Practice Every Day

Dec 3, 2009
Thanks to Feith and SpiritsCast 101, I've started to pay a little more attention to what I actually do for my daily practice. I was surprised to find that actually...I do a lot. Somehow, without really meaning to, I've become much more attentive to the world around me, much more joyful in my responses to it, and much more attached to my own spirituality. And yet, I still don't feel that I do enough for my daily practice, and while I was walking home the other day, I realized why.

I've identified for some time now as a Celtic Reconstructionist, not because I want to be pedantic about research (although that is a part of my personality I can't get rid of) but because I love old Irish mythology, I feel a connection to the worldview and the history there, and as difficult as it is, I get a huge spiritual kick out of working in that framework. And yet this hasn't made its way into my daily practice in any substantial way.

The gods I communicate with every day are Irish, but my communication with them isn't. My daily worldview is still largely shaped by Wicca and American cultural and spiritual traditions. There's nothing particularly wrong with this -- it works -- but it isn't quite what I want for myself.

Of course, my life is entirely too modern for an exclusively Celtic daily practice. I'm writing this sitting in a tea shop that originated in Prague, drinking fermented Chinese tea with chrysanthemum blossoms. I could add a Celtic referent there, but it would feel very pasted on.

Sometimes that's valuable, that pasted-on feeling; it gives you a sense of separation from the rest of the world, which is one of the things that "sacred" means. But as a pantheist, an important part of my practice is being in the world, existing wholly present in the moment. Showing up. Separation isn't a goal, for that practice, it's a barrier.

I've always struggled with establishing a daily practice, in part because I've felt I ought to have a liturgy, and I'm not satisfied with anything that exists, but I'm not satisfied with anything I write either. Now that I've been reflecting on what I do use for a daily practice, and have been working on putting more energy and effort into it, and getting so much benefit from it, I'm working on that liturgy again. I feel tremendously happy when I put energy into my daily practice -- it really is one of those things that returns exponentially -- but I don't get that kick out of anything that isn't Irish.

I suppose that's how I know I'm on the right path: that kick I get, the feeling of being plugged in to something so much more expansive than myself, and of feeling that I have a place there where I can do good work. I want to be able to work that feeling in every day, above and beyond the practice that allows me to feel I've done my duty and exercised my skills, as important as those practices are.

SpiritsCast 101

Nov 25, 2009
I've just started listening to Feithline Stuart's new SpiritsCast 101 series of lectures on deepening your daily spiritual practice. Longtime readers of this blog (if there are any of you still around) will recall that this is one of my long-term goals, and one of the ones I have the hardest time with. A new year-and-a-day program on exactly that subject, starting at roughly the same time that I realize it's happening? Genius.

I already enjoy it. I'd always meant to listen to Feithline's old podcast, Dark Side of Fey, but the files are still sitting on my hard drive, unlistened-to. She's got a friendly voice, which is always key for a podcast but especially for one that's asking you to do spiritual work, and the audio files are of good quality. The first episode was mostly introductory stuff, as you'd expect, but she offered a list of four elements she tries to incorporate into her daily practice: light, listening, expression, and offering.

I love this idea of having approaches to daily practice instead of single activities. My difficulties always arise from the fact that I don't have a set schedule, so I have a terrible time doing the same thing at the same time every day. Thinking of daily practice as an approach instead of a task eliminates that problem -- and it feels better to me, too. It incorporates a little more creativity into the process, which can only be a good thing.

And, to be honest, it bears no small resemblance to what I've started to do myself in the weeks since Samhain. This time of year my thoughts always turn to my old association with Macha and the war goddesses; their birds, the ravens, have taken over the bare trees everywhere I go, and I feel their protection when I walk home in the dark. I started dedicating my archery practice to Macha a few weeks ago, and it's a remarkably satisfying feeling; each arrow that strikes home carries just a little more weight with it.

But I think the best thing Feithline is doing with this series is encouraging a community to build around it. In addition to the podcasts themselves, there's a discussion forum, and she's encouraging everyone who participates to blog about the process as well. The community-building makes it a shared project, not just a lecture from authority -- and Feithline emphasizes that the only authority she has is experience, and all of us have at least a little of that, too. I'm just getting started blogging about it and playing around in the forums, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.


Nov 12, 2009
I've recently discovered that my school library has the full run of the Irish Texts Society, and I've been enjoying having the actual texts in front of me, something I've found hard to do with Irish mythology. It's a little late in the season for Cath Maige Tuired – the battle happens on Samhain – but then, timing has never been my strong suit. Turns out most of what I kind of generally know about Irish myth comes from Cath Maige Tuired (what isn't from the Táin, of course) – Dían Cecht and his son; Núada Argetlam; the Mórrigan and the Dagda; Balor of the Evil Eye; and, of course, Lug.

For some reason I find Lug very compelling. When he comes to Tara, he is asked what his art is, for no one feasts at Tara who is not the master of some art. Lug tells the gatekeeper his talents, but for every art he lists, Tara already has a master. Finally Lug tells the gatekeeper to ask the king if they have one who is a master of all these arts, and he is admitted.

I wrote last year at Lugnasadh about learning that I do not have to be all things to all people; Lug already has that covered. Reading this story again I found myself thinking about the other side of that equation. Tara is a community where every member has a place, a role, a task that they and they alone fulfill for the community. Everyone has something that they contribute, without which the community would not function (or at least wouldn't function as well).

I have never thought of myself as a person with a community; I'm an outsider at the best of times. But in the past year, I've found myself settling in more and more. I have friends in the SCA who will offer me places to stay and loan me gear and open up their homes for parties or house-sitting or just casual time. I'm making inroads into a professional community that I really, really love to be a part of. It's not something I'm used to, and it's making me think about my responsibilities to the people I surround myself with. My community. My people.

And part of that, of course, is trying to figure out what I have to offer these different communities. At a student organization meeting last week, we got to talking about religion (which is what happens when your student organization meetings are Friday afternoons in the bar), and I explained Paganism to three very interested technology librarians. I'd never dream of casting myself as an expert on the subject within the Pagan community, but this was something I could happily share with my fellow students, book recommendations and all. It was a bit of a pleasant surprise, to find my interests accepted and valued, and it started to make me wonder about what else I have to provide to the rest of the communities I belong to. This blog is something, surely (even if I don't manage to update it as often as I'd like). My skills in the job market are something else (which turns out to be a much less stressful way to think about jobhunting than the traditional desperate panic). And utility to the community is something to think about when I start to expand my skills and research. Turns out that's a whole lot easier when you actually have a community to begin with...


Aug 17, 2009
I have been climbing a mountain. Not one of your old-worldpiles of rock, either, your seasonally-appropriate Croagh Patrick, your Appalachians. No, this is a big, pointy fucker, new and still harsh, rough and dangerous.

It starts out broad at the base, as mountains do. As you come up from the plains, you can hardly tell the difference as you get going. It starts as little hills, things you climb every day without noticing. I can't. I shouldn't. Oh, it's fine. It takes a long time to get past the foothills and onto the mountain itself. Whatever made me think I was worth... I don't deserve... I never have and I never will... It's a hard climb, but it's worth it. There's a sense of accomplishment, getting over each little ledge.

And then, sometimes, there's the plateaus. They're the worst part. Wide, flat and safe; a cosy little cave with a fire, and the promise of no more climbing. I'm a good person, really. I'm fine just the way I am. But I'm not racist. Everybody else does it, too. By the gods, that's a nice place to lay down and rest. Sometimes you have to. And sometimes you have to creep by on the edges, clinging to the sheer cliff face, still moving upwards with your eyes fixed on the ledge like you can absorb some of that comfort while not being taken in by it. Sometimes, that works.

I don't know what's at the top of the mountain. I don't know if there is a top. I don't know if anyone knows. But climbing is better than resting, even if sometimes it's a very close call.

Book Review: An Altar In the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

Aug 8, 2009
I spotted this book in, of all things, an Internet sidebar ad, and when I clicked on the ad it took me to the Harper-Collins website where I could read the prologue in PDF. Now that's how to advertise online. I put a hold on it at my local library right away; it came in last month.

The introduction made it sound like, well, the most pagan "Christian spirituality" book I've ever come across, and I'm pleased to say I wasn't wrong. Oh, it's still a very Christian book; Taylor is a former Episcopalian minister, and she writes as though to a universally lapsed-Protestant audience, supporting her ideas with Biblical scriptures and stories. But the Christianity she's advocating in An Altar In the World is not the kind of "reward in Heaven" Christianity that's chased off so many people; in fact, she's not necessarily advocating Christianity at all. (She makes clear in her introduction who her audience is -- that large population that self-defines as "spiritual not religious.") What Taylor is advocating here is love of the world, and love of God through love of the world. Pagans should be familiar with that.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a single practice that is designed to enhance what you do in the name of religion rather than what you believe -- another popular Pagan idea, but one that I've heard people advocating in all kinds of paths. The first four chapters, in fact, are exactly the practices that always appear in Paganism 101 books. These are Vision (seeing the divine in everything), Reverence (often described in Pagan books as Attention), Incarnation (seeing the divine in yourself), and Groundedness (a walking meditation). I loved reading about these in this book in a way I don't in Paganism 101 books, possibly because Taylor writes about these practices in terms of how she discovered their value, rather than writing about them because that's what you put in this part of the book. Taylor gives a wonderful sense of revelation -- she's not teaching you what to do as much as she's saying, "Look at this nifty thing I found!"

Later chapters are even more interesting, because they address issues that don't come up in the Pagan literature, or they come at them from a different way. Wilderness, for example, smacks a little of the traditional "God works in mysterious ways" line, but also addresses the importance of failure. Sabbath is a reminder of the difference between "not doing work" and "doing nothing." My favorite chapter is the second-to-last, Prayer. I'm not sure any description could do it justice; Taylor's descriptions of her prayers, candlelit, wordless, and heartfelt, are immensely powerful.

In many ways this book has helped me a lot in the project the Universe seems to have decreed for me this summer; the project of learning what orthopraxy really means. It's been a hard lesson for over-intellectual me, who spent her whole life with everyone believing she'd have a career in academia because, well, I'd just fit. I probably would. But I've been learning (slowly, but learning) that ideology is pretty cold compared to actions, and that ideas are still awesome, but they don't have a lot to do with ideology. Taylor absolutely puts that into practice here -- while she quotes Christian scripture to support her arguments, one doesn't get the sense that she's arguing that Christianity contains the best or most truthful realization of these practices, but that look, here is something many people including probably you agree is important that says this too. I aspire to one day be able to use the structures of my own religion in the same way.

I'd recommend this book to just about anyone.

I aten't dead

Jul 16, 2009
I have instead been synthesizing -- which is unfortunately a very boring process to write about, because while I could explain for you all the things I've been reading and listening to and thinking about, I can't replicate the ah-hah moments that keep coming closer and closer together, and anything less seems woefully inadequate. (I do, however, have a couple of book reviews and other posts ready to go up in the next few days.)

One of my primary life strategies seems to be this thing where when something in my life feels inadequate, I try to add to it. Unfortunately, when what seems inadequate is time, this strategy doesn't work very well. On the plus side, I've gotten some good things out of adding this time around; new friends, exercise, maybe even a local Pagan community that I can really be a part of.

It's almost Lammas, Lugnasadh, which in addition to being the start of the harvest season is also a big community gathering. It's also the start of the part of the year that makes least sense to me, as I've written about before; summer is great, but fall has always been a beginning time for me. Somehow all of these things seem to be coming together this year, though. Last time this year I was laid up trying to pretend I hadn't seriously injured myself, afraid of what this was going to do to my first semester back at school. Now I'm healed, looking forward to one last year full of volunteering and studying before *gulp* heading into the job market, knowing I have people to lean on if I need help along the way. It's been a long, hard year, but it looks good from here.

Pagan Values Month

Jun 21, 2009
I've been trying to write a post for a while, wrestling with my ideas and my experiences and trying to turn them into words that mean something to someone other than myself. But words are sometimes superfluous.

A woman died yesterday in Tehran. And, because of the wonders of modern technology, we can all watch her die. This is not voyeurism, or shock drama, or sensationalism. This is important. This is the difference that the new world makes: that in a theocratic dictatorship, in a country where protesters are shot and killed, they can deny it all they like, but we all watched her die. The news stories all say she was "allegedly shot," but we can all see her blood on the ground.

In the drafts of my Pagan Values Month posts, the emerging theme was action. It's not enough to believe something in Paganism, you must do as well. In Iran, people are trying to change the world, and I am humbled next to that. From where I sit I cannot do much, but I can bear witness. I can say, I see you. I hear you. May your gods protect you, and may the new world show you better justice than this one.

(You can watch the video at Jezebel's post here. Read the rest, too, and all the links.)

Celtic Witch

May 12, 2009
I really enjoyed the Point of View column by Wood Stone in the current issue of PanGaia on being a Christian Witch. I know such a combination is less unusual in my corner of the blogosphere than it apparently is in other places, but it was a nice, well-articulated explanation of how the two fit together. She talks about wandering around in "the truth outside the walls" of sect and religion, a liminal place that's very near and dear to my heart as well.

I wouldn't call myself a Christian Witch, but I wouldn't call myself a Recovering Christian either. I gave up on Christianity when I graduated to the Bible Study classes that actually taught you what the Church believed -- when it started being obvious that "love thy neighbor" wasn't really the central point here. I dropped it all and I dropped it hard, and I found Wicca a much better fit for my beliefs, so I've never really looked back and I wouldn't feel comfortable identifying myself as any kind of a Christian today, or probably ever again. But I've found myself reading more and more about Christianity, its history and its variations, its sources in Judaism and Hellenicism, and finding it fascinating.

It was getting deeply into Celtic Reconstructionism at last that really pushed me in this direction. It seemed paradoxical at first, because Reconstructionism so often seems like "hardcore Paganism," but the more I poke at it the more I find I can't separate the Christianity out of it. Ireland was Christianized by the time we get any written records (including the still cryptic ogam stones), and even throughout most of the rest of the Celtic world, well, I'm a little skeptical about the accuracy of Greeks writing about barbarians. But in Ireland especially, Christianity and the existing paganism merged fairly smoothly, leaving us with no real way to disentangle them now.

And besides, what good does it do to ignore fifteen hundred years of history? Christian mystics shaped our understanding of the esoteric, and for most of us, our understanding of the universe is filtered through a hugely Christianized culture. While it's sometimes interesting to see if you can pick the Christian bits out of everything else...well, culture doesn't really work that way, and I don't think it's very helpful.

...sorry, let me restate that, slightly more emphatically. Culture really doesn't work that way. Christianity -- and everything that comes with it, binary dualism, strict concepts of fault and evil, organizational hierarchy, in addition to all the obvious bits -- has been a part of the way we think and live for a millennium and a half. Capitalism developed out of the interactions of state and Church. Heck, the whole pattern of the week and weekend has a connection. Obviously all of these things are tempered by other factors, but that's part of my point; you can't unpick it and expect it to make any sense.

(Halfway through writing this post I went back to reading the magazine, though, and ran into the Satanism feature. There are a million things I could say about that piece, but most of them come down to ur doin it rong. Maybe in another post.)

All of which is, of course, easier said than done, and easily confused by the fact that it's impossible to tell if two people mean the same thing when they say "modern Paganism" without a half-hour conversation on nuances. What it comes down to for me is that I want my Paganism to be part of my life, all the time, which includes the parts of my life that I can't bend into a shape more amenable to Paganism. It takes effort to understand my whole life as one entity instead of dividing it off into little compartments, but I do think it's worth it in the end, even if it means looking at some things bleeding together where I'd rather there was a line.

I learned something about myself.

May 10, 2009
When I was a little girl -- like, seven or eight -- I wanted nothing more in the universe than for magic to be real. I already loved science fiction and fantasy novels (the first thing I ever saved up for was a box set of the Chronicles of Narnia) and I wanted oh so badly for my life to be like that.

I knew it couldn't be, of course. I was well aware that I was not secretly a fairy princess and wizards and dragons did not exist and the books were as close as I was going to get. But oh, I wanted.

And I was a genre-savvy little kid; I had realized that even in books about a world like our world where magic did exist, the protagonists never already understood how it worked. But because the protagonists, like me, wanted magic and dragons and fairies to exist, I reasoned that they would have read the same kind of books I did, books that explained how magic worked and what to do if you met a sphynx and so on. So logically, I figured, if magic does exist, it can't be anything like it is in books. And, somewhat less logically, I decided that it couldn't be like anything I could imagine and put in a book, either.

I wish I could explain the feeling I got then, and every time after, imagining some new way for magic to be real and then realizing, by my own logic, that I had negated that possibility. It was like a door closing -- no, slamming shut in my mind. I can still summon up that feeling that's less like a feeling than a real sense of the universe closing itself to me. It's still so vivid because it's never really gone away.

I don't know what it was that made me remember this train of thought, but it hit me last night like a hammer. This is why I'm terrible at magic, at ritual, at meditation. This is why I always stare agape at potential employers when they ask in interviews where I see myself in five years. This is why just suck it up and say it I've never dated, because all that time imagining myself in someone's arms meant I had convinced myself it would never happen, and never imagining myself in his arms meant I didn't notice when he expressed his interest. This is why I've never really had a plan for what to do with my life (although I have to say I haven't noticed any serious detriments yet). This is why I have such a hard time writing fiction. There's a broken switch in my imagination.

The nastiest part is I know I did it to myself. No one else ever told me this (although my general social ostracization probably contributed to my wanting a different life when I was eight). To the contrary, I was always encouraged to be imaginative. What I wasn't really encouraged to do was to want something so hard, but then, I always knew that what I wanted was impossible anyway. But it bled over, somehow, into being afraid to want anything at all.

Knowing what it is doesn't immediately make it better. I broke myself when I was small; it's a way of looking at the world, now. I have no idea how to change it. I think maybe, now that I know what it is, I have a chance. I hope.

celebrate spring with a crazy little thing called...

May 3, 2009
Happy springtime, everyone! (Okay, I'm a couple of days late for Beltane, but it's still the weekend, that has to count for something, right?) While this winter wasn't as crushing as last year's, it's still always a relief to see the trees blooming again. Which they seem to be doing just for the holiday -- last week it was all bare branches outside my window, and now it's tiny green buds and a carpet of green, yellow, white and purple on the lawn. I'm so glad my landlord isn't interested in a tidy green suburban lawn; the weeds are so much prettier.

I didn't do anything for Beltane this year (maypole dancing at dawn? no thank you), but I don't feel too badly about that. It's the end of the semester, and I've canceled all my other social obligations in order to get my papers finished while still showing up for work on time. On the other hand, I've started to notice a pattern of emotional problems recurring at the Beltane/Samhain poles of the year; probably I ought to do something about that. (It's a terrible curse of the way the universe works that you tend to forget you need to do something about your emotional problems until you're in the middle of the emotional problems and therefore not really thinking clearly enough to do anything about them.)

I say I didn't do anything for Beltane; that's not really true. I didn't go out and join any community celebrations, but I've pretty much come to terms with my solitary religious existence. I didn't hold a ritual or cast a circle or write a liturgy, but I've also come to terms, repeatedly over the years but apparently it's something I still need to really absorb, with the fact that not everyone is cut out to be a priestess. I can know and honor my gods in my own way, but liturgy is not my thing. I love a good ritual, but it's work to create ritual, and I have other, more immediate work to do -- homework to earn my degree, work to earn money to pay the bills, work to keep my creative brain functioning while I'm doing the rest, work to maintain my friendships, work to maintain some kind of emotional equilibrium. And all of those things are things that my gods are already a part of, so ritual falls by the wayside. And I'm working on being okay with that.

(Okay, to be honest, I've got gods poking around in everything except the MLS degree. Anybody know of a God of Librarians? I'd like to say hi.)


Apr 8, 2009
I came to a realization last night about why I've not been meditating. I was lying in bed, not tired but knowing I had to get up at six in the morning and so really ought to sleep. My breathing had started to slip into a pattern, my mind starting to slide into an altered state, when I thought, I should grab a pen. Somehow I had acquired the idea that if I meditated -- and especially if there were visions or messages involved -- I had to write it down.

I say 'somehow,' but I know exactly where it came from. It's from that epic pile of 101 books I've read over the years. Every single one at some point indicates that if you're going to be meditating/astral traveling/spirit guide contacting/whatever, you should keep a written record of the thing. And boy, did I absorb that one. Thing is, it didn't make me keep a record; it made me not do it in the first place. (I'm sure this is not a universal problem. Then again, at the same time, I'm sure I'm not the only one.)

The thing I can't figure out is why. I am a particularly word-oriented person; I keep three blogs and a series of personal journals in addition to a latent pile of fiction mss. Writing down spiritual experiences does not help me at all. If it made an impact, I remember it; not always consciously, I admit, things do sink and resurface, but they're there. And this is experience, not academia, goddammit. We're not doing Science when we talk to the gods. And any written record I did produce would be entirely useless to anyone but me (and I can tell you, from rereading notes I wrote myself in high school, they're not very useful to me, either).

Now let's see if I can convince my academically-oriented brain of this in practice.

madness doesn't frighten me

Mar 26, 2009
I can never see my own depression clearly until I'm walking out the other side of it. In the middle, it's all made up of maintaining, keeping myself together enough to get through the day. I've been depressed enough that I've had to spend all my breaks crying uncontrollably in the bathroom at work, but never enough that I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. That would be too much like letting other people know something about me.

Once I'm getting better, though, I can look behind me -- brief glimpses, lest like Orpheus I lose whatever it was I went down there for in the first place -- look back and say, "Wow, that was bad." In his book The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon says that most suicides happen in this place; not in the depression, which is too black and smothering to permit any action at all, but in the walking back, when you look behind you too long and realize you'll end up back there again someday. I've never been suicidal either, but I can see why you might.

Depression isn't madness, it's the place on the other side of madness, the dark mirror of the daily world. And I don't mean dark in a mystical, romantic sense, either; dark in the sense of bleak. Grey. Dull. Not even dead, but in limbo; the misery of existence without any of the spark of life.

The madness on the way back. Somewhere in between the everyday world of friends and lovers and jobs and passions, between that and the black sucking hole of depression, is the misty, colorful place of poetry and visions, of hallucinations and paranoia, of dreams and truth and ecstasy. It's not really a place you can stay for very long, and it can be hard to traverse, and sometimes you don't make it. I can't imagine seeking it out intentionally, because the boundary between that and the black hole is less a boundary than an invisible, sudden drop. But it isn't frightening.

when the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away

Mar 2, 2009
I don't have anything to say, I just wanted to check in, really. (I aten't dead.) February didn't quite turn into the sucking black hole it usually does, but it was a near thing, and now I'm desperately waiting for spring to happen (properly, this time) so I can get on with my spring cleaning. There's just no point in spring cleaning if you can't have the windows open while you work.

I've been in a fallow period, reading and absorbing a lot of things, a few books, all you guys' blogs, and all the rest of the Universe as well. I've been doing some exploring of my inner landscape, finding it much more rich and varied than I'd thought, and finding myself much more open to contact with others, as well. Nothing solid yet, nothing that works outside of my own head, but it's early days.

More like a tentative hop, really.

Feb 7, 2009
You know, I've been spending the past few years convincing myself that Imbolc is not first spring here in Wisconsin. Early February is more like the latter part of midwinter, here, with temperatures still in the oh-goddess-it's-cold range and ice to scrape of the windshield every morning and long underwear to be worn.

But... but...for Imbolc this year we had a January thaw. And now we're having another one. And today it's fifty degrees outside and I can hear the snow melting off the roof and I haven't had to turn the heat up yet. The official policy chéz Jen is that if this goes on for a week or more, it's become Spring, and anything else is just backsliding. Looks like we might have an early Spring this year.

blogging psa

Jan 23, 2009
Just a note to let you know, faithful readers, that I've done some shuffling around of accounts associated with this blog for personal reasons (ie, I clicked on the wrong authorization link sometime a long time ago and finally got around to fixing it. I obviously have too many e-mail accounts).

I don't think it should actually change anything on your end, but if you've been following this blog using Blogger's tool and it suddenly vanished, or anything else like that, well, that's the reason, go ahead and put it back in.

Outgrowing? Really?

Jan 12, 2009
It seems everyone who is anyone is still exploding over the end of deo's shadow and, more importantly, deo and Mandy announcing a conversion to atheism. And since part of the reason you start a blog is to stake out your own little soapbox to say whatever you want, I see no reason why I shouldn't contribute (although I certainly don't consider myself "anyone" of note).

Here's the thing: I've tried to read their relevant blog posts, and I just can't. It causes me too much emotional anguish. Possibly some would say that this makes me one of those people who is just in denial about their true rationalist nature, but that's not it at all. Quite the opposite, really.

It's all this talk of "outgrowing" that gets me first. However well meant, and however well it may describe personal journeys, it's condescending. Just like the conversion story, it's a cliche that carries more baggage than most people probably intend it to. Mostly, though, it's just condescending, and I've been paring condescending crap out of my life for a while now. Good-bye hardcore feminist blogs, political opinion columns...and atheist conversion stories.

Just like Jeff at Druid Journal, I am Pagan not in spite of its irrationality but because of it. And this is not in contradiction to my scholarly self: The more I learn about my brain and my culture and the world I live in, the more that irrationality seems to be supported. Discussions filled with anecdotes about why magic does or does not work seem to me to miss the point. The Universe, left entirely unobserved (if that were even possible), does not make sense. We, as living, thinking, spiritual beings, can make it make sense, with physics, with anthropology, or with religion. All of these things make sense in different ways. You can't travel to Mars with anthropology, but you can't talk to the Martians with physics. And I don't want to say there are things in this world you can't do without religion, because there's a quality of mind that atheists have, too; and I don't want to call it spiritual, because that has all the wrong connotations, but it's what gets you through three o'clock in the morning on the longest night of your life, and what carries the conversation at three o'clock in the morning when you're surrounded by friends and don't want to go to bed. And that thing, whatever it is, is important. It needs to be acknowledged, and spoken to.

I have a secret to tell you: I've never had an earth-shattering Mystery Religion Moment. I've had many small ones, but never That One that so many people seem to have. So that's not why I'm Pagan, either. It isn't because I was raised in it, or because I want a comfort zone of undemanding spiritual fluffiness, or because I'm immature enough to believe in magic (please, dear readers, read that last clause as full of sarcasm, because it is). I believe that the gods are real, although I cannot pin down a definition of "real" that works in that sentence. And I believe that I owe them something.

No, modern Paganism is not really very like ancient Paganism, nor could it ever be. I don't know that I could ever spill enough pixels on how much I dislike the idea that ancient Paganism is the authority for everything we do. No, modern Paganism is most often not rational or scientific. There is nothing wrong with rational and scientific, but that is not what we do. We do that stuff that happens at three o'clock in the morning, and we do it the best we can with a little history and a little imagination and a framework someone patched together about a century ago, because there is nothing wrong with irrational either, and we need it, too.

I celebrate myself and sing myself

Jan 3, 2009
One would like to demarcate clearly the boundaries of the self. In fact, no essential self lies pure as a vein of gold under the chaos of experience and chemistry. The human organism is a sequence of selves that succumb to or choose one another. We are each the sum of certain choices and circumstances; the self exists in the narrow space where the world and our choices come together.

--Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

I want to print this out on a poster and put it on the wall I look at when I wake up in the morning. I want to write it in little gold letters on something I see every day. I don't know what it is about our lives, our culture, or our brains that make us think any other way, but we are not a single pure entity covered up by layers of distracting crap. We are what we are, at any given moment, doing whatever it is that we do. If I change the way I think, if I shake off old ways of being, if I improve my lifestyle and do everything I want to do, I won't be any more myself. I'll be a different me, when I change, as I always will. But I am myself right now.