Talk this weekend – John Michael Greer and the Steampunk Future

This Sunday, I will give a talk to The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment, my Steampunk esoteric group. I have given several talks in the past to this group on different topics.

This time, my topic is “John Michael Greer and the Steampunk Future”. John Michael Greer is an author, Archdruid and polymath who writes on a wide variety of topics. Specifically I will be covering some of his writings about Peak Oil, the decline of Industrial civilization in general and American culture specifically, and his suggestions for personal actions to make the slide down a little easier, as covered in his blog the Archdruid Report.

I have written about John Michael Greer several times in this blog over the years, especially here

The talk is over brunch at a pleasant local restaurant. It requires an RSVP, and space is limited. The information is here. The Owen Society is one of my favorite groups, and the people are delightful – creative, supportive and stylish.

 

.My last talk at the Owen Society, "Food of the Gods"

My last talk at the Owen Society,

“Food of the Gods”

Yesterday, I watched two men die

Both were on video, and both cases were very recent. All these videos were and are available to everyone with internet access.

The first was Alton Sterling, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana man shot at point-blank range while pinned to the ground by police officers in a convenience store parking lot. The first video I watched was from a nearby car, which was blurry, but clearly showed the shots being fired. The second video from the same incident, was a clearer image and showed pretty clearly that the man was unarmed, and did not appear to be a threat. This video also showed a massively bleeding chest wound and the victim’s final moments.

The second video was Philando Castile, the driver of a car with a broken tail light. He identified himself as having a concealed carry permit and while he was reaching for his driver’s license in his wallet, the officer fired at him multiple times, again at point-blank range. His girlfriend started a live Facebook video while he was bleeding out in the front seat and the officer’s gun was still drawn. It continued to show the victim lose consciousness, and then the girlfriend being taken out of the car and detained, all while broadcasting live.

I watched the Alton Sterling videos a day after the incident and the Philando Castile live broadcast a very short time after the incident. As a former St. Paul resident, I have many connections in the area. Friends were posting the live video in shock, even before Twitter exploded with the news and long before major news outlets were picking it up. Facebook removed the video this morning, but much of it is still available on other online sites.

These men were not wanted fugitives. There was no evidence of violent crimes. These were not hardened criminals. But yet, they ended up dead at the hands of police after encounters under the most mundane of circumstances. It’s shocking and disheartening.

 

My perception of the police has varied throughout my life. I grew up in a middle-class, largely white area with a fairly low crime rate. There was a police officer that lived down the block. Things were safe, generally, and I don’t remember a lot of interaction with police. They were available when needed, but mercifully they weren’t often needed.

In my teen years, thefts and break-ins became common in the area, and our house was broken into at one time. I went to a city magnet school outside my neighborhood. The neighborhood, largely African American, had problems with roving gangs that claimed and patrolled the area. At one time, a friend and I stayed late for a musical rehearsal, and we were accosted and mugged by some of these gang members. I had my wallet stolen, losing a bus pass and some cash. My friend was punched in the face and had his glasses broken. The incident was done in a minute and the young men were gone, leaving us unable to get home. I know that I interacted with police on those occasions, but I have little recollection.

After coming out as gay, my perception of the police shifted. In the late eighties, things were starting to get better between gay and lesbian identified people and the police, but only barely. Sodomy and public indecency laws were either being repealed or were rarely used. The habit of police raiding gay bars just because they were gay bars was fading, but the community had those recent memories and it still happened in some parts of the country. Bowers v Hardwick, 1986 had allowed states to have and enforce Sodomy Laws, a decision that was not reversed until Lawrence v Texas in 2003. Besides this, it was well known that many police officers in many places had longstanding anti-gay bias issues.

Assaults against people showing same-sex affection or being particularly flamboyant were subject to the kind of victim-blaming similar to what women experience around sexual assault. The attitude was often that “they were asking for it”, and little sympathy or assistance was given to victims.

But I watched things change. In places where I lived, and in many places throughout the country, police departments changed their cultures to become less homophobic, less anti-gay, and in many cases they were partners and allies with the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities. As with so many of these issues of social change around LGBTQ issues, the Trans and Queer inclusivity and acceptance lags behind that for gay and lesbian identities.

I had a turning point on this when I was still living in East Lakeview (nicknamed Boystown, a neighborhood associated with Chicago’s gay community). I don’t recall the exact date, but it was early in the tenure of Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard, who served from 1998 to 2003. There had been a rash of assaults in the area. Hundreds of neighbors, many of whom were openly gay and lesbian, came out to voice support for a police initiative to increase bicycle based patrols. The neighborhood is very congested and car responses were often delayed simply due to traffic congestion. Bicycles had the advantage of quickly navigating sidewalks and narrow alleys to arrive at the scene quickly. Bicycles were rarely used by police in Chicago prior to that time. Much to Superintendant Hillard’s surprise, already accustomed to weathering constant complaints from the public about police, the neighbors were largely supportive of police and very welcoming to partnership with them.

So, I am telling all this because, until recently, I had hope for police forces. I had hope that real cultural change could happen within police departments around the issues of race. It had happened around the issues of sexual identity. I had witnessed it first-hand. They were not an unchanging, monolithic block of hopeless bias.

 

But the story of police relations around race, particularly around police relations with African Americans, is much more complex and doesn’t seem to be improving. As anyone who is paying even a small amount of attention knows, police continue killing African American citizens after routine and nonviolent interactions. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are the most recent and most visible, but there has been a long string of recent incidents.

Here in Chicago, we had the shocking case of Laquan McDonald, who was repeatedly shot while running away from police. He was acting erratically, but had not done anything violent and was not directly threatening anyone. In that case, unusually, the officer has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial. Most police involved in such shootings never face any legal consequences.

So many of them are really awful, but two of these cases really stick with me and haunt me.

Eric Garner was a forty-something man who was doing something technically illegal (selling loose cigarettes), but not in any way threatening or disruptive. Unfortunately, like many people that I know, he was overweight and had various health problems including asthma and a heart condition. It should not have been that hard to guess that he may have had some health issues – these are all quite common. Police apprehended and physically restrained him with excessive force, using choke holds that look like they are trying to emulate WWE wrestlers. Garner laid gasping for breath, shouting “I can’t breathe”, and it was caught on camera. He was literally dying before their eyes for a crime roughly equivalent to a parking violation. And the police persisted and failed to offer any help.  As a forty-something person who is overweight and had a history of childhood asthma, I can’t help but see myself in this poor dying man. And my heart breaks.

Sandra Bland was a smart, articulate woman from Naperville, Illinois who had just taken a job with her sorority in Texas. She was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. There is a witness video of her arrest. The officer had no cause to arrest her. It was a ticketable offense at most. And yet, she was taken to jail and died soon afterward under suspicious circumstances. When I see her and hear her voice on that video and other videos that she made, I recognize her. In her, I hear someone who may have been a high school classmate or co-worker. She seems just a step away from someone who may have been my connection. And I think about what may have happened to her in that cell, with no friends and no hope. And again, my heart breaks.

African Americans are stopped by police at a higher rate than whites and have a far higher likelihood of being killed in police custody. Police bias is clearly a huge factor in this. Why do interactions between police and African American citizens escalate into violent confrontations so quickly and so frequently?

 

So where do we go from here? Or specifically, how do I react beyond my heartbreak? What can I do?

I will admit that not so long ago, I considered myself a supporter of the police. We had some issues on our block and in my building a few years ago. The adult son of one of the residents in my building (not African American, incidentally) decided to team up with people down the block to deal drugs out of our front yard. It was very intimidating and unwelcoming to walk through this frankly hostile traffic just to enter my own home. It also attracted the attention of rivals from nearby areas and there were numerous instances of shots fired nearby. My neighbors and I called the police frequently. My neighbor with small children was especially furious, and eventually ended up leaving and short-selling their condo at a huge loss just to get away from the situation.

The constant police presence did eventually lead to the drug dealing activity moving somewhere else in the neighborhood, and the neighbors down the block involved did not have their lease renewed due to neighbor complaints. The people involved (dealers, customers, lookouts, etc.) were of varying ethnic and racial backgrounds, as well as ages, but many of them were Mexican American, African American and Caribbean American men in their teens and twenties.

I know one of the tactics the police used was stopping people using flimsy excuses in order to underline that the police were watching the area and the open drug dealing needed to go away. To my knowledge, the police did not injure or kill anyone, but they certainly did use some fairly aggressive policing tactics in my name and in the name of my neighbors. If I think about this now, I had some misgivings, but at the time, I was just glad to have this activity out of my front yard.

Of course I have always known that some police officers can be obnoxiously over-reaching and who seem to abuse their positions of power. But I had been lulled into thinking that was a fairly rare case.

 

I have had to reevaluate my own perception of and relationship to the police. In the past, I did not hesitate to call police in any instance that I thought suspicious. My trust is eroded now, though, particularly in instances where there are African Americans involved. I don’t feel I can trust the police to judge the situation fairly and not escalate it into something violent, even deadly. And frankly, that leaves me feeling a bit adrift.

As a single heading-toward-middle-aged person, I don’t feel like I can confront problem activity that I encounter. If I see a confrontation, evidence of a crime, or a person in distress – I call 911. I don’t have the resources to deal with these problems directly. But if I can’t trust that 911 is going to deal with the situation appropriately, and even make the situation worse, what resources do I have?

I really am at a loss when it comes down to the practical day-to-day reality of it. At the same time, I realize the fact that I felt secure and trusting of the police is an example of my own privilege, and one privilege I have not always felt when I feared the anti-gay attitudes of the police.

 

Fortunately, I do see some resources for addressing bigger picture questions. I like a lot of the policy suggestions from Campaign Zero. I can get behind these recommendations and engage with my elected officials to push them. I can hope that they get implemented and hope they help. I can try to keep telling myself to hope.

 

And in the meantime? I am not at the center of this. I am not a typical target of police brutality today, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it or unplug. I can shy away and not watch, but that is shirking responsibility. The police do act in my name – as a citizen, as a voter, as a taxpayer, as a member of the community. They need to be held to a higher standard, and I need to watch and speak out until they live up to it.

The Gifts from My Deities Require Work

I have talked before about some of the work of maintaining a relationship with the gods and goddesses. Keeping them welcome and satisfied requires attention – made concrete in the form of prayers, candles, incense, offerings, and other devotions. As with a relationship with another human, time and attention are key.

But the work doesn’t end there. Relationship with deities are not like vending machines. Two prayers, a stick of incense, and poured out glass of wine doesn’t mean that you get a package with your heart’s desire, ready to use. To truly receive and truly appreciate the gifts themselves, we often must engage – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Without an ongoing engagement, we miss the true benefits of these relationships and their gifts.

In my personal practice, I am particularly devoted to Apollo and Ceres.

Ceres is a longstanding connection for me, and my interest in her is closely related to my interest in food and plants. She is the one who makes plants grow, which is the cornerstone of all food, all sustenance. Ceres’ gifts are very concrete – she makes plants grow, and she delivers abundance, at least in season. But anyone who knows about farming, or even gardening (my experience) knows that it requires a fair amount of labor to turn her gifts into something usable for humans. Naturally occurring, readily edible foods are fairly scarce. Most types of plant foods – grains, vegetables, nuts, and legumes – require effort to plant, cultivate, harvest, process, cook, etc. Fruit can often be eaten directly after picked, but even there, the planting and harvesting requires human input. Her gifts are abundant, but they aren’t usable without work.

Apollo is a god who chose me, in a sense. One day, he just started talking to me, which surprised me. I don’t think of myself as particularly “sunny”, so I wasn’t sure what a sun god wanted from me. But Apollo is a god of knowledge, culture, music, theatre, philosophy and clear thought. He is a god of divination and oracles. He can shine a light on knowledge, but he leaves the wisdom, the reflection to each person. What he reveals is often, frankly, puzzling. In short, his gifts require work, processing, contemplation. Sometimes, he leaves humans like Cassandra – with a knowledge of future disaster and no tools to avert it or even warn anyone.

 

I am also devoted to the gods of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, an emergent tradition that I have written about in the past. Each of these gods have a face and personality that requires reflection and lessons. Our writings, our rituals, our tradition gives us guidance as well as a chance to interact with the god. Some of the gods are clearly reflected within ourselves and it’s easy to find an affinity, a connection. Others can be harder to find, but we continue to show them respect and hospitality, knowing one day they will have lessons to impart.

One of the main goals of the Brotherhood, and a prime purpose for our interaction with the gods, is to explore aspects of ourselves as men who love men – gay, bi, queer, trans men in a broadly defined scope. Some conceive of these gods as archetypes that men who love men can relate to, when often the archetypes of other Neopagan traditions seem to exclude us. I have worked with them long enough to see them as distinct personalities and I think of them and treat them as distinct gods. They have often given me unexpected messages that are not simply the result of some abstract idea. They require self-examination and work toward embodying their lessons in a way that is authentic to our self and our identity.

 

This is the season of The Healer, and I have been thinking about the lessons of this god. What does it mean to be The Healer, a healer of oneself and of others? I have embraced some tools. I grew up in a medical family – my father was a medical technician and then manager of a hospital laboratory for years. My mother went to nurse’s training. Other members of my family worked in medicine in one way or another. Hygiene, nutrition, general health maintenance was a frequent topic of conversation. I embrace using food as an avenue to health, and I am always eager to learn more about the properties and processes of healthy food, as well as making it appealing to those who enjoy it (i.e. cooking).

On the other hand, I am less successful at embracing the healing properties of exercise. My inclination is often to be a homebody, rather than craving activity. I love some types of exercise, such as a walk in the woods, but it is an effort for me to get out and move. Also, I know I fail at stress management. I let stress build up in my body, tightening my muscles and making my stomach churn. It can literally make me sick, and I often fail at reaching out for ways to alleviate the stress and its effects. I also have bouts of depression, mercifully less severe than what I experienced when I was younger, but still present. It can be challenging to reach out for the help I need to ease my situation when those hit. The despair and disconnection can take hold and become a self-reinforcing loop.

So, having taken stock, I will call on the Healer to help me embody some of these better habits, and help me heal myself. I will also call on the Healer to guide me to be open to helping others with their own path of healing – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. This is how I will hope to gain the gifts of the Healer and take another step toward my own transformation.

Attacks Against LGBTQ Spaces

For years, I was a regular at one of the largest, and most visible gay nightclubs in Chicago’s “Boys Town”. I had a whole group of friends that I made there, and several nights each week, I would be there for hours. I was also a frequent visitor to many of the other local dance clubs, as well as a regular attendee of festivals, street fairs, and the Pride Parade.

In spite of the festive atmosphere, dance music, and colorful décor, large gay clubs – and LGBTQ bars in general – represent not just a constant party, but a “safe” place to embrace identity. It was a place where same sex attraction and affection is embraced, and unfortunately for most people, safe places for such expression are rare in everyday life. In a place like Chicago, there are a number of organizations that provide alternatives for people who aren’t interested in drinking or loud music, but even so, bars and nightclubs remain the most visible presences of the LGBTQ community in many places.

This creation of safe space can be very imperfect, and not all LGBTQ identities are equally accepted and celebrated in particular places. We all still live in this culture, and being LGBTQ doesn’t immediately erase racism, sexism, transphobia, ethnic and religious biases. Many gay clubs can be a hostile place for men who are older, overweight, “femme”, or who otherwise don’t fit into narrow stereotypes of “hot gay guys”. I wish the “coming out” process just erased those ugly attitudes, but I’ve been around too long and seen too much to believe that. But, for all these problems, they represent a striving for that safe space, imperfect as they may be in practice.

 

I did not know any of the victims of the attack in Orlando. I have never even been to Florida. But the setting of this attack is very familiar to me. In part, this familiarity is why this tragedy struck me so hard. The shooter chose this place specifically because it was an LGBTQ identified place. He wanted to destroy these people, this place, these lives, these expressions. Their very existence offended him and he struck out with the most effective tools of destruction that he had on hand.

And he was effective, horrifyingly so. Armed with multiple firearms, he killed 50 people and injured 53 more. He was more effective than his long line of predecessors, from the arsonist at the Second Story Bar in New Orleans in 1973, to the serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph in 1996, to the heavily armed young man from Indiana who was apprehended on his way to Pride celebrations in LA on the very same day as the Orlando tragedy.

These attackers are drawn to those who openly express their sexuality, their love, their community. They set out to destroy those people and those expressions. It’s a pattern that repeats, even now as we think that our country has gone through a revolution in thinking about same sex relationships and gay/lesbian identity (when it comes to Trans identities, I think we’re still in the early stages of revolution there).

 

I rarely go to large nightclubs anymore, and I haven’t been to the Pride Parade for the past couple years. My tolerance for crowds has shrunk dramatically over recent years. That is no longer my world, but for years, it was. It was something I needed – something that provided community, acceptance of my identity, a chance to connect.

This attack, and this whole pattern of attacks, is deeply personal. I have stood in the spot of those victims, tuned out to the potential danger, feeling safe. This attacker has succeeded, not only in cutting short those beautiful lives, but terrorizing the rest of us, and sowing the seeds of distrust in places that we perceive as safe. I don’t want to “give in” and allow the terrorism to take hold. I will try not to allow that.

For me, those types of places no longer fill the need I once felt, so I don’t feel the need to run out just to conquer the fear. The outpouring of support for the LGBTQ community over this has been enormous, and for that I am grateful. Gay clubs will get plenty of support in the near future.

What I feel like we need, even more than that, is to bring safe spaces to express love, sexuality, and gender plurality into more places in the world. LGBTQ identities and expressions need to be celebrated and defended, again and again.

Faith in Humanity?

An internet meme set off a chain of thoughts that came to an essential question for me. It really is at the bottom of so much of my philosophy, particularly when it comes to politics.

“Do you have faith in humanity?”

 

Now, I have to be honest. Vague questions like this make me itchy. Faith in humanity to do what? Faith in what sense? Individuals, groups, or literally every human?

So let me tease this out a little.

 

My immediate reaction is that in a group of humans, I do have faith that a couple of things will happen:

  1. Some of them will do brilliant, creative, beautiful things.
  1. Many, perhaps most, of them will only look out for their own interests or the interests of their small group of insiders, family members, club, tribe – instead of the greater good and/or future sustainability.
  1. A few will take advantage of more than their share of limited/finite resources. They will know or willfully ignore the fact that their actions hurt others.
  1. Some will come up with genius solutions to problems.

 

Some people will look at this list and say that I’m talking about “human nature”. Once again, I get itchy. If you notice, nothing on that list is an “all” or “nobody” statement. There are very few statements about human behavior that fall into those categories, as far as I can tell. There are any number of behaviors that people assured me were “human nature” that never seemed particularly natural for me (e.g. being attracted to the opposite sex, eating meat), so I tend to distrust any talk like that.

So, how does this lead me to politics? For one, it means that although I value freedom, I am not an anarchist. I have written about this before, specifically with regard to the environment. We absolutely need environmental regulations and someone to enforce them, because even if we somehow create a culture where most people are responsible and motivated to protect the air, water, and wild places, someone will screw it up for the rest of us. Someone will quarry the Grand Canyon. Someone will build a smokestack to belch smoke. Someone will dump toxic waste into pristine waterways.

So we need some kind of governance to restrain those who would ruin vital resources for the rest of us. We need governance to restrain those who would abuse people, animals, and natural places. We need governance to restrain those who would take away the freedom of others.

 

But beyond that, taking into account the list above, what should a political system look like?

In our current economic system, bolstered by our political system, there is a variation of a Capitalist free market economy in play. In classical free market, the market determines the price and value of a limited commodity based on supply and demand. The tendencies in #2 above are encouraged, and the “invisible hand” of the market will lead to an equilibrium. The pitfalls of #3 are pretty much ignored.

There’s no value assigned to wild natural places – they are simply assigned a value as raw materials. Even animals are considered nothing but possessions and commodities. Creations of beauty – music, poetry, art, dance, theatre – are only considered valuable if someone is paying for them or if they are used to sell something else.

In our corporate Capitalist society, time –as the saying goes – is money. Many of us give our labor – our time, our energy, our physical work – to our employers. It is only through government regulation (thanks to the pressure of the labor movement) that prevents employers from demanding virtually all of an employee’s time and labor. Even so, many people still give long hours and all their energy to their employer or employers, just to survive financially. There’s no time or energy for creating the beautiful and the brilliant, and little to no breathing room for the genius to emerge.

So what should the political system look like based on all this? I will write about that in the near future.

Food Diversity and Monoculture

I think a lot about food. Not just because I like to eat and I like to cook. I think a lot about the ethical implications of the food choices that I make and I have written about that in the past, particularly on the subject of raising animals for food. But there are other aspects of our current food culture that I think are causing real problems for us, which will only get worse over time.

Much of the world’s food supply is made up of a shrinking list of food varieties. Wheat, rice, corn, sugar, soybean, potatoes, etc. Even these foods, which have multiple genetic varieties, are increasingly grown only in a few varieties, often those engineered and marketed by large agricultural suppliers. These are grown as monocultures – large fields, even plantations that all plant the same crop over square mile after square mile. It provides efficiency for the mechanical nature of current farming. It’s easier to spray from airplanes and harvest by machine.

But it’s absolutely destructive to local flora and fauna. The complete lack of biodiversity means that farmer’s fields are essentially deserts, inhospitable to anything other than one specific crop. Also, since all the plants are making the same demands on the soil, it depletes nutrients in the soil, which then requires inputs – meaning fertilizer, often petroleum based products.

Monoculture also encourages pests. Effective predators of that particular crop have a bonanza – which then leads to increased uses of pesticides. And this combination of chemical pesticides and fertilizers can cause major issues with groundwater and waterway contamination.

Here is Michael Pollan talking about Monoculture

To walk through a grocery store, it may look like we have a lot of variety to choose from, but a lot of that variety is an illusion. Walk down the cereal aisle. Hundreds of brightly colored boxes shout for attention. Some are fun for kids (high in sugar and artificial flavors) others are supposed to be healthy (some whole grains are preserved and vitamins are sprayed on). In reality 99% of the ingredients are from a short list of crops, processed in various ways – wheat, corn, sugar, a bit of rice and oats – the rest is mostly small amounts of additives to manipulate the flavor, color and texture.

Bread, pasta, packaged side dishes – the same is true for all of these. And for meat eaters, many of the animals are fed with these same crops, particularly corn and soy, so ultimately those same crops are being consumed, just one step removed.

 

There are enormous benefits to food diversity. One is definitely a healthy diet. The common staple foods may be effective at delivering calories/basic energy, but we also require a wide variety of micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and other health-giving substances found in particular plants. Only by eating a variety of different types of foods can we ensure that we are getting the full array of these micronutrients. Many food experts use the natural colors of food as a shorthand for different nutritional profiles. Leafy greens, red tomatoes and peppers, orange root vegetables, blue and purple berries – all these have unique and valuable contributions to your diet. Meanwhile, over-dependence on processed flour, sugar and oils can lead to higher incidence of diabetes, obesity and digestive issues.

Increased diversity also helps food security, since monoculture crops are susceptible to collapse. Here are a few outside sources with more information about the problems associated with monoculture.

“Crop diversity decline ‘threatens food security'” from BBC News

“6 Problems with Monoculture Farming” from Permaculture Magazine

 

An antidote to monoculture is the permaculture movement. It is a complex combination of agriculture strategies that encourages biodiversity, appropriate plants for the microclimate, complementary planting schemes to avoid the need for pesticides and fertilizers, as well as other methods. It can incorporate the concepts of Forest Gardening, Hügelkultur, heirloom plants species, as well as more common ideas such as composting, mulching, and organic farming techniques. All permaculture projects are guided by the natural patterns of the area in question, and try to use the natural features and plantings together to maximize output and minimize environmental damage. It requires more thoughtfulness than monoculture, but if it works properly, it requires far less in terms of outside and unsustainable resources and will produce abundant and varied crops.

 

We may not all be ready to start our own permaculture garden, but we can all take steps to encourage biodiversity. Having our own garden is a great step, but supporting farmers markets and CSA deliveries (community supported agriculture) are also great steps if these are available to you. Eating locally grown foods in season is a wonderful step to get away from corporate run monoculture. You will notice that the variety of foods that you see at a farmers market or CSA is far more diverse than what you see in a grocery store. Find heirloom tomatoes, vegetables like rutabagas and mustard greens that your grandmother may have known, but that are rarely seen today.  And if you do have a garden, take a look at some of the seed catalogs that specialize in heirloom, organic and unusual varieties – you will see vegetables you will never see in the grocery store. Pick out a few and put them in your garden. You will be in for an adventure and learning experience in taste and variety.

 

Anger, Frustration

I envy those who seem to be able to use their anger to fuel a furnace to create change. I’m not set up that way. I can’t let anger take hold. I know it will destroy me if I do.

For me it just settles in as a crimp in the neck and knot in the shoulders. It settles in as an acid taste coming up my esophagus into my mouth. It eats away at me and cripples me. I can’t let it stay.

Please understand, this is not because there is no reason to be angry. There is plenty of reason. Each moment is filled with a thousand injustices and indignities big and small aimed at those I admire and respect. Insults and punches are thrown at people for the way they look or the way they speak. Beautiful people live in fear of the bullies and the trolls. And sometimes people’s blood is spilled for no good reason at all.

I know this. I don’t forget.

But if I want to live, I can’t let the anger live here with me, crippling me, eating at me, turning me into a twisted and burned wreck.

So I will cry. And I will shout. And I will punch a pillow. And then I will breathe deeply. And I will collect myself. I will put the anger somewhere outside of me. I won’t forget it and its lesson, but it can’t stay here.

 

I have been having a rough time lately. I feel disconnected from friends. Relationships from the global to the interpersonal seem especially contentious and uncooperative lately. People are ready to accuse and take offense, slow to listen and discuss.

I have had waves of mourning for my father, whose dementia has been progressing lately. He’s safe, thanks especially to my sister, but the man we knew growing up is gone.

The concrete evidence of environmental destruction seems very evident lately. News story after news story shows how much human activity has thrown off the balance of the natural world. Melting permafrost, flooding lowlands and islands, polluted rivers, methane and nuclear leaks – the bad news keeps coming.

Our country’s political climate has been unusually contentious. Even among those who I think of as politically “like me”, the escalating viciousness of the Sanders vs. Clinton rhetoric has been troubling. And that’s not even to mention the xenophobia, sexism, and crassness that has been coming from the presumptive Republican nominee.

And all this is against a background of violence, poverty, and injustice. The justice system is heavy-handed and full of prejudice. The social safety nets are being dismantled.

All this has me a bit exhausted.

 

I wish that I could wrap this up with a solution or at least a message of hope. That’s the way I often try to end these blog posts. Not today. Today, the best I can hope for is to see these situations clearly and take some deep breaths. Some of these troubles will pass. Some will continue to get worse. Some of these I can try to change another day, when I have the energy.

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.