Saturday, November 18, 2017

Ostrakon

My partner and I run a lovely event here in Orlando called Pagans in the Park, which serves two main functions. First, it’s a place where the local pagan community can gather in a drama free zone to learn and have ritual communally to help heal some of the rifts that have developed from local infighting. Secondly, it serves as a place where local pagans who are new to the area, people interested in paganism or the general public can come a learn who and what we are. We don’t discriminate, but we do ask everyone to play nicely. And the beauty of it is that nobody is favored over another- we chose that neutral stance to help avoid the kind of stresses that promote ingroups and outgroups.

So far it works nicely.

I’m thinking about this on the night after I witnessed secondhand a blowup in the Irish polytheist community. Again, playing out in front of the Gods and everybody through the lens of social media. It seems one fellow got his knickers in a twist over a poem that he alleged is a death magic curse from a former female member of his religious group, whom he was trolling.

What is really interesting is how the fellow in question went around all the Irish pagan groups the former member was on, passing around this poem, and convincing administrators to remove her from something like 10 groups without ever actually reaching out to her and talk about it.

What is especially troubling is that so many admins accepted the fellow’s interpretation of the poem and themselves never reached out to the woman in question.

They simply ostracized her.

Since I have a love of history and philosophy, this immediately calls to mind an example from ancient Greece, and an object lesson on why democracy is a really bad thing.
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So Athens, the glorious seat of democratic government, wasn’t really that awesome. Every so often, an assembly was called and by law, every adult male had to attend the assembly to vote on laws for the city. In fact, once called, men with horsetail whips dipped in red paint were sent around the city flicking paint everywhere, and if a man was found with red paint on him afterwards, he’d be fined heavily for failing to show up for the assembly.

The interesting thing was what happened at the end of the assembly. A vote was called and cast called the ostrakon. The word in Greek means “pottery shard”, and this is how it worked:

A pile of pottery shards was kept on a table along with an intact pot. Each person was called up to the table and could write the name of a single person on that shard and anonymously drop it in the pot. Once complete, the vote was tallied and if any single person got 50% or more of the votes cast, he was sent into exile for 10 years and his house and assets were seized and distributed among the community. If the ostracized person returned from exile early, they were executed.

In fact, this is where we get the word ostracize.

The stated purpose of the ostrakon was to prevent any single person from becoming too powerful. A potential tyrant could be dealt with by a vote.

The effect of the ostrakon was devastating according to Plato. It was the worst form of tyranny; a man could live under a tyrannical dictator with limited fear, as long as he obeyed the dictator. But the tyranny of the majority in the ostrakon meant that a man had to constantly police his thoughts and words lest he slip up and become unpopular. Anyone could arrange a smear campaign to make another look too ambitious, and potentially be ostracized. The simple fear of a potential for unpopularity was itself a constant threat, and led great men to choose not to become leaders for fear of the vote.
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The parallel here is easy to see. In the fast moving and fractured world of echo chambers that is social media, the accusation of evil is the proof. The reply has to be proving one didn’t do the harm another claims, and you can’t prove you didn’t do something.
To her credit, the lady in question very clearly stated that it was based in a dream, and the fellow misinterpreted her intent.

But the damage is done. We’ve moved into the very tyranny that Plato tried to warn us of in The Republic, tyranny of the majority.

The consequences, I fear, from this culture of ostracism, is that differing and valuable voices are being shut out of the conversation about our faith, and no real growth is happening. That a certian kind of mania is taking hold where, ironically, witch hunts have become commonplace and real marketplaces of ideas and opinions are being shut down.

It happens often in the end of empire, and the idea of real tolerance and healthy disagreement ae long gone.

My advice is to fight the trend. Establish your own spaces where tryants are not in a position to rule, where the rights of individuals to disagree and to share their points of view are welcome. Cultivate tolerance and curiosity while expecting good manners.

And avoid echo chambers, lest we each find ourselves with an ostrakon in our hands.

Belly full of blood

In April 1865, General Robert E. Lee was in his tent outside Appomattox Court House the night before he was to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses Grant. He was meeting with his generals and one suggested a plan.

Instead of a formal surrender, Lee could disperse the army and the generals could take their men into the Cumberland valley and the mountains of western Virginia. From there, the armies could engage in a guerilla war, keeping the Union fighting a brush war for the next ten years. While they might not win independence, the general said, they could make the pacification of the South so costly for the Union that they would regret the process.

Lee paused and told his general he rejected the plan. In a war that had over 600,000 dead, it was time to end the bloodshed. The next day he offered his sword to Grant, and the bloodiest era of American history ended.
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I wrote this a few months ago, when tearing down Confederate statues was al the rage. Lee is a complex figure in southern lore, a decorated officer who was offered the command of union forces on the outbreak of the rebellion, he refused to turn against his native Virginia. Four years later, he refused a plan to lengthen the war, because he’d seen enough death and wasn’t willing to carry it a day longer.

For that reason, I felt that keeping Lee’s statues was an important lesson in history. That men of conscience fought on both sides to the Civil War, and that slavery wasn’t the defining issue of the war, but a part of the war. Lee freed his slaves in the middle of the war, and came to believe that the institution was itself wrong, but like most southern aristocrats, had a complex and not entirely blameless relationship to slavery.

But when it came to making a decision about war, the man came to the conclusion that ending it then and there was the right thing. You see, he’d had a belly full of blood, and only men who have fought real battles with real casualties know just how disgusting blood can become, and how much bleeding your enemy can cost yourself.
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We live during interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes. Some in the pagan community think the election of the current President is the sign of an apocalypse. Some have taken to cursing, with ham handed and laughable spells which have been ineffective. Some parade around in the streets, and some even have given aid an material support to domestic terror organizations.

In each case, they are howling for blood. Blood of the officials, blood of those who support the president, blood of the “Nazis” the claim to see everywhere. The upshot is that there’s a lot of litmus testing going on, a lot of loyalty testing around politics. One has to defend oneself against the hint of an allegation of being sympathetic to the Right. Conservatism is racism, because the vast collective says so. Make an argument against punching Nazis like Richard Spencer, and you are now a Nazi sympathizer. Say it’s a bad thing to suppress free speech, even if you hate the speech itself, and you’re a racist, a homophobe, or a transphobe.

We live in an age where, through the engine of social media, the accusation is the proof. Libertarian values of civil rights, due process and innocent until proven guilty have gone out the window in a wave of desperation.

And the Pagan community is right along with this hysteria.

Be a Trump supporter, believe in strong borders, want vetting for people from countries that actively support and export terrorists, and Pagan and you will be vilified and attacked for those beliefs.

Somewhere along the way, being on the leftward end of the political spectrum became a requirement for participation in paganism.

After a lot of looking and a bit of reflection, I believe the cause of this is two fold.

First, third wave feminism embraced Wicca in the 1970’s as an alternate religion that worshipped a Goddess. One of the criticisms levelled against the feminist movement, besides being influenced by Marxism in the form of Frankfurt School intellectuals, was that there was no feminist answer to the clearly patriarchal religion of Christianity. Wicca, and by extension the whole of Neo-Paganism fit the bill nicely for a counter to the Christian patriarchal religions.

Secondly, as it has evolved, most Pagan branches don’t even require the belief in Gods of any kind. I point to John Halstead’s Atheist Paganism (he’s now calling it Humanistic Paganism) as the most explicit example of this. In the vacuum of deity-centered faith, Halstead’s style of paganism has replaced deity with political cause. In other words, the lack of belief in the Gods has been replaced by belief in The Cause, and those causes are Leftist.

The confluence of these two forces, hard left feminism and atheist Marxists, the modern pagan movement has become a breeding ground for the failed socialists who wanted a more sympathetic crowd.

Then, enter Trump.
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Donald J. Trump is the greatest wrecking ball to occupy the White House since Andrew Jackson. He represents a threat to the established order, and let there be no mistake, the man is a thermonuclear bomb not only for the Democrats, but for the Republicans as well. In fact, he’s a greater threat to the GOP than anyone else, and I believe Red America put him in power to spite all the Washington establishment, regardless of affiliation.

But his ascension is not only a threat to the powerful, is has been marketed to the Left as the greatest threat ever known. America elected it’s first black president, the logical choice for the costal Liberal enclaves was to elect a woman *because* she was a woman. 30 states and 305 electors had something different to say about that.

But it’s not Trumpocalypse, it’s a slave revolt among the Red states, who felt so long that the left coast and the northeast dominated politics. It’s a swing of the pendulum, and Trump is a symptom, not the cause of the partisan politics in America today.

So the Pagan cause has become to oppose the sitting president. To curse him. To wear hats and march around, and in some cases become more violent and threatening violence.

And to howl for blood.
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And this is the part where I stop telling you how things are and were, and how they will become if we stay on the present course. I believe strongly in the power and efficacy of magic, and that we create through our actions and choices the future we will inhabit. This open ended, non deterministic future is the only one that makes sense to me, and explains why divination can be so vague and fraught with error. The future isn’t formed yet, and we do the forming.

The call for blood, for war, for an overthrow of the order, for resistance, all echo the past calls for blood. The polytheist community is rife with open communists, Marxists and Maoists who believe that a glorious revolution will lead us to the promised land free of racism and sexism and any kind of oppression. These armchair theorists couldn’t survive a day in real communism, and happily ignore the fact their own nonbinary, queer or nonconforming selves would be the first lined up against a wall and shot, as history teaches us. Those that wouldn’t are marched in the fields and forced to labor in the communal farms while starving themselves. They labor under the belief they will be a vanguard, and history teaches us they will be the first executed.

But before that point, the call for violence will be answered by violence. The resistance will meet resistance, and many will die. There is no glory in that. There is no valor, and only those who have really fought for anything know the cost will be high.
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I was a 14 year old boy when I visited the site of Lee’s surrender on a rainy June day in Virginia. I climbed the steps and smelled the wood in the parlor which had been preserved for that fateful meeting.

I thought then of the weight of history, what had that man seen, what he had to choose. I’m older, fought my own battles and buried the dead in my family and friends. I’ve watched loved one’s die. Held my father in law’s hand as he died and felt it go cold. I have a belly full of blood, and I will not howl or crave for it.

But if war comes, I will not hesitate to fight, but I will not give the world over to the hateful, the envious and the bloodthirsty even if they claim to be pagan like me.

Hail Morrigan.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Pulse and peace


It rained again that day, same as a year prior. We sat in the car, if for pause in the central Florida thunderstorms that are as common as clockwork in mid June. It was full dark evening as heavy raindrops pelted the windshield. We had finally come to Pulse, just shy of a year after the shooting.

I remember when I heard of it, at the Morrigan’s Call retreat last year. I knew the club, I worked for years a few blocks away. I ate at the donut and bagel shops across the street. I had cried when I heard about it, because I knew my town would never be the same.

Orlando has a unique relationship to its gay community; being driven by entertainment, has always welcomed them. I remember volunteering at the Pride parade the first year I lived here, and absolutely enjoying myself. I was as straight as they come, but I understood that this town, in its own unique way, treasured the outsiders and nonconformists. And I chuckle to think one could attend a gay pride parade and a gun show in the same weekend and not be the least bit confused. That's O town. Rainbows and rednecks.

And generally, we all get along because, well, most of us are outsiders. Few are native, most are transplants. Even me, born and raised in Florida, am not native to Orlando, but I have the spirit that fits well here. Part rainbow, part redneck.


We get out of the car during a pause in the rain, and see the cop in the unmarked car watching over the building and makeshift memorial. We walk among the items let behind on the fence: candles, posters, flowers. And names of the dead written everywhere. On posts, parking spaces, pieces of wall and fence. There are a couple of women huddled under an umbrella talking quietly, so we move to an area away from them. This was private work.
For weeks we have been doing a practice of going to historic battlefields and invoking the Morrigan through the Peace Prophecy. Our goal has been to ask for peace, to end the strife, calm the souls of the dead and remember them, to help cleanse the blood soaked earth and restore it. And it has been good work, but this was a place of fresh and raw blood and violence and sadness. This was going to be hard.

My partner began:

Sith co nem
Nem co doman…
Peace as high as the sky,
Sky to earth,
Earth to sky. ..

I swam in images, smells of gun smoke and blood, people huddled on a piss-stained floor, sounds of grown men's voices yelling. The acrid smell of fear and desperation and sweat.

And the chant went on…

Banished are sad outcries….

To each face that turned up to me in my mind I said “Sith Co nem”, may you know peace. I held the soil in my fingers, sticky from rain and blood, and struggled in my mind to hold my rage at the injustice done here in check. May there be peace….

My thoughts shifted to the three weeks I volunteered nights at the makeshift memorial downtown. Somebody had to keep the rain off it and the location provided plastic sheeting. I pulled alongside some office executive in heels and pearls, and alongside some college kids. We relit the candles after we dumped out rainwater. Muddy to the knees. Orlando protects its gay community, and we did that for their memory.

The first thing I placed on the memorial was a crow’s feather. For the dead.

Hundreds of people showed up from all over the country. Comfort dogs from Minnesota, signs from across the country. I watched an Asian man drop to his knees and formally bow nine times before the memorial, then stand up and bury his face in his partner’s shoulder and sob.

I was offered bottles of water regularly and food frequently, but politely declined. Most visitors I saw looked in silence as the outpouring of stuff got bigger and bigger and bigger

healthy under antler-points
destructive battle cries held back.

One Saturday the Westboro Baptist Church came to protest a funeral of one of the victims, and I wasn’t going to stand for it. So I made a sign that was on black poster board and read a very simple message “Respect and honor the dead”. The three WBC people practically melted in the June Florida heat and humidity, but were scared off by about 2000 counter demonstrators, of all shapes and colors. Including me, dressed in black, not chanting about love or rainbows or angels. Dressed in black, holding my stark sign, quietly. Because, after all, it was a funeral.


I then walked the three blocks back to the memorial and left my sign there. The only thing that was black without rainbows, but it was honest to my feelings.

It never mattered to me that they were gay, they were human beings slaughtered. Innocents. I didn't feel much like rainbows. I felt fucking angry about WBC.

One schmuck started ranting about assault weapons stuff. I usually get pretty hot about this, but instead calmly asked if it was his practice to use the dead to promote a political agenda, or was this a special occasion. He wandered off, I guess realizing he'd overstepped.

Not on the backs of the dead.

Be it a strong, beautiful wood, long-lasting a great boundary
'Have you a story?'
Peace to sky
be it so lasting to the ninth Generation

We poured out the small bottle of burbon we use for offerings to the Queen, and inside I wonder how a land like this could ever be at peace. My small ritual? Two devotees to the Great Queen against this kind of horror is not even a drop in the bucket, yet….it’s a start.


The stories of the dead are retold every year because it helps the living cope and heal.
I wonder if that's best for the dead and tell my partner, and she thinks about it.  We need to honor and remember the dead, but we also need to let them go. We've spend a year as a community calling out the names of the dead. Its like trying to leave a room but hearing someone call your name constantly, the dead look back, we keep them here to some extent as we mourn. And I think honoring them and asking for peace feels right, the only thing to do to both honor them and let them rest.  We drive home through the rain, a 10 minute ride.  I watch one raindrop, and doubt that one drop, one ritual, one offering, one invocation can wash away so much blood and pain.

But then I remember, this rain was what broke the worst drought in the state’s history. Put out wildfires everywhere, and restored the dead plants and grass. One drop does not end the drought. No drops continue the drought…

I'll keep doing it. One drop here, one there.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

What is peace?






Peace as high as the sky, 
Sky to earth
Earth to sky  


In my own paganism,  my partner and I have hit upon an important practice of going to actual battlefields and praying a version of the peace prophecy.  We make offerings to the land,  the Gods and the dead without judgment of why they fought. We seek to heal the blood soaked land,  and bring peace back to it and peace to all those who once fought, and still fight.

But what do we mean by peace?

We often think of peace in terms of total surrender of the enemy,  of the goal of total war.  During the American Civil war,  William Tecumseh Sherman waged total war in the South,  burning Atlanta and destroying every plantation he found as a way of demoralizing the Confederates into surrender.  His goal was to utterly destroy their will to fight,  and his vision of peace was complete unconditional surrender.

In August of 1945,the United States had a plan to invade the Japanese home islands,  called Operation Downfall,  which would have involved a larger landing force that D-day, and was projected to have casualties in the tens of thousands. Despite back channel overtures of armistice,  the US used two nuclear weapons on the islands to force complete and total surrender, resulting in over 100,000 Japanese killed in the two bombings.

In each case, total victory was achieved.

And peace followed.  But this peace was bought at the price of utterly destroying some deep part of the losers’ identity.  The American states would never think of themselves as “these united States” but the language was forever changed into “the United States”. The union was unbreakable, eternal and irrevocable.  Lest another Sherman be loose upon any state or part thereof that thought the contract with the federals was at will,  or Amendment Ten mattered.

Japan would become a vassal of America, an outpost to enclose the Soviets and Red Chinese.  Never would they aspire to the martial glory of their proud ancestors.  
And thus peace is bought.  

According to LTC Dave Grossman in his book On Killing, the universal human phobia is homicide.  We instinctively recoil from the horror of death,  even of our enemies.  Most human conflict has been the raid, and not ironically the epic poetry of Ireland includes stories of cattle raids, not total exterminating war.  The conflict was usually fought either with champions facing off against one another,  or when mass battle,  one army was routed.  The ideas of respect for the enemy are a later construct of chivalry or bushido,  but the goal wasn’t winning through destruction,  but winning by capitulation. To quote The Princess Bride,  we don't fight to the death,  but to the pain.  

The psychology of why this was so common before the 20th century is that this is the more natural state of human war.  Genocide is contrary to the survival of the species. What is really at stake was usually resources,  and once secured the conflict ended.

One of the future trips we planned is to a place in Florida called Dade Battlefield.  During the Seminole Wars,  the Indians ambushed an army column.  Instead of running,  the army built a barricade and went to ground to fight.  The Seminoles slaughtered all but three soldiers who escaped,  and two died of their wounds on the way back to St Augustine.  When later asked about the ambush,  the Seminole fighters said they regretted killing the soldiers,  because according to their customs, the enemy was supposed to run away,  not dig in.  If the army ran they'd not pursue, because they’d have victory.  Slaughter wasn’t their way.

Some propose that wholesale killing in war follows industrialization,  but as late as the Vietnam war,  US soldiers were by some accounts shooting 25,000 rounds of ammunition for every kill. The cause was determined to be the unwillingness of soldiers to kill other human beings.  Guns are fantastically loud,  scary, produce smoke and flashes.  In line with the human tendency to scare enemy into submission,  they were not hitting their targets.  The solution was to change training: instead of shooting at bullseye targets,  shoot human silhouette targets to reprogram the subconscious to kill a human figure.

And thus,  become more deadly and kill more enemy.

So what has this to do with being pagan?

We live in an age of total war.  Any disagreement isn't about facts or experience,  but about character assassinations. About torment and gang warfare.  Witness the latest pagan dumpster fire online,  and it’s easy to spot how destructive we've become in the pursuit of being “right”. In total war,  it's not good enough to disagree, and walk on.  It's only acceptable outcome is utterly destroying a person with either tactical nuclear style terrorizing or attacking their loved ones, businesses or family.  I've seen all that in the pagan community,  and in the wider world too. But pagans being a minority,  we tend to do an excellent job of alienating and then tearing apart our own.



Summer in winter,
spears supported by warriors,
warriors supported by forts.
Forts fiercely strong;
banished are sad outcries
land of sheep
healthy under antler-points
destructive battle cries held back. 


Then what is peace in our context?  And why should we seek peace if it means accepting into sacred spaces those we don't agree with?

It’s actually critical for the building of community, and the furtherance of an environment that supports each person in their own growth to have a place where Pagan wars are forbidden.  For the past year,  we've done this through a Pagans in the Park event we run, and the key rule is this: leave the drama at home.

It works.  I don’t care if you're left wing or right,  if your pro or anti,  if you’re a lover or fighter.  You're welcome as long as you can play nicely and be polite.  Practice real tolerance, and mind your manners.

Peace doesn't look like winning at all costs.  It doesn't look like marching around calling strangers Nazis because you refuse to understand them. It doesn't look like scorched earth and character assassination.  It doesn't look like trying to drive someone’s out of business or harass their employer.

In short,  the total war will never bring peace. It brings resentment,  it destroys communities,  it breeds fear and mistrust.  And too many pagans embrace it and are killing their own religion.

Wished for earth
getting a boast
proclaiming of borders
Borders declaring prosperity
green-growth after spring
autumn increase of horses
a troop for the land
land that goes in strength and abundance.
Be it a strong, beautiful wood, long-lasting a great boundary
‘Have you a story?’
Peace to sky
be it so lasting to the ninth generation

(Translation M. Daimler copyright 2014)

Friday, February 3, 2017

The danger of PolitiTheism

Firstly, I want to apologize for the nearly year long hiatus from blogging. Many changes took place over that year, more than I want to really discuss in this forum. I continue to do Pagan things and teach, but at a greatly reduced amount. Since my divorce was finalized I have a bit more free time to write , so hopefully this will be a more regular thing,

There is a very disturbing trend I'm seeing in the pagan/polytheist world that I call PolitiTheism, and it's becoming more vocal and prevalent in post-Trump landscape. It's one where primarily Leftist Social Justice Warrior types feel that it is a fundamental part of their faith to take political stands. They actually believe their paganism logically leads to poiltical action, and often justify it through some rather unusual logic. Typically you don't see Rightists or Libertarians doing this mental gymnastics - to them typically politcs is wholly seperate from faith. But the lefties tend to fall into this way of thinking.

I've had both online and face to face conversations with these kinds of believers, and to a one they seem to conflate their faith with actions they defend as socially just. Such as being a Morrigan devotee or a self-described priest necessitates getting involved in local marches for things like Black Lives Matter, or some such activity.

Now I am pretty vocal about my own politics at times. I'm what is termed a Classical Liberal, i.e. the origial Libertarians. I grew up on a diet of Locke and Rousseau and Jefferson. I hold with what the Founders of the Republic called "Rightful Liberty". That liberty that is inherent and does not infringe on the liberty of others in its excercise. That respects the rights of life, liberty and properly, and fundamental is the idea that no one owes anyone more than the basic respect of the original concept of the Social Contract. I won't initiate force, and neiter will you. Anyone may defend themselves, but not initiate force. And free market capitalism is the most consistent econimic expression of these views.

But I don't condescend to use my faith in the Tuatha or my devotion to the Morrigan as justification for these beliefs. At core, I think is it downright blasphemous to do so and beyond foolish for two very big reasons.

First, blasphemey. A word you don't hear very often in Paganism, but one that is the most accurate IMO. Think about the nature of the Gods, not as ideas or archetypes, but actual living entites with agency. Their reach and power is vast, and so much greater than the miniscule concerns of a microscopic race, in a remote corner of the universe , blathering on about how important they are. Humans are also bounded in a very short time from a geological and astronomical sense, barely a handfull of millennia away from eating bugs and living short brutal lives, They think they are the pinnacle of creation and that the Gods of the universe are falling over Themselves to hear what ridiculous poltical opinions they have. And they credit these vast powerful beings as if they cared?

It's hubris. And quite frankly very self serving. And impossible to believe, makes me marvel a the coincidence when a person with a straight face tells me that the Morrigan Herself would approve of stopping traffic on a bridge to protest a shooting half a continent away.

Secondly, there's a real danger of believing one's own bullshit, especially when one has convinced himself it's the Voice of the Gods. All sense of reason and proportion goes out the window, and it's terribly easy to fool oneself into thinking that any action in the name of this delusion is justified. First it's trying to censor the speech of people you disagree with politically, or boycotting events where they might speak. Next it's smashing windows and burning cars. In very short order the first brick is thrown into a person's face, or somebody gets beaten to death, and the narrative in the delusional's head supports this, saying the Gods want it that way.

This is how crusades and Jihads get started.

Now don't misunderstand, we all have political views, but politics is a manmade system for manmade problems. The Gods don't give a shit about your politics, just as you don't give a shit about the politics of an ant colony. Its important to the ants, no dobt.

So my advice is drop the pretense of saying your Gods want a political end. They don't. They never do. It's men that want political ends, and use theimage of the Will of the Gods to manipulate and justify their actions. Don't be like that, operate with integrity and own your political views.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Bullets for the Morrigan


Q: What stone would you suggest for working with the Morrigan?
Me: A lead pellet in .308 caliber

The above exchange on social media is, I believe, the source of the latest disturbance in the Pagan world. It took place in a discussion page dedicated to the Queen, and I didn't get much of a replyn on that thread, but boy did it light up at Pantheacon 2016.

It touches on an old discussion about the appropriateness of what one puts on one's altar, and in my case specifically, some claim I am conjuring death and destruction by doing so.

If we're going to have a mature conversation, I want to set aside the arguments about gun control and whether lawful folks have a right to own firearms. That was settled in the US Supreme Court a few years back (Heller v District of Columbia), and isn't germaine to the discussion. Also, I don't want to entertain whether Pagans have the moral authority to kill animals – if one has ever eaten meat or worn leather, that person has participated in a kill even if it's removed by several steps.

I want to narrow down the focus to two things: first, why I chose to use bullets on my altar, and what it means to me, and secondly what is appropriate on and altar and who decides.

I began using bullets on my altar a few years back after an attempted carjacking. I hold a concealed weapon license from my state, and I have had one for the better part of a decade. I carry my weapon where and when I can legally and practically, and am a responsible and trained owner.

One night I was in out with my wife, and we were in the tourist part of town in a borrowed shiny new imported car. We were approached by a man who obviously wanted the car and made threatening advances. I was able to force him to back off only when he knew I was armed and willing to use it. After that encounter I sat in my car shaking, knowing that I almost had to kill a man over his own stupidity, and also the fact that I knew – I KNEW- I could and would defend myself and those I loved.

I believe that day having a gun saved both of us from death or grave harm. Ever since, I've made it a point to keep bullets that fit my guns on my altar, since I believe the Queen was looking out for me that day, and as a reminder that when push comes to shove I would be up to the challenge. If I didn't have the weapon, and it's bullets, the night would have gone very differently.

The second issue is the appropriateness of the bullet as an offering. Contrary to the left coast crowd, many of the Pagans who live in the South, Midwest and rural parts of America have a cultural background that includes an introduction to firearms at some point, usually in a positive light. For me it was my cousins hunting feral hogs in the Everglades and later by a good friend who was a police officer. For others it might have been target shooting with a parent or family member. Those of us that had a positive direct introduction to firearms know what they are and how they work, and accept them as tools that can be used to keep one safe or fed should need arise.

Another part of this issue is that firearms are used by bad people to hurt others, but blaming the weapon is never going to solve the problem. Years ago, I knew a woman who was murdered by her boyfriend using a hammer. The horror of the murder is senseless, but banning hammers because they could be used to kill in a way they weren't meant to is kind of like banning guns. Senseless.

Blaming the gun for a death is a double mistake. It makes the tool the guilty party and in a way absolves the person who pulls the trigger, and I personally think that's dishonest. Passing that responsibility is attractive, we don't want to blame a person for a mall shooting that kills 10 people, because a single person can only be punished once, but a gun can be banned forever. Also, is gives a sense that we've done something, even when we know it will do nothing to stop violence itself, or gun violence in general.

But this is the desperation people feel, and Pagans doubly so. Many of us believe in magic, and know as we will, so we create. Those who harbor a fear and mistrust of the weapon itself would be offended at the idea of a lone polythiest, who has alien political leanings on the opposite side of the continent, who places bullets on his altar to the Queen of War and Sovereignty. This is dark magic they reason, because he must be invoking war. What he really is doing is invoking thanks and giving Her the thing She asks.

These same Pagans turn archaic weapons into fetishes. They pray with sword and spear, shield and armor, thinking somehow that since these are old, they're somehow “safe” and more noble, that it takes skill to wield and have a martial culture. They will read and be inspired by tales of knights and think this is what true martial spirit are. Or be wooed by the idea of an Asian martial art that praises peace and compassion in the heart of a “warrior” mostly because it does not offend their tastes. To this I say two things: war and battle has never been glorious, and never confuse taste with morality.

All warfare takes skill. Regardless of the weapon. The closest most who gripe about guns have come close to one has been a video game, and don't understand the skill it takes to return fire while being fired upon, to control the reaction of adrenaline and act from training. Any of them wave a sword about as if they were out of a movie, with no concept of economy of motion, speed, precision, and discipline.

They find the idea of real death and war and conflict so distasteful as to label it immoral, while living off the freedoms won by war and the gun. They speak of sovereignty as if it were handed to them from on high, rather than bought with blood and will. And they wish they didn't have to fight for anything, condemning those who have fought for everything because it reminds them of an awful truth: life is hard, nothing is guaranteed and sometimes bad people win.

And all this goes through me as the bullet makes a soft “plink” into the offering dish.

I feel her smile. I think I have to get more range time in, speed up the draw stroke, get sight picture faster and recovery. I need to do more cardio and figure out how I can afford a training class. I want to be a better example and a better fighter, I want to serve Her well.

Plink.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Meeting the Queen

I laid in bed, dejected. Once again, work comes to naught because some fool didn't check facts, and I'm now a public enemy because I uttered the unspeakable. It's a habit for me, but this came on fast. I'm staring out the window at the grey clouds over the mountains on the opposite side of a continent from home.

My beloved climbs on top of me, and gets my attention.

"They don't understand you", she says. "Tell them about your dedication and love for the Queen. They see the anger and strife, but they don't see the love ".

She's right.

It began for me when I was a child. I grew up with a violently abusive parent. Beatings were normal unless my parents were fighting reach other. To try to put sense to this is impossible, and for a child this was a daily fear. Following manic/depressive cycles, would I get beaten or locked out of the house today? Who knew? No sense was applicable in that world.

One day, after an especially bad episode, a ten year old me is locked in a hall closet for what was hours. It's disjointed, time was, and I began to call out for help. First to the God of my parents, Yahweh, Jesus, and no answer. I ran through my head, even asking for help from the devil. Nothing but silence and dark.

I then decided to ask for whoever would answer. And She appeared. And when I say " appear" I don't mean a vague impression, or blob or some outline, She literally stepped out of the dark in front of me. I think I was crying, I don't remember.

She calmed me, said She'd always be with me, and I had nothing to fear. If I could hold on a few more years, she'd set me free. I said yes, I would trust Her. I asked Her name and she said she would tell me later, but I would have to become stronger and She would ask things of me. I promised I'd do them.

About this time I was turned loose and sent outside.

Weeks later I was at the library, and found a book of paintings, including one with the title La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and threat was how I knew her. I spent the next few years learning everything I could about fighting and martial arts, Asian and ancient European, and at 18 I found my way into paganism.

At an eclectic coven I circled with, in my early 20's, I was doing journey work, looking for the "face of the Goddess" I was supposed to work with, when La Belle Dame appeared as I saw her when I was younger. She was and always had been the Morrigan, and the work was to be a warrior, and she'd show me how.

All my dedication today flows from those events. Today, I think She literally saved my life more than once. I moved on from the violence of my childhood, working tirelessly on my own self improvement. And always demanding from those around me that they work on theirs.

But beneath the demands, I feel deep love, reverence and cherish those around me. I was attending a pagan festival locally one year, and had to leave back into the mundane for a few hours. When I got back to the festival it was a bright and warm Beltane, and I saw a father and daughter flying a kite and children running across a field. I felt heavy with armor, with responsibility and I looked at simple happiness. I vowed inside I could stand on that hill and defend those people if needed, so that those kids could grow up pagan and free.

Love itself means nothing without Discipline. Discipline is a art of making choices and persevering in those choices for long term benefits. She has also taught me the value of that, to the point of costing me that which stood in the way of Her work and my self improvement.

One day in 2014, I made a choice to stand up against what saw as injustice and wrong, and since that day I became willing to use my full name to stand as a Pagan man, dedicated to his Queen, and speak my truth.

And that truth is that there is an absolute right and wrong. That every person is given rights by their Gods that no one can deny. That human freedom is the most important thing, not just for me but every person. That no one owes anything to anyone except non aggression. That every life is precious. That honor is a way of life.

That love is possible only between those who value themselves first, and see their values reflected in the other.

That one's reach should always exceed their grasp. Life without purpose and reflection isn't worth much, but life without will and action is worth nothing.

That art should exalt the spirit.

That we should strive to make our Gods proud.

That life is struggle and overcoming, a process of refinement.

And in the end the only legacy you really leave behind is your work.

It really is beautiful when you stop and think about it.