Pagan Christmas

Why would a Pagan celebrate Christmas?

            There are lots of reasons, and I suppose everyone’s are different, but most fall into a few major categories.  My reasons have a lot to do with my being a student of mythology and holidays. I post daily to a page (Holidays that Might get Overlooked) about holidays, and have thought about and researched them a great deal. I used to say I never met a holiday I didn’t like, but I have backed off a little to avoid accusations of cultural appropriation. Also, I no longer have the energy.

            I don’t feel I need to be a direct recipient of the cultural or religious line of a holiday to celebrate it. I celebrate Guy Fawkes Day (with toffee, and fireworks), and an appreciation that we need to be active, not passive, participants in our government. One reason for a holiday is to remind ourselves of important things that can get lost in the immediate daily patterns. The feeling about active participation may derive more from the movie V for Vendetta than the original Guy Fawkes Day. This year I am planning on doing a more USA version on January 6th, to commemorate another failed plot to violently bring down our government, not the British one. I’m thinking of burning the QAnon Shaman in effigy as he’s the most photogenic image from the attack. I think toffee and fireworks will carry over, and perhaps a moment of silent appreciation for those who were hurt and traumatized in the attack. I celebrate Hanukkah with Jewish friends, and Independence Day. I honor Thor, Apollo, Ganesha, Anubis, Holle, and the Virgin Mary, when their holidays come around. Recognizing great spirits, and creating relationships with them, as well as reinforcing communit connections is what holidays are for.

But as to Christmas, it’s a beautiful myth. I like the image of the holy family, the stable, and the visiting wise men. There’s nothing exploitative in that. I also enjoy the modern myths which are equally a part of the holiday: Dicken’s  A Christmas Carol in it’s many re-tellings, and the possibility of turning one’s life around; It’s a Wonderful Life and the awareness that doing good for others is more important than achieving something that seems “great”. Aspects of the Santa myth are appealing, if not the disillusion when kids ‘learn Santa isn’t real’. (I don’t think it’s that they didn’t get what they wanted, but that the adults they trusted had been lying to them.)  I like the idea of gifts without the expectation of return, and showing kindness and giving to those who couldn’t possibly repay (ie. Charity), simply because making someone else happy, or less miserable makes us feel good.  As a pagan I also believe that the belief in Santa has created a real avatar. I know people personally who have met him, and so yes, I believe in Santa Claus. I also believe in him as a spirit that can descend on/into a human, as the loa ride their worshippers, or a HP calls down the Goddess into herself. So why not celebrate Santa?

Many pagans celebrate Christmas because they are part of families who do. Family is important. Celebrating together is important. When my husband died, we had two funerals, one for the Christians and one for the pagans, because he had many friends who loved him, and they all had a right to have a ritual that met their needs for mourning. Eating together, singing together, these things forge connections across community. Sharing customs extends this to a greater community. While it is wonderful to have others who understand and relate to our spiritual path, having connections with those related to us by blood, activities, neighborhood, and other bonds of affection is also wonderful, and we can share connecting rituals with them without damaging our personal relationships with the gods with whom we work.
                       Some rituals are intended to reinforce the bonds between the divinity and their worshiper. While many put out a bowl of porridge for their hob or Nisse, we don’t expect any of our guests to pay any attention to them, just as we wouldn’t expect them to give our kids a good night kiss. I have a personal Mother Night celebration on the night before Solstice that I have always told the kids is something they are welcome to join in- if at any point they enter a special relationship with the Mother(s). One of the great things about polytheism is that we don’t try to force everyone to share the same rituals. Warriors do their devotions to warrior gods, healers to healing spirits, families to their own ancestors, not everyone needs to work with the same Beings.

Christmas card pic ’58?

I see the purpose of holidays is to create and reinforce the bonds with community and with the gods. Some rituals do many things at once. Sharing a meal with traditional foods, whether it’s lutfisk, latkes, lasagna, or a roast goose cane work on so many levels. Foods eaten only under certain circumstances set it off as a special occasion: sacred. They can also invite in the ancestors, or simply be delicious, and make us feel that someone was willing to do something special to make us happy. Decorations can be symbolic, and we know how multi-level symbolism can be! At a very basic level, doing anything simply because “we did it when I was a kid” is going to hit us in our subconscious mind. The very smells will reach memories that have been long forgotten. Hopefully the associations are positive, because if the buried memory is traumatic, not nostalgic, it can have unwanted effects.
            Holiday celebrations are constantly evolving as well. Advent used to be a time of fasting, and the 12 Days of Christmas up until January 6th, the time for celebrating. Now the season seems to be Black Friday to December 25th. In recent years people have enthusiastically embraced Krampus and rejected Swart Piet (St. Nicholas’ Moorish helper). Articles annually remind us that Christmas trees, cards, many songs, and Santa himself all entered our group mind at some point, and may not be as ancient or as universal as we think they are.

Hellenic Ritual

I celebrate many holidays, Christmas among them. Not all Pagans are Wiccan (or Khemetic, or Hellenic, or Heathen,…), but I think most of us have looked at many world mythologies and found something that resonated within us, which is how we found our own spiritual practices. I think the vast majority of Pagans out there practice alone or with family, and while there are gatherings some can attend, the general ones are designed to be Universalist (although heavily Wiccan) so all Pagans can participate. We certainly don’t have the communities supporting the sacrifices, blots, or public rituals that the ancestors whose practices inspired ours had. To a certain extent, our diverse culture has dictated that religion be practiced privately, so that’s the part we are used to. Christmas family rituals, decorations, special foods, music, and recounting of myths are lovely and usually supportive. The Christian myth is beautiful, whether the religion has realized the potential or not, and I say (with Scrooge’s nephew Fred) “I say Christmas has done me good, and will do me good, and I say God Bless it!” If one day, or one season a year Christians can live up to the message of their chosen Avatar, that’s a beautiful thing, and I will happily join their celebrations.

Thoughts on Contamination

I am an old, opinionated woman*, I’m wise, and I know a lot. I’ve learned through experience and study, and my saving characteristic is that I realize that there are a lot of other old, wise women out there who also know a lot, and we often disagree on major things.

Philosophies develop through life experiences. When you’re little, you wonder how things work and the adults give you explanations, which you generally accept, and as you learn more, you guild on the foundations those early explanations made. When you find something that doesn’t fit, you’ll go to great lengths to make it work with what’s already there, rather than go back and re-examine your foundational beliefs.

I have a bunch of beliefs and they reflects my experiences. I believe that many things fix themselves if you leave them alone, other things take work to fix. (I’m still working on the “some things can’t be fixed and need to be discarded”. I do tend to think that when you retire something, if there’s still some value in the components, they should be recycled.) The analogies for life I use tend to come from my experiences: housekeeping, cooking, gardening, and other things I’ve done a lot of. I’m unlikely to use (or sometimes, even understand) a sports analogy, however I think we all use analogies from the things we’ve experienced and understand to extend to the things we don’t understand that seem similar.

I don’t believe in sin, although I know it’s a foundational belief for many people. I believe in cause and effect, or consequences, what some would call Karma, although I tend to think of it as science. I’m not sure that if you put out cruelty, you get cruelty back, or whether you simply have created a filter through which you see the world and makes you interpret the world through that lens. I dislike the idea of a religion (or explanation of how the world works) that uses fear and guilt to motivate people. It seems a cruel thing to impose on little children as a foundational belief they will build on for the rest of their lives. In my experience, people are often motivated by the joy of doing nice things for each other. It makes you happy. What I’m left with is wondering whether there are people born with no motivations except pain avoidance and self gratification, or whether they were damaged in childhood somehow to react that way.

In my experience, people love each other. They love their families, they love their friends, they love strangers in a general way simply because they are alive and wonderful. Some people have been hurt and many of their reactions are aimed at avoiding being hurt again, but helping others makes people happy. It could be I’m seeing the world through that filter, but experience has reinforced this for me. Given that it results in my being happy most of the time, I figure that is a good way to live.

Falling back to the problem about things fixing themselves, and sometimes needing work to fix, I think we should be encouraging each other to both help each other, and to see each other through a lens of kindness. How is this about contagion? Sometimes we step in something sticky and have to wash our feet off. Other times we might touch our eyes or tongue and discover that the hot pepper or peppermint we were handling hours before is still there, and can still sting. If someone is carrying around a stain of old experiences, they may have forgotten (or even not noticed) when and where they picked it up, but it’s a bit more important to clean it off and avoid spreading the contaminant than to worry about where it came from. One thing experience has taught me is that a bit of poo, or paint, or whatever on your shoe can get tracked all over the place. Hot pepper can last on your hands a VERY long time, not hurting your fingers, but will cause agony to mucus membranes. Poison Ivy has taught me the valuable lesson that you can pick up the oil from more than just those “leaflet’s three”. You can lean on a tree in winter, or sit on a rock and not notice the little vines on them, but the “dead” stems will get the oil on your gloves or pants, and then suddenly you get a rash and won’t know where it came from. I think many mystery rashes are from cats walking through poison ivy, coming in and rubbing against our legs, or we pat them, and “Where did this rash come from?” Perhaps we don’t get it on our hands because we wash them enough, but meanwhile the hands spread it to our arms, our faces, etc. Just because it’s invisible doesn’t mean it doesn’t still work. I know a girl who sat on the chair where her sister who’d been in the woods, put her clothes to get into the wash just as soon as she’d showered. She was wearing her bathing suit, and the rash got places you don’t want blisters!
This has taught me that there’s no advantage to assigning guilt for having gotten exposed to whatever you don’t like. The world is full of cow patties, which by and large are a good thing, they are the result of eating grass, and provide nutrients for the soil. We simply don’t like the way they smell (and stick). So wash it off. Clean yourself. Use abrasion or solvent or whatever substance you know that will loosen it or neutralize it. There’s no sin, no fault, but getting it off makes your world more pleasant. That effort is worthwhile.

We are often exposed to things that make us feel “icky” or unclean. Wash them off by clearing your energy. We all have our preferred methods. You can smudge or ring bells, or when you watch news that is doing it’s best to grab your attention by your adrenaline glands, watch or read something that reminds you that there are lots of good people and things out there. Some people might review the statistics to remind themselves how rare acts of violence really are, even though they dominate the headlines. Others may simply look at pictures of kittens and puppies. Remind yourself firmly that while some other people might do mean things, you wouldn’t. You need to remember that. Focus your attention on the good things that make your life good. And sometimes, a bath or a shower will help. Picture all the ick going down the drain and dissipating. If you don’t clean yourself, you could unintentionally keep tracking it around and spreading it. Remember, often “dirt” is simply something out of place. Manure in a field is fertilizer, the lipstick on the glass was a cosmetic on lips, the icky limp macaroni in the drain, was delicious mac and cheese a half hour before, on your plate. What may be nasty here, may not be nasty where it belongs. But get it off you, and you’ll feel better.

*and if you think I am not going to milk that or all it’s worth, give that thought up. I have to put up with all the BS of aging, I get the perks too!

Milo of Croton

Milo and his Bull

There is a story about a wrestler who figured he could gain strength by carrying around a calf every day, starting with a new-born calf, and as it grew keep doing it until he was carrying a 4 year old bull. I feel sorry for the bull, although we can assume that since it was a daily occurrence starting from being newborn, it learned to trust him and cooperate. (Although as I got bigger, I got less comfortable with being picked up. The hand stays the same but is pressing upward against 250 pounds rather than 50, and the nerves register that.)

I often think of Milo as age catches up with me. I figure if someone really tried it, as the bull (probably eating 30+ pounds of food a day) would get harder and harder to carry, until one day he couldn’t pick it up. This is assuming that he didn’t hurt himself first. (Have you ever heard of an athlete who didn’t get hurt at some point?)

The problem with aging is that we keep our expectations, that we will be able to build up strength, speed, stamina, knowledge, with hard work and perseverance. But our bodies are physical. Like a car where rubber degrades, metal fatigue, etc., even if we don’t damage ourselves by asking more of it than we’d like, our bodies still change as they age. They don’t absorb nutrients from food the same way, the hormone balance changes, which effects every other system. Intellectually, I remember just grabbing something off the floor. Now I stop and think about keeping my balance, and moving slowly enough that nothing twinges.

Milo of Croton by Joseph-Benoît Suvée

Milo was apparently a champion wrestler for many years in 6th century Greek colony in Italy. As I looked for a picture of him carrying a bull, I found more artwork depicting his death. According to that story, he apparently found a tree stump that was being split with a wedge and in trying to pull the halves apart, the wedge fell out trapping his hand. Later his body was found having been eaten by wolves or a lion. OK, I’ve often pulled apart a mostly split piece of wood, so maybe he was the one doing the splitting, and I’m not sure why one would try to split a standing trunk. It’s been 2500 years, I’m sure the story has been garbled. But we can still learn from the story of Milo. No, not to carry around livestock (although I also saw photos of people with calves and mules. No bulls, because I don’t think that’s possible.) But the part where we learn to respect that we are getting older, and not to try to live in the past.

I have so many memories of people hurting themselves by trying to do things they ‘used to be able to do’, whether it’s staying up all night, or lifting a cast iron bathtub by themselves. In y case it would probably be trying to do the amount of work I used to do in the same amount of time. It’s not happening. I may be full of knowledge and talent, but I also have the wisdom to remember (most of the time) that I’m not 40 or even 50 anymore. I can’t do that. If will hurt myself if I try. But with wisdom, we can adapt and use our knowledge to do even greater things- in ways that won’t hurt ourselves.
I just have to keep reminding myself. WWMD? (What would Milo do? Don’t do that.)

Farewell 2020

I have been thinking about 2020 and all the griping we’ve been doing about it. 2020 was a year of hard lessons. As Faucci said “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care for other people.” We have refused to recognize the bigotry in our culture, we have refused to acknowledge and deal with the pollution that we know is creating climate change, we have refused to address income inequality, and corruption in government. These are insidious as cancers eating away at our physical, mental, emotional and cultural health.

2020 made it VERY clear what we need to do to succeed: to care about each other, take care of each other, recognize and deal with unpleasant truths, and stop being jerkweeds (to use the newly recognized word). To blame 2020 for our discomfort at what we’ve inflicted on ourselves is to continue the behavior that led to the pandemic, wildfires, budget crises, etc. If there was a theme for 2020 it was wake up and take some personal responsibility for what’s going on! White people MUST learn that Black Lives Matter means that we haven’t been treating them as if they matter as much as white lives. EVERYONE must recognize the reality of the Pandemic and how badly it’s been handled, (ditto climate change). I don’t need to rehearse every issue.

I will simply say that as I understand it, if you fail a class, you have to retake it. If you don’t learn the lessons you are presented with in one life, you come back into a similar situation until you learn to deal with those issues. I will remind people that many griped about 2019. If we don’t accept and learn the lessons that 2020 was trying to teach us, 2021 will have to be more ‘heavy handed’ in trying to pound those lessons through our thick heads.

I realize that to a certain extent many of us feel that we are in a class where the teacher says “If the guilty parties don’t come forward the whole class is going to have detention.” But let’s go back to that first lesson: We need to learn to take care of each other better. It’s hard when it’s the class bullies who are screwing it up for everyone else, but we still need to take care of them, so that they can learn to be better.

Kefir Chronicles continued

I have been careful to keep the bottles clean because I know wild yeasts and bacteria are the way to mess up the flavor and basis. So that’s fine.
Once I started the holiday baking, the ‘sweet spot’ of warmth has not necessarily been consistent between when I’m baking and the wood stove’s going, but I no longer have to keep it in the Kombucha heater. (Sadly, the Kombucha mother doesn’t seem to be reviving.)

On the sour dough front- It didn’t work for me, and cost me the flour and milk I’d put into it, but I shouldn’t be surprised. I am shite with all sourdough, and don’t love it. I think it resents me not caring for it. Eventually I threw out both the starter (which separated and the liquid part turned black), and the ‘loaf’ which never rose, but continued to be the nice spongy ‘soft as a babies bottom’ texture I’d started it as.

I have gotten used to drinking the lumps. I put the kefir through the blender a few times. It does make it smoother, but something about it makes it a bitch to wash off whatever the container is- and the blender has the top, the bottom, the sides, the spinning blades and gasket. What a pain! You can’t just rinse the glass you drink it from, you have to scrub. Use a wide mouthed cup where you can reach the bottom. I do blend it when the non-curd part gets stringing- like slime. Since it still tastes fine, I’m assuming that’s just a characteristic of kefir.

I’ve warned you about the cleaning, the slime, and the sourdough. I mentioned the heat and kombucha. I shall continue if I learn more.

The Kefir Chronicles

Let me start by disclaiming any deep knowledge about Kefir. I had heard of it. It’s one of those fermented foods that are supposed to be good for you. But that’s about it. Now I’m learning, and I’ll share my experiences with you.

I started out with an infected tooth for which I got antibiotics. Bless antibiotics. Did you know that Hatshepsut the great female Pharaoh died of an abscessed tooth? Just another bit of historical trivia I learned about a dozen years ago. Also as an historian, I take infections pretty seriously. I know that herbs can help, and use them when they work, but occasionally, they don’t, and, boy, is it great to have antibiotics as a back-up. Not unexpectedly, after finishing a run of Clindamycin, I got a yeast infection, and another round of another antibiotic. Again, unexpectedly, I felt wiped out. We know this happens. And it sure wiped out my gut biome.

Trust me, I was taking pro-biotics. I had the alarm set on my e-reader, every 3 hours it went off and prompted “Take Antibiotic” or “Take Probiotic” alternately. I ate yogurt: Greek yogurt, french yogurt, and skyr, drank Kombucha, and ate Saurkraut (which, luckily, I love). Still, I ended up calling the doctor. The insert in the antibiotics says one of the symptoms it can cause and you should refer to the physician is ‘persistent diarrhea’. They didn’t define persistent. After about a week I called and asked; they told me it meant “two or three days”. Now I know (and you do too). It was awful, but if it’s going to happen, better when we’re all staying at home, not getting far from the “Necessary”. My reading also informed me that the gut biome is also wiped out when you have the total, clean as a whistle, cleansing for a colonoscopy, which I did at the beginning of the month as well (about a week into the antibiotics).

I will point out that no-one in the entire colonoscopy process mentioned that potential effect, and the need to use pro-biotics to get your gut working properly again. The one-two punch of emptying the digestive system and following that up with antibiotics left me unable to process food. The less you know about the results the better, other than I looked stuff up, and did everything I was “supposed to”. The best I got was the usual “eat yogurt” between antibiotic advice. A month after the colonoscopy I saw Dr. Q, and complained bitterly about lack of useful warning or advice. He recommended Kefir, which they use in the Ukraine, where he’d adopted his daughter. I hadn’t tried that because all the grocery store Kefir was full of sugar, and, in case you didn’t know, sugar encourages the sort of gut bacteria you don’t want.

Fine, straight from the office, I headed to the health food store. Got 2 bottles of goats-milk kefir, and next time I went to Market Basket found one non-sugared variety. All these bottles are opaque. I don’t think it’s because they need to keep the light out. I think it’s so you can’t see it until after you’ve shaken it. They all say “shake well”. I also sent for some starter to begin growing my own. At a pint a day, the home grown kefir was ready by the time I finished the 3 store-bought quarts. It started slowly.

The instructions said “it’s happy place is 70-80º”. For goodness sakes! That’s Willow’s happy place! You don’t find that in our house in the dark half of the year! I sent for a ‘fermentation mat’. What I found was one for Kombucha (same problem there), and that seems to do the trick. Actually, it took off so well that I have now started leaving it out of the warmer. The couple of tablespoons of “grains” sort of took over the quart jar. Given the texture I’ve switched to a half gallon jar because it has a wider mouth. But if I leave it in the fermentation collar, the whole batch separates into grains (sort of looks like cottage cheese) and whey. Overnight.

Shake well, but it’s still got the little lumps. It IS little lumps. In whey. It takes me back to when we made goats’ milk cheese. When I poured out the commercial stuff it was white and smooth, not lumpy. I figured they just strained out their grains to keep using them. That makes sense economically. What am I doing wrong? Or am I?
Off to the internet. I discover you can use kefir as sour dough bread starter. Having gotten ahead of myself (despite drinking a pint every day, and BTW, I’m feeling better than I have in months if not years), I put a quart in a jar with a couple of scoops of flour, and set that on the counter to see what it would do. What it did was to grow from 4 cups to 7 cups in a few hours! Then I took some back out and made a soft dough and put that in the warming oven to rise. Having experimented (unsuccessfully) this Spring with sour-dough I’d put a piece of tape on the Ball jar to remind me where it started. Meanwhile the loaf of bread I’d started with the same batch was sullenly sitting in the warming oven looking dormant. All I’d put in it was organic whole wheat flour and a bit of salt. I wonder if the salt slowed it down. Or the flour- I’d just refilled my canister from the 50 gallon bag I keep in the unheated back hall. That flour was probably at 40º. Until the damned loaf grows enough to bake, I am not sure what it’s going to taste like, and I’m not generally a fan of sour-dough bread. I like my normal yeast raised bread and buns, so I’m not eager to have a sour dough mother that rises so much that I need to make a loaf every day. Perhaps it’s not growing because it feels that I don’t like it. Some people LOVE sour dough, but I’m not one of them.

As I wait for the sour dough to rise, I have to deal with the general maintenance. When I come down in the morning, I have to scoop a bunch of grains off the top of the Kefir, and put them into a new jar with new milk. Then I rinse my sprouts, and check them. (I’ve switched them over to the Kombucha fermenting collar). The kombucha is just starting, so I don’t need to do anything with that yet. If I’m going to make bread, I start proofing the yeast. When I put the new grains in milk, I put the kefir I took them out of into the `fridge, and take out the chilled kefir from the day before to drink.

Thinking about the commercial kefir, today I put the kefir through the blender, and yes, it came out creamy and smooth, so that’s probably what the commercial folks do. The flavor of the fresh stuff is better, but I don’t care for drinking lumps. I am thinking of maybe simply pouring off the whey (bet I could use it in baking), and using the curds like soft cheese. While they call the lumps ‘grains’, they are totally simply little bits of thickened milk formed around whatever the bacteria is. They suggested using a plastic strainer to get the grains out, but it just filled and let the whey through. I tried all three sizes of strainers that I use on the sprouting jars, and they quickly clog too. Now I just spoon off the solids on the top as next day’s starter, and call it good.

As you can tell, this is a SHARING blog, not an instructional one. I am still learning. But I think there’s value in hearing how other people are screwing up. I hope it keeps someone from feeling that everyone else but her is able to do this easily. I’m sure it would be a lot easier if you lived with it from childhood and saw how your mother (or father) did it, (went through the times that I’m sure something odd happened), and at very lease had someone other than the internet to turn to when you got confused.

At what age do you introduce Tarot to kids?

Three isn’t too early. “Reading” the pictures on Tarot cards is a bit easier than stringing together the sound symbols in writing to make words (to hear when you read out-loud or in your head). As when introducing your child to reading, or TV, simply include them while you do it. Ask them how they would interpret the cards. Teach them the simplest spreads. You may want to design small spreads suitable to the sort of questions they would be likely to ask. Rather than past>present>future, you might suggest:
Why is this happening? <What’s happening> What’s probably going to happen next?
As they get older you could add a “Is there anything I can do to change this?” place.

Which deck? If you have more than one deck around, one you rarely use, give them that one (it’s already trained). If they like your favorite deck, get them one of their own (each of us has our own copy of the Robin Wood deck) when they’ve show that they can use it. You may want to laminate them if they use them in the kitchen or while eating (or chew on them).

Watching them use the cards may teach you something you didn’t know about Tarot. My kids (as young adults), started playing the toss the cards in a hat game, and discovered, because they knew the meanings, that they were getting a good reading from it. (I think it was don’t count the ones that go in, the others are more or less pertinent depending on how far from the hat they fall.) They may come up with a divination or magickal system to use them you’d never think of.
You know your kids best- I would guess that they should each have personal decks or there would be dissent. If they don’t shuffle yet, I think smaller decks might be easier for them to hold, but reassure them that some adults can’t shuffle, and it works perfectly well to stir them on the table and gather them up again. Sometimes better.

Smaller hands make find smaller decks more comfortable. Let them try and let you know. Consider starting them on a partial deck, by which I mean only trumps, or only pip cards. (If you’ve never tried readings with partial decks, try it.)
You may want to consider a Lenormand rather than Tarot deck. Lenormand tend to be smaller cards, and there are only 36 in the deck, this sounds easier for kids to handle. At two or three you will probably be telling them all the folktales that inform the symbolism in the Lenormand cards. They should learn about Birds and Foxes, Dogs and Bears, Snakes and Ships, Towers and Crossroads, Books and Rings. If not from you, and if now now, when and from whom?
For mini tarot, you could go with the Colman Smith (Rider/ Waite) mini deck or I like the Everyday Witch deck by Deborah Blake.

Remember, as they grow your kids may be rabidly interested at some points, totally disinterested for years, then come back to it with fervor again later. Don’t interpret these fluctuations as having wasted the resources, they’ll probably also be cycling through interest in cooking, bats, history, sports, dolphins, dinosaurs, herbs, sewing, ad infinitum. If they lose interest, you could tuck the cards on a shelf for them to come back to later (to protect them from being turned into scrap-booking projects- but that could be OK too.)

While teaching them how to use the cards, do explain that divination is about information gathering, not making decisions for you. That’s hard even for adults sometimes. You may also want to teach them dowsing, or other types of divination or symbol sets.

Power pyramid

Yesterday my niece told my sister that she can’t come to visit anymore (with my sister’s new grandbaby) because they are afraid to come up where there are so many Trump signs. (Do I need to mention he’s black? I am so angry that that makes a difference!)  I have to assume that the recent violence showing how the administration and “law enforcement” patterns are also making people of color more afraid for their lives.

I had been living in a (liberal white) fantasy world where we were making progress and bigotry was a thing of the past. But the White Supremacists felt threatened and organized to fight back. They WANT Jim Crow back, they WANT to have women and blacks and gays and all people who aren’t their ‘sort’ to accept the role of support staff of the white Christian culture.

We assumed that the fact that we are stronger when we are all doing well and accept diversity was obvious, but change is hard, and they are pushing back. Sadly, they chose to do it with guns and politics and police, and we have to organize better to retain and regain the progress we had won. Fear is the tactic of the terrorist. This is what they are using on everyone else.

Yes, because they are defensive (and assholes) they may come after us as well, the Jews and pagans, the gays and asexuals, any minority, as well as those who aren’t minorities: women, people of color, people who make less money than they do, …anyone who they think will reduce their power if they don’t control them, and have to share power with them. They just don’t want to have to think or to compromise. The good news is that they are a tiny, if powerful, minority. Their strength is mostly in their current accrued power- financial and the ability to convince others, by manipulating the media, religion, and playing on people’s fears, that they will be better off if they support them. We won’t.

It’s important that those of us who are white recognize the reality of the terror tactics being used on other people who we don’t see as that different. But their lives ARE different. They live in a world where their lives can be destroyed in an instant for no other reason than that a number of whites fear losing their place at the top of the power pyramid. We need to stake down the pyramid and create a more inclusive system. We’ll lose some of the privileges we didn’t realize we had, but we will gain so much more!

What are you?

When people ask me if I’m a witch I habitually respond: “Tell me what you think a witch is, and I’ll tell you if I’m that.” It’s not just a simple “all witches don’t worship Satan” or “all witches aren’t Wiccan”, there are so many definitions of witch that to agree to the label could mean almost anything. *
For the record, I do use magick and natural human psychic abilities to heal, tweak the weather, find things; I do herbalism, divination,  I am an animist, I have cats, and have a couple pointed hats and wear long striped stockings, so I’m pretty comfortable with calling myself a witch. I’m just not comfortable with letting other people define what that means. I’m not a Wiccan, or a Satanist,

If someone asks me if I’m a Christian, I tell them that I get along pretty well with Jesus, but have a problem with what some churches and people have done to his teachings. If people act the way Jesus advised, I usually get along pretty well with them too.

Basically, labels are slippery things. When we are kids and learning to speak we learn from the people around us what words mean. As we get older, we continue to learn from others what things mean. Every so often we discover that we’ve been using a word wrong. (My sister thought that “nimrod” meant ‘cute little thing’ because Bugs Bunny called Elmer Fudd a ‘cute little nimrod’ in cartoons. I remember when I was about 6 telling an older kid (who’d probably just learned the word) that “I wasn’t a virgin, I’d never had a baby!” The only place I’d ever heard the word was referring to Mary, Jesus’ mother.  We learn language from context, but that’s not a perfect system.
One of the problems with labels is how slippery they are. Someone can hang a label on you, and assume that they know what you are because they trust labels and what people who taught them about whatever it is means. But misinformation can be as easily attached to a word as anything else. Modern boys use the word “gay” as an insult without any idea of WHY it’s an insult, so of course, when they learn what it means, they assume it must be bad.

Also, as with most prejudice, people will extrapolate about an entire group based on a very small sample of those within the group. Someone who meets a few Wiccans may figure that ALL Wiccans or witches are like the ones they met, whether the ones they met are mostly interested in ritual, or in getting together to hang out, or to learn magick. They may decide that they are weirdos, or posers, or just plain folks, or psychic, or highly spiritual…. all depending on who they met. One thing most long time witches have heard a lot is: “you’re not like the witches where I’m from!”. Yes, there’s a huge variety among the people who call themselves witches, and even greater variety among those called witches. And the same thing can be said of Christians.
What’s my point? Labels, especially ones for large groups, are almost useless for understanding people. (We never want to hear a question preceded by “You’re a girl…” as if that means you can explain the behavior of half the population of the world.) We can’t escape labels, but at least we can use them very carefully.

* One of the frustrating aspects of looking for evidence for surviving pagan practice in the European Middle Ages is that the Protestants habitually called the Catholics pagan, and the Catholics referred to the Protestants as pagan.

Poor Shaming

This rant started with my family griping to each other about fat shaming, the most flagrant example of that being the photos often posted of “Walmart people”: unflattering people, usually fat, often handicapped, wearing clothes the poster thinks are inappropriate- whether they are cosplay, too tight, weird, or simply clothes you might buy at Walmart. The bottom line is that while Walmart and dollar stores are where those without much money go to be able to afford the stuff they need, apparently it’s also where people go who want to feel superior by making fun of people.  (I’m NOT going to share one of those vile pictures!)
Earlier in the day I was thinking about how doctors and dentists always talk about how everyone should have health and dental care, and yet they don’t seem to be able to figure out a way to provide it that allows everyone to be able to afford it. One thing that really bugs me about it, is that they don’t seem to realize that people can’t afford their services. They keep suggesting ‘get insurance’ or ‘pay over time’, unaware that many people have a level of income where simple ‘regular visits’ would be two percent of their annual income (4% for twice a year), it can be 20% for a doctor visit, and at low incomes, the reason they don’t have insurance is because there’s nothing left when food, shelter and utilities are paid for. People who assume that “everyone” has around the income that they and their friends do are not evil, but they are willfully ignorant. Did you know that “welfare” won’t pay for any dental care except extractions, yet given equal candidates for any job, an employer will pick the one without missing teeth. In what way does extracting rather than filling a tooth help get poor people back to work?

In the past nobles looked down on peasants, feeling superior and certainly they were better nourished, better sheltered, better educated. There is nothing quite as exhausting as constant pain, and yet since complaining would do no good, the peasants didn’t complain, so the nobles thought “they don’t feel pain as we do.” These days we have a myth that ‘anyone with effort can become anything they try to be’. Study after study shows that this is not so, but it is more comfortable for the people who have advantages to pretend that they don’t, that somehow they deserve what they have. IF, as in the Middle Ages, the idea that being privileged carried with it the concept of noblesse oblige, (known in the modern world as “With great power comes great responsibility”) that it obligated you to help those without so many advantages, that would be better. Instead we seem to grab that myth of personal choice and blame the victims. We mock people for being poor, for being fat, for being handicapped.
In my mind there is no excuse for victim blaming. I try to figure out why someone would choose to mock someone for their looks, and fail to come up with anything. I try to pity them as morally handicapped. But I can not comprehend how choosing to be cruel would make them feel better.

I’m going to end with a memory about the failed “teaching” of Barney the Dinosaur. When I was a kid they taught us mocking “teaching songs” like Would you like to Swing on a Star. It seemed OK to teach kids to mock those with traits you didn’t care as a way to ‘encourage’ them to shape up. On the other hand, in one episode of Barney, Baby Bop (who represented a younger child) ate everyone’s cookies and got a stomach ache (as unlikely as that would be- kids don’t tend to suffer from over treating themselves), and rather than explaining to the other kids that she was suffering natural consequences, and that their being cross with her for taking their stuff was also a natural consequence, the kids were encouraged to try to make her feel better. I’ve always felt that teaching the other kids that even when they were victims, they weren’t allowed to get even would have been a better lesson. It’s natural to be angry when someone takes what’s yours. It’s normal to be upset when you are hurt. But we have to give up on taking our hurt out on people who are only easy targets because they can’t fight back. We see that echoed in everything from child abuse to police brutality to hate crimes, if you attack those generally despised, it’s usually safe. Thus it may be that mocking is a way of MAKING the target safer to attack (adding cowardice to cruelty in the attacker).
I have no words of wisdom with which to conclude, so this is pretty depressing.