hello lovely people. My computer is down, and its going to take at least a week to fix it. I’m taking this as a cue to step back for the duration – not a great deal I can do because I can’t access my files and whatnot. It should all be fixable, I shall try and look at this as a learning opportunity, although confess to feeling adrift without my regular work and the social contact the net provides. I can get online via Tom’s comp, but am not trying to do email that way, it’s too complicated, will stop by facebook now and then. Anyone who needs to talk to me urgently should phone/text or email Tom as that comes into his phone in an entirely sensible way.
Monthly Archives: November 2011
In ‘Women who run with wolves’ the author suggests that how we treat women mirrors how we treat the planet. Look back on the centuries of planet ravaging and the oppression of women, there’s definitely a parallel. Is there a causal link? I think so, and it has a lot to do with priorities.
I’m going to be brutally honest here and say that were it not for Tom, I would very likely have become the kind of radical feminist who is anti-male. There are days when hearing new stories about male violence towards women fills me with rage. But there is also Tom, who is brave, gentle, heroic, and reminds me of all the other good men I have met along the way. Statistically, about one in four men are abusers; that means three quarters aren’t. There are days when I have to remind myself of this.
However, when it comes to raping the earth mother, we’d be self-deluding if we tried to cast that as a gender issue. There are no shortage of men working for the good of the planet, and no shortage of women participating in the great commercial pillage. It would also be fair to say that gender politics are not a simple male/female conflict either. How many women were taught by their mothers to put a brave face on it and be stoical? How many women help coerce their daughters into unwanted marriages, throw out pregnant daughters, defend abusive men, and otherwise add to the problem? More than enough. The new girlfriend is often the person most willing to give that bitch of an ex-girlfriend a hard time. Knowing or not, we participate.
When I’m not raging over some specific injustice, I tend to feel that feminism is inadequate. It supports the ideas of polarisation, division and difference. It also gives the woman-haters out there something very easy to latch onto and attack. The sort of person who views every threat to total male supremacy as a feminist conspiracy to destroy all men. They most certainly exist – read the comments on the Telegraph online sometime. Getting angry and building up the barricades doesn’t help. Reinforcing the gender divide solves nothing.
A few months ago I sat in a room with a woman who was covered in bruises because her boyfriend had beaten her. She was in the process of trying to escape, and it was one of the most heart-breaking things I have ever seen. Of course women who are wounded by other means, driven to depression, to drink, self blame, self hatred, have no such wounds to show the world, but they are just as damaged by male aggression.
There’s a whole culture underpinning this kind of behaviour. It’s laden with beliefs about ownership and rights. How many men think about women, and women’s bodies not unlike how they think about the earth – as a resource to be used for their benefit and pleasure. We exploit, we use, we take, I come back to the idea of entitlement again. And sure, women do it to men as well, although in nothing like the same numbers. But the culture underpinning it, we build together. All of us. Regardless of gender. We do it in every advert that uses a scantily clad woman to sell a product, and every advert that shows woman as house elf and man as mighty leader. We do it in our stereotyping, our willingness to blame the victims, our collective reluctance to take the problem seriously. Sometimes we do it in our religions too, and our politics uphold it.
We won’t fix either earth abuse, or woman abuse, or any other kind of abuse, until we fix the mindsets that allow us to justify them. It’s all too easy to be accidentally complicit, or to be part of the problem just by ignoring it. What we do not speak against, others may assume we condone. Half the problem with abusers, no matter who or what their victim is, is that they believe they are just the same as everyone else. Everyone else is doing what they do, or would, if they were only powerful enough to pull it off. That idea is the real enemy.
Talking about druidry on this blog recently, I suggested the idea that what defines druids as distinctly different from other pagans, is that druids belong to the land. There was a lot of affirmative feedback on that, so I wanted to come back and consider what that means.
The land is the source of all life, and the basis of most ecosystems (oceans aside). So by focusing on the land we are called to take a longer perspective over living things, ourselves included. The long term wellbeing of the land is essential for all life. You cannot mistreat the land and hope to have life continue unchanged. Mistreating the land is something humans do continually, with no eye to the long term and little sign of any enlightened self-interest even. To be a druid is to speak for the wellbeing of the land, to act with that in mind, to see the deeper connections and the longer time scales.
Belonging to the land also places us specifically in the land we inhabit, along with all of its flora, fauna, history and human activity. Wherever we are, we belong, and it doesn’t matter how often or how far we move, while we are living on the land, we have the relationship and we can hold it consciously. It gives us a starting place from which to explore all the relationships we can have with other inhabitants of the land, and with its history, and future. Belonging grounds us – literally. We have a place to stand – literally again. It is the kind of knowing that gives strength and the ability to endure.
I think the idea of belonging to the land also leads us to relationship with much more immediate manifestations of deity rather than big, distant concepts. We’re more likely to take an animist approach, seeing spirit in all things, to look for the spirits and deities of our places, and to honour deities connected to the land we know. The sacredness of our land and the spirit of it is present to us, however we choose to understand it, and this immediacy feeds into a sense of direct involvement. God is not distant and inaccessible. The gods, the spirits, the divine is here, present, now. It can speak to us with the voices of wind and stream, from the roots of trees and the soil itself. We can glimpse it in the running hare or the soaring bird. These too belong to the land and are part of the same magical relationship that builds reality from one moment to the next.
If we belong first and foremost to the land, then we do not belong to our human communities above all else. We are not the property of the state, or owned by our employers. This affects how we perceive ourselves and our human relationships. We are not owned by the job, or by the demands of human expectations. We belong instead to the land, and consciousness of that allows us not to be ruled so easily by misguided cultural norms, or social pressures. We are also less inclined to see the land itself or anything that lives upon it as property to be owned by humans. We belong to it, it does not belong to us.
You can build a whole ethical framework from the principle of belonging to the land, and have that shape everything that you do. Equally, it is a viable basis for belief. The land does not require our belief, but the idea of its sacredness does, especially when we’re surrounded by people who see only resources to exploit and potential for profit and economic growth. A man on radio 4 this morning described the creation of jobs and wealth as a moral imperative. To me, that’s an absolute nonsense. Making sure there is sufficiency and sustainability are my moral imperatives. That we should have enough, and take no more than constitutes enough, and be careful to properly understand what ‘enough’ means is an ethos far more in line with belonging to the land, than imagining we own it.
I’m barely scraping the surface here but the more I look at it, the more I feel able to define my druidry in this way.
One of the things that has most brought me into conflict with other people, is their sense of entitlement. I can say with absolute confidence that I do not feel personally entitled to anything; life experience has taught me that I cannot assume I am going to get even basic levels of decent treatment, much less anything beyond that. I consciously practice gratitude for the good things, I am very grateful for anything good that comes my way.
I ran a moot for years – voluntarily, giving a lot of time and energy to support pagans in my area. I did it because I felt the work was inherently rewarding – and mostly, it was. But some years in, a couple started telling me what I was obliged to do for them, what I owed them, what they expected of me. I had given freely and they responded with a sense of entitlement to far more of my time and energy than I had to spare. I could offer other examples of situations where, having given, I’ve found that it wasn’t appreciated, but taken as evidence that I would, could, should even be giving far more to people who had no intention of offering anything in return. They just saw it as my duty, and their right.
My druidry inclines me to take duty very seriously. Service is part of my spirituality, but other people’s sense of entitlement isn’t. Now, there are things I would like everyone to feel entitled to – peace, safety, basic levels of decency, opportunities, justice. We all of us ought to have those, but plenty of people don’t. Looking around I see a lot of evidence for people who feel entitled to far more than their fair share of everything. To far more than they have worked for, or legitimately earned. I don’t hear anything about politicians taking pay cuts as part of austerity measures. Bankers still get their bonuses while the poor are pushed every closer to the edge of viability.
Entitlement. It’s a dangerous thing. This is the belief that tells us that yes, we should have that fast car and drive it over short distances. We should have that shiny thing and never mind if we have to go into debt, and then decide not to pay the debt. We deserve it. We should have it. Never mind that our lifestyles aren’t sustainable and future generations will pay. This is our turn and we should take whatever we can.
Culturally, we are far too prone to mistaking privileges for rights while not doing anything like enough to ensure that the basic things, the things that really should be rights, are there by default for all people. We might not be able to do over the system, but we can make a start. So many of the ‘take over’ protestors are talking about making changes within ourselves, and that’s a fine place to start.
So I float these questions out onto the ether (answer in the comments if you feel so inclined). What are we entitled to? In our personal lives, in our relationship with the state, in our work, our spirituality. How do we construct our sense of entitlement? I think on a personal note that I should be able to feel entitled to certain things, it’s something I’m trying to consciously develop, so I’m open to suggestions here.
Robin’s excellent guest blog yesterday created an interesting coincidence, time-wise. Today I have a short story out under the other name, very much about gender identity and the rules surrounding it. There’s a lot of personal story tied up in this as well as the gender politics, so I think it makes sense to begin at the beginning.
I fell in love with an American. I’m English. Now, if you happen to have a ton of money, then I get the impression moving to a different country is not so very difficult. Border control agencies are very happy to welcome your wealth into their nation. For ordinary people who fall in love, all you can do is move to marry. If you can’t afford to be running back and forth between countries to date each other, this means either you don’t do it, or you take the plunge. I took the plunge, and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. But, the rules about who can move where make life very difficult if you and your soul mate did not arrange to be born into the same area of legal jurisdiction.
Most countries can cope with the idea of international heterosexual couples. I didn’t get very far into the process of paperwork with Tom before it dawned on me that a gay couple would have a very hard time of it. The UK has something akin to gay marriage, but plenty of countries don’t recognise it at all. What happens if the person you fall in love with is not of the opposite sex, and neither of you were forward sighted enough to be born in a country that accepts gay marriage? What then?
People should be free to love each other. The only rules we have should be the ones we agree between ourselves, aside from laws that people all hold in common, whether they happen to be sharing a bed or not. I also feel very strongly that there should be no laws about general human conduct that do not reach into the bedroom. It ought to be even handed.
Relationship is central to druidry. We understand ourselves as being in relationship with all things. There are justifications for protective laws around relationship – avoiding power imbalances and vulnerable people being taken advantage of against their will. However, when it comes to consenting adults, there should be no legal barriers to love. Nor should we prioritise one kind of relationship over another. It bugs me that there’s also this huge emphasis on marriage as sexual relationship, and that being the only kind of partnership recognised under law. Why can’t people enter true civil partnerships, as people who wish to live together and take responsibility for each other, but are not identifying as a sexual couple? Why not make that available to anyone who wants, or needs it, as a strong foundation for dedicated relationships of all shapes, that gives easy legal cover to the parties involved?
Relationship is so much more than sexual coupling. We have such narrow definitions about how people are supposed to love each other and interact with each other. They aren’t rules, just habits of thinking, and if we discarded them and started over, with relationship as the core concept, not sex, I think we could do amazing things. I’d bet people would still have sex with each other too.
If anyone is curious about the fiction title, It’s part one of a three part series, the first being He comes and goes – http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=document_product_info&cPath=26&products_id=879
by guest blogger Robin Herne
Samhain, amongst many other things, is tied to the myths of Óengus mac Og, the inspirer of love and passion amongst the Tuatha De Danann of Irish mythology. Whilst Óengus’s tales are devoted to the pursuit of young ladies, my own tastes run more to gentlemen and I’d like to reflect on that topic a little.
Whilst a number of the languages spoken amongst ancient polytheist cultures had euphemisms for same-sex sexual activities, few if any of them appear to have required words to distinguish sexual identities based upon the gender of the individual a person preferred sex with. Whilst the urge for same-sex frolics is probably as old as for opposite-sex ones, the notion that people could be categorised according to such urges is, it would appear, a relatively recent conceptualisation. This is hardly a new revelation, but one worth restating ~ particularly given that the tendency to label people by the gender of their bed-partners (rather than some other random factor such as their skin colour, relative height, or social class) is born out of a wish to divide people into acceptable and stigmatised groups.
If our ancestors did not view sexual identity in the manner designated appropriate by largely Christian and Jewish Victorian psychologists, ought a modern polytheist do so? It’s a matter that has bugged me for a while. Like the delectable Jack Harkness, I’d like to belong to a culture where sexual identity is irrelevant and that ~ so long as it was consenting ~ anything would go and nobody would bother with labels. I’d like to, but clearly I don’t.
What I do live in, as we all do, is a culture in which countless people have been harassed, imprisoned, sacked, assaulted, tortured, imprisoned, murdered and executed for centuries because their consenting sexual activities do not fit with the norms of the ruling elite. Not only those of us who fancy our own sex, but those young women consigned to mental asylums with “nymphomania” for the dread crime of getting pregnant out of wedlock, those who’ve wanted more than one spouse, and more miscreants besides.
Focussing back on gay and bisexual men (I shan’t speak on behalf of lesbians or bisexual women, though I dare say many of the same issues apply), our value as members of this society has been damaged by hostility towards our presumed sexual choices and urges. Even with attitudes increasingly becoming more positive, this is still balanced against centuries worth of scar tissue. Inevitably such persistent scorn wears down even the most resilient sense of self-worth.
Healing is an important feature of any spiritual practice, and a solid argument can be made for a rather alchemical approach, seeking to transform the leaden restrictions imposed upon us into a source of gold. Embracing sexual identity into ritual can become a source of spiritual fulfilment and growth. For those who have struggled with self-identity, there is a death and rebirth in refuting the fear and disgust of centuries past and revelling in ones sexuality as a source of joy, pleasure, and pride; a gift rather than a curse. All of which seems peculiarly well-suited to Samhain. The traditions of guising seem appropriate too, for those exploring alternative identities ~ especially ones that some sections of the wider community may deem frightening or monstrous. As an ardent lupophile it recalls to my mind not only the iconic cinematic figure of Lawrence Talbot struggling to come to terms with the “beast within” and its animalistic, hairy hungers, but also the rather homoerotic tales of such lupine mannerbund as the decidedly pagan ulđethnar, diberga and the fianna. So as wolves howling our passions into the night we might not only honour our dead this winter, but honour our sexualities too.
One of the historical accusations made against the Celts and Druids was that they burned sacrificial victims in giant wicker men. Victims would be live, and both human and animal. The imagery is powerful, and many people reading this will be familiar with iconic images of wicker men and the fact that they don’t look even slightly like they’ve been made out of wicker. Especially not in the film.
I spent a number of years in Redditch involved with building and burning a wicker man for a council run Halloween event. We did everything from harvesting to erecting him. The tallest we ever managed was about 14 feet high, the one year he was bigger, only one bit of him *ahem* stood up. They always were anatomically correct, although you couldn’t tell from a distance.
“Wicker” is basically another way of saying ‘basket’. Now, baskets are quite strong, but once you set fire to them, they spring apart, or can be kicked apart. The structural integrity of a figure made out of wicker does not last long when on fire, and as the raw material to space inside ratio is relevant, there’s not a lot of smoke to contend with. Wicker does burn hot mind. Now, imagine a live animal, in a wicker basket which is on fire. Think about the inevitable struggle to escape. Based on experience, there is no way you could burn a live animal to death in a wicker man. They’d get out.
The human form as sculpture is not stable, it is very hard to make people-shaped things stand up. The taller they are, the stronger the legs and supports have to be. The more propping up you have to do. The taller they are, the harder it is to get them upright and the more likely it is that the strain of lifting will cause the structure to fail. If you put anything in the wicker man before you lift it, the weight makes it very hard to even get a twelve footer to stand. Animals and humans have to go in after the wicker man is up. If you’ve made a solid structure capable of bearing its own weight, this presents an interesting technical challenge. Where are you going to insert them, exactly? Bearing in mind that the animals would be wholly unco-operative every way.
Based on years of experience, the conclusion I have come to is that you could realistically get one person in the body of a wicker man if you left a hole in the stomach and they crawled in once it was up. Total co-operation would be essential. You might at a pinch get a couple of people or creatures in the legs, but they’d have to get in during the lifting and stay put for the lifting, possibly even help with it. That counts the chickens out straight off.
Other options are that everything goes into the wicker man unconscious, but that’s not without challenges, or is dead already, which is probably the easiest solution. But then you aren’t sacrificing them by burning them to death in a wicker man, you’ve instead got an unusual cremation method under way. Or a barbeque. Large numbers are out, because the bigger the structure is, the harder it is to make it stand. I’m not aware of any huge Celtic constructions in terms of height. Some building in stone, but not much.The mechanics around getting tall things to stand up are challenging. The properties of the wicker itself limit the available size of a loaded structure. I can’t tell you what optimally built basketry will take in this context, but I’m pretty certain that its own weight plus multiple people, with the effects of fire in the midst does not lead to something that will work.
I am personally convinced that the only way an individual could be sacrificed in a wicker man is if they went of their own free will, which is a very different sort of arrangement, when you get down to it.
Knowing about the time, creativity and energy that are required to build a wicker man, it is a huge thing to do. Simply burning that much valuable resource, that much effort and time, is a sacrifice, one a whole community would share. That, I can believe might have happened.