Devotional Rituals to the Brotherhood Gods

The altar for the Lover, prepared for devotion

The altar for the Lover, prepared for devotion

The Brotherhood of the Phoenix is devoted to the Eight-Fold God. Our public rituals throughout the year are each devoted to one specific face of the God as we move through the cycle of the year.

In addition to the public rituals, we have tools to develop our personal relationship with the Gods. Each of us approach this a little differently, some use meditation, some write journals or poetry. There is an anthology of some of this devotional poetry that is available through the Brotherhood.

I’m going to give you a window into something that I do for my personal practice. Since my framework is devotional polytheism, I look at the faces of the God as separate gods, knowing that, as with all gods and goddesses, their own personality and identity is actually far more complex than what I see when I look at them. I interact with them as distinct persons and clear personalities, but I don’t have a dogmatic belief about their nature. The Brotherhood does not have any dogma about this matter either.

We are transitioning from the season of the Explorer to the season of the Lover, so I am going to show you my devotional ritual for the Lover.

First, I start by printing out the appropriate Eight-Fold God Prayer Candle Template provided by the Brotherhood here. These pages are intended for devotional candles (which is another method some Brothers use). For my purposes, I am going to use the God image, the prayer, and the list of correspondences off this page. As you will see, I am taking this in a different direction than just a simple candle.

I use the list of correspondences to collect items for an offering to the God. In this case, I have chosen the following for a connection to the Lover:

Plum
Avocado
Vanilla Bean
Roses
Tulips
Silver Candle
Peach Mango flavored coconut water

To the extent that’s feasible, I try to use things I have or are easily accessible to me. As you can see, many of these things can come from a typical grocery store. If they can come from your garden or are the result of your own labor, that’s even better.

I choose altar decorations that are compatible with the suggested colors and correspondences. In this case I chose flowers and rose quartz from the correspondences, as well as the grey cloth. I will also offer some of the flowers to the God during the ritual.

I always include some items that I can also consume, so that I can participate in the offering. I always include one liquid to be poured out. Sometimes I include an incense. This time I did not, since the chosen items already had some strong fragrances, which I did not want to overwhelm.

The idea is that the chosen items are the things that the Lover loves and appreciates. It is his taste and his embodiment. I am offering him what he likes, as any good host does, in the hope that he will feel welcome and spend time with me. I partake of these tastes and smells to bring myself closer to him.

I set these all up on the altar. It is a temporary altar, which is a focal point for the ritual. I print out and cut out the God image and place it on the altar. I also have an offering bowl to receive the items that I will be giving to the God.

I light the candle. I read the prayer provided aloud. I also usually provide a prayer of my own. I breathe. I smell the flowers.

I place the items into the offering bowl one by one, offering them to the God and also appreciating them myself – by smell, by looking, or in the case of the plum and avocado this time, I keep a few pieces for myself to eat. At each step, I raise the offering bowl, being mindful of the offering and the hospitality.

Then I pour out the drink, first to the God and then to myself.

The altar to the Lover, with the offering given

The altar to the Lover, with the offering given

At this point, I may offer another prayer, and then I sit for a while in the presence of the God. I usually keep a notebook handy, in case I receive a message or impression. Sometimes, I am inspired to write down quite a lot at this time. Sometimes, it is just a matter of being present and aware.

When I am done, I thank the God for being with me. In the Brotherhood, we do not “dismiss” the Gods. We say “I honor you always in the circle of my life” to divine presences as a closure to rituals, and then blow out the candle. It’s a closure to this interaction, but we will always welcome the ongoing presence of the God.

I typically take down the temporary altar that same day. I take the contents of the offering bowl and return it to the elements, usually putting it into the earth in my garden. I use this ritual during the season for each God, and at other times as needed, when I have felt the need to connect.

Sacral Kingship – Is That the World We Want to Make?

Some of you who follow the Pagan blogosphere have probably noticed some very heated exchanges lately. There has been a simmering tension between certain figures in the Devotional Polytheist movement (for example John Beckett and Galina Krasskova) and the writers and publisher of Gods & Radicals (specifically Rhyd Wildermuth). This post, regarding the “New Right” presence within Pagan and Polytheist circles, documents some of the racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic strains present in corners of our community, which sometimes have a violent streak, brought those tensions to the surface. I am not going to re-hash the whole controversy, but I thought I would pick up one specific idea mentioned and think about it. I may move on to others at another time.

One of the philosophical positions that is shared by certain members of the Pagan and Polytheist community and certain members of the New Right is the idea of Sacral (or Sacred) Kingship. This is often known as the “divine right of Kings”.

Louis XIV, endorsed from above

Louis XIV, endorsed from above

We learned about this in school as a Medieval European idea, tied to Feudalism and the monolithic Christian Church. It has, in reality, a far more complex and varied history. Modern examples include the Vatican and Tibet before the expulsion of the Dalai Lama, where temporal and religious power sit together in one leader. It also refers to the Queen of England’s role in the Church of England (as well as similar Church/Monarch relationships in countries like Norway and Denmark).

Sacral Kingship is often tied to Pagan and Polytheist mythology and lore. The ancient High King of Ireland is said to have been married to a Goddess. Certain Roman Emperors were deified after their death. Pharaohs had a close relationship to the Gods and Goddesses of ancient Egypt. The idea is also tied to the mythology of a King’s blood sacrifice to heal the land or continue the agricultural cycle. Frazer’s The Golden Bough links the “Dying God” stories from various cultures to the sacrifice of Kings, and Robert Graves and Margaret Murray were popular authors who furthered these connections between Pagan Gods and the blood sacrifices of Kings.

Seti I sitting on the lap of Isis By Olaf Tausch - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14797351

Seti I sitting on the lap of Isis By Olaf Tausch – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14797351

Yvonne Aburrow has a wonderfully witty criticism of this thinking within Paganism. Societies run by Kings and Queens are romanticized by those of us living in modern Democracies. Yvonne points out that for those living in a society where Monarchy’s strict class hierarchy and unearned social privileges still exist, Sacral Kingship is more difficult to idealize.

For any student of history, hereditary monarchy and aristocracy has clear problems. There’s no guarantee that the eldest child (often son) of the strong leader has any of the parent’s virtues. Children reared in a bubble of privilege and protection may have little understanding or empathy for those they are expected to lead. And that doesn’t even mention the way some royal houses have had restricted marriage partners so severely and for so many generations that the genetic penalties of inbreeding have come into play.

But Kings have sometime been chosen by war, which is in itself an argument against Kingship – the good of the people can’t be served when succession conflicts create violence and destruction. And Kings have sometimes been chosen by election in one form or another rather than by heredity. As Yvonne points out, this is often just called Presidency in our current world, rather than Kingship.

 

Galina Krasskova is one Polytheist who says she is an advocate for Sacral Kingship. I haven’t seen her elaborate on her views on the subject, and what parts of Sacral Kingship she envisions as useful to the Polytheist revival that she wants to manifest. I am guessing the actual murder of Kings is not part of her plans, so what exactly does this mean for a modern world?

I don't think George R.R. Martin believes in Sacral Kingship

I don’t think George R.R. Martin believes in Sacral Kingship

I believe in Leaders. I believe we can choose people to fill roles in a community – and that some people are more qualified than others to fulfill particular roles, either by natural talents, inclination, experience, or education. But do Leaders need to be Kings (or Queens) with all the baggage those terms carry?

Most days, I believe in Democracy as preferable to most other systems, although I know it can have its abuses and corruptions. I know it can allow majorities to tyrannize minorities. I know it can be horribly manipulated by media and misinformation. I know it can force Leaders to make popular decisions for short-term gain at the expense of a longer term goal. Compared to the crap shoot of putting decisions into the hands of a monarch chosen by heredity or force, I’ll take Democratic process, even with its flaws.

 

I believe in the power of stories to shape our worldview and our world. I love ancient stories and the view that they give us into other cultures and other times. Ancient myths sometimes involve Kings. Fairy tales often involve various members of a royal family (although perhaps Princes and Princesses more often than actual ruling monarchs).

I believe in the project of creating stories to shape our world and our lives, and I think we need to create more stories about who we are and who we want to be. What does it mean when we tell and repeat stories based around Kings and Princesses, these people of privilege? Are we supposed to put ourselves in their place? Are we supposed to critique our leaders based on these stories and thereby discern their wisdom? Are we creating a world where we are empowered when they center on those “above our station”?

 

And a final thought and question: how can we tell if our gods are choosing our leaders? Pagans and Polytheists are not only a tiny minority, but have an incredible diversity of devotions, practices and traditions. Even if we receive a sign that Odin or Isis chooses a King or Queen for us, who would even believe us or even agree?

We do have leaders who proclaim themselves or are proclaimed by others as chosen by God to lead the people of the United States, such as Ted Cruz and George W. Bush. I think it’s safe to say these aren’t the gods that most Pagans or Polytheists would be looking for as endorsing candidates.

 

I will admit I may have a blind spot when it comes to the stories of a Sacred King who dies to redeem his people. It has an echo of the central mythology of Christianity – a son of God who dies to redeem the sins of his followers. I grew up with that story and it never resonated. I understood it intellectually and never felt the emotional power that seemed to satisfy so many others around me. I never felt the need for that kind of redemption.

As an amateur gardener, I don’t see why a King needs to be sacrificed to ensure the next harvest. Death is necessary to create the next crop, absolutely. But the dried leaves and kitchen scraps that go into my compost heap are not Kings, they are the most common, but most valuable of resources. The worms that convert them into rich soil are not legendary King-killers. The process that keeps the world moving and growing is so much more modest and yet no less miraculous.

The Art of Making Brothers (and a poem)

As readers will already know, I am part of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, a neopagan order for men who love men. I am on the Council for the Chicago Temple and, specifically, I am the Warder. One of the responsibilities of that role is to guide Seekers through an application process to become Brothers in the Outer Order.

Last night, we went through a Rite of Passage, officially inducting three men into the Outer Order, so we made new Brothers. This was my first group to guide through the process since I took this position. The ritual itself is wonderful – inspired by initiations in other esoteric groups, but infused with the unique elements of the Brotherhood. I can’t tell you much about the ritual itself, but it often has a profound effect on those who have experienced it.

In addition to signaling the growth of the Brotherhood and the health of the organization, the process has been a growing experience for me. I have stepped into a role of gatekeeper, and learned more about the value of keeping silent, one of the Four Powers of the Sphinx.

The candidates have already come through the Novitiate training when they apply, so they have some understanding of the Brotherhood. But the Rite of Passage is more than just a “graduation”. It provides an experience of its own.

On a separate note (since I shouldn’t say much more about the Rite of Passage), I am going to share a poem I wrote, which was inspired by some of the principles and cosmology of the Brotherhood.

 

What do you seek?

The wonder is the start – Youth’s gift to the world.
Roads lead outward from home – we must Explore.
An open heart discovers many Loves, but
Needs Healing for those times when hearts will break.
Stay strong, watch and protect, be Warrior-wise.
Find the Androgyne’s balance in yourself.
Other worlds will speak to your Shaman soul.
Reaching wisdom, we will take the Elder’s chair.
Make your way from the mundane and to our gates
And through the Labyrinth’s turning path
To a sacred fire that leaves a true core.
In the eyes of the Phoenix, see your heart
Open to the possible, to your Will –
Now burning, now born anew, now Transformed.

Queerness and Othering: Identity vs. Description

My friend Theo at the Queerwitch blog wrote a piece about the use of “Queer” as a identity and a descriptor. I appreciate the perspective on this question, one that I think about frequently. I was writing some of my thoughts as a comment, and then, well, it turned into a rather long blog post of my own.

I don’t entirely trust in the objective power of description, especially when it comes to questions of social identity. I’m not saying these descriptive categories aren’t useful – they certainly can be when we are trying to understand our community. But they can also be a problem.

Racial categories can be slippery. In this country for example, with our fraught racial history, we often think of race in terms of Black and White, with Asians sometimes acknowledged as a population. Who falls into which category has changed over time. Those with a quarter or even an eighth part of Black ancestry were considered Black, even though clearly a majority of their genetic makeup may have been from European roots. And that doesn’t even address the shifting preferences for the terms “Negro”, “Colored”, “Black” and “African American”. Irish, Italian, and Jewish people were not really considered White by Americans in the 19th and early 20th century, until each of those identities were later folded into the White American identity. I sometimes wonder if actual Caucasians, as in a people from the Caucasus, who often have olive skin and dark hair, would be considered White in 19th century America. Latin and Hispanic people pose an even more complex set of issues. Many Latin American and Caribbean countries are as racially diverse as the United States, and yet often people of entirely European descent or entirely African descent are called Latino/a as a racial identity, rather than an ethnic/cultural/linguistic identity.

Clearly, the rules change around racial categories.

Religious identity is even slipperier. Is religious identity based on belief, as most Protestant Christians would assert? Is it based on birth and the religion of your parents, or even a specific parent (i.e. Judaism is inherited through the mother)? Can you shop for Churches in the American way, and pick your religion like you would pick a car or refrigerator? Do you need to follow certain rituals to claim your religious identity? Once you choose, can you change your mind (an offense punishable by death in many branches of Islam, for example)? How about all the different traditions that claim that they are the true followers of a religion/prophet/tradition, while others are false – while competing groups may make the exact same exclusive claim to the same identity?

The ability to use descriptive categories that may contradict the chosen identity of those who are being identified is a position of power, of privilege. Governments, institutions, poll takers, businesses, media outlets – they are the ones that choose the categories, the boxes to check on the multiple choice forms. Sometimes, there is an attempt to accurately and inoffensively use “descriptions”, even as they realize that self-identity may be more complicated. This process can be useful, certainly, but it still has the problem of putting people into categories that the categorized may not agree with.

So that brings us back around to the label “queer”. The reclaiming of the insult started in the 1980’s and became a part of common discourse in academia in the 1990’s. Advocates of the word claim (rightly) that it provides a catch-all term for gay, lesbian, bi, trans, intersex, and a list of other non-traditional/non-straight gender and sexual identities. It is inclusive of many “others”.

On the other hand, for many gay men and lesbians of my generation (I’m in my mid-forties) and older often object to being called queer. It is still the insult that we learned about when we were younger. Theo refers to an article from the HuffPost presenting one such perspective. The use of the term may not be “triggering” as Theo surmises – that terminology is definitely from a younger generation – but it still may offend. If some preacher on the street condemns the “Sodomites” or “perverts”, I may find being described this way as offensive, even if it’s not associated with a personal incident of abuse. It is the terminology of an entire hate-filled worldview and I refuse to allow them to choose my descriptions.

Now for me, I sometimes identify myself as queer, and I really appreciate being thought of as part of a queer community. I like a community that embraces trans, genderqueer and poly identities. I like a community open to discussions about kink and asexuality. I feel privileged to be considered part of a diverse and fascinating group. I have embraced the “otherness” that is part of me, and not just because of my sexuality.

This is not the perspective of many of the gay men and lesbians who are voicing this objection to being called queer. The thinking for many of my peers is that being attracted to a person of the same sex was just an uncontrollable characteristic, like having blue eyes or being left handed. It should not count to make someone other – it should not make them queer. They want their sexual identity “normalized” – to be considered just one of the many characteristics that are in the range of the “regular”.

If you ever have the occasion to look at gay men’s dating ads, they often include phrases like “just a regular guy”, or even more telling “straight-acting”. There are also gay men who go out of their way to say they’re “not stereotypical”, which usually means they embody the stereotype of a “normal” man of their age, race and class, rather than what they think of as a stereotype of a gay man. It almost never means that they actually defy stereotypes.

It has always struck me that “normal” and “regular” are unappealing descriptions to embrace. Perhaps it’s good to be normal in some ways – like having your blood pressure in the “normal” range, but I can’t embrace it as a social aspiration. But this is my perspective, and perhaps my own bias of preferring the company of people who are more unusual. But I should be more generous. I suspect nearly everyone has something unusual about them, but they shouldn’t be encouraged to hide it in order to appear “normal”.

See The World, Ruin The World – An Unpopular Observation

I grew up valuing and even idolizing the idea of world travel. When I was young, I envied the few friends whose families took them to different countries. I was awestruck by high school friends who became exchange students. I chose a college with a focus on Internationalism and wanted desperately to study abroad. It never happened, for various reasons. In my 20’s, I finally did travel outside the United States, to Montreal, Paris, and London. I also saw some of the cosmopolitan cities of the US – New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston.

The cachet of foreign travel had me sold, although I rarely had the money or time to pursue it. Meanwhile, my childhood family vacations amounted to piling five kids into the back of a station wagon and driving across the Midwest (which was exciting to me, if more modest than my dreams). I didn’t fly anywhere until a high school trip to Washington, DC. I have only flown a handful of times since the increased travel restrictions following the 9/11 attacks. The process of getting through any airport is very unpleasant now, with long lines, invasive searches, and extra hassles. To me, that has taken much of the joy that I once had over flying.

But I still want to see so many places. I have years worth of unused frequent flyer “miles” to use and I decided a while back that in a few years (the year I turn 50) I want to go back to Europe. I want to check off a few more places on my long list of places that I want to see. In part this desire is still tied up in my own striving to be what I see as a worldly person, well-traveled, sophisticated. In part, it is because I have actually gotten significant enjoyment from my travels in the past, even in spite of the hassles of the logistics of travel.

But there’s a problem with this. I increasingly have begun to wonder if, as an environmentalist, I can support our current culture of cheap and easy airline travel. I know this is not going to be a popular thing among so many of my friends, but flying is incredibly destructive to the environment, and I need to radically rethink its virtues and desirability.

Take a look at these recent articles that I have come across. They will be better at presenting the data about it than I could be:

Every Time You Fly, You Trash the Planet from Fivethirtyeight.com.

A Climate Scientist Who Decided Not To Fly from Grist.org.

Travel broadens the mind and challenges one’s assumptions, as common wisdom goes. On some level, we believe that seeing the great sights and sitting down for a coffee with a person from another world paving the road to world peace and understanding. And of course – it certainly can do these things, when minds and hearts are open. I hardly think that most people who fly repeatedly for business, to very tourist-driven resorts, to events filled with people who are quite similar to themselves – these are probably not travel experiences that expand and challenge who we are.

But flying has become so commonplace, so expected. People even speak of airline travel as a “right”, which is a strange concept – do we really have a right to trash the planet?

Various organizations, including government agencies, talk about flyer’s “bill of rights”. I know, the rights are to be treated fairly as a consumer, and I’m behind that, but should participating in such a destructive practice be thought of as a “right”?

But, in truth, we may not need to travel around the world to experience others. For me, I live in Chicago and people from around the world are here. I have people speaking Spanish or Polish on virtually every train ride. We have ethnic enclaves all around the city. And of course there is great diversity in our domestic population – people of different races and economic classes, different religions and subcultures. We can drastically cut down on flying and still be open to people who live radically different lives than we do. Of course, I do understand that if flying becomes less commonplace, there may be less diversity in cities in the longer term.

I am still struggling with this. I know I have already on some level made a choice to back away from flying. As I said, I haven’t done it in years, and the last time was for work. After that trip, I made it clear to my supervisors I didn’t care to do that kind of trip if it can be avoided. But I have not yet totally rejected the possibility of airline travel in the future. There is still so much in the world that I would love to see. But I will not take it for granted, or treat it as something to be taken on casually.

To the Divine Youth

In the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, we celebrate the faces of the Eight-Fold God according to the season. We are in the season of the Divine Youth, and he will be welcomed at our Spirit Song celebration on February 20th.

I wrote this prayer and meditation on what the Divine Youth can mean in my life.

____________________________________________

 

Divine Youth,

Show me the Wonder of a new born child.

Let me see the common things of the world in a fresh way.

Bring me to a state of mind that is clean and innocent.

 

Let me discover how the snow feels when I pick it up. Or how mud feels when I squish it between my fingers. Let me feel how a dog feels when I pet the fur and how the dog’s tongue feels licking my face. Let me spin around again and again until I am dizzy.

Let me taste without memory or prior ideas of what I like and don’t like. Let me taste applesauce or olives or clean pure water like I’ve never tasted them before.

Let me smell a flower, baking bread, an old book, a fart – just smell and not let the thousand memories overwhelm the simple experience of smelling.

Let me see something right in front of me, so common that I forget to see it.  Really look at it. What color is it, what size and shape? Is it shiny or dull? Turn it upside down and open it up to really see it. If it’s worn or broken, don’t even think about what it was originally – see it for what it is in this moment.

Let me listen to the sounds around me with fresh ears. The hum or thumping of machines. The chirping of birds. The low roar of traffic. Is there music playing or is someone talking – don’t make out the words. Listen to the rhythm and pitch. How does it make me feel? Do I want to dance? Do I want to cry? Is someone making a point or are they trying to soothe? Let it wash over me.

 

Divine Youth,

Let me experience and puzzle over feelings and tastes and smells and sights and sounds.

Let me set aside what I think I know and see the world with a new vision.

Let me feel Wonder.

Challenge Gender Essentialism

My friend Theo has a new blog called Queerwitch, which is well worth checking out. A recent post is a rant (of sorts) against gender essentialism. I whole-heartedly agree with this critique.

If you’re a little lost on what the term means, there’s actually a nice write up here. That author has some great insights about how it affects sexuality and relationships, but gender essentialism can creep into almost everything.

 

There are so many examples of needless stress on gender identification that we encounter in our daily life. One subject that has gotten a lot of attention lately is the “boys’ toys” vs. “girls’ toys”. It seems pretty obvious to me that you should let your child play with whatever toy interests them, regardless of gender assignment.

how-to-tell-if-a-toy-is-for-boys-or-girls

Here’s a helpful meme that I stole from somewhere

 

Why is it that on so many forms, from the vital to the mundane, one of the first questions asked is “M/F”, with no opportunity to avoid answering, or to provide any nuance? I can understand why your doctor’s office may ask – it may be relevant to certain medical conditions – but they should be ready to accommodate an answer that is more nuanced than these two simple categories. But why exactly is this important for a Drivers License or a Sweepstakes entry? Why is it the first question that people ask when someone has a new baby? How exactly is sex/gender important in those situations?

 

There is a vegan author of some note. I have met her and she is a very pleasant person. I own one of her books. I love that her work is to make veganism more mainstream and accessible. She has a podcast that I started listening to, but I had to stop. Virtually every guest, every person that she spoke about was praised as “a perfect Lady” or “a real man’s man”, or some such gender-based compliment and descriptor. It began to really annoy me. This constant refrain of praise of people because they manifest some type of gendered ideal began to wear on me. If that is so praiseworthy, then isn’t the implication that people who don’t fit into her nice gender roles are somehow less praiseworthy? I’m fairly sure that wasn’t her conscious intent, but the messaging around gender was so persistent.

 

Even people who should be more aware of gender issues – LGB people, self-described Feminists – do this kind of gender coding and shaming. There’s a horrible meme going around now showing a bearded, plaid-wearing man (a “lumbersexual” in certain circles). The punchline includes something like “if you don’t know how to change a tire, then you have to shave”.

amfar

Is Conchita going to change a tire?

I don’t even think that people realize how ridiculous it is that they are somehow offended that some guy with a beard may not fit their expectations of “manly” skills. A skill like changing a tire has absolutely nothing to do with gender and it definitely has nothing to do with facial hair (and frankly it has nothing to do with being a lumberjack). What is the point in policing this?

 

I have already written about respecting people’s self identity around gender and sexual identity. This is a closely related topic. Trans people frequently deal with gender based shaming and harassment. Some people feel the need to police gender identities and frankly, there’s no real justification other than the harasser’s preconceived ideas and invasive sense of entitlement to pass judgment on others. The issue of public bathrooms can be huge – and not because trans people are causing trouble in any way.

 

If you are tempted to tell someone to be more “ladylike” or to “man up”. Stop yourself and think. If you are correcting this person, does it have to be about policing their gender? Would that behavior be acceptable in a person of a different gender identity? If the problem really is about behavior and not a gender expectation, then frame the comment appropriately – and fairly. If you are making decisions for yourself or others and you are basing it on “women like this activity” or “men like this activity”, stop for a moment and think. Isn’t it possible that people may have broader interests that aren’t just defined by sex and gender? Do yourself and those around you a favor and let go of those narrow confines.

We Are More than Just “Consumers”

Let me be honest. I may be counterculture in some ways (being Pagan, vegan, etc.), but in some ways I have many of the pitfalls of being a typical American. I don’t exercise enough. I weigh too much. I spend too much. I’m too far in debt. I’m too dependent on electronic gizmos.

I am trying to move my life toward some more sustainable practices. I don’t drive much (I work from home part time and take public transit frequently). I try to recycle trash as much as possible. I had a garden in a neighbor’s yard to start in some way to eat from a very local source and learn the craft of gardening. These are all small steps.

The debt part, sadly, is a big part of the trap. My debt, both consumer credit card debt and my underwater mortgage, means I have very limited opportunities to move, take a lower-paying but more rewarding job, go back to school. I am deep into it in many ways, and every time I succeed in scaling back certain areas of expenses, others go up or I am hit with unexpected expenses, and I have made no progress at all in getting out of debt. This year I will have thousands of dollars in dental costs and car repairs, and those are just the ones I know about.

So this January, being a time for starting anew and establishing new habits, I decided to purchase as little as possible and instead use what I have. This is not as much about self-denial as that may first seem. I have slightly hoarder-ish tendencies around certain things, particularly food. I have a huge amount of food in my freezer and cupboard that have been there too long. Why am I spending money on food when I have plenty at home? I never can go to the store just to pick up the staples, the items on the list. I always walk out with more – an item that’s on sale, or something new I haven’t tried, an ingredient for a recipe that just popped into my head. The stores are designed to make you buy more, and I definitely fall for it.

So a big part of this is that when I ran out of things that seemed like staples, I challenged myself to use a substitute or even rethink my need. I ran out of bread, and instead of buying more, I started baking. I don’t tend to bake yeast bread, so I’ve made muffins and cornbread and various other things. It has all been good – and I like baking. Anything fresh baked in my kitchen is so much tastier and more wholesome than something that I would buy at the store.

On one level, this is a tiny thing – I need to use the perfectly good food that I have instead of buying something else. It betrays my privilege – I have a stockpile of delicious and nourishing food and I feel the urge to buy more – for novelty, for impulse, for some strange satisfaction. But the challenge is the re-training of my impulse, my habit. I must break the habit that tells me that I must constantly buy more. And breaking habits is never an easy process.

A friend of mine recently shared a video by the author and doctor Gabor Maté. He covered a number of topics in the talk, but one part jumped out at me. Here’s a similar quote from him on this topic from the Toronto Standard.

People have a need for meaning and for belonging. But this society defines the value of a human being by how much they can either produce or consume. For all our talk about human values, we don’t really value humans for who they are. We value them for what they either give or purchase.

In other cultures, elders are considered to be people with wisdom, with experience, with a contribution to make. In our society, we don’t talk about elders, we talk about ‘the elderly’ — in other words, we define them by their age. And once they’re no longer either producers or consumers, they lose their value.

That idea that we are valued only for what we consume or what we make to be consumed is a powerful truth that is also repellent – why should that be the definition of our value? But that’s definitely a mindset that we are taught in our culture, and one that I will have to fight against within myself in order to break this habit of just buying – even when I don’t have the money and I don’t need the product. On some level, I see my value as tied up with what I buy. It’s even a common Liberal theme – activist consumerism – buying or not buying things for political reasons. It has a validity, absolutely – it’s better to buy from a company with ethical standards than one that does not. But it can also be a trap that causes unhealthy pressure to spend money we don’t have thinking that somehow we are going to change the world by buying more stuff.

This also goes hand in hand with a thought I have been pondering for a while. I think our current consumer culture is unsustainable, and it will come crashing down. Influenced by the thinking of John Michael Greer, I think about “collapsing now to avoid the rush”. This involves a radical simplification and learning more practical skills for an age when our consumer culture falls apart. I think cooking and gardening definitely fall into this category and I’m glad to be learning more about these all the time. At the same time, I know I’m far too dependent on certain technologies that may become rare and inaccessible when the finite resources and unsustainable processes that prop up our current prosperity fall away.

Of course there’s a strong environmental argument for cutting down on consumption, too. This article appeared recently and has made me think even more about ways to use less and waste less.
“Yes, you recycle. But until you start reducing, you’re still killing the planet”.

So, these different arguments – the environmental, the spiritual value idea from Dr. Maté, and the education for survival ideas from John Michael Greer – they all add up to making me back away from consumerism. They are strong arguments against impulse buying and for making it yourself, being creative and yes, sometimes just doing without. Now to let this all sink in and figure out how to restructure my life with the realization that I am not just a Consumer.

Some thoughts about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix

Between writing about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix on my blog (and dealing with the questions and comments) and meeting some of the Seekers looking at our tradition with their questions, I wanted to address a few misconceptions about the Brotherhood of the Phoenix.

Keep in mind, I am not one of the leaders or founders of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix. I am speaking for myself here, and according to my observations. This is not an official Brotherhood statement. I have run these thoughts past some of the other Brothers and they agreed with the ideas presented here.

 

Is the Brotherhood an ancient tradition?

We are influenced by various traditions and histories. We look to certain spiritual heroes and ancestors. But we do not claim to be inheritors of any ancient lineage. To us, in this time and space, what it means to be a man who loves men is the result of a certain set of cultural circumstances that form our gender and sexual identities. The cultural advantages and limitations of being a “man” do not necessarily translate to other cultures and other times. The cultural meanings of being “homosexual”, “gay”, “bisexual” or “queer” are also specific to this time and this place.

We are an emergent tradition – one that fits a need to serve a specific population. We feel that the binary male-female fertility rites that formed the centerpiece of certain Neopagan traditions do not feel central to our experience. We seek out (and have found) powers and deities that resonate with our own experiences and stages of life.  We are not a Reconstructionist tradition – we realize that those from the past, and particularly those in ancient cultures, would not see or experience deity through the particular lens that we have.

 

Does the Brotherhood limit member participation in other religious traditions?

I personally know of Brothers who have personal practices that includes Norse, Kemetic, Greco-Roman, Celtic, Hindu and Buddhist traditions. We have Ceremonial Magicians and those who practice traditional Witchcraft and Hoodoo. We even have those who come to our rituals who consider themselves practicing Christians. Nothing in the Brotherhood requires our participants to renounce or abandon their own beliefs or practices. Since our celebrations don’t tend to coincide with other Neopagan observances, we don’t usually force Brothers to choose between commitments.

 

Does the Brotherhood exclude participation from friends and visitors?

Yes, we do limit many of our events and membership to the Brotherhood to self-defined “men who love men”. A couple years ago, I discussed my own thought process about this limitation here.

At least twice per year (and likely more often in the future), we invite all people aged 18 and over to participate in our public rituals, regardless of gender or sexual identity, and these rituals are some of our most well attended events. We also do outreach to the larger community. For example, we will be leading one of the public rituals at Chicagoland Pagan Pride this year. We do reach out to a larger community and we are glad to engage in a constructive way with those outside of our group.

 

Are Brotherhood events a place to hook up?

Brothers and seekers at our events come together for spiritual teaching and experience. We also offer fellowship and some social time – particularly during our potlucks that happen after our public rituals. We offer a place to meet others that you may not encounter otherwise. But the goal is not specifically about dating or sexual encounters. In fact, one of the core values of this organization is that we see value in one another beyond dating and outside of the often competitive and objectifying world of sexual desirability.

This is not to say that dating and sexual partnering doesn’t happen – it does and we don’t have any rules against it. We don’t exclude it. But it is not the purpose of the gatherings or the Brotherhood.

 

Will the Brotherhood be my new best friends?

You will probably meet some people at Brotherhood events that are not like people you would meet in other contexts. They are interested, or at least open to, Neopagan spirituality. Some of them will be free-spirited and quick to encourage and show affection. Some of them may have quirky commonalities with you. But remember that here, just like anywhere else, true friendship must be earned.

If you approach with an open heart and a willingness to be honest and share, you will be in a better place to allow bonding to flourish. But remember that we are all individuals with our own interests, tastes, commitments, tolerances, and sets of existing friends. Friendship bonding outside of Brotherhood events may not happen.

 

If you want to see what the Brotherhood is, please visit our website, our Facebook page, attend one of our events, and check out our blog posts featuring writing by Brothers. Feel free to reach out to us with questions. But mostly, we encourage you to come to one of our public rituals, if you are able (posted on the webpage and Facebook). The experience that we create will be the most powerful statement about who we are and what we do.

Manifesting the Elder – Brotherhood of the Phoenix

A feature of the public rituals of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix is when one of the Brothers manifests one of the eight faces of the Queer God. Earlier this month, for the first time, I was the one who took this role. It was a big step for me, and one that only came after training and preparation. Eight months ago, I said it was something that scared me – both in terms of having the God speak through me and being the center of attention in that context. As it turned out, the former was a great help with the latter, since the presentation was not entirely “me”. I felt suffused with the calm energy of the Elder, which guided me through it.

The whole thing went surprisingly well and the message was well received by those who attended. I wrote up some of the presentation, which is now shared on the Brotherhood’s website.

Reflections of the Elder