The Anthropology of Religion (the obligatory Science & Religion post)

Jun 30, 2006
One of the things I really respect about current Paganism is the attention being paid to actual history more and more often. For the most part, we've stopped trying to believe that modern Wicca was passed down in its current form since before Christianity came to Europe, we've stopped throwing around huge numbers from the Burning Times to aggravate our own sense of persecution, and we've accepted how little we know about the distant past with which we connect ourselves. And I don't think this diminishes the importance or the depth of Paganism at all, to acknowledge this lack of continuity; it only gives us a better sense of who we are and what we're striving for. Paganism has started to give the respect due to historians and anthropologists, but I can't help but wish that respect would flow a little more freely both ways.

I studied anthropology in college, and I might go back to it in grad school, and while we were pretty damn big on relativism, that belief that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and cultural constructs, we were also big on science. Understanding not only why someone would believe the things they do but how they could hold such a depth of real, passionate feeling for their beliefs was something my advisor tried to pound into us from day one. I may have learned more about faith from our class on apocalyptic cults than I ever learned from years of churchgoing and soulseeking. But despite the constant reminders that religious people have feelings too, you never know when you might accidentally insult one of your classmates, there was always a sense of "otherness" to the discussions of religion. Religious people are not us, was the implication. We are scientists.

We talked about religion, surely -- you can't study people without studying religion. We talked about studying religion, too, how to observe and analyze without giving offense. We talked about magic, in terms of the primitive or, what is now considered to be the less offensive term, "non-empirical" cultures. We even talked about Evans-Pritchard, a British anthropologist who studied the Azande in the late colonial period and worked so extensively with their religion that he said he almost grew to believe it himself. (Reading between the lines of his book, the "almost" in that sentence is hardly warranted, but it has never been acceptable for a scientist to believe in magic, so one can hardly blame him for withdrawing from his position in publication. Indeed, I'm impressed he admitted so much.) Through all of those discussions, though, the otherness remained. I wanted to apply the anthropology of religion to my own faith, but it never worked that way. The classes themselves made it impossible.

Oh, I learned a lot of things I could use to make comparisions with. I learned about the origins of the term sympathetic magic. I learned about Evans-Pritchard and Frazier and Graves, but I also learned how emphatically wrong those men were, how useless they were in an academic context, and how I should strive Not To Be Like Them, to be objective instead of empathetic, to think of religion only in terms of What They Believe and not what I believe or how it affects me.

I was very, very good at this, to the point where I very nearly wrote an ethnography of online covens or Pagan discussion groups and probably would have been acceptably academically objective. To someone of a more traditional religion, I'm not sure it would have been as stifling as it was to me. But Paganism, unfortunately, comes out of the time period of the early anthropologists, and has, over the years, borrowed a great many of those things that anthropologists are supposed to dismiss as old-fashioned and useless. Paganism believes what anthropologists do not, that there is a unity to the universe, that there is a divinity to nature that goes beyond the immediate life-sustaining effects of crops and fields, that magic is real enough to cause people to do things for its own sake.

These are distinctions that emerge in some branches of anthropology, I will grant. Postmodern ethnographers have much less emphasis on objectivity and more on representation, and some forms of evolutionary theory are almost mystical in their descriptions. Mysticism, however, does not go over well in a field that is still sometimes desperately trying to prove itself a Science, and the term was thrown around with great disdain in several of my classes. As well it should be, I suppose; mysticism is not a scientific explanation, and should not be used as one. I don't believe anthropology and Paganism are incompatible, and I wouldn't keep trying to make it work if I did. But I do still have trouble separating the idea of Humanity as a whole from the idea of mysticism, and my anthropological training makes it unbelievably difficult to appreciate almost anything written about pre-Christian cultures and religions from a non-academic viewpoint. I know I would be more succesful in both if I could manage to integrate my anthro studies and my Paganism more clearly, but it's a constant struggle sometimes to treat both with the respect they deserve.

Almost an Update

Jun 27, 2006
I want to apologize for the silence around here the past couple of days and let y'all know that I haven't given up on this (as I have so often before). A weird combination of things has kept me away from the computer, but I'm working on a post about my academic experiences and another on devotion, so I should have one of those up soon.

The new system of meditation is working well, which is one of the reasons I haven't been posting, because when something works well I don't feel the need to complain about it, so I have no blog fodder. ;) Yesterday, as part of my visualization exercises, I started working with the images and sensations of a place, the basis of the Classical ars memoriae. I've been fascinated by this technique ever since I first heard of it, which at its most basic uses a set of elaborate visualizations in sequence to help memorize lists of things -- be it grocery lists or rhetorical points in a speech. The student develops a base location which can be filled in with symbols of what you're supposed to remember; in the Middle Ages they would use the stations of the cross or the architecture of a cathedral. I've decided to use the route I used to take from my flat to Eyre Square to school and back when I lived in Galway. I've been astonished at how clearly it comes back; either my visualization technique is already vastly improved, or the memories stuck much better than I thought they had.

I started this blog in hopes that it would motivate me to do more than just think about my Paganism (I know, I know, start a blog to avoid writing?), so I can't complain about the turn I've suddenly taken, but clearly I need to work more on the balance between doing and writing.

Conversations with the Hell Man

Jun 23, 2006
At school we had a fantastic Hell Man. He was as good as they get, as far as I'm concerned -- a clean-cut, conservative-looking, articulate guy who sat on the junction of academic and residential sides of a small, liberal school with a giant sign that said "The Wages of Sin is Death." You couldn't miss him. You wouldn't want to, either -- he knew his stuff, and he believed in it, but he was also a good debater and generally a pretty decent guy.

His methods leave something to be desired, of course; I had to defend him to my Intro Religious Studies class once, most of whom had never spoken to him, because they'd all judged him on the basis of his sign. It's a damn offensive sign, I'll give you that. And it represents some damn offensive beliefs. But it did what he wanted it to, which was to attract enough easily-offended people to keep him entertained and enough amateur theologians and philosophers to make the argument interesting.

I had a couple of really good conversations with our Hell Man in four years, and listened in on a couple more. I remember distinctly standing outside my dorm on a late spring day, my urgent need to get inside and dump my bags and let my brain turn off for a couple of hours halted by his presence. I told him I was an eclectic Pagan, and he told me that a religion that just lets you do whatever you want all the time isn't a religion at all. That was the fundamental end of that argument, though we went back and forth for probably an hour more, because I just didn't know what to say to that.

When he said that to me, I got very defensive. After all, with a sign like his, I was pretty sure I knew what he meant. The concept of sin is very basic to Christianity, and that's one of the reasons I gave up on it -- so many things Christianity labels as sinful I see as good times, at least in moderation. I don't think the point of having a religion is to tell you what not to do, and I think the best thing about the pluralistic society we live in today is the ability to shop around for a religion that meets your needs -- in other words, if you want your religion to tell you what not to do, you're welcome to take that path, but it doesn't need to be mandatory.

After thinking about it a little while, though, I came to the conclusion that he's absolutely right. A religion should include a system of morality, and that shouldn't be simply "do whatever you want." Even the Wiccan Rede adds "An it harm none" to the beginning of that statement, and while that doesn't exactly make for a comprehensive moral code, it's a long shot from "anything you want." The difference, I think, is in how the Hell Man and I think of what religion should tell you what to do and what not to do. Christianity, especially the Christianity of the sorts of people who sit on street corners to argue with people, has a fairly substantial list of things that you shouldn't do which is based mostly on their inclusion in that list. There are things you shouldn't do even if you yourself can think of no better reason not to do them than "my religion says I can't."

I feel like my moral system is much more personal and deeply ingrained than that, and nothing about Paganism tells me I shouldn't do things except things I already know I shouldn't do. I should respect others and all other living things, because the Divine is everywhere. I should support my community and my faith, because we are stronger together than we are apart. I should care for the environment, because it is part of the universal Mother that gives us all life. And that's a far cry from doing whatever I want. I fail to live up to it quite a bit, but just because I can't always meet my own goals doesn't mean I don't have them.

I only have one real regret about that conversation -- that it took me so long to see his point, and that I still don't believe I could have made that argument to his face. It grates for me to agree with a conservative Christian, as I'm sure it does for other Pagans, but I don't really think I should feel that way. Common ground is important if we're ever to stop hating each other, and even if conservative Christians are unlikely to stop hating Pagans we shouldn't hate them. This is why I read blogs like Real Live Preacher and Slacktivist and Hugo Schwyzer, which all post from a politically liberal but a Christian viewpoint -- because they give me the opportunity to try to understand and overcome the almost instinctual objections I hold to some of their views. But I also read them because thoughtful, religious people all have a connection and a similarity, no matter what their religion, and these blogs both got me through some spiritually empty semesters at school and inspired me to start my own. Multifaith dialogue is almost impossible here in Middle America, but blogs are a wonderful stepping-stone.

Merry Midsummer

Jun 21, 2006
A cheerful and fruitful Solstice to everyone -- The Wild Hunt has a bunch of links to interesting-looking articles on Midsummer celebrations. (And a happy Yule to those of you in the Southern Hemisphere!)

The longest-day-of-the-year thing is really getting to me -- at my latitude, the same time frame lasts for over a week. I don't mind the light, but the tedium of waiting for potential employers and potential landlords to get back to me is making this Midsummer rub a little raw.

I'm also taking this holy day as an opportunity to reinvigorate my practice. As I mentioned yesterday, I started practicing Paganism almost eight years ago. When I started I was enraptured by the ceremonial aspect of it, all the tools and altar setups and ritual garb. I still love those things, but I haven't used them in several years. I learned all the ceremonial bits, you see, but since I was purely self-taught, I never did much with my own mental and spiritual development. I never really moved beyond some light meditation and the energy required for circle work. For the longest time I compensated with writing and reading, and I gave myself the excuse that school was getting in the way, but I don't have that excuse any more, and it's time to start again.

Learning & Borrowing 2: Looking Back

Jun 20, 2006
My catchup on Deo's Shadow continues, and this time I became annoyed with the Christopher Penczak interview on Shamanic Witchcraft. (Contrary, aren't I?) I confess, first of all, that I studied a lot of the anthropology of religion in college, and as I've mentioned before, anthropology isn't the greatest basis for a faith. It is, however, a great way to deconstruct a lot of arguments about authenticity made within the Pagan community.

Two main things bothered me about Penczak's discussion of Shamanic Witchcraft. First, he talks about Shamanism as a return to the "core beliefs" that date back to the Stone Age practices of Shamanism and Witchcraft. I don't think I need to point out the biggest flaw in this argument -- after all, if we can't know for certain what our Celtic European ancestors did... It seems obvious when you think about it, but it's hard to realize if you don't read enough of it -- anything written about the Stone Age was written by anthropologists and archaeologists, filtered through their understanding of the world, and interpreted via things they know about. We take cave paintings and particular colors and selections of herbs to be indicators of Shamanism, yes. But we do that because they are tools of Shamanism in other, modern cultures where we can ask people directly what they mean. It's possible that these things do not indicate ritual use at all, much less ritual in the way we understand it now.

This argument is also related to the assumption that the older, more "primitive" a culture, the simpler it is. This is patently not the case -- the Aboriginal magical system is deeply complex, the political organization of tribes in sub-Saharan Africa puts bureaucracy to shame, and just about any example from the ethnographic literature provides more proof that age is no indicator of complexity. Moreover, why should we assume that all Stone Age peoples practiced the same form of religion which provided the basis for everything that exists now? The world was just as large in the Stone Age as it is now, albeit more sparsely populated.

Second, the whole idea of returning to a set of "core beliefs" returns to the fallacy that the older something is, the more valid it is. Paganism suffers from this a great deal, probably because there's a constant search to find out what pre-Christian people really did before Christianity came along. This is the fallacy that led to the decades of covens claiming to have existed since before the Christian conversion of Europe. Eventually, Paganism as a whole accepted that these traditions could have value even if they weren't hundreds of years old, but if the rest of the Shamanic movement focuses on the age of the Shamanic tradition I'm going to have to be a bit wary of it. Paganism is wonderfully generative, accepting of innovation and individual decision, and an emphasis on age can seriously stifle that impulse.

I don't have a problem at all with the practices he's presenting -- a focus on energy and individual experience, an understanding of different realities and one's place in all of them -- but I think the frame he's using is unnecessary, and somewhat offputting.

I do hate to be dumping all this Science into what I meant to be a Theology blog, but these are the little things that get under my skin anymore, and if I expect to continue building theology out of what I have and what I'm given, I need to work them out.


The more I listen to podcasts and hear people talk about their Paganism and their practices... the more I read Pagan blogs and other thoughtful Pagan writing... the more I get a chance to actually talk to real live Pagans... the more I realize --

We're, like, an actual religion, people!

That is so cool.

When I started out, my gods and goddesses it's almost eight years ago now, Paganism seemed to be a really poor collection of books in the New Age section and some truly hideous websites. If there were good, serious Pagans out there (which I know there were, really), I couldn't find them or get in touch with them and if I could, I was too young for them to bother with me. Maybe I grew up, maybe Paganism grew up, maybe we both kind of grew up together. But this group of people and ideas changes so fast and I do think there are more resources out there for a beginning Pagan than there were when I started. Blogs and podcasts especially give voice to individuals, which is something I was starved for for years, living in the American midwest and incapable of making contacts on my own. And it's hearing those individual voices, rather than the often dry, patronizing tones of Wicca 101 books or websites, that really makes this thing real. I love it, I really do.

The Relative Evil of Chiropractors

Last Christmas, I didn't have a car to drive myself home from school for the holidays, so I rode down with my cousin, her husband, and their one-year-old. My cousin is four years older than I am, the same age gap between my sister and I, but while my sister and I have gotten closer over the years in spite of the age difference, my cousin and I have tended to drift. Part of it is surely the distinction between "student" and "real adult," but part of it is surely the different lives we're already leading. She married her husband, a lawyer, just out of college and settled down to have kids, while I'm just graduated, still single, moving into the city before grad school, and childless for the rest of my life if I have anything to say about it.

I recall for my cousin's wedding she asked me to read a Bible passage, which I found amusing but not odd given that her side of the family pretty definitely doesn't know I'm Pagan. The passage wasn't anything I'd have found objectionable, your standard wedding love business, so I went ahead and read it. The groom also had a friend read a passage -- from a Buddhist text. Our family has never talked about religion much, but they certainly never struck me as the particularly conservative type.

On this drive from Chicago to Iowa, in the middle of this most stereotypical representation of a young Midwestern marriage, my cousin hit upon the topic of her Bible Study group. I was a little uncomfortable, as I always am, but fortunately no one's ever expected me to be the scintillating center of conversation, so I cowered into the bucket seat of the SUV and tried to pretend it wasn't happening. She started relating a story one of the other women at the group had told, about a particular mystical experience she'd had. She was at her chiropractor's, my cousin told us, when the doctor started talking about "energy." Oh no, I thought to myself, now we're in for a lecture on the evils of chakras. And I was right, of course -- the next part of the story was what the woman saw. Horns, we were told, tiny red horns growing out of her chiropractor's hair. My cousin delivered the punchline with all the drama of an urban legend ghost story.

Bullshit, I thought.

"Bullshit," my cousin's husband said (or some less offensive equivalent, given I'm the only person in the car who speaks like that).

My hackles went up. I was on the defensive. It was not a rational reaction, I'll admit, but a purely instinctual one, based less on the conversation we were having at that moment than on many relatively dissimilar conversations I'd had in the past. Nonetheless -- defensive, for another person expressing an opinion I'd just had myself.

"You think she was lying?" my cousin asked her husband.

"I didn't say that," he said. Sure you did, I thought. "I just don't think chiropractors necessarily have horns."

I think you can guess where the argument went from there. My cousin argued for the metaphorical but nonetheless significantly real nature of the chiropractor's horns, while her husband argued for the effects of psychological projection and expectation. And I, to my surprise, was on my cousin's side. Will's outright dismissal of the very possibility of the woman's vision got under my magic-believing skin, and I found myself arguing the case of a Bible-believing Christian who cringes at the slightest mention of "energies." Thing is, I'm still not sure I was wrong.

At the risk of wandering into the realm of extreme relativism, what right do I have not to believe her? Because I disagree with her supposed conclusion? All she said she saw (or all my cousin said she saw; I'm several degrees removed, here) were horns; clearly she meant them to be demonic, but I wouldn't have interpreted them that way, so why can't I take someone else's report and interpret it from my own frame of reference?

Is this extreme relativism? Maybe. I keep coming back, though, to one of the main differences between Paganism and Christianity. Christianity, even more than most of the Book religions, is an exclusionary system -- it doesn't recognize the validity of other systems. (Exceptions, yes, noted.) Paganism however, at least the branches I feel comfortable practicing in, recognizes the validity of other viewpoints, the viability of many paths. I won't say that it's none of my business if this woman thinks her chiropractor is demonic, because of course it is. If she associates the slightest mention of chakra energy with the worship of Satan, that is not only unfriendly but (given the precedent) threatening to myself and to Paganism in general. I will say, however, that immediately disbelieving her experience is also unfriendly, and counterproductive.

I want to make a point here about solidarity, scientific proof, and belief, and the association of liberal with scientific, but I can't quite find it. I want to find a way to express my conviction that if magic is real, then faith-healing is too, and speaking in tongues, and being "born again." There are charlatans in Paganism and Christianity alike, but that doesn't mean they're not ripping off something that actually happens, something genuine. If I can disbelieve this woman just because she's Christian, that cheapens the reality of magic as a whole, because I can reject whole categories of experience out of hand with the same sort of value judgements many people use to write off magic.

Maybe this evangelical woman is a bad example to use; the whole story smacks strongly of preconcieved notions and agendas to be made. I probably should have written about the book The Serpent Handlers which I read for my anthropology of religion class a couple of years ago, which touches on a subject that might be more understandable to magic-believing Pagans. But my reaction to this conversation has stuck with me, so clearly it means something. I still feel like I'm wandering around a rather extreme point, but I haven't put my stake in the ground there just yet, and after all, you have to understand the edges of where you'll go before you can figure out where you are.

Learning & Borrowing

Jun 18, 2006
I've finally found time to catch up on my podcast listening, and today I heard the Deó's Shadow interview with Janet Farrar (I know I'm really behind, shush, school ate my life before now). It was a great interview -- Janet Farrar is an important person to modern Paganism, and a strong and fascinating personality to boot. I particularly liked one of the things she talked about, which was her interest in studying contemporary indigenous religions and magical systems rather than continually looking to Europe's past as the sole source for modern Pagans. I think she's right; what we know about original European paganism is vague at best, and our understanding of it will always be colored by the means by which we get information about it: through Christian sources.

I am a little wary of the way she phrased the issue, though. She talked specifically about visiting groups in Australia and South Africa which still practice traditional religions and magics, and recommended learning about pagan styles of worship and ritual from them. While I'm not familiar with the details of the political situations there, I do know that many of the indigenous North American groups which practice traditional ways of life do so in much the same way as modern Pagans do, as reconstructions. Because of colonization, acculturation, and various other changes in lifestyle that come from a shift to a capitalist culture, traditional religion often almost completely died out before it was recorded (often by Euro-American anthropologists, in North America) and resurrected in common practice. The time difference between these groups and modern Euro-Pagans is huge, of course, but we may be in more of a similar situation than we realize.

What Janet talked about, though, is a perfect example of the kind of eclecticism I try to practice -- understanding how other people do things in order to better understand and formulate your own practice, without rampaging through their traditions and picking out bits as you see fit. As I said, it was a great interview, for that and many other reasons, and I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn't already heard it (you can download it from that link above).

Strict Eclecticism

Jun 14, 2006
[It looks like the first few posts here are going to be a running commentary of me and what I believe; it might be a little self-indulgent, but I can't think of a better way to start out a Pagan blog, given that there's no shorthand for things like this that I know of. I'm still sorting out what else I want to put in here, so expect more of the same for a couple of weeks, I suppose.]

I've only ever flirted with specific, defined traditions briefly, and never seriously. The closest I ever got was reading quite a bit about Celtic Reconstructionism in my first couple of years of Paganism, but I quickly decided it wasn't for me. I attribute it to my lack of focus -- I can't pick just one hobby, or one academic interest, so why should I expect myself to stick to one religious tradition? There's more to it than that, of course; the academic part of my brain quickly diverts to terms like "nativistic movement" and "authentic culture," and academic anthropology, as I've learned the hard way, doesn't have much to do with living your faith.

From a practical standpoint, I just can't do it. I find strict reconstructionism ridiculous; we do not live in the same world for which that religion was designed. But our world is different not only because of our level of removal from the actual day-to-day process of living; it is also different because of what we know about our world. The gods of any particular pantheon are not the only ones we have ever heard of. Granted, we may not be particularly familiar with Kali, or Odin, or Haephestus, or Brigid, but we have heard the names before, and it isn't too difficult to look them up. Once I know that Rhiannon and Diana are so similar as to be different names for the same thing, I can never un-know it. Once the knowledge exists it will never go away, and to ignore the opportunities that gives me is downright neglectful. (What to do with that knowledge, I'm still struggling with.)

That doesn't mean I don't understand a traditionalist viewpoint; I remember explaining the ethnic affiliations of Asatru to one of my anthro classes last year and feeling a strong resonance with the idea that who your grandparents were has some bearing on who you are. I deal predominantly with Celtic deities because the parts of my family I most strongly identify with are Irish. But at the same time, everything we know about the Celtic deities has been filtered through Romans and Christians (at the very least) and the Celts were hardly a unified group of people, themselves. "Celtic" isn't a single tradition, it's a mix of many things, just like everything else.

I also understand the indignation of people whose traditions have been pillaged, however. Kabbala is a strong example: in the Jewish tradition it hails from, there are strict restrictions on who can study Kabbala and what they can say about it or do with it. Over the years it's been borrowed by everyone from Alestair Crowley to Madonna, and I can understand people who get offended at that. It's key, I think, in order for eclecticism to be something really generative and worthwhile and as respectful as possible, not to borrow from other traditions as much as be inspired by them. It's a bit like plagiarism, I suppose: to inspire someone is flattering, but to be plagiarized is annoying at best, and deeply insulting at worst.

A Post-Conversion Story

Jun 8, 2006
The first real post on a Pagan blog seems like a good place for a conversion story, and I wish I had one. I don't have a good "moment" to tell you about, or even a clearly definable process that I can recall. The story of my conversion can be summed up in my hazy recollections of one summer in high school (seven years ago? eight?), reading poorly-designed webpages on Wicca and alt-tab-ing away quickly whenever someone came up the stairs behind me.

A conversion story is too definite to apply to me, anyway; I have a serious lack of demarcation points in my life, and I tend to float vaguely from one idea to another, never settling long enough to say, "this is what I do." It's a mark of how strongly I feel about Paganism that I call myself a Pagan at all. So instead of imposing a false initiation on my past, I'll start with something that can at least be marked out clearly in space and time. Besides, if all I do is talk about me all the time, this blog ain't going nowhere.

The Celtic tradition had always seemed natural to me; my mother is a genealogist, and much of her family was Irish, which she always identified strongly with and passed down to me. I never had to read up on Celtic gods or legends because we always had books lying around the house. So when I went to college and everyone told me I should study abroad, I leapt at the chance to go on the Ireland program. Five months in Galway; what could be better?

I wanted my term in Ireland to be a spiritual re-awakening, a pilgrimage to a holy land where I could re-focus and rediscover the emotional core of my conversion. Instead (among other things), I got all hung up on this issue of authenticity. I don't understand enough, I kept telling myself; I don't belong here; I'm stealing this thing I want from someone else; maybe I'll just do some more research.

All of which is bullshit, of course. First of all, Ireland's been Catholic for fifteen hundred years, I'm not stealing anything from anybody that they didn't already give away. Hell, I knew more about pre-Christian Irish religion than the Irish students I talked to about it (and they were archaeology students, they ought to know something). The writing there about Celtic spirituality is just as made-up as most of it here, the only difference being that it's slightly easier to find modern translations of Old Irish manuscripts (which were written down by monks anyway). I didn't meet any Pagans while I was there, but you know what, I bet they do pretty much what I do -- read a bit, practice a bit, keep an eye on the calendar and schedule the Yule ritual to match up with the Christmas holidays.

Living on that particular patch of earth didn't make much difference to me, as a rule. Seeing Knocknarea did, but in much the same way that seeing Galway Bay did: it's a part of the history of something I belong to, and seeing that is always moving. The most important thing I took away from those five months is the realization that I don't have to live at the foot of Ben Bulben to have a real spiritual connection to the world. We always learn best when our illusions are shattered.
Jun 7, 2006
Reboot. Regenerate. Start over.

Better luck this time.

This blog went through a couple of false starts, first as a rather pretentous foray into blogging in an unfamiliar community (oh Livejournal, you are so incestuous), then as a serious attempt at Pagan blogging that lasted about a week. This one has a good chance of ending up as sad and pathetic as the first two, but if you can't have hope, what can you have? So now, recently graduated from college and struggling to start a life on my own, I'm starting a blog. Here goes nothing.

I blame my religious studies class, first semester senior year. I don't remember why I signed up for it; probably because I needed a fourth class and it filled the time slot. I quite like religious studies, as a rule, but it's not something I seek out, not least because it does tend to make me feel marginalized and I don't like feeling marginalized. On one of the most secular campuses in the US, though, it was a welcome relief from the scientism of my anthropology major. More than that, it was inspiring. We covered just the basics -- Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism -- and I don't think I learned any facts I didn't already know, but it was presented in such a thorough and passionate way that I couldn't help but be moved. For once, rather than sulk irrationally about the exclusion of non-organized religion from an intro religous studies course, I could draw comparisons between my philosophy and what we were studying, between what other people did and what I do.

I started writing again. Those of you who do not write may not understand what a powerful thing that is. Suddenly the ability and moreover the desire to express myself in words had returned to me. I started writing whole bloody essays in the margins of my class notes, typing them up when I should have been writing response papers that were a little more relevant to what was actually going on in class.

I have some material now, you see, so that makes this a lovely time to open up the blog again. I should be able to keep it going for at least a week or two on pre-written stuff, and hopefully by then I'll have something else. And if I can keep doing that for a while...I can keep thinking, keep writing, keep myself going. I have a tendancy to burn myself out on projects -- and that includes my faith, sometimes. Solitary Paganism is work, and it's exhausting. The blog is supposed to help me pace myself. We'll see.