Intersections

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


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Finding the Hook in your Heart and Soul

I am an unabashed lover of all things Peter Pan.  Aside from the sheer brilliance of the story itself, a tale that speaks to both children and adults, I have always been fascinated by the many permutations and iterations the J.M. Barrie’s convention-breaking stage play about a flying child.  It is a mark of great literature that many readers over multiple generations can find new and interesting angles from which to approach an old story, and Peter Pan may have more retellings and alternate approaches than just about any other story.  Through these retellings, a story stands the test of time.  And time, in the form of threatening adulthood and the deadly Tic-Toc Croc, is the principal antagonist in the story of the Boy Who Never Grew Up.

Finding Neverland is one of the most interesting incarnations of the beloved story.  Based on a play by Allan Knee, the 2004 film presents the story of how the Scottish playwright Barrie dramatically altered his life, challenged London’s strict social norms, befriended a family of young boys who inspired him, and ultimately penned this enduring classic in the face of deep resistance.  It’s a lovely, touching movie.  

In 2015, the story hit Broadway as a stage musical.  Music is a powerful way to touch at your heart, and the show pounds its way into your senses near the end of the first act and never lets go.   

If you know the movie, then you know that the London theater establishment resisted Barrie’s fantastical idea of a children’s play not necessarily for children.  A nanny dog, flying children, and non-verbal fairies seemed like a terrible stretch to the minds of straight laced Edwardian England.  They were right, to an extent.  In the show, Barrie gets called out on his over-exuberant fantasy at the cost of anything interesting:

“You don’t even have a villain,” Barrie is told.  From there, he suffers the loss of all that is important to him.  He is alone.  In his outcast mind, struggling with how to achieve this play that will eventually make history, he is confronted by the darkest part of himself.  James Barrie comes face to face with his shadow self and his iconic villain: James Hook.  Barrie’s alter ego tells him:

 

“No need to be afraid

Every little shackle deserves it’s praise

Time to unshackle all your chains

Don’t be so cowardly I’ll change”

 

In a dark and scary moment for both Barrie and the audience, Captain Hook tells his creator

“You have to look in your heart in your soul

You must find a hook in your heart in your soul

ANd search every nook in your heart in your soul

Don’t live by the book in your heart in your soul

We live by the hook!”

finding neverland

“Stronger.” Source: nytimes.com

It was the conflict that was necessary to make a classic.  With the darkness, the conflict, Peter Pan blossomed from a limp fairy tale into a robust and enduring classic.  Peter Pan is made what it has become not by its fun and frolic, but by the creeping crocodile threat that contrasts with Peter’s playful denial:

  • Peter Pan almost dies to end the first act.  We go to intermission with our hero proclaiming, “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”
  • Tinkerbell sacrifices herself for Pan and her light fades toward death.
  • The Darling children are captured by pirates and threatened with their lives.
  • The Darling parents spend the entire story sick to death at the loss of their children.

Tic Toc.  Tic Toc.  

Our lives and our magical practice are the same.  We may prefer the easy moments, the fun and frolic of living in a state of Neverland-ish denial, but on its own that has no meaning.  We must face the Hooks in our own heart and soul, for it is our struggles and painful moments – and perhaps ultimately our victory over them – that give our lives greater meaning.  They create the awfully big adventure.  Barrie needed his hook.  Peter needed his shadow reattached.  We need our pains to know how we’ve triumphed.  They help us define ourselves and learn how to be, in the words of the first act finale, Stronger:

 

“I can run now so much faster

Now defeat won’t be my master

I will conquer the demons

I won’t have to wait any longer

I’ve got to be stronger”

There will always be difficult times ahead, but if classics can be written under adversity, we can also become stronger from that which does not kill us.  Our Hooks give our lives meaning if we can find them.

 


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Hidden Figures and Pussyhats

The new film Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women (among many) who helped to save the American Space Program.  In segregated Virginia, these women battled both racism and misogyny, deftly fended off micro- and macro-aggressions against both race and sex, and figured out the very mathematics necessary to launch Americans into orbit and bring them back safely.  Ultimately, their work helped to win the Cold War.

Source: Educationworld.com

Their stories have been largely untold until now.  Their lives were mostly unknown by the general population.  Sadly, despite their incalculable service to their country, despite the fact that they fought against all odds and proved their value and their capabilities, the same fights are still being waged.  Racism is alive and well; misogyny is on its way to taking power in the White House.

After the movie, I happened to overhear two people discussing what they had just seen.  “They didn’t complain,” said one person.  “They just accepted things for the way they were and worked harder.”  These two moviegoers went on to praise the three main characters in the film, not for their genius or their bravery, but for being quiet and meek about the injustices they were forced to overcome.  It was, in their minds, good for these three black female heroes to remain hidden.

Someone clearly missed the point.

As a Pagan, I’m proud to be part of a religious community that is on the forefront of the fight for equality.  We aren’t perfect.  Racism and sexism and other injustices still crop up, but large numbers of our community believe in and actively fight for the equality of all people.  To the general public, we are often hidden.  They want us, and others who believe in equality, to remain that way.

No.

With an administration that has openly insulted women and advocated racist and xenophobic policies, those who believe in equality can’t afford to remain hidden.  What is hidden needs to be revealed, and it needs to claim its power.

One way women are doing that is through the Pussyhat Project.  Inspired by President-Elect Trump’s now infamous claim that he can “grab” women “by the pussy,” knitters have created a hat design to bring their support for equality out of the shadows.  They are taking a term usually used pejoratively and taking back its power.  Many plan to wear the knit hats as they protest the inauguration in Washington D.C. and across the country.  It’s a simple, but visible sign of protest.  It’s a method of claiming power and refusing to stay hidden.

Source: thestranger.com

Contrary to the views of the ladies I overheard, remaining hidden does not help.  The three women who sent America into space may well have succeeded in changing the culture of NASA, but it took a larger and more visible fight to make progress against legal segregation.  There’s a larger, cultural reason that Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were unknown before this movie.  The contributions of both women and African-Americans is largely absent from standard history books.  That leads to ignorance about their contributions.  Ignorance leads to hatred and fear.

The only remedy for ignorance is exposure and education.  I’ll be wearing a pussyhat proudly and I look forward to helping my black and female friends shine a light on their contributions to society.

 

 

 


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Top 10 Pagan Quotes of 2016

2016 was a difficult year in Pagan quotes.  It has been a year of radical change.  It included painful losses of beloved musicians and actors.  It has seen the international stage struggle with surprising and potentially world-changing transformations in the status quo. Marginalized communities feel threatened and unsure of the future.

 

In the midst of mainstream lurches in the norm, the Pagan community was embroiled in political and theological arguments even as we were grasping for answers to the larger questions in world’s sudden changes.   As I prepared this annual list, I realized just how much the Pagan microcosm was reflected in the international macrocosm.

me-2016

And yet, through darkness comes light.  Our bodies heal when we sleep, and we learn valuable lessons from life’s difficult moments.  This year’s top 10 quotes embody the many struggles the Pagan community has been through, both internally and externally.  As usual, these quotes must have been said or written by a Pagan (large umbrella).  They are based purely on my reading and my tastes, so I undoubtedly missed something you loved.  Please feel free to continue the discussion by adding your favorite quotes to the comments.

 

Alright Witches and Pagans, here are my votes for the Top 10 Pagan quotes of 2016.  We’ll begin with a quote from January that, looking back, seems quite prophetic:

* * *

10. “You may not know how to embrace change, but I am here to show you the way. Let me introduce you to my Lord, Loki.”

Heather Freysdottir, January 11

 

9. “If we hope to create societies without domination, violence, and war, then we must transform the distorted images of masculinity and femininity that have been developed in patriarchy. We must insist that domination, violence, and war are no more part of masculinity or male nature than passivity and lack of consciousness are part of femininity or female nature. It may feel good to speak of reuniting the masculine and the feminine, but feeling good will not help us to transform cultures built on domination, violence, and war.”

Carol P. Christ, January 25

8. “But self-reliance is a myth. We are all co-dependent upon everything else on this planet. We do not exist in a vacuum. We need others in order to exist, let alone thrive. We are not separate. Without the innumerable other factors in our lives, beings seen and unseen, we simply could not be. I think that this is why I believe in the gods.”

Joana van der Hoeven, November 14

 

7. “I find Power in the things Christians shout at me–damn straight, I am Lucifer’s f*ggot spawn!”

-Pat Mosley, May 12

 

6. “You know who a lot of those newbs were? Young women. You ever notice how we make fun of anything young women like?

“The internet is full of people bitching about what is and isn’t real witchcraft. Jesus, just look at Patheos’s pagan section and be bored to tears after the tenth article on the subject. That hasn’t changed since the dawn of the internet, and it never will. The only thing that changes is the target everyone is trying to tear down. Pastel Instagram-worthy witchcraft is a fucking easy target because it looks shallow as hell.”

-Mama Fortuna, May 29

 

5. “We don’t run away from the monsters.  We make the monsters run away from us.”

-Greywolf Moonsong, December 21

 

4. “Seriously? When did Witchcraft become a pissing contest?”

-Jason Mankey, April 7

 

 3. “Power comes from all kinds of places, even the places you think are trivial.  Remember that when your sisters that you were so eager to step on as you were coming up get strong enough to come for you.”

-Deborah Castellano, June 1

 

2. “We are most happy to report that none of our clergy subscribe to your views on mixed race or gay marriage, and so we cannot assist you in your upcoming visit to Ireland. Fuck Off. Yours very sincerely, Everyone at the Pagan Federation of Ireland.”

-Everyone at Pagan Federation of Ireland, April 24

Source: theoutmost.com

Source: theoutmost.com

 

1. “In drawing on the momentum of emotions and saying what he pleases, with no apology, Trump has trumped American politics.”

-Taylor Ellwood, March 3

 


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Virtues of the Goddess: Mercy

In October 2014, a podcast called Serial was released.  Hosted by NPR’s Sarah Koenig, Serial tells “one story, week by week.”  That first season told the compelling story of Adnan Sayed, who was convicted during his senior year of high school for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in 1999, but who has long maintained his innocence.  The use of Sayed’s voice, intriguing plot points, and the brilliant weaving together of all the aspects of storytelling made Serial an instant smash hit.  It was the first podcast to reach 5 million downloads.  Serial was an overnight cultural phenomenon.

 

Which is strange.  Here was a show that, while officially objective, was sympathetic to a convicted murderer.  Here was that murderer’s own voice, not a secondhand caricature of him.  The gripping story and questionable evidence helped spawned multiple spin-off podcasts, all of which examined the details of the trial and advocated for the overturning of Sayed’s conviction.

Source: Flikr, labeled for reuse

Source: Flikr, labeled for reuse

Somehow, by painting the picture of a real man suffering for a crime he may not have committed, Serial turned “tough on crime” America into a merciful nation of podcast listeners passionate about righting an injustice.  Not only that, but Sayed is Muslim, and much of America was being kind and merciful to him, and that’s not something often seen in the media.  We have that that quality in us, somewhere.

 

As the Fall Equinox approaches and we look into the time of darkness, it can be important to remember that many people’s darkness is deeper than our own.  While many of us watch the sunlight slip away as we sink into winter’s coldness, others don’t have homes in which they can take shelter from that cold.  Others, like Sayed, who may very well be innocent, don’t even have the freedom to leave the walls that surround them.   To me, the way we treat those people, people over whom we have much power, is the essence of the virtue of mercy.  And who has less power than prisoners?

 

Helping prisoners is hard to swallow for some.  Despite the reaction to Serial, many in America still have a “throw away the key” attitude toward the incarcerated.  There’s still an attitude that prison should be for punishment, not rehabilitation.  There is still a clear lack of mercy toward prisoners.

 

Leslie Hugo, the Lead Capricorn Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, would disagree.  She has been doing prison ministry, mercifully reaching out to the least powerful people in her home state of Utah, for almost three years.  She explains that, “Most of the over 200 inmates I work with are under 30. They made mistakes when they were young, usually still teenagers, involving drugs or gang related activities. At this point, they want out of the lifestyle they had been involved in. Many have expressed their dreams and desires to get out of prison, get married, find a good job and raise a family.”

Leslie Hugo [Courtesy Photo]

Leslie Hugo [Courtesy Photo]

Counterintuitively, mercy toward the incarcerated may actually help society in the end.  Once someone has experienced prison, they usually don’t want to go back, yet recidivism rates are high.  One possible explanation for that is the lack of monetary, spiritual, and physical resources for released prisoners to make a life for themselves. By helping to provide them these things- spiritual training, job training, education- we help ourselves.

 

Hugo emphasizes that, “more than 80% of these inmates will be released, and they will be living and working in a community side by side with us.”  With that in mind, it makes little sense to take all spiritual and societal resources away from them.  “It is in everybody’s best interest that these individuals have a strong spiritual path that can help and give them support when they are released,” she said.

 

 

Thanks in large part to Serial and the effort of its listeners, Adnan Sayed’s conviction has been overturned.  He will get his day in court again, and it all came about because millions of people took mercy on this one unlikely person.  Others, both behind bars and on the outside, don’t have that same opportunity.  Homeless people suffer in America every day.  A racial divide still eats away at our country.  There are opportunities for mercy all around us.

 

If you think about it, human beings are the only animal that truly demonstrates mercy.  It’s not easy for us to do.  It’s often not our natural reaction, but we are capable of it. That puts us in a unique place.  Think of what society could be like if it were structured around mercy for those who struggle rather than turning a blind eye.  We are special.  Mercy does exist within us.   It can make the world a better place, but only if we all find it within us.  If we can’t, we will never find it outside us.

 

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is Part 7: Mercy.


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Pokemon, Privilege, and Pagans

Two trends rolled over the Internet last week.  One involved people striking out into their world to capture things that no one else could see and displaying them to a disbelieving world.  The other was Pokemon Go.

 

At the same time that the wildly popular Pokemon app was inspiring children of all ages to brave the world outside the confines of their homes, a real struggle was gripping the country as the Black Lives Matter movement was handed two more obvious examples of why their movement must continue to have a voice.

 

Two more examples of the normally unseen were blasted across the web, and these two horrible incidents made the issue even harder to ignore.  Their names were Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  They forced anyone with a modicum of paying attention to acknowledge that, yes, there really is something going on beneath our very noses, and it’s not the presence of a Rattata.  It’s a very real and very insidious privilege that is burning away at society.  It may be harder to see than a Pikachu lurking in your closet, but it is much more dangerous and a lot harder to capture.

 

The Pokemon Go app advises its players to be “constantly aware of your surroundings.”  That’s good advice, but not just in the game.  Here IRL, we also need to be actually aware of what is going on around us.  When the black community takes to the streets to protest the killing of yet another innocent young man, it’s not the whining of “thug.”  They are not claiming that only their lives matter.  They’re not asking for special treatment.  They are crying with their whole souls: “Look at what is happening to us!  Please acknowledge the value of our lives!”  They are begging those of us outside the community to see what is occurring right before our eyes.  If we can do it to capture a venemoth, surely we can do it to facilitate the survival of our fellow human beings.

 

Those of us in the Pagan community tend to believe in the reality of that which is unseen.  That should apply beyond believing in the Otherworld and extend out to a different reality experienced by our brothers and sisters of color.  It may be difficult for us to see personally if we are not people of color, but we have enough evidence, littered on the streets in the forms of a slew of dead black bodies, to know it is real.

 

One of the hallmarks of Paganism is the belief that all in this life is sacred.  We don’t believe in a fallen and sinful material world.  We believe that this life, and all that is in it, is sacred.  It’s time to actually live up to that belief and to honor and support the innocent, sacred black lives that are lost every day.  To honor black lives is not to dishonor any other life.  Rather, it is to acknowledge that those lives are just as sacred as any other life and should be treated with as much respect and reverence.  When they are suffering, we support and help them.  Those of us who are not of color may not fully see and understand their experiences, but our sight is limited.  As Pagans, we know that no single perspective is correct, so if we open our minds we may be able to capture all sorts of monsters that we had never seen before.

 

 


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La Santa Muerte: An interview with author Tomás Prower

The worship of La Santa Muerte, Mexico’s iconic Lady of “Holy Death,” is blossoming throughout the Americas.  Much like death itself, the hauntingly powerful skeletal figure of Santa Muerte is maligned and feared by the powerful, but loved and venerated by the desperate.  Millions of faithful throughout Mexico, the southwest United States, and all of Latin America, most of whom identify as Roman Catholics, flock to her temples to venerate the Lady of Death who holds the entire world in her hands.

 

muerte-blanca_6

La Santa Muerte

She gained television fame in English when  Breaking Bad’s hardcore Cousins lowered themselves to crawl toward her temple to petition her favor in their quest to destroy Heisenberg.

She guides the everyday tortilla vendor, the vicious drug lord, and everyone in between.  Here in the Los Angeles area, thousands flock to secretive nighttime masses in her honor.  Her followers are passionate, her dissenters resolute, and more and more, the Pagan community has felt her call.  

So who is Holy Death?  I recently interviewed Tomás Prower, author of the new Llewellyn book La Santa Muerte.  Prower is a devotee of the La Santa Muerte, and his book unveils many aspects of Her worship and details about working with her magickally that were previously difficult to find in the English speaking world.  In our discussion, he offers background, ideas, and inspiration for Pagans and polytheists on bringing this powerful Lady from the Catholic world into our spiritual practice..

Prower

Tomás Prower

Tell us about your personal and spiritual background.

PROWER: “My spiritual background, for most of my life, has been Roman Catholicism. I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, but I was fortunate to have a very liberal, “West Coast” Catholic high school. Part of the curriculum included classes on other world religions and on the fact that the Bible should not be taken literally and only be viewed through the lens of the cultural-political atmosphere of the times. So, I never came to hate the Catholic faith, but by college, I became bored from overexposure of it and began “trying out” other religions. It didn’t take too long to realize that, at their core, everyone is essentially saying the same thing, and so I became a sort of “eclectic spiritualist,” though if I had to label myself, I probably have more Taoist tendencies than anything.”

SantaMuerte
How did you become interested in/devoted to La Santa Muerte?

PROWER: “On a dare. I had just moved back to Los Angeles, and my best friend took me around town for some fun. On our journeys that day, we drove by a Santa Muerte temple near Downtown L.A., which sounds grandiose, but it really was just a small store in a strip mall.  Anyway, he commented about how sometimes at night, he’d see through the storefront glass Death worshipers praying to a giant skeleton statue amid candlelight. Since we both came from a Mexican Catholic background, which is heavily steeped in magic and mysticism, we felt that this was some serious brujería (malevolent magic) stuff going on, and he dared me to go into that store/temple. I went in, and immediately felt an indescribable, dark presence akin to what you’d get at a funeral home except without the somberness.

 

Obviously looking like “outsiders,” no one would really talk to us, but the shopkeeper gave us the store’s self-published newspaper to read. In it, there were testimonials on La Santa Muerte’s magic, and I became fascinated by how these people, who by all accounts are so beaten by life, find hope and the will to go on vía their belief in Death. I wanted to understand, and from there, my intellectual curiosity led me to become a practicing devotee.”

 

La Santa Muerte is often associated with harmful people and sensationalist images, from gang members to drug lords.  Her reputation in some circles is questionable.  What more should people understand about her?

PROWER: “People, in general, seem to have a hard time comprehending moral ambiguities. They like to see the world in absolutes; this is good, that is bad, and so on. Which makes sense since that kind of outlook allows the world to “make sense” and gives them clear guidelines on how to live their lives.

However, La Santa Muerte is the epitome of moral ambiguity. She helps good people do good things, and she helps bad people do bad things, so people don’t know what to make of her. It’s far easier to write her off as “bad” since her more negative associations are much more scandalous and interesting to read, but really, she can be likened to the “Tao” since she is neither good nor bad, yet both. The simplest way I like to explain her is to think of death itself. Death comes to all regardless of gender, wealth, age, morality, etc. Death doesn’t judge, and as the embodiment of death, itself, neither does La Santa Muerte.”
La Santa Muerte has clear associations with the Catholic faith.  What does she have to offer the polytheist, pagan, and witchcraft communities?

PROWER: “A comfortable bridge to understanding the Catholic faith. At its core, the cult of La Santa Muerte is really just Roman Catholicism except more openly magical and without all the dogma. Since traditional Catholicism tends to be too off-putting to many polytheist, pagan, and witchcraft communities, they don’t take the time to go past all the pompous B.S. and learn about Catholicism’s universal mystic practices. Such a divide prevents mutual understanding, which only maintains the status quo of mistrust and deep seeded tension. La Santa Muerte and her infamously liberal devotees are a good gateway into the more “accepting” roots of Catholicism and the revelation of just how much in common each side has with one another.

On a more practical level, she offers another ally and Latin American-flavored magical force to add to their pantheon and arsenal of spellwork.”    

From Hades to the Morrigan, many Pagans work with deities who are associated with Death.  How is La Santa Muerte different?

PROWER: “La Santa Muerte is different in the sense that she IS death. Most other deities have an association with death, whether it be the physical act of dying, the afterlife destination, or just the more macabre aspects of piercing through the veil and straddling the physical and spiritual worlds. La Santa Muerte has no dominion, she isn’t in charge of anything, and she isn’t concerned about human affairs. She is death, personified. Devotion to her is ultimately devotion to Death, both our own and its place in the natural order of things as a necessary force in the world.”
The Catholic Church has expressed disapproval of the veneration of La Santa Muerte.  Most of her worshipers identify as Catholic.  How do they resolve this seeming paradox?

PROWER: “It is an odd paradox, isn’t it? But it totally makes sense why the Catholic Church would disapprove. On a practical level, devotion to La Santa Muerte is growing exponentially and gaining “converts” in Spanish-Speaking countries which are traditionally Catholic strongholds. So there is a threat there. And on a more fundamental level, it throws a wrench into the most holy and paramount event in all of Catholicism, the resurrection of Christ. You see, according to Catholic doctrine, when Jesus rose from the dead, he “conquered” death, thus proving his divinity and paving the way for the rest of us to also “conquer” death vía the everlasting paradise of Heaven. So, by venerating Death, one is venerating Jesus Christ’s ultimate foe.

Nevertheless, if you were to ask a devotee of La Santa Muerte what their religion is, 90% of them would say “Catholic” and do so with utmost sincerity.

The consensus among Santa Muerte devotees (not all, but a good many) is that when Christ died, God entrusted Death (aka: La Santa Muerte) with his only begotten son, and during this time, Jesus completed his Earthly/mortal education by learning all the he couldn’t while he was alive. It all makes sense if you consider that the Divine could never truly understand or relate to humanity if it did not experience death, the very thing that makes mortals mortal. And it shares similarities with the “Harrowing of Hell” stories that are found in religions the world over wherein the divine travels to the Underworld and returns stronger and/or wiser because of it: Hercules, Orpheus, Osiris, Inanna, Odin, Pwyll, Izanagi, Kuan Yin, etc.”   

 

You write about the veneration of Death and about the Magic associated with Death. How is this magic different from other types of devotion and spellwork?

PROWER: “In regards to spellwork, it’s not very much different. Magic, essentially, is the manipulation of natural energies in correspondence with one’s will. The spellwork to do that varies based on one’s cultural outlook and the tools available to a particular culture during its history. But the mystery school of La Santa Muerte does have a uniqueness in the fact that many of its spells are designed to aid in morally ambiguous and even outright malevolent actions.

For example, prostitutes will pray to her to have a safe and profitable night since Death doesn’t judge. Is this good or bad? Well, it’s both, and it’s neither, all depending on how you want to look at it. And she’ll also help guide a bullet into the brain of an innocent man if the assassin so wishes. Again, death doesn’t judge. Of course, there are more nuances that make devotees think twice before petitioning anything, such as cosmic reciprocity and the Law of Equivalent Exchange, but the details of that are a bit more involved for this interview, though they can be found in detail in my book.”

What should the Pagan community know about La Santa Muerte?

PROWER: “Other than her supreme neutrality in regards to “right” and “wrong”, the Pagan community should know that she is already at work in their lives whether they acknowledge it or not. Sure, she might not be called “La Santa Muerte,” but death is all around you, both literally and figuratively. Our modern world is so sanitized; we live in crowded cities where people are dying every day, but we don’t actually see it. Mortuaries, hospitals, and too many state laws are so good at hiding death that not only does it not seem real, but when it does happen to someone close to us, it comes as such a shock, as if dying is somehow unnatural, when it is the most natural thing in the world.

This death denial cuts us off from reality. La Santa Muerte is an affront to all that. She’s ultra punk rock and transgressive in the sense that her very existence goes in the face of something that the establishment is trying to make us forget. The Pagan community should know that La Santa Muerte is a Latin American force that it actively trying to shock us out of our comfort zone and into the real world where death is actually a thing that happens.”

What would you suggest to a Pagan who would like to begin working with La Santa Muerte?

PROWER“I would say, “Start at home.” By this, I mean, before jumping into the devotion and magic of La Santa Muerte, make a strong connection with the deity of death from your own cultural pantheon, and if you do not subscribe to a particular cultural pantheon, take a more humanist approach and look at death’s role in the natural world, how destruction is the necessary precursor for all creation.

After that, start thinking of your own death, not in an existential or nihilistically depressive way, but in a way that allows your acceptance of it as a reality and an inevitability. After all, you can’t partner with Death if you spend your life ignoring it or pretending it either doesn’t exist or won’t happen to you. It’s strange how Pagans are so in tune with the natural world, yet many of them shy away from one of, if not THE most natural force in the world: death. And how can one become a complete, well-rounded worker of magic if they ignore or deny this essential energy? Nothing is to be feared, just understood.  After gaining a familiarity with your own deity of death and coming to terms with death, then go ahead and make contact with La Santa Muerte.”

***

As Pagans and Witches, we talk a lot about honoring the dark just as much as the light. The cycles of the year remind us that all that grows will one day wither and die.  We enjoy all the creepy fun of the Samhain season.  Yet, how many of us are truly at home with Death Herself?  How many of us are at peace with this natural process enough to venerate its power, make intentional contact with it, and call it Holy?  We may all want to consider developing a healthy relationship with La Santa Muerte.  After all, as Prower reminds us, “you’ll meet her one day anyway, so why not start making friends with her now?”


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Scientology, Mormons, Witches, and Zombies: The Why

Over the last week I’ve had the chance to watch two different takes on alternative religions.  The first was Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Alex Gibney’s brutal documentary that eviscerates Scientology. The second was The Book of Mormon, the hit Broadway musicals co-written by the names behind TV’s South Park and Disney’s box office blockbuster, Frozen.

Book of Mormon

As much as I enjoyed both of them, I have to admit I have a little tinge of guilt when I see mainstream treatments of alternative religions.  As a Witch and a Pagan, I am myself a practitioner – and I would say beneficiary of – alternate spiritual practice.  I was blessed to be raised with no religious baggage (I was “unchurched,” as they say), but with an interest in the spiritual.  This gave me the ability to make my own choice,  and I chose the path that fed my intellect and inspired my heart.  I admire anyone who does the same, whatever faith they practice.

clear

So, despite my chuckling at Going Clear’s picture of Galactic Overlord Xenu imprisoning his unwanted souls on Earth and seeding them into volcanoes, I was forced to look at the how odd my own spirituality may look to an outsider – any outsider.  Despite reveling in the audience’s reaction to one of Book of Mormon’s most hummable tunes:

I believe

That the Lord God created the universe

And I believe

That he sent his only son to die for my sins

And I believe

That ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America!

 

Or the quick little jab at Mormonism’s relative youth:

 

I’m gonna take you back to Biblical times: 1823!

I have to admit that my own religious practice, rooted as it may be in ancient history and timeless techniques, is a new expression that would look pretty silly to those who don’t have the context to understand it.  Joseph Smith was a mystic.  L. Ron Hubbard was, at least for a while, an occultist.  He hung out with Jack Parsons, one of the sharpest minds of his generation who was also noted Thelemite.  Granted, Hubbard stole Parsons’ wife, but the two were tightly involved in Crowley style occultism for quite a while.  As a Witch, mystical and occult practices are an everyday part of my life.  I can’t just laugh off the work of either man.

 

That becomes doubly true when you really look at the documentary and the musical.  The first 45 minutes or so of Going Clear present Scientology’s pseudo-scientific practice of auditing, which ostensibly helps people “clear” their life’s traumas and operate as their own individual and authentic selves.  Sounds like a pretty good goal to me.

 

Despite the rampant satire, Book of Mormon makes constant mention of the polite and friendly aura that seems to surround Mormons:

Liberation!  Equality! Let’s be really fucking polite to everyone!

 

I don’t agree with many of Mormonism’s social policies, but I can say that almost every Mormon I’ve met has been intelligent, kind, and really F-ing polite.  I can’t get into their heads, but they seem to be truly at peace.  Good for them.

 

So then I think, what if one of these writers decided to target Paganism, Wicca, or Witchcraft?  Am I laughing at someone else while silently dodging my own bullet?  Is that bullet coming for me at some point?  Would I have the class that the Church of Latter Day Saints has shown (or the money) to buy three full page color adds in the program for the musical about how crazy and nudist Gerald Gardner was?  Can you imagine a South Park inspired musical on him?

Gerald Gardner

Anything out of context looks silly.  The Great Rite?  Communion?  As a practitioner of a minority spirituality, should I be supporting these other non-mainstream faiths?

 

I think the answer, at least in the case of Scientology, comes later in the documentary.  Over and over, we see people abused for questioning doctrine.  We see those who leave the religion mercilessly harassed in their own homes by “Squirrel Busters” and other pro-church organizations.  We see members of the Sea Org, Scientology’s most elite organization, mercilessly tortured on the accusation of being apostates.  We see websites sponsored and organized by the faith specifically intended to discredit any “SP” (Suppressive Person) who speaks out against them.

Scientology Squirrel Busters

Witchcraft and Paganism, with their focus on seeking your own connection with the Divine, is the antithesis of that kind of cult mindset.  While “leaders” like that crop up at times, a symptom of our decentralized and Aquarian structure, they are often discredited and removed in the long run.  There is no one supreme leader to answer to, and after watching Going Clear, I’m pretty thankful for that.

 

I’ve been to Temple Square.   I’ve sat inside the famous Mormon Tabernacle and listened to its phenomenal acoustics.  I respect an alternate spirituality such as Mormonism.  But the problem comes when they see the need to enforce doctrine by excommunicating women who speak up for their own rights.  The problem comes when they fund laws like Prop 8 in my state, which sought to overturn the law and prevent marriage equality.  For those of us who try to live by the ethic of Harm None, it’s difficult to lend our full support to a spirituality that tends to enforce doctrine over kindness, oppression over love.

 

The most viewed post on my blog is a strange little pop culture piece I wrote comparing The Walking Dead to religion’s tendency toward science denial.  In that post, which still gets constant views even when I’m not writing, I compared Rick’s three questions:

 

How many walkers have you killed?

How many people have you killed?

Why?

 

…to the religious denial of reality.  I asked how your religion helps you, how much it forces you to deny reality, and why?  That post is viewed by new people every day.  I don’t know why, but it has something to do with Google Analytics.  I’ve called it my Zombie Post for many reasons.  It just keeps coming back.  It’s annoying.

 

Yet it expresses a truth about those of us who practice any spiritual path, especially an alternative one.

 

What are we willing to believe?  My practice is one of experience, not belief, so I really don’t care what someone believes. What are we willing to deny and oppress?  When any religion moves into this realm, they risk harming others.  There better be a damn good reason…

 

Why?  If it’s for power, money, or prestige, then it’s not really spiritual.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but if you’re harming others in the name of faith in order to control them, then you’ve been corrupted.  If you believe “God lives on a planet called Kolob,” that’s fine.  If you believe Overlord Xenu inseminated you into a volcano, that’s cool too.  If you use either of those beliefs to harm those who don’t believe or have stopped believing, then you’ve become a zombie.  You’re mindless.  You’re living off of the living.  It’s always the Why that matters, not the What.