CTCW Blog

I’m going to suggest that anyone who enjoys my historical meanderings might like the blog posts at the CTCW website this month. Since we are in-between cons and haven’t got speakers, workshops, vendors etc. to talk about, and December is a maelstrom of traditional holidays, I’ve got about one post scheduled for every day of the month, mostly talking about holiday traditions. For example, this is the one for December 5th, St. Nicholas Day:

November 6 is the feast of Saint Nicholas, a Christian saint associated with sailors, children, and giving, tradition suggests that he brings gifts to good children on the eve of his feast day. As he is supposed to be good, he is often accompanied by another magical being who punishes, while he rewards. In recent years the tradition of Krampus has been gaining popularity. He is one of Santa’s helpers from central Europe, where Krampus- a hairy monster(s) with horns, wearing belts of chains and bells, armed with switches and whips, and bags in which to carry away naughty boys and girls, often accompany the saint in parades and other pageants. Nicholas has various helpers in that role around the world, in the Netherlands, he is said to come from Spain, so his helper was a moor, known as Svart Piet (Black Peter), who was depicted in blackface because moors were hard to come by in Holland, but that tradition has fallen into disrepute as world travel is more common. Once on shore, he rides a white horse. In Switzerland and Luxembourg, his helper(s), Schmutzli , wears a monks habit. In Poland he is accompanied by both an angel and Knecht Ruprecht. In France, the saint rides a donkey, and is accompanied by Père Fouettard, the butcher who killed 3 boys and chopped them up, and Nicholas brought them back to life. Belsnickel (from belzen, German for to wallop or to drub) was more of a combination of both the carrot and the stick- he is one of the older versions of the nocturnal visitor, going back to the Middle Ages. He was portrayed as thin, wearing black, often fur, and carrying a switch (but with treats in his pocket). Most of these characters were disguised with masks or face paint- probably as they were family or neighbors dressed up to fool the kids (and delight the adults). My favorite version of this was when the visiting St. Nicholas (having been prompted by parents) was able to tell each child of some misdemeanor that they thought no one knew about. (“He knows if you’ve been bad or good!”)

I first heard of Krampus about ten years ago in the Krampus Christmas. I was instantly enchanted and prowled the internet and youtube enjoying  videos about Krampus runs, and how craftsmen carve the wooden masks, fit in animal horns, and make the hairy costumes. Apparently so have others because Krampus figures have gained in popularity since then, including a Krampus movie, Krampus tree ornaments, and Krampus nights in America. There are many versions of processions during this time of year where drinks or treats are given the wanderers in exchange for their blessings (or entertainment). The most sedate version of this is singing carols or Wassailing, which combines both entertainment and blessing, and could often bring needed supplemental food or income to the poor. A weird variant is the Mari Lwyd where the singers brought a hobby horse made with a horses skull on top of a pole with a sack covering the man carrying it; this is more likely to take place during the Christmas season rather than Advent (pre-Christmas). As with many “traditional customs”, often we cannot find reference to them before the 17th century. The folks in the 1800s had a delight in studying and resurrecting (inventing) folk customs; and many cards both Christmas and Valentines, depicted Krampus and the horrors coming to naughty children!

The Yule season starts on December 6th as this is the day of the earliest sunset (4:11 in Boston, MA). After this date the sunsets start getting later. But, isn’t the Solstice the shortest day? Yes. January 6th, the 12th day of Christmas, is the day of the latest sunrise (7:13 in Boston- if you go to Trondheim, Norway, the solstice day runs from 10:01 dawn to 2:31 sunset, yowch!). So from December 6-January 6 the days are short, but sunrise and sunset vary. This is probably the reason that this period is considered the prime time for the Wild Hunt and other spirits to visit earth.

There are some who suggest that the Santa legends are associated with the Hunt, and thus that Odin (who leads it in some traditions) was a precursor to Santa. More likely are other early versions of the hunt that were lead by Diana, Holle, and Berchta (depending on region). The Good Ladies led their troop (of dead or souls of sleeping shaman) from house to house, eating and drinking offerings that were left for them, blessing well run households, and creating havoc in poorly run or inhospitable houses. These days tales suggest that Perchta will come during the 12 nights of Christmas and leave a coin for good children, and cut out the internal organs of bad ones and replace them with straw. She is often depicted with a mask and costume with one benevolent face, and one of an scary demonic woman showing both her pre-Christian fertility goddess aspect and her Christian make-over into a demon. When she leads the Wild Hunt it is said to be a troop of the souls of un-baptised children.

Blessings (and the occasional treat) was what one expected from these visitors. Gift giving is a recent development, from the time of the Roman Empire it was more associated with New Year’s celebrations, later transferred to St. Basil’s Day (January 1st). St. Nicholas brought treats like cookies and fruit (and the threat of punishment). I’ll mention more supernatural visitors when the Yul Lads start arriving.

 

NEUSTIFT IM STUBAITAL, AUSTRIA – NOVEMBER 30: Participants who arrived by bus gather before dressing as the Krampus creature prior to Krampus night on November 30, 2013 in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria. Sixteen Krampus groups including over 200 Krampuses participated in the first annual Neustift event. Krampus, in Tyrol also called Tuifl, is a demon-like creature represented by a fearsome, hand-carved wooden mask with animal horns, a suit made from sheep or goat skin and large cow bells attached to the waist that the wearer rings by running or shaking his hips up and down. Krampus has been a part of Central European, alpine folklore going back at least a millennium, and since the 17th-century Krampus traditionally accompanies St. Nicholas and angels on the evening of December 5 to visit households to reward children that have been good while reprimanding those who have not. However, in the last few decades Tyrol in particular has seen the founding of numerous village Krampus associations with up to 100 members each and who parade without St. Nicholas at Krampus events throughout November and early December. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 453330551

Book Review with some thoughts of my own

I’ve just finished House of Darkness House of Light by Andrea Perron. It’s a memoir written by one of the daughters who lived for 10 years in a farmhouse in Rhode Island that was haunted. It was the basis of the horror movie The Conjuring, and frankly that plot seems to have been only loosely based on what happened. Given the vast majority of the “incidents” described, most are fairly normal for an old house: doors opening and closing themselves, objects appearing and disappearing, moving around, things levitating, clocks stopping, phone ringing when unplugged, pets not wanting to go in, or seeming to react to something unseen by their owners, smells and cold that come and go, hearing footsteps, sensing and seeing presences…. One assumes these are of people who lived there before and left “something” behind: whether a personality or an energetic imprint. These events are  very common in my reading and experience.
Some people seem to think those things are scary. I suppose they think so because they are indications that ghosts or spirits exist, when they have been told they can’t. “There is no evidence” proving it. If people having interacted with spirits for as long as we have written history doesn’t count as evidence, I think the scoffers are not being honest with themselves. Yes, some hauntings have been faked, but that doesn’t mean that all have. I think “follow the money” is a pretty good rule of thumb for checking for fraud. Who’s profiting by it? The Perrons didn’t.

I’ll admit it’s frustrating to have your stuff go missing, and inconvenient to have your bed move into the middle of the room every night while you’re asleep. (One of our ghosts used to make the rocking chair start rocking and dump stuff on the floor. My sister simply started putting stuff on the bed. “Rock that!”) That seems to be pretty much how most people deal with ghosts when they live with them. Most ghosts are pretty harmless.

The book is long and rambling, I kept thinking it could use an editor; but it is a memoir. It may need to take a long time because that’s how the situation evolved, and them with it. Three decades later, the family recalled their experiences in order to put the facts clearly for others (who might profit from what they learned). One of the nice things about this recounting  is that they point out that they got both good and bad from their experiences. For one, they are certain of an afterlife, and that God answered their prayers. That’s a wonderful thing to not wonder about. They also learned lessons, such as quarreling, blaming and other negative energy seemed to feed the spirits, give them more energy to move furniture, etc. Having learned this, they became forgiving, and developed problem resolution skills far beyond most people.

They also had good relationships with many of the spirits in the farmhouse. Since it was over two centuries old, many people had died there over time (although there were an unusual number of suicides I think). Most of the spirits were friendly, there was a child, often heard crying for its mother, who played with the girls toys, a protective masculine spirit in the doorway, a father and son, with their dog, on the stairs, and a woman who smelled like fruit and flowers who tucked them in at night. These were protective. One floated one of the girls safely down the stairs when she’d fallen, didn’t touch anything all the way down and around the corner. Another (or the same) held the end of a board up during a storm when one of the kids had to mend a fence. Having had household spirits help with our chores, I believe it.

The trouble came from on spirit (at least) who was hostile and dangerous. If she started as a ghost, she may have evolved into something different. The female figure who showed herself with a broken neck was identified as Bathsheba, and often attacked Carolyn, the girls’ mother. She even said she was mistress there before and intended to be again. “Was mistress once afore ye came and mistress here will be again. Will drive ye out with fiery broom, Will drive ye made with death and gloom!” She seemed to want the children, but she hated Carolyn.

Once Carolyn had something like a needle stabbed into her leg, a hanger jumped off the pole and beat her on the shoulder (in front of witnesses), she also had pains and weakness that doctors could not explain. She saw fireballs on her dresser, and a vision of what seems to have been all the ghosts in the house gathered around her with torches chanting that threat above. (If they’d lived in the house in different periods, how did she get them to come together like that?) In a house made of old wood, Carolyn lived in fairly constant fear of it catching fire. And not just in the house, a cigarette flew through a closed window in the car and burned one of the girls pants, there were chimney fires, and oil burner problems. That could just be an old house. But the fear is real. The nasty odor associated with her seems to have followed friends in their cars several times. (How far away could she reach?)

Other examples of real danger where when the girls were mysteriously trapped- behind the chimney, two girls were at risk of suffocation, one in an old box that wouldn’t open although it wasn’t fastened, and the other in a trunk she doesn’t remember getting into, and was nearly impossible to open in the first place. Roger, the father, had his back clawed up in his sleep (and stroked seductively in the cellar). Since there were several times when various people had energy sucked out of them, this approaches vampiric activity.

Often when there was a scary incident and they screamed and banged things for attention, no one else in the house could hear it. They called it “being in the bubble”. This makes me wonder if perhaps one of the ghosts had been suffocated and was trying to reproduce their own death. Did one die while feeling abandoned, and so set up a situation where a Perron would call for help and feel abandoned. Kids often test limits, just how much can they push the limit of what’s allowed before someone stops them. Perhaps the ghosts were trying to prove that everyone gets abandoned to a terrifying death- even if they had to artificially set it up.   Another thing I observed was that in the telling, most of the major attacks seemed to come just after a party, date or other really good day. Did good feelings annoy the spirit(s), or did a good day just build it enough energy to enable the attack? The Perrons were aware that after interactions they felt depleted, and often  slept more. They also noticed that the electric meter drew unnatural amounts of power just before a major manifestation. Clearly the spirits were sucking down energy- both Chi and electricity.

The book accumulates these examples, laying brink on brick to a wall of evidence. No, it doesn’t build to a great jump-scare at the end. (I don’t think it does, I’m just starting the second book, and new incidents keep coming. I am especially fond of one of the girls having seen a broom sweeping the kitchen by itself.)

So far, Ed and Lorraine Warren are not a big part of the story. But. of course the Warrens thought there was a demon; they were demonologists. Chances are they interpreted any etheric energy Lorraine felt as demonic (along with ouija boards and tarot cards). But then, how often do you have to deal with something like that before you become hyper cautious? Having come to help the family, the Warrens shared what they knew- which was probably more than the Perrons did at the time. In some areas. On the other hand, they “borrowed” and didn’t return the huge pile of history of the house that Carolyn had collected, and I find that rude. Yes, I think it’s clear that Bathsheba was an angry ghost.They also had to deal with little girls who knew how to keep secrets, and Roger, who refused to believe what was right in front of him. Because of his control issues, he may have been more willing than others to accept “authority” if it was coming to help him.

I wonder if there wasn’t something already on the site where the farmhouse was built (a portal to somewhere, a confluence of ley lines?) that made people more likely to commit suicide or fight with each other? I would certainly not argue with the Perrons (who went through  it) when they say that when they were in danger and they called on God, that Gods power drove the bad spirits off. I’m not sure that makes the spirits demonic or simply “lawful” (following some rules we don’t understand fully). And how does one define demon? I don’t accept the standard Christian/Satanic myth. I do think something dangerous was going on.

In style, the family, or maybe just Andrea, seems to have a habit of blending two phrases together like “thinking outside the boxing match” or “listen up in smoke“, which I found annoying, in the manner of Biff messing up expressions in Back to the Future. (Or perhaps I’ve been sensitized by having auto-correct functions constantly changing what I write to something completely different.) Sometimes she showed a great turn of phrase like “unraveled like chenille throws”. I loved the range and quality of the quotes she used to start and end each chapter. Having considered it, I have to admit that tighter writing wouldn’t cover the subject matter in the same depth, and showed the development of the lessons they took from their experiences.

I find it disorienting that while the book is generally chronological- it starts with why they needed to move, and the effort it took, and only just touched on the Warrens, (so far- I think they’re in the second book), to a certain extent each chapter deals with one cluster of experiences, or place, or friend. To that extent, it’s more stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps this was how it was created as the family pooled their memories. All in all, I found it a better description of living with ghosts than most of the (many) other books on the subject I’ve read. So often such books concentrate on the phenomena, not what it meant to the people to whom it happened.

If there was one thing I would wish had been different with this book, I really would have liked is the floor-plan of the farm. They know where the doors were, but while they talk about the three stairways to the cellar, (how many to the second floor?) and various bedrooms, parlor, warm room, chimney corner, summer kitchen, pantry, laundry, borning room, woodshed, etc. I want to know where they are in relationship to each other. Which stairway has the L turn? How many rooms were there in the cellar, sounds like a half dozen, it must have been huge!

I am actually looking forward to finishing the next two books, despite the length.

Forgiveness

This weekend we got into a discussion about forgiveness and how good it is for the person doing the forgiving, and how hard it is. One thing we agreed on (I think) is that our language doesn’t help much in this process, what does forgiveness mean to most of us anyway? It seems to mean “you did something awful, but it’s OK, I’m not going to hold it against you.”

Looking up the  definition, it says: forgive: verb: stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake synonyms: pardon, excuse, exonerate, absolve, acquit, amnesty, exculpate

I can well see the healing of stopping feeling angry and resentful. However the difficulty is how do you “stop feeling something”, when the feeling is based on your judgement that what they did was wrong? Asking someone to forgive someone else can easily be seen as calling their judgement into question. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what they did wasn’t wrong, and it doesn’t mean that your assessment of what they did was incorrect. Forgiveness can seem hard if it seems to be asking you to suspend your judgement about what is right and wrong. Hurting people is wrong; lying/ stealing/ cheating is wrong. It’s a challenge to forgive, if forgiveness is taken to mean “It’s OK”, when what they did is clearly not OK.

But as this definition specifies, forgiveness doesn’t mean changing the judgement of what’s right or wrong, it means changing how you feel about it. How YOU feel, not how they feel. They may apologize (even better, try to make amends), and that’s the easiest scenario for forgiveness. If you can convince yourself that it was an accident, or a reasonable mistake, you probably won’t be angry any more. If they are not sorry (or may even blame you), it’s hard not to feel that you’ve been either hurt on purpose, or that your feelings/well-being don’t matter to them. It’s hard not to be upset about that.

Another variation on this is forgiving yourself- also hard. You have to convince yourself that you did your best under the circumstances, or that while you did something you now regret, and will now be less likely to do anything like it again, it’s in the past and you have to move on from there. If you can never forgive yourself for things you did wrong, it’s going to be hard for you to forgive anyone else.

But forgiveness isn’t saying “it wasn’t wrong”, it’s saying “I’m not going to let that keep upsetting me.” One way to look at it is to say “What was wrong was them, not me. I do not need to take responsibility for what they did.” (In many situations, you should take responsibility for any part that was under your control, but if you do and they don’t, you don’t have to take responsibility for their part as well as your own.) For example, if someone cheats you, you can decide that you don’t want to be cheated again, and figure out what level of caution and suspicion  you are comfortable with when approaching similar situations in the future. You have no obligation to get them to realize that what they did hurt you (emotionally, financially, physically). It would probably be so hard that it would be a waste of your time and effort. If it’s in business, you may choose to put them into a category of “I’m not going to do business with people who do <whatever>” and you may take legal action to recover lost money.

But think about emotional hurts the same way. Often the recovery costs are just not worth the lost money, and the effort required to change the other person’s view is not worth the effort you’d have to invest. The reason they hurt you may have been due to their personality, which won’t change, or their up-bringing, which would be hard to change. If it’s a valuable relationship like a marriage, or a parent/child relationship, it’s worth more effort to salvage, but the less close you are, the less effort it’s worth to preserve. For an occasional aquaintence, saying “I forgive them that insult” is like saying “I’m not going to worry about that $10 (although I’m not going to loan them another)”.

Perhaps the saying “Not my circus, not my monkeys” would be useful. While it’s sad that people hurt each other, whether on purpose, or by accident, it’s not your problem, it’s theirs. You can forgive them and go on your way, lesson learned. You now know more about them, about yourself, and about the world. You’ve learned a valuable lesson, but there’s no reason to keep carrying that angry energy inside you. Look at and resolve your feelings for your part of the interaction, and when that’s settled, leave them to deal with their part. “I forgive you”, doesn’t mean it was OK, it means “I’m not going to try and change that anymore.”, and that you aren’t trying to hold up the weight of whatever wrong happened by yourself. Trust that the universe will restore balance for their part sometime, and get on with your life. (Remembering to forgive your past self for mistakes and bad decisions, and not make your present and future self suffer over them.)

I called and called, but you didn’t come!

Is there anything scarier?

Whether you were calling, or you were the person who failed to respond when someone needed help, being alone when you need help is one of the most universal fears.

That’s why we have baby minders, and elder minders; why I insisted that my husband take a walkie talkie with him (yeah, old tech) when he was working out of my hearing range after the time he was working on the foundation and a jack slipped leaving the house pressing on his chest. He couldn’t call loudly because he couldn’t get a breath and after a couple of hours managed to get the jack back under the floor joist and lift it off himself. Meanwhile I’d been happily bustling around the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, kid-minding, oblivious to the fact that my husband might have been dying only a hundred feet away. Even before that, when the kids were small and I was alone in the house watching them, I took to using the bathroom with the door open just in case of unexpected emergencies. We worry about each other. We want to be there.

It may be why we have cell phones, and keep them on all the time. I’m sure I’ve read stories where not being there and how that failure haunts a person for the rest of his or her life. It’s scary enough to know that you are on your own, although some people can live with that. The nearly mythological Mountain Man of America who was willing to accept that he could die if he had an accident sometimes makes us feel that we should all be so self-sufficient. But humans, generally, are tribal animals- we want others around us. The Daniel Boones who didn’t want to be able to see the smoke from his neighbor’s chimney are rare. We may not LIKE our neighbors, but at least they are there. If we knock on their door bleeding, they’ll take us in and call 911. If we call 911 and no one shows up withing minutes we feel that something has gone wrong with the system. (How many minutes probably depends on whether you live out in the boonies, as I do, or in the city, but that’s part of how we decide where to live.)

We may not reach out to others often, but it’s reassuring to know that they are there. This is the finding of many studies about “latch-key children”. When there’s a stay-at-home parent, the kid may return from school and go straight to his room, even resisting attempts at conversation. But when both parents are working, they feel abandoned. They want that unseen presence nearby, assuring that if they suddenly deign to grace Mom with a request for help with scheduling, or problems at school, that she’s there and will drop everything to prove that their welfare is the most important thing in her life. And mostly we do that, although sometimes stopping in the middle of one task means starting over and a great loss of time, because that emotional assurance of being “most important” is what builds self value in their child.

I have seen many rants on the internet about this generation being “delicate snowflakes” that can’t deal with the fact that they aren’t the center of the world. Perhaps it’s because the recent recession means that no one was there at home when they needed help and were ready to ask for it, and they internalized how cut off they are from the rest of humanity. Most parents must leave their kids alone in order to pay for their food, shelter, and other physical needs. Very few bosses put their employee’s welfare before profits. Very few political representatives put their constituent’s welfare before that of their campaign fund. But humanity didn’t survive because people ignored their family and neighbors when they needed help. In most levels of civilization people made sure they had the safety of numbers. We lived in large family groups, in villages, in neighborhoods; we depended on those around us, and being dependable for others was a prime virtue. Civilization is the result of people doing better because we share our resources (that includes time and emotional support as well as what we produce). We thrive not on independence, but interdependence. Even the mountain man found his inner peace from his interaction with nature, rather than with other humans. We must not disparage those who call for help, but provide it. This creates the safety net we call civilization.

Who will come when you call?

Making the kids eat their vegetables

I’m going to share a strange opinion for a parent. Don’t force your kid to eat vegetables.
I’m not saying don’t serve them vegetables, but don’t force them to finish something they find repellent.
Suppose you are one of the 40% to whom cilantro tastes like soap, and people who like cilantro were laughing at you. How would you feel?
I can remember my mother sitting for HOURS to get us to finish our vegetables. Turns out that most of them were overcooked (or just stuff like creamed corn, stewed tomatoes and other stuff I wouldn’t eat even now). But she didn’t know how to steam them. Her thought was put on hollandaise or another sauce to cover up the flavor. But overcooked brassicas taste sulpherous- and even now sometimes fresh peas or broccoli don’t taste good- usually at the end of the season.
Trust the taste buds. I remember once we had a party with swordfish and all the kids complained about it, but our parents forced us all to finish it, but later when the adults started eating theirs, it turned out that the fish had gone bad; they just assumed that we were being been fussy. (The worst phrase in my childhood was “no-thank-you helping. We were not allowed to refuse anything an adult wanted us to eat.)
I realized when MY taste changed when I was pregnant, and suddenly couldn’t eat things I knew I loved, that it has to do with personal chemistry. I suspect that kids may be like pregnant women and teens, and women during menopause- their chemistry makes the food taste different to them than to others. It can, and does, change suddenly and completely. The best way to create a non-fussy eater is to respect their bodily autonomy.
If they don’t like a food, teach them how to quietly remove it from their mouths. Adults aren’t forced to eat what they don’t like, but we’ve learned to be quiet and polite about just leaving it on our plates. If you teach your kids that they don’t have to eat something that disgusts them, they will be much more adventurous eaters, and will be more willing to try new foods, and even the same foods again later.
Again- it’s respecting bodily autonomy. You just have to offer them equally nutritious options, not sweets instead. I dealt with it by having salad and at least two vegetables, one a super vegetable, at every meal, and they only had to eat one.
BTW, in the same vein- have you ever had a burn on your hand and put it into hot water and discovered that water that would normal be fine for you was painful? Think about that when the kids say the water is too hot- their skin is new, like the new skin on your healing burn. No one can tell someone else what they are feeling.

Is being healthy privileged?

Both money and health are criteria on which so much hinges. I’m not sure that either is a “privilege” unless you think of privileges as being distributed by God or nature or something like that. I tend to think of privileges as being distributed by people who have control of the excess. Health, like Life and Liberty, are rights, but are not distributed evenly. Wealth is a construct of society, so I see it as a privilege, and that when one group hoards it, they are doing wrong. I don’t think anyone can give health to anyone else, although policies can keep people from health. (I’m thinking Flint, climate change and other forms of pollution stemming from counting profit as more important than hurting the health of the people in the community.) Regan deregulated a lot while insisting on only eating organic grass fed beef. That’s freaking abuse of privilege! OK, I guess I’ve talked myself into accepting that to a certain extent health can be “granted” or “with-held”, but again, like life and liberty, I think it’s a right, not a privilege. It’s just criminal to take it away from people. I’m going to need to keep thinking about this one and see where it goes.

Living in a Horror Movie

A friend recently wondered if we can ever get our country back to where we’d want it in our life-time.  I (and many friends) try to reduce the amount of news to which I expose myself, because it’s depressing and scary. (And I’m NOT diagnosed with any mental illness! How bad must it be for those who are?)
You can probably guess how I feel about tearing parents and children apart in order to motivate people who are actively trying to escape death in their own countries from trying to escape to a country that has traditionally been a land of peace, freedom and opportunity.
We have been the good guys. Now, like medieval nobility, we are so convinced of our virtue that we are failing to live up to the Chivalry that is supposed to describe us.
Trump pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council is SO typical. Almost no one noticed that Congress did, as they’ve been planning, dip into Social Security this week, the Supreme Court dealt a setback on trying to stop gerrymandering (as we all wonder how to stop current asshattery, people say “Vote”, but if they rig the voting, that won’t help). On the good news front, many states and all of Canada has legalized marijuana (so we can toke up and try to de-stress).
It’s hard not to get depressed since it’s becoming clear that there is a sizable portion of Americans who are more uncomfortable with what my friends would consider progress in human rights, people on my feed are wondering how we can make America back into what we thought it stood for. I do think there is hope. (Of course, I also thought that Sanders would beat Clinton and then Trump, so that’s a “for what it’s worth” sentiment.)
I see this as the last desperate pushback of the people who’ve been fighting civil rights, women’s rights, gender rights, religious rights, (basically Human Rights) for the last half century and are afraid that their world is at risk. They want a world where the man is “in charge” of his house, where if you’re a straight white Christian you don’t need to worry about anything other than the status quo. They are happy ignoring a status quo that dumps on those not in the privileged population. And if they aren’t seeing privileges (and they aren’t- at least they aren’t able to make ends meet by working hard), even though they are straight, white, hardworking, Christian males, they feel cheated! They figure that if we give equal rights to women, queers, Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, and everyone else, doesn’t that mean that their already-difficult life is going to get worse? No wonder they’re scared! They believe that the only way to pay for helping the poor is taking it out of their pockets, and they don’t know enough to realize that isn’t how it works.
They figure if they could go back to the Ozzie and Harriet image of the 50s, they’ll be fine, and they want that first, before anyone else takes a piece of the American Pie.  Because they’ve seen that too many government programs run out when they ask for help (“We’ll put you on the waiting list…”). They believe that the money those programs have that isn’t enough to help them, must be either going to someone less deserving, or at very least, needs more money- which they think means more taxation.
But I have hope, because I know some psychology.  Any time someone is losing an argument, their last attempt to win is to threaten their opponent. We’ve been telling them to “just deal” with their discomfort around gays, and blacks and women who think they’re “as good as” them, and not helping them deal with those feelings. They feel bullied, and are thrilled to see us intellectual liberals have to suck it up when they act like asshats. We mustn’t lose sight of that. We have been making progress, and most people are a lot more comfortable with interracial and gay marriage, than they were, but it’s going to be decades before everyone who’s uncomfortable dies off.  I think the average liberal, educated person had become complacent, and thought we could just let things keep “going in the right direction” without actively working for it (the way we did in the 60s and 70s).
I believe that this resistance being shown by the terrified bigots who think that they have been given permission to bully women, people of color, (anyone different) is motivating a “silent majority” (to use the old phrase) of the liberal people who do believe in human rights, and, I hope,  getting them to put down their phones, and get off their arses to vote and protest and call, and put some effort into creating and supporting the world they want and expect. We have to be careful to not lash out at the frightened people because they are lashing out at us, but instead firmly not let them shout us down, until they gradually see that they are NOT worse off with universal health care, neighbors who are a different than they are, and multi-ethnic, multi-faith communities.
I totally believe that there are far more people who believe in kindness and human rights than in protecting the myth of white, male, Christian, straight supremacy, but they thought the fight had been won. This is the “jump scare” at the end of the horror movie.
And even when we get through this crisis, we have to remember that there can be a sequel.

What people influenced my spiritual practice?

Morgan Daimer asked on FB: Who are the three most influential people (dead or living) for your current spiritual practice? (She does this- collects information for her writing using social media. i think that’s cool.)
In one response she said she was looking for ‘interwoven influences’, and predictably I got longwinded. When done, I thought it might make a blog entry.

I am very inner and experience directed, mostly my pagan thinking has been influenced from authors- early ones being Mary Renault in King must Die, and Bach with Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
But the only people I interacted with face to face that I can clearly point to changing my spiritual practice are the ones who treated me rudely when I reached out to them, and thus turning me in other directions. I actively looked for contacts for witches and pagans in the 60s and 70s, even writing addresses from the backs of books and magazines. I subscribed to Green Egg, Circle, and a lot of xeroxed and even mimeographed newsletters. Before there was the internet, I corresponded with Leo Martello (Witches Against Religious Discrimination) and Olivia Robertson (Fellowship of Isis) because that’s the only way you could find people in those days. I still didn’t get very involved because they were too far away. I looked for locals, but they always seemed too self involved (like I wasn’t?). I found most Wiccan’s silly, and couldn’t bring myself to claim “perfect love and perfect trust’.  One example of what I considered rude was in 1975, my husband and I went to visit one woman from a public contact, and when I mentioned that it was the full moon (thinking we might join her in some activity), she excused her self, and left us sitting for an hour and a half (while she did some private devotion). Too many of the Heathens I’ve met have been reactionary (and misogynistic) which turned me off their traditions. I could go on, but I’ve never actually found a group where I didn’t like many or most of the individuals, but each group as a whole irritated me. At the same time, I’ve always wanted to join almost every organization I read about; ADF, CAW, the Troth, IONS, ARE, ASD, AMORC, etc.  because of the good things about them! Such ambivalence!

I think the biggest influence on my later life was one woman (one of Laurie Cabot’s “daughters”) who had a magic shop in Milford, NH briefly, and dismissively told me that it was impossible that Kate and Frank Dalton had assembled the guests they advertised for Craftwise (in I think 2000- on a Xeroxed sheet a witch friend shared with me). Contrarian that I am, that got my back up and I went to the con- discovering the whole world of pagan conferences. I met and chatted with Isaac Bonewits, Gavin & Yvonna Frost, Oberon & Morning Glory Zell, Janet & Stewart Ferrar & Gavin Bone, Lori Bruno, and the others. Luckily, I’ve never felt that “celebrities” were anything but people who happened to have had their reputation precede them, so I’ve always felt comfortable chatting with “big names”, when I encountered them. After years of conferences, I have comfortable acquaintance with many authors and speakers, and worry that I seem to be name dropping, but the big reason I’m comfortable approaching someone is that as a (small scale) writer I often wonder if what I sent out into the big world ever actually gets read, so when I meet another writer, I want to assure them that their words have reached someone, and thank them… and I often also want to discuss some point with them.

Can I name some individuals? I really admire “Auntie Shema” and what she’s doing at A Sacred Place, and what she’s doing, but it bothers me that she needs help I can’t give. I love and admire Raven Kaldera, who has taught me a lot about shamanism- and reassured me that I am not called to be one this lifetime. I enjoyed studying Huna with Serge Kahili King in Kuai’i, but I probably got more from reading all his books. I love the folk at Earth Spirit, but am not into ritual as they are. It was at Rites of Spring I met Kirk White, Orion Foxwood, and Margot Adler, who encouraged me to write the book (I have yet to finish doing the research on), which led me to spend years studying the development of the neo-pagan movement. Charles Butler who ran Ecumenicon, and Tom and Debby Sheeley who ran Etheracon became friends and taught me a lot about running cons as well as introducing me to lots of the other folks I know now.

I also think it’s worth mentioning something Elliot Shorter said back in the 80s, …that there were only 200 people in the world because you could go to the SCA, or a Science Fiction conference, or a pagan gathering and you’d run into the same people. So true! I’ve often known people through the SCA for years before I found out they were also pagans, or SF authors (Arwen/ Jane Sibley for example, Raven Kaldera, or Kami Landi who started ConVocation- I had no clue). If I hadn’t gone to Convocation, I wouldn’t have met Rod Cox and taught RúnValdr all over the East Coast.

I think that when you read a book someone has written, you begin to feel as if you know them, possibly more than you really do. That may contribute to my ease in approaching authors. At the same time, the same confidence that I know what I’ve experienced that gave me the confidence to recognize the reality of psychic experience and other-world entities helps me approach what they’ve written as not infallible. Extensive reading (especially academic) includes watching a groundbreaking new theory become discounted- or built upon.

In all honesty, I still remember being told when I was five that the deja vu I’d just experienced yellow rose of texas dresswas not possible and I was imagining it. I remember noticing how often when I concentrated on something I wanted that it happened. I remember watching mental television on a blank wall (about the same age), and I don’t remember, but am told I shocked my aunt-to-be on her first date with my uncle with the announcement she was going to marry him. Perhaps this is why I remember having confidence that what I experienced was real. Later I remember reading in a SF book about people being able to control their body temperature, and practicing until I could do it. I remember reading about OOBs and when I managed it, being embarrassed that I could be caught “undressed” (without my body on) and slamming back into it (I also remember catching my mother’s double in the kitchen once, but being more worried about being caught out of bed than seeing through her). Did people influence me? Yes, but mostly by motivating me to go my own way, because I already trusted myself, and I was a contrary little kid.

Thoughts on Suicide

Another Celebrity has committed suicide, so people are talking about suicide again.

That’s a good thing. People should talk about it because not talking is how we avoid thinking about it. Mostly people don’t talk or think about death if they can help it. Personally, I’m thrilled to know that death is there when my body is no longer a good vehicle for getting around in! Remember the story about Eos (Dawn) and Tithonus (a prince of Troy). She loved the young hansom musician and asked Zeus to make him immortal and forgot to ask forgot eternal youth. Eventually he shriveled up and became a cricket- (the sound he makes is him asking for death). We don’t keep a car around once it no longer works, and everything else in the universe is recycled, why would we think we wouldn’t be? Body back to the earth, soul back to wherever it came from. Death is not a tragedy.

The problem with suicide is that often it can be ducking out of life before you are meant to. My understanding of how it works is that if you have a problem and commit suicide, in your next life, you’ll have the same problem, lifetime after lifetime, until you learn how to deal with it. Essentially by killing yourself, you’ve given up your “time served” and have to start over again. If there’s a problem, work through it this time if you can.

Since I’m currently studying vampire mythology, what leapt to my mind is that in folklore, Vampires are what happens to the spirits of suicides: they come back as vampires. I think this reflects the survivors guilt of the people whose loved ones commit suicide. They always feel as if there is something they could have, and should have done to prevent it.  Maybe they could, maybe they couldn’t, but it is in the nature of people to feel hurt, abandoned, angry at someone who kills himself. The Catholic Church made it a mortal sin, and wouldn’t bury the body in consecrated ground- essentially barring them from the possibility of redemption (creating vampires). (Like in the movie The Mummy, where because the priest was so bad, they cursed him with incredible power. I miss the logic.)  I can understand the survivors guilt. The people who are left behind figure if they’d tried harder, they could have made them less miserable. Possibly. Possibly not.

If they are sick, you can’t cure the disease, can you? If they are suffering from mental illness, you can’t make them not mentally ill. If they are in pain, you probably can’t make the pain go away. If they are homeless, it’s highly unlikely you can have them move in with you without making your problems too much for you to deal with. If they can’t pay their bills, you probably can’t pay them for them. Are there ANY of their problems that you really could have fixed? No one can make anyone else happy. Sometimes we are happy when around other people, but you can’t give it to someone as a present. That’s not how it works. You may love your spouse, your children, your parents, you friends, but you can’t make them happy. That’s true when they’re alive and when they die, and you probably knew that already, because there are very few of us who haven’t tried to make someone happy. People make themselves crazy trying to fix other people’s lives. (Think about how crazy people get at Christmas trying to make themselves and others happy because they’re “supposed to be happy at Christmas”) That’s the wrong path to go down.

Another thing we often forget is that sometimes we (or they) don’t have any idea what makes us happy, or even if we ARE unhappy. Diseases are often things your body uses to give you a wake up call to tell you to change your life. In a study about what people who achieved remission from cancer had done to heal themselves, they had no treatment in common. However, they all had changed their lives- changed their job, gotten out of a marriage that wasn’t working, did something to make their lives different and more fulfilling. Often we don’t know just how unhappy we are because we have all the things we THINK we should have to make us happy. Ælfwine kept saying “My life was perfect, I just want my life back.” But after two years of cancer, chemo, hospitals, bone marrow transplant, Guillain-Barré, etc. he’d had lots of time to think and told me “I think I’d rather have gone through this than spend another day working back at Global.” Took him long enough (well, too long, apparently). Cancer is just slow suicide.
So I keep thinking about the people who decide to kill themselves. Maybe they don’t know why they feel that life isn’t worth living anymore. Sometimes they do know, but can’t think of a way to change the situation. Sometimes it’s an unbearable relationship that they don’t know how to get out of. Sometimes it’s debt that they don’t know how to deal with. This is where suicide lines can help. I remember hearing about a girl who had lost everything and called one, and was told about a food kitchen a few blocks away that she’d not known about. That’s the sort of thing where we CAN help. Sometimes we just don’t know what other people know that can help us. Often it’s only information that we are missing.

The tragic suicides are when there’s a fixable problem, a temporary one. Suicide numbers are going up recently, probably because problems seem harder to solve. Working hard can’t guarantee a living wage. Media concentrates on showing us the things that are going wrong in the world. From politics to the environment, it’s hard to feel that we have any control over our lives. So when the pain gets too great, being dead seems a much better option.

Is killing ourselves too available an option? Some of these “red flag” laws have shown results that when depressed people don’t have easy access to guns, gun suicides go down, and other suicides don’t go up. This indicates to me that some of the people who shoot themselves might well change their minds if they didn’t have access to the guns. (Perhaps they couldn’t figure out access to poisons.) One thing the Netherlands has seen when they provide suicide pills to terminal patients is that most of them are never taken. The people often express that just knowing that the option is in their control soothes their pain, so they can deal with it.

Another thing I heard during recent discussions is that when people are hospitalized and released, that’s the highest risk time for suicide. What to they expect? Suicide watch may prevent them from killing themselves while under watch, and it may remove them from the immediate stresses, but if you don’t fix what’s stressing them, why would you expect them to not have the same response when you put them back into it? If their life is going to hell, it’s probably not going to be better when they go back and whatever they’d been doing to keep it under control hasn’t been handled while they were gone. The mess is bigger, the people are more stressed, the bills are still accumulating, the deadlines are closer. This is not rocket science! If you want to help, FIX the things that are going wrong before dumping them back into the chaos (with an appointment to see someone next week to talk about how crappy their life is)! I wish they respect the people enough to accept that they’ve already tried to work on the problems, and what they’ve tried didn’t work. Look for things they HAVEN’t tried, give them resources they haven’t found. If you can’t think of anything they haven’t thought of, respect their despair.

Suffering is pain without hope. Hope isn’t a feeling you can tell someone to have, it’s what happens when a new possibility is given to you, whether a therapy or a source of income that you didn’t know about, or maybe just information showing that changing some of the bad things is possible. If they’ve exhausted all their options, and you can’t give them any, respect their choice to stop playing the game, fighting the fight, or whatever analogy you want to use. It’s not like they weren’t going to die at some point anyway. We all do. The tragedy is only when we die before we finish doing what we wanted to do with our lives.

You don’t get angry with the person who dies of cancer, don’t get angry with the person who dies of an overdose or other suicide because they can’t figure out how to fix their lives, to stop hurting. If there are problems you can help with, do it. As with allergies, maybe you will always be allergic, but sometimes you can keep the cumulative exposure down to a level where the symptoms don’t overwhelm you. Maybe if you can help with something, the world won’t seem so hopeless, and the misery won’t overwhelm them.  But remember, no one can make anyone else happy. But you may be able to help them not hurt as much, and that’s not bad.

 

 

Cosby Verdict and my Reaction

I don’t watch TV, and generally only listen to the radio in the car, so I only get news from the occasional post on facebook. Today I saw that Bill Cosby is going to jail for molesting women. I had heard, but not paid attention; I don’t pay attention to celebrity focused news. I read it anyway.
I did watch the Cosby show, at least the first few seasons, and way back when, I watched I Spy. But what Cosby was to me was the comedian. I think we had all his albums, Why is there Air? Is a very Funny Fellow, Right!, To Russell My Brother, whom I slept With.

Cosby was the guy who taught white America that we are all pretty much the same. We all get toothaches and somehow miss that Midol will relieve pain whether we’re male or female, we all lie to our wives about whether the water is too cold, our kids confuse us, thinking about Biblical stories as if the people were real makes them much more interesting… People are people, and I think that it’s a pity, but coming from an era of segregation, we didn’t know that.
Now he’s teaching us once again that color doesn’t matter. What matters is privilege. Not white privilege, obviously. But male privilege and especially privilege of money. He has money, and had a reputation as a “nice guy”. But apparently this nice guy didn’t seem to think that drugging women so he could use them sexually was wrong, and it angers him that many other people do.

My friends don’t expect him to go to jail. They figure he’s got the money to keep on with appeals until he dies. Or maybe he’ll go to one of those rich offenders “prisons” like Martha Stewart where he has restricted options, but certainly not the conditions of a kid put away for holding pot and “resisting arrest”. Money. Right. His lawyer claimed the women were making up the charges to get the attention. Other women are left traumatized- probably for the rest of their lives because PTSD is like that. I didn’t realize there was a statute of limitations on sexual assault.

But clearly when you are rich and famous you figure it’s OK to “grab ’em by the pussy”. I can think of someone else who’s going to be very offended when he comes to trial for his offenses. They don’t think they are doing anything wrong- and yet they know they are. They wouldn’t be offended if they didn’t. At the same time this is happening the Incel movement is making women aware that men feel violence is justified if they aren’t getting sex. We have horribly let our children down if they can grow up feeling that this sort of attitude is in any way normal or acceptable. We may be breaking down the male female barriers. But the privilege of money is going to be a LOT harder.