circular argument. Fundamentally, belief is a feeling. Feelings are like weather— here they are, now you must accommodate/plan around/take into account what the weather is before you act. I live in an area with a lot of weather— sometimes it’s literally killer cold in the Winter; in the Summer it’s often hot and humid (although not lethally so); we have earthquakes intermittently.

That’s what belief is like, I think. You have ‘strong convictions’ (aka deep feelings) about your beliefs and the actions that result from your beliefs can be devastating. But, unlike weather and feelings, we control our actions. No matter how much I believe that there are Spirits in everything, that the Gods speak to me, that the Earth is sentient I am never forced (by myself, by my beliefs, by my Gods, by the Spirits) to act, although sometimes feeling and ethics push very hard.

Quite a while after that very first time I presented at a Pagan conference (it still makes me paralyzingly shy but only for a moment, generally) just a few weeks ago (think of that device in old-style movies where the pages of a calendar flutter past, although that’s almost inexplicable now) I was talking to my sister and she alluded to the numerous times that she, as a child, was invited to attend church services, go to Sunday School, or participate in Vacation Bible School (we were raised by an Ethical Humanist and a lapsed Catholic, so we had absolutely no religious instruction as a part of our home culture).

“Why did it never ‘take’, do you think?” she said, “The families who took me had belief, but it never rubbed off on me….”

We thought about it for a moment

“Father trained us in logic and argumentation from when we could speak, and there’s a logical disconnect between the teachings of Christ and the dogma and culture of whichever church that we would be unable to look past.” was my opinion.

My sister wouldn’t have challenged the minister in the pulpit (that would be rude), but otherwise only reason and factuality applied in our young world. I can still make a discussion between us end in laughter by mimicking my father, “That’s Not Quite…..CORRECT. (devastation follows)”

dickjanePicture to yourselves the bitter argument my third grade teacher and I got into when I felt she failed to refute my disagreement about the ethics of Dick and Jane— her position was, “This is the RIGHT answer!!”

And that is the essential position of the average church-goer, “My beliefs are correct!”

My position (as per Dick and Jane as well as life) was “I think I have a defensible argumentation, a reasonable conclusion, a cogent opinion, here….. can you refute it?”

….in case you’re wondering….

*Dick, Jane, and Sally all went to bed. Dick fell right asleep; Jane was wakeful but quietly waited in bed for sleep to come; Sally kept getting up, demanding drinks of water, fretting, etc.

The teacher believed and got everyone in the class but myself to agree that Dick was ‘best’. I argued that Jane alone exercised self-control and so was ‘best’.*

Neither I, nor Teacher Mary (I went to Quaker schools where, in the facile and untrue name of equality, we addressed our teachers by their first names), nor the slightly-famous anthropologist can effectively argue about belief. She believed Dick was the ‘best’; the anthropologist thought real-world results must support belief. To them it just is or isn’t, no two opinions can apply.

But I believe for myself alone and the anthropologist for himself. The believers who took my sister to church events (although they were offering her a for them lifesaving chance) and my sister declining to believe can only be sure and in control of their own actions, not anyone else’s. Which is as it should be.

All of the above people, as well as all believing people everywhere, have a corollary belief that their beliefs (although all different and often conflicting) bring well-being and good outcomes into their lives. This is one of the main reasons (apart from the saving from hell-fire to follow) that people proselytize/share their beliefs. Even the anthropologist offered me good outcomes as the obvious support and lure for belief.

The disconnect is where you draw the line between selfishness and help from the Gods. Both spell casting and prayer for getting a job, finding the right home, winning the lottery et al always have the other-hand outcome that someone else does not get those benefits. Even spells/prayers for health and healing presuppose that those are the best results. But it is likely that we do not know what the best results are, globally, and even locally we may be wishing for short-sighted results.

Well, results in my real life do support my beliefs, but not in the way the anthropologist envisioned.

Speaking to and acting for the Gods benefits me— I achieve things I wouldn’t attempt without Their promptings, I perceive things differently through Their telling, I understand things that I found baffling before. But I’m not more right, nor richer, nor more respected through the agency of the Gods. I’m not even, strictly speaking, happier. I am more fulfilled but less comfortable, so how one defines ‘happy’ obtains here.

The distinction between ‘crazy’ and ‘God-bothered’ also isn’t about happiness or rightness. External to the Gods and our interaction am I participating in a meaningful way with ‘normal’ society (i.e. eating regularly, fairly appropriately dressed, maintaining a household, fulfilling my obligations) and not acting outside my previously-held moral system nor assaulting people against their will? That is, are the responsibilities I have taken on for the Gods ‘benefiting’ me? Benefit in the sense of not eroding and perhaps enhancing the well-being of my personal-self package rather than benefiting me by making me rich, famous, or ‘right’.

I hold that it is my responsibility to dedicate myself to Beneficent Gods, although clearly I have a fairly moderate standard about what’s beneficial. I undertake things which are challenging and difficult for me because They ask me to. I can see, although without complete understanding and narrowly, that the ends They are promoting through me are in agreement with my own ethical standards (Theirs are not fully comprehensible to me). As well, They acknowledge the necessity of my having down-time in which to eat, sleep, and interact in a non-God-driven way. And, in the end, I can refuse a task or association without punishment although, of course, I am also refusing whatever beneficial broadening of my character or widening of my understanding would then have occurred. In dedicating myself to one or some of the Good Gods I have a responsibility to listen and try. They have a responsibility to speak and instruct without abrogating my free will.

In my perception, the directive ‘EveryBeing has Free Will’ stands hand-in-hand with the Prime Directive ‘Don’t be a Douche’ and forms the root from which all ethics spring. So when I say, “I am sent messages by the Gods” and other-person says, “You are delusional” there doesn’t have to be an intrinsic disagreement between us; we are both making statements of belief. Although either one of us could easily slide over the line into douchey ass-hattery in the tone, delivery, or content of those statements they are not conflicting— I could be both delusional and God-bothered at different times, I could be receiving messages no matter how many other people thought me to be delusional, I could be straight-up crazy and other-person’s opinion wouldn’t change that.

Those infrequent times that the Gods send me a message for someone who’s not listening to Them I always try to make that perfectly clear, “This is what the Gods are sending… but you must make up your own mind about either believing or not and then about either following Their advice or not; I don’t have any stake in the exchange, it’s between you and Them.”

That example’s easy; so is the one when a believer says, “My God’s going to send you to hell.” Who hasn’t been consigned to the Tedious Lake of Fire? Generally, the fact that I don’t follow ( ‘believe in’) their God is what started the cascade and not really an answer. Strictly speaking, I do believe in their God but I don’t acknowledge Him as my God and so I believe that He has no power over me. Sometimes that’s a little too abstract for hell-fire believers; my fall-back is that if, contrary to my belief, Hell-Fire God is the Supreme Being than judgement is firmly stated to be His prerogative and hell-fire believer isn’t actually going to get a vote about me at all.

As I said, those are the easy ones. There are moderately challenging ones like ‘As a biologist, you cannot believe in Gods.’ even though I clearly do. My answer is that evolution is a tool of the Gods of Creation, although frequently I then have to explain how evolution really works. Finally, on the gripping hand, there are the difficult ones; the ones we feel strongly about. (Not that the believers consigning me to the Tedious Lake of Fire are wishy-washy about it but you need deep feelings on both sides to start a battle.)

  • ‘Politics belong in the expression of my religion!’ ‘Politics and religion are quite separate!’
  • ‘I identify as a follower of a well-known God. I am a racist/bigot/anarchist/an owner of a BMW…’
  • ‘I follow That God! Ze does not permit followers that are pick-one-of-the-above!”
  • ‘Some people who associate themselves with Specific Pagan Religion are racists/bigots/anarchists/owners of a BMW…’
  • ‘I am an important/dedicated/long-term member of that religion! How dare you call me a racist/bigot/anarchist/an owner of a BMW!’

These are beliefs. The individual expression of one’s religion is necessarily belief, and cannot effectively be argued. People do, of course, argue about belief all the time because their beliefs are important to them but it always and immediately devolves into unreason… ‘You can’t believe that!’ ‘I do believe that!’

Even invoking the God of Logic does not work; look at what happened to people identifying as ‘Wiccan’. Eventually the followers of British Traditional Wicca had to create a new name in order to distinguish between themselves and ‘Self-Initiated Wiccans’.

Give it up.

You can’t stamp around inside other peoples’ heads; they’re not accessible to you. You can try to slide in a nice, well-oiled idea but sometimes it’s just in one ear and out the other. You can legislate against hate-speech and hate-action but not hate-thought. You can argue ideas but not with unsupported accusations.

scarecrowWe all have beliefs. We should try to express them with grace and cogency, to use internal logic in our belief system, to listen to well-expressed differing opinions, to accept that beliefs differ. However, you cannot beat me to death with a straw-man nor can I grab it away from you and beat you to death with it— scarecrows aren’t that durable.

“I hate what you said, so you’re a hateful person” is just a bad weapon, set it down.

Judith O’Grady

judithis an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


Pagan Anarchism can be purchased here.

The Importance of Bees

I have always been fascinated by bees. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting inside a Forsythia bush (like Lilacs in colder climates, Forsythia hollow out as they grow making little ‘houses’) watching the bees carrying purses of pollen on their legs. Once I stood in front of a butterfly bush catching bees in my hand, holding them for a moment, and then letting them go.

It was quite a while before one finally stung me. As enchanting as they are to a child— the fuzziness, the cartoon roundness, the mysterious sense of purpose— the more you learn about them as an adult the more wondrous they become.

Biologically, they are one of the pivotal beings of the Earth; without them pollinating, the wasteland awaits. And, for humans (particularly Northern humans), they are agriculturally vital as a source of sweetness. Tree sap (Maple and Birch predominately) and honey are the only sugar sources in the cold North and, although sugar has been demonized by post-moderns, back when we were hunter/gatherers and early agriculturists sweetness was hard to come by and prized.

Bees are also one of those Magical, untouched species (like most cats) that co-exist with us but unlike actual domesticated beings (dogs and dairy cows) have not been twisted away from their wild beings.

They are meaningful to the feminist as well, exemplifying the imagined workings of an all-female egalitarian society. Well, yes, there are drones and a queen but their rôle is limited. Drones appear to some human observers to have an idyllic life; they laze around sipping nectar, do no work, and then mate. But Nature is a stern Mother; drones are created by parthenogenesis only when they are necessary, the act of mating kills them, and if there are any left at the end of the Summer they are the first to be kicked out of the hive in preparation for the cold season.

The queen when anthropomorphized seems to be an absolute ruler with a crowd of sycophants filling her every need, but actually she is trapped and kept from moving about by the ladies-in-waiting around her. She only flies once in her life, gathering up all the sperm she will need from the ‘successful’ drones (who then die). She then spends all the rest of her time laying eggs— if production falters through sickness or age the workers will create a new queen and kill the old one. It’s the workers with their heads full of instinctive behaviour that actually run the hive and make honey; and they are all, like Maoists in blue pyjamas, visually identical sisters.

Bees also have great religious significance to me. Bees and Ravens are the two kinds of messengers from the Other World that also live a real life in our world. Ravens, when not living in the deep woods, eating carrion, and getting grumpy with others, carry messages from the Gods to our world. But, just as the raven becomes a ‘real’ bird when ze crosses the boundary, the message becomes an unusual occurrence, a ‘coincidence’ and can be ignored or mis-interpreted. Bees, on the other hand, do not change there to here and bring back intangible good things in the pollen sacs on their legs— contentment, good health, healings. As one of the Ogham, they associate with Ur/Heather and are an omen of good fortune.

Judith Bee 5A number of years ago the Goddess to Whom I am dedicated instructed me to interact with people more. Something I find difficult since I am paralyzingly shy and don’t really like doing things for the first time ever. My son winkled me onto the Internet to chat, argue, and make friends but that, as it turned out, was not enough for Her.

“Go out into the real world and interact with people face to face in religious endeavour.” She admonished.

Since I am an Irish Descendant I picked Druidry and attended the only ‘Druid Grove’ then extant in my city. It, like many North American Groves, is affiliated with Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)

ADF is like and unlike my personal religion, of course, but is largely about praxis and does not demand many actual beliefs: fairly comprehensive polytheism, absence of religious circles and watchtowers, non-emphasis on the dualtheistic binary, and Indo-European pantheons. Add to this a heavy emphasis on lore, and I’m mostly satisfied. ADF does, however, use a strict framework of steps, actions, and sequence that all public (all Holy Days are mandated public) rituals must follow. Again, nothing too startling: we prepare ourselves for ritual, we address Mother Earth, we prepare and open a gate to the Other World, we invite the Kindreds and Deities to cross, give offerings, receive an omen, are given blessings, thank Everyone, and close the gate. It makes a nice sameness— when I attend some other Grove’s ritual I can easily follow and feel comfortable knowing what will come next.

As you will see if you look at the website, there is lots and lots of information. When it gradually became clear that my injunction from the Goddess required establishing a Grove, I carefully copied out the sequence and headings of the ritual as a part of my preparation for writing a religious service. In the same way that ADF mandates action but not belief, these are immutable steps but how we voice and enact the moment are left up to the organizer. I write formal poetry and so wrote the standard form of our ritual in poetics, and I am a Found-Object Artist (doesn’t that sound fine? I make things out of junk and repurposed stuff) and so made all the ritual objects/props myself.

Partly, I see the entire ritual as an offering and so want it to be a welcome one to the Gods and addressed Beings. Additionally, I see it as a piece of theatre and so want it to have ‘punch’ as well as religious meaning. Finally, since sometimes I slide towards personal belief rather than ADF dogma I want to be as enclosed by the recognizable and ‘correct’ framework as possible.

Our Grove, as well as many Groves, move about— we go inside in the Winter /Dark Half and outside in Summer/the Bright Half and we are sometimes asked to provide ritualization for opening or closing events altogether elsewhere. So, on the one hand, we need meaningful religious objects, on the other hand they must be available and moveable.

The preparation for opening the gate to the Other World is a dramatic and pivotal step and a good example of my varied impulses and criteria; ADF describes this as “re-creating the cosmos” and explains that “Sacred Center is most commonly represented as Fire, Well and Tree”.

So, every Grove needs a well and few have one available in their ritual space nor will it be a movable object. Many Groves use a container of water but dramatically a bucket of water is a chancy and unconvincing prop. I made a ring of many-shaded blue silk waves/ripples/drops that packs into a fresh-water clamshell— the officiant pops open the shell and a big loop of bright blue ‘water’ falls out.

Fire can be problematical as well– sometimes Groves are in public parks where fires are not allowed (I was a part of a ritual where the police came to insure the safety of the park), someone has to specifically be a fire-tender and not wander off, sometimes it’s raining. So we have a staff crowned with a gold plastic fake-mistletoe bunch. The officiant reaches up, pops open the wrapped-around string of Mardi Gras pop-it beads, and a 3′ multilayered pennant in red, orange, and yellow gauze streamers out. After the ritual I have to lay it carefully out on a table and fan-fold the gauze back inside the red brocade wrap and reset the poppers, but at the moment of ritual it is very satisfying.

Judith Bee 4The Tree is the most important of the three symbols. I started with a big stick, original about 8′ tall but (no surprize) it wouldn’t fit in a car that way so I sawed off the bottom to make it more manageable. On the top is a representation of Fionn’s Window.

And inside that a tree made of wire and beads. (The streamers hanging off the bottom are the roots in this world).

When I first saw the bee patches that Alley Valkyrie made, not only was I enchanted by the art, but I saw a way to enact ADF-mandated ritual in a way aesthetically pleasing to myself. The ‘order of ritual’ describes the action as ‘unveiling’ which I wrote as:

Unveil yourself, Sacred Tree,
Grow in all worlds, one in three….

But ADF recommends incense. I don’t personally like incense, it smells like something objectionable burning to me. But, my prejudices aside, lighting incense as a stage action is terrible. Either you have to have an already-going fire at hand (see problems above) or you have to bring out a distinctly non-magical lighter and then everyone waits for the incense to catch. And sometimes it doesn’t and then what!

But I realized that I could get a bee patch by sending a donation to the Wild Hunt (glad to do it, actually I gave and the Grove gave both) and use it and the extra, dark green, leaf-patterned scarf I didn’t need when I made the personification of our Watershed Spirit and make an actual veil!!
Triumph of art and aesthetics (jazz hands here)!

Alley graciously helped by sending me an extra compliment of the right kind of bee patches. As you can see, the bee flying UP towards the Other World has less-fancy passage spirals, while the bee coming down FROM the Other World has extra-glittery trails and sparkling gifts of intangible good things attached to her back legs. I could say that I included my dog as a size comparison (she is a ‘boxer mix’) but actually I just couldn’t resist a good photo-bomb.

As the ritual begins, the scarf is looped over the top of the Sacred Tree (the Irish term for the World Tree is ‘Bile’ pronounced bee-lay, nothing whatever to do with your liver) with the roots tucked inside.

Judith Bee 3The top (in this position) of the scarf has three (the Magical number and what I had around) glass horseshoes attached, filled with embroidered french knots of luck, with five (same) tiny pewter bee buttons trailing french knots of good things weighting it down in the up position because when the Bile is outside we don’t want the veil to blow off prematurely.

When the tree is unveiled, the officiant picks up the top/end and drops it down the front.

Judith Bee 1The Being beside the Bile is the Personification of the Spirit of the Watershed the Grove sits in, whose un-needed scarf is the veil. Ze is largely made of gleanings as well.

I buy some components, of course. I try to buy things from artisans if I have to buy something new. I buy things from thrift stores, and post-season craft store sales, and I trash-pick. But a surprising amount is given to me— I have a big section of free-standing shelves in our crawl-space storage area loaded with carefully sorted junk. Stuff that looked appealing years ago or that I didn’t need for a project, stuff picked up outdoors, other people’s discarded projects or de-stashing, junk that looked appealing to other people so they gave it to me…..

My belief is that everything has the potential to be Magical because the entire World is both real and Magical together. Every scrap the Gods make holy is no longer trash, but also every ritual implement in our Grove’s rites is a voice acknowledging our dedication to trying to do better for the World. We go out in the cold rain to pick trash or slog through the mud to plant seeds— we don’t schedule rain days, we just go when we planned to and Ottawa has not-the-nicest weather. About one in four events is actually pleasant….

When we act we are then re-sacralizing our intention for Right Action so that when the Keeper of Sacred Space holds up a stick with a plastic ornament and cloth tatters on one end or lowers a re-purposed scarf with sequin strings sewed on the Gods will visit, and Imbas will fire in our heads.

And perhaps more people will pick trash, and make things out of other things, and try to fix things when they break. Or not buy someone else’s Magic, but fabricate their own. And listen for the voices of the trash telling them that the Whole World is one system. Does the trash have voices? Only very tiny ones that are easily ignored, but they are a part of the World-Song. How big a part is up to all of us.

It’s like the dating advice that on a fancy, impress-you date the thing you should pay the most attention to is how your date treats the server, particularly if something is less-than-perfect. I could commission an artist to make me a one-off religious bibelot and have, at deservedly great cost, a more beautiful glory-piece than I could ever buy from Pagan-Artifacts-R-Us or even make myself. But that isn’t the meaningful decision; tiny lifestyle choices are also religious acts.

Will I carry my plastics back home or throw them in the trash when there is no recycle bin handy? When I unwrap something outside do I put the wrapper in my pocket? Do I trap unwanted insects in a glass and carry them outside? When my clothing wears out do I cut it up for rags, and does that work because it was natural fiber to start with? When I bought it, did I check the country of origin?

No Nazgûl will swoop down from the sky screaming “How was that fish caught!?!”; I am left alone in the grocery store holding either the cheap or the very expensive can of tuna.

Judith Bee lastJust do one thing. Then another……..


 

Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

The Three Bears

I receive messages from the Gods but I don’t think I’m particularly special in this; the Gods Who wish to talk to people do so to many people frequently. I have a natural affinity for hearing Gods which is like being able to sing or draw— something anyone can do a little, some people have a talent for, and anyone who wishes to improves with practice. The hard part is being able to interpret the God-sendings into coherent, action-oriented directives and using divinatory tools is one of the ways I use to make sense of the sendings. As well, divination allows me to ask specific questions and get directed answers. Since I am Diaspora Irish I use a traditional Irish divination tool, the Ogham.

DuirI spent some years doing professional divination with a set of Ogham cards that I had developed. I developed the design on the cards, that is, not the tree significator nor the traditional kennings although I did a little substitution for North American plants instead of a few British Isles ones that don’t grow here at all.
So there I was at a ‘Psychic’ show, doing readings with ‘Ancient Irish Tree Cards’ (in all the hundreds of readings I did professionally over the years only one person actually knew what ‘Ogham’ was) and the activities director of a local retirement home came by and asked me if I would come and do a little talk about Irishness at the home on Saint Patrick’s Day. I’m open to talking, but on the day of the presentation I drove up to the home and thought, ‘Whew!! This is a pretty upscale nursing home– I’m not sure I feel comfortable with this….’
Soldiering on (in solidarity) I was escorted into the library and given an easel

(I started with a recitation of an adaption of ‘Saint Patrick’s Breastplate’:

Here in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness
All these I place
By the Gods’ almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

with large-sized copies of appropriate cards for each invocation).

After that I was talking about the imagery in the various pictures and told the story of why the wren is the king of birds.

One old geezer who had clearly spent a long long lifetime of never being opposed in anything nor ever spending a moment of his time in doubt of his essential self-worth decided that now was the ideal instant for him to step up to his favourite pastime of pestering:

“This is just MAKE-BELIEVE!” he said querulously.

“These are legends, yes” I responded, “But they explicate essential truths in a fantastical format.”

“Faugh!” he said, “Fairy tales!”

Bear childThen I lost my Socialist temper (as the sparks fly upward) and countered,

“Look at the back-story of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, for example:
Goldilocks thinks of herself as a cut above the disadvantaged people living in a little cottage in the forest.

 

‘They are not like me’ she says, ‘They do not feel things the same way— they are just bears.’

 

So she feels quite comfortable eating their porridge, breaking their chairs, and using their beds. When the ‘bears’ come home and find her asleep, what is the essential truth, the moral of the story, that is the teaching lesson here?”

The Querulous Geezer was thrown off balance by the indirection and not having me straightforwardly complain that he is causing trouble or being impolite and has no answer nor does any other of the audience…

“If you take all that they have from the poor they will rise up against you and eat you.

And then one of the Nize Little Old Ladies changed the subject.

When I told the story at dinner that night, my son laughed and said,

So you’re not invited back for next year?”

It has become common usage in my family to identify what might on today’s Internet elicit ‘check your privilege’ as ‘they think we’re just bears’. It is the first move in the action that the Capitalists-in-Power use to disempower and enslave— the creation of Otherness.

On the one hand, Otherness is a completely fallacious concept— in the broad overview we are barely different from chimpanzees; the tiny differences of pigmentation, of religious belief, of sexuality are vanishingly small against the universal human need for inclusion and the push of curiosity.

On the other hand, what individual people signify as important to themselves is so wildly variable as to preclude assumptions altogether. Everyone is slightly Other— having different likes and dislikes, believing different things sacred, valuing different behaviours.

On the gripping hand all of our prejudices, our cultural mores, our languages, and the mind-set each language creates, are learned and can be re-learned at need when we are exposed to some other culture or decide that the biases of our ancestors or starting culture no longer applies. What always applies is the First Law:

Don’t be a Douche’.

No one is so Other as to justify being treated as less than ourselves.


 

Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

Her piece, “Call To The Cold Gods” appears in A Beautiful Resistance–Everything We Already Are.

I’ll Be an Ancestor One Day

So last week my son’s family were away in Calgary because my daughter-in-law’s Granny had died. This Sunday (after they returned on Friday) they came to Pagan Brunch. My granddaughter Bean (my nickname for her) darted up to greet the family friend sitting facing out and then saw me in her peripheral vision (sitting facing in) and flung herself onto my lap. As it turned out, she had gone to the funeral (she’s 3 1/2) and was having a little trouble with the concept of ‘dead’, which she had internalized as ‘unhuggable’.
“I will die one day,” I said, “and I don’t know about the hugs, but I’m sure I will often come and visit you. Do you know why I am so sure?”

“Interested in knowing” (three-year-olds often speak in words that aren’t easy to write down)

“MY Grannie comes and visits you already because you are like her. You know her as ‘Sadie’; she is my Grannie just as the person who died was your momma’s Grannie.”

Then we segued off into a discussion of me being her Daddy’s momma as well as her Nana and why her brother and my father have the same name.

Bean is very like my grandmother; my sister and myself both recognize the likeness. Sadie was a friendly, outgoing person very interested in everyone around her and quite charming as long as she got her own way. At just 16, she emigrated from a tiny Western Island to Boston all alone, and Bean is following in those footsteps; I met her pre-school teacher socially and described her as ‘pushy’, which her teacher voiced as ‘a natural leader’.

Judith Crow family
My sister (the family digitizer) sent me an old photo of myself. When I showed it to her, Bean was unsure that the little girl was me but said that the other person was familiar; she came into her room at night but when she visited she didn’t look so old and had red hair.

This supports my own ideas about afterlife; my personal gnosis is that we die and go someplace (I use the title ‘Tir n’Og’ because of my heritage– the place where it’s always Spring) where we are our chosen remembered self. Sadie would pick middle age, because although pretty little strawberry blondes wield some power, red-headed Matriarchs have command power.  While we’re in the Timeless Land (if it’s always Spring, it’s timeless, neh?) I sincerely hope that we have the skills we once had (I will be able to dance again) and those we lacked (I would love to be able to sing as well) and events unfold as they should. When I worked in animal medicine I described it as ‘the cats go to the place with endless mice; the mice go to the place where there are no cats’.

And we can come, with an invitation or a great effort, to see what living people are doing. Sadie would come anyway; she was endlessly interested in people— the family of the waitress, the spouse of the teacher, the parents of the friend. But, invited by blood and name, she surely visits Bean. As I was told and told my children as children, I tell my grandchildren stories of the ancestors.
We invoke them by name and memory, and at Hallowe’e’n we invite them to come. Thus remembered and welcomed, they remain in the Timeless Land ready to bring us comfort and advice. Made into archetypes by the primordial consciousness, they wait for an opportunity to haunt us. There are personal ghosts and cultural ones. Named and Invoked, they have a larger-than-life shadow—- why is it that no one ever accuses internet trolls of acting like Mussolini? He will be forgotten to all but historians while Godwin’s Law will go on forever.

So, on the one hand, we should be a lot more careful about Naming. Insofar as I can understand, the Navaho do not name dead people but instead use descriptors ‘your uncle’ ‘the second wife of your grandfather’ because they do not wish to attract the attention of the chindi, the personal bad traits left behind by death. This makes sense to me because my own cultural folklore never names the species of which Disney’s Tinkerbelle is one because to use the name beginning with ‘F’ is to attract their attention. Folklore also states that the F***ies (the Good People, the Gentry, the Old Ones, the People Under the Hills) have trickey use-names for that very purpose— you must be careful to say ‘my brown dog’ rather than ‘brown dog’ so as to let only your companion animal into your house. There is a beginning trend in journalism that echoes this— write about the event naming the victims rather than the perpetrators.

As well, no one is ‘the reincarnation of Genghis Khan/ Cleopatra/ Shakespeare…..’. They are still in that in-between place, being remembered.  That is the bargain that Cú Chulainn made (same as Hercules and Lugh, likely; the Rabbi Jesus, possibly)—- to be remembered forever as a Hero, but to give away the possibility of becoming someone else, someone different, someone with other attributes. That’s how I can invite my ancestors to Dumb Supper with the expectation of them coming and also believe that I might be reincarnated as a crow when I am no longer remembered.

Judith Crow Ancestor 2On the gripping hand, who is the remembered being? I’m not quite sure…  I remember Sadie (the adult in the photo) quite well but perhaps a little one-dimensionally. Bean will invoke ‘Great-Great Grandmother Sadie’ with the friendly interest and caring that the red-headed ghost has already shown but perhaps without the agonizingly embarrassing personal questions my memories include. Does Hitler become an Internet paper doll, capable only of derailing arguments?

Certainly the ghosts of memory have only the power we give them; if we only ever reference ‘the Robber Barons’ as shallow and painfully unaware of the wonder they despoiled can we disarm them? Not that pernicious Evil and rampant destructive Capitalism don’t exist and need to be fought, but that we should avoid creating soldiers for the wrong army.

Instead we should give power back to the dispossessed. Although I identify as a Druid, I qualify that with the disclaimer that all of my ancestors were peasants. I’m not a Professor Druid or a Judge Druid, I am a Skilly Cunning-Worker and I invoke Biddy Early and not Cathbad the Druid. Our Grove includes the Spirit of our despoiled watershed that flows through our ritual site.

So, when I inevitably die I will be an Ancestor. I expect Bean will leave out a tiny cup of black coffee and ask Nana to visit just as I set out milky tea in doll-house cups, premium Scotch in a shot-glass sized mug, and oatcakes on plates. My son (her father) and I recently had a charming conversation; my voice in his head often says “Use both hands!” which, when it was voiced, meant “Don’t drop that!” but he now hears as an injunction to be fully present in the moment. Perhaps Bean will hear my diatribes against the dreadful classed society of My Little Ponies as the wisdom of treating all people equally. We must find all the allies we can, from every world.

Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

Culture is a Package Deal

As a biologist, I am very aware of how systems which seem to be one being are actually a lot of beings clubbing together (like sponges) and beings that seem to be a lot of unconnected beings are actually one system (like termites).

Humans like to think of themselves as single beings, but that is not only anthropocentric but also just plain wrong. We could not digest food without our gut bacteria, for example, but we prefer not to think of ourselves merely as a life-support system for their comfort. Even more telling, no living beings at all would exist without mitochondria (google it up, they are way cool).

Mitochondria live as individual beings in all of our cells and we, comprised of these many beings, consider ourselves as a single living being and self-aware. Obviously, we are imperfectly self-aware since we can communicate with neither our gut bacteria nor our mitochondria. But this concept forms a template that we can apply in a different way.

What if we are the mitochondria and the Earth Herself is the Living Being that is also a system? She, unlike ourselves and our bacteria, parasites, and organelles, is truly Self-aware and can communicate with her many parts, as well as those Spirits of Place or Events who have come to live here on the Earth.

This is a recognized biological theory, the Gaia hypothesis, named after the Greek Goddess. Biology shies away from identifying a Being as a Goddess even when using divine names, but the theory inescapably defines the Earth Organism as powerful and directed. As a believer as well as a biologist, I add wise as an attribute.

If we look at what Earth has done in Her physical manifestation and try to draw conclusions about Her intentions, it seems that She has acted to create life on Herself. By actions too numerous to discuss at length: the properties of water, the amount and salinity of the oceans, the action of amino acid chains, global forestation and plankton, the interaction between carbon dioxide and oxygen– She has fostered the occurrence of life. Clearly, She feels quite differently about being covered with living things than we feel about our eyelash mites. I think that She loves life. In the largest and most inclusive sense, She is our First Ancestor since it is from Her seas we evolved and on Her body we live. Step back into space and look at the pretty blue ball– we are not just connected to Earth’s myriad forms through association and choice but inextricably and transcendentally a part of the one organism.

However, apart from the evolutionary motherhood of Hertha, we have another ancient maternal ancestor. I mentioned mitochondria, those lovable and delightful organelles.
Mitochondria,_mammalian_lung_-_TEMThe theory is that when the first cell walled itself off from the rest of the lively soup that was, at the time, the world’s seas that some of the bits (scientifically called organelles) that providentially became part of the cell were mitochondria. Luckily for us, mitochondria dispense energy as their waste product and thus assist us (and all other living things) in being alive. This accidental-inclusion theory is suggested and supported by the fact that mitochondria, while part of every cell, are clearly unrelated to us and have quite different DNA than ourselves or anybody else they are riding around in.

Unlike larger life, mitochondria’s DNA mutate very little and so allow science to perceive the relatedness of beings by comparing their mitochondrial DNA (mDNA for short). We get our mDNA just from our mothers; it is a part of the egg which is our first cell and our father’s mDNA is subsumed into it. So, although our fathers have mitochondria as well (every living thing does), when we compare our cells we are comparing only our mother’s mDNA. This mDNA comparison, startlingly, shows that today’s human beings all have one maternal ancestor who lived some one to two hundred thousand years ago when modern humans were getting started up.

Of course other species of people (Neanderthals and some other humanish types) and other humans like herself were alive with her and but only her line of descendants successfully carries on to today and ourselves. Her sisters didn’t have daughters– or her granddaughters didn’t have daughters, it’s not an instantaneous thing. Knowing that our mDNA comes from her doesn’t explain why she is our ancestor; all speculation from ‘fabulously successful mutation’ to ‘random chance’ is possible but unprovable. But there she is, her legacy in every one of our cells, still largely unchanged.

This Universal Mother (known to google-fu as ‘Mitochondrial Eve’, a title I find too twee for acceptance) is our oldest ancestor, genetically related to us but otherwise profoundlydistant in both time and perception. Her brain was very much like ours and so then the WAY she thought was much the same as ourselves but WHAT she thought about was unimaginably different in specific but, I feel, akin to us in general. She was thinking about what’s for dinner, what her children were doing, how to understand the people around her– much like Facebook without the cats. I also believe that her emotions were similar to ours– wanting love, finding comfort in friends, feeling the bonds of kinship– and that she, called up to the edge of the Timeless Land Beyond Death by our remembrance of her, will speak to us about those all-encompassing human issues of the ideals and feelings that we share.

One of the giant philosophical problems in the struggle towards Right Thought and Right Action is and has always been the acceptance of universal personhood.

Historically, the first step in subjugation or conquest has been that ‘those people’ (‘that sex’, ‘that colour’, ‘that handicap’) are not really people, not like us, and that what we wish to inflict on them is different than it would be if inflicted on us. But it is obvious that we are all far more like each other than unlike (we are also far more like chimpanzees than not and more like lettuce than not but, really, one step at a time). We are not only all just ‘people’ but we all have one shared ancestor which makes us all one extended family. It sounds like a vague mystical pronouncement to say ‘Mother Earth made us and we are all related’ but, as it turns out, Science confirms this. We all have mitochondria (‘we are all made of star-stuff’ ) and we humans are all descended from one specific many-great-grandmother. When we invoke ‘the ancestors’ we are all sharing the same one.

Where does this lead us?

Well, we are all connected. As I have demonstrated, science shows us this. But if you (along with myself and Jung) believe in the collective unconscious, we are also connected in a less scientific way as well. Jung’s theorizing about the collective unconscious in 1916 definitively predates microscopic examination of cell organelles, gene theory and the double helix, and most proto-human anthropological discoveries, but gives us a different way to perceive that we are in communication with each other and our past. Simply put, Jung posits that all humankind shares a primordial collective understanding that allows us a commonality of thought. The same idea that I presented— that the Mitochondrial Mother felt about and responded to her surroundings in ways like us— but without the DNA. One person’s whiteness compared to another’s not-whiteness is trivial since we’re both similar to lettuce, cellularly. Sadly, however, I haven’t been able to think of a catchy slogan….

‘All Lives are Indistinguishable…But Let’s Pay Attention To The Ones At The Low End Of The Scale Until All Lives Are Valued Equally’ just doesn’t dance along well.
‘All of Us And Lettuce Too’ seems a little obscure.

So we’re all in the same club, ‘humans’, and none of us get to be exclusive founding members (I read dated English mystery novels for relaxation and often bump into that odd pronouncement, “Ours is an ancient family”, like my forebears were somehow new); how does that impact our behaviours? I have raised chickens; you put an order in with the hatchery and get a big cardboard box of chicks. They are all just a few days old; you take them home, set up the heat lamp, feeders, and waterer and then tip the box out onto the henhouse floor. The chicks all scratch and peck two or three steps
away from the box, huddle around the heat lamp, and take little beak-raising drinks from the fountain. All the rest of their lives, no one has to teach them anything (nor do they learn a great deal, the other side of the coin).

Chimpanzee_mother_with_babyPeople? Not so much. Just like other primates and many other animals, if they aren’t taught how to be themselves they never learn. Humans are so far down that evolutionary path as to create a hot-button twitch in biologists—

“Instinctively I knew/felt/responded/understood…..”
— causing the biologist to shriek “Not the Case!!!!” and sometimes fling down written material or turn off devices or irritatingly (for the non-biologists) correct speakers.

Humans have an instinctive fear of falling. It makes them startle and grasp and probably is connected to infant primates swinging through trees holding onto their mamas’ fur.

Babies have a few more (rooting, not breathing when immersed, etc) but adults?

“Instinctively I startled awake when sleeping relaxation caused my arm to slide off my body” is about the only accurate statement possible but, oddly, that’s not what most people think of when describing instinctive behaviours.

Where does this lead us?

We learn our culture, every bit of it. It’s not really a part of our collective humanness hidden in our unconscious mind. And every part is connected to the other parts (like the termites and sponges I started off with) and it works as a whole; you can’t snap off a tasty, glittery bit for your use and leave the rest behind. We’re all in the same club, but it’s the club of not-knowing. Or, as I have said to many a plastic-hat-wearing drunk,”If yer Granny didn’t teach you the words to ‘Danny Boy’ then shut the F up!”


 

Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).  She also has an upcoming piece in A Beautiful Resistance

Do You Smell Smoke?

By Judith O’Grady

When my son first introduced me to the Internet,
“Judith, Internet….. Internet, Judith”
“Hello! Let me be trollish and overwhelmingly narrow-minded…”

I chatted for a while on a multi-religious site which, while not all bad (made some friends that I have to this day), did have the disadvantage of having several different Christian boards as well as a Pagan one. I understand that for many Christians proselytizing is an important tenet of their religion and I did use ‘Xian’ and refer to God as ‘She’— this was years ago, so I perceived the best fall-back pronoun for ‘any one god’ as feminine; today I would use ‘Ze’.

So I drew fire to myself but I enjoy arguing and was interested, as a person not raised as a Christian, to understand the mainstream attitudes.
But, !Gods above¡, it was repetitive. Over and over, I was consigned to what I took to calling ‘the Tedious Lake of Fire’ even though the Book clearly states that the decision rests with Yahweh (or perhaps Jesus) .
hell-lake-of-fireAnd the proselytizers were using a common reference text for their arguments so I found myself having arguments over and over again, which is less fun:
“If your house was on fire,” they would say, “wouldn’t I have a moral imperative to rescue you?”
“You merely believe that my house is on fire. I, who am in my house, perceive it differently— your belief doesn’t give you the right to throw water on my couch.”

Sometimes, more poetically, I would describe my house as being surrounded by beautiful, flame-coloured poppies and not on fire in the slightest. No actual beliefs were ever harmed, as far as I know, although I did effectively shut down discussions about women’s right to choice by describing the act of abortion as ‘sending the babies back to God’.

I am a fervent believer in Free Will (as is even Grumpy-pants Yahweh if I’m interpreting the Adam-and-Eve story correctly) and, much as I enjoy a throw-down discussion, I prefer to leave other people to have their own opinions as long as they’re not hosing water on my couch nor stomping around in my poppy-filled yard.

So, now that both I and the Internet are more technologically sophisticated, I can read blogs by some Big Name Pagans and rejoinders by Others. All of them out for blood but armed only with the little plastic swords that come in club sandwiches or holding olives in martinis:

“You can’t call yourself ‘Something’!! I call myself ‘Something’ and I don’t want to club in with you!!”
“If I identify myself as ‘Something’ you can’t stop me!!”
“The way you do ‘Something’ is WRONG, I do ‘Something’ differently!”
“My references for ‘Something’ are IMPECCABLE!!!”
“The Gods told me ‘Something’!”

Really, I say to myself, we are not in third grade, this is not recess, and we are not choosing sides for a game of kickball.

Then I had one of those terrible, dead-of-the-night realizations— I was feeling the call to proselytize! If people want to argue bitterly about definitions and usage, why should I concern myself? I can choose to not engage, after all. Why did it bother me so much?

Then I remembered the arguments (also many years ago) in the fine first flush of the feminist movement:

“I’m a feminist!” says upper-middle-class person, “I advocate for more woman CEO’s and more funding for woman’s college sports teams.”

“What about a living wage for waitresses and health aides, stiffer laws and enforcement for spousal abuse, and better social services for children living in poverty?”

“…….I don’t want to be in that club, not THOSE women…… ” says the white, well-educated feminist although generally using quite different words.

Why am I bothered? Because it’s real and imminent; the time wasted arguing about trivialities is not there to waste.

FiresThe WORLD is on fire. Human beings have messed up, the Gods are telling anyone who will listen that time is running out, Earth Herself is about out of patience with the despoilers…..
Every human on the planet should be doing something (not ‘Something’).

The other day I read a cartoon (on the Internet I do not have to be exposed to news, I can get emailed a daily group of nothing but cartoons) that cited Keurig cups as waste and one of the top comments complained that the responder did not want to be heckled at this site, just amused.

So what I’ve been hearing while reading the recent squabbling is “Not THOSE believers, those zealots, that rabble— I want to be an incidental Pagan (or Polytheist, or Whatever)”

Get off the couch, we’re coming with the hose.

Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

The Quality of Mercy

Photo by Ed Schipul (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo by Ed Schipul (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Most people’s knee-jerk response to a question of external ethical systems (are good and evil relative or absolute?) is that morals are human-derived and cultural. On the one hand this is true— in humans everything except fear of falling is learned and therefore culturally derived. On the other hand it is false. All human ‘laws’ are actually justifications: because you have transgressed/ been convicted /are guilty, society as personified by myself or my nominees is justified and right in this punishment. As is most always the case when justification is employed, the justifiers (or ‘right’) are scraping up a bunch of quibbling props to allow them to behave badly towards the guilty party (the ‘wrong’). ‘In this case’, ‘Ordinarily I wouldn’t’, or ‘Now you have forfeited the right’ are all just politer circumlocutions of ‘I know I am acting wrongly, but’ because at heart you know you are dishing out to someone else what you wouldn’t eat yourself. On the gripping hand, it is the impulse towards kindness and consideration, towards mercy— the kernel of ‘nice’ inside the shell of ‘right’— that defines good.

The other knee-jerk response is that (as the absence of light is dark) evil is merely the absence of good and, like moral systems, exists only inside the human mind. Sad to say, belief in Incarnate Evil is an integral part of my world view. Although light (again physics intrudes unpleasantly) has odd properties, it is, however, a real thing— measurable, stable, and part of the external world. We see poorly ‘in the dark’ and cat’s eyes see ‘better’ (more effectively) in low light but the light is the same; the difference is in our equipment, the rods and cones in our respective eyes. If we typify humans as= ‘moral’ and cats as ‘amoral’ then it is our differing ethical equipment that allows the distinction.

Part of our equipment is extrapolation— if a cat wants to sit where another cat is sitting ze will use stern looks, pushing, threats (both auditory and physical), and finally whacking-on-the-noze. Humans sometimes use this same cascade but the civilized expectation is for request and negotiation before pushing. Humans can teach cats with moderate success to not scream and whack in the presence of humans. The cats are employing an external moral system in exactly the same way that many humans do— ‘if I am seen to be doing what is forbidden I will be punished’— the guilt lies in discovery.

Cats extrapolate slightly— if they are not aware of humans they will scream and whack freely, although they will stop and pretend no whacking was occurring as soon as they realize their mistake. Humans do this as well (although they do not break off their fights to groom) but humans can carry this one step further if they choose. Humans can place themselves in the other point-of-view. ‘I would not want to be stuffed in a trash can by someone twice my size‘ ….. ‘perhaps being twice the size of someone does not justify pushing them around’. Cats (as far as I have ever seen) never do this, humans sometimes do.

This extrapolation, the assumption of commonality, is the first step of goodness. Nothing in it actually supports Right Action— if a bully fully and unreservedly expects to be abused by those larger than ze than any action is acceptable. As well, if I like cilantro than I am completely justified in making everyone to whom it tastes like soap eat it too. Giving other humans the choice of self-direction is the other side of ‘moral law’. Free will is everything’s birthright. Not that every being gets to keep their inherent free will; since it is the fulcrum on which everything pivots it is under attack constantly.

On the one hand, systems and individuals try to grab up the free will of others— my laws, my beliefs, my culture, my ‘more powerful than you’ allows me to dictate your behaviour, your beliefs, your right of possession. On the other hand, people constantly tell themselves lies— the laws I live under, the beliefs taught to me, my powerlessness/ unworthiness constrain my thoughts and actions against my will. People search long and hard for ‘masters’ who will accept the responsibility of taking away the power of decision from their followers.

But first, their followers let them.

On the gripping hand, when someone takes away another’s free will by force or when someone denies themselves their own birthright and gives their will to another, they are choosing. When they choose to act (or decide not to act, only the other side of the labrys) their action reverberates— they define how they want the world to be, they pick their own rightness or wrongness, and they inform the Gods and make an offering of that action. It seems a ridiculous weight to put on ‘throw down the wrapper/put it in your pocket for later disposal’ but everything counts. The lie that ‘this is trivial, when it’s important I will make a different choice’ is one of the oftenest-told. A little thought will almost always indicate right action. (sigh) It’s almost always the (slightly or immensely) more difficult action.

The prime directive (don’t be a douche) and the first law (everybeing has free will) are the ideal that underlies not only all human moral systems but also, to some extent, are reflected in the Gods’ interactions with us and each other–and so they are neither culturally learned nor human based.

Sometimes when I discuss my archaic beliefs I am informed with pious condescension that “the Gods are not human”, by which the people I am talking to generally mean ‘the Gods can use dictatorial force and pre-emptive actions and make arbitrary demands if They want to‘. And of course They can because They are not human and are much more powerful than we as well as being largely inscrutable to us. Sometimes our powerlessness and incomprehension seem to make us unable to tell Them ‘no’ when They ask with Their Large Voices (and sometimes we go crazy or die with the ‘no’ on our lips) but They always ask.  Examination of multicultural lore shows us this.

The Father of Lies and His Minions, the crafty lying F***ies, have to obtain permission from their victims. They, the ultimate free-market capitalists, unhesitatingly tell lies about their offers but if they can convince people that rotten husks and stagnant water in a hovel is a magical feast in an other-world castle, they will honestly come through with the husks and water. Like robber barons throughout time, they will laugh through the cigar smoke and assure each other that those poor folk do not feel things as they do (I’m not a douche and you’re not one either) and that if only they weren’t so stupid and not-really-like-us they would be one-of-us (only everybeing we give ‘being’ status to has free will). Even Yahweh, the toughest game-show-host ever, is playing ‘let’s make a deal’ with Abraham.

This we read in lore; what is undocumented belief on my part is that the Good Gods (not Those who act with demonstrable ethics, They all do, but Those who act for the betterment of Their acolytes) are more powerful than the Not-Good UnGods. And that They are aware of and amenable to an on-going communication (as in ‘I speak to You who have often spoken/ Let the bond between us be unbroken’). When I am threatened by Evil or by my own stupidity, often the Good (although fairly demanding) Goddess to Whom I am dedicated will nudge aside the worst outcome:

The Hand of the Goddess over me,
The Gods between me and harm.
Let it be so; so let it be-
Your power works the charm.

 

Judith O’Grady is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’). She’s also the author of God-Speaking.