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.)