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.