Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens


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Adding context to the “Auschwitz selfie”

I hate selfies. I find them to be the epitome of both narcissism and bad photography. I’d much rather ask a stranger to take a quality photo of myself in a special place than flip to that secondary lens on my phone, hold my arm out at an awkward length, and snap a photo that emphasizes my face and detracts from the significance of the scenery around me. I’m there to experience the place, not to take pictures that are 85% face and 15% background.

 

But the thing is, I’m wrong, and I know it.

 

People have been posing for pictures of themselves since photography was invented. Before that, wealthy people would pay artists a healthy paycheck to paint them on canvas. Those paintings were quite likely much more glamorous than the real person actually was. I mean what artist is going to honestly paint the blemishes of the person who butters their bread? The selfie is just another round in the evolution of self documentation. In and of itself, there is nothing pathologically narcissistic about it. It just feels that way.

 

Enter the Auschwitz Selfie. This has become a thing. The New Yorker even wrote about it. Young people are traveling to the infamous Nazi concentration camp, taking selfies there, and posting them to their social media accounts. One Auschwitz selfie, that of a teen girl named Breanna has gotten Twitter all a-twitter.

Breanna posted this selfie with the comment “Selfie in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp” last month. Since then, the photo has gone viral. She has received over 6,000 comments, many of them viciously angry that she would dare to post this picture of herself at one of the most tragic and horrible places in human history.

 

In her defense, the young girl has said that she is fascinated by the Holocaust, and that she shared that interest with her father. The two of them dreamed of seeing Auschwitz together, but he passed away a year ago (this is known to be true). After graduation, Breanna says that she and her mother fulfilled that dream, and she was happy to be there to honor her dad.

 

OK, granted, the photo and the comment look pretty insensitive and ignorant. She’s there with a smile on her face and an earbud in her ear. But is there another interpretation?

 

It makes sense to be happy to achieve a life goal. She probably should have given more context in her comment, but Twitter’s format doesn’t allow for too much writing. I see hundreds of teenagers a day, and walking around with one earbud sticking into their ear is almost automatic. Everyone does it. Besides, we have no idea what she was listening to on that earbud. It could have been an English language guided tour of the facility.

 

It sure seems that she made it worse when she retweeted other stories about her with the comment, “I’m famous y’all.” One commenter even said that her use of “y’all” showed that she didn’t have the intelligence needed to understand and appreciate the horrors of Auschwitz. But Breanna is from Alabama. Using “y’all” is everyday speech; it’s completely normal vernacular. It’s as much a part of normal speech there as “like” or “totally” is here in southern California. We’ve all made things worse by saying stupid things before we fully understood a situation. Cable news makes a habit of it.

 

I’m not arguing for one side of this or another, but for a larger point. Humans can be very ugly creatures. We find fault in other people without knowing all the facts. We deny those same faults within ourselves when we perform similar actions. When we are confronted, we retort with something like “You don’t understand all the details.” Which is true. But, you know what? Neither do you.

This is actually a real psychological phenomenon. It’s called the Fundamental Attribution Error. It states that we make internal attributions of others while underestimating external attributions. In other words, when someone does something we don’t like, we blame their personality rather than taking in all the details of the situation. The other side is that, when we do the same thing, we overestimate the situation and don’t turn inward to see what is wrong with us.

 

When you get cut off on the freeway, you say all sorts of nasty things about the other driver. When you cut someone off (we’ve all done it), you defend yourself by saying things like “I didn’t see them” or “that other guy was going way too fast.” We commit the fundamental attribution error all the time. Every day. It’s normal.

 

The problem is that that normality is amplified in the anonymous safety of the internet. Online, we can insult people all they want while easily shielding ourselves from any blowback we incite. Social media has made this worse, and if you’ve ever been unlucky enough to read the comments to news articles about immigrants, the gay community, or any racial or ethnic group you’ve seen this problem on steroids.

 

It is a classic case of projection. It’s a defense mechanism that keeps us feeling good about ourselves in the face of attack. When we are uncomfortable with something in ourselves, we project it onto another person. If we are insecure about our looks, we gossip about that tacky co-worker. If we are insecure about our weight, we follow all the news about celebrities packing on pounds. If we feel that we aren’t good enough, we take pleasure in tearing down others.

 

This is what happened to Breanna. This is what happens all around the internet every day. We all have our demons we’d prefer not to face, so we lump them on an easy victim- one that can’t fight back. In the end, this story isn’t about one ill-advised selfie. It’s about a world full of wounded, sad people.

 

But we can learn from this. Knowing about the fundamental attribution error is a huge advantage. Every time we find ourselves wanting to judge another for their actions or label them with some dismissive insult, we should stop. We should consider outside factors that could have caused what we saw. We should check our emotional gut reaction and consider what we see in ourselves that causes us to see others in such an automatically negative light. We should ask ourselves why we take pleasure in insulting others. You can’t change what someone tweets, but you can change yourself.  We could all use an internal selfie now and then.


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Weird Science: A link roundup

Science is ever growing and ever evolving. Except perhaps the realm of consciousness, the laws of the natural world may be truly the last frontier. While some experiments may seem silly, they all move us toward a greater understanding of the universe we live in. As pagans, understanding the natural world is often a large part of our spiritual path.

In this series, I want to feature links that come from the intersection of Internet and science. Silly, profound, spiritual, or bizarre: you decide.

1. To the Pain!  11 studies show that people would rather give themselves an electric shock than sit quietly and thin4.k for 15 minutes.  And you thought you were the only one who had problems meditating!

2. Don’t try this at Home:  Liquid nitrogen freezes at such a low temperature that anything it touches freezes immediately and can be cracked like cocktail ice.  So what would happen if you stuck your hand into a bucket of liquid nitrogen?  Find out [hint- his hand doesn't crack open, and he tells you why].

3. Farting for your Health:  According to researchers at the University of Exeter, smelling stinky farts can help you cure diseases and heal cell damage.

4. Eye-Eating Amoebas: Ever wondered what would happen if you left your contact lenses in?  How does amoebas eating your eyeballs sound?

5. Diet Coke and Mentos, on Steroids:

Everyone knows that dropping Mentos candies into a bottle of Diet Coke produces an immediate Coke explosion.  Watch this guy put on a suit of Mentos an jump into a pool full of Diet Coke!

Photo Credit: IFLSCience


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A response to Mohler’s “moral crisis”

On June 27, R. Albery Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted this article to CNN’s Belief Blog. In it, he laments last year’s Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and, in effect, made marriage equality legal. He also praises Justice Antonin Scalia, calling him a “prophet,” while also expressing his commitment that the marriage of two gay people is a “moral impossibility.”

I have to hand it to Mohler, his tone is remarkably even-keeled. There is no histrionic whining or the type of vile anti-gay language that those who take his position are noted for. Of course, it has to be that way. He loses easily otherwise, for our country has lost its taste for bigoted catch phrases like Westboro Baptist Church’s “God Hates Fags.” He has to make his position appear logical so that he doesn’t risk being identified with WBC’s inane extremism.

Nor does Mohler couch his argument in scriptural citations. This is an obvious attempt at credibility. Mohler knows that the First Amendment both gives him the right to express his views, but it also prohibits the U.S. government from favoring any one particular religion. Therefore, any Biblical arguments would fall either on the ears of the choir, or on entirely deaf ears. To sway public opinion, he must appear logical outside of scripture, at he makes a good stab at this.

The trouble is, if you look behind Mohler’s slick words you find that his actual arguments depend upon the slippery sands of terrible assumptions, vague definitions, and a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be married. What at first appears to be a reasonable person’s defense of denying fellow Americans essential rights (as if there really could be such a thing) turns out to have about as much substance as damp cotton candy.

 

Christian ≠ Anti-Gay

The essential question Mohler asks is, “Where does that leave committed Christians?” In starting his argument this way, he walks a tightrope of assuming that all “committed Christians” dislike both homosexuality and marriage equality. This is simply not true.

Just this month, the Presbyterian Church of the United States changed its definition of marriage to include “two people” rather than a man and a woman. Their change allowed Presbyterian ministers to perform gay marriages in states where those marriages are legal if they choose to.

The post just below Mohler’s discusses the Catholic Church “softening its tone” toward the gay community.   While the Church remains doctrinally opposed to homosexuality, they are shifting toward a loving agreement to disagree rather than the vile antagonism it, for example, advocated here in California during the Proposition 8 campaign.

Many other Christian sects are decidedly pro-gay. They focus on Christ’s message of love and forgiveness rather than the Old Testament’s litany of laws against everything from homosexuality to eating shrimp. I know a number of “committed Christians” who are perfectly fine with gay people, advocate for equality, and believe in equal rights for all Americans. I know gay Christians. They are just as “committed” as any other Christian, even those who choose to try to impose their beliefs on everyone else. It is presumptive and just plain incorrect to assume that all “committed Christians” are bigoted against the gay community.

 

Marriage ≠ Sex

Mohler makes two statements that reveal a profound misunderstanding of what marriage is. While speculating about government forcing churches to perform gay marriage ceremonies, he worries about our country crushing his religious liberty in the name of “erotic freedom.” Later, he wrings his hands about how his fellow anti-gay folks can possibly be good people when they see the rest of society hurting “human flourishing in the name of sexual liberty.

In this section, Mohler takes a giant step backward in time. We are not arguing about sodomy laws and other unjust statutes that ban homosexual sex acts. That argument ended long ago, a fact he acknowledges early in the article. Today’s arguments, and the argument he had been discussin up to this point was about same sex marriage, yet he clouds his point by discussing “erotic freedom.” Based on his own words, I can only conclude that Mohler is equating marriage with sex.

Marriage is about a lot more than sex. Marriage is a lifetime partnership. Marriage is about companionship, mutual love and support, and commitment. Marriage is about being by a person’s side through thick and thin, in the words of the traditional vow, “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Married people lend a shoulder to cry on, a party for happy times, a loving ear in troubled times, and financial support when money is running thin. Marriage, any marriage, is not simply about “erotic freedom” to have sex with your partner.

Besides, people are having sex whether they are married or not. Heterosexuals are not all waiting to put a ring on it before sleeping together. The gay community is exactly the same, except that, if Mohler were to have his way, there would be no marriage to “legitimize” their sexual behavior. That wouldn’t stop gay sex. It’s not like same sex couples suddenly started having sex as marriage became legal. Marriage equality only allows those couples a legal opportunity to commit to each other and enjoy the many other benefits of marriage that we heterosexuals enjoy. Plus, when a couple chooses a monogamous marriage, they’re actually limiting, not expanding their “sexual freedom.”

 

What exactly is “Human Flourishing”?

 Central to Mohler’s article is his argument that “human flourishing” requires the “honoring of marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman” and any other definition of marriage is “a grave threat to human society and human happiness.” He never defines this term “flourishing,” nor does he explain how allowing other people to marry will somehow magically harm humanity, yet he continues to base his views upon this nebulous concept.

 

The idea of “human flourishing” is a weasler, a concept with no definition that can get the author out of jams in logic. As long as he never specifically define it, he can go on to alter his definition and his argument to fit any situation. You can’t challenge his premises if he never nails down a specific definition of his primary point. Mohler continues the slipperiness when he goes on to say that he does not believe that any damage to society inflicted by two guys loving each other will not be “immediately apparent.” He must have been relieved when he though up that one! Now, when he is asked to point out the awful damage gay marriage has done to the country in the last year, he has a quick and easy way out – “Some random flourishing is not occurring, and I never said we’d actually be able to see the damage,”

So what might he mean by this chimeric idea of “human flourishing”? Certainly he isn’t referring to reproduction. There is no lack of humanity in this world. Our earth is overpopulated and already struggles to provide enough resources to support everyone who depends upon it. More couples in happy relationships who are fulfilled in life but unable to reproduce could actually be exactly what our planet and humanity in general need to “flourish.” We don’t need to multiply and consume more resources to be happy. We aren’t viruses.

As a married heterosexual who has no children, I take offense at the suggestion that happiness depends upon reproduction. But there’s another note in Mohler’s article that is even worse. When he says that our his undefined concept of “flourishing” depends upon outlawing same sex marriages, what seems to be suggesting is that our human happiness relies on discriminating against our fellow human beings. According to Mohler, we can’t be happy as a species unless we can maintain a class system in which those who love others of the same sex are systematically and constitutionally denied the same rights we heterosexuals enjoy.

No. My marriage and my happiness absolutely do not depend upon denying others rights. No, our ability as a species to “flourish” is not dependent on keeping our heels grinding into the backs of the gay community. Quite the opposite, my happiness is enhanced when I know other people are happy. It makes me unhappy to see others in pain. It certainly does not make me “flourish.”

 

It must be hard to be on the wrong side of history. It must be difficult to have beliefs that pin your “flourishing” to keeping other people oppressed. It must be hard to see the rest of your country move toward justice and equality all around you. I’m sure those who fought to stop interracial marriage felt the same way at one time, and they used scripture to support their arguments as well.

Justice is justice. Religious beliefs do not play into it. That was the guarantee made by the Bill of Rights when our country began, and as we continue to work toward achieving that goal there will always be those who stand alone against the tides of reality. As we learn to treat each other equally, there will always be stalwarts against “equality and justice for all.” Fortunately, they are becoming ever more isolated and their arguments begin to sound ever more desperate.

 

 


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Angels and Demons: From Jon Bon Jovi’s lemonade to Uruguay’s hungry player

June is Pagan Values Blogging Month. In a religion as amorphous as modern Paganism, it can be difficult to spell out any one set of values that applies to all of us. Sometimes it’s better to point out examples of behavior in the real world that fits our values rather than listing or even analyzing an isolated state of out-of-context ideas. The old saying about art, “I don’t know what good artwork is, but I know it when I see it” applies here.

So rather than SAYING what we value, I thought I’d start pointing out people from around the news that are ACTING within the values of our religious community, as well as those who are not. I hope to turn this into a regular series that searches around the world for news and celebrates people doing good things and fighting for just causes while calling out those who are mired in injustice and hatred.

The examples below are definitely not from Pagans. Some of these people would be mortified to be associated with Pagans, others would find comfort in the fact that we disapprove of their actions. It doesn’t matter to me what someone’s religious or political views are, as long as they are working toward a better world. So here’s my first installment of Angels and Demons:

 

ANGELS

Jon Bon Jovi

On June 9, it was reported that veteran rocker Jon Bon Jovi finished a concert in Florida, got directly onto a plane, flew back to his home state of New Jersey, and visited the lemonade stand of one of his youngest fans, 10-year old Mario Carpino.

 

Bon Jovi Mario Carpino

Jon Bon Jovi with Mario Carpino; Photo: myfoxphilly.com

Carpino suffers from inoperable brain cancer and has had tumors since he was four years old. He holds his lemonade stand as an annual effort to raise money for childhood cancer research. The family has been trying to get the singer to come to their event for four years. They ran a hugely successful Facebook campaign, which led one of Bon Jovi’s sons to discover Mario’s wishes. He told his father, and the singer surprised everyone by just rolling right up and ordering a lemonade.

We value the protecting and caring for the young. We value love. We value healing. We value lending your name to a good cause. This month, Jon Bon Jovi gave Love a pretty good name.

Kate Kelly

On Monday June 25, Kate Kennedy was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. Her crime: fighting for the ordination of women in the church. Kennedy is a devout Mormon who is happy with her faith. That much can clearly be seen by the letter she sent to defend herself against charges of apostasy.

Kate Kelly Mormon Ordain Women

Kate Kelly; Photo: ordainwomen.org

But Kelly wished to improve her faith by asking difficult questions calculated to bring equality into the fold. She started the website ordainwomen.org to advance her cause.  Her questioning was too much for the LDS Church, who argued that her “aggressive” actions could “erode the faith of others.” Kelly, who has thousands of Mormon supporters of both sexes, sees that there is more to her religion than perpetuating a patriarchal power structure, and she risked and received her religion’s highest punishment to fight for equality where many others would have sat down, folded their hands, and remained quiet.

We value equality, an end to male privilege, and standing up for what is right. We also believe in the right to ask questions and engage in debate.  Kelly has risked even her “eternal family” to push for equality, and she continues to fight. “I cannot repent of telling the truth,” she says.

The Presbyterian Church (USA)

So often, Christianity gets painted as anti-gay. Many denominations continue to fight marriage equality. Some are even defrocking priests who perform legal gay marriages. Earlier this week, the American Presbyterian Church voted to change its definition of marriage as a partnership between “two people” rather than a man and a woman.

This change allows Presbyterian ministers to perform weddings for gay couples in any state where gay marriage is legal, and we all know that tide has become a tsunami. The Presbyterian Church is setting the example that bigotry and hatred are not Christian values. They are a large denomination, and they set a wonderful example for other sects of the faith.

We value treating others equally, not just in words, but also in rights and responsibilities. The Presbyterian Church is moving in that direction. There’s a lot of change still to be made, but they’re moving toward the right side of the morality fence.

 

DEMONS

The Sudanese Government

Meriam Ibrahim has finally been freed, but not without last minute drama. Ibrahim was arrested on charges of apostasy after marrying a Christian man. She was sentenced to 100 lashes and the death penalty, even though she was pregnant. The case sparked international outrage. She was eventually released, taken back into custody, then released again.

Ibrahim claims to have been born to a Muslim father who abandoned her. She says she was then raised as a Christian, and she identifies as one. After her arrest, Ibrahim gave birth in prison while her legs were chained together.

All of this happened, according to reports, because a male Muslim relative of hers filed a criminal complaint against Ibrahim for marrying a Christian – the crime of apostasy- yet Ibrahim has never seen herself as a Muslim. One has to wonder if the same thing would have happened to a man. Apostasy has been in the news twice this week, and both cases seem more about male retention of their privilege to control intimate aspects of a woman’s life.

We value a woman’s right to decide her religion and her husband for herself rather than having it imposed upon her by men or the government. We also value human rights, including the right to give birth – even in prison – in clean, sanitary conditions that accommodate the needs of the mother and the child (which is a fancy way of saying “it’s wrong to chain a woman’s feet together when she’s giving birth”).

49% of America

Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center found that 49% of people would be seriously disappointed if a family member married an atheist. A significantly fewer portion said they would have a problem with marrying someone with different political views or of a different race, so that’s good, but almost half couldn’t abide an atheist.

This finding was most common among conservatives, with 73% saying they would be unhappy, but 41% of liberals also expressed a problem with a family member marrying a nonbeliever. The result cuts across political lines.

Especially as a religious minority ourselves, we believe in religious freedom, including freedom from religion, and the right to marry whom you please.

Luis Suarez

Sporting events go well back into pagan antiquity. Most sports have rules, either written or unwritten, about fair play and sportsmanship. You compete your hardest to win, but you don’t aim to harm another athlete.

Luis Suarez is a striker for Uruguay national soccer team. In Tuesday’s match against Italy, Suarez appears to have bitten into the shoulder of an Italian player Giorgio Chiellini. Chiellini immediately exposed his shoulder to show the bite marks. You can see it here.  Nothing happened at the time, but Uruguay scored the go-ahead goal soon after and eliminated the Italians.

This isn’t Suarez’s first incident. He has been suspended twice, once for seven games and once for 10, for biting an opponent. The guy has too much of a taste for competition. As if that weren’t enough, he was once banned for eight games for racially abusing an opponent and sat out one game after raising his middle finger to another team’s crowd.  We believe in fair play, sportsmanship, and buying your enemy a beer so you can talk out your differences. We don’t value needless violence.  We certainly believe in eliminating racism.

 

I say “we” value a lot here. I realize that these values don’t necessarily hold true for every single person in the Pagan community. Still, I think it’s valuable to show examples of real people acting with honor and those acting shamefully. I’d rather hold up a model to emulate rather than idly talk about values. The real world provides us with a never ending stream of celebrities, personalities, and regular people doing wonderful things every day. I honor their examples.

 

 

 

 


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Dads and Deities: a Pagan view of the role of Fathers

Our culture seems to have a warped view of fatherhood. Few, if any, models of fatherhood in pop culture present anything anyone would aspire to. If you were an alien looking down on our culture to study how we view fathers, you’d be presented with models that either included the alcoholic, overweight, guardian of the remote control or the cold, strict, dictator of the home. You’d be left with the conclusion that we think fathers are either despots or fools.

 

As we approach Fathers’ Day, this is becoming even more apparent. Judging from the commercials and other ads that deluge our world this time of year, fathers are people who work too much, love beer (usually bad beer), and really only think about golf. The alien researcher would also conclude that each father has an altar to the god of the reclining chair, on which he performs a nightly ritual of staring at a lighted box while receiving the messages displayed on the screen.

And of course, that’s only if the father is present in his children’s life. If our alien scientists decided to study some forms of our pop culture, they might conclude that fathers abandon their children shortly after birth, leaving the mother in the painful position of having to raise the child by herself. When asked to assist financially, the researchers would find, our fathers complain a lot about having to work too hard or being behind on their cell phone bill, so they couldn’t possibly afford a bit of their paycheck to help raise the child they helped create.

 

Sure, there are healthier examples of fatherhood out there, but sometimes I fear that these are the exceptions and not the rule. So what is fatherhood really about? I don’t know; I’m not a dad. Even if I were, I still wouldn’t like golf. But if we go back and look at sources other than modern pop culture, maybe we could find out how our ancestors have passed down their views of what it means to be a father in this world. Since religion and mythology are the longest lasting records of the values of our ancestors, they give us a powerful example of what a father can really be.

 

The Hebrew god is a good place to start. After all, he is commonly referred to as “Father,” and even some of his priests often claim the title. Sadly, I think that the mythology of this god is part of where our trouble with fatherhood is rooted. In the Old Testament, this is a god whose punishments are far and away too severe for the crime. Adam and Eve definitely were warned in advance not to eat the apple, but exiling them from the Garden and dooming all women to painful childbirth as punishment was a little excessive. Never mind what he did to Sodom and Gomorrah and poor Lot’s wife.

 

The New Testament version is more loving. Still, he demands to be the only god and is willing to send a person to eternal torment for breaking his rules. This is still a difficult depiction of fatherhood. I don’t mean to Christian bash here, but I just think there are better role models for fatherhood in other mythologies.

 

None of the gods of other mythologies are perfect, but that’s actually part of their value as models. If you strive for perfection, you’ll always be disappointed. Like archetypal fathers throughout mythology, fathers in our society make mistakes. They are fallible.   They definitely are prone to over-punishing, as we all are. When their children are born they don’t really know what they’re doing. They have to learn, and they don’t always get it right. But they get better because they love their sons and daughters.

 

Zeus and Jupiter definitely made mistakes. Zeus was quite the fan of infidelity, but at least his myths explore how his misdeeds affect his wife and the consequences to his children. Looking beyond his famous appetite for sex, Zeus was also in charge of society’s laws and protecting all of his people. A good human father must sometimes set down laws, but he also must help in protecting all of his children equally. He also mediated disputes – something all fathers with more than one child have to do at some point.

 

 

These are some of the classic roles of fatherhood. They are almost stereotypical. The fact is, though, that mothers can do all of these things as well. The idea that the father is the one who sets and enforces rules while the mother is nurturing and loving isn’t always true. Sometimes a mother is a protector and enforcer. Sometimes a father is nurturing.

 

The Celtic god known as The Dagda carries some attributes that are often seen as female. His cauldron, typically a feminine symbol in witchcraft, provides a never-ending supply of food. Thus he nourishes himself and his children. He is a musician, and his harp brings the seasons, which – of course – bring food. He is also able to restore life to the dead. He brings life and nurtures his children. At the same time, he is a powerful warrior. The Dagda really is a “good god” who contains a well-rounded mixture and provides a good fatherly role model.

 

Odin has to be included here. I’m not a Norse practitioner, but anyone known as the “Allfather” must have some good fatherly traits. And he does. As a warrior, Odin fights for his people like a father must sometimes fight for his children. What’s great about Odin, though, is that he has a softer side. His love of poetry is a model for how we can teach our children to respect the arts, and as a god of wisdom, he embodies that classic fatherly role of advisor. Odin’s sacrifice to gain that wisdom teaches us that we must suffer to learn, and his willingness to do so makes him one of the wisest role models for modern fatherhood.

 

Many neopagans work with the Green Man, the young god who brings life to the Earth. The Green Man’s partnership with the Goddess and eventual sacrifice for the good of other living beings is a core part of many people’s practice. It’s probably a modern concept, but it’s a powerful one as a father must love and help raise his children. He often must sacrifice time, money, and effort to help his children be the best they can be. It’s a beautiful example of what it can mean to be a good father.

 

None of these models of fatherhood are perfect, and this is not intended to be a complete list. Yet what I love about these “father gods” is that they all carry their fatherhood well beyond simply setting rules and meting out punishments. They are wise, they provide, they heal, they love, and they sacrifice themselves for their family. These are the reasons that we celebrate something called Fathers’ Day. Hopefully you were lucky enough to have a father like them.

 

 


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Pagan men speak out on patriarchy and misogyny

Men live in a world of incredible privilege.  Unfortunately, we’re like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, often unable to see a world any different from our own.  Women may bare their souls trying to show us the advantages we enjoy as men, but – never having seen the world any differently – some men find it impossible to imagine life from a woman’s point of view.

The shootings at UC Santa Barbara picked the scab off this societal wound.  Suddenly, deep and festering examples of everything from slight male privilege to disgusting and cancerous misogyny were exposed.  “Men’s rights” groups, unable to see that they already enjoy easy access to “rights,” have turned to social media to defend themselves.

The hashtag #notallmen screamed that “not all men” were sexists or rapists and demanded recognition.  Women countered with a trend that had already been around, #yesallwomen, detailing the experiences of fear, pain, and marginalization that all women have to sustain, but men never give a second thought to.  “Yes all women” feel fear every time they have to go out at night to pick up a carton of milk or jog alone in the park.  They have to.  You never know which man is the dangerous one.

Modern pagans are in a unique place in this debate.  The most visible strands of the movement love and worship the Goddess.  Many of us came to paganism to flee from the oppression of a one male god patriarchy.  Even men’s groups tend to dislike patriarchy and make an attempt to listen and understand their sisters.  Pagan men are at the forefront, necessary allies in the fight against patriarchy.

I asked pagan men from various traditions to give their perspectives in this very important topic.  Their answers are thoughtful and hopeful, showing just how far ahead of the gender relations curve many of us are.

Storm Faerywolf

Storm Faerywolf

“Patriarchy is not about men. It’s about *boys*. It’s about those who are stunted and who cling to a wicked lie that some people are more equal than others. Real men do not need to demonize women… or different types of men, for that matter, in order to gain respect. Real men gain respect by giving it.

The Sacred Masculine treats all women and all types of men as equals. Recognizing the inherent equality in others does not diminish us in any way. Only with the goal of real equality for everyone can we work together to change our culture.

And to change we need to share our stories. And we need to listen to the stories of others who are different than us. *Especially* when they are hard for us to hear.

I have been harmed and shamed by men. I have been harmed and shamed by women. I choose to take that pain and turn it into compassion for all people, in all walks of life. Women are the victims of a systematic problem that results in their physical harm and even death. If women are angry at “all men” for this, well… I can’t exactly blame them. I used to be angry at all men, too, because I grew up in fear of them.

One answer is for men to get together to ask ourselves tough questions… and to mirror for each other what it means to be a healthy, respectful, strong male. We need not own the anger of those who have been hurt by others and then make it all about us. If we *do* make it all about us then that shows where *our* wounds are, too.

Let us all heal our wounds! For there are far too many.”

- Storm Faerywolf

Faery Teacher, www.faerywolf.com

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

“I believe it starts with asking “how I can help” and ‘what I can do?” By being active listeners and participants, engaging by making the choice to flip the script. Instead of “fighting for…” choose “I am fighting in the stopping of oppression, power, and privilege.” For men specifically, it is also realizing that every man is “that man” because by default society places us, trains us, and lifts us up to be misogynists. We are born seeing misogyny. The default setting, especially in the US is patriarchy. It may not be our choice, but we must accept that unlearning centuries of cognitive dissonance is the path we choose. Women know we will stumble, but by trying, and coming to the table with an open heart, mind, and spirit, making about the problems and not the person, believe true change will manifest.”

-Erick DuPree

Writer, erickdupree.com

 

“I can never fully understand the day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute lived experiences that most of the women in my life have had to endure. And to be

Gwion Raven

Gwion Raven

clear, I and many other men I know have lived through some of the same horrible experiences, but those experiences are often singular acts rather than the daily, non-stop, relentless, often invisible systemic silencing.

So I have chosen to stay silent. I’ve made this choice consciously. I’m staying silent because my voice is not yet needed in this conversation and, frankly, it might never be needed, wanted or welcomed.

Some uncomfortable facts I’ve come to face to face with recently

  • Most women I know have experienced being silenced by men
  • Most women I know have experienced being marginalised by men
  • Most women I know have experienced being objectified by men
  • Most women I know have experienced some form of abuse by men

So the paradoxical question becomes how can I show my support to the women in my life and women in general without saying anything?

My support looks like staying out of online conversations, no matter how badly I want to say “me too” or “I know what you mean”. My support shows up as listening when the subject is brought up and rarely commenting. It looks like paying attention and making eye contact. My support says “Please tell me if I ever cross a line” and then actually being present and willing to hear that feedback. My support might mean that I have to own what I’ve done and even own what others have done, even if I never would do that thing. My support will speak up when I see misogyny in action in the large and obvious ways and in the hundreds of micro-aggressions that happen each day.”

- Gwion Raven

Writer at To be a Witch

Dean Jones OBOD

Dean Jones

“One thing I see with everyone that addresses this issue from a Male perspective is that it can be dealt with by just saying something trite. When I read essays by women that kind of throw me for a curve, I don’t know how the issues surrounding the relations between Men and Women around the globe can be treated in such a cursory manner.

 I’m not sure where I stand completely because it’s a very large issue and will take considerable time to change so I just don’t care much for the notion of a sound bite answer or dismissal. When a Man dismisses the ideas with a “notallmen” shrug I know everything about him at that moment. I’ve seen it on Facebook when women address their feelings and the facts, it’s a dismissal plain and simple that men are perpetrating.

 Dealing with this in a humorous fashion with a joke also does not do the subject matter justice and it’s also a defensive move that gets none of us anywhere, and also tells me that the man in questions just does not want to address it.

 For me, I have no answers, so I plan on listening and learning and pulling my head out of the Sand. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I know that no matter what I do, it will start with listening and communicating and not running from the truths that it may tell me about myself. We all have the power to stop bad behavior, and change the world. Women have been facing adversity for generations across the world. Young women are facing horrible brutality just to attend school. Women face harassment, Rape, and other horrors on a day to day basis. We men can take a page and be brave ourselves and face these things and the fear that we ourselves are contributing and causing these things and change ourselves. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, but if we are to grow and change it’s essential.

 One thing that we can do, is pray to the goddess for help in listening to what she’s been telling us for years that we have not heard. We can ask that the blinders that we have on be removed and we see our Mothers and Wives, and Sisters and daughters for the first time. We can pray for inspiration in knowing how to talk and discuss these things with subtlety and intelligence. We can ask for forgiveness and direction. We can do so much that the list is endless, but it’s time that we come together to make a better tomorrow for everyone. One way to help facilitate listening does not just begin with shutting the hell up. It involves creating an environment of trust where we can talk with women and they can trust us to know that they will be heard. That won’t be easy for us, or them and could take a considerable amount of time. But I believe it’s possible. It’s time. Now.”

-Dean Jones

Bard of OBOD

Chris Orapello Down at the Crossroads

Chris Orapello

“As a Wiccan, the divine feminine and the divine masculine are extremely important to me as they denote balance and equality. The Goddess is the bearer and deliverer of life and life is sacred. As living beings we are a part of that divine gift, contained by and brought forth by our own mother. Without my mother, I would not have manifested into this world; she is divine and she is sacred. All women, whether by birth or by self-identification, embody sacredness; they embody divinity itself. I find them amazing.

 So- when I hear about inequality against women, I grow impatient because equality should be a standard available to all people. When I hear of abuse committed against women, I get angry because no one should be abused. When I hear of women being raped, I get enraged because no one should have their bodily autonomy taken from them. The women of the world are our mothers, sisters, partners, lovers, daughters, and friends. They deserve our love, companionship, friendship, and respect. As men, we owe so much to the women in our lives. We owe them our lives. To deny them the same rights as men hold is shameful and to cause them harm in any way is completely blasphemous.”

- Chris Orapello

Host of Down at the Crossroads podcast

It’s strange.  While collecting the quotes for this post, I had the chance to interact with some extraordinary pagan men.  Yet, in the middle of it I realized that I’m not used to so much interaction with men.  I’ve never been particularly comfortable around other men.  I’ve always tended to see other men as rather brutish and unapproachable.  What I found in collecting  this information is that there is a wider spectrum to the male community, especially the male pagan community, than I have ever understood.

There are men who want to be allies.  There are even some who understand that they will never understand the everyday lives of their sisters.  But that’s OK.  It’s the first step to what may be the real answer to this problem, because it leads to the good man dialing down the defensiveness and instead of blathering on about “not all men,” listening with an open heart and responding with perhaps the most powerful question any man could ask a woman: “How can I help?”


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Maleficent: a trend of reframing the villain

Everybody’s weighing in on Maleficent.  Any time you have a magical story, especially one involving dark but misunderstood protagonists, the pagan community climbs on board.  Add to that some very palpable metaphors about humans, greed, and our relationship with the Earth, and Maleficent has proven to be very popular in the community.

 

WARNING: This post contains spoilers

 

Wild Hunt columnist Heather Greene has done a wonderful job of both discussing these themes from the film and also reviewing it.  One of my favorite parts of her piece is her discussion of the film’s “fallen angel’” theme.  The framing of Maleficent the classic Disney villain as Luciferian figure who falls from grace, but ultimately succeeds in bringing balance and light to humanity, re-unifying the human race with paradise, was the heartbeat of this film and, for me, provided the energy that powered a large part of Maleficent’s story.

 

I’m not going to review Maleficent here.  Suffice it to say that I agree with Heather Greene and also wish that King Stephan’s story had been more fully realized.  We understand that he is dishonest at the very beginning when he is caught stealing jewels from the Moors; we also learn early on that he is ambitious.  These two qualities are a dangerous, MacBeth-esque pair that produced a very bad king.  I only wish that we had a little more of a glimpse into how he ascended so far up the ladder.

 

Still, the movie isn’t called Stephan.  Maleficent is the main character and Maleficent drives the story.  Thankfully, Angelina Jolie captures Disney’s dark fairy beautifully.

More importantly, I’ve become fascinated with a new trend in movies, stage, and television: the deconstruction, reconstruction, and retelling of classic stories from the villain’s point of view.  Maleficent seems to have cemented this theme into our pop culture consciousness.

 

The beginnings of this “Reframing” theme, as I’m calling it, goes back at least as far as Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.  In that musical, the stories from classic fairy tales intertwine with each other, and the Witch drives the action.  She isn’t the enemy to defeat; she’s more of a redeemed trickster who eventually gives up on humanity’s foolish ways.

 

The Wizard of Oz has been reframed more than once.  The most popular version, and perhaps was the first to truly re-cast the villain as the hero, is the book and musical Wicked.  The musical especially capitalizes of re-framing evil as good.  It begins with the Munchkins asking Glinda how someone can become as evil as Elphaba (later the Wicked Witch of the West).  Glinda, Elphaba’s high school bestie, blanches and tries to tell her story.

 

“Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?  After all, she had a father.  She had a mother, as so many of us do…”

 

Glinda goes on to reveal how Elphaba was ostracized for her green skin, had parents who hated her, and was forced to serve her wheelchair-bound sister.  She was smart and had knowledge of current events.  She could see outside the Wizard’s hegemony.  When she saw the Wizard doing evil things, she rebelled and became the victim of a vicious PR campaign to reframe her as “wicked.”

 

Speaking of the Wizard, Oz the Great and Powerful also re-casts a morally difficult character.  Sure, the Wizard is still a fraud and huckster from Kansas in this one, but at least he uses his skills to save Oz (and to create his enmity with the Witch of the West).

 

Arguably the most accomplished feats of re-framing, and certainly the most complex, are in TV’s Once Upon a Time.  The labyrinthine twists and turns taken within the elaborate plot of this story is a whole other post (or three).  Almost every character has a life in the Enchanted Forest (fairy tale land) and our world.  That means that every actor is playing at least two characters.  With time distortions, alternate worlds, and flashbacks, every character is different depending on where, who, and when he/she is.

 

This is particularly true for the two “evil” characters.  Rumpelstiltskin (Mr. Gold) is reframed as a coward, turned jilted husband, turned evil magician, turned regretful father, turned abandoned son, turned pawn shop owner, turned lover, turned hero, turned lunatic, turned slave, turned nice guy (but not really).  You can never really trust him, but you begin to understand and sympathize with his motivations.

 

The Evil Queen (Regina) is almost as complex, but she is in the more classic style of this genre: she didn’t begin wicked.  It was thrust upon her by the naive Snow White (Mary Margaret) and her ambitious mother, Cora.  As we see her history, we see her grow from starry-eyed to vicious and back again.

 

Once Upon a Time even succeeds at recasting Peter Pan as a really nasty villain while turning Captain Hook into a redeemed hero and lover.

 

Why spend so much time talking about these different stories?  Something about reframing bad guys clearly appeals to us.   I like to think it’s a sign of a maturing society, one which is learning to see good terms beyond black and white.  These characters not only contain lots of grey, they embody a whole spectrum of color.  Each of their actions needs to be evaluated on a much more finely calibrated scale than simply black hat/white hat.

 

A common argument against stories that reframe like this is that it isn’t the “real” story.  Maleficent did not turn her raven into a dragon- she became the dragon; J.M. Barrie never wrote anything that suggested that Peter Pan held Wendy Darling captive in Neverland. While this is true, it misses the point.

 

Reframing stories, especially classic fairy tales, is almost a postmodern exercise that allows us to deconstruct a tale and rebuild it to suit a different purpose.  It allows us to see that “the villain is always the hero of his/her own story” and encourages us to see things from different points of view.  In social psychology, out-groups are always believed to be both A) all alike and B) bad because they’re not like  us.  The remedy to this is to spend time with the other group and learn to see things through their eyes.  Reframing stories, in their ever-increasing popularity, give us more opportunities to do exactly that.  They help us see past the black white and grey and into the reds and greens and purples of someone else’s life.  This is a vital skill in our modern, internet-connected era.

 

Maleficent is a very successful exercise in reframing.  It brings us into the world of a character that always seemed so dark and foreboding and rewires her into a powerful, essentially good woman who made a couple really bad decisions.  We’ve all made bad decisions.  It also flips the script on the king and queen, changing them from a picture of radiant goodness in to greedy, manipulative, just plain awful people.  In both cases, it is when each accepts the intricacies of the other that there can truly be peace.

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