Textual Arachne

A weaver of threads.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Turning the lens outward. Lebanon. Israel. Hezbollah.

The voice of my tempter whispers again: What does this have to do with you? You’re not part of an Abrahamic faith. This doesn’t belong on a Paganism blog.

I do not have a solution. But on both sides—on all sides, really—of the conflict, there is suffering that cannot be countenanced. Aggression going under the name of defense. Unjustifiable death and destruction. The constant snuffing out of lives.

Again: So you’re going to what, blog about it? Oh, that’ll help a lot. Shush. I listen to you, I submit to despair--not even rational despair, just apathy. So stuff it.

The people dying, and the people killing, are part of this same world as I; my brothers and sisters. Part of the Goddess. And this is that which is in us that is capable of causing misery.

If I do not do something now, my children and my grandchildren will have just cause to look at my generation and my time with horror. What did you do to stop it? Did you do anything at all?

The little actions seem so feeble. A pittance sent to an organization calling for peace, a tiny work of art or charity surrounded by a sea of indifference and loss. And the big actions seem beyond my capacity to act; I'm not a mediator, nor a diplomat, and I don't have the power to back up any big action.

But this much I do know: None of the big-scale solutions--none of the messy diplomacy and negotiations that need to take place--can occur without a cease-fire. As long as the killing goes on, there is no room for the debate and mediation that needs to happen. Nothing but bloodshed and posturing will be accomplished on any side by more death.

So I will start my call here. There must be a cease-fire, enforced, on all sides.

Tonight I start taking the little steps, no matter what the tempter says about their usefulness. A letter to the editor. A letter to my representative. A donation to a group with a louder voice. A quilt of a thousand hands reaching for peace.

I do not have a solution. I only have the conviction that this must somehow stop--and thin, thin threads to weave toward an answer.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Continuing, albeit slowly, on the theme of translating faith into action...

On the personal level, rather than the activist level, there is the action of reaching out to someone who needs reassurance, or strength, or hope, or simply to hear that they are loved. I tend to call this "ministry" to emphasize its roots in faith. This reminds me to extend it beyond friendship or acquaintance, beyond the initial tribe.

Because the majority of people I interact with aren't Pagan, I feel that I have to translate my beliefs to some extent when I offer to help, or minister to someone. Lately, I've been clearer in expressing that many these acts come from my beliefs about the world, and about the Divine.

My ministry most often takes the form of Tarot readings. That's why I took the time to go through the Major Arcana, to become better at what I do. I try to give people this space to think about their lives and what's affecting them. I present these strange symbols, with their many meanings, and the few insights I can offer, as possible ways to rework their problems. And, sometimes, someone whispers a few words inside me, and I pass them on.

In a way, it's like a reading of Scripture. I take something that can be interpreted many ways, and offer a reading of it that reflects their situation.

But ministry can also be the sympathetic ear, the letter of hope and friendship at the right time. (This is another place where I should work to become better at what I do...but this entry shouldn't be about guilt!) It can be the good food, the tea and conversation, the gentle push or the swift kick in the behind.

Pagans who work in groups--how does ministry work for you?

When these acts of care are done on the more-than-personal level, it isn't ministry anymore; it can't have the same degree of individual love and personal attention and still have a large-scale change. But it does just as much good, if not more.

We need both kinds of action, and we need to be devoted to them.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Green Faith

An example of ways in which faith and environmental activism can come together. Reverend Fletcher Harper, the director of GreenFaith, let me interview him for my work recently. I am greatly encouraged and inspired by the work he does.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Morning practices

Every morning, when I enter my study, I take a moment and kneel in front of the little card-table shrine. I say a few words of thanks, or of praise, or of requests ("today is going to need a lot of patience/drive; please help me find that in myself"), and move on to the rest of the day.

I started this about four months ago, when I'd been sneaking into the Divinity Hall chapel weekly to pray. The kneeling isn't about submission, but about moving into a different posture than usual--making this time different and sacred. The prayers are variations on what I've heard described as the universal prayer: "thank you, thank you; help me, help me." When I'm conscientious about it, it becomes more than a morning routine, turning into a way to sanctify my day and remember Her presence.

The shrine is made from a shoebox. It's based off of one from the APT costume shop, the little 'costumer goddess' we built one summer, partly joking and partly serious. There are little offerings in the tray: shells, dried flowers; rings, stones, coins, bits of fabric and ribbon, thorns from a bouquet of roses, cord from a ritual. The silver collar I used to wear. A matchbox.

There's no central icon here, though, because there's nothing that could really fully represent her. On the other hand, above the shrine hangs a ceramic face--to remind me that She is fully represented in everyone.

Trance excerpt

...When I made it to the top of the cliffs, I was panting, and sweaty, and sore, with skinned knees and broken or bruised fingers. Beyond the small ledge stretched an entire world, hidden by fog and the weakness of my eyes.

He said: Look at yourself. Are you content? And I looked, and was ashamed and bitter at the shape I had made myself into. I was neither beautiful nor awesome nor strong, but misshapen and awkward. I was not suited for the climbing I had done, nor the traveling I had yet to do, nor whatever tasks would happen along the way. I looked at my shape and despised it.

I said: I can do better. I know better now. I can start over.

He said: I tell you now, what you are, you have made; and what you have made, you cannot unmake. That time is past when you might have shaped yourself differently. You have made yourself, and you have made yourself flawed. And this is true of all that I have led to this place.

He said: But I also tell you this: What you have made is enough to move you, to bring you where you need to go, and to do that which is waiting for you. You have made yourself, and it is enough to carry you over this land. And this is true of all that I have led to this place.

He said this, and moved to stand against the mountainside. The wind raced by us, and I stepped forward, to the edge of the rock...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Faith, action, confession

Attending the Prog Faith Blog Con, as well as studying these matters and watching the current status quo, has kept me thinking about how our beliefs express themselves in action--especially in ethical action. (In particular, Hoarded Ordinaries’ post on embodied faith, which“insists that believers get their hands dirty in the real world doing the work of compassionate service”, and Mik Moore of Jspot asking "How do we inject our personal morality in the public debate AND translate our concerns into universal values?" Thus, I've tried to write about how my Pagan faith translates into action.

I've tried to write it for this post about five times. And each time, I hit a block strong enough that it keeps me from continuing to write, enough that I just want to trash the post and walk away entirely. Which, if you'll note from my earlier post, is exactly what I can't have happen within this blog. I have to keep writing...and I can't dodge the issue by posting some other topic, not for long, anyway.

In the spirit of the old Girl Scout "Bear Hunt" game, then, I decided to take a sideways approach, and write about why it's giving me trouble. "Can't go through it, can't go away from it...Gotta go Over it!"

The first reason, I think, is that there's no clear derivation of action from the beliefs. I agree to the Threefold Rule, as do many (but far from all) Pagans: what you do comes back to you threefold. Help or harm, good or ill, you can expect to receive it with interest. But that's not a clear injunction to go do good--it's more of a statement that "if you want good, do good; if you do harm, be prepared to accept the consequences."

The second is that there is an overabundance of action. I also believe in the interconnection (intersubjectivity, web of life, etc) of humanity with itself, humanity with nature, and both with whatever else exists that doesn't fall under either category. But does that mean environmentalism? Anti-poverty? Animal rescue? Women's rights? Anti-globalization? The closest thing I can think of is sarvodaya, uplift of all, but I don't know how the concept translates into specific works--or rather, it can translate into so many different things that I have no idea where to start.

Writing out the first two problems has brought me closer to understanding that it matters less where I start acting, as long as I do act; it's similar to the mental block that worried (worries) about what this blog is supposed to be, rather than simply doing it. The action is the important part, taken in mindfulness of Her presence in myself and others.

My Paganism, in understanding the interconnection of all things, the presence of the Divine in all things, and in hoping for the action of the Threefold Rule, means: peacemaking. Protection. Preservation of beauty and kindness, and defiance of cruelty. Strengthening self and others to stand up for their dignity, hope, and love--and making a world in which it is easier to be kind, harder to be cruel.

But there is a third reason why I struggle with these questions. And...Well, I'm ashamed of it. The third thing that's keeping me from writing on this topic, facing it honestly, is a desperate need to cling to what I have. A shameful hope that by never spelling out what translating Pagan beliefs into social action means, I can avoid having to act on them.

A little voice in my head says, "Give time? You have no time! You starve your friendships and relationships already, and you feel like your life is spinning out of control with the commitments you've already made. Send money? You're a student, you have no money to spare, especially not if you're hoping to someday raise a family! Short projects? Which of the thirty different causes that only take an hour will you do? Besides, any effort that makes any kind of difference will need a lot more time and energy than you have to give, because face it. You don't have anything to spare."

When this voice makes itself heard, I am never certain whether it is my selfishness, grasping and clinging miserly to money, time, emotion; or whether it is my self-preservation, trying to keep me from spreading myself so thin that I tear.

Fighting this voice--and sometimes, finding myself unable to fight it--is the first, last, everpresent thing I do when I try to figure out how to translate faith into action.

I do not yet know how to answer it. Perhaps confessing it here is the first step. Perhaps, if I go farther in my studies, I'll make my mission as a teacher and researcher one of bringing people to understanding each other.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Over the weekend, a news article covering a conference I was at referred to me as "at least one self-proclaimed pagan." There are a couple things in here that are pretty irritating; Niobium has remarked on them already, and sent a good letter to the interviewer. You wouldn't say "self-proclaimed Jew", would you?

Then there's the Pagan/pagan/Neo-pagan debate over terminology. Normally, it doesn't make much difference to me; though upon reflection, what I'm okay with in interpersonal dialogue is a completely inadequate standard for public representation. In this case, the author of the article uses it as a generic adjective--not as a name for a legitimate, recognized religious group. Thus, I am irked. (And thus, I will be shifting my terminology from pagan to Pagan in the blog. Because this is a public face of my religious practice, it ought to be held to similar standards.)

But obnoxious usage aside, the word "Self-Proclaimed" makes me thoughtful. And after a little Whitman-esque moment of singing "Meeeeee!" in the car at the convention, I decided to accept the term, on my own terms.

I proclaim myself
sister, daughter, lover;
confess myself
to be Hers as She is mine, as I am a part of all;
declare myself
finite, yearning for infinite, delighting in the limited;
announce myself
uncertain and assured, on a new path that is yet familiar;
sing myself, Pagan.

I have to be self-proclaimed, where other faiths can take it for granted that their affiliation will be clear. I have to sing myself, shout myself as a Pagan, because otherwise...well, who will?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Meditation, monkey-mind, trancing

I'll be writing about the shared worship services at the Blog Con before I can really wrap my brain around the action/connection part. Although the latter have more potential for immediate world-change action, the former are both easier for me to write about in my Arachne voice (rather than my researcher or friend tone) and possibly may have a longer lasting effect.

On Saturday morning, Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries led us in a Buddhist Zen meditation. I found it...exciting. Which, as Lorianne mentioned to me, is not a word she has often heard related to meditation.

When I've "meditated" as a Pagan, it's been something of a guided visualization. Loosely based on some Starhawk rituals, it involves semi-controlled trance states, in which I act and interact with things that may be projections from my subconscious or may be masks for aspects of divinity. (I think they're both.) It's highly imaginative and requires that faculty to work; I have to "not be here", but be "elsewhere". In that elsewhere, aided by my imagery, I face fears, tend to fields, hold arguments, fight, wander, and so on, using these imaginative journeys to understand, heal, and strengthen myself.

(There are trances and "meditations" that I've used for outward work, especially as I've come to feel more stable and less in need of constant tune-ups of the soul. Those fall into a different category and are less imaginative and more active, and lead to action in the world rather than simply helping fix my troubles. Different category, for another time.)

This kind of imaginative trance is pretty far from the Zen work we did: be here now. And I could feel myself rebelling against it! I wanted to use the silent time to pray, or talk, or trance...but instead I kept thinking my mantra ("beloved Lady/be with us" to call on her positive face, but not to invoke a specific aspect) and kept bringing myself back to the moment.

This won't be news to meditators, but it was incredibly difficult. Every breath my mind would run off after something--the monkey-mind, racing around looking at every new thing until it got distracted again--and had to be yanked into the present. I'd set the mantra on autopilot and start noticing how my eyesight drifts to the right. I'd catch myself, return to the mantra, and start thinking meta-thoughts about whether this was something I wanted to do in the future, how I'd tell a friend about it, was I doing this right...and then yank myself back again.

Lorianne said that it's those yanks, that returning to the present, that is the aha! of meditation and enlightenment. She also referred to the idea of the six senses--the sixth being "mind".

Why was it exciting? Because it was something new. Something difficult, that revealed a tendency towards distraction much deeper than I knew. And possibly most, because this kind of meditation felt like training. Training to focus myself on the moment...perhaps I can use that to focus myself on one thought, one ritual, one trance. In short, if I learn to meditate more, it will be a skill that changes all my other skills--and one more thing to offer in my prayers.

Out of the broom closet

I've outed myself.

Until last night, only the Velveteen Rabbi knew that this blog existed. Up until this morning, only she and my partner knew. Now I've given her permission to let others know, and I've told him, and I've put it on the back of a few business cards.

Time to get over that fear of publicity!

Time, perhaps, to put up the disclaimer. Most blog readers should be aware of this, but as a gentleman asked me today, I can't let the sole responsibility rest on the reader. Therefore:
This is not meant to speak for all pagans, for all paganism. This is me and my opinion and my explorations.

Just in case that wasn't clear.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Setting the tone

FAQ bit: Pagans who follow a semi-Celtic calendar have eight holidays; solstices, equinoxes, and the 'quarter-days', which roughly split the time between solstice/equinox. Those often go by Imbolc (February), Beltain (May), Lammas (August), and Samhain (October).

The solstices and equinoxes are the holidays that I remember to celebrate even when I'm slacking off. There are a few years where I've been a "Beltain and Solstice pagan", a la Christmas and Easter Christians. But in the last three years, I've begun taking them more seriously and finding ways to celebrate and ponder their place in the wheel of the year.

One of these ways is half-charm, half-resolution. I believe that the manner in which I conduct the day of the equinox/solstice sets the tone for the next quarter of the year. It's not a matter of foreseeing, or even of casting a ritual for the time to come. It's closer to a resolution; a new beginning; a "getting up on the right side of the bed" for the next three months.

So I'll plan to be productive, or caring, or silent, or academic, or self-pampering for the day, and consciously invoke that side of me for the near future. I construct the way I want the next three months to be, and spend the day acting as the 'condensed version' of that time.

However, it's starting to apply to things that I don't plan. One Winter Solstice I fasted all day, planning to feast in the evening...but absentmindedly snacked on some chocolate about half an hour before the fast would have been complete. And the next quarter was very much defined by being very self-disciplined...except when I forgot. Or the equinox I planned to be superproductive and instead got sick, but fought it off by the end of the night. A kind of instant lesson in self-care.

Why am I thinking of this now? It's high summer, and the Summer Solstice is a holiday I always end up forgetting or paying less attention to. Winter, Spring, no problem. Summer? Things are big and growing! Why sit still and meditate? And it's sunny, and warm, how about if we just rest? Thus, my summer solstice dedication is often cut short to spend time enjoying myself. And true to form, my summer is often full of comfy, unproductive but pleasant lazing around.

This has me thinking. The summer holidays, the summer points on the wheel, are the hardest ones to remember to celebrate. Every day seems like a celebration, and remembering the wheel of the year is to remember that we will fall back into cold again. I've never celebrated Lammas, for example. In the middle of joy, it's tough to remember not only that it won't last forever, but that it is a natural gift of the world.

Lady, let me be able to praise you in the time of plenty as well as in the darkness.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Just the faq, ma'am.

Now that I made it through the Major Arcana once, and since we're in-between the quarter days, I feel as if I have far less to say on this blog. But I can't let that happen. It's not that the world needs more blogginess, but that I need to keep writing--and most of all, to keep writing about paganism.

The problem is, I feel as if I should be trying to put together some vast Pagan FAQ for this phantom audience. Since I don't have readers right now, I've been fairly free in just jumping in...but if I were to introduce this to any kind of audience, I feel as if I would need to provide long explanations.

But I don't want to write that FAQ. I want to write about why rituals to help oneself are both necessary and potentially harmful, why I tend to be sluggish in the summer, fables about interfaith cooperation or about looking for Goddess, observations on touch and stone. I want to write on the ethics of doing rituals for others, on why I'm no longer certain about naming the Goddess, on mucking around with Protestant theologians.

I don't want to have to mount an elaborate apologetics of paganism or an explanation on what magic is or means or stuff like that. I don't want to present a carefully thought-out thealogy or theoilogy. I just want to talk about my way of being a pagan.

This entry itself seems to imply that I find that act of talking scary. Convinced, perhaps, that my faith needs constant justification and rationalization, or that any readers will be approaching with hardcore skepticism.

Maybe they will. But I took that risk when I began this; in a way, I took that risk when I decided to first name myself a pagan.

I think there are a few answers that I could use to allay my fears without capitulating and freezing. I'll put up fragments of the FAQ that I worked onlast fall and lost momentum for finishing, and intersperse with other ideas. I could even do kind of a glossary, so that when I eventually post about trancing and approaching Persephone, I don't have to pause and digress about what "trancing" or "meeting" or even "goddess" mean. I can just say that she was there; I was there; and she smiles.

I don't even know what this blog is supposed to be, cries the confused and frightened part of me. But, following in the path of the paganism I love, I'm going to start doing...and let that become the being.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Universe

Number 21, closing the Major Arcana. End of this road.

The snake of the early pages has become the World Serpent, Midgard-esque, circling through the whole solar system. The dream-bubbles are recalled by the planets and moons that hover all around, and the Sun, bigger than our imagined yellow ball on #19, takes up the very top of the card in a huge arc of orange. The serpent's head is crowned with stone formations, as if the earth itself grows out of it, and it is either breathing fire or inhaling it.

It is unsettling and vast, and gives a feeling that whatever we are part of, it is far more vast than we can comprehend. Although we've made it through the previous cards, this serves to remind us that we've only made one step. To make the next, we'll have to become the Fool again and be willing to see everything with new eyes...without losing what we already learned.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


This is why the Sun isn't the completion. After all that hardship, we don't just get happy endings. The sun coming up the next morning doesn't make everything okay and fine again. Aeon is the card of integrating everything that's gone before; the realization, as the Sun is going down, that we still have memories of the Tower, of Justice, of Death; that we are not the Fool anymore, and that we have the weight of everything we've done and learned on our shoulders.

The Sun enlivens us and reminds us to stand up again, and that there is joy. It is not negated by Aeon. It gains something by not being the placid happy ending, but the active presence of joy in the world--in a world that includes pain and loss and confusions and self-destruction.

Aeon is becoming. Water falls from the sky, fire from the earth; the clouds have echoes of bone and stone, and the weary eye of what may be God or the Magician looks out over the landscape. In the far distance, great white mountains rise up, brighter than anything we've seen before; the undiscovered country? the next step for the Fool? In the center of it all is a nine-months child, ready to be born.

Unlike the Chariot, we aren't yoking two different forces; unlike Alchemy, we're not throwing them together for a big boom; unlike the Lovers, we aren't compromising between them. In Aeon, things that seem different are in the process of becoming--or being recognized as--whole.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The ethics of enchantment, part 1

Working a ritual on behalf of someone can be a little tricky. Apparently there are several conflicting schools of thought, two of which caught my eye. One: if someone needs to have ritual done on them, you do it. Even if they don't ask. Two: Assuming that you know what they need is wrong, so don't do a ritual for them. Even if they do ask, you can't help, because their current suffering might be karma, or Threefold Rule coming down on them, or suchlike..

Both these positions are wrong. (Or rather, the straw-man exaggerated versions I've constructed here are wrong.) As usual, the answer lies in hacking out a middle path and using every new action to reevaluate standards.

For example: Doing a ritual or casting a spell on someone without their permission runs the risk of being akin to bullying. Haven't you had friends or family who tried to "fix" your life? Even if it was broken at the time, sometimes what they did was exactly the wrong thing--introducing you to a new potential lover right when you've broken up, tried to snap you out of it when you needed hugging, or hugged when you needed a good kick in the ass. This can be another form of superiority complex, a kind of "Pagan Knows Best" hubris.

On the other hand, refusing someone in need? No good. You get asked to help, you should help. You are being called on by someone who is in pain, and refusing that call is sinning by omission (nb: I couldn't come up with a better word than "sin", even though I don't believe in the conventional idea of sinning). Especially if your counter-argument involves "perhaps they need to suffer." The point of karma, as far as I understand it, isn't some kind of payback system, it's education. And there are other ways to learn without going through horrific pain.

But, on the third hand, there are times when doing something for someone else without them knowing it is important--maybe they'd never agree to help, or they're too far away, or they're too stubborn. And on the fourth hand, there are times when struggling through difficulties may serve to strengthen someone rather than destroy them.

The problem is, we don't know which is which. We can't; we're finite and stuck in time, and even those moments when we come close to transcending it get filtered through our brains and senses--and we're masters of hearing only what we want to hear.

So I tend to put a "safety catch" on my rituals for others, both those done with and without the other's knowledge. I state my intent, cast, form power, and then ask for the aid of those wiser than me. Help this go where it is needed, I ask. You are wiser than I, you are not bound by my limits. You know my wish for this spell; but let this be what (she/he) needs, more than what I want or what (she/he) wants. It keeps me from thinking I know exactly what needs to happen, and it frees the ritual somewhat.

Next time, thoughts about casting rituals for sex, money, love, power for oneself.

The Sun

This card is a riot of color. It seems to be the Summer Country, the Promised Land, the home of joy. A huge rose, possibly a peony, fills the foreground and a great yellow sun hangs in the sky. Dawn is here and we are growing again. It isn't a return to the start but an achievement of the imagined goal. The rose is fleshy and full, and sometimes makes me think of cabbages instead of flowers. It's almost indecent...it's as round as a breast or an ass, and lobed and ruffled like labia. It's a ball of sensuality. The sun lights everything--there are bright colors on the earth, sharp shadows, and highlights.

What fascinates me about the Sun today is that it seems to be the end of the journey, but I know there are two cards left...