Keep the Christ in Christmas

Someone asked today whether either Yule or Solstice get commercialized? I would really hate to imply that Pagans are more spiritual in their holiday practices than Christians, because the lack of merchandising to them makes it seem that they aren’t as commercialized.
I know that Solstice, or at least the Saturnalia, was “commercialized” in Rome. Parties, presents, social silliness. But remember that in the city of Rome proper, the labor was done by slaves, captured for that purpose through incessant warfare. Thinking ahead to New Years Day, during the time of the Republic Roman New year was in March, and they’d have their elections of the new consuls, who’d go out and run the wars. But as they expanded their territory, they had to to farther and farther from the city to reach non-Roman lands to conquer. That made it hard for the newly elected consuls to get to the front at the start of campaign season. Rather than move the elections back (no, they HAD to be on New Years!), they moved New Year’s Day back to the end of December, thus allowing the new consuls time to get out to the legions (and keep sending back conquered slaves and loot). It does show an odd relationship with their holidays that they could change when the year started, but not when elections were held.

Neither Yule nor Christmas could be commercialized as they are now until there was Capitalism, not just the accumulation of wealth, that’s pretty much a constant with human societies, but when gaining and exchanging capital became the way of ‘keeping track’ of power, competitive spending was attached to the holiday. We were no longer simply sharing food with friends, decorating, and giving gifts, but “keeping up with the Joneses”.  When prestige was gained by generosity from your own stores (however they may have been filled), Yule was a time of celebrating what you had, and sharing with those who had less. Massive consumption and distribution of excess proved to everyone how powerful you were. This led to the customs of the poor visiting the rich, caroling, mumming, wassailing, souling, hunting the wren, many excuses to go get a handout. The taxes may have been as stiff, but giving to the poor was how being rich was justified. In the earliest times, they provided the military protection, but later also provided financial protection. And these customs strengthened community ties. It’s not that people forgot the spiritual occasion of Christmas, they remember that, however they are living in a world that has embraced the idea that if you are rich, it’s because you are favored by God, and therefore whatever gets you money, must be His will. The good of the people who work for and with you is no longer a consideration. Part of this is probably also that people follow the jobs wherever they may be, so you don’t have a multi-generational relationship with the land and the people around you.

Once again I think that they have missed something because their grasp of history is so poor.  If the culture doesn’t change, as soon as people with stuff to sell realize there is a market, there will be Solstice and Yule things being pushed at us, with ads to convince us that if we aren’t doing it with their stuff, we aren’t doing it right. We have to avoid accepting the underlying premise that we can judge a person by how much he makes, not how much good he does.

Thinking about the pronouns in that last line, when we look at how much woman are often undervalued because they are so much better at valuing raising children and making a home a safe and welcoming place, not simply trying to ‘make more money’. But don’t let me confuse the issue- men were sucked into the same trap when they moved off their homesteads where they raised the food and built the shelters. Like women, they were and are trying to provide safety and security for their children, so they won’t be cold, hungry, and scared, but they are only offered the option of working for a wage to achieve this worthy goal, and have been gulled into tracking security with larger numbers.
It’s a huge change in how we see the world, and until we can change that perspective, any holiday is at risk of commercializing. If we can help change our societies attitudes toward money and people, it won’t matter what name we give gods or which day we celebrate what they give us. Let us all help each other celebrate that which feeds our souls, and we’ll get through the long winter, the days will get longer, and we’ll all make it to spring together.

“Religion: Other”

As the Christian minority (and they are a minority- although I’m not sure they really count as Christian) pushes to impose their views on the legal codes of the United States, I have been reminded of the common experience for pagans when they hit bureaucratic forms. For some reason they ask not just your name, address, contact information, birth date, proof of ability to pay for whatever they want to charge you for, but also your religion. I am willing to accept that in a crisis, a lot of people get solace and strength from their religious beliefs, but in an attempt to be “equal” they generally make a long list of various Christian subgroups, then add “Jewish” and maybe “Muslim”, then put “Other” (or worse “none”). I’m not saying that none isn’t a valid option, but when there is no “other” to go with none, the implication is that if you don’t choose “one from column C”, you don’t have any religion. That’s a flawed premise!

Like my friend, it bugged me too, for a long time. I probably wasted a lot of hours (theirs and mine) telling bureaucrats that I wanted to put Pagan in that space- which didn’t exist. “The computer doesn’t have that option.”  I run into the same thing in phone polls where they gauge how religious you are by how often you go to church. Allow me to state that if you ask “how many times a day/week/month do you participate in an activity?” doesn’t mean your morals are aligned with the sponsoring group. (I’m also annoyed by those researching pagans who ask in pagan questionnaires, “how many festivals do you attend a year?’ This is like asking how many church suppers, or Christmas parties do you attend to figure out how Christian you are!) No, I don’t have a Church, but I do make decisions based on my spiritual beliefs several times a day. Our thoughts are limited by the language we speak, and information collected is restricted by the questions asked.

About the hospitals though, I discovered that the reason that they don’t put down “Pagan” or “Druid” or “Wiccan” on forms is that the reason for the question is so that they can call appropriate clergy if the patient asks. How many of us have called our local hospitals and offered to be on a call list for ANYONE (who filled in that blank that way) who needs help in the hospital? And if we offered, would the hospital accept our credentials? We often say that each pagan is clergy (since we talk to the gods directly, and the story is that the Christians have their clergy as intermediaries*), but do we really see ourselves as such servants of the gods and the community that we can drop everything and go talk to strangers about deeply personal problems? More importantly, should we?

Some people may see this post, and go out and offer- and that’s great. But really, we need to understand the position of the hospitals. They would love to have pagan clergy on call I bet, because there are a lot of us. In a perfect world they’d have a Wiccan HP, a Heathen Gothi, a Druid, and several other types of pagans on call; but where are they going to come from? When you were looking for other pagans in your community, or at least within driving distance, how easy were they to find? When you can find them, did your personalities mesh? If we can’t deal with each other over “cakes and ale”, how are we going to deal with a stranger when we’re in a physical, and probably financial, crisis?

There’s a reason established churches pass the plate- to pay for the building and the salary of those who work for them. We don’t have that. Their clergy also have training. Certain courses taken in seminary teach them how to help (and cope with) people in distress. I’d want to know that anyone showing up in anyone else’s hospital room had had solid training in grief counseling, and the many and various other things we hope religious representatives have been trained to handle. We aren’t invalidated as a religion by not having money, but we are handicapped- as all small, cash-poor churches are.

I will continue to try to get the pagan option on forms. At very least while trying to figure out which Christian box to check, they’ll see that we are indeed a valid faith in this country. We are not “Other” and Pagans are very much not “No Religion”.  But until we can offer what the hospitals need, we have to accept their lack of including us on their forms.

Post script- in a recent online discussion of this topic someone mentioned that when she put pagan on the form, she was besieged by a series of “Christian Nurses” who came to convince her of the “error of her way”, until the head nurse took it off the form to protect her. Until the Christians give up their view that we need to be saved from their devil, perhaps the broom closet is the place to be. When you’re sick or injured, you need to heal, not to educate those who don’t want to hear the truth.

*In my experience, a LOT of my Christian friends talk to their God all the time, and preference their direct experience over their clergies. Respect is a two-way street.

Coyote Skywoman on the New Normal: The Alchemist

This week Tchipakkan and her guest Deb CoyoteSkyWoman will be discussing the best seller The Alchemist on The New Normal on

If you missed the live show, it’s archived here:
CoyoteSkyWoman, has been a member of the New England Pagan community for the last 30 years, and she has been a practicing shaman for only a little bit longer than that. She works closely with the trickster spirit, Coyote, and has worked with The Sagefire Fellowship and A Sacred Place since their inceptions. A frequent speaker at the Changing Times-Changing Worlds conference, she has spoken on Tricksters, Channeling, Modern and Historical Paganism, and our relationship with the Devine and the Land.
Wednesday we’ll be talking about a powerful book, the Alchemist, written by Paulo Coelho and fist published in 1988. This novel is about a quest by an Andelusian Shepherd, Santiago.
Among the bits of wisdom in this allegory is the idea of your Personal Legend. Your Personal Legend “is what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.” also that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Whether you’ve read the book yet or not, the concepts are fascinating.

We’d love you to phone in with questions: 619-639-4606 (live only). If you know you’re going to listen later but have a question, leave a question on the facebook event page, and we’ll try to answer it during the show.

If you can’t tune in 8-9, Live archives its shows by date, and I archive them by date, guest, and topic on my website:

Updating Metaphysics

I’ve just added a bit of a preface to my section on metaphysics, and the essay “All Holidays are Local Holidays“, and it occurs to me that the “blog” section might be a good place to let people know when I add pages or updates.   (BTW, the Yankee Charge of the Goddess is one of my favorite pieces)

☉ ☾ ☿ ♀ ♁ ♂ ♃ ♄  ♅ ♆  ✧  ♈ ♉ ♊ ♋ ♌ ♍ ♎ ♏ ♐ ♑ ♒ ♓

the update:

This section covers all sorts of metaphysical/ occult/ psychic subjects. I start from the premise that people are psychic. I believe there has been ample evidence of this, and it’s high time we stopped wasting energy trying to prove it to those who don’t want to believe it, and just get on with making it a useful part of our lives. Whether using it to get information not available through “normal” means, healing, finding things, or otherwise interacting with the world around us, this is a set of abilities humans have. A good way to describe them is “talents” because as with artistic or physical talents, people seem to start with different levels, and can, with practice, develop these talents into skills. I explore these phenomena both in the conference Changing Times-Changing Worlds, and in my podcast show The New Normal, and you can follow those links for a lot more information.

As I see the world as being imbued in spirit in every aspect, I describe my beliefs (depending upon the audience) as pagan, heathen, rustic, animist, polytheist…. I think religion is simply the way people describe how the world works. I find we can communicate with the spirit that is in everything, and have found that often these spirits have personalities that are best taken into account when dealing with them. Do you want to call them gods? ghosts? ancestors? divas? elementals? pixies? avatars? Throughout history and across the world there are hundreds of words to describe spirits. The words come to us from our culture, and help create the filters that effect the way we perceive them. Forensics have shown us that we see what we expect to see, so we can’t even really trust our own eyes and ears. The words our culture has taught us help shape the way we experience the “unseen” world. The Pagan world view, as it accepts the world as inhabited by other spirits with whom we can interact naturally respects the rights of those others to live, and by extension: Nature. I’m not sure I would call it “worship” as much as “appreciate” the other beings and their manifestations.

I did not so much decide to be pagan as realize that I was, that my beliefs or perceptions were much closer to those described in what I read about pagan cultures. There will, therefore, be articles in this section from my writings about these subjects. One lovely thing about modern “Neo-pagans” is that most, accepting that there are many ways to interact with the spiritual world, are not as concerned with convincing others that one way is the “right” way. (This is not to say that many don’t spend a lot of time sharing “better ways to” do this, that, or the other thing, including communicating with the Divine.) I find this means a large component of humor that I hadn’t often found in the mono-theistic sphere (but I’ll admit I may just have missed it). For example, there’s a Wiccan writing The Charge of the Goddess, that has been re-written dozens if not hundreds of times into humorous spin-offs. Mine, The Yankee Charge of the Goddess, is included. I also include more serious essays. None of this is meant to proselytize or convince, but only to share.