Rescheduling Due to Illness

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Well, the Solstice yesterday was a bit of a bust. Eowyn was recovering from a stomach bug. I accidentally gave Beowulf food poisoning when I tried making him a special lunch to take to work. Eowyn and I went to visit a friend and spent an hour or so with her at a coffee shop and wandering around the community she lives in, which is basically condos on top of an outdoor mall, so it’s a confusing maze. Then we drove home in rush hour traffic as it was getting dark. My plans to make bulle, a family tradition, just didn’t happen, and Beowulf and I tried to convince Eowyn to go to bed early because we were tired.

I did make a halfhearted attempt at lighting the candles on my altar, and I did do some reading in The Spiral Dance that got me past the chapter I’d been stuck on (trance states, not really my thing at the moment), but most of the Yule stuff just didn’t happen.

Today, well, dinner was actual dinner instead of toast. Beowulf and I tried the infused brandy I’d made. It’s reminiscent of Jaegermeister, thanks to the star anise, and is pleasant when warmed or when mixed with cola. I wrote a letter to a friend, and Eowyn and I went for a walk out in the slush this afternoon.

It’s still been a day of laundry and dishes and feeling not particularly productive, but better than yesterday. Beowulf is feeling better; Eowyn’s still not quite over her bug but is on the way there; and my Harry Potter underpants, which arrived in the mail the other day, are a definite mood-lifter.

We’re at the dark time of the year, and there’s something about it that always resonates with me, but it’s hard to quantify. Maybe it’s that sense that we’re working our way through, sometimes badly, sometimes not so badly, towards the light.

 

Insert Winter Holiday Here

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While the Christmas season started for retailers a while ago, it’s only really started for our family in the last couple weeks. We spent American Thanksgiving with my family and did an early Christmas gift exchange with them. I put up our tiny tree with Eowyn and decorated it on the second of December. The tree’s a mishmash of family ornaments and odds and ends. We have a blown glass frog, a Mrs. Santa who looks like she has a beard, a couple Baby Jesus ornaments, a tiny trombone, a set of tomte, and an elephant, among others. The raku Nativity scene I made during my stint in ceramics classes my last year of high school is sitting next to the tree on our windowsill.

And on the other side of the room, there’s my altar. I’ve only just set it up for Yule. I’ve made a few changes since Samhain. The glass skull that I filled with candy corn on a whim is now filled with an assortment of spices. I finally bought a set of candle holders the right size for chime candles, so I have those up there now; I selected a couple runes and drew those on the candle holders with a pen that I can wipe off with alcohol so I can change them later as desired. The pomegranate and the pumpkins are in the kitchen, for eating. I have plans to make a holly wreath, but for now, there’s a sprig of holly sitting there. I rearranged things a bit, and it looks tidier.

This is our first December as an interfaith family. A year ago, when our priest mentioned doing a service on the Winter Solstice, I said, “Oh, I’d love to do a solstice service!” We were out of town that week, but her service was more a contemplative Christmas thing than a solstice thing. I was the weird parent asking about Winter Solstice children’s books at the kid’s toy store and settling for a fantastic Hanukkah story instead (go read Hanukkah Bear, it’s amazing). But those were the first real inklings I had that I would be exchanging one faith for another, rather than simply discarding religion. I hadn’t even started reading about paganism at that point, but less than six months later, I would be celebrating my first sabbat.

December this year has been a flurry of seemingly grown-up things: Preschool events, dealing with a sick child (just a nasty cold), replacing headlight bulbs in the car in the parking lot of Canadian Tire, inviting our priest over for dinner to tell her that we’re leaving the church in the New Year and her telling us that their finances person is pretty sure the church only has 6-12 months left before it’s time to pull the plug anyway. Not making many plates of fudge or Christmas cookies because too much sugar and fat together makes me nauseous these days. Trying Glenlivet for the first time at the company Christmas party and then checking the price at the liquor store the next day and wincing (holiday gift suggestion for me, a bottle of that stuff would be lovely).

In the spaces in between the busy, the colds, the depression, I’ve been thinking about the turn of the year. I’m celebrating Yule with candles, with infused brandy, with cardamom Yulekake, with children’s books about trolls and a fantasy novel entitled Krampus: Lord of Yule (because it’s worth reading, solely based on the title). I think about the Doctor and the Christmas episode of Doctor Who where he describes winter solstice celebrations as reminding us that we are “halfway out of the dark.” I’m celebrating the darkness and the light, because we have both in us.

And some days, when the focus is more on the upcoming Christmas, I think about how that day is about remembering that new life brings hope.

Blessed Yule, and Merry Christmas.

 

 

practicalities

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“It might be doomsday, but it’s still wash day.” Penfold, Danger Mouse (2015)

The wisdom of children’s cartoons never fails to amaze me. I find myself wanting to base my ethics on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and dive into learning about the world in as many creative ways as possible, inspired by Magic School Bus. In reality, my ethics really got their start in Star Trek: Voyager and have been further affected by feminism, philosophy, aspects of various religions, and literature.

However, when I watch children’s movies and shows with Eowyn, I sometimes run across odd little nuggets that have found their way into the story. The above quote seems ridiculous when it’s delivered by a hamster in a spaceship who is frantically trying to do his laundry while Danger Mouse pilots them to the latest disaster, but he has a point. The laundry has to be done. Food has to be cooked, rent paid, the day-to-day business of survival must continue as best as it can.

I’ve been focused on living in the moment as much as possible lately; it hurts too much to think ahead to the future of the States, and other than calling the senators and representatives of the state where I’m registered to vote, it feels like I can’t do much. One day at a time, I work through it. There have been bad days and some pretty good days. Yet I still live as though the future will happen.

I make preserves for the winter; I do laundry so we’ll have clean clothes next week; I wipe down the bathroom with bleach so the mold that pops up everywhere in southwestern BC won’t take over. I plan Christmas presents, I think about what Yule’s going to look like this year. I light candles on the altar and draw sigils that look to the future. I make things for the Etsy shop. I take on editing clients.

I keep going. I don’t know what else to do, but I know the days when the depression tries to take over are the worst ones. And when everything feels entirely hopeless and that there’s no use in trying, those are the days when even just doing the dishes, because that means there will be clean dishes tomorrow, is enough to lift the cloud for a bit.

Maybe it’s doomsday. Maybe it’s not. But right now it’s time to move that laundry into the dryer.

Polytheism after Monotheism

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I was raised in a religion that has monotheism as a central tenet. Today I identify more as a polytheist, though I’m admittedly closer to soft polytheism than hard polytheism, in that I think the gods are probably aspects/manifestations/avatars of the abstract divine that jump-started the universe (well, that’s where I am today. It’s quite likely to be different tomorrow, since some days I lean closer to agnosticism, and others towards medium-soft polytheism).

The irony of Christianity is that many, though not all, branches adhere to a form monotheism in which God is represented through the Trinity: a single god with three distinct persons, who are all different and separate from each other, but are still one being. I was raised with the insistence that God is one, but is also three, and we mostly focused on Jesus and God the Father (who didn’t get a special name, though he does have an awful lot of epithets), and ignored the third part, the Holy Spirit, a lot. This isn’t a lot different from what I believe now on some days, except that there are a lot more gods. I don’t worship all of them, but I believe they exist in some form or another.

I don’t believe in omnipotent gods anymore, which is something I’ve written about before. I think I stopped believing in omnipotence a long time ago, and it only really hit me when Pulse happened. And now it’s hitting me again, as I see people I knew in high school complain on Facebook about how whiny the liberals are being after eight years of them complaining constantly about Obama. As, two days after the election, more people are being attacked because of the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation.

And I’m mostly safe here, in Canada. I’ve lived in Canada since the day I turned eighteen, all of my adult years, and yet America is the land of my birth. I’m still a citizen, though there’s a good chance I will have my Canadian citizenship and will have renounced my American citizenship (not because of politics) by the time the next general election rolls around. The way the US is falling apart right now is deeply frightening and it hurts to know that. It hurts that the electoral college system resulted in an election where a man who has constantly spouted racist, sexist, and ill-informed views throughout his entire campaign won, over a woman who, though not perfect, was a far better candidate for the position. It hurts to know how close the election was, that so many people voted for a man who has acted so deplorably. It hurts to know that so many people embrace enough of his views and those of his future VP that they were willing to vote for him. It makes me sick. And fearful.

Where are the gods? Well, it’s not like they’re all-powerful, and even if they were, it’s not necessarily their responsibility to get us out of the dilemmas we make for ourselves. I may have prayed and lit candles for the Goddess, and poured a libation for Loki, but I also voted, and encouraged other people to vote thoughtfully. I probably could have done more, but that’s a lesson learned.

I admit it’s easier, not believing in a single omnipotent god who always acts for the best. That hurts too much. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work. There are too many times when the best just doesn’t happen and you can’t argue that “God works in mysterious ways” because there is no way to make those situations better.

If there are gods, they don’t always act. And they don’t always have the power to do so. Sometimes they are silent. And sometimes they speak out of the darkness.

Samhain

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Samhain started off early this morning with an extremely bizarre dream that involved pregnancy, serious illness, potential death, gender-shifting, evil people, and good people. Either my brain was just having a great time being weird, or it means something. I hit the alarm a few times, then realized we had less than half an hour before Eowyn needed to be at preschool and stuffed the dream into the back of my mind to mull on later.

When I got home from dropping Eowyn off, I took the time to do my Samhain ritual then, while I was the only one home. I feel less self-conscious when I don’t have an audience, particularly since I was improvising this ritual. I went with what felt right, rather than going off of someone else’s script.

So I inscribed one medium-sized purple candle with jera and eihwaz, for the cycle of nature and the mystery of death, and lit it and set it on my altar. I lit tea lights for ancestors and teachers. One tea light was for a specific person, since they’re the most recent and immediate ancestor who has died, one was for those ancestors and relatives who have died and that I either did not know or did not know well, and one was for those people who I have learned from who have died. I lit some incense wood and let it burn for a few minutes. I spoke about how I remembered them, honoured them, and thanked them for what they have passed on to me. As I stepped away from the altar, the spider who lives in the lamp just beneath that shelf crawled up the lamp shade so I could see it.

I let the candles burn while I was at home and then blew them out (wanting to use my breath rather than the candle snuffer) before I went to pick up Eowyn. I’ll light them again periodically through the week until they’re burnt out.

Tonight we’re going trick-or-treating with some friends. It’s Eowyn’s first time, since our Halloween party is usually on the 31st. This year we bumped it to the 29th so it would be on the weekend. I’ll probably take her over to the wall where the pictures of my grandmother are and tell her a bit about her great-grandma (who wanted to be called GG by her great-grandkids). Maybe next year, we’ll tell more stories about those who have gone before us, and she’ll be able to contribute her thoughts, too.

Frustration

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Recently, an old friend posted the American pledge of allegiance on Facebook, with the phrase “under God” in all caps. The ensuing discussion included someone who thought that the American founding fathers intended the country to be a Christian country. I felt compelled to jump in to point out that no, freedom of religion did not mean one religion ruling the country; it meant freedom of religion for all and no, the US is not intended to be a theocracy. The response? “History is awesome!….And the whole world should put Christ at the centre!” It was like she didn’t even read what I had written.

And I realized suddenly that I am now numbered among the “must be converted” for Christians of that ilk. I don’t know this person, but judging by her words, and my own familiarity with that subculture, she would believe that I am going to hell, and that it would be her job to dissuade me from my sinful beliefs and lifestyle. After all, I’m not only no longer a Christian, I’m also bisexual AND pagan.

The conversion factor is one of the things that always bothered me about Christianity. It was one thing when I was a kid, blithely and awkwardly trying to share Jesus with my cousin, whose family didn’t attend church. I think my aunt may fall into the spiritual not religious category, and my cousin periodically attends a community church with her kids these days, but mostly it’s not a big thing in their lives, which is fine with me now, but seemed like the end of the world to seven-year-old me who believed in hell. It was another thing entirely when people seemed to expect me to chat up strangers on a street corner and ask them if they died tonight, did they know where they would spend eternity?

I even wanted to be a missionary for a number of years (mostly for the linguistics factor available through Bible translation missions), but hated the thought of preaching at people and telling them that their culture was somehow wrong because my version of God said so. I figured I could sort of ease around that and encourage a free exchange of ideas while doing linguistics instead. Then I went to grad school at a university whose linguistics program was intertwined with Wycliffe Bible Translators, got to chat with actual Bible translators about what it was like, and realized that it really wasn’t for me. The linguistics stuff at the school was still awesome, though I found myself liking the professors who were in the process of leaving Wycliffe best.

Christianity, particularly evangelical Christianity, puts a strong emphasis on converting people to the religion. One of the the many things that attracts me to paganism is that conversion isn’t a factor. I’m sure there are people under the pagan umbrella who do try to proselytize, but it doesn’t seem to be common. What I’ve gathered so far is that it’s assumed that if you’re supposed to be pagan, you’ll find your way there. I plan to teach my daughter about what I believe, and she’ll learn about what her dad believes, and her extended family, and what other faiths believe, and she can choose for herself when she gets older, whether she wants to be religious or non-religious, pagan or Christian or other.

I’ve grown to be frustrated by the proselytizing in the Christian religions. It comes across as rude, inconsiderate. It’s based on the idea that “we’re the one true faith” and I keep wondering why so many Christians don’t seem to stop and wonder if they’re wrong. I had moments, but it took me years to get to the point where I was able to seriously question the essentials of what I believed and that too I find worrying…that it was so crucial to who and what I was that I couldn’t question it safely.

The other thing is that it makes me sad. The emphasis on “saving” people for the hereafter means that we lose focus on what’s important in the here and now. Another recent Facebook post from a very fervent Christian friend included the notation that we can “make health into a god” (which is considered bad, because it’s putting your health as a higher priority than what [the Abrahamic] God wants you to do…presumably he wants you to suffer for his glory, though how that reflects well on him, I don’t know). I didn’t respond to this one, since I didn’t want to open myself up to that discussion. This is a person whom I care deeply about, who was my mentor for a couple of years, and next time I see her, I will need to gloss over how I’m doing spiritually if I want to maintain the relationship (and yes, she will ask). I can’t tell her that when I walk past the altar in the living room, I feel happier and more at peace. I can’t tell her that delving into non-Christian folklore has become more spiritual than reading the Bible. I certainly can’t tell her that my Bible now lives in the closet, or that I feel tense and anxious in most Christian churches while I feel safe in occult shops.

Is it worth it, letting go of the faith that nurtured me as a child, in exchange for a path that I was told not to walk?

I look up at the moon, at the sun, at the trees, and breathe deeply. I think it is.

Halloween and the Fear of Death

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I was a fearful child. My anxiety disorder found numerous ways to manifest itself, but one of those was an overwhelming fear of death and pretty much anything related to the topic. My younger brother’s fascination with things like mummies and skeletons just sent me into a panic, particularly whenever he shoved a picture of mummy or a skull in my face to get a reaction. A trip to the art museum to see a traveling Egyptology exhibit terrified me because, of course, the centrepiece of the collection, at the start of the exhibit, was a mummy. My dad had to take me out while my mom went through with my brothers and then they swapped places so my dad could see it. Halloween was scary, too, the way people decorated their lawns like graveyards and dressed up like witches.

Death and that which accompanies it provoked fear in me. That fear stayed with me into adulthood, though I grew better at managing it. Still, I remember cringing away from a Halloween display in a shop at 18 or 19, trying to explain to a friend who adored Halloween why all the skeletons bothered me. I hated the celebration of the creepy, the dark, and death. It made me deeply uncomfortable.

Being raised Christian didn’t really help matters. Death is both glorified and demonized in that religion. Death is the enemy, and Christ has conquered death, so we’re not supposed to fear it anymore. To die is to pass into the next life, and supposedly, if you believe the right thing, “have Jesus in your heart,” you’ll go to heaven. Otherwise, you’ll go to hell. I tried not to think too much about hell. The thought of there being nothing after death scared me even more. Oblivion being what it is, it’s not as though I would know, but the thought of ceasing to know, just not being, sat with me and kept me awake at night.

The reality, of course, is that we don’t really know what happens to us when we die. We can talk all we want about what happens to our body, but we don’t really know about our consciousness, if there is such a thing as a soul, if we just wink out the way we winked in, if this is it, if we’re reborn into new bodies, if there’s an afterlife, if we become something else entirely. This lack of certainty is probably one of the reasons for the proliferation of religions: some, though not all, purport to tell us what happens next, when we go through this mysterious thing that we all know we must experience.

I still fear death. I think most of us do, one way or another. But someday I will die, and death is as much a part of life as being born. Both are necessary in the world in which we live. And embracing paganism, with all of its uncertainties and possibilities, has made the thought of death easier to live with. Maybe reincarnation is real. Maybe Summerland is real. Maybe Valhalla is real. And maybe it’s not, and maybe I will go to my rest someday and that will be all of my experience done. But death is an intrinsic part of the cycles of nature, and I too am part of nature. I don’t need to be completely terrified in the face of death anymore.

And now Halloween, with its skulls and spiders and darkness, and shining a light into that darkness to frighten away our fears, means a bit more to me. I’m looking forward to my first Samhain as a pagan. We’re doing our annual potluck Halloween party the Saturday before (costumes, mulled cider, sometimes a pinata), so I can have the time to do something for the actual holiday without trying to navigate around a houseful of people. I don’t know what it’ll come to signify to me, but I look forward to finding out.